Some people are definitely interested in what I make and what’s involved so here’s the story – 12 strings are perhaps the most complex and demanding from a tonal and engineering perspective, and the challenge has always been to make one that sounds like no one else’s, plays the same as that, and stays together under all the duress they have to tolerate. Quite the set of requirements. So here’s what I have developed to meet the challenge over the last 50 years: 12 string, 10 & 8 string instrument features you won’t find on any other unless you can get a custom builder to do them, and I doubt for what I charge they can compete:
Special tailpiece setup to take the stress off the bridge
The strings go thru it and are bent down slightly behind the saddle to keep that in place, with a bar of adjustable height. Provides a clearer sound also. Gordon Bok & I came up with that almost 50 years ago. Asking any guitar top to behave well with 450 pounds of tension on it takes engineering, and my most frequent repair of all others’ guitars has been bridges lifting , distorting the top, or both. The strings should go in an almost straight line from the nut or zero fret to the tailpiece to not depress the top from continuous down-pressure.
The white saddle on the bridge is not set in a slot as on ALL others, and is movable to allow for exact intonation of each string—The grooves in the top of it have different ridge locations (contact points) for each of the 12 strings, depending on the gauges. each of the 12 slots is filed for the particular string gauge for perfect intonation up the length of the board. This necessitates a wider saddle piece as the octave pairs next to each other have different vibrating lengths, by as much as 3mm. If you go to larger or smaller string gauges this is important, you know how annoying it is to have one string in a pair play sharp (usually) or flat while the other is in tune. This final setup as I’m stringing is a 2 hour job by itself, but is necessary. No loss of tone from not having a slot, the hold-down bar behind it keeps firm pressure against movement. 12 stringers are hard enough to tune and keep in tune without one or more strings inherently flat or sharp!
Adjustable Neck Angle
The other feature I’ve developed is critically important: an adjustable neck angle, to allow an almost instant action reset without taking the neck off and changing the angle. This is done by mortising the neck into the body end by 2-3mm and putting in a pivot fulcrum 1/2 that depth. The reset is done w. a machine screw thru the heel (reinforced with a hidden dowel so the grains in that thinner section don’t split from the tension or any impact, which I have seen a lot with other guitars, even 6 stringers if they don’t have a dovetail lock. and some even have) that is nutted inside. The reset takes seconds with a phillips type driver and while the guitar is strung to pitch! NOBODY else does this! the armchair theorists say that movement in that joint will result in loss of tone & sustain, and they are full of you know what.
Double adjustable truss rod
The internal neck truss is a 2-way so you can actually induce a slight bow if you need, due to aggressive picking making the strings vibrate in a wider arc. You can set the height above the frets with fine adjustment of both the truss and the heel screw together.
Actually adjusting the truss is seldom needed because I glue it in, and the fretboard on, with extra hard marine epoxy. i used to do it on bridges too but only because w. a 6 string, that is where the stress is. For decades now I’ve been putting 3 machine screws in the back section of those bridges to prevent the bridge lifting up in back due to glue or wood grain failure. The neck is far stiffer than on factory made models where they use inferior, less stiff woods.
The internal structure is equally important if not critical. All my bracings (I’ve tried many) are done to maximize vibration, tone & volume. The latest I just used on a classical guitar and it makes the most sense from an engineering and tonal perspective: longitudinal struts running the length from the interior end block to the neck end of the body, smaller tone braces set variously across the grain of the top to optimize both bass & treble–non-symmetrical for that reason. Under the fretboard end of the top I laminate a section of spruce or cedar to which are glued right angle knees , to the underside and to the interior block. This prevents distortion & cracking alongside the fretboard due to the forces trying to pull the neck into the body ( the aforementioned 400+ #). In addition I use solid (NOT KERFED) inner corner linings to prevent the million little kerf cuts from sucking sound inside, the way acoustical ceiling panels work. A minor point, but added to everything else that makes the sound unique, strong, clear. Those linings are for a wider stronger glue joint for the top & back to land on.
The neck is also not cut from a single solid block which is incredibly wasteful of wood, but with a scarf cut at the head/neck junction which also runs under the fretboard for extra reinforcement. That is another frequent repair I’ve done on factory guitars, where the grain running diagonally thru the head leads to easy breakage. Especially if there is a channel routed thru there inside for a truss rod nut adjusted at that end. Mine are done thru the sound hole. The head scarf joint is done with a glue stronger than the wood itself.
Highest Quality Materials
I also have more selection of woods thanks to a superb supplier in British Columbia, Bow River. He has very reasonably priced spruces and cedars, and especially torrefied spruces. That is a heat treatment that pre-ages the wood for a more vintage played in sound, and most importantly seals it against moisture absorption. Pretty important for an instrument going to Ireland from here where the humidity varies by 100% annually…winter is wicked. Summer can be like the rain forest. So, no cracking or seasonal movement of the wood except in the back and that is minor. I’m also continually looking for back/side woods online and there are many to choose from. Some are quite expensive, especially Brazilian rosewood at up to $6000 per set.
Addendum to that: important I build for the locale where the instrument will be residing, as much as possible. summer builds have to be humidified in the case here and in the northern tier of states. If I’m making and setting up something in summer I can to a point dry woods out before they are braced w. the help of the sun…but periods of high humidity after an instrument is done and exposed to it are what necessitate that neck angle or backset adjustment.
Doing all that for an affordable price in a reasonable time is the other challenge and I can assure you there is no way to get rich doing it. Just making ends meet is a major victory esp. as I’m getting older, slower, blinder. I have a few good years left if nothing serious deteriorates. But time = money still and there is almost never enough time to do it all.