March 4th, 2017 – Nylon and Steel

Please press play to enjoy hearing the instrument as you read!

 

The majority of my updates in the last four years have revolved around ukuleles. When I built the first one for a dear friend, I would never have imagined that, when glancing at my build schedule, I would see it filled with five variants of the instrument! There have also been some wonderful guitars, but the common theme has been that these have all been nylon string instruments.

Nylon string instruments have been a long-standing passion of mine, partly due to the challenges related to the relative subtlety of sound and tone as well as the interplay of the woods with that subtlety. Today I’m very happy to reveal a finished steel string instrument. As many of you have likely seen on bulletin boards or articles, you can’t simply take a nylon string guitar and place steel strings on it, at

least not without it becoming a spring-loaded catapult. The entire instrument needs to be designed and built to accommodate the much higher tension of the strings.

Typically, the tenor ukulele’s strings impose 30 to 40lbs of tension on the instrument. A nylon string guitar is about 80 to 90lbs, but typically the larger size of the instrument, and its components, means that the design can scale without significant changes. For steel string guitars, however, we’re talking about 180lbs to 190lbs. This tension means a different requirement for design, materials and different dynamics and goals. For example, as you can see from the images, the top and bracing design differ from the lattice design seen in most of my nylon string instruments. Here I have adopted the efficient Martin “X” bracing concept and interpreted it for tonal quality. This means that the braces act as structural members, more so than in a nylon string instrument.

As some of you who have known me for many years know, I am not a novice to the world of steel string instruments. This was a wonderful challenge and opportunity to again approach the complexities specific to the steel string. The instrument is named after the musician’s wife, Megan. It is an OM with Ziricote back and sides and a Sitka Bearclaw top. It also features an armrest for hours of comfortable playing.

Enjoy the music, including this second song, and the pictures, this is a guitar I very much enjoyed building.