I am about to make a guitar in Italy!
Last year I made my first acoustic guitar under the guidance of luthier Chris Wynne from Thomas Lloyd Guitars (in Montsalvat – Eltham, VIC). It was an amazing journey of such personal growth and enjoyment (see previous blogs for the Making of Ann Marie), not to mention coming away with a self-crafted, custom guitar that I will cherish forever. When I found out Thomas Lloyd Guitars runs a couple of 2-week courses in Italy, I couldn’t refuse. The time has finally arrived!
What makes this trip even more special is my father is joining us (there are 6 of us students all up) to make his first acoustic guitar. He is making a little Parlor Guitar. He and I went sight-seeing before the course and got our basic Italian into practise. Now we are about to embark on the guitar building adventure side by side on workbenches in the tiny town of Benabbio, in the Tuscan hills of Italy.
No… I don’t need another guitar. I’ve got a dozen or so (each with names…). But… but but…. ITALY. And guitar making. And bonding with my father! What an experience. What a memory this will be.
I’ve decided to build a baritone guitar, which is a LOW, bass sounding guitar. I wanted to craft something a different to what I have, something that will inspire new songs and new musical direction. It was a tossup between a 12 string, a slide guitar, Chris’ crazy idea of a double neck guitar/mandolin combo (ummmm…???), and a baritone. I’ve never played one, but the idea of a baritone guitar intrigued me. I use alternate tunings a lot, and one of my favourite tunings is a C based tuning. Tuning a standard guitar any lower than that isn’t ideal as the strings start flapping around. The baritone guitar is tuned like a standard guitar but tuned either a 3rd, 4th, or 5th lower than the average guitar, reaching an A in the lowest bass string.
Standard Guitar Tuning: E A D G B E
Baritone Tuning – 3rd lower: C F B♭ E♭ G C
Baritone Tuning – 4th lower: B E A D F♯ B
Baritone Tuning – 5th lower: A D G C E A
Although you lose a lot of higher notes, you gain more in the bass, and perhaps this will fulfil the lack of a bass guitar in my solo performances, and open up new songwriting possibilities with alternate tunings.
There are a few structural differences too. The baritone guitar lends itself to a bigger body to resonate those lower notes, thus I will be making a JUMBO sized/shaped guitar (how I’m going to wrap my little self around that, I don’t know…). It also has a longer scale length, which will mean further stretching across the fretboard. Heavier gauge strings will be required to cater for the low tone and longer scale length.
The Villa: Villa San Rocco
Talk about pleasure overload for our sensors. We are staying in Villa San Rocco in the tiny village of Benabbio. And some villa it is! It’s an inspiring setting with mysterious history and character. The building is currently owned by a UK doctor, who’s son, Jason, and Jason’s wife Kasia (and their little elves) turned the near ruins into a European dream stay in the Tuscan hills. The building is said to be about 700 years old. Its 5 storeys high (3 above ground and 2 below) with rooms upon rooms to get lost in. Each room is decked out with amazing antique European furniture to create its own unique vibe; from the Roman Room to the Red Room. The stories of how this place has transformed is incredible. I’ll can imagine the next two weeks of guitar building, finding myself in a different room every night, watching the mountains transform from the balcony, seeing the clouds creep through the valley as I explore the woods, writing in my journal by an open fire, and sitting around with the crew while too much wine and food is consumed. Tough life ey…
Villa San Rocco foyer
One of the lounge rooms
View from my bedroom. Cloud fills the valley below the Apennine Mountains
VIlla San Rocco
Annalisa, Paul, Marcus, Jason, Fiona, Jenny, Lindsey, Chris, Ian & Bill
Conveniently, our workshop is downstairs from our bedrooms, so there’s not far to go. We can fall out of bed and climb back in after the long days. There are 6 workbenches and another room with some more tools.
Luthier Chris Wynne and Admin Extraordinaire Fiona Mitchell, the master minds behind Thomas Lloyd Guitars, have done a massive job preparing the course and workshops for us. They have imported all the Australian wood from home, along with sand paper, glues, clamps, saws, chisels, tools and more tools, and purchased some tools and supplies over here in Italy.
Supplies. These pieces of wood will become guitars.
Unfortunately we don’t have a big drum sander like back in Montsalvat, that allows us to get the exact thickness of timber, down to the .1 of a mm. This is very necessary for parts like the back board, sides, and soundboard. So Chris Wynne thinned out some timbers for this. Also, there’s no side-bending machine here in Italy, so we will have to bend our sides by hand. We shall make do with what we have.
PRE-class shot. Won't be this clean for long.
The workshop is looking tidier than I’ve ever seen. It won’t be long before there’s saw dust in the air and wood shavings all over the benches and floors.
I can’t imagine what preparation goes into setting up such a course. Fiona and Chris have done the most spectacular job to get it all happening. It’s going to be a sensational two weeks.
We’ll be working from 8:30am – 5pm in the first week (not my usual muso hours, I can tell you!). Sunday is REST day! In the second week 8:30am till…. 7pm, 8pm… 9pm… midnight, whatever will be required to finish our guitar by the following Sunday, ready to fly back to Australia! The 6 of us students will work on different parts of our guitars so we don’t need the same big machinery at once.
I don’t believe it’s possible to make a guitar from scratch in TWO WEEKS… but I am about to find out. My last guitar took 30 days over a period of 4 months. This will be two intensive weeks. We are warned about how warn our hands will be after the course, it will be funny to see all the lads using moisturiser to cope with the wear and tear.
I shall update you with pictures, day by day blogs of the making of this baritone guitar
LET THE BLOGGING BEGIN!!!!
Any highlights of Italy? Recommendations?
Guitar making experience?Share it with us in the comments below