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building a Selmer style guitar

mareskermaresker New
edited November 2012 in Welcome Posts: 3
I have built several archtops that are great guitars but want to try my hand at a Selmer style. I bought Michael Collins book. I'm trying to figure out if I want to do ply the wood as indicated in the book or use solid wood. In your estimation what are the advantages. It seems like there are lots of great guitars out there that are made with solid wood. Do you think it's essential for the Gypsy sound to use veneer?


  • noodlenotnoodlenot ✭✭✭
    Posts: 388
    i don´t know, but i´ll use solid wood (maybe EIRW, maybe satinwood) for my 1st build. doing the ply is a bit of a pain for me, as i only use hide glue (not because i think it´s "the best" but because it´s what i know best, and cherish the reversibility of the joins it produces) and water based glues tend to ripple/curl (i don´t know the exact term in english) and cup the thin veneers. epoxies (or PU) i have no experience with, but don´t wish to try (to messy for me - i already mess up enough on my own :)).

    i´m shure many guys will speak for the laminate backs (and sides) as the ultimate kick for the gypsy fix - and it must have an influence on the "color" of the sound - but i like to think that most of the sound comes from the top - so proper study of the density, stiffness (deflection) and (accordingly) thickness of the of the top plates of good selmer guitars would be my first bet (sorry if this is already obvious for you, i´m more thinking out loud here). the stiff ladder bracing of the back should also help mitigate its influence on the output (at least in the lower range of the spectrum and the coupling with the top and air modes). i sure would like to hear Mr. Holo or Mr. Bumgarner take on this. or anybody else´s for that matter.

    good luck with the build!
  • ShawnShawn Boise, Idaho✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 295
    I was always under the impression that much of the "color" in the sound actually comes from the back. I'd love to be corrected, but as I understand, the sound generated from the top acts to produce the clarity, quality, responsiveness and "loudness" of the guitar. On the other hand, the back is what acts in tandum with the internal air pump to add character and color to the sound (something I credit learning from Ervin Somogyi). I suppose this is why really good luthiers build instruments based upon what the wood dictates, rather than what the customer dictates. In other words, while one guitar with a spruce soundboard may sound excellent with a laminated maple back, another spruce soundboard may sound better with a solid mahogany back.

    Also, keep in mind that the original Selmer back and sides were built with laminated woods to cut down on the weight of the guitar and the relative ease of use and the lasting durability of the guitar (stiffer and lighter)...making due with cheaper materials in an ergonomic way.

    Excellent topic by the way. I find these discussions facinating!
  • mareskermaresker New
    Posts: 3
    Thanks for the responses so far. The comment that the top most defines the clarity and the volume and that the back defines the quality sounds interesting. Since I'm a relatively inexperienced builder the idea of using the top to determine what type of back and sides to use is beyond me. On what would I base that decision? In my limited experience I can say that the lightness of the instrument has a huge effect on the volume and in the archtop making sure the top is in tension also has an effect. That's why I figured the thinner, lighter guitars made with veneers would probably be louder and it sounds like the ply back would have an effect on the tone. I haven't played enough of these guitars to be able to compare. There are only a few decent gypsy guitars in the Kansas City area to my knowledge. I welcome more comments and thanks.
  • Craig BumgarnerCraig Bumgarner Drayden, MarylandVirtuoso Bumgarner S/N 001
    Posts: 794
    In luthier circles and forums, laminated vs. solid b/s is an often asked question, be it steel string acoustics, classicals, archtops, etc. While you will find strong opinions either way, the consensus seems to go something like "either way will make a good guitar, do what works for you and consider the historical background of the particular instrument". Classical guitars with laminated back and sides, for instance, are rare and players are often conservative about construction.

    Certainly good gypsy guitars are being made either way, solid b/s, or laminated. That said, the vast majority are laminated both historically and today. Most of my experience is with laminated which I like and am dedicated to, but my first gypsy guitar used solid bubinga b/s and it has proved to be a good guitar, I still gig it regularly.

    If it is your first one, I wouldn't worry too much either way. It is probably better to do what you feel most comfortable with. If you have experience bending sides, then you won't have much trouble with solid b/s and the big advantage to solid is you need less in the way of molds, glues, clamps, veneers, etc. East Indian Rosewood sets are reasonably priced and bend easily enough that even the cutaway bends are not that tough. Just buy a b/s set from a luthier supply house such as LMII, have them thickness sand it close to what you think you want and get to it.

    Laminating does result in a lighter guitar that is more durable for equal weight, but light weight is not everything and there are certainly some killer guitars, both modern and historical, that are heavier than the 3.5 - 4.0 pound range which is currently popular including some in the 4.5 lbs. range.

    SO MUCH of all this luthier stuff is a combination of many (many, many) little things. There are well over a hundred parts in a guitar, many of them quite critical. One doesn't get all those little things right, combined, and working together perfectly on the first guitar (or even the first half dozen), so just like learning to play music, suggest learning with known good examples until you find your own voice and then start to "improvise". You will find good examples using either solid or laminated b/s. To take one thing like that out of context, however, and think that alone is going to make THE big difference is probably overly optimistic.
  • noodlenotnoodlenot ✭✭✭
    Posts: 388
    Hi Craig! glad you dropped by.
    i don´t know... with all due respect to Mr. Somogyi, i´m always a bit weary of this talk individualizing an aspect of guitar building as having "such particular acoustical effect"- although one obviously needs generalizations in order to make common discourse manageable, there´s also a danger factor, specially when one is addressing inexperienced builders, of propagating misconceptions. the fact is that this stuff is just complex and experiments isolating a given parameter are hard and laborious to execute, and data difficult to interpret - so it´s hard to isolate this or that factor.

    a guitar is a system of coupled oscillators, after all, so all things work "together". "color and character" are a product of this system and depend on the back and top panels, as well as on the sides, neck, bridge, string height and angle, linings, and so forth.
    the back surely has an influence on output, but I believe - and so, i could be wrong... - that the bridge wood, size and mass have a more pronounced effect on the tone of the instrument than the back; saddle (or bridge in the selmers) height is also crucial.

    regarding laminated backs, they generally have higher damping than solid woods (specially if you compare it with rosewoods) - the sound waves going through them have to pass between different media (eg: mahogany > glue > poplar > glue > rosewood), and each time they do that they loose some energy - specially in the higher frequencies. how that affects the sonic output, specially if compared with a wood with higher damping (eg, maple)? well, once again - everyone has an opinion, but it´s hard to be certain.

    i´d love to hear some more input, as you may have guessed by now this stuff fascinates me.
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