This guitar is named after our 2 year old girl Clara. It turned-out to be a very special, one-off build for 2020 ; A year full of surprises indeed.
The longer, intricate story leading to its creation is expressed throughout this page in text and pictures.
The Clara archtop was completed on December 14th 2020 with serial number -Andre Instruments no.111, Quebec city, Canada.
-For the short - summary version of the context in which it came about, here is a wonderful little clip produced by the insightful and wonderfull Michael Watts:
Spring time 2020 / Beginning of build: - Learning to cut apples...and getting creative !
Clara André, February-2020
From its initial stages of build and design, II surely wanted the Clara archtop to have a special story of its own, all to be presented as planned, at this year's Holy Grail guitar Show.
I got my oldest cedar out, for to make something that speaks to me: -Just the touch and sight of this wood had something haunting that I couldn't quite explain. While carving it, it felt really great ; Each wood chip made would advocate a pretty descent acoustic output to my cause. This -softwood- was screaming something different than usual.
This was mid-February, and time would tell me what to do with this next.
When the Holy Grail guitar show team hinted that there where still -demo- concert spots available for to showcase our instruments. I applied and luckily got an -electric- demo spot. I had a cool Lace Sensor single-coil pickup laying around, and this would compliment my -soft- F-hole design I was working-on at that time:
Beginning of March, and the birth of a collaboration:
When I asked Michael Watts if he would play a -demo- concert for me at the HGGS 2020, on the Clara archtop, he amazingly replied a genuine -Yes- to me, in a letter translated into French especially for me!
We then engaged in the following days into a discussion about the Clara archtop, its pickups, scale length, woods, etc. etc.
-I started then to listen to his album Vetiver, while working. I was blown away, sincerely, and now was even more motivated about my acoustic / electric archtop project, newly oriented fingerstyle instrument.
Michael was so informative, kind, and with the flow of everything design-wise. I changed the guitar considerably from personal impulse. I wanted to bring it closer to (what I imagine of) his playing style. Not wanting to create a flat-top sound out of it, but focusing on it having immediate response and a -sparkly- spirit, to go with his use of flesh and no plectrum in his playing.
Theses changes all came fast. When I asked him if he would mind a -big- humbucker in neck position, in the name of the Mojo gold foil wide-range humbucker (one pickup I had in-stock), he replied:
-That is my favourite pickup!
I was feeling blessed ! Such a great feeling, when things -flow- like this.
Of course, Michael and I never thought that the world would turn-around like this in the following days (read: March 13th 2020), and that our collaborative venture towards a planned meeting at the Holy Grail guitar show would now be obviously compromised.
From a holy grail planned meeting, ...to possibly finding new ways.
So,...how did this shape-up ?
Accents of ebony, aluminium, nickel, rosewood, are planned, as well as the addition of beautiful plum/teal coloured purfling lines.
What I did next was to -x- brace the top, to then add harmonic/ladder elements, aiming to bring to the guitar
a baroque/historic sonic feel that I like.
The bridge will lie right at the f-holes mid-point, coupling with the shorter/angled tone bars and -x- meeting point.
Michael's insights have helped me to plan for a simple - useable, pickup wiring layout, which to be enclosed in a shielded box atop the steel and aluminium tailpiece, similar to what I previously did on Multi and Multi 2 .
Still, I couldn't figure for now the pickguard part...and the way the pickup would be suspended. I certainly wanted it to be free from touching the top of the guitar in any case.
What I came up with is suspending the pickup internally from a laminated -shelf- support that is attached to the neck block. The cedar top being relieved all around the twin blade humbucker, this neck pickup is free to protrude through the top it as needed. Shown in small picture 3 is a temporary shim to test height.
This hole approach to affixing the magnetic pickup to the guitar felt right, and enabled me to use a beefier pickup without worrying for its impact on acoustics.
Also, the common shape of the -jazz- finger rest that by tradition is also holding this pickup, wasn't a necessity here for the Clara : I could now try something different to suit my design. More on this below!
The guitar scale-length is 25.00. The neck core was chosen to be Black Limba, with carbon fibre inserts. Its fingerboard is taken from a very old double-bass fingerboard once belonging to Lloyd Goldstein, this precious material was handed to me by the incredible/amazing luthier Mario Lamarre.
Short note on soundbox:
While the rim of the guitar is laminated from Indian rosewood (inner) and Ziricote, the overall neck-pull is supported by laminated -neck wings-, a buttressing system initiated by (to my knowledge) luthiers Steve Klein and Mike Doolin. I have used this system since around 2011on my hollow/acoustic instruments, this at first on Oudtar .
Wrapping up the project last November:
Exploring the archtop metal tailpiece, made from recycled materials :
Clara, during her most recent workshop visit !
While giving some work-time to the Greyhound Mandoline, leaving space for the final elements to the Clara archtop to mentally take form...I received an unexpected call from a local media, for to participate in a podcast and filmed interview on -Fine Crafts-.
-They asked if I had any guitars -in stock- for to bring with me. ...I replied a simple: -yes, no problem!
This shooting was going to be held in 30 days...! Of cours I didn't have any guitar -in stock-! I was close to the completion of a mandoline..........but I figured..., it was more so time to tie the loop with the Clara's build, and present a recent guitar for the occasion.
So, everything that followed that phone call went rather intuitively:
Aluminium, and thin shop-made strips of jade coloured recon stone were used to highlight the fingerboard. Stone was used again on headstock's mid-part, which serves a the truss-rod cover.
The guitar needed a visual -kick- near as strong as its nickel covered humbucker, or its aluminium accents... Keeping the metal tailpiece visuals in mind, I went for to use more colour in a playful spirit.
-Here is where I could include some of Clara's artistic expression within my build: -Right into the tailpiece's mid- part, a section of one of her very own gouache work is set into composition.
Fun fact is that, I had bought archival quality Canson paper postcards for her to paint on, so we could send them to friends for the new year. I never thought that a piece of these -artworks- would find its way on an actual instrument.
Completed tailpiece serves as control box (volume/tone) and is made of recycled steel, aluminium, recon stone, ebony, willow and Canson paper:
With its tailpiece, the guitar was now (nearly) complete and I was thankfully on-time for the media presentation mentioned above.
Video footage showing the Clara archtop in real-time on November 29th 2020 in Montreal. The talk is in French, and I get the chance to share my creative process with 2 great artists, who are composers and songwriters, Louis-Jean Cormier and Martin Léon.
The instrument is beautifully played at min. 20:30 of the clip.
This is more of a TV show format....so the actual -playing- is I agree too short, but we can get the amplified vibe of the Clara from its short appearance.
Tout un Bagage- Version audio- Une production CMAQ / QUB radio
Podcast interview format (extended version) with both composers Louis-Jean Cormier and Martin Léon, in which I get to talk a little bit about my work and process ( Français ).
Coming back to Quebec city came the making of the pickguard or finger-rest for the Clara.
At first I was skeptical to be able to -fit in- another element on this classic design...But exchanging extensively last spring with Michael Watts, and seeing how he personally plays and uses the guitar, it reminded me that many players need that finger-rest feature on an archtop. So...it had to be in any case!
-This feature was set as affirmative early-on, as the guitar's treble side was equipped before boxing-up of two aluminium threaded inserts that would later receive a screwable, on/off floating finger-rest to suit most players.
I had this design in the back of my mind, but never had done anything similar yet.
I wondered for a while... Maybe I was going too far with this -new-, out-of-the box finger-rest drawing?
Then I figured that I was most probably afraid myself to spoil my design, or maybe of not being able to pull-off this part.
Well.....When time came to do it, and the good material to use was found (a block of maple burl), it all went quickly and beyond my expectations.
I was pleased to see how the interlocking grain of this wood all makes it so strong on every axis.
I felt really lucky about this hard burl material and added a faint green colour to it to neutralize its red oriented tint.
A little gold leaf was added to both pickguard and headstock.
Scale length: inches 25.00
Neck width std. @ nut 1.6875 inches (1 11/16th)
String spacing at bridge std. @ 2.125 inches
Body width lower bout: inches 16.625
Body length total: inches 21.50
Body depth upper bout: inches 2.75
Body depth lower bout: inches 2.875
Pickup: Mojo Pickups UK, handmade Filtertron bladed model brushed Nickel finish, Switchcraft output jack, w/ vol/tone controls 50’s wiring at tailpiece.
Tuners are Schertlers brushed aluminium with brass gear. Truss rod cover is the removable center part of headstock.
Woods: All master grade, quarter-cut material is used. The carved soundboard is said to have been cut by loggers in the 1850 era… and was left behind in the mud, hence its -Sinker- appellation and colouring. It is quite cristalline in nature, showing strength, lightness and luminosity.
Materials: Haida Guai Island Sinker red Cedar top, altitude red spruce bracings, Zizicote back/sides with internal rosewood lamination, Black limba neck with carbon fibre reinforcements and truss rod, Gabon ebony fingerboard (from Lloyd Goldstein’s double bass replacement, via Mario Lamarre, luthier Qc), Spanish cedar beveled blocks & kerfings, dyed Sycomore (plum/blue), Rosewood, Jade recon stone (green), steel (tailpiece), aluminium, unbleached cow bone, Luminlay side-dots, carbon fibre, nickel silver (pickup), aliphatic glue, epoxy, tung oil & copal varnish, 23 karat gold leaf (head, pick guard), steel wire, nickel wire.
internal laminated Spanish cedar neck -wings- supports.
Altitude Red spruce soundboard bracings, soundboard voiced as per André.
Black Limba neck reinforced with carbon fibre, w/ ebony fingerboard, adjustable 2-way truss rod, aluminium rectangular inlays & greenish -glow in the dark- side dot markers.
Twin colour headstock design in Dyed Sycomore, ebony and rosewood. Brushed aluminum Schertler tuners w/ ebony buttons, and Andre Instruments 3-line logo in stone (headstock) and gold (pick guard).
Copal & oil satin varnish.