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-   -   MARK BLANCHARD Bristlecone [Italian Spruce | Brazilian Rosewood] (https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=596397)

iim7V7IM7 10-26-2020 06:28 PM

MARK BLANCHARD Bristlecone [Italian Spruce | Brazilian Rosewood]
 
This is my second commissioned steel string flattop from Crowley Lake, CA luthier Mark Blanchard. We don’t see a lot of his work here on AGF, but I would encourage you to follow along here and watch this build thread to learn more about Mark’s guitars. They are unique in their timbre and are among the best that I have played.

http://www.blanchardguitars.com/

Mark started building his own line of custom guitars in 1994. Over the years, he has had workshops in both Montana and in three different locations in California (he is now located up in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Crowley Lake, CA). About five years ago, Mark built me a fantastic European Spruce | Madagascar Rosewood, 00 sized, 12-fret to the body guitar (his Pinyon model) which I simply adore.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/albu...syxsstkfi.jpeg

https://hosting.photobucket.com/albu...sdk5vod0k.jpeg

Mark has a fairly unique approach to building guitars whose voicing relies heavily on his use of Chladni techniques to achieve consistency in his guitars. Mark has note books documenting nearly every guitar that he has built. This is how he knows how to interpret the patterns. Here is a link to an excellent presentation that is available for sale on his website that he made on the subject 13-years ago at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival back in 2007 (it is not free, but it is quite comprehensive).

http://www.blanchardguitars.com/guit...i/chladni.html

Mark is also a very inventive person. He designed, patented and manufactures a novel double acting truss rod that he uses and also sells to many luthiers.

http://www.blanchardguitars.com/guit...russ_rods.html

Here’s the patent for those who are interested.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US7507887B1/en

In my experience, aside from being responsive to touch and balanced across the strings, the signature timbral characteristic of Mark’s guitars are the weight or “fatness” of their trebles. The playability and workmanship of his instruments is also top tier.

For this commission, Mark is building me custom version of his Bristlecone model. This is 14-fret to the body guitar that is slightly wider at the lower bout (+1/4”) and deeper at the neck (+1/4”) than a CF Martin Orchestra (OM) Model. He also uses a slightly smaller sound hole diameter than an OM (-1/8” diameter) which slight lowers the air resonance of the body. Given its size and versatility, it is unsurprisingly his most popular model over the years. Here is a photo of a recent Bristlecone that he made so you can see itd shape.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...55EFB6F31D.png

This will be Mark’s 135th guitar. Here are the specifications for my build:

DIMENSIONS:
Upper Bout: 11”
Lower Bout: 15-1/4”
Body Length: 19-1/2”
Neck Depth: 3-1/2”
End Depth: 4-1/8”
Sound Hole Diameter: 3-3/4”
Back Radius: 12’ R
Top Radius: 30’ R dish / 47’ R rims
Scale Length: 25-1/4”
Fretboard Radius: 14” to 18” R
Nut Width: 1-3/4”
String Spacing: 2-1/4”

OPTIONS:
Headstock: Paddle Head
Neck Profile: C with a shoulder
Cutaway: Continuous Contour Venetian
Manzer Wedge: Yes, 1”, 3-1/2” to 4-1/2” Depth @ Lower Bout

MATERIALS:
Top: Italian Alpine Spruce
Back & Sides: Brazilian Rosewood
Neck: One-piece Honduran Mahogany
Fretboard: Gaboon Ebony
Bridge: Belly, Gaboon Ebony
Headstock Veneer: Brazilian Rosewood
Bindings/Back Strip/End Graft: Macassar Ebony
Purflings: Curly Koa with Black Fiber
Rosette: Brazilian Rosewood with Curly Koa with Black Fiber purflings
Pickguard: Transparent, Polyester Film
Side Position Markers: MOP
Headplate Veneer Inlay: Abalone “B”
Bridge Pins: Gaboon Ebony
Finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer

HARDWARE:
Tuning Machines: Gotoh 510 Minis with Custom Macassar Ebony Buttons
Frets: Jescar EVO .043” x .080”
Truss Rod: Blanchard, Stainless Steel, Double Acting
Case: Hoffee, Brown Exterior/Green Interior

TOP SET:

Mark selects top sets from his wood locker based upon a target ratio of long-grain to short-grain stiffness based upon the lower bout size of the model that he is constructing. He has found that there is a limit to what he can adjust for through plate thickness/contouring, top dish radius and bracing pattern/profile; so he wants to start off by selecting sets within a target stiffness ratio that has resulted in success in past guitars.

He uses Chladni methods throughout his build process, but initially it is used to ascertain this stiffness ratio and needs to have the top set cut to shape in order to understand this. So he glues up top sets up and start with his largest model profile evaluate and if the ratio based on the patterns is not where he wants them, he cuts the top down to his next smaller size until the long grain and cross grain stiffness come into a target range. So the this pre-work occurs before a particular commission is started. It is how he organizes tops in his shop. Mark has a saying that he believes “the tone is in the top”.

He also selects top sets for clients based upon their density based on their playing style and strength of attack. I play with both a heavy pick and my fingers but my attack is somewhat light. Guitars always somewhat being compromises, I needed to ask myself is “sensitivity-responsiveness” most important or was “headroom”? For me, responsiveness and dynamics were more important than headroom when playing solo at home.

Based on my playing style, Mark selected a set of Italian Alpine Spruce (Norway Spruce, aka Picea abies). He sourced this set through luthier David Morse two decades ago so it is well seasoned and stable at this point. What is important is that it had the correct long grain to cross grain stiffness ratio for making a Bristlecone and was a density of about 6.5 g/cubic inch which Mark thought would suit my playing style.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...7CAFFB0DE.jpeg

BACK & SIDES:

For the back and sides we looked at some lovely sets of Honduran Mahogany, Koa, Macassar Ebony and Ziricote. But in the end we chose an aesthetically plain, beautifully quarter-sawn set of Brazilian Rosewood. There are two darkened stripe patterns towards the inside of the plates. As a size reference, the pattern drawn on this set is for his Tamarack model which is 15-5/8”; so these are 8+” pieces and the Bristlecone is only 15-1/4” he will need to make some inside/outside pattern adjustment decisions.

The rim sets appear to go from quarter-sawn to rift/flat sawn with the typical odd fillable worm hole; but are about 5” wide. Because the guitar’s taper from neck to end (3-1/4” to 4-1/8”) and that it will also incorporate a 1” Manzer Wedge across the lower bout (3-1/2” on the low E side to 4-1/2” on the high E side), much of the non quatersawn (less physically stable) wood will be able to removed. Mark will use the wood oriented towards the backset

https://hosting.photobucket.com/albu...pscysjxpe4.png

Mark starts by bending the rims because if he breaks them he would need to select an alternative back and side set. Here are the Brazilian Rosewood sides trimmed to an oversized dimension with parallel edges about 4-5/8” left somewhat thick (about 0.095”) for rigidity.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...4ECA4DCF9.jpeg

Mark also slots, tapers and binds his fretboard because he needs to know the exact width of the fretboard at the body junction at the 14th fret along with the thickness of the rims in order to properly dimension the neck block.

I will post photos in this thread as Mark sends them to me as he builds the guitar. I am not expecting it be delivered for another 5-6 months in April, 2021.

rick-slo 10-26-2020 06:38 PM

Congrats. Mark is a first rate builder and a nice guy in general. For many years I have enjoyed owning one of his Bristlecone guitars

Diamondave 10-26-2020 07:50 PM

EXCITING, thx for sharing, this will be fun watching come together.... I recall meeting Mark at the 2009 or 2011 Healdsburg show and playing his 100th guitar, it was unreal...

BlackKeys36 10-26-2020 08:43 PM

Congrats on the new build! I stumbled across one of Mark's guitars about a month ago and was blown away by the sound. This one will turn out incredible!

Richard Mott 10-26-2020 09:50 PM

Mark Blanchard makes superlative instruments! Here’s Carl Miner playing one:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY2RSICxnLM

iim7V7IM7 10-27-2020 05:49 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rick-slo (Post 6534412)
Congrats. Mark is a first rate builder and a nice guy in general. For many years I have enjoyed owning one of his Bristlecone guitars

Derek, I totally agree and that is why I am back for a second instrument :). Mark for the last decade has been a bit less as visible to the custom guitar market so many who frequent this forum may not know his work like we do. Like yourself, I am a big fan and hope others discover his instruments.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Diamondave (Post 6534466)
EXCITING, thx for sharing, this will be fun watching come together.... I recall meeting Mark at the 2009 or 2011 Healdsburg show and playing his 100th guitar, it was unreal...

Yes, my guess is #100 may have been at Healdsburg 2009. Mark made may more guitars over the first 15-years of his time at the bench, but has only been building about 3 guitars a year over the last decade. Mark's guitar's certainly have a unique voice which I happen really like. As you watch this guitar come together you will be able to see "why".

Quote:

Originally Posted by BlackKeys36 (Post 6534502)
Congrats on the new build! I stumbled across one of Mark's guitars about a month ago and was blown away by the sound. This one will turn out incredible!

Thanks. I believe that there are a few currently at Mike Joyce's and Paul Heumiller's shops.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Richard Mott (Post 6534533)
Mark Blanchard makes superlative instruments! Here’s Carl Miner playing one:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY2RSICxnLM

Thanks for posting the video...:up:

Dustinfurlow 10-27-2020 09:23 AM

My goodness. I really can’t wait to play one of these beauties one day.

iim7V7IM7 10-27-2020 09:56 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dustinfurlow (Post 6534809)
My goodness. I really can’t wait to play one of these beauties one day.

If there is a WILS next year Dustin you will...:up: (warning: as a consequence of auditioning it, I suspect you'll want one :))

ChuckS 10-27-2020 01:45 PM

Looking forward to following this build. It has a great start.

Quote:

Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7 (Post 6534639)
...[snip]... Mark's guitar's certainly have a unique voice which I happen really like. As you watch this guitar come together you will be able to see "why".

I've heard Derek's Blanchard on a number of his recordings, but I was wondering if you could elaborate on the 'unique voice' as you hear it.

iim7V7IM7 10-27-2020 01:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ChuckS (Post 6535034)
Looking forward to following this build. It has a great start.

I've heard Derek's Blanchard on a number of his recordings, but I was wondering if you could elaborate on the 'unique voice' as you hear it.

The signature timbral characteristic of Mark’s guitars are the weight or “fatness” of their trebles.

iim7V7IM7 10-27-2020 04:39 PM

Cleaning up the rims.
 
Mark has rough sanded to “clean up” the bent Brazilian Rosewood rims with 80 grit sandpaper (took off about 0.010”). As a side reference, the cutaway radius is about 1-1/8” radius. Mark likes to leave his sides relatively thick.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...38B6FFF50.jpeg

Carey 10-27-2020 06:09 PM

I look forward to following this Mark Blanchard guitar build thread.

iim7V7IM7 10-27-2020 07:37 PM

Neck Block
 
Mark has a continuous cutaway that runs flush/tangent from the fretboard. In order to achieve this, Mark needs to understand the fretboard taper and width at the 14th fret where it meets the body. You can see the 2.310” width called out at this point. You can see the twisting,compound surface on the Honduran Mahogany neck block that the Brazilian Rosewood cutaway will later be glued to.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...B7C16B2E3.jpeg

In the second photo you can see the Honduran Mahogany neck block being glued to to the non-cutaway Brazilian Rosewood rim.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...91E47F2B4.jpeg

cigarfan 10-28-2020 04:52 AM

Fascinating! An engineering marvel. And it will make beautiful music!

Congrats Bob on another stellar build! :)

iim7V7IM7 10-28-2020 06:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by cigarfan (Post 6535448)
Fascinating! An engineering marvel. And it will make beautiful music!

Congrats Bob on another stellar build! :)

Thanks Dennis...:).

I share the construction process here on AGF in threads like this to help future guitarists considering commissioning an instrument to help them understand how each builder's work differs. What you can see here in the AGF Custom Shop is that there are MANY different ways to create a great instrument.

The internet is primarily a visual medium. So showing how an instrument was created (what and how), some insights into the "why" is important. When I pick up a guitar and play it and it sounds different from another it provides me with a small glimmer of insight.

Yes, we can hear audio and video on the internet, but I have never found them to meaningfully capture what a truly great guitar sounds like (even when professionally recorded). That is why I am a big advocate of attending luthier exhibitions to sample a builder's work. The same guitar played by different players can sound heavenly or just "OK". The player and the guitar are actually a "system".

iim7V7IM7 10-28-2020 01:15 PM

Cutaway to neck block
 
Dry clamping the Brazilian Rosewood cutaway side to the Honduran Mahogany neck block. This is done to align the side to the neck block. Once it’s where Mark wants it to be, he installs two small indexing pins next to the clamp. You can see the convexity in the side that matches the neck block curvature.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...8ECF17242.jpeg

Mark glues the Brazilian Cutaway cutaway side to the neck block with slow set structural epoxy. This is done out of the mold so that he can apply clamps more easily. The pins maintain alignment. This will stay clamped for 24 hours.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...ECD2A50EF.jpeg

iim7V7IM7 10-29-2020 05:19 PM

Rims bent together with blocks
 
Mark completed the neck block and glued in a three-ply (0.200”/0.125”/0.200”) Honduran Mahogany end block. He also installed side polyester twill reinforcement tapes. The continuous concave contour of Mark’s cutaway can be seen clearly now that he has trimmed back the Brazilian Rosewood side. The sides are still left much deeper than the guitar at this point.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...18F32CC45.jpeg

iim7V7IM7 10-30-2020 04:37 PM

Top Linings
 
Mark with the aid of his adjustable body mold glued in the guitar’s kerfed Spanish Cedar top linings.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...F13F8AA6D.jpeg

rgregg48 10-31-2020 06:16 AM

Commission of the month,,stay tuned!

Burton LeGeyt 10-31-2020 08:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7 (Post 6537946)
Mark with the aid of his adjustable body mold glued in the guitar’s kerfed Spanish Cedar top linings.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...F13F8AA6D.jpeg

Love the squeeze-out mirror!!! What a good idea :)

iim7V7IM7 10-31-2020 08:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Burton LeGeyt (Post 6538382)
Love the squeeze-out mirror!!! What a good idea :)

I noticed that as well Burton...:up: Mark is full of practical, inventive ideas...:)

iim7V7IM7 10-31-2020 10:12 AM

Reverse Kerfed Linings
 
This is Mark’s new lining design. It’s a two piece, “reverse” kerfed lining designed for increased rim stiffness. The kerfed piece is glued on first (Yesterday’s photo). The second piece is a 0.040” thick strip that is glued over the kerfed portion to provide additional stiffness. Because the strip is about 3 times thicker than it is on one piece reversed kerf lining, this design is much stiffer and stronger.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...1A8672415C.png

The wood is 40 year old Alder that he salvaged from some discarded restaurant tables. Mark will use the same design made from Spanish Cedar for the back linings.

iim7V7IM7 10-31-2020 02:33 PM

Cutting a top radius
 
The Alder/Spanish Cedar reverse kerfed top linings, polyester reinforcement ribbons, Honduran Mahogany neck and end blocks are installed on the rims. Mark now cuts a 47’ radius to the top of the lined rims using the X, Y rails of his fixture.

https://hosting.photobucket.com/imag...0D65401C6.jpeg

invguy921 11-01-2020 10:33 AM

Congratulations on a super cool new build. That brazilian is really really special. Straight grain quarter sawn just doesn't pop up much these days. Should be an amazing instrument!

justonwo 11-01-2020 11:03 AM

I’m sorry, Bob, but I only do east coast builders . . .

justonwo 11-01-2020 11:04 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rgregg48 (Post 6538248)
Commission of the month,,stay tuned!

Tourette syndrome is treatable. Inquire with your primary care physician.

iim7V7IM7 11-01-2020 11:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by invguy921 (Post 6539327)
Congratulations on a super cool new build. That brazilian is really really special. Straight grain quarter sawn just doesn't pop up much these days. Should be an amazing instrument!

Thanks Woody...:up:. Luthiers who have been building for decades seem to still have some. This set is honestly not been in Mark’s wood locker that long compared to some that I have seen. I believe he acquired it only about a decade ago. It is not beautifully figured like much of the stump wood we see of late, but it likely offers the benefit of physical stability. I tend to look for this in glassy, higher movement hardwood sets.

Quote:

Originally Posted by justonwo (Post 6539359)
I’m sorry, Bob, but I only do east coast builders . . .

It is funny how that works. Forgetting your European and California instruments; I see Brondel, Fairbanks and Slobod (sounds like a law firm from New England :)) I actually, if I think about it, I have worked with builders in Europe (France), East (Maine, New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina); Mountains (Colorado) and West (California, Oregon and Washington State).

usb_chord 11-02-2020 12:47 AM

Ahh, lovely! I first heard of Mark's guitars through Larry Pattis' playing. I eventually came across one in Guitar Gallery well over a decade ago. I cant recall the body size (pretty sure somewhere in the middle).

It probably remains the single greatest ziricote back and sides guitar I've come across. It was fab. I think that might've been the first time I played a guitar with a seamless cutaway to neck heel transition, too. Everything about that guitar was fantastic. Congrats on this one!!

iim7V7IM7 11-02-2020 06:36 AM

Thanks Brian...:)

Quote:

Originally Posted by usb_chord (Post 6539905)
Ahh, lovely! I first heard of Mark's guitars through Larry Pattis' playing. I eventually came across one in Guitar Gallery well over a decade ago. I cant recall the body size (pretty sure somewhere in the middle).

It probably remains the single greatest ziricote back and sides guitar I've come across. It was fab. I think that might've been the first time I played a guitar with a seamless cutaway to neck heel transition, too. Everything about that guitar was fantastic. Congrats on this one!!


jt1 11-02-2020 04:03 PM

Another stunning guitar Mr. Fancy Chord. Congratulations.

I really like Mark's guitars and, though I first saw it a couple of decades ago, still marvel at that crazy neck block/cutaway/neck joint.

Thanks for sharing this with us. I look forward to many more posts in this thread and to playing the guitar someday.


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