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Old 09-02-2020, 06:51 AM
MC5C MC5C is offline
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Default Hand carved vs copy-router?

I looked at the L-4 that Steve linked to in the "Next best thing to an L-5" thread, and the first thing that leapt off the page was "hand carved spruce top". Gibson and every other factory making archtops used copy routers, they didn't hand carve anything. Maybe in the very early days they did, and maybe pre-war they finished them with hand carving, tuning, graduating, but by the 1940's they were doing all the rough carving on machines, and probably just doing finish sanding by hand. I have nothing against machines doing grunt work (when I toured the Benedetto shop in 2018, the first thing I saw was the CNC machines and the now semi-retired old hand-made copy router). I just wonder if describing every solid top instrument as "hand carved" isn't getting a little romantic and deliberately evoking some fictitious image of a worker with a top on a bench surrounded by shavings knee deep on the floor as he "hand carves" a top (or a back, which is around 10 times harder), which when I do it involves several power tools, and at least three or four days of actual hand and arm numbing bench time with planes and scrapers. The reality was wood clamped on machine, carved top ready for finish work in 30 minutes, next one please.
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1957 Hofner Senator archtop
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1996 Landola jumbo
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2015 Evans electric archtop
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Last edited by MC5C; 10-09-2020 at 09:53 AM.
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  #2  
Old 09-02-2020, 07:34 AM
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iim7V7IM7 iim7V7IM7 is offline
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The rough carving of archtop plates can be accomplished a variety of ways. The things that are important that separate a superlative instrument from an average instrument during a carving operation has little to do with the rough carving process in my opinion.
  • The proper split billets, seasoning and drying of the wood, quarter sawing of plates and storage of the woods
  • The selection of the sets by someone skilled in the art
  • The refinement of the plate arches, which is done by someone skilled in the art with scrapers. This can vary based on the properties of the plates. There is quite a bit of work here post-rough carving.
  • The choice of bracing configuration and profiling of them
Most builders start out doing rough carving by hand but later move on either a duplicator or today, CNC. Some will say that the process of rough carving allows the luthier/builder to get to know the nature of the plates by spending extended time with them. After a builder has done say 100 or 200 instruments by hand, they have acquired the knowledge associated with that portion of the build to interpret a top during the arch refinement stage.

These aspects have nothing to do with how the top was rough carved and they do involve knowledge, skill and hand operations.

My $.02


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Originally Posted by MC5C View Post
I looked at the L-4 that Steve linked to in the "Next best thing to an L-5" thread, and the first thing that leapt of the page was "hand carved spruce top". Gibson and every other factory making archtops used copy routers, they didn't hand carve anything. Maybe in the very early days they did, and maybe pre-war they finished them with hand carving, tuning, graduating, but by the 1940's they were doing all the rough carving on machines, and probably just doing finish sanding by hand. I have nothing against machines doing grunt work (when I toured the Benedetto shop in 2018, the first thing I saw was the CNC machines and the now semi-retired old hand-made copy router). I just wonder if describing every solid top instrument as "hand carved" isn't getting a little romantic and deliberately evoking some fictitious image of a worker with a top on a bench surrounded by shavings knee deep on the floor as he "hand carves" a top (or a back, which is around 10 times harder), which when I do it involves several power tools, and at least three or four days of actual hand and arm knumbing bench time with planes and scrapers. The reality was wood clamped on machine, carved top ready for finish work in 30 minutes, next one please.
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Old 09-03-2020, 09:32 AM
drive-south drive-south is offline
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The most important distinctions to me is carved vs pressed, and solid vs laminated. Any guitar with a solid / carved top is a carved-top.
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Old 10-09-2020, 09:09 AM
SuperB23 SuperB23 is offline
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Agree with you on the hand term being over used in this case for sure. Seems like the three main terms that should be used are carved, solid wood pressed or laminate.

I notice a lot of solid wood pressed instruments like the old Kalamazoo Archtops from the 30s and 40s get labeled as hand carved when I believe most of them are solid wood pressed. They were budget model Archtop guitars.

This article sums it up pretty well by reverb.

https://reverb.com/news/a-guide-to-a...intage-low-end
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Old 10-09-2020, 09:57 AM
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Yes, and no. Yes, those are primary distinctions, between factory guitars not not luthier made instruments.

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Originally Posted by SuperB23 View Post
Agree with you on the hand term being over used in this case for sure. Seems like the three main terms that should be used are carved, solid wood pressed or laminate.

I notice a lot of solid wood pressed instruments like the old Kalamazoo Archtops from the 30s and 40s get labeled as hand carved when I believe most of them are solid wood pressed. They were budget model Archtop guitars.

This article sums it up pretty well by reverb.

https://reverb.com/news/a-guide-to-a...intage-low-end
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Old 12-27-2020, 09:33 AM
Doc Scantlin Doc Scantlin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MC5C View Post
I looked at the L-4 that Steve linked to in the "Next best thing to an L-5" thread, and the first thing that leapt off the page was "hand carved spruce top". Gibson and every other factory making archtops used copy routers, they didn't hand carve anything. Maybe in the very early days they did, and maybe pre-war they finished them with hand carving, tuning, graduating, but by the 1940's they were doing all the rough carving on machines, and probably just doing finish sanding by hand. I have nothing against machines doing grunt work (when I toured the Benedetto shop in 2018, the first thing I saw was the CNC machines and the now semi-retired old hand-made copy router). I just wonder if describing every solid top instrument as "hand carved" isn't getting a little romantic and deliberately evoking some fictitious image of a worker with a top on a bench surrounded by shavings knee deep on the floor as he "hand carves" a top (or a back, which is around 10 times harder), which when I do it involves several power tools, and at least three or four days of actual hand and arm numbing bench time with planes and scrapers. The reality was wood clamped on machine, carved top ready for finish work in 30 minutes, next one please.
...'getting a little romantic"... ha! At Gruhn Guitar's repair shop we would grin and wink at each other when the "you know what" got a little deep regarding the supposed "old world" craftsmanship of this or that instrument factory. Our pet phrase was ..."sweat from the craftsman's brow"... Of course this was in the late 1970's and while we did some wonderful repairs, none of us even knew how to sharpen a plane or what a card scraper even was...This includes some who went on to be very famous builders. Our favorite "old world" tool was the drum sander!
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Old 12-30-2020, 06:39 PM
Dave Richard Dave Richard is offline
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There is reprinted, in the great 'House of Stathopoulo' history of Epiphone, a Socony publication describing operations at Epiphone, in around 1940. There is a photo of the duplicator carver, use to rough out tops and backs. But when I examine, or work on/repair one of these vintage Epis, it's obvious from the tool marks, that someone scraped and/or sanded the inside surface of the the top and back. So, I believe these parts were roughed out with machines, and then some amount of hand work was done, to bring them to final thickness and graduation. They were made in a small factory or workshop(25 give-or-take employees), and it was a mix of machine and hand work.
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Old 12-31-2020, 05:31 AM
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Bob Womack Bob Womack is offline
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You know, hand carving of the top is at the threshold of the unobtainium archtops such as John Monteleone's $50,000 and above art guitars. There have been some Jazz cats who have played these instruments but "the rest of us" have to settle for a little more pedestrian, manufactured instrument. It is a little humbling to realize that the most custom, bespoke items in my guitar world are a couple of guitar straps that my wife commissioned from a leathersmith.

Bob
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