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Old 08-24-2020, 07:18 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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Default Irvin 2020 build - my first custom guitar

After over fifty years of playing guitar, the one thing I have desired most is to have a luthier build a custom guitar. I decided 2020 would be the year, and this is my experience.

First, a little history.

I've been an Irvin Guitars fan since my wife and musical partner met Wayne (Irvin) Johnson in October 2017, less than a year after he moved from Virginia to the Seattle WA area.

Wayne had been making guitars for only a handful of years, yet it was clear to us that he already had a distinctive 'sound' and style to his instruments.

Wayne studied with Sergei DeJonge, so it is no surprise that his guitars are influenced by the Canadian steel-string ethos begun by Jean Larrivee and others.
Being a Larrivee devotee for 4 decades, this was literally music to my ears.

We all 'clicked' right from the start, and my partner and I started performing and recording with loaned (!) Irvin guitars.
I borrowed his only unsold cutaway, which happened to be guitar #4. After I saw increasing interest at guitar shows, I bought it so I wouldn't be without an Irvin guitar to play.

Wayne and I had been talking about doing a custom guitar for awhile. I decided that 2020 was going to be the year.
I chose his small jumbo (SJ) shape and specified a Florentine cutaway.

Friday March 13th I caught the ferry to his shop/home in Bremerton (an hour's sail from Seattle).
Jean Larrivee had supplied some hand-picked sets of Alpine 'moon' spruce for us. We did the tap-tone boogie and quickly found one that was clearly special.
With this and a deposit, the project commenced.

Moon spruce top wood:


(Next post: top bracing and rosette.)
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-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


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Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci

Last edited by Gordon Currie; 08-28-2020 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 08-24-2020, 09:14 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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Once the top was selected, Wayne carved and installed the braces. He used moon spruce as well for the bracing.

Tone bars and those multicolored 'porcupine quills':


X brace:


Top with bracing and rosette installed:


I have always liked the rosettes that Wayne creates. To my eye, I am reminded of Art Deco and Bauhaus design.
It reflects the same classic lines, simplicity, elegance and subtlety I see in all his guitars.

This rosette is made with koa, ebony and maple pieces:


(Next post: back and sides.)
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-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


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Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci
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Old 08-24-2020, 09:20 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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I already own many guitars with rosewood. I am a huge fan of whatever rosewood does to the tone and response of guitars I've owned and played.
I am not a fan of mahogany and I gave away my last guitar with mahogany 35 years ago. However, I wanted to try something a little different for this project.

Jean Larrivee told me years ago that one wood he was continually surprised and delighted by was walnut. I've seen mentions of it here and there in this subforum and elsewhere.
I was intrigued, yet it turns out that there are many varieties and I had no clue as to which was best. I asked Wayne to consider it and see what he could source.

Wayne had also been thinking about granadillo, also known as Central American rosewood or macacauba/hormigo. He found a set and was knocked out by it.
So much so that he decided this would be the best choice for the back and sides of this particular instrument.

Now, I imagine if I was working with a luthier I did not know well, I might push back and demand he defend an unexpected wood choice like this.
However, I have played many of his guitars now and find them to be constantly improving, plus we have talked for many hours about tone and response.
Finally, he has heard me play many times and knows the aspects I look for and value. Therefore, if he is excited about a piece of wood, I'm all in!

Sides joined. That grain is gorgeous:


Another view of the sides:


Back. I think the grain will be outstanding when finished:


The body closed up. This is beginning to look like a guitar:


(Next post: body, neck and fingerboard.)
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-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


Notable Journey website
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Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci
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Old 08-24-2020, 11:17 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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At this point in time (late April), the guitar has taken shape. And it's starting to look sweet.

I didn't mention earlier, but the scale length is my preferred length (25.5 inch) and it joins at the 14th fret. Just the way I like it.
String spacing is 1.75 inch (nut) to 2.25 inch (saddle). Again, this works well for me as I play open chord voicings, string skipping and other techniques that need a little more room.

The neck is a five piece neck of Honduras mahogany. I have a five piece neck on a few electric bass guitars, and I love how it looks to me as the player.
Since I'm having this built to please me and only me, I chose the bling and (possibly) slight amount of extra stability.

The fingerboard, bridge and majority of the binding and trim are ebony. Probably the one area that was not negotiable was the fingerboard material.
I have experienced various woods on fingerboards and liked some of them, but there is always something that bothers me about almost all.
Rosewood can be great, but I always feel the grain and it distracts me. Maple is so smooth, yet I feel like I am playing on glass.
Ebony is the only wood I have found that has precisely the right balance of hardness and 'woody' response.

Top and body:


Top and endblock:


Top and cutaway:


Top and fingerboard:


Wayne generally installs a soundport. I have grown to love them for live use:


(Next post: fingerboard inlay.)
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-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


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Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci
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Old 08-24-2020, 11:33 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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By May, I only had a few decisions left to make. An important one was inlay.

I've always enjoyed and admired good inlay work, way back in the early 80s when I would see Larrivee Presentation series guitars with Wendy Larrivee's fantastic work.
However, I never could justify the price tag. With this project, I knew I wanted some inlay, but I also did not want to degrade the clean, simple elegance of the design.

My wife had gotten Larry Robinson to do a beautiful inlay on her guitar. He has done eye-catching inlay for decades for all kinds of famous musicians.
I decided to do a more minimal design of Japanese maples leaves as fret markers - functional and attractive. Maybe the next one will be higher bling factor!

The guitar with inlaid fingerboard:


Better view of inlay:


(Next post: the finish process.)
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-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


Notable Journey website
Facebook page

Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci
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Old 08-25-2020, 01:36 AM
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Wow! Loving these posts, and looking forward to the next one.
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Old 08-25-2020, 05:18 PM
Dustinfurlow Dustinfurlow is offline
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Happy to see a post for one of Wayne's guitars here. I have followed his work on Instagram for some time now and LOVE his sense of wood choice and aesthetics. I had no idea he apprenticed with De Jonge. I'm also a fan of the Larrivee which I hear in Sergei's guitars as well, hope to hear some sound clips of this beauty! Congrats
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Old 08-25-2020, 05:48 PM
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Wonderful to see this guitar come together! The process (which I've done only once with Tom Doerr is a blast, but also brings out the nerves at some stages!! LOL!
Looking forward to more pics as you document this elegant guitar.
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Old 08-25-2020, 08:04 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colins View Post
Wow! Loving these posts, and looking forward to the next one.
Thanks, I am waiting on some better pictures of the finish work. The ones I have are cell phone pix, hopefully tomorrow I can get sharper ones. The Granadillo is spectacular looking after the finish.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dustinfurlow View Post
Happy to see a post for one of Wayne's guitars here. I have followed his work on Instagram for some time now and LOVE his sense of wood choice and aesthetics. I had no idea he apprenticed with De Jonge. I'm also a fan of the Larrivee which I hear in Sergei's guitars as well, hope to hear some sound clips of this beauty! Congrats
My wife and partner posted last year on her custom build:
https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/...d.php?t=535007

Wayne does seem to have an intuitive understanding of wood. His first ever maple body hit it out of the park and I told him I would have bought it if we weren't a few weeks away from starting this one!

I'll see what I can do about a sound clip.

Quote:
Originally Posted by islandguitar View Post
Wonderful to see this guitar come together! The process (which I've done only once with Tom Doerr is a blast, but also brings out the nerves at some stages!! LOL!
Looking forward to more pics as you document this elegant guitar.
Yes, I have a streak of OCD and it is easy to obsess and fret about the details. Luckily Wayne is super easy to work with, plus he plays decent guitar which definitely helps in the communication.
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-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


Notable Journey website
Facebook page

Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci
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Old 08-26-2020, 09:33 AM
ericcsong ericcsong is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dustinfurlow View Post
Happy to see a post for one of Wayne's guitars here. I have followed his work on Instagram for some time now and LOVE his sense of wood choice and aesthetics. I had no idea he apprenticed with De Jonge.
I love Wayne's aesthetics too. I was able to play a few of his guitars in his home before he moved out west.

I believe that Wayne never apprenticed for De Jonge. He took a build class which is much different than a formal apprenticeship.
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Old 08-26-2020, 10:49 AM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ericcsong View Post
I believe that Wayne never apprenticed for De Jonge. He took a build class which is much different than a formal apprenticeship.
Eric, you are correct. Wayne did not apprentice. Does anyone do that anymore?

Interestingly, when we showed an Irvin to Jean Larrivee, he instantly recognized the influence of Sergei.
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-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


Notable Journey website
Facebook page

Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci
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Old 08-28-2020, 07:30 AM
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A masterpiece in the making! Gorgeous piece!
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Old 08-28-2020, 01:44 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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By late June, the guitar was ready to send the the finisher. Wayne does his own French polish, and it is his preferred finish.
However, I am (inadvertently) somewhat hard on my guitars. I insisted on a UV polyurethane finish to strike a balance between protection and tone.

Wayne often uses a company in Vancouver B. C. Canada for their top-notch work. With border issues this added some extra time.
I was told that likely the guitar would not be back until late July. Time to hurry up and wait.

I became very practiced at the waiting game as late July turned into August. 3-4 week turnaround turned into 7 weeks due to unforeseen covid-19 related supply slowdowns.
If I didn't already have an Irvin to play (#4 from 2016) I would have been climbing the walls even more than usual during this pandemic time.

The guitar finally arrived back in Bremerton, averting any major mental health crises (mine). Wayne installed the neck and bridge and strings.
The finish enhances the look of the guitar, especially the granadillo!

View of the back. The grain reminds me of a light rosewood:


Another back and cutaway view. The ebony binding truly sets off the wood in a bold and classic manner:


This view shows how nicely four different woods - Alpine spruce, ebony, Honduras mahogany and granadillo - play together:


Bridge attached. We are now ready for action:


Strings on. It has now completed it's journey from trees around the globe to a gorgeous musical instrument:


(Next post: summary and more pictures from its new home)
__________________
-Gordon

1978 Larrivee L-26 cutaway
1988 Larrivee L-28 cutaway
2006 Larrivee L03-R
2009 Larrivee LV03-R
2016 Irvin SJ cutaway
2020 Irvin SJ cutaway (build thread)
K+K, Dazzo, Schatten/ToneDexter


Notable Journey website
Facebook page

Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. - Leonardo Da Vinci
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Old 08-28-2020, 02:12 PM
Treenewt Treenewt is offline
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Gordon,

That is a beautiful instrument all around. I love the leaves on the fretboard, the pattern of the rosette, the grain on the back...all of it! Congrats!
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Old 08-29-2020, 04:32 AM
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Sure is a purdy thing!
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