The Pegu Guitar is now complete (in build anyway). The bridge is a temporary component and is not actually fastened to the guitar. As the bracing system is quite radically different to traditional acoustic guitar construction, the traditional bridge does not interact sufficiently to get the most from the bracing. I now need to experiment with numerous alternatives before I can settle on the best design to compliment the bracing.
This has been a project with a strong sense of salvage and marine theme. All the woods used have been gathered from stock that has been sidelined for many years. The Cedar front was abandoned long ago due to it being too thin in places. The Honduras Mahogany neck and back and Ebony fret board were gathering dust on the shelves of a retired local Luthier. The aluminium parts were salvaged from the stand of my old fish tank (which appropriately housed marine fish) and of course, the Teak sides were salvaged from the SS Pegu after spending 94 years on the sea bed.
The initial reason to build a guitar was to use the Cedar that had been sitting at the back of a cupboard for over 20 years. Although not the perfect example, I thought it a shame if this wood did not get used. This led me to think about using it for an experiment or two which in turn led me to consider an alternative method of guitar side construction – hence the ship’s decking idea.
As the tone of the guitar was not likely to be its’ best feature, the Teak from the Pegu proved to be ideal as it was authentic decking timber and had such a rich history behind it. This also allowed me to experiment with my idea for the alternative bracing which I’d originally tried in the past with the Pentagon guitar. As the Pentagon guitar is now over 20 years old and has stood the full tension of strings throughout its’ life, it provided a lot of information as to the longevity of the system.
Together with the Pentagon guitar, I also made a guitar body with the bracing system which was left incomplete and has gathered dust ever since. These two provided invaluable information regarding the effect of full tension and no tension.
As a result, I have been able to modify the bracing to overcome slight problems discovered from the originals.
Woods used in the construction include: –
Plus an amount of aluminium and a small strip of copper.
The 8th July 2017 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the SS PEGU. Although I had hoped to complete the Pegu guitar on this date, unfortunately, time (and other jobs) have beaten me. However, I have managed to complete all parts with the final piece being a small chromed anchor set in clear resin within an aluminium sleeve.
Although the guitar was not completed, the final part was fabricated on this day and all parts were placed together to give an impression of the finished product.
I managed to salvage yet more aluminium from my former fish tank frame to make the tail piece for the guitar. As the job of the tail piece is to anchor the strings to the base of the guitar, I thought (as there is a nautical theme going on here) that I would make this to resemble the shape of an actual anchor.
This also means the guitar sits between an anchor at the top and bottom with the tension of the strings seemingly holding them together.
I have designed the top of the fret board in an unconventional manner incorporating a ‘Zero’ fret in place of the usual nut and an aluminium name plate which the stings pass through on their way to the machine heads. Above the PEGU name plate sits the truss rod cover which I have made from the mahogany offcuts from the neck. The cover is fashioned on a yacht‘s decking to go with the theme of the main body sides.
With all parts completed, I now have to glue it all together and affix bindings etc to make the finished product at least look like a professional job. Hopefully, this will not take too long…
This section of the build sees the initial development of the back, neck and fret board. In keeping with the ‘salvage’ theme that seems to be growing as the build progresses, I have managed to find some more excellent pieces that have been sitting waiting for this guitar.
Just a couple of miles from where I live is a wonderful semi-retired luthier (Fred Laugharne) who had some well aged and seasoned timbers that had been in storage since the early 90’s. Fred had some Honduras Mahogany pieces perfect for the back and neck and also some wonderful Ebony banks for the fret board. The beauty of this ebony is that it is from the time when ebony was still uniformly black.
In addition to the timber from Fred, I found a Wenge turning blank 50mm x 50mm x 200mm hidden away in my garage that I had forgotten I had. It has been there for at least 20 years so that had to be used somewhere on this guitar. I sliced it into several thin sections and used this to face off the head-stock and to make the bridge.
The two pieces of the back have been joined and smooth sanded to the desired thickness and cut to shape. I have also inlaid a decorative Satinwood binding down the centre.
So far I have shaped the head-stock and roughly cut the neck to shape. The strip of Oak running through the centre of the head-stock and into the neck is to offer strength to the scarf joint at the head and also to give a little decoration to the rear of the guitar.
The oak towards the heel will also serve for strength and decoration when the rest of the heel and body joint is built up.
The Copper logo inlaid in the Wenge head veneer is shaped from a single strand of copper wire from 30amp cooker cable. Each wire strand is approximately 1.2mm thick so the lettering groove was cut out to a depth of 0.6mm and the wire strand glued into position. Once firmly set, the protruding face of the wire was sanded flat to the face of the head veneer. This gives the effect of the Copper inlay being cut from a flat piece of Copper and is quite effective when it catches the light.
The fret board has been slotted for a 640mm scale length (approximately 25.2 inches) and has been radius shaped to 250mm (10 inch) at the nut through 291mm (11 ¾ inch) at the 12th fret (and so on). The current plan is to use a ‘zero fret’ instead of a traditional nut but that may change in the near future.
The bridge is shaped from the Wenge to match the head veneer and will be complemented by an aluminium tail piece as the next part of the build.
With the carcass from part 1 safely put to one side, I have joined and partially smoothed the Cedar front and cut to fit the recess of the carcass. The sound hole ‘plug’ has been cut from the sheet of the Oak used for the top and bottom edges of the carcass.
The Oak sound hole plug will fit into the cutout in the Cedar front from the back. The lip around the edge will glue to the back of the soundboard and provide strength to the circumference of the sound hole. The photograph shows the plug loosely placed in the Cedar front as a preview.
In addition to the SS PEGU text cut into the plug I have cut the date ‘8-7-17′ to represent 8th July. I have left the year as ’17’ to represent 1917 as the year the SS Pegu was sunk and also to represent 2017 as the year the guitar was built. If all goes to plan, the last part of the guitar build will be put into place on 8th July 2017 to complete the guitar on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Pegu.
Everything is rough cut at the moment but with a bit of grain filling and added trim the finished product will be nice and smooth.
The aluminium tailpiece and Purpleheart bridge is for another guitar and is included in the photograph to gauge the finished article. The actual bridge for this guitar will be made from Wenge with a similar aluminium tailpiece.
A few weeks into the build and the sides have taken shape – although needing fine finishing.
I suppose ‘sides’ is not the correct term as it is one continuous piece – so more of a carcass than two sides. This is made up of 64 individual ‘planks’ cut from the salvaged SS Pegu Teak. These are 14mm deep and 3mm wide and go together to form the main body of the carcass. The top and bottom of the carcass are made from another 64 individual pieces of Oak set with the grain of each piece running at 90 degrees to its’ neighbour for visual effect – Oak being yet another non-traditional guitar wood.
The Oak is wider than the Teak to act as the Kerfing layer and is recessed to accommodate the soundboard and back. The Kerfing is the ridge on which the front and back of the guitar rests and is usually made from a separate piece of ‘toothed’ wood.
Each ‘plank’ has a lug with a 6mm hole through to allow alignment when assembling and gluing. To strengthen the carcass, once glued, the holes were filled with dowelling to further interlock all pieces.
Although the carcass is one complete unit at the moment, the top will eventually be cut away to allow the neck to join. For the time being it will remain in tact to maintain the strength.
Isn’t it wonderful how interesting things go hand in hand with interesting things and appear to be attracted to each other by some magical magnetic force that some might just pass off as coincidence.
When inanimate things are drawn together by fate and circumstances that fill us with wonder and induce a dream world of romantic nostalgia, that’s not coincidence – that’s magic…
When I was young, about seven or eight years old, my big brother gave me a pencil drawing he had done of a galleon resting on a calm sea. He was a brilliant artist and the intricate detail of the rigging made a huge impression on me. I loved the way it all came together and wanted to climb up the rope netting to the highest crow’s nest. I remember taking it into school to show off to my schoolmates and teachers what my brother had done.
The image has always been with me in my head and I have tried to recreate it myself on many occasions. I remember reflecting on it whilst stood gazing up at the rigging of the Cutty Sark in the early 90’s whilst we were on a visit with our two sons when they were a similar age to that younger me all those years before.
Boats have always been an interest to me and I have spent many happy hours sailing, windsurfing or canoeing on Coniston Water and the rivers and canals of the North West of England.
Jump to December 2016 and whilst I was mulling over an alternative method of construction for the sides of an acoustic guitar I imagined the straight lined decking of a large yacht. I thought how it might look if the sides of the guitar were made up from many small ‘planks’ of wood cut to follow the curved shape of the guitar and put together like a jigsaw. I imagined the side of the guitar reflecting the planked decking of the yacht and tried to imagine just how it might look.
Unfortunately, supply of hardwoods locally is very limited. There are timber merchants who do supply hardwoods but their stock tends to be limited to the most common furniture building woods. Added to that, they only want to sell in lengths they have in stock and are not prepared to cut down. As I only wanted small pieces and something a bit more exotic than Oak or Sapele I started looking at what was available on the internet.
I found lots of people selling suitable bundles of off cuts and spent time imagining how each might look. Then I came across some Burmese Teak off cuts for sale. This was perfect as Teak is the preferred choice for boat decking due to its’ oily nature that makes it so weather proof. When it comes to Teak, Burmese Teak is considered amongst the best but is not the easiest timber to get hold of. Timber harvest in Burma, or Myanmar as it is now called, is very strictly controlled and only trees over 100 years old are allowed to be felled.
The Burmese Teak I discovered on offer was part of the remnants salvaged in 2011 from a WW1 wreck, the SS Pegu. The Pegu was a steam cargo ship of the Henderson Shipping Company that was torpedoed by a German U-boat (U57) under the command of Carl-Siegfried Ritter von Georg on 8th July 1917. Unfortunately, the sinking suffered the loss of one life – that being the 22 year old 4th engineer, Robert Maxwell. The Pegu had been carrying a huge supply of Burmese Teak from Rangoon to Liverpool to be used in the fortification of heavy gun emplacements in France and Belgium.
This was perfect for my project, not only was this a supply of the finest Teak, but it also meant I could have the perfect timber for the effect from a source that doesn’t necessitate the felling of healthy trees. The bonus was the history behind the timber that would inevitably provide a talking point whenever discussing the finished article.
I started to research the SS Pegu and came across 2011 article in the Shetland times describing the refurbishment of the Cutty Sark in November 2006. Unfortunately, in May 2007, just six months into the extensive £25m refurbishment, the ship suffered a terrible fire. The fire destroyed about 30 tonnes of timber including the main deck and added a further £10m to the restoration bill.
The article in the Shetland Times centred on the efforts of a Shetland man, Magnie Mann, who was involved in sourcing replacement timbers for the Cutty Sark’s decking. The teak destroyed on the Cutty Sark was actually Burmese Teak and the restoration project had specified the wood could not be modern timber but had to be as close to the original Cutty Sark construction era as possible.
The company in charge of the restoration had identified the wreck of the SS Pegu lying 7 miles off the South Coast of Ireland with a cargo of Burmese Teak on board.
Magnie Mann was a salvage operator who had been working with a Norwegian company and was approached to look into the possibility of raising the Burmese Teak from the wreck to be used for the restoration of the Cutty Sark. In 2011, around 80 tonnes of teak was lifted from the Pegu – much of it reported to be in perfect condition due to it being submerged in the silt, 80 metres below the surface.
Now, is it a remarkable coincidence that brings the above story to my attention just as I was musing over a ship’s decking effect on a guitar. Is it a coincidence that this all happens in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Pegu. Is it coincidence that the reason for lifting the Teak from the Pegu was actually to restore the decking of a ship – and not just any ship.
Obviously the temptation was too great to pass so I have managed to obtain a few short lengths of this timber that has such a rich history to it. Although Teak is not considered a traditional guitar making wood, I could not resist the attraction and plan to build an acoustic guitar with the decking effect sides constructed from the recovered Teak.
Due to being tonally ‘dead’ Teak is generally not considered suitable for guitars and it does present construction problems that also contribute to it’s unsuitability. Ironically, the high oil content of the wood that has helped preserve its’ 94 year sleep on the sea bed makes it notoriously difficult to glue. Traditional wood glue tends to be water based and relies on penetrating the wood to bond the sections together but the oil in the Teak prevents it from doing this. Fortunately, glue has come a long way in recent years and there will be something out there that will do the job – all I have to do now is find it.
As the 8th July 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Pegu, I will set that as my goal to finish the product and hopefully time it so the last piece of the guitar will be set on that date.
Watch this space for regular updates… I’m off to work.
This has got to be the simplest and cheapest ‘musical’ instrument. This one is very crude and I must say is very poorly finished off. It was literally knocked together in very rough form with very little effort towards the finish other than a lick of paint. But then again, it is something to go on the floor and be ‘stomped’ on so I don’t imagine it would retain any careful finishing for very long.
The sides are just some scraps of 2 x 1 pine made into two chambers then covered top and bottom with a bit of ply wood.
Just put it on the floor in front of you, place your foot over the footprint and stomp. Tap the front of your foot on the top chamber for a light beat or your heel on the bottom chamber for a good low down thud.
Of course, these things can be made from proper tone woods but I just wanted something cheap and cheerful.
A few bracing struts under the ply wood top to add strength and a cheap multi transducer pickup stuck underneath the top and away we go.
Total cost to build was about £5 so it didn’t break the bank – but what do you know – it works.