About the Guitars
How I Build 'Em
Running Dog guitars are not built on a production line. There is one luthier building one guitar at a time, for one particular player. After the materials, body style, and options are chosen (See the Options page), I select the particular pieces of wood for your guitar. They are thicknessed, the top and back joined, and sides bent. Braces are cut from the very best straight grain spruce. The rosette is inlaid in the soundboard and the soundhole cut.
Unless you specify otherwise, the soundholes on all Running Dogs are bound with a contrasting wood, often the same wood as the back and sides. This was a common technique in the late 1800's and is still done on fine archtops. I like it because it covers the end grain of the soundboard and protects this vulnerable area from pick and nail damage.
When a factory prepares a soundboard, they sand it to a standard thickness without regard for the stiffness of the particular piece of wood or for the size of guitar. I choose an appropriate piece of spruce, cedar, or redwood for the individual guitar and player, and then carefully thickness it for that instrument, measuring to the thousandths of an inch. The lighter weight the soundboard, the more responsive the guitar. But too thin and the soundboard is likely to suffer damage from humidity changes and the normal knocks and bangs. Furthermore, if the soundboard is too thin, it will be floppy and the sound muddy and confused. There's a very fine point at which it is responsive, clear, loud, and generally wonderful. Finding that point is time-consuming and requires experience and concentration.
Both soundboard and back are domed to resist cracking from humidity changes, and to provide the best possible sound. Braces are carved (scalloped) to extract the best tone and responsiveness from the instrument. Each soundboard is tap-tuned, carved, tapped, carved ... until it reaches its maximum potential for response, balance, and fullness of tone.
The neck starts as one piece of 4" thick, 3" wide, quartersawn mahogany. This is cut in half lengthwise and a center rib of hardwood is laminated in place. Contrasting veneers may be included in the neck. The fingerboard surface is jointed flat and straight, then routed for the double-acting truss rod. Carbon fiber is laminated on either side of the truss rod to stiffen the neck (not on Sprite: the short scale length doesn't require additional reinforcement). The headstock is prepared and a veneer glued on. This is both cosmetic and structural: it really stiffens this part of the neck. When I use a flexible headstock veneer -- like sycamore, redwood burl, etc. -- I back it with ebony for strength and stiffness.
My ebony fingerboards are CNC routed at a tolerance of 0.0005". That's pretty damn small! The neck is carved to your preference -- slight Vee, semi-round, etc. Width and taper are cut. It is joined to the body with a tenon and bolts to make disassembly easy and quick.
I don't trust the butt joint used by some builders to attach their necks. It's probably fine, but my old-style New England woodworking background won't accept it. The mortise-and-tenon joint is held together by two socket-head bolts accessible from the inside of the guitar, and reinforced by a cross-grain strip epoxied into the tenon. On a bench test, I was able to torque the joint to 90 foot-pounds without failure!
The heel is carved in a traditional shape on non-cutaways, or in a flat jazz guitar style on cutaways. Nothing protrudes to catch your hand as you slide into the cutaway. The fingerboard is given a comfortable arch, a smooth polish, and Martin-style frets. Hand-cut inlays are the best abalone and gold mother-of-pearl; position dots are pearl (paua, mother of pearl, black pearl, or gemstone).
A note about plastic –I don't like plastic on guitars. It's great stuff for computer cases and telephones, it's even good for many things that used to be made of wood like automobile dashboards and fly rods (I made a walnut burl dashboard for my car and I fish with a cane rod –But if you want a plastic dash or rod, fine). Plastic really sucks on guitars, except maybe Telecasters and those cool plastic Maccaferris of the Fifties. Ivoroid binding shrinks and pulls away at the waist, plastic yellows with age, it either absorbs energy across the sound spectrum or not much at all, the soundboard wood shrinks leaving plastic rosettes standing proud of the surface ... Anyway, it just doesn't belong there. Kind of like putting a plastic cloth over a butternut Shaker table. So the only plastic on my guitars is that little washer under the tuner buttons -- it works well and I'm damned if I'm going to cut leather washers to replace them!
Meanwhile, the body is assembled and given its first sanding. Wood binding and purfling are installed. Everything is levelled and sanded, and the back and sides filled if necessary. Finally, the instrument is sprayed with a high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer and buffed to a warm glow.
Final setup includes precise work on the fingerboard and frets. The nut and saddle are bone; the intonation is checked and adjusted. The truss rod, accessible from inside the guitar, is adjusted. The label is glued in, the guitar vacuumed and polished. Into the custom Ameritage case and shipped to you!