Claescaster

Tag: Ebony

How to… carve a bridge

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden in 1968

I decided to carve a new bridge for my 1968 Levin LT-18. The old bridge needed to be re-glued anyway so I thought it was a good time to create a new one in ebony instead. I did this once, I carved a new bridge for my 1973 K. Yairi YW-1000. This was a pretty similar job, both ebony and roughly the same shape. I’m really happy with the sound of this guitar now, so much richer than with the original bridge.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968First step was to remove the old bridge with a heated spatula and then copy the bridge and drill the holes.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968Then shape it as close to the original as possible using my Japanese saw rasp and different files.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968Last step, fit the bridge and glue it down. Once the bridge was in place I could check the intonation to get the saddle slot in the perfect spot. Unfortunately I cut the slot 1 mm too wide so the bone saddle got a bit fatter than I had planned. Perhaps that gives tonal qualities I would have missed with a thinner saddle, let’s hope so. I also installed a LR Baggs M1A so I can use the guitar for gigs.

Before: with the original rosewood bridge and the individual height adjustable plastic saddles

After: with the ebony bridge I carved and a bone saddle

 

How to… carve a bridge

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973K. Yairi YW-1000 a Martin D-45 copy made in Kani, Japan in 1973

It’s been a while since I posted anything in my little DIY series, How to…, like me previous post about How to… reset a Levin neck or remove a bridge. I did carve a little floating bridge for my Levin 65 over a year ago but now it was finally time to carve a proper ebony bridge for my K. Yairi YW-1000.

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973I thought about getting a pre-made Allparts ebony bridge at first but felt that it would be more fun to make one myself from scratch instead. I ordered some rosewood and ebony blanks from Madinter, it thought it could be good to have some extra at home, and got started. First I removed the old bridge, it had two screws that was a bit tricky to get out but eventually I figured it out. I removed the bridge with a spatula that I heated on a normal clothes iron, it works like a charm every time. Start in a corner and work yourself towards the middle and be careful when it starts to loosen up so you don’t break it off and chip the top, it should come off slowly and without force. I planed the ebony blank and then used a cabinet scraper to get it even. I copied the old bridge and drilled the holes straight away. It felt easier to do this before the bridge was shaped, it would also have saved me a lot of time in case I messed up the holes and had to start all over again. Luckily everything went fine.

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973Once the bridge was sawed in to a good size, I made it a couple of millimetres bigger on all sides, I drew the outlines of the final shape. I mounted the bridge blank on a piece of scrap wood with two screws so I could more easily work all around with the bridge firmly secured. I used a chisel to carve out the shape on the sides and from the top down towards the wings. I got a good round shape with a half round rasp and then it was just a hell of a lot of sanding to remove all the lines from the rasp and to get it smooth and nice.

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973I glued the bridge on and after 3 days I strung up both E-strings and used a drill as a saddle so I could move it around until I got the intonation right, I forgot to take a picture of that. I marked out the saddle and then sawed a 3 mm slot. Next step was to create a bone saddle to match and string it up. Easy peasy, well it was a hard days work but it was easier that I thought.

K. Yairi YW-1000

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973K. Yairi YW-1000, made in Japan in 1973

Since it’s my 35th birthday today I’m going to post this guitar even though it’s not 100% ready yet, it was my birthday present to myself. As I mentioned earlier I recently became the proud owner of a 1973 K. Yairi YW-1000. It’s something I’ve dreamed of for many years and after a bit of hassle it finally arrived. The previous owner didn’t really give much of a description so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Luckily it sounds at least as good as I had hoped for, if not better and it’s structurally fine. Having said that, there were a couple of things that I wasn’t overly excited about, like the bridge and the scratches on the top. I don’t mind worn guitar but there is one big scratch that is still a real eyesore for me, I’m sure I will get used to it and not even see it in a few weeks. The bridge is a chapter for itself, I really don’t know what has been going on there. It has been removed at some point and re-glued, it also has two screws that I doubt were supposed to be there and on top of that someone has added a bit of rosewood to make it higher and topped it of with a fret as the saddle instead of a normal slot and bone saddle. As soon as the wood shops open again here in Barcelona, a lot of shops are closed in August, I will get a piece of ebony and create a new bridge from scratch. Since I couldn’t wait a whole month to play the guitar I lowered the bridge and cut a saddle slot and installed a bone saddle for now, which has worked fine. It’s a beautiful guitar, it’s smells wonder full and sounds even better. This is my third K. Yairi and I have to say that it’s without any doubt the best Japanese acoustics I’ve played so far. I really love my K. Yairi YW-130 and K. Yairi TG-40 but nothing sounds as good as this K. Yairi YW-1000.

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973It’s worn and has few scratches but nothing too serious, except for the bridge as mentioned before. I changed the machine heads to Wilkinson WJ28NGD open gear in gold, the original ones were in gold too but most of it had worn off and on top of that they were really heavy. I love all the abalone binding and the hexagon inlays in the ebony fretboard. I’m so gay for bling on guitars, the more the better, perhaps I’m the Liberace of guitars.

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973As soon as I got the guitar I removed the fret, lowered the bridge by sanding it down and then I cut a proper saddle slot. Apparently the top of the bridge is rosewood on an ebony base so I had to paint the top black to match the rest. The bridge works fine but I’m not happy with how it looks so I will try my best to carve a new one in ebony and replace it.

The fist video is with the old makeshift rosewood bridge that the guitar came with, the second video is with the new ebony bridge that I carved myself from scratch, you can read about it here.

K. Yairi YW-130

K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977K. Yairi YW-130 a Martin D-28 copy made in Kani, Japan in 1977

I recently came over a 1977 K. Yairi YW-130, a beautiful Martin D-28 copy. I’ve been looking for a D-28 copy for a while, just out of curiosity to see the difference between the D-35 and D-42 copies that I have. The Morris W-40 and Morris W-50 both have a 3-part back which gives them a lot of bass and punch in the middle so perhaps a Japanese made D-28 copy would be more bell like and balanced, like a real Martin, and I was right. The K. Yairi YW-130 sounds amazing, really clean and even all over, with awesome overtones that sneaks up on you if you let it ring out. It has a solid spruce top, rosewood back and sides with a simple ebony bridge and fretboard. I do love my Morris guitars and I think it’s a great brand, but nothing comes close to K. Yairi. The old K.Yairi TG-40 that I got a year a go is awesome too, but I think I prefer the sound of the new one. Perhaps my acoustic guitar preferences has slightly shifted from the Gibson sound to Martin.

K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977I didn’t have to do anything to the guitar when I got it, I just changed the machine heads to Wilkinson WJ28NGD open gear in gold which I love. It’s a bit worn and have a few dents in the spruce top that I’m planning to figure out how to soften a bit.

K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977I’ve really come to love guitars with the typical Martin volute, just like my Morris W-50, and the double dots on the 7th fret, it’s just beautiful. There is nothing better than a black Ebony fretboard on an acoustic guitar. I thought ebony was like rosewood until I got my Goya T-18 two years ago and it just blow my mind, there is no nicer fretboard material.

K. Yairi YW-130 1970's catalogueK. Yairi YW-130 in a late 1970’s Canadian catalogue, taken from AlvarezYairi

K. Yairi TG-40

K. Yairi TG-40 Made in Japan 1977K.Yairi TG-40 a Guild D-40 copy from 1977. Every K.Yairi guitar is given birth in Kani, a small community in the beautiful mountainside area of Honshu, Japan.

My new K.Yairi TG-40 has finally arrived, after 40 days stuck in Spanish customs. I have mentioned earlier that it’s a lot easier to import things from Japan to Spain compared to buying things from the US, well that was a lie. I have bought three electric guitars, mainly Greco’s from an eBay seller called Tokyowax. They all arrived within 48 hours so I stupidly assumed that everything from Japan would arrive quickly and without any problems, but no. Tokyowax uses DHL Express and they tend to deliver things within 2-5 days and you pay the taxes straight to them when they deliver the guitar. It wasn’t that easy with EMS Japan, that package went straight to customs in Madrid and spent 40 days in their lazy company. How can anything take that long? K. Yairi could probably have built me a new guitar in that time, if he was still alive. It seems like the only option now when buying guitars on eBay is to use the Global Shipping Program, that worked for my Goya 163 at least. Anyway, the guitar is amazing so it was well worth waiting for.

K. Yairi TG-40 Made in Japan 1977

It has a really nice tone with great bass response. It easily has the best bass of all my acoustics, even better than my Morris W-40 which has that Martin D-45 bass sound, this is nicer and a lot clearer. I guess it sounds like an old Guild D-40, at least if I can trust the Youtube clips I have seen since I haven’t had the chance to play one myself. It actually reminds me a bit of a Gibson Jumbo, like I mentioned in my Gibson J-45/J-50 post: “The Yairi TG-40 is a Guild D-40 copy, which was introduced in the Sixties as a competitor to Gibson’s J-45. The Guild D-40 became famous as the Bluegrass guitar for their even response over all the strings and I really like the sound of them, it’s actually not too far off from a Sixties Gibson J-45. With a bit of luck it’s going to be an awesome Yairi copy of an Guild which might sound a bit like a Gibson.”

K. Yairi TG-40 Made in Japan 1977I didn’t have to do much to it, it was ready to play when I got it. However, the pickguard was loose so I had to remove that, clean it up and then glue it back again with my trusty fish glue. When the strings was off I quickly polished the frets and oiled the ebony fretboard. I also installed a jack for my LR Baggs M1 and a strap button.

I bought this K.Yairi TG-40 from a really nice eBay seller called montebell86 who was a pleasure to deal with. The guitar was listed as “Taniguchi Gakki” Japanese guitar shop original model, very rare. Solid spruce top, sides and back in solid mahogany, neck in Honduras mahogany, bridge and Fretboard in black ebony. The label states it was made in 1977 but the serial number starts with 51 which was the 51st year of Emperor Shōwa and puts it to 1976.

K. Yairi TG-40 Made in Japan 1977K. Yairi TG-40 Made in Japan 1977I got this K.Yairi TG-40 fairly cheap since the pickguard needed to be reglued and one machine head wasn’t working properly. It also has two cracks, one on each side that has been professionally repaired and can’t be seen from the outside. Since the machine heads needed to be replaced I decided to change them for Wilkinson WJ-309 in gold, just like I did on my Levin 174


Here is a quick little comparison between the K.Yairi TG-40 and my Morris W-40, they sound pretty similar and I don’t think I would be able to tell them apart in a blind test. Well the Morris has a bit more bass and is a slightly weaker on the treble side, I feel that the Yairi is more even over all the strings.

Yairi TG-40 Japan Catalogue 1970'sK.Yairi TG-40in the Japanese catalogue from the late 1970′s. List price ¥60.000, around 420€, which must have been a fortune back in 1977. Then again, this was a fairly cheap guitar for being K Yairi, the top model cost ¥200.000, about 1400€.

Bridge Pins

Most guitars come with plain plastic bridge pins and I never really thought that changing them would effect the tone, but it does. To be honest I wasn’t sure how much difference it would make to change the nut or saddle either but there I was proven wrong straight away. I’ve heard so much talk about how superior bone is to plastic and thought it was nonsense, until I actually tried for myself. Now most of my guitars have bone or Tusq nuts, both electrics and acoustics. I changed to Tusq on my Claescaster and was sold straight away, it really felt and sounded different. The only acoustic I’ve had to change nut on was the Suzuki and that guitar sounded way better with a bone nut. It’s weird but acoustics for me, up until the last couple of month, have always sounded good or bad but without any nuances. I guess what I’m trying to say is that just like with a fine red wine you need train your pallet to really understand and appreciate all the flavours and subtle differences. I have been buying more acoustics lately and really listened to them while playing and have come to realise more and more what I like and not like with acoustics. It’s not just down to brand, shape and woods, no guitar sounds the same and there is a lot subtle differences. I think that age is very important factor, I really do believe that wood needs time to open up and that it affects the sound a lot, hence why a lot of modern guitars sounds more or less the same to me. I ordered 12 bone bridge pins and 12 ebony from rockcarvings a Chinese eBay seller that was really cheap, $9.90 for 12 ebony pins. I changed the pins on my Morris W-40 first and made a little sound clip with the plastic, bone and ebony bridge pins to really be able to hear the difference. There is a difference, maybe not as big as changing the saddle to bone, but still. In my opinion the bone pins sounded too clear and sparkly on that guitar, they lacked a bit of bottom which could be more about the quality of these Chinese pins than the material itself. The Morris has a lot of warmth and bottom, which is the reason why I love that guitar so much, so I wanted to keep that rather than give it more treble. The ebony pins were perfect, they just gave such a solid tone, both playing chords and solo. I changed my dad’s Levin LT-16 to ebony as well and put on a new compensated bone saddle, which made wonders to the tone and playability. I will try the bone pins on some other guitars but I have a feeling that I will order more ebony pins in the near future. Here is a list from Maury’s Music with the tonal qualities of different bridge pin materials. I wish I could have found Mammoth or Walrus because that seems awesome but eBay only allowed for Tusq, bone, ebony and horn.

  • Tusq can add a moderate amount of treble, sustain, clarity and volume to your guitar.
  • Bone offers everything Tusq provides, but in bigger doses.
  • Ebony can add bass and warmth to your guitar, along with a signifigant increase in sustain and volume.
  • Buffalo Horn sounds almost identical to bone, and is a great choice if you want a dark looking pin with bone tone.
  • Walrus Jawbone offers the fundamental tone of bone but with better overtones and fatter harmonics.
  • Mammoth Ivory can add sustain, volume, and a transparent richness to your guitar, with an increase in harmonics and overtones.
  • Walrus Ivory provides the greatest increase in volume, sustain and clarity among all the pin choices.

1973 Morris W-40 and 1966 Levin LT-16 with new ebony bridge pins
1973 Morris W-40 and 1966 Levin LT-16 with new ebony bridge pins