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Drak Build: Althea (Spruce Scarab)


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So I've built several of this body shape, obviously (duh) highly influenced by Steve Cripes and his Garcia builds. Each one is a little different from the others. I named these my 'Scarabs', I don't really know why or how I came about that name.

I'm not a big Dead fan or anything like that, I do like them, along with Phish and others of the ilk, but I'm not a rabid follower, I just really loved the design.

There is no CAD or CNC in my builds, I hand-drew the design from online pics of Cripes holding one of his many years ago. I had to re-draw it many times over until I was happy with it. The first ones looked like Spires on an old European castle, they didn't look like the typical Jerry 'wolf ears' at all...

You'll see a shot of most of them half-finished lined up further down. I think I started most of them around 2010-2011. The first raw body pics I have of this one are from May 2011, so that's where the story starts with this one,

While the Sean Costello and Beryl are hanging and drying, I picked this one back up where I left off.

When I shot the first coats on it a few days ago, I was really surprised and taken aback how absolutely beautiful it looked, like an old 50's German carve guitar look. It's a Mahogany core topped with 3/4" Spruce that was going to be an archtop top back in the day.

I had intentions to spray the outer carve edges to accent the shape (which I have done on another one and looks great) but this just dropped me to my knees it looked so pretty completely natural and I decided this stays exactly the way it is now, all completely natural. I'll post a pic of the other one I did where the edges are bursted so you can see the difference.

Have been working on the hardware and electronics choices the past few days, still needs more clearcoats.

Most of these first pics are from the summer of 2011.

The 'island' in the middle got removed, I always leave that there for the router to sit on while I plow away at the rest, then take it out at the end.

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Spruce top glued on.

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Making the rear neck cutaway

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Top carve design penciled in.

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At this point, I wasn't really sure where this was heading, specifically, but I had seen pics of the Cripes guitars with the three pickups and a 'mounting plate' thing-y.

So I decided to just have a play with this and routed in this 'pickup pocket', although obviously P-90's don't 'need' any mounting plate.

It was just to do something a little different that looked more like a 'Jerry thang'.

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I use a binding channel bit to set my bottom carve limit.

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Carving away, never allowing the carve to go lower than the binding cut.

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So I'll stop here for the first post, this was what happened in 2011.

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This is a group shot from February 2015.

It's the one all the way in the back, nothing changed since 2011.

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Having a play with hardware several years ago.

IMO, these really take on the real Garcia 'look' when you use a 3x3 headstock.

Once you leave that space and go for a 6-on-a-side, they look less Jerry and more whatever 'you're' design is.

I really, really like Both ways, and am having a hard time deciding which way to go.

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OK, we're quickly impinging on the present moment.

I finished up all the leftover details and started finishing.

My standard approach is water-thin CA glue for the initial sealer coat, especially with the Spruce being as soft as Spruce is.

I decided to not do the rear contour on this one.

It's all gloss from here forward.

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Yes, I bought those things probably 20 years ago, collecting dust in my P-90 box for all these years.

OK, here is one where I did an edgeburst spray to accentuate the contours.

I love this look and was figuring to do the same to this present one, but its not going to go down like that I don't believe.

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OK, some shots from just the past 2-3 days that include a few clearcoats and different pickup looks and configs as I was trying to sort out what I want out of this.

Does that Spruce look vintage German beautiful or What?

I was really taken by surprise how much I liked how it turned out straight-up clear.

Nevermind these various mockups, the final combo isn't shown here.

The gold P-90 covers, I don't think made the cut. Creme looks Vintage Boss on this one.

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6 hours ago, Drak said:

Does that Spruce look vintage German beautiful or What?

The German half of me agrees and the Finnish half doesn't disagree.

I prefer the golden pup covers as a) they match the hardware and b) there's not too much happening on the body so the decoration can be a bit shinier. Black would be another option as it matches with the fretboard. Maybe it's just me, but the cream looks like cheap 70's kitchenware.

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Gold > Black > no pickups > Cream... that would be my order of preference :D another clean smooth build, and I totally agree about keeping it fully natural. 

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My thoughts were the gold covers brought in too much bling and made it over-blingy.

There's already an appreciable amount of gold presenting w/o those covers, I think they take it into the 'over-baked' zone.

Too capitalist, consumptionist, gaudy, craven, too showy.

Too much Mar-A-Lago and not enough Margaritaville.

That wouldn't really jive with the whole Deadhead/Garcia/natural/earthy/wholeness/peace/granola ethic.

The black looked too industrial, stark, too 'serious'.

My thoughts on it...still lovin' the creme!

 

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Thanks Mike. That piece of spalt was one of the most dodgiest pieces of spalt I ever worked.

Softer and more rotten than Balsa wood it was, with a few harder portions here and there mixed into it to further confuse the issue.

You can see the imperfections around the curves if you look close.

It was literally crumbling and falling apart as I tried to even and smooth out the edges, even with loads of CA glue to bolster it.

At some point I had to stop chasing it and just say 'good enough, it'll do'.

Doug.

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53 minutes ago, Drak said:

Thanks Mike. That piece of spalt was one of the most dodgiest pieces of spalt I ever worked.

Softer and more rotten than Balsa wood it was, with a few harder portions here and there mixed into it to further confuse the issue.

You can see the imperfections around the curves if you look close.

It was literally crumbling and falling apart as I tried to even and smooth out the edges, even with loads of CA glue to bolster it.

At some point I had to stop chasing it and just say 'good enough, it'll do'.

Doug.

so she fought you hard then... all the more satisfying I bet!!

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This thing has taken a severe hard left turn all the sudden.

Very unexpected turn of events in the past 48 hours.

All prior plans have nearly completely changed, further details to come.

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As much as I like the clear only, the burst on the spalt is killer. If it were me, I’d consider  a light burst. Just a darker honey around those edges keeping most of it clear. 

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17 hours ago, komodo said:

As much as I like the clear only, the burst on the spalt is killer. If it were me, I’d consider  a light burst. Just a darker honey around those edges keeping most of it clear. 

Oh, I think I can do better that now.

OK, lets get caught up a little. This build literally just exploded hard left right in front of me. Very unexpected and unplanned, but allowing things to 'happen' is part of the fun. And indeed things 'happened', so follow the bouncing ball.

So...what I did next was to choose a headstock cap. I really sweated this one for a bit. I have dozens on top of dozens of cutoff pieces from all kinds of spectacular wood I've worked over the years. So I started by ruling out a lot of pieces that I didn't think gelled well. No Rosewoods, no figured Maples, no Redwoods, no burls, no this, no that. I contemplated either a plain Mahogany cap or a plain Spruce cap to match the body but I realized this was a place to bring in some additional bling, so those were out too.

I finally landed on a piece of highly flamed Koa that had an interesting 'raw bark edge' to it I wanted to try and exploit. I originally bought this piece off of Ebay and it was advertised as gun stock lumber that I had resawn into slices.

So I glued up the Koa on the headstock and started shooting finish on it. It looked AWESOME, exactly what I wanted, blinged to hell and back, and a good match.

So that's the first thing that happened, which led to the next thing that happened.

I was watching TV, and generally when I watch TV, my mind is only half-watching, I'm usually sorting out/mulling over other issues. And it came to me out of nowhere that I 'probably' still had the control cavity cover for the Koa guitar (that guitar was in the neighborhood of 20 years ago and is long gone toast, why, I don't remember) sitting in a bag I have old control cavity covers from builds long gone. So I go grab the bag and presto, its there!

That guitar I had shot a light red toner coat over the Koa, so there was some minimal cleanup, shaping, and further detailing I had to do to it.

Got that ready, shot it, and AWESOME struck again!

I'm going to stop here tho there is MUCH more coming, it just gets better and better, stay tuned!

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Well, I will leave you with this as a brain-teaser.

And no, this mustache bridge is not going on the guitar, that's why it's a brain-teaser!

This is a bridge from an old 60's Framus (I think) acoustic I bought ages ago and stripped it of its parts.

It had an influence on what's coming up tho, yes it did.

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So here are the updates and the new look.

This thing looks completely Jam-Band approved now, absolutely dead-on (pun totally intended) what the goal was at the beginning, tho things changed.

So with the two pieces of Koa, the headstock and rear cover, I needed a third, and central, piece, to tie everything in.

And, now that I have decided pickups (Lawrence L-560's) and electronics selections (EMG active, like most of my older Steerheads)...

I decided I didn't need the middle pickup anymore, but I did absolutely need a 'pickguard' to 'draw in' the rest of the Koa pieces.

And so with the remaining piece of Koa I had left over, I made a Koa pickguard.

A note: I decided to 'go big or go home' with it, so it extends behind, and encompasses, the bridge by a bit.

Since I'm using a harmonica bridge (which adjusts from the top) I could still mount the studs right into the body and just go right through the Koa with the adjusting screws, there are no 'thumbwheels'. So I thought that was a great idea to enhance the Koa even more.

I also listened to K(omodo) and gave the body a super-light Pecan Brown back and edge-burst, which blends with the Koa and doesn't hide the Spruce.

So here's where we're at today:

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The Koa parts all are slick! And the super light burst just adds depth to the carving - like a good makeup it looks like there's none.

I had to take a quick look to find out how G. Dead sounds and that guitar really matches with what I heard! Country and Western with some pointy edges...

 

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14 hours ago, Drak said:

So with the two pieces of Koa, the headstock and rear cover, I needed a third, and central, piece, to tie everything in.

Nailed it!

You've kept the stately look of the spruce, added echoes of the "hippy sandwich" Alembic guitars the Dead so loved and as @komodo pointed out the subtle burst just helps to gently focus the eyes on the carve.

Superbly done.....of course.

SR

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Thanks for the kind words!

Another hard left turn.

Decided to ditch the pointy headstock neck and go with a 3x3.

So now on to making another Koa headstock overlay and spraying the new neck to match the Pecan Brown.

A 3x3 simply fits the 'Jam-band' build template better than the present one did, as I kind of knew all along.

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OK, so I did a mockup.

Except for the two black knobs, this is all the actual hardware that will be used. I only had 3 gold knobs in the knob drawer to work with for the mockup.

I included one of the older pics so you can see the difference between the clearcoat Spruce and the Pecan Burst it has now.

Shooting that light Pecan burst really paid off, so thanks @komodo. Also I tried a 3x3 as well as the angled Koa headstock.

This thing is turning into a far more 'Jam-Band' guitar than I ever imagined it would be when I did the initial build back in 2011.

Like, WAY more. I have actually surprised myself, which isn't easy to do, really, as I am always my own harshest critic.

The decision to grab that Koa piece for the headstock turned into a real game-changer for this project, what a difference!

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  • Drak changed the title to Drak Build: Althea (Spruce Scarab)

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