Friday, July 3, 2020

Working in Place While Sheltering in Place

Santa Cruz County has partially (very partially) opened up. That could change at any time if more virus infections are reported. Santa Cruz County is the smallest county in California, but it is also a tourist destination because of the beaches and the Boardwalk Amusement area. Many “unmasked” tourists are here on weekends, spreading their germs on us unsuspecting locals.

Okay, off my soapbox. Even though we’re still sheltering in place, we are fortunate that we have plenty to do during this shutdown. My wife knits, weaves, and reads. I spend my days in either my studio out back or in my garage shop. I’ve sold four instruments through Etsy since March when this sheltering started. I had one very unusual zither to restore. I’m working on several new pieces and trying to finish up one older piece.

New Works

pa german dulcimer-72The first instrument I completed during the shutdown is the third of my Pennsylvanian German schietholt-style dulcimers. All that I’ve made are based on an 1845 original I restored many years ago. While restoring it, I drew up working drawings that I’ve used for my reproductions. One of my students made one from my drawings too.

This one is olive wood. There was a large olive tree across the street at one time. It was removed, oh, now 15 years ago, when a new beautiful Craftsman-style house was built. The builder asked if I wanted some of the wood, and, of course, I said yes. This instrument is made from some of that wood.

The head and tailpiece are salvaged black walnut, and the fingerboard and bridges are maple.

The dulcimer tapers slightly, but it’s around 3 inches square and nearly 40 inches long. The long string length give this instrument a loud crisp tone. One thing I did differently on this dulcimer was spacing the double fretted melody strings nearly a 1/4 inch apart, similar to many French epinette des Vosges instruments. This allows the player to actually make chords on the melody strings. It’s a striking sound!

Dulcimer Banjo with detailI showed this next instrument, a dulcimer banjo, in my last blog as it was nearing completion. It is now done, and does have a very banjo-like sound due to the drum head.

Other dulcimer banjos I’ve made in the past had wooden soundboards. This is the first that I’ve used an actual drum head.

The rim is oak and black walnut segments that I turned and polished on my lathe. The top and back are highly-figured maple (the back has a black walnut strip down the middle). The neck is hand-carved oak with a black walnut fingerboard. The head carving is tagua nut.

The string length is the same I use for most of my regular dulcimers, around 28 inches.

In Process

I have several instruments, furniture, and sculptures in process, but several are on the back burner for now. My main project now is another of my popular Symphonies. This is a box-style hurdy gurdy that predates those we are familiar with now. The Symphony is a medieval instrument that dates back to the 11th century.

As you can see from the photos, the box is complete and assembled using hand-cut dovetails. I turned the wheel on my lathe, which I also did for the tuning pegs. After turning the tuning pegs, I carved the heads then “sharpened” the tapers with a violin peg shaper to fit the tapered holes in the head piece.

Where the wheel rod comes out the back, I carved a tagua nut into an open-mouthed character so the rod would go through his mouth. The far right photo is the lid being prepared to be carved with my fret saw.

symphony 3 photos in process

This, as well as other Symphonies I’ve made, are based on a 13th century Spanish illuminated manuscript called Cantigas de Santa Maria. The many illustrations in this ancient manuscript show musicians playing the instruments of that time. Even though the characters look almost like cartoons, the instruments are fairly accurate. One image shows two characters playing Symphonies. One has a very lovely carved cover, which is the one I replicate with each of my Symphonies. I hope to complete this one in July.

New trestle stoolThe one piece of furniture I’m currently working on is another trestle stool. As with my others, this is based on a piece that is on exhibit at the Victorian & Albert Museum in London. I am in the very long process of carving all the pieces that make up the stool.

As with all the trestle stools I’ve made, it is white oak. I always use white oak because it is similar to fresh English oak. Of course, old English oak furniture is very dark due to the chemical process known as fuming. Old oak that has been sat on for hundreds of years gets darker and darker from human use, usually from unwashed bodies and sweat. Some artists who want the darker look of old oak will fume the oak in an enclosed bag with ammonia. I keep mine looking new.

Restorations

Heath Completed1-72I just completed restoring a very unique zither from around 1894-1904. It is called a Harp Guitar, and it’s made by the Harp Guitar Mfg. Co. of Boston.

What’s unique about this instrument is that has two layers of strings. The top layer is 21 diatonically tuned melody strings. The bottom layer is 20 chord strings, five chords with four strings each. The bottom layer of strings run through holes at both ends of the zither.

Notice the wide bridge under the sound hole. That bridge has two rows of holes in it. This was for what the manufacturer called Fret Bars. These were actually sharping levers that turned against a string raising the voicing a 1/2 tone. Unfortunately, these were lost many years ago.

The rosette and chord note decals were in very bad shape. I replicated new decals on my computer and printed them on special decal paper. It was a long process, but the result turned out great.

Banjo Uke-mineAnother restoration I’m working on is a personal one. It is a banjo ukulele from the 1920s or 1930s (there is no date or makers mark on it). This was given to me nearly 35 years ago by my wife’s brother.

It was in bad shape, and the goatskin drumhead had deteriorated too much to be playable. I ordered a new drumhead, which I’ve still got to mount, and I’m about to start cleaning all the parts and do some refretting on the neck. There are no tuning pegs left, but I have a new set of banjo pegs I can use.

Something New

New spindle sanderMy studio, where I’ve always done most of my work, is in the back yard. My garage shop has my big tools, and I now do all my restoration work in there. One tool I use in my studio the most is my old Craftsman spindle sander. I kept needing to use it while in my garage shop and got tired of traipsing back and forth.

So… I did a little research and found this Wen spindle sander. I had good reviews, and I found out that a higher-end company called ShopFox offered the same sander, but for a much higher price. The Wen was a bargain, and arrived on my doorstep two days after ordering.

It’s already been getting a lot of use. Fortunately, it uses the same sanding sleeves as my old Craftsman spindle sander. I have a good stock of sanding sleeves.

Just One More Thing

Front Cover-72-better

My newest book just got published. On Guard in the General’s Chorus is a chronicle of my episodes in the Army and as an entertainer in Korea during the Vietnam era. It takes place from 1966 to the end of 1968. It’s currently available on Lulu.com, and soon to be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Look for it!

Well, that’s about it for this Blog. I’m about to start on a couple more dulcimers, and I’ll report on them in my next Blog.

As I always say, “Onward Through the Fog”.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hunkered Down

What a long strange trip…

It’s “shelter in place” time. For us, we self-quarantined early because by the time the order came down, we were in San Diego for the Left Coast Crime Mystery Book Conference along with over 300 people from all over the country crowded in hallways and conference rooms. The conference was shut down at the end of the first day. So, we sped back, making record time through L.A. because of no traffic and hunkered down on a 14-day wait-and-see. No symptoms, thank goodness. We are doing fine, and I am spending a lot of time in Finished-72my studio and shop. I have quite a stash of wood, enough for several instruments and furniture. My wife has a huge stash of yarn, so she also keeps busy knitting and weaving.

Anyway, first of all, my main project was to complete the restoration of a customer’s zither. This wasn’t a typical chord zither. It was a Celestaphone from around 1915-1920. The Celestaphone was an early version of the Marxophone. However, the hammer mechanism that a player would push to strike the strings is missing. I keep hoping to find another Celestaphone on Ebay or other auction web sites. One did show up on Ebay earlier this year, but the auction price went too high. The restoration is done, but I can’t ship it yet due to the shelter in place order. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking out for another Celestaphone I can use for parts.

During the last four months I’ve been busy creating several new instruments. I made two Applewood MiniRote-72Cocobolo Minirote-72new mini Saxon lyres back in December. The first has a lovely applewood top fastened to a black walnut body. The second one has a beautiful cocobolo top and back. Both have carved maple bridges and tailpieces. To read more about these lyres (and purchase), check out my Etsy shop.

Earlier this year I completed another full-sized hog-nose psaltery. I’ve made several of these over the years, and they all sold. One even went to a monastery in Switzerland.

Memling 5-Front-72My new one has a top and back of camphor. The frame is white oak, and the rosettes are black walnut and maple. It is steel strung and has three octaves. The tone is very bright and beautiful. It is also available on my Etsy shop.

Not long after completing the hog-nose psaltery, I also finished my newest mountain dulcimer. The body is all salvaged purpleheart. The carved head, tailpiece, sound holes and binding are maple, and the fingerboard is pine with an oak fretboard.

Purpleheart-72The thin hourglass shape is in the style of the 1925 J. Edward Thomas dulcimer I saw in the Smithsonian Museum. J. Edward Thomas made dulcimers in Kentucky from the late 1800s up to his death in 1933. He made over 1500 dulcimers. When he first started selling his instruments in the hills and hollers of Kentucky, he delivered them in a wheelbarrow, selling them for three dollars each. Surviving instruments are in the Smithsonian, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and in museums and homes around Berea, Kentucky.

These four instruments were all completed before we all had to shelter in place. Now that we’re stuck at home, I’ve been continuing work on other projects.

One project that has been going on for, oh, around 40+ years, is myOttavina-72 Ottavina. An Ottavina is also called an Octave Spinet. It is a small harpsichord that is based on one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. When I first started working on this I used wood that wasn't that good, and I was still learning cabinet building skills. When I pulled it out of my storage last year, I decided to scrap it and start over. I used nicely figured black walnut for the case and joined the sides with dovetails. I made a new, weighted, keyboard and a new soundboard. It’s looking beautiful. I’m now about ready to lay out for the strings and harpsichord jacks. Hopefully, I can finally finish it this year.

Dulcimer-Banjo-72bNow, my next instrument is another experiment in dulcimer construction. I am making a “banjo-dulcimer”. The body is segmented oak and black walnut, with a maple and black walnut back and top. The top is hollowed to fit a six inch banjo-style drum head. The long hand-carved neck is set up for a 28.5 inch scale length. It will have six doubled strings, with the low bass drone doubled with a thinner string tuned an octave higher, similar to a 12 string guitar.

Cabrillo Class-work1-72Back in February I gave two wood carving classes at Cabrillo College. I was originally scheduled for only one Extension class, but was told I had over a dozen people on the wait list. Cabrillo asked if I would like to do two classes over two weekends in a row, and I agreed. I had two full classes (10 people in each) that went quite well. I had students of all ages, and several were very talented even though they had never carved before.

In October of last year, I was asked to display a few of my pieces in the Bottle Jack Winery tasting room. Their new tasting room is housed in what used to be a photography studio and one wall was set up with lights for tBottleJack Wall-72he photographer to display his photos. Now that wall is my exhibit space. I got some very nice comments from winery customers, and I did sell one small piece. I was supposed to take it down in March, but the shelter-in-place happened and the tasting room is closed. I’m hoping to arrange with the winery owner soon to let me in to remove my pieces.

Not knowing how long we’ll be hunkered down makes it hard to plan ahead for events, like the Santa Cruz County Open Studios, which happens in October. However, it is now time to apply,and I hope things are up and running by October. I’ll keep you all posted through my blog and newsletter.

Well, it’s about time to head out to my shop and studio. I want to finish up my current projects and start on some new ones. I have plans for some medieval and early American furniture as well as a few more instruments. I want to keep busy during these weeks of sheltering. As I always say, “Onward Through The Fog”!

 



 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Monday, April 20, 2020

Hunkering Down!



What a long strange trip...

It's "shelter in place" time. For us, we self-quarantined early because by the time the order came down, we were in San Diego for the Left Coast Crime Mystery Book Conference along with over 300 people from all over the country crowded in hallways and conference rooms. The conference was shut down at the end of the first day. So, we sped back, making record time through L.A. because of no traffic and hunkered down on a 14-day wait-and-see. No symptoms, thank goodness. We are doing fine, and I am spending a lot of time in my studio and shop. I have quite a stash of wood, enough for several instruments and furniture. My wife has a huge stash of yarn, so she also keeps busy knitting and weaving.

In the News
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
My main project , just before we were ordered to shelter in place, was to complete the restoration of a customer's zither. This wasn't a typical chord zither. It was a Celestaphone from around 1915-1920. 

The Celestaphone was an early version of the Marxophone. However, the hammer mechanism that a player would push to strike the strings is missing. The early 20th century Sears catalog advertisement for the Celestaphone, below right, shows what it should look like.

       Celestaphone                 Sears Celestaphone Ad
I keep hoping to find another Celestaphone on Ebay or other auction web sites. One did show up on Ebay earlier this year, but the auction price went too high. The restoration is done, but I can't ship it yet due to the shelter in place order. In the meantime, I'll keep looking out for another Celestaphone I can use for parts.

During the last four months I've been busy creating several new instruments. I made two new mini Saxon lyres back in December. The first has a lovely applewood top fastened to a black walnut body. The second one has a beautiful cocobolo top and back. Both have carved maple bridges and tailpieces. To read more about these lyres (and purchase using credit card or PayPal), check out my Etsy shop.
Applewood Mini Saxon Lyre    Cocobolo Mini Saxon Lyre
Earlier this year I completed another full-sized hog-nose psaltery. I've made several of these over the years, and they all sold. One even went to a monastery in Switzerland.
My new one has a top and back of camphor. The frame is white oak, and the rosettes are black walnut and maple. It is steel strung and has three octaves. The tone is very bright and beautiful. It is also available on my Etsy shop.
Camphor Hog-nose Psaltery
Not long after completing the hog-nose psaltery, I also finished my newest mountain dulcimer. The body is all salvaged purpleheart. The carved head, tailpiece, sound holes and binding are maple, and the fingerboard is pine with an oak fretboard.

Purpleheart Dulcimer
The thin hourglass shape is in the style of the 1925 J. Edward Thomas dulcimer I saw in the Smithsonian Museum. J. Edward Thomas made dulcimers in Kentucky from the late 1800s up to his death in 1933. He made over 1500 dulcimers. When he first started selling his instruments in the hills and hollers of Kentucky, he delivered them in a wheelbarrow, selling them for three dollars each. Surviving instruments are in the Smithsonian, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and in museums and homes around Berea, Kentucky.

These four instruments were all completed before we all had to shelter in place. Now that we're stuck at home, I've been continuing work on other projects.

One project that has been going on for, oh, around 40+ years, is my Ottavina. An Ottavina is also called an Octave Spinet. It is a small harpsichord that is based on one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. When I first started working on this I used wood that wasn't that good, and I was still learning cabinet building skills. 
Ottavina
When I pulled it out of my storage last year, I decided to scrap it and start over. I used nicely figured black walnut for the case and joined the sides with dovetails. I made a new, weighted, keyboard and a new soundboard. It's looking beautiful. I'm now about ready to lay out for the strings and harpsichord jacks. Hopefully, I can finally finish it this year.

Now, my next instrument is another experiment in dulcimer construction. I am making a "banjo-dulcimer". The body is segmented oak and black walnut, with a maple and black walnut back and top. The top is hollowed to fit a six inch banjo-style drum head. The long hand-carved neck is set up for a 28.5 inch scale length. It will have six doubled strings, with the low bass drone doubled with a thinner string tuned an octave higher, similar to a 12 string guitar.
Banjo Dulcimer
This instrument is now in the finishing stages. The tung oil varnish I use is drying, and soon I'll be polishing it up, make the bridge, and string it up. 

roncook Etsy shop
My Etsy shop is popular all over the world! I have been "favorited" by people as far away as Latvia and China. Sales have gone to Canada, Switzerland, and Italy, as well as all over the U.S. Here's how to reach my shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/roncook. You may set up a free account on Etsy to preview and purchase any other items offered for sale.

New Students
If you are interested in learning how to carve, learning general woodworking skills, or learning about the history and construction of early European (medieval) or early American (19th century) stringed instruments, please contact me at  ron@roncookstudios.com.  During the instrument course, the student will learn about the evolution of stringed instruments, research a particular instrument, create working drawings, and build it. Open to all, especially interested high school and college students. All students choose wood from my wood stash!   E-mail me for more information

(Because of the Covid-19 shelter in place rules, current classes are on hold.)

Hot off the Press
Back in February I gave two wood carving classes at Cabrillo College. I was originally scheduled for only one Extension class, but was told I had over a dozen people on the wait list. Cabrillo asked if I would be interested in adding a second weekend workshop, and I agreed to it. I had two full classes (10 people in each), two weekends in a row, that went quite well. I had students of all ages, and several were very talented even though they had never carved before.
Student Work In February Wood Carving Class
Unfortunately, my May wood carving class has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 closure of schools. I'm hoping new classes will be available later in the year. Information, when available will be available through the Cabrillo College Extension.


In the second half of last year, I was asked to display a few of my pieces in the Bottle Jack Winery tasting room. Their new tasting room is housed in what used to be a photography studio and one wall was set up with lights for the photographer to display his photos. 
My Exhibit at the Bottle Jack Tasting Room
Now that wall is my exhibit space. I got some very nice comments from winery customers, and I did sell one small piece. I was supposed to take it down in March, but the shelter-in-place happened and the tasting room is closed. I'm hoping to arrange with the winery owner soon to let me in to remove my pieces.

Not knowing how long we'll be hunkered down makes it hard to plan ahead for events, like the Santa Cruz County Open Studios, which happens in October. However, it is now time to apply,and I hope things are up and running by October. I'll keep you all posted through my blog and newsletter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Well, it's about time to head out to my shop and studio. I want to finish up my current projects and start on some new ones. I have plans for some medieval and early American furniture as well as a few more instruments. I want to keep busy during these weeks of sheltering. As I always say, "Onward Through The Fog"!
                                                         Lady with a Checkered Past