Greek Bouzouki Construction Blog
This is my Greek Bouzouki Construction Blog. I will be posting pictures and an explanation of how I design and make my instruments. I will also be covering other Greek bouzouki topics related to purchase, proper set up, and playing accessories. Please stop by often, and feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

Glueing the stave reinforcement strips

March 14th, 2008

Stave reinforcement strips 

After the glue on the kerfed linings has dried, the stave reinforcement strips are glued in place.  On lutes, it is customary to glue a thin strip of linen or heavy paper along each seam between the ribs.  On Greek bouzoukis, some makers will line the entire bowl (body) with strips of cloth soaked in glue (Titebond or similar glue) with the strips running across the stave seams.  This will then get covered up with a decorative embossed foil paper in a later step.  Other makers do not line their bowls with cloth soaked in glue at all, but most still use the foil paper.  I think it is a good idea to add some reinforcement to the staves and body, and have developed a technique which does not add too much weight and does not dampen the vibration of the body as much as a full cloth lining.  I use strips of carbon fiber cloth, about 1 inch wide,  soaked in epoxy.  I place one strip right at the widest part of the body, running across the stave seams, and one strip half way between the last strip and the headblock.  I then use a semicircular shaped piece of carbon fiber cloth to cover the area where all the staves come together around the tailpiece.  The staves are the narrowest there and are not supported, except for the area behind the tailblock.  Since the staves are so narrow, and there are lots of seams and stripes all coming together, there is not much vibration goin on, and adding the carbon fiber there is worth more for support than it takes away from vibration.  Carbon fiber is now being used to make some very high end instruments (violins, cellos, mandolins and guitars) and has been found to have very good tone, so I think it is a better choice than cotton cloth and Titebond glue.  Once the reinforcement strips and epoxy have dried, you will notice a marked increase in stiffness of the body.

Installing the kerfed lining in the body

March 11th, 2008

Glueing kerfed linings 

Once the inside of the body has been sanded smooth, the tailblock is carved so that there are no sharp corners, and then the kerfed lining is glued in place along the inside, top edge of the body.  The kerfed lining is a triangular strip of wood with cuts made all along its length about every quarter of an inch.  The cuts allow the lining to be bent very easily by hand, and you don’t need to use a hot bending iron.  The linings are glued in a little proud of the top edge of the body and held in place with spring clamps.

Sanding the top edge 

After the glue has dried, sand the top edge of the body and kerfed linings perfectly flat by rubbing the body, with the edge down, on a flat plate covered with 80 grit sandpaper.

Scraping and sanding the inside of the body

March 10th, 2008

Scraping inside of body 

Before putting the body aside to work on other aspects of the bouzouki, it is a good idea to sand the inside.  Apply several strips of strong tape to the outside to support the staves.  Using a cabinet scraper that has been ground to a semicirclular profile, scape the inside of the body so that the seams between the staves are smooth.  Then sand the inside of the body with a rounded block and sandpaper, or a sanding disk on a round, firm foam pad attached to a flexible shaft drill press attachment.  The goal is to get the inside smooth, because uneven joints will break up the sound waves produced by the vibrations of the soundboard.  In a bouzouki, the body is more of a reflector, reflecting the sound waves produced by the soundboard back at the soundboard and out the soundhole (although on a well made bouzouki the body will vibrate, it just doesn’t really produce much sound in and of itself).  In a guitar, or other flat backed, instrument, the back and sides are more like resonating plates, which vibrate sympathetically to the top.  Be careful that any staves which were glued in with their edges not meeting perfectly do not get too thin between the scraping and sanding of the outside and inside.  It is better to leave a joint a little uneven on the inside, than to risk sanding the wood so thin that it cracks or worse yet, part of the stave is totally sanded away.  With practice and the experience of building a few instruments, you will get better at making the staves.

Applying the binding to the capping strip

March 9th, 2008

Glueing binding to capping strip 

After the capping stip is dry, sand the edges of the capping strip.  On better quality bouzoukis, a decorative binding is glued onto the edge.  It may be one binding strip of a contrasting color (to match the binding that will be used around the soundboard and along the fretboard) or a binding and purfling stripes.  The binding is glued in place and held on with tape.

Body with outside completed 

The outside of the body and the capping strip and binding is then scraped level and sanded, and the outside of the body is complete, except for any inlays.  Up to this point has taken me about 45 hours of work.

Adding the capping strip

February 23rd, 2008

Back of body 

Once the side pieces are dry, scrape the entire body with a cabinet scraper and sand down to medium grit (150) sandpaper.  The scraping and sanding should produce a nice smooth curve to the back.  Unlike a lute, which maintains the flat surfaces of the individual staves, with a nice sharp angle between the staves, a bouzouki should be rounded and smooth.

Back capping strip beingt glued 

The capping strip (kolantza in Greek) is made up of three pieces; the back and two side pieces.  The back is cut to shape, bent on the hot bending iron and then glued in place. 

Side capping strip being glued 

Then the sides are cut to shape, bent on the hot bending iron and glued into place. 

Decorative seam treatment

The seam where the back and each side piece meets is usually left wide, and a decorative piece of shell or wood is glued in place.

 

Making the sides of the body

February 22nd, 2008

Glueing the side 

Making the sides is very similar to making the staves.  Measure and cut to length a piece of Maple wide enough to reach the top edge of the body, and bend it to shape.  Check the fit of the edge, just as on the staves.  A more elaborate stripe sandwhich can be made of two contrasting stripes and one piece of the main body wood, or a single stripe can be used.  At the back, mark the center line of the body onto the back edge of the side piece and cut it.  When you make the second side piece, this back edge must be fit, along with the side edge.  Apply hot hide glue and hold the side pieces in place with hand clamps.

Adding staves and stripes to the body

February 3rd, 2008

Adding staves and stripes 

Make another stave in the exact same manner as the center stave.  After the edge has been flattened on the planing table, hold it on the form next to the center stave.  Check the fit and mark any gaps between the edges with a pencil.  Return the stave to the planing table and plane the edge everywhere except the spots where there were gaps.  Continue fitting and planing until the edge of the second stave meets perfectly with the center stave.  Apply hot hide glue to the headblock, tailblock, underside of the tips of the stave, adjoining edge of the stave, and both sides of the stripe.  Lay the stripe between the two staves and hold them together with tape or push pins.  Let them dry.  Continue adding staves and stripes, alternating from side to side until you get to the sides of the body.  Make sure that all the staves are of equal width.

Making the stripes

February 2nd, 2008

Bending stripe

The stripes are thin pieces of contrasting wood glued between the staves.  Their only purpose is decorative.  Cut the stripe to length and bend it to shape on the hot bending iron.  Because the stripes are so thin and delicate, a great deal of care must be taken to avoid breaking them.  However, they don’t have to be bent to the exact shape of the form, because they can be flexed a bit while glueing to match the curve of the adjoining stave.  Don’t glue the stripe in yet. 

Making the first stave

January 31st, 2008

Bending the stave

 

Measure the length of the first stave (center or mother stave) and bend it on the hot bending iron to the exact shape of the form.

Planing the stave

Rough carve it to shape with a carving knife or block plane.  Then shape the stave on a planing table so that the edges lie flat when the bent stave is resting on a flat reference plate.

Glueing center stave

Glue the first stave in place by applying hot hide glue to the headblock, tailblock and mating underside of the tips of the stave.  You can hold the stave in place with tape or push pins.

Carving the headblock

January 26th, 2008

Carving the headblock 

Attached the Basswood headblock to the form with two wood screws.  Carving is done with a drawknife and spokeshave, and the headblock is finished with files and sandpaper.  I also install a tailblock into the form, also made of Basswood.  Many makers make the body first, and then install the tailblock after the body is completed. 

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