Jun
03

Cardinals Take Flight!

The cardinals took flight yesterday (June 2).  Early in the morning, we noticed that the baby birds were very restless.  They were moving around in the nest a lot more than usual.  One jumped up on the nest edge and started stretching his wings.  This gave the others more room to stretch as well.  Having watched cardinals raise another nest full of baby birds earlier this spring, we knew that this sudden restlessness meant that they would fly today.

The first baby cardinal jumps to the edge of the nest.

The first baby cardinal jumps to the edge of the nest.

As the little ones prepared to leave the nest, the mother kept coming back with big fat bugs to feed the little ones.  This will give them the energy needed to make the flight.  At one point the mother brought a large moth to feed the baby birds.  It was so large that she tried to put it in each mouth only to find that none of the babies could swallow it.  Finally she jumped to a limb, chewed it up and ate it herself (she needs some energy as well!).

The mother bird arrives with some food - a moth.

The mother bird arrives with some food - a moth.

Mother cardinal tries to feed a baby bird before its first flight.

Mother cardinal tries to feed a baby bird before its first flight.

The bug was too big for the first bird.  Let's try this one!

The bug was too big for the first bird. Let's try this one! Notice how the first bird still wants it.

As the mother watched from higher in the tree one jumped out of the nest onto a limb and the mother bird took him step by step through the process of flying to trees that surround the creek at the back of our lot where the male bird waited.  They did this with each bird, one-by-one until they were all safely together again so the parent birds could continue to watch over them and feed them.  The process took about 6 hours.   The photos below show how they did it.

The first baby bird jumps out on a limb.

The first baby bird jumps out on a limb.

Mother bird takes a wary look at me before she flies to get more food.

Mother bird takes a wary look at me before she flies to get more food.

Mother bird jumps down on a plant shelf just below the tree with the nest in it, encouraging the baby to make the leap.

Mother bird jumps down on a plant shelf just below the tree with the nest in it, encouraging the baby to make the leap.

The baby bird follows the lead and jumps to the plant shelf.

The baby bird follows the lead and jumps to the plant shelf.

The mother bird then flies over to some patio furniture and chirps at the baby to follow.

The mother bird then flies over to some patio furniture and chirps at the baby to follow.

The baby follows again.

The baby follows again.

The baby flies under a patio table.

The baby flies under a patio table.

Mother and baby bird have a conference before proceeding.

Mother and baby bird have a conference before proceeding.

Not everything went according to plan.  This is not easy!

Not everything went according to plan. This is not easy!

Mother looks down at baby as she leads it back toward the back yard.

Mother looks down at baby as she leads it back toward the back yard.

Mother feeds baby one last time before they head out toward the trees surrounding the creek.

Mother feeds baby one last time before they head out toward the trees surrounding the creek.

The mother bird gets ready to lead the baby bird across the back yard to the creek.

The mother bird gets ready to lead the baby bird across the back yard to the creek.

 

Jun
01

Cardinal Babies in the Nest

I know there are a lot of photos of Cardinal babies posted on the Internet.  Still it is an amazing site to be able to witness a miracle like this on a day-to-day basis and I wanted to share it with all of you who visit this blog.

The first cardinal egg appeared in the nest on May 11, 2012.Cardinals are present year round and bring beauty and song to us here in the North Central Texas area.  A couple of Cardinals built a nest earlier this spring on our patio in a little potted tree right next to our living room window.  The father and mother both worked diligently to build the nest and feed and protect the baby cardinals.  During that time they successfully raised one batch of 4 birds.  I didn’t take photos at that time but swore if they ever came back I would do so.  Much to our surprise, about a month after the first bunch left, the parent birds started checking the same nest out again.  Before we knew it, eggs started appearing in it again.

I took these photos today (June 1).  There are three babies this time.  They are moving around a lot, preening themselves and keeping mom and dad cardinal very busy feeding them.  What a cool thing to be able to witness such a beautiful thing so easily!  By the way, if you want to find out what a baby cardinal is officially called you might want to check this link Wiki-Answers-Baby-Cardinals  (After you take a look at the photos below of course!  Be sure to click on each to see a larger photo.).

Baby Cardinals see their mother land in the tree.

Baby Cardinals see their mother land in the tree.

As the mother bird gets closer, they stretch their necks and open wider.

As the mother bird gets closer, they stretch their necks and open wider.

The mother bird jumps to a limb right next to the nest.

The mother bird jumps to a limb right next to the nest.

The mother bird takes a closer look at the baby cardinals.

The mother bird takes a closer look at the baby cardinals.

The mother bird has fed the last baby and gets ready to leave to find more food.

The mother bird has fed the last baby and gets ready to leave to find more food.

May
14

Woodworker Extraordinaire

My son Aaron has always loved woodworking.  Since he was a young boy he was always building things out of wood.  It is not surprising to me that he became a luthier.  Aaron makes fine hand crafted guitars.  His company is Wood Ring Guitars.

Aaron is not the only woodworker around here though.  We have another member of our family that has woodworking in his blood as well.  You see, we own a Double Yellow Headed Amazon parrot.  He has been a member of our family since 1990.

Our Wood Worker Parrot

Over the years we have learned many things about these beautiful and fascinating birds.  One is that they love to chip away at wooden toys.  I would hate to tally up the amount of money we have spent on bird toys over several years only to watch them be reduced to a pile of wood chips in the bottom of the bird cage.  A typical parrot toy sold at the local pet store costs anywhere from $10 to $20 dollars.  After a while we decided that it was imperative that we start making these toys ourselves to save money.

 

 

 

We looked at the types of toys he liked best and then designed the simple toy shown below based on what our bird likes the best, day after day and week after week. 

Simple but Effective Parrot Toy

Our parrot can reduce one of these toys to a pile of chips in one day.  The photo below shows a typical run of wood pieces cut and drilled from a piece of 2×4 lumber (pine). 

About 2 Weeks Worth of Wood For Parrot Wood Working

 
After much study we discovered that you must be very careful as to what kinds of wood you use for parrot toys.  Some types of wood are dangerous to a bird’s health.  Pine is safe for parrots to play with and chew on.  We also carefully wash all the wood to be sure there are no contaminants on the surface as birds are very sensitive to very small amounts of solvents and other types of chemicals.
 
The photo belos shows the result of approximately 2-3 weeks worth of work that our parrot performs on these toys. 
 

Artwork from Our Parrot's Woodworking Efforts

 
Not bad for a bird that weighs about a pound and a half.  Who knows?  Maybe one day we will give our parrot a commission to do the beginnings of some inlay work for one of Aaron’s guitars!
 
 
Apr
06

Best Little Guitar Festival in Texas

Aaron in the Booth at the Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival 2012

Aaron and I just got back from a trip to the University of Texas at Brownsville.  We were there as a vendor at the Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition showing five of Aaron’s classical guitars.  Aaron is a luthier who builds hand crafted guitars for his company Wood Ring Guitars.

This is not the only guitar festival we have been to this year.  There are several classical guitar festivals that occur around Texas every year.  Many are centered around university guitar programs.  Many of the major universities in Texas and several community colleges and high schools and even some elementary schools now have classical guitar programs who are taught by a group of very talented guitarists.  This is resulting in more and more people being introduced to the classical guitar and the amazing music written for it.  The quality of the competition and the performances at all of these festivals is outstanding and every year the crowds get larger and larger in response to this.

I think of all the festivals I have been to in the past couple of years, I enjoyed the Brownsville festival the most.  This is not because the entertainment and quality of competition was not as good at the other festivals.  I favor the UTB festival because it is unique in that the competition is ensemble based rather than being individually based.  There is an amazing spirit that permeates this competition because the ensemble competition requires each group of individuals to focus on working together as a team rather than competing as individuals.  Dr. Michael Quantz is the head of the guitar program at UTB and he has created an elite classical guitar program that is affecting the classical guitar scent throughout Texas and the Southwest in an extremely positive way.  I think many of the other university guitar program heads in the Southwest would agree with this, based on their growing participation at the yearly festival.

There is a 75 MPH speed limit between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

The 75 MPH speed limit is nice when driving long stretches through Texas.

I have included quite a few photos from our trip from Wood Ring Guitar headquarters in Weatherford, Texas to UTB.  Aaron and I made the trip in one day, alternating in the driver’s seat every couple of hours.  This made it an easy drive.  We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard hotel which was recommended by the festival and we got a festival discount resulting in a nightly cost of $89.00 which was extremely reasonable for such a nice hotel. 

 

 

Guitar players practicing in the hot tub at the Hotel.

Once we settled in at the hotel and got all of our luggage and guitars squared away, we relaxed a bit and then we went to a local Japanese restaurant for dinner.  The sushi was fantastic, but we learned to never order Thai food at a Japenese restaurant.  We ordered Pad Thai, which is normally a very delicious Thai noodle dish.  Instead it tasted like an odd mixture of Thai Spiced noodles in a spaghetti sauce laced with mexican spices.  Not very good!  We also dodged a bullet that evening when we ordered sushi because we heard later that the spicy tuna roll at various sushi restaurants in the area caused a rash of food poisonings.

This is the entrance to the concert hall.

View of the Arts Center foyer from inside the Wood Ring Guitars booth.

The next day, we set up our booth at the new Arts Center at the university.  It is a beautiful building that has a gorgeous foyer and a wonderful concert hall that was acoustically tuned to perfection.   Our booth was in the foyer in front of the concert hall entrance.  Dr. Quantz and his staff met us as we entered the building to set up our booth and throughout the festival they were exceedingly helpful and made our gig at this festival extremely enjoyable.

 

Another view of the UTB Arts Center foyer where we set up the Wood Ring Guitars booth.

For the next three days, Aaron and I talked to more than a couple of hundred people interested in touching, holding, playing and talking about the Wood Ring Guitars that we brought.  It was a great experience for both of us.  We met and talked to many folks who, like us, love the guitar and all kinds of guitar music, especially classical guitar music.  We also were able to visit with many of our friends who teach guitar and who play professionally.  We also had the treat of being able to visit with members of two groups who headlined the entertainment for the last two nights of the festival.

On Friday night the Texas Guitar Quartet played.  It was an outstanding performance from four of the best professional classical guitarists on the Texas scene these days.  This performance was done in conjunction with the realease of their first CD which is named Red for the title song on the CD.  The entire concert was played beautifully.  On Saturday night members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet played an amazing concert.  I have seen these guys play several times in the past couple of years and they always amaze me with their virtuoso performances.  This concert was no exception.  It included a premier of a new piece written for a large guitar ensemble written by Shingo Fuji in honor of the victims of the 2011 Japan earthquake.  Mr. Fuji conducted the ensemble which included both LAGQ and the UTB Guitar Ensembles.  It was beautiful and moving to be sure.  The entire program was extremely entertaining and the guitar playing was impeccable.

We had the beach almost to ourselves.

We had the beach almost to ourselves. This is me walking along the shore.

It was not all work.  We work very hard at this.  Sometimes we end up working seven days a week.  Thus when we get an opportunity to travel for business purposes, I am a big believer in having a little enjoyment and down time during each trip to experience the culture of each place we visit.  We did not have much time, so for this trip, Aaron and I drove to South Padre Island to have breakfast on Pier 19 and then to walk on the beach to enjoy the sun and the smell of the ocean breezes for an hour or so.  It was great.

 

Brownsville area border patrol station.

Lots of cameras must have taken our picture as we proceeded toward the border patrol station.

After the festival, we drove back home.  About 30 miles North of Brownsville we were stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint.  We were asked if we were citizens and then told we could go on, but not before about 30 or 40 cameras had taken our pictures to help them determine that we were ok.

 

 

 

Bluebonnets and Prickly Pear Cactus just south of Marble Falls.

The Blubonnets are absolutely beautiful along the Texas rural roads this year.

As we proceeded north of San Antonio we were able to photograph some of the millions of bluebonnets that are currently blooming.  This year they are exceptionally beautiful because there has been abundant rain.  It seems to me the beauty and abundance is enhanced because of the terrible draught that we had in Texas last year.  The contrast from last year was amazing.

 

 

Aaron and I had a great time.  It is really cool to be able make a living doing what you love to do.  Aaron has discovered that he has a real talent in designing and making these guitars.  I have a strong science background and I have helped him, by using the principles of physics and acoustics, to work out a guitar design that really sounds great.  Combined with Aaron’s amazing craftsmanship and his unique artistic and design skills, I believe we are beginning on a journey that is full of adventure and fun all the while offering some of the guitarists of the world with outstanding instruments to play.  What could be better than that?

Dec
07

The Craft of Guitar Lutherie – Strength in Numbers

Introduction

The Next Two Wood Ring Classical Guitars to be Completed Before the End of 2011.

Aaron and I have been working very hard to finish two beautiful classical guitars that he has been building, side by side.  One has a  Western Red Cedar top with Cocobolo sides and back.  It has Bocote trim and a Spanish Cedar neck.  The other guitar has a German Spruce top with Indian Rosewood sides and back. It has Bloodwood trim and a Spanish Cedar neck. We have been working on these two guitars for over two months now.

Although much of this time was spent in crafting the two instruments from their component pieces of wood, a significant amount of time was spent performing extensive tests at every level of construction. Our goal in doing such thorough testing is to have a very thorough scientific understanding of every step in the process of building each classical guitar we produce.

 Although this testing and record keeping takes a lot of time and work, we believe it is well worth it for three reasons.

 

  1. We want to be absolutely sure that each Wood Ring Guitar is built to last a lifetime. This is done by applying both theoretical and empirical data to our building approach in order to make sure that the most vulnerable parts of the guitar are strong enough to endure decades of playing (strength testing).
  2. We want to be able to reliably reproduce the qualities that contribute to a great sounding guitar (acoustic testing).
  3. We want to continually improve the building process and the finished product from both an acoustic and artistic point of view (record keeping, feedback, and analysis).

Our aim is lofty but we feel strongly about it.  We are committed to creating instruments that will gain in value over time because of their unique artistic beauty, their outstanding sound qualities, and a look and feel that gives each owner that special feeling that only a select few instruments throughout the world can bestow upon them.

Today, I want to discuss the process we use to test the strength of our soundboards. This testing process is very important because:

  1. It allows us to fine tune the soundboard such that we are absolutely sure that each guitar is strong and built to last.
  2. It gives us feedback in fine tuning the top and bracing system such that we can obtain the optimum sound characteristics possible.
  3. It backs up our commitment that the guitar will sound as good or better 10, 20 or 30 years in the future as it does the day it is purchased.

 Sound Board Strength Testing

It is the soundboard that is responsible for most of the sound that eminates from a guitar. When the player plucks or strums the strings, they start vibrating. This vibration is transferred through the bridge and into the soundboard. For standard guitar tuning, frequencies from 82.407 Hz (Open 6th string – E2) to 880 Hz (17th fret on 1st string – A5) are generated. To achieve this, a lot of tension (both static and dynamic) is exerted by the strings onto the bridge and the soundboard. The tension exerted by each string depends on several variables including (a) active string length, (b) frequency of the string, and (c) mass per unit length of the string. For a classical guitar the total tension exerted by all six strings is approximately 85 – 95 lbs. of force.  Due to the way the strings are attached to the bridge, the force of this string tension applies a rotational torque on the bridge and soundboard with the front of the bridge pushing down on the area between the bridge and the soundhole and pulling up on the area between the bridge and the bottom edge of the guitar.

Torque Exerted by Strings on Bridge and Soundboard

As a general rule of thumb, the less mass there is in the soundboard and bracing, the louder and more responsive the instrument will be. Of course there is a limit to this and in reality a luthier must find a balance between the soundboard strength and the amount of mass that the soundboard will have. As mass is removed from the thickness of the soundboard plate and the thickness and height of the braces, the more the soundboard will deflect and warp in response to the tension placed on the bridge by the strings. This is good to a point and every classical and acoustic guitar top deflects a small amount downward between the bridge and soundhole and upward between the bridge and bottom of the guitar. As long as this deflection is kept within some well established design parameter guidelines this results in great sound and a very durable instrument. If this deflection exceeds these guidelines, then over time, the top will start to deform and cracks may appear around the bridge. Ultimately the soundboard may collapse. This effect can be magnified if the guitar is exposed to extreme conditions of varying temperature and humidity.

 Testing Apparatus and Procedure

As part of our testing process, we use a method of soundboard stiffness testing and deflection compliance that was first suggested by David Hurd in his book Left-Brain Lutherie – Using Physics and Engineering Concepts for Building Guitar Family Instruments. This is an outstanding book on the application of science and engineering to the craft of Lutherie. In this book, David proposes that deflection measurements of the soundboard be taken at the point in the building process where the soundboard has just been attached to the sides and the back has not been attached yet. This allows the lutheir to make both soundboard thickness adjustments and bracing height and thickness adjustments based on results of the deflection tests and Chladni pattern tests.  

The apparatus that we use for deflection measurement was hand made and is based on David’s Luthiers Forum series of articles which outline how to build the apparatus and how to use it. The apparatus is simple and is cheap to build.  It is a well thought out apparatus for measuring guitar top deflections. After we built it and calibrated it, we performed extensive testing to establish repeatability and error values and we found that it can reliably measure deflections of a top within +/- 0.001″ which is very acceptable.

There are several stages in the guitar construction process where it makes sense to perform deflection tests involving the soundboard. The first test is done during the selection of the tone wood material as part of the criteria in making sure that we start with an optimal piece of tonewood. The next is done before the braces are added to the soundboard in order to determine an optimal starting thickness for the top. The next is done during the final thicknessing and brace shaving step of soundboard tuning (which is what this blog article is about). The next one is done after the bridge is added to the soundboard. Finally, as the instrument approaches completion, the deflection caused by the tension of the strings is measured above and below the bridge and recorded.

Generally, the procedure we use for measuring and recording deflections is as follows.

Measuring the deflection from a weight placed at various points on a grid placed over the soundboard.

Before we start the deflection tests for the final thicknessing and brace carving stage of construction, we create a very thin paper template with a 1″ x 1″ grid on it which we place over the soundboard so that it is protected from scratches and dents. We use a very thin paper which we tested to confirm that it does not affect the deflection values. Initially we perform a full set of measurements before the bridge is attached to the soundboard.  Once the deflection measurements are taken, we normalize them based on a standard force value of 2 lbs. This is done so that data can be compared with values taken by other luthiers (as proposed by David Hurd).

Next we use a contouring program to map the deflection values for the entire soundboard.

Contour Map of Deflections produced by one of several free contouring applications available on the Internet.

 

This map is then reproduced on the full size Grid template.

Contour Map - Full Scale for Use in Tuning the Soundboard Braces

This sheet is initially used as a guide for where to take the deflection values and after the data is contoured, it is used as a guideline along with Chladni patterns in tuning the soundboard by adjusting the plate thickness and by adjusting the height and thickness of the braces.  This is an iterative process.  We carefully carve and adjust thicknesses and then take deflection values and perform Chladni tests again. 

Chladni Pattern of 2nd Mode for the German Spruce Soundboard

This pain staking process is repeated until we reach the pre-established guidelines we have worked out regarding the deflection pattern that we want in the final product. It is these guidelines that each luthier must develop and refine as part of their artistic contribution to this process. This allows us to achieve the ultimate balance between strength and the tonal quality we are wanting to achieve for each guitar. There is a lot of work and time involved in doing this but the payoff in a masterfully constructed hand crafted classical guitar is well worth it. I wanted to write this article so that our customers know how much care is taken to be sure the value of these guitars far exceeds the cost and that each Wood Ring guitar is truly an investment that is built to give them a lifetime of enjoyment.

 Links of Interest

Wood Ring Guitars – Unique Hand Crafted Guitars for Exceptional Musicians. Dallas, Fort Worth, Weatherford, Texas.

Left-Brain Lutherie by David Hurd – http://www.ukuleles.com/LBLBook/TOC.html

David Hurd’s Ukulele Website – http://www.ukuleles.com

Review of David Hurd’s Book – Left-Brain Lutherie

Quick Grid – Open Source Contouring Program

Of Science, Art, and Society Blog Entry on “Reading Tea Leaves to Predict the Future – Using Chladni Patterns to Create Extraordinary Classical Guitars”

     Copyright © 2011-2012 by Danny and Sandra Ringo.  All rights reserved.  Articles may not be reproduced without permission.