Jump to content

I build guitars, so why not model ships?


Recommended Posts

See, it's like this: we moved to a new house a few years ago, and when we did, I lost my shop, which had been a cozy little room behind my garage, just big enough for building guitars. Since guitar building generates a fair amount of wood shavings and sawdust, I can't really do any serious sort of building in our house. And our garage, which isn't hermetically sealed anyway, is crammed full of stuff that we haven't figured out where to put yet. So I can't use the garage, even if I was able to figure out how to hermetically seal it. And yes, to build a guitar properly, humidity must be controlled throughout the build process.

I really miss building guitars -- in fact I just plain miss building precision items from wood. So it has recently occurred to me that taking up the hobby of building wooden model ships might satisfy my cravings until I find a shop or a way to get back to building guitars by modifying the resources I have.

I know nothing about this hobby. But if it involves building items from flat slats of wood, I'm game. Cuz that's the way I build acoustic guitars -- from flat slats of wood. Guitar making involves precise measurements -- in some cases, measurements to the nearest thousandth of an inch -- so I'm used to dealing with precision in wood. I've been looking around some regarding kits that are available. I found a variety of kits on eBay, many of which are cheap and coming out of China -- so I'm suspect of these. And then there's ModelExpo, which has some really high-end stuff it appears, but most of the kits they offer are way out of my budget. I'm not making any money building guitars right now, so I'm having to survive off a rather slim retirement income. Maybe scratch building would be the way to go to keep the cost down? Scratch building sounds good to me because that's the way I built guitars anyway. I dunno about sewing sails, though. I've never sewn. And what about the little blocks and tackle? Do you scratch build guys build your own tiny little blocks and tackle? How about anchors? Do you cast or forge your own anchors? Inquiring minds and all . . . .

Right now, I have my eyes on a few vintage ships on eBay. These appeal to me, but I worry that they may not be complete and a couple that I saw, were poorly started, and I don't really feel like having to go back and fix others' mistakes before I can even get on with the build process. So, what do you recommend as a starter kit for somebody who already has some skills and lots of hand tools, but not very deep pockets?

So anyway, that's me. Glad to be here and all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome, cooltouch. As a luthier, you will already have a wide range of skills and knowledge that translate into ship modelling. As an entry point, avoid cheap and nasty (often knock-off) imports, vintage kits or too-good-to-be-true offers. Also avoid over-elaborate subjects. I do not recommend a 100 gun ship for starters! Here are two suggestions (you will doubtless get a zillion more!):

 

Syren Ship Model Company's Royal Barge

Model Shipway's Bounty's launch

 

The first is not cheap, but it is has high quality materials.   

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If your luthier's tools can be broadly used for other small scale wood projects, you might think about scratch building. Have a look through the scratch build logs and galleries to get a feel for some of the beautiful smallcraft models some of our members have either finished or have in progress. The NRG also offers a "Progressive Scratch Building" course, which is a series of three scratch built models beginning with a Bermuda boat, the Corsair, which is a fine looking project. You can find more info here.

 

Cheers!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the responses, guys. Druxey, I'll check out those kits, thanks.

 

Chris, I have a pretty decent selection of tools. Examples would be chisels ranging in size from 1" to 1mm, planes ranging in size from 14" to 1". I have a wide assortment of knives, including those made specifically for carving and a large X-acto set, although there are only a couple of blades from the set I routinely use. I've collected smaller tools because they are often handy with detail work on guitars. I have a variety of precision drawing and drafting instruments as well. I don't use them a lot with building, but they can come in handy occasionally. I don't know how relevant they will be to model ship building, but I have them if I'll need them, at least.

 

One aspect of model ship building I find intriguing is hull construction, where wood has to be bent into position. In the real world of ship-building, the hull planks are steamed so they become pliable prior to being bent into position. When I bend guitar sides, I use a similar process. But I wonder if this is necessary with kits. Are the slats naturally pliable enough or do they need . . . erm . . . "coaxing?"

 

I suspect I'll find answers as I begin to browse through the various builds that are documented here. Makes me want to get started soonest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A good compromise between a scratch build and a kit is Chuck Passaro's Cheerful starter package...

 

You can download the instructions and see step by step what you will be doing, before buying the package..

In addition to what you get in the starter package, you can see that Chuck offers a lot of options for purchasing additional  parts and mini-kits for details or build them all yourself from the very detailed full size plans..

 

There is also an extensive build log here at MSW, that documents Chuck's development of the kit..

 

You will also find many completed and in progress, build logs here at MSW for this ship...

 

Check it out...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The biggest difference between building stringed instruments and ship models is that the luthier with any competence has a far better chance of selling what they build. My neighbor is an internationally known master violin and cello maker. It takes him as long to make one of his instruments as it does the master ship modelers to make one of their masterpieces. His instruments start at $25,000 and go up in price exponentially from there. He's quit taking commissions for new instruments because his repair and maintenance work is so much more lucrative. I have a friend fifteen miles up the road who is a master guitar maker whose work is in the collection of the Smithsonian and whose clients include a number of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. You'd need a rock star's money to buy one of his guitars. He's not taking new commissions, either, and now passes new work over to the apprentices in his shop.

 

I have most all of the tools both of these luthiers have, except for the very specialized musical instrument making tools, and I have a fair amount of skill working in wood and metal, but I'd never begin to attempt to build a musical instrument because I know nothing about playing them. So also it is with ship model building, which can be a lot more complicated than might be expected. One can buy a kit, or even plans and instructions for a model to be built from scratch, and produce something credible if it be a simple model and the instructions good ones, but beyond the rote following of instructions, a ship model builder won't get too terribly far unless they have an extensive knowledge of ships and boats, particularly in the period of the ship they are modeling, and a working familiarity with full-sized boat and ship building procedures, again specifically those of the period in which the ship they are modeling was built. As I'm sure you'd agree, if I were to buy a guitar-building kit and followed the instructions to the letter, no matter how much care I took in building it, I could never hope to match the quality of a Martin guitar, let alone a custom built instrument from one of the masters. That takes decades of apprenticeship, mentoring, and dedicated, full-time, journeyman's experience. I could probably build a violin if I had a good kit, but it would never sound like a good violin, that's for sure.

 

The kits mentioned above are the best around for a competent woodworker to start with.  It's "buyer beware" in the ship model kit world, for sure. There are a lot of very mediocre, if not flat out crappy, kits out there selling for hundreds of dollars. Just remember that in most every instance, the picture of the finished kit model in the advertisements and on the cover of the box is never possible to be built from the materials and instructions in the kit. The "finished" models in those pictures were usually built by professional master modelers who went far beyond the instructions and materials supplied to produce the model in the photographs. It's sort of like putting a photo of the real Mona Lisa on the cover of a paint-by-numbers kit box. Fortunately, the models mentioned above are among the few for which this warning doesn't apply.

 

At the same time, you'd do well to read up on the craft of ship modeling and learn all you can. (Use the search engine in this forum to find lists of the best of them. Lots ship modeling books have been written, some good and a lot not.) Many find simply learning the nomenclature of ship construction a daunting task and, like all languages, it takes a lot of "immersion" to learn to speak it as if it were one's mother tongue. Ship modeling is a fascinating hobby, or profession, but the amount of learning that is involved, and indeed the amount of historical research, while most enjoyable to many of us, isn't always everybody's cup of tea. I encourage you to try it and see if you like it, but don't discourage yourself by biting off more than you can chew with a learning curve that's way too steep.

 

If, on the other hand, you are seeking a source of retirement income that involves woodworking in miniature, you'll probably make a whole lot more money building collectors' dollhouse miniatures like miniature reproductions of Chippendale dining room sets at 1:12 scale, than you ever could building ship models! :D 

 

I offer these thoughts not in an effort to scare you off, but in the hope that you'll get off to the right start. Finding your way to this forum community is the right first step. You'll find all the help you'll ever need along the way from fellow forumities in MSW.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Greg and Druxey, thanks for those links. I'll take a look at them.

 

Bob, I appreciate your taking the time for your thoughtful remarks. Honestly the idea of attempting to make money at ship building hadn't even entered my mind until maybe yesterday, at which point I promptly shrugged it off. I reasoned -- apparently correctly -- that if there was money to be made at the craft, it would be made by specialists with many years of experience at it.  I do want to call your attention to one comment you made, however:

 

45 minutes ago, Bob Cleek said:

I have most all of the tools both of these luthiers have, except for the very specialized musical instrument making tools, and I have a fair amount of skill working in wood and metal, but I'd never begin to attempt to build a musical instrument because I know nothing about playing them. So also it is with ship model building, which can be a lot more complicated than might be expected. One can buy a kit, or even plans and instructions for a model to be built from scratch, and produce something credible if it be a simple model and the instructions good ones, but beyond the rote following of instructions, a ship model builder won't get too terribly far unless they have an extensive knowledge of ships and boats, particularly in the period of the ship they are modeling, and a working familiarity with full-sized boat and ship building procedures, again specifically those of the period in which the ship they are modeling was built. As I'm sure you'd agree, if I were to buy a guitar-building kit and followed the instructions to the letter, no matter how much care I took in building it, I could never hope to match the quality of a Martin guitar, let alone a custom built instrument from one of the masters. That takes decades of apprenticeship, mentoring, and dedicated, full-time, journeyman's experience. I could probably build a violin if I had a good kit, but it would never sound like a good violin, that's for sure.

 

There are some very good luthiers who do not play. It doesn't have to stop a person from becoming skilled at the craft. But on the subject of kits, especially many of the good quality kits available now, you might just be surprised at how good the guitars sound. I think of my first guitar. It was scratch-built, not from a kit, and it was -- is! -- butt ugly, in and out. But I used good woods and I must have done at least something right with that guitar because it sounds way better than it would seem to have any right to sound. There's something about custom building a guitar -- even from a kit -- as long as you're assembling the instrument from quality woods and you do a reasonably competent job of assembly, I can almost guarantee that you will wind up with a guitar that, if you had to buy one that sounded as good, you'd be looking at an instrument costing in the thousands. Now, I don't have any experience with violin kits, but there's no reason why they shouldn't be the same, provided the same care and attention to detail is maintained.

 

Building a guitar from a kit can be done using a modicum of specialty tools and it can be quite fun and rewarding. I've never built from a kit, but I know people who have and they were all amazed at just how nice their guitars sounded. The key, I think is in good kit preparation. Fundamental to it all is the premium tonewoods that are selected. Then other important details, such as the braces and how well they've been prepared, how well the neck is going to fit into its joint, proper fingerboard preparation, etc. All these details end up adding to the overall quality of the build.

 

So, all I'm saying is, don't sell instrument kits short, especially the better ones that you can buy from places like Stewart McDonald (stewmac.com) and Luthier's Mercantile International (lmii.com). You get what you pay for -- just like model ship kits, I'll bet. With the better guitar kits, you're getting top quality tonewood -- and quality tonewood isn't cheap -- plus you're paying for all the exacting work that they've already done that will help make assembly go that much easier.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

21 hours ago, cooltouch said:

So, all I'm saying is, don't sell instrument kits short, especially the better ones that you can buy from places like Stewart McDonald (stewmac.com) and Luthier's Mercantile International (lmii.com). You get what you pay for -- just like model ship kits, I'll bet. With the better guitar kits, you're getting top quality tonewood -- and quality tonewood isn't cheap -- plus you're paying for all the exacting work that they've already done that will help make assembly go that much easier.

  Well, I did say I didn't know anything about making musical instruments. :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, but you did write "As I'm sure you'd agree, if I were to buy a guitar-building kit and followed the instructions to the letter, no matter how much care I took in building it, I could never hope to match the quality of a Martin guitar, let alone a custom built instrument from one of the masters."

 

And that's what got me going because, you see, a guitar built from an excellent quality kit is a custom guitar in most respects. It might not be built by a luthier with years of experience, but it was put together by one. And so the end-user, as long as he or she is diligent in the assembly process, will wind up with a custom guitar that was designed and laid out by a master luthier. And it will sound like one. And if I may draw a parallel here, I'm sure it's the same with model ship building. The best kits will offer the best result no doubt because they were put together by experts in the craft.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 hours ago, cooltouch said:

Yes, but you did write "As I'm sure you'd agree, if I were to buy a guitar-building kit and followed the instructions to the letter, no matter how much care I took in building it, I could never hope to match the quality of a Martin guitar, let alone a custom built instrument from one of the masters."

 

And that's what got me going because, you see, a guitar built from an excellent quality kit is a custom guitar in most respects. It might not be built by a luthier with years of experience, but it was put together by one. And so the end-user, as long as he or she is diligent in the assembly process, will wind up with a custom guitar that was designed and laid out by a master luthier. And it will sound like one. And if I may draw a parallel here, I'm sure it's the same with model ship building. The best kits will offer the best result no doubt because they were put together by experts in the craft.

 

 

Yes, that's so with ship kits, too. While I've never built one, I've followed a number of build logs on the Model Shipways laser-cut models designed by ChucK Passaro and they are as good as I've ever seen in terms of quality and they do produce very fine results. I built my first wooden ship model kit about forty years ago when a "kit" was a couple of sheets of plans, a handful of sticks and dowels, a roughed-out block of wood, some string and wire, and a pile of really rough cast lead and tin parts.  They all had to be practically "scratch-built" by today's standards. The kit really just cost you enough to motivate you to start building the thing, but my guess is that probably no more than one out of ten was ever finished. It only took two or three of those kits before the people that stayed with the hobby figured out that they were spending a lot more on kits than they needed to.

 

Today, most all kits have come a long way from the days of a cardboard box with a label pasted on the end with a small photo of the boat one could supposedly build out of what was in the box. In many instances, though, the materials and parts aren't any better than they ever were. The big leap with models today, though, is the laser-cutting technology. That really takes a kit from something you have to build to something you only have to assemble... although I'll admit that's painting it with a rather broad brush. My point is, if you get into kits today, especially the laser-cut ones, they really have to be top end kits to ensure the laser-cut pieces are accurately done so the thing fits together properly. There are a lot more crappy kits out there than there are good ones. There are some quality foreign-made kits, but a newcomer is probably best off sticking with kits from US kit makers so as to be on the safe side.

 

As for stringed instruments, I probably shouldn't have used the guitar as an example. Those bowed-string instruments like violins and cellos get their special sound not only from properly selected tone-woods, but also from the contoured carving of their shaped bodies and the shape and placement of their "F"-holes.  That's way above my pay grade! (Mmmm.... Good thing those holes are shaped like the letter "F" and not the letter "A," huh?) :D

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...