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"Liliana" my tiny Torres replica - bracing the top, preparing the neck and heel

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

Having never inspected the original SE77, upon which this instrument is based, I relied on the bracing diagrams of the nearly identical sized SE117 in the Romanillos and Courtnall books. I pre-cut the braces and laid them out on the underside of the soundboard to make sure of all the measurements were correct. I then trimmed the soundboard to it's final size. By overlaying my full-sized plexiglass template and securing it with the same hole/pin used to rout the rosette channels, I could easily scribe around the template perimeter with a utility knife and make a perfectly sized soundboard. Once that was done I used my Dremel to cut out the soundhole (82mm diameter). Placing the soundboard on my adapted solera with built-in go-bar deck, I first positioned and glued on the soundhole stiffening plates and uppermost harmonic bar. Then on to the fan braces.

Luthier tip: A little trick I learned for cleaning up the glue squeeze out along the braces is a plastic straw. Cut the tip of the straw at an angle to make a pointed opening, run it along the edge of the brace, and voila ! - the excess glue is drawn up onto the straw, leaving a nice, clean soundboard. So, get some plastic straws while you still can, before they are banned everywhere!

All fan braces were profiled to a rounded over shape (vs. the pointed gable end) with tapers at each end as per the style of Torres at the time. Starting at 3mm tall, they all finished up at ~2.6mm in height. The solera is built to produce a 15' radius for the doming of the lower bout. That results in around a 1.5mm differential between the center point of the bridge and the ends of the wings.


Now for the neck...

Normally for the neck blank I thickness sand it to 20mm, but for this Torres I started at 16.5mm in order to be able to achieve an overall neck thickness of 22mm from the first fret to the 9th fret, as was done on SE117, and to be able to produce the distinctive Torres pointed heelblock/neck join as shown below on two Torres instruments.

As on all of my instruments, I used the Romanillos method of cutting wide slots (10mm) for the fitting of the ribs to the neck/heel assembly. The wide slots allow the ribs to be secured with wooden wedges glued into the slots which produces an extremely tight, strong joint. These slots are cut at a compound angle by setting the table saw blade at a 4 degree tilt and securing the neck/heel assembly at an 8 degree angle in a specially made jig. The cuts are made so as to result in 35mm of uncut space on the top of the neck, angling down to (in the case of my SE77 replica) a 10mm width at the heel. On a deeper bodied instrument, such as my Romanillos models, the uncus space at the bottom of the heel is only ~2mm. The following photos illustrate (hopefully) the marking and cutting of the slots and the 8 degree angled jig holding the neck assembly.

Once the rib slots were cut, I proceeded to cut the shape of the heel block/ Spanish foot on the bandsaw. First up, bandsawing the curvature of the heel. I always try to leave 2-3mm excess material on the heelblock both at the bottom and at the heel curvature for final hand shaping/profiling. Luthier tip: Once the heel curvature has been cut, use the edge of the cut away piece to easily redraw the centerline of the neck.

For the taper of the Spanish foot I used the same 8 degree angle as was used on the slots for the wedges and ribs. By adjusting the angle of the bandsaw table, and by virtue of 10mm wide slots, my 3/8" bandsaw blade can cut the taper on both sides of the Spanish foot without any further adjustment - first by starting the blade from inside the slot on one side and then turning the neck around and cutting from the end of the Spanish foot toward the slot.

Using my Torres headstock template, I routed the headstock shape with my table router. I had previously cut a 15 degree scarf joint for the neck/headstock join and faced the headstock with a 2mm thick piece of Brazilian rosewood. My plexiglass template is designed so I can adjust the length of the headstock according to the plan I am using. For this SE77 replica, the headstock is 173mm in length. A little chisel work, filing and sanding and the headstock will be done...except for drilling the holes for the pegs.

Luthier tip: Shaping the heel is always a bit of a challenge to get precisely the identical shape/symmetry on both sides of the heel. For this purpose I have begun cutting this on my table saw...yes, on the table saw! A 10" table saw blade can cut the perfect curved side profile of the heel. By adjusting the blade height and placing a stop (double-sided taped to the saw table) for the travel of the neck/heel assembly against the blade you can create perfectly shaped sides of the heel. All that remains is a bit of cleanup with a chisel and/or sandpaper.

NOTE: Just make sure you set the blade height and the stop so as to leave the cut on the top of the neck about 1/16" oversize from your final finished neck width as shown in the final photo. After the fretboard has been glued in place you can easily remove the excess with a sharp chisel and finish up with sandpaper.


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