James Ham's Forum

This is a blog site maintained by James Ham to post and receive comments on all subjects related to stringed instrument making and repair - with a special emphasis on the new making of string basses.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008



The words "plywood" or "laminated" have come to be thought of as synonyms for "cheap" or "poor quality" but many valuable antique instruments have in effect become laminated structures as a result of repairs and this does not seem to have made those instruments cheap! Here a couple of examples. My bass ribs are made of two layers of Maple with a layer of silk in between using a vacuum lamination system that I developed, this makes them much less likely to crack in the future and I think high quality lamination now is better than poor quality lamination later!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Bob Ng said...

Well, Jim, I think this is yet another example of the bias of old things being viewed as good, and new things as "less good." Lots of patches, cleats and layers somehow add to the "charm and authenticity" to an old instrument. But if you do the same thing to a new instrument to protect it from cracks, it somehow "cheapens" it. Go figure!

May 27, 2008 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Gerard Samija said...

I am curious about potential for delamination. What adhesive are you using for the silk/maple laminate? If hide glue... I have seen many older hide glue laminated instruments - whether production basses such as Kay and King from pre-WWII, or large chest patches done decades or longer ago - where the lamination has broken down due to improper storage in high-humidity areas. Basement floors of bare concrete are an obvious destroyer of edge laminations, whether manufactured plywood or a re-edged belly done in a major restoration. Since ribs are also in part exposed to such dangers, what can owners of these basses expect in the coming decades, or perhaps centuries? Re-gluing de-lamination can be quite a challenge.

Please understand, I am not attacking this approach at all! In fact it is an impressive solution to the age-old problems associated with thin, un-reinforced ribs. My solution so far, with restoration of basses and in my own first bass and first cello, has been to use strong, un-bleached linen attached with strong hide glue and polished smoothly to reflect sound well. Have you any comments on this approach? So far, in the 15 years I have used this technique (shared by Stradivari and some of his contemporaries for larger instruments) I have found vastly improved rib stability. So much so, in fact, that I have been branching out; applying lightweight linen patching to backs and bellies rather than the more often seen cleating of cracks. Thoughts on this?

June 11, 2008 at 2:56 PM  

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