AlanHil Guitars may have started in the 1960's when Alan Richrod got his first guitar. Or it may have started in the mid 1970's when he bought every book he could get his hands on that had to do with guitar making. Or it may have been as late as 2004 when upon building a dreadnought acoustic, which Alan describes as a "blatant and shameless rip-off of a Martin D-28", he established an official label. It's hard to say but today Alan builds electric and acoustic guitars strictly on a custom basis.
Alan's wife Hilary is a calligrapher and sketch artist and helped design the label that is used in all acoustic instruments. It features the quote from T.S. Elliot: "You are the music while the music lasts". She is also the other half of the name.
AlanHil Guitars found the Grip-All Jaws Tilt-Top Portable to be of particular value when working on electric guitars.
"I really like the ability to tilt the project into a convenient angle. That comes in handy for lots of situations like routing. In building a solid body guitar, there is a lot of router work for pickup recesses, electronics bays, bindings, and all that stuff. Some of it you do in jigs or on a router table. But I rout the electronics bays with jigs and a hand held router. But when building a body with a flame maple top, for example I don't want to cover up the beautiful wood with a pickguard or something. The pickup recesses are routed to a fairly close tolerance to allow the wood to show."
We couldn't help but notice that AlanHil's Tilt-Top Portable is not like any we have seen. Alan says that since it's holding musical instruments, it needs to be special.
"Oh, yeah. Well, it's well made and really strong but I wanted it to look a little different. I thought about paint but that just wasn't enough. And I had the veneer and one thing lead to another."
So what are the woods used?
"The top is veneered in cocobolo that came from a very dear architect friend who has passed away. The sides are bird's eye alder with narra at the corners. The edge is done in maple and purpleheart, and the feet are veneered in maple burl and purpleheart. The whole thing is finished in a wipe-on poly as an experiment. The top is done in guitar lacquer. It's water base, of course. Oh, and I custom made the support arms out of mahogany and maple."
It's almost a piece of furniture.
"I wanted to experiment with the wipe-on poly. Plus there is a flaw in it. While reaming the holes, a bit of the veneer came off and I left it as I sort of liked the idea of it not being perfect. But it still holds any shape guitar I put in it."
We would think that guitars are largely flat and a bench vise and dogs or a router mat would work for routing or sanding.
"Yeah, you would think that. But the problem with a bench vise is that it's not very flexible and you can never grip a project in just the right way."
Alan was a machinist for 13 years and knows how to set up machine tools including CNC machines. He explained that it often takes hours to build and set up a specialized fixture to hold some odd shaped part.
"I can spend a couple of hours making a holding jig for a particular shape guitar, or I can clamp it up in the Grip-All Jaws in 15 seconds and spend the time working on it. Not a tough decision."
Alan builds electric guitars and quite a few are solid body types.
“You might have a slab of poplar, or alder, or even maple lying around that’s sort of uninteresting. But being a dense wood it’s good for a sold body guitar. I use those for guitars that are going to be painted.”
This turquoise guitar is an example.
“I made this one out of maple and it weighs about 10 pounds but it sounds good.”
It’s classified as a baritone guitar. It has a scale that’s a bit longer than standard and is tuned a fifth lower.
“I fell in love with the dark rich sound that this guitar has.”
This guitar features a set of active, single coil pickups by EMG which have, in addition to the extra power, a tone boost circuit built into the tone control.
That bass has quite a story.
”I drew this design on piece of paper in the early 1970’s and carried it around all these years. I had a large piece of narra that I had got from the father of my future wife. The wood is nice but it's really dense and has good tone. I cut out the blank by eye with a hand-held jig saw and shaped it with rasps, chisels, planes, and lots of sandpaper. Then work on it stopped. In 2009 I was doing some recording and really needed a bass. So when digging through stacks of wood in the shop, I stumbled on the 30-year old blank. It was a bit narrow so I split it down the middle and inserted a spline of maple. It turned out to be a powerful instrument with some hot J-bass pickups.”
We never actually planned for the Tilt-Top Portable to used by luthiers but this is just another example of how our customers come up with new ways to use the Grip-All Jaws system.
Quite honestly, we are pleased as pie (or is that punch) and find all the new revelations exciting.