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Da Vinci Unplugged: Unveiled

Alongside an ambitious slate of new, innovative products that continue to push the largest producer of acoustic guitars in the U.S. to new heights, C.F. Martin & Co. (www.martinguitar.com) has unveiled the 1.5 millionth Martin Guitar at the 2011 NAMM Show. 

Dubbed “Da Vinci Unplugged” over the past year and a half, the parts of this milestone guitar were carefully crafted at the Martin factory in Nazareth, PA, and then sent to expert luthier and inlay artist Harvey Leach, who designed the Leonardo da Vinci-inspired Mona Lisa headstock, Last Supper pickguard and Vitruvian Man back.  Scrimshaw artist Bob Hergert then added his expert touch, including intricately engraved illustrations – based on an array of da Vinci drawings – to Style 45 hexagons that were cut from fossilized mammoth ivory and inlaid into the fingerboard and bridge wings.  The guitar was then returned to Nazareth for final assembly, delicate Style 45 perimeter inlay, and finishing.  

“Since I became chairman and CEO of the company, I have been fortunate to have overseen the creation of several milestone guitars, including the company’s 500,000th in 1990, 750,000th in 2000 and one millionth in 2004, and each of these accomplishments leaves me in awe,” said Chris Martin IV.  “The unveiling of the 1.5 millionth Martin Guitar marks the shortest period of time we have taken to produce a half-million Martins.  This is testament not only to the demand for our guitars and the perfection expected from us, but also the quality of work, passion and skill of the craftsmen and women behind each hand-made instrument.”  

The 1.5 millionth Martin also features special gold tuning buttons engraved by Tara Mitchell:

A case is crafted by TKL:


And a strap hand-tooled and donated by leather artist Chuck Smith:

 

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Da Vinci Unplugged: The Vitruvian Man

When I pulled the body of this Martin masterpiece from its case and put it on my couch, I nearly cried. I was awestruck. The Vitruvian Man stood in a background of Brazilian rosewood of such beauty that I felt God himself was telling me that anything I would ever do could not match such creation. The grain was a goddess’ auburn hair. It shimmered in the light. It brought me to my knees. 

Harvey matched the perfection with his inlaid circle and square. How? I may never know. Thank you Maestro Harvey Leach. Thank you Chris Martin. Thank you Martin luthiers. Thank God.

Bob Hergert, on behalf of Martin Guitar.

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Da Vinci Unplugged: The Vitruvian Man

In many ways, the Virtruvian Man was the easiest part of this project. The actual inlay is made up of only 10 pieces, which just happens to be the same amount used to create Jesus’ feet on the pickguard. The real challenge with this inlay was that I would need to work over  the back of an existing guitar. I would normally prefer to inlay the back prior to building the guitar so that I don’t have to deal with the domed surface,  add to that the fact that we’re not talking about just any guitar here… I mean you just can’t go back and make another 1,500,000th guitar! Standing there looking down on probably one of the most valuable guitars in the world while holding a router spinning at 30,000 rpm’s is not something I recommend for you first day on the job. No matter how many times you do something there is always the risk that something could go wrong… the router slips out of your hand… the bit slowly works its way out until you’ve cut a hole clean through…

Because I would only have one shot I had to devise some template that would allow me to make highly accurate cuts for the circle and rectangle and devise a method for locating them accurately as well. Using a small router with a guide bushing and 1/16” carbide bit the cuts were made by following templates cut from ¼” medium density fiberboard (MDF) that were clamped to the guitar body.

The V-Man was cut from a piece of Corian called “Chamois” which had just the right look of the old parchment of the original drawing.

Here the pattern is placed on the guitar back to make sure the size is correct. Next, a piece of cardboard was cut to fit the front of the guitar and taped in place to protect the soundboard:

To accurately cut channels for the circle and rectangle, ¼”  MDF was cut into 2 identical squares. The pattern for the rectangle was cut into one and the circle into the other. Next 2 straight edges were placed so that the rectangle and square would be perfectly aligned (below).   

Click here to see the rest of this series on Flickr. And then come back for the next post as Bob goes back to work on The Vitruvian Man.

Harvey Leach, on behalf of Martin Guitar. 

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Da Vinci Unplugged: The Pickguard, Last Supper Background

The tapestries and right wall are cut from dark green jade and grey Corian: 

The left wall is created using the same materials as the right wall:

The window scene behind Jesus is cut from turquoise, sugulite, gaspeite, green recon and dark ivory:

The background  comes together nicely just before Bob goes back to work on the Scrimshaw. Take a look

Harvey Leach, on behalf of Martin Guitar.

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Da Vinci Unplugged: Jesus and the Apostles

The first Apostle on the left side of the table has pipestone recon for the hair and beard. The robes are cut from red, green and blue Corian. The robes of the second Apostle are cut from spiny oyster:

The second Apostle’s hair and beard are cut from Bastogne walnut:

The third Apostle’s hair is cut from walnut and his robes from blue Corian:

Click here to see how the rest of The Apostles come together, as well as the addition of Jesus.

Harvey Leach, on behalf of Martin Guitar.

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Da Vinci Unplugged: The Last Supper, Table Manners

A drawing is scaled to fit the pickguard outline:

Two variations of granite Corian are used to create the tablecloth. The two colors create a lighted surface and a shadowed surface:

A pattern is carefully glued in place matching the fold in the tablecloth to the seam created by the joint line of the Corian:


How does the rest of the table come together? Click here to find out.

Harvey Leach, on behalf of Martin Guitar.

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Da Vinci Unplugged: The Last Supper Inlay

Harvey here!

With different inlays different challenges are presented. With Mona Lisa the challenge was to recreate an inlay so it had the textures and transitions of a painting. With the Last Supper the painting techniques are less defined, and because the original is in such poor shape, many artists have put their own spin on what the original might have looked like. These representations generally don’t have the kind of dramatic painting effects the Mona Lisa exhibits.

 Originally, I had proposed that we put the Last Supper on the back of the guitar. My  reasoning was a bit selfish—I would have much more space and, therefore, the inlay could be as big as possible. We quickly abandoned that idea because it would be a disservice to the subject matter. By moving it to the pickguard, the size of the inlay had to be reduced by more than 50%, meaning that we would have to reproduce one of the greatest pieces of art in history within a space of six inches. Keep in mind that the original covers an entire wall!!!

In any art form artists develop their own “signature” something that seems to be a key element to their style. If I had to give a single word explanation about what is unique about me it would be “scale.” I have always been a bit obsessed with making realistic representations on a tiny scale. Even as a child in my earliest artistic endeavors in the model car world, I felt the need to hand paint the letters on the tires and use black thread for plug wires. As an inlay artist I pride myself in being able to cut tiny pieces and combine them to create a photo-realistic composition. The greatest challenge isn’t just cutting a piece, but also manipulating it so that it ends up where it belongs and not on the floor. I like to joke about how the floor of my shop has one of the most elaborate inlays ever created hiding in the cracks somewhere. I have always been amazed how, as I cut tiny scraps of material, broken sawblades fall directly under the cutting board, but when I drop a valuable piece it somehow ends up in the next room. Many is the time I have found myself crawling on the floor looking for some microscopic piece of shell, Corian or precious metal. I usually spend far more time doing this than it would take to cut a new piece, but I just can’t help myself. Maybe it’s necessary so I get up out of my chair and get some exercise.

Parts of this inlay were better than a treadmill. Here is a sneak peek at the pattern:

 

- Harvey Leach, on behalf of Martin Guitar

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Da Vinci Unplugged: Fret not, Teenie-Tiny Fat Man…

As the markers got smaller and wider going up the neck, I had to choose images that tend to be more horizontal than vertical. Position five is a helmeted figure. I showed the piece to an artist friend and he called him a “fat guy”. I had to laugh at myself, because I was so caught up in the details I didn’t even notice he had a double chin!

To give you sense of the scale of these pieces, I’ve overlayed a transparent ruler marking 100ths of an inch. This is how I can measure the incisions as the size of dust particles:

Click here to see the rest of the fret markers on Flickr.

Bob Hergert, on behalf of Martin Guitar.

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Da Vinci Unplugged: There’s Something About Mary

In the early planning of the guitar, I was planning on using the Mona Lisa for the third fret marker. Then Harvey wisely stole her away to use on the headstock. I wanted to do a face to fill the shape, so I found a painting of a young Mary from an Annunciation scene. Maybe the most difficult single piece I did. To keep the look of innocent beauty at that scale tested every skill I hope to possess. You can see in the picture how I tried to fine tune the features.

Click here to see the rest of Mary’s portrait on Flickr.

Bob Hergert, on behalf of Martin Guitar.

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