10/28/2015

1980s J.D. Webb Size 5 Guitar/Cuban Tres Conversion




Update: I updated the soundclip with a new recording. Since the last time I recorded the clip I changed the tuning to an open D chord (same as a 3-course bouzouki or mountain dulcimer: D-A-D) with gauges 14/30w, 18/18, 14/14. This is a nice range to mix in with old-time, Celtic, and folky stuff, though the compensation at the saddle also suits traditional "high E" tres (G-C-E or G-B-E) tunings.

I bought this thinking it would make a great "Nashville-strung" guitar. When it came in with a 1 3/8" nut width, however, I thought, "this would make a great tres," instead. So -- after leveling/dressing the frets and modding the bridge, I set it up that way. It does make a great Cuban tres and it sort of has the look, too, with a North American flair.

This was made, presumably in the 80s, by a Joel D. Webb (US of A) who quite proudly listed this as a size 5 Martin "3/4 guitar" copy in the soundhole. He also listed it with an Engelmann spruce top and (Indian) rosewood back and sides and the Martin style 28 appointments certainly give it a step-up in the looks department. The neck is mahogany and the board and bridge are also rosewood. Curiously, before my mod, the bridge was cut with a classical-style string load. It's x-braced and, has a 21 1/2" scale length, and really does have a good, vibrant tone.



I replaced a grungy-looking faux-tortoise pickguard with this same-size but better-quality new one.


Rosewood headstock veneer, new bone nut, and Martin-branded sealed tuners.


I had to remove a bit of warp in the neck during my fret level/dress and so some of the frets are a little shorter than the others. It plays well, though, and is stable in service. I'm thinking the warp came with this being stored by a previous owner for some time with mediums strung up to pitch.

Those are pearl dots.


The fancy rosette has a center ring of mahogany or rosewood (hard to tell).


I replaced a plastic saddle with a bone one from my parts bin -- and then compensated it. The bridge pins are also older to maintain the vintaged look.

The standard high-E (rather than octave E) tres tuning (G-C-E low to high with an octave on the G string) allows for a bunch of different retunings (G-B-E is easy for guitarists), all of which I find more useful for myself. I strung it with a set at standard tres gauges: 10/23w G, 14/14 C, 12/12 E, though I think that bulking up The C-string to 16s would be more appropriate.

For the soundclip (and for fun) I swapped strings to 14/30w, 18/18, 14/14 low to high and tuned it D-A-D open just like a Greek 3-course bouzouki or mountain dulcimer. This is useful (especially with a capo) to get those droney/sliding chord Irish zouk-sounding things when playing along with others. I had fun with it at the jam on Thursday doing just that.

Really, depending on how you tune it you can get a nice warm "guitar bouzouki" sound  for strumming backing bits in a modal tuning or a true "Latin American" vibe in a more closed-position lead tuning.


No cracks -- though there's definitely some usewear in the semi-gloss/satin-y finish.


The rosewood looks great, though, doesn't it?




The neck profile is a bigger C shape that terminates in this cool heel that recalls 1840s instruments.