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1st Acoustic Guitar Happy-Fun Time #1: Introduction

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Blog entry by Cosmicsniper posted 09-01-2012 04:00 AM 1668 reads 2 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of 1st Acoustic Guitar Happy-Fun Time series Part 2: Wood Selection and Milling »

Hello, Lumberjocks!

It’s time to chronicle an actual project from me. I hope you enjoy the first of a series of blog posts about the construction of what I’ve always dreamed is the first of many acoustic guitars.

BACKGROUND

Long ago, perhaps 25 years ago in high school, my uncle, Roe, constructed a banjo and gifted it to my mother (yes, his sister). It was beautiful to me and though I never really learned to play it other than to strum open and barred chords, I greatly admired it. Being both a beginning guitarist and a very green woodworker at that time, it immediately let me know that constructing an actual musical instrument was highly possible, especially since Uncle Roe undoubtedly made that banjo with meager tools, at most. Still, life goes on, so I catalogued that into the back of my mind.

Once I married and moved into my current home, I started equipping my garage workshop, as I’ve detailed on my “workshop” page here at LJs. Being trapped into a home and kitchen remodel for three years now, I’ve plugged away…taking time in between to do various projects just to keep me from going insane, but unfortunately I haven’t taken the time to talk about those projects. And truthfully, I still have a ton of cabinet work to finish and I have promised a new mission style reading table for my wife by Christmas.

THREE WEEKS AGO

So I’m browsing around on my iPad late at night while watching my DVR’ed Texas Rangers baseball game, as usual. I run across two inspirations. First, I decide to get an online subscription to Fine Woodworking magazine, and doing so allowed me to read the story about William “Grit” Laskin and his spectacular guitars. Honestly, I’d only very vaguely remembered who Laskin was. I knew he invented the “arm rest,” which I’d previously seen first on one of Phillip Lang’s (LJ’s own) guitars. But while exploring more, I ran into YouTube videos with all the O’ Brien videos and, specifically, the “Hand Tooled Guitars” guy. It was the latter which convinced me that building a guitar didn’t seem as daunting of a task as I previously supposed. It made me think that because the construction of a guitar actually has a lot of down time and gaps inherent in the process that I could start one simultaneously with my other projects.

While I began my planning this guitar, trying to understand more about the materials, hardware, and tools for all the jigs that I would have to make, not just the guitar itself, I started to believe that I should just do everything with proper aplomb, that the jigs shouldn’t be just temporary fixtures and the mold shouldn’t be merely topped with 1/4” plywood. I shouldn’t just make my side bender a torch-heated pipe, but rather a big stretchy thing-a-ma-jig complete with a heated blanket. After all this guitar deserves to be treated like a king.

TOOLING

I’ve long believed that you don’t buy tools until you truly need them. So for this guitar, I knew that my Dremel tool would be insufficient for cutting rosette and binding/purfling channels and that my current selection of routers would be a bit too powerful…so, of course, I welcomed to the family a new DeWalt DW611 trim router, complete with plunge base. Of course, it just means that I have yet two more jigs to build, a circle cutting jig for the rosette and a right angle jig for the binding cuts. Even so, I’ve already made a locker name plaque for my son’s first day of 6th grade with my new router, bearing guides, and Rockler letter templates!

However, it is the LACK of tooling that might pose problems. First, I’ve resisted getting a bandsaw for quite a while now. I’ve been holding out for that Laguna 14 SUV and I don’t want to temporarily clog up my garage shop space with a typical 14” bandsaw, not to mention that I have yet to truly NEED one. For this guitar, I really don’t need one…but as I’m thicknessing my lumber – everything will be from scratch – and as I’m rough cutting my guitar shapes with a Black and Decker jig saw I am quite certain that I’ll be wishing for one. However, when I get to cutting the shape of the neck, I know I’ll like have to head to my friend’s shop to borrow his 14” Jet bandsaw.

But the real concern I have with my tooling deficiency is the lack of a way to thickness really thin, highly figured boards. I have started my milling (stay tuned to part 2) and I already see that my 14” DW 735 planer and hand planes aren’t going to let me sneak up on the final thickness without tons of tear out. I’ve gotten one side of this guitar near its final thickness, but only wit careful use of my high dollar, fancy Black and Decker “Dragster” belt sander. In truth, it’s not a bad little tool for the price, but it’s a “drag” compared to what I REALLY need for this project…and I just might have a surprise for you in the next couple of posts! ;)

GUITAR DESIGN

I’ve been playing guitar since 1985. I have a Bachelor of Music degree. I personally own a Taylor 814ce acoustic and a 1979 Gibson Les Paul Standard. But I’m not a very good guitar player. I just never liked practicing much and a severe injury to my left wrist in 1998 really made playing guitar quite painful, even today. I’m proficient, but that’s about it. But I love guitars and I’m certain that I would be inspired to play my own creation more often. I just have to stock up on painkillers.

Though I have played guitar now for most of my life, I have never really been a good student of it. I realized in my research that I have never really bothered to properly set up any of my guitars, nor have I really understood the differences in shapes, as standardized by Martin Guitars. I DID know the way different wood choices affect sound, however, so at least that’s something! But for this guitar, I’ve been forced to do my due diligence. When I stumbled across the aforementioned “Hand Tooled Guitar” (HTG) guy, I really liked his design in the videos and I studied the difference in 12-fret and 14-fret (clear of the body) models. His design calls for a 12-fret, OM shape/sized guitar….which is similar to my current Taylor, only it is a 14-fret model so typical of MOST guitars built today. It appears that designers would rather give more fret access and sacrifice some sound response because of the natural location of the bridge in such designs, chiefly, nearer the guitar waist.

But for this guitar, and any 12-fret design, the bridge falls more in the guitar’s lower bout, and most expert players prefer the sound this design yields. In addition, the original design as presented by HTG calls for a florentine cutaway and a severely bowled back shape. I love the florentine cutaway look and I knew that any fret access lost by the 12-fret design would be recovered by the cutaway. As for the bowled back, it’s a bit too severe for my tastes, so I’ll likely flatten it out a bit, much like my Taylor.

So, on these blog pages in the near future, expect a OM/000 sized, 12-fret designed acoustic guitar built from scratch!

NEXT UP: wood selection, initial milling, and tons of pictures!!!

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com



5 comments so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

10326 posts in 1362 days


#1 posted 09-01-2012 04:46 AM

Looking forward to this, Jay!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2418 posts in 2182 days


#2 posted 09-01-2012 07:08 AM

What an adventure. I’ve made several guitars but it was years ago. I went to the Maine school of Luthiery back in the day. I’ve noticed that in many of the books there are some elaborate jigs that are used to glue on tops and such. There are much more simpler and just as effective ways of doing that. In fact except for a few good deep clamps nothing special is really needed. For example. To glue a top or back on, place it on a board with L hooks surrounding the body of the guitar. use strips of bike inner tube or large elastics crisscrossed over the top to glue it. I’ve seen very elaborate flexible stick units that rise to the ceiling and other elaborate methods for doing the same thing.

You can take your top down to thickness with a large plane. The back the same way but planed across the grain if the wood is very hard.

Glueing the top and back matched pieces together: lay a strip of wax paper on the bench. Apply glue and lay wax paper and a strip of wood over that on the seam. lightly clamp the seam down. Tap three finish nails on each side then make six little wedges out of wood. Tap the wedges between the nails and wood and it’s clamped.
It can be really simple but just as effective.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Cosmicsniper's profile

Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1903 days


#3 posted 09-01-2012 02:34 PM

It’s funny that you mentioned those simple methods, CotL. And that is why I thought I’d start on my guitar. Now, I like to build shop fixtures and jigs, so many of my initial plans in that regard will certainly grow into something more substantial…I know myself. But knowing that you can actually do all this without getting too fancy gives a little more comfort going into the process. And reading so much recently about construction techniques and options gives me confidence that whatever problems there are, I probably have more than one way of dealing with them.

But, yeah, in thinking about attaching the back and sides, I’ve seen inner tubes, surgical rubber, screw clamps, and any other of seemingly a thousand different ways to do it. However, I probably still build that “go-bar” deck with the flexible poles. But those aspects of the build can be figured out when I actually get there.

Thanks for the comments, guys.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

View Ed's profile

Ed

65 posts in 1321 days


#4 posted 09-01-2012 04:07 PM

Great news Jay! I can’t wait to see this. I couldn’t have picked a better project to be my first favorite.

Good luck!

View Cosmicsniper's profile

Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1903 days


#5 posted 09-01-2012 06:50 PM

Thanks, Ed!

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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