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.
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.
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! ;)
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