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1st Acoustic Guitar Happy-Fun Time #2: Wood Selection and Milling

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Blog entry by Cosmicsniper posted 09-04-2012 05:25 AM 3672 reads 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Introduction Part 2 of 1st Acoustic Guitar Happy-Fun Time series Part 3: The Mold and the Bending Machine »

In this part of the construction blog of my OM-sized 12-fret acoustic, I’ll give you some thoughts about wood selection and milling…

WOOD SELECTION

I mentioned in Blog post #1 that I wanted to construct this guitar from scratch. Not that I don’t like the nice selection of exotic back and sides as seen on eBay, but I greatly enjoy the process of taking a tree (or large board) and seeing something built from it. Though Walnut isn’t a traditional choice for guitars, it is a proper tonewood, and its use in a guitar not only provides beauty, but also a sound that many say combines qualities of rosewood and mahogany, which are perhaps the two most widely used wood types for acoustic guitar backs and sides. But because I have some really nice walnut boards on hand, I envision them spending the rest of their lives reincarnated as my first guitar.

For the soundboard, I did buy some various selections from eBay, mostly because it’s difficult to find traditional soundboard woods purchased by board/foot in Texas. Cypress is about as close as it gets near here, and that’s not quite a traditional choice.

It should be said that my current Taylor 814ce guitar incorporates Indian Rosewood, Sitka Spruce, and a Mahogany neck. I am familiar with the bright sound and separation of tones that this combination produces, but I’ve often thought the combination to be a little too treble-”y”, almost harsh for my tastes. Therefore, I’ve long wanted to own a cedar topped (Western Red) guitar, which mellows out the tone a bit. However, it does get a little muddy when strumming hard.

But because of my choice of walnut for the back and sides, I felt that I should stick with spruce. One of the selections I acquired was billet of Sitka Spruce, which shows nice tight quartersawn grain. When planed to thickeness, it would likely grade to AAAA quality, near master grade, suffering only a small streak of pinkish color is an otherwise very light, uniform creamy white background. I wonder if a good A/B bleach treatment might help to balance out the pink (?) so I’ll probably give that a try should I choose it for a future guitar.
However, for this guitar, I’ve chosen to go with a european Carpathian Spruce, which happens to have some nice “bearclaw” figure. The color is extremely light, very uniform, and I feel that it will look really good with the walnut. But more than that, I feel that by sticking with in spruce family with my soundboard that it will retain some brightness of sound when compared against the walnut, which I think might focus on more of the mid-tone frequencies than other choices. The grain isn’t as tight with this european variety, even getting a little wider at the edges of bookmatched pair. But I believe it will produce a nice result and I expect the bearclaw to provide a nice little visual statement.

Pictured below is the Carpathian Spruce, the second image shows a bit of the “bearclaw” figure…

For my choice of neck, I have decided to use some curly maple, laminated with some of the walnut. I think the neck will do a good job of tying together the darkish walnut back and sides with the very light spruce soundboard.

I have a plethora of woods for headstock, fretboard, bridge, rosette, and bindings, so I will be experimenting with some designs that might utilize something even as exotic looking as Black Palm. However, I want to be certain that the guitar doesn’t get too “busy” with too many different types of wood competing with each other. It’s tempting to just go with a simple Box Elder Burl that I have handy…complemented with some tasteful Abalone. But those finishing touches will certainly evolve with the construction of the guitar itself.

MILLING

The result of what you are about to see only drives home one important point: if you want to build a guitar from scratch, then a large band saw and a thinkness sander would be your best friends.

Since I have no true friends, I must resort to thicknessing my materials the old fashioned way…elbow grease.

Yep, kerf the sides with the table saw which serves as guides for the hand saw or reciprocating saw. And notice what you do when you still haven’t built your dream workbench? Yep, sawhorse and parallel clamps do the job!

Eventually, you win…

And with a few runs through the planer (going only to 1/4”) you can see the potential…

There is a small knot that I will need to work around, and I’m not entirely sure yet if I want to use the small section of sapwood, but we’ll cross that [guitar] bridge when we come to it.

As for the sides, here is the board I’ve chosen, and as you can see it has some tremendous curl passing through some pretty tight quartersawn grain…

The table saw is all I need for the resawing, and notice that if you leave a little ridge in the middle it makes resawing a much safer operation…

And here’s the sides cut down a little bit…

The above image shows one of the boards after being thicknessed down to around .15”. Final thickness will be in the neighborhood of .08” to .09”, though I have fears of being able to properly bend this wood due to it’s substantial curl figure. Of course, without a thickness sander, achieving final thickness on wood like this is extremely difficult because of the tearout you get between the curl. The planer really tore out these boards going to 1/4”, and my smoothing planes just aren’t sufficient enough to keep from gouging out the wood in these areas. I did resaw these boards carefully down to around .18 on the table saw, which I do NOT wish to do very often. However, I used a hand-held belt sander, half-sheet sander and oscillating rotary sander to get that down to that .15” hard-earned thickness.

It was at that moment that I hatched a plan to BUILD a thickness (drum) sander, and I’m convinced I could have built a nice one…that is until this happened:

Performax 22/44

Despite the fact that the Austin is 200 miles away from my DFW address, it was a no-brainer for me…and I consider this a very fortunate deal. To add to my good fortune, my cousin lives in Austin and was kind enough to pick it up for me…and I hope to get down next weekend to pick it up. At that point, I’m hoping that it will make quick, neat work of all my guitar wood, no matter how thin it is!

After the sides, I moved on to the neck lamination, which includes two walnut slats sandwiches between three curly maple slats…

Which produces this result with a little clean-up…

The middle board was left a little shorter to receive a natural groove for the truss rod; however, I have decided to go with a different type of rod than my original plan so I will be shimming this slot. To get the head-angle of 15 degrees, I used the miter sled on the table saw (ignore the very dirty blade please)...

Clean the blade and I don’t get these burns…

And after a little clean-up with the block plane…

...and the end is cut to 90 degrees…

Finally, I can now layout the neck block, to prepare for further shaping. I will certainly make a trip to my friends house to borrow his bandsaw for these rough cuts…

Incidently, the roughed in drawing on the neck stock “heel” shows more of a classical guitar type of construction. I will be changing this and going with a sliding dovetail for the neck-to-body attachment. The neck will lay flush with the top so that the fretboard may sit directly on the soundboard. Note that the 12-fret line will be directly at the edge of the guitar. Scale for the guitar will be 25.4 inches.

Stay tuned for PART 3 of the BLOG: Completing the guitar mold, the bending form, and the bending “machine”!!!

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com



4 comments so far

View Ed's profile

Ed

65 posts in 1242 days


#1 posted 09-04-2012 01:16 PM

The wood is beautiful! The contrast is going to be perfect. And there’s nothing prettier than a curly neck IMO. Great choice!

I think spruce is a safe bet for the top. There are lots of mixed reviews about walnut tone. Some say bright, some say dark, some say neither. Haha. My only experience with it was with an electric. That’s a moot point here. The one thing everyone agrees on is it’s beautiful and it’s musical. Pretty much all you need.

You’re giving me gas for a new acoustic. I may have to get out the roledex of excuses. “but honey I NEED one” doesn’t work anymore. lol

View JAGWAH's profile

JAGWAH

929 posts in 1749 days


#2 posted 09-04-2012 01:48 PM

Nice work! This will be good to follow.

-- ~Just A Guy With A Hammer~

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

9938 posts in 1284 days


#3 posted 09-04-2012 02:01 PM

Again, great stuff. Thanks for taking the time to post, it’s appreciated!

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

View Cosmicsniper's profile

Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1824 days


#4 posted 09-07-2012 02:02 AM

Thanks again, guys.

I’m almost finished with my side bender, so i’m getting close to being able post a little something about how I construct it, as well as my main mold and forms. I have to order my heating blanket, however, and i have to squeeze in a time to get my Performax 22/44 in Austin. So it’ll be a while before I can actually thickness and bend those sides. Hopefully I can post a little of my research in between actual construction.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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