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Building an Acoustic Guitar #1: Building an Acoustic Guitar

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Blog entry by Patrick Jaromin posted 02-05-2012 09:31 PM 5943 reads 4 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Building an Acoustic Guitar series Part 2: The Neck, Shaping the Heel »

I’ve been rather busy with life the last couple years, but I’m finally back in the shop and up to no good again! Here’s what I’m up to for anyone who’s interested…

A few years back I was conversing with a co-worker and fellow guitar player. Aware I was an amateur woodworker, he suggested I build a guitar. “Luthiery requires special tools and skills…training. Naw, I couldn’t do that,” I said.

Google search.

Fast forward to last year when essentially out-of-the-blue I recall this conversation and start thinking — could I? It didn’t take long to find numerous examples online of folks like me, some with no formal shop and less woodworking experience, building beautiful custom acoustic guitars. So I thought, “why not?”

Have you considered, maybe, boxes?

One of the things I like most about the idea of building guitars is their relatively small size and raw material requirements. The majority of my projects to date have been cribs and dressers that tend to overwhelm my small 300 sq. foot shop. Building these require significant planning so I don’t wind up painting myself into a corner, or more accurately behind a large, heavy cherry dresser! I’ve often admired the work of many of the folks in the LumberJocks.com community who specialize in small, ornate wooden boxes. The skill, patience, and artistry involved is sizable though the end product is anything but. I considered trying my hand at one, going as far as to draw some designs and pick up a cheap grinder for doing some wild shaping work. However in the end, though I’m sure I’ll get to it some day, they just don’t interest me all that much; and although I feel fairly confident in my design abilities I don’t think I could come close to matching many of the others I've seen.

The Plan

It didn’t take long to discover that the book "Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology" by Jonathan Natelson and William Cumpiano (frequently discussed simply as “the Cumpiano book) was essentially the core curriculum. So I bought and read it, twice. The authors’ build process is centered around a guitar-shaped workboard. After settling on a style (Martin Grand Auditorium), I cut the shape out of acrylic and then used that to build the board. Being unable to get my hands on a Martin, I purchased the body layout online and had it printed out on a large format copier.

I knew I’d also need some additional specialty supplies. I have a reasonable stock of suitable wood. However I didn’t have any tone woods well-suited for the top and internal bracing. Although I did find an example of someone doing excellent work with domestic American hardwoods, I wanted to maximize the likelihood of having a decent, playable instrument at the conclusion of the process — so I placed an order with Stewart-MacDonald for some cheap sitka spruce tops, bracing, a couple truss rods, and some other incidentals.


The completed workboard



I lack any experience building guitars — or for that matter, any type of stringed instrument. However, as I see it my biggest challenge in this process will be overcoming my tendency toward impatience. I love seeing a project come together; and, with the exception of my personal safety, if I see a quicker way to accomplish something I’ll typically take it even if it means risking screwing it up. To be fair, part of this urgency comes from the fact that I have very little “shop time” available to me — with four young kids, a full-time job, and frequent additional distractions and obligations, I try to make the absolute most of every moment in the shop. So a big concern was I would spend six plus months working on a guitar only to screw something up dramatically near the end of the build. My hedge against this: build more than one in parallel! I figure I might screw up one, but two, or three? Far less likely. Of course, there’s always the risk when working in parallel of making the same boneheaded move on all of them. So I’m actually going to work it in sections and complete a section from start to finish on the least attractive piece as practice for the next. Hopefully I’ll catch any issues with the first one before doing the same on subsequent pieces.

Building the neck

Cumpiano’s book begins with the neck. I figured I’d follow his lead and start there with my guitars. For a time I considered making multiple necks using different woods and build methods. The traditional scarf-joint method would naturally be first. However I also planned to build one by carving it from a laminated block of contrasting woods. A large curly maple board would make a great candidate for another carved neck. When it came time to actually build the necks it turned out that the lamination/carve method would waste far too much nice wood and by using the traditional method I would be able to build four necks with a relatively small amount of figured stock. So the decision was to resaw a large board of curly maple into a couple blanks and another board of birdseye maple as well. Thus I ended up with enough wood for four blanks using the scarf-joint method.


Neck blanks milled from curly, birdseye, and straight-grained maple.

 

The remaining pictures highlight the process taken to date. I began by building a quick custom taper jig for the bandsaw for cutting the 15° angle in each blank.

 


Sawing the scarf joints on the bandsaw



Then I sanded and scraped the resulting cut to clean it up and flatten it out (though apparently I didn’t take any photos of those steps), cut the sections for the heel block, glued it all together, and then sanded/scraped it flat, flush, and clean.


Scrapping the glued scarf joint.

 


Glueing the heel block.



After routing a channel for the truss rods and notching the tenon at the heel end.



Next steps…

Because I had originally ordered only a single truss rod, I decided to stop at this point before burying the one I had in one of the necks. My next step will be to glue a shim over the installed truss rods, scrape it flush, and then probably glue the veneers to the headstock. On a visit to the last woodworking show I picked up a $30 sample pack of veneers. I figured they might be useful for the guitar build, and it looks like I was right. Now I’ve just got to make a final selection of the specific veneer sandwich to use for each neck. I’ll probably stop with these two at that point and begin the process all over again with the other two blanks…provided I don’t discover some major mistake in these two before then!


A sampling of the selection of veneers in consideration for the headstock




[Originally posted at http://tenonandspline.com/blog/archives/510]

-- Patrick, Chicago, IL http://www.TenonAndSpline.com/blog



9 comments so far

View pariswoodworking's profile

pariswoodworking

380 posts in 1140 days


#1 posted 02-05-2012 11:24 PM

Awesome. I’ve aways wondered how they were made. I can’t wait to read more.

-- Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -- Albert Einstein

View Bertha's profile

Bertha

12951 posts in 1349 days


#2 posted 02-05-2012 11:26 PM

Subscribed!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View strst31's profile

strst31

1 post in 958 days


#3 posted 02-06-2012 12:05 AM

Definitely watching this blog.
Looking forward to your progress. Thanks for sharing!

-- Stan.. Cambridge Ontario Canada.

View Roger's profile

Roger

14592 posts in 1460 days


#4 posted 02-06-2012 01:14 AM

very kool. I’ll be followin

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Kentuk55@bellsouth.net

View Patrick Jaromin's profile

Patrick Jaromin

348 posts in 2488 days


#5 posted 02-06-2012 02:10 AM

Thanks, all. Hopefully I’ll be able to post a video of a reasonably decent sounding guitar at the end of the project!

-- Patrick, Chicago, IL http://www.TenonAndSpline.com/blog

View blackcherry's profile

blackcherry

3161 posts in 2479 days


#6 posted 02-06-2012 05:10 AM

Hey Pat, good to hear your enjoying shop time, I sure these guitars will come out just wonderful with your talents. Those sample piece of veneer look just spectacular looking forward to seeing the progress enjoy….Wilson

View JimDaddyO's profile

JimDaddyO

287 posts in 1735 days


#7 posted 02-06-2012 04:55 PM

Watching this one!...Also, if you care to look up “steves guitar making” on you tube, it has a pretty decent step by step videos.

-- I still have all my fingers

View Patrick Jaromin's profile

Patrick Jaromin

348 posts in 2488 days


#8 posted 02-06-2012 05:27 PM

Funny you should mention Steve’s . My first read was “Building an Acoustic Guitar in your Kitchen” (by a different ‘Steve’) Right after reading that blog, I watched the entire “Steve Dickie's Guitar Building” series on YouTube.

Extremely helpful and informative…the funniest thing was how he cuts his hair between videos in the series. Looks like he got a real job selling real estate or something during the process.

Thanks, Jim!

-- Patrick, Chicago, IL http://www.TenonAndSpline.com/blog

View JimDaddyO's profile

JimDaddyO

287 posts in 1735 days


#9 posted 02-08-2012 02:22 AM

yes, the hairstyle change is kind of drastic.

-- I still have all my fingers

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