Entries in guitar (97)


Day 15 - Beginning finish

Day 15: The guitars are really coming together. I sanded a lot today and things are looking pretty good. The body is about assembled, other than gluing on the bridge. We located its position and taped it off so not to get any finish on it (i.e., it’s glued directly to the top as a wood-on-wood connection). We also learned how to apply the shellac finish and I applied the first couple of rounds to the top towards the end of the day.

One of the most important tasks of the whole project, and one I was worried about, was checking the set (i.e., angle of) the neck. I got lucky (or had been pretty careful throughout the process) and my neck was pretty close with minimal tweaking, while others spent more time getting theirs correctly lined up. While I was thankful that mine came together without much fuss, learning how to manipulate the neck set would probably have been an interesting experience. With all the work on the neck set, I’m getting pretty good at bolting and unbolting the neck and the body (i.e., attaching and detaching the neck).

Miles, the shop cat, decided he wanted to hang out on my dad's guitar.

After the neck was correctly set, we were able to find the exact position of the fretboard on the neck, and then glued it into place (the picture below is holding it in place, prior to setting it up for gluing).

In between other tasks, I glued in my inlay into the headstock. It still needs sanding, but so far it’s looking pretty good. Overall, the degrees of freedom are starting to decrease and a manageable to do list is emerging. At the beginning of the project, there were so many things we needed to do, and I had no sense of what exactly needed to be done each day. But now we “only” have a few things remaining to do; these aren’t necessarily easy tasks, but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel: 

  • Carve the neck and heel
  • Radius the fretboard
  • Install frets and position markers
  • Finish shaping the bridge and glue it in place
  • Make the nut and saddle, and figure out the intonation
  • Put the first layer of finish on the back and sides (after putting on the pore filler)
  • Continue working on the finish on the top
  • Install the tuners and string it up!

Arrived at the workshop at 7:30, 45 minutes for lunch, an hour for dinner, and called it a day at 10pm.


Day 14 - Clean clothes, a full belly, 7 bottles of wine, and a bear

Day 14: It’s Sunday, and I got up early and worked for a couple of hours scraping and sanding my guitar body. Still a lot of sanding that can/should be done, but overall it’s looking pretty good.

Before lunch, my dad, Brendon (one of the other students), and I made a trip to Hanover to got to the Co-op market. I stocked up on wine you can’t get at the state-run stores in Pennsylvania and picked up a few other supplies for the last week of class. After that we went to Fairlee to do laundry and have pizza for lunch, and then I was back in the workshop by 1pm. Much of the afternoon was spent troubleshooting the little “problem spots” that had arisen as a function of my problems with the router the other day. I had a couple of little separations between the body and the binding that were touched up with a shellac stick, which looks like a crayon that you melt and smear into any little spots that need filling; I used a dark brown to match the rosewood. I also worked on a solution to a separation that was too big to fill with the shellac stick. I won’t point that out to you, since if I correctly execute the fix it will look like I did it on purpose! 

Here are some shots of the purfling and "superbindings."

Finally, I worked up the courage to do the routing for my headstock inlay. After doing a bunch of test runs on a scrap piece of ebony, I dove in and took the Dremel tool to my headstock. Let me tell you, compared to routing into your headstock, a dissertation defense is a cake walk. It came out fine; I’ll glue it in and fill in the gaps tomorrow or the next day. Here's a shot of the rough fit:

Worked from 7-9am, 1-7pm and 8:15-9:45pm, had some pizza, and have fresh clothes for the homestretch.

Matt showing off his work

Brendon cutting inlay


Day 13 - Back in the saddle with the router

Day 13: Today we unwrapped our guitar bodies, which had been bound for the night to glue in the binding on the back. We then set out to route the top for the binding and purfling channels. I had routed for the binding yesterday, and was still undecided about doing purfling on the top after my mishaps with the router yesterday. But I decided that purfling would really compliment the “superbinding” and that I needed to get back on the horse with the router. No hicups this time; purfling glued in successfully. We then glued in the binding for the top; this procedure is exactly like doing the back, which we did last night.

Here's a picture of my back bindings. Since they match the rosewood back and sides, you can hardly tell they're there. But the purfling line is really cool looking (and you can see the endstrip in the distance; the dark spots on the sides are glue areas that still need to be scraped). Once the top binding and purfling is cleaned up tomorrow, I'll try to grab a picture of that.

While my bindings were setting, I began shaping the bridge. This is something I thought would be incredibly difficult, but surprisingly it went much easier than I anticipated. After a couple of hours, I had much of it in shape. You’ll note that I’m doing a traditional “pyramid” style bridge.

Now that the bindings are in place, we can start cleaning up all the exceed glue etc. around the sides, top, and back. Looks like I’ll be spending a bunch of time with the little metal scraper (the most useful tool ever). I started working on this today, and will continue tomorrow and whenever there’s free time. 

Saturday is a full work day here, although by comparison to some other days, it was relatively short. Started at 8am, finished at 6pm, with 20 minutes for lunch; then went back to work on my dad’s inlay for another hour or so after dinner (he liked my bear so much that he commissioned another pacific northwest icon for his headstock).

[EDIT: Day 14...Although the pearl salmon I cut for my dad turned out great, it just didn't look right on the headstock of a classical guitar, so we decided not to install it]

By the way, there are only 5.5 work days left (assuming that we work a half-day tomorrow, which seems about right, given that I need to go to the laundromat and get some groceries). Not sure how everything will get done in that short amount of time...


Day 12 - Snow on April Fool’s Day and major catastrophe averted, just barely

Day 12: Not so many pictures today, because I was too busy troubleshooting to take many shots (and since the results of some of the work don’t look that interesting or impressive, despite our time and effort!). It was a beautiful day; we got about 4 inches of snow, but it's also warm enough that the roads look okay.

It was a long day. I went in a little early to do some minor work on my neck and truss rod that had been setting overnight, and most of the crew was already there. Once everyone arrived, and after spending some time cleaning up the body with our good friend the metal scraper, we started a task that seemingly would be easy: cutting the channel for the ebony end strip wedge and then inlaying the piece. This was surprisingly challenging for everyone, and we basically didn’t finish that up until around lunch (I had to cut my lunch short to come back and finish it up before the afternoon tasks began).

After lunch George showed us how to route the “ledge” for the binding (the dark wood edge around the top and back of the guitar. Routing the back is actually pretty tricky since it doesn’t sit perfectly perpendicular to the sides. Although I had a good handle on what and how we were suppose to do it, somehow my cut ended up being about 50% too deep, and it was dangerously close to being a structural as well as cosmetic issue. This is a BIG problem, because now my nice ebony bindings won't sit flush to the surface of the back and I've cut very deeply into my linings, which provide the connection between the back and the sides. And to make matters worse, this happened on the front too! It’s unclear if it was user error or an equipment manfunction with the router with the bit slipping down as I worked; in my defense, when George replaced the bit, the router began to behave. But at this point, it’s a bit too late. What do you do with your router cut is too deep? I figured I was screwed and would have to start my guitar over!

But George had a clever solution that in some ways even makes my guitar fancier than I had planned. He suggested making a new set of oversided bindings that had a piece of purfling attached to make them taller (purfling is a strip of veneered wood in alternating colors). In my case, I’m essentially adding a white/black/white racing stripe to my binding that will show on the side of the guitar (the other students’ guitars won’t be this fancy!). The only drawback to this solution is that now my bindings are rosewood, the same as my back/side wood, so other than the purfling, they don’t really stand out from the back/sides like the ebony would have. We didn’t have any ebony binding material big enough for the size of my oversided binding cut, so I made my own set of bindings with the orphaned rosewood side whose mate had cracked a few days earlier. I’m happy that nice piece of rosewood will make it onto the guitar! And it was interesting to be able to make bindings and glue the purfling to it (I learned to do a few things that the other students didn’t).

While this is an elegant solution to the problem, I still have some other nicks and cuts that were too deep from the router. This definitely saved the day, but my guitar will proudly display some scars from today’s mishaps. It should be noted that only one out of the five of us made it through the back binding without any problems. This is definitely a hazard stage.

Given our “issues” this afternoon, we were running late. So we took an hour for dinner and then reconvened. After dinner, George bent the new bindings I had cut (on the side bender), and I rerouted my back and top for these new “superbindings.” 

The last thing to do today (to keep us on schedule) was glue the bindings onto the body. This is actually pretty time consuming, as you have to do a dry run to determine the length of the bindings so you know how much to trim off. It’s a two person job, as the body is strapped onto your board and bound with tight rope to hold the bindings in place while the glue dries. I have to give a shoutout to my classmate Matt who is a true superstar for staying late with my dad and I, even though he was done with his work for the day. We couldn’t have finished without him.

In at 7:30am, home at 11:30pm; 30 minutes for lunch, and an hour for dinner. Whew, that was a long one.

Well, I know now that my guitar won’t be cosmetically perfect. I knew that it was highly unlikely it would make it through the three weeks without any cosmetic blemishes, but until you get that first battle scar, you still hold out the hope for perfection. Now that I’ve made peace with it, I can relax a bit and enjoy the rest of the process without being so anxious.


Day 11 - Closing up the box

Day 11: Yesterday we got the sides ready to attach to the back; today we started the day getting the back ready to take the sides by trimming up the bracing on the back to fit within the sides. Then we glued on the back; we now have a fully enclosed guitar body!

While I waited for the glue to dry in the body, I finished up cutting my headstock inlay. I’m really happy about how it turned out (note, it’s much, much smaller than it looks in this picture...closer to the size of two dimes). This is only about 4 hours of work :-)

Once the body came out of the clamps, we checked the fit of the neck. In general, the fit of the neck to the body is the thing I’m most anxious about. So far, so good; fingers crossed.

We also began working on the fretboard; a very clever and handy template helped us cut the slots for the frets. My guitar will have 18 frets, although that’s more than twice as many as I typically need! We also cut the shape of the fretboard (edges/length); this was actually easier than I anticipated using the bandsaw for the rough cut and joiner to get the edges straight.

Started at 8:00am, finished at 6:30pm, with an hour for lunch.


Day 10 - Halfway there!

Day 10: We left off yesterday with getting ready to glue the backs and sides together. This morning we complete that task using a series of special clamps designed to provide pressure directly down on the sides to the top. We also glued the end block in place. This is really starting to look like a guitar!

While waiting for things to dry, I spent some time working on my headstock inlay. Using a itty-bitty jeweler’s saw, I began to cut out this little guy in abalone. This is a couple of hours of work; it will probably take at least that much time, if not more, to finish cutting it.

Although there aren’t pictures (since they wouldn’t look particularly exciting), we spend significant time this afternoon getting the sides and back ready to be glue together. This task isn’t as straightforward as gluing the top on. The top is flat and the corresponding surface of the sides are also flat, so assuming everything is as it should be, they go together relatively easily. The back, on the other hand, is slightly arched in both directions and therefore the sides need to be subtlety contoured to provide a flush fit for gluing. In addition, the neck block and end block, which were originally perfectly rectangular, need to be angled ever so slightly to match the curvature of the of the back. Using planes and massive contoured sanding blocks and a lot of working and checking, we slowly worked to make sure that the backs will fit correctly with the sides. I’m sure I’ll have pictures of the fully glued body tomorrow!

Started working at 8am, got home just before 8pm, with an hour for lunch.


Day 9 - Small but important details

Day 9: From the pictures it might not seem like a lot happened today. My guess is that as the bigger pieces come together and we start focusing on small (but important) details, the images might not be that impressive in the days to come. But today we made some significant strides in getting everything ready to be assembled.

The first part of the day was spent working on the connection between the neck and the (soon to be assembled) body. The neck block is this key junction, and we worked on getting it aligned and drilled for the bolts that connect to the neck to the body. Although it’s not pictured here, there’s a brass rod that runs the length of the heel that is drilled to accept the bolts that come through the neck block.

We also shaped the neck block a bit, both to be more aesthetically pleasing (although since it’s inside the body, no one will see if unless they poke around the inside of the body) and also to reduce some of the weight while still maintaining its structural purpose.

The second task for the day was preparing the sides and top to be glued. We trimmed down any protruding linings to create a flush surface on one edge of the sides, cut notches in the linings to correspond to any braces that intersected, and worked on the connection between the newly glued neck block and the sides. I got to work with the chisel a lot more this afternoon and I’m finding it suits me.

It looks like I’ll be able to glue my sides to the top tomorrow or the day after! Here’s what my sides looks like sitting in place; it's a good shot sides set #2. This set is nice, but not as straight grained as the one that broke on the bender. Those protruding linings will be trimmed down flush before the back is fit.

Work started at 8am and we finished up at 6:15pm, with an hour for lunch. George and Pippa had all the students over for dinner afterwards, and we really appreciated the great home cooked meal and conversation.


Day 8 - I really like carving braces

Day 8: I went into the workshop early today, at 7:30am, to finish up gluing my linings to the sides that I started yesterday. In addition, I glued the bracing onto the back and carved it down, and continued to work on the bracing on the top. I'm finding I really like carving braces. I could do it all day. If this academic thing fizzles out, maybe I could do bracing for Martin, Collings, or Santa Cruz. That would be a dream job!

Our necks continued to make small steps towards getting into shape. We started to shape the heel area, as well as worked on fitting the neck “tongue” into the body. It’s always traumatic to take a band saw to your top, but we did have to cut out the area above the soundhole where the neck will meet the body and it survived. I'm really curious about how the neck will continue to to take shape.

Wrapped up for the day at 6:30pm, with an hour for lunch.


Day 7 - New adventures in side-bending

Day 7: And on the seventh day...we took a half-day.

In the morning, my dad and I drove over to Hanover, NH (which is about 20 minutes from Post Mills) to resupply on groceries. Hanover is the home of Dartmouth College, and also has a nice Co-op market. I got a few local products, including some Vermont apple cider and cheeses. After returning from the market, we met up with the rest of the boys (i.e., students) to make a run to the laundromat in Fairlee and then to grab lunch at The Hungry Bear in Bradford. We got back to the workshop at about 3pm and (some of us) worked until 6:30pm or so.

My big task for the day was to take a second stab at bending my sides. George reassured me that the problem yesterday was with the equipment and/or that particular piece of rosewood, and not with my technique, so I felt confident enough to give it a second chance and came away with two nicely bent sides with no casualties this time. 

Once the sides were bent, I installed the linings (a.k.a., kerfings) in one side (will do the other tomorrow). The linings are slot-cut and bent pieces of wood (walnut in this case; also can be cedar, mahogany, or spruce) that follow the contour of the sides to give a ledge to glue the top and back to the sides. They are held in place with a bunch of small clamps (like clothespins) while they are being glued.


Day 6 - A good day, until about 6:30pm

Day 6: Yes, we work on Saturday, but I don’t mind at all. It was one of the days I had most been anticipating, and it turned out to be the longest so far (8am to 9pm, with an hour for lunch). The tasks for the day included (1) making the bridge plate and finishing up installing the bracing on the top, (2) beginning to shape the bracing on the top, (3) shaving down the center back brace, which was installed with a lot of extra height, and (4) preparing the sides for bending, and then getting them bent and installing the linings into them.

The bridgeplate is a thin hardwood piece that is affixed to the top, under where the strings are connected to the body of the guitar (i.e., it provides support for the “ball-ends” of the strings). I fashioned a nice bridgeplate with a piece of maple that was scrap from Matt’s (another student) back, and fitted it to the top. I’ve got an up-close picture of it, but it’s not that interesting unless you’re a true guitar weenie. You can see it in the pictures below, right below the main X-brace.

I really enjoyed shaping the top bracing; this was just a first pass, and we’ll be refining this much more in the days to come. This is an important process, because it is the key balancing act in creating the tone of the guitar. The top (and bracing) needs to be light enough to be responsive and sound good, but strong enough to not collapse. I also planed down the back strip (a support that runs down the center of the back), although there is still more bracing to install to the back. Here are some before, during, and after shots of shaping the bracing:

In addition to beginning to shape the top bracing, the other big task for the day was to get the sides ready to be bent. This meant getting the dimensions set for the thickness of the guitar, as well as making sure you know which piece is for the treble side and which is for bass side, and in which direction. Once this was done, we were ready to hit the side bender!

The side bending machine heats the wood to 300 degrees; at that point it (in theory....see below) becomes pliable and can be molded to fit the shape of your particular body shape. This seemed to be going fine for me, until I opened the bender and found my first rosewood side had cracked. Ack! Luckily, preparing a new set of sides only takes a couple of hours, and it could have been much worse (i.e., messing up my top or back would set me back days!). But I do feel really bad for the beautiful set of straight-grained rosewood that I butchered. In my defense, I was fully supervised in that procedure and was told that it wasn’t my fault and that sometimes wood just misbehaves like this. I’ll try again tomorrow or Monday.


Day 5 - My new best friend = the "go bar deck"

Day 5: Today might have been the most interesting day so far. I’ve been looking forward to doing the bracing of the top, and today we got to beginning doing that. From the pictures and description, it might not sound like a lot was accomplished but it was actually a really busy day. 

The bracing for the top and back is made with small pieces of very stiff spruce (mostly; the back has one piece of cedar in the design we’re using). The back is radiused, meaning you put a slight arch into it in both directions, so each brace must be carefully shaped to include that curve, so that when they are glued to the back it will be pulled into that radius.

The center back brace was glued into place with the “go bar deck,” which is a frame with a floor and ceiling (one is flat and the other is radiused), just smaller in height than a series of fiberglass sticks (made from the same material as kite poles). Right now it’s a bit oversized; we'll shave that down later and then install three braces that intersect with this brace and run the width of the back.

In addition to beginning to brace the back, we also did the bracing on the top. Most of us (at least those building steel string guitars) used a variation of the traditional Martin X-bracing system. Thanks to my iPad, I was able to quickly able to bring up a picture of the interior of a prewar Martin similar to the design I’m building, so I copied that as best I could. The bracing for the top was also glued on using the go bar deck, and in the next few days we’ll begin shaping the bracing.

In between glueing bracing to the back and top, we continued doing some work on the neck, this time trimming down the “tongue” that will be inserted into the body. Anytime you take a bandsaw to the neck it’s traumatic, but with some careful measuring (“measure twice, cut once” evolved into “measure five times, cut once” for some of us) it all ended up okay.

In the shop by 8am, home at 6:45 or so (although the last 45 minutes or so a few of us hung out chatting while others finished up the day’s tasks). Looking forward to bending sides and binding tomorrow!


Day 4 - My fingers smell really great!

Day 4: Yesterday we joined two pieces of bookmatched wood into a single piece for the back of the guitar, letting it dry over night. This morning we continued working with the back, cleaning it, removing excess glue that had squeezed out, and working the thickness down to 110/1000" with our friend the metal scraper. In the second most scary operation of the day, we used the band saw to rough cut the back to the shape of the guitar (leaving about 1/4 - 1/2" all around the outline of the body).

We also continued working with the headstock, cutting it down to its final shape (except down near the transition area to the neck). The most anxiety-provoking operation to date was when we drilled the tuner holes. This is a pretty bold task, and there aren’t any easy (or at least unsightly) “undos” if you mess it up. With a bit of luck, mine seemed to go okay.

My headstock

The headstock for my dad's classical guitar

After lunch we chose wood for the sides, to match the back. I got a nice set of straight-grained rosewood that has a similar coloration to the back. Since the sides (as opposed to the back) fit through the thickness sander we didn’t have to manually scrape/plane them down to the proper thickness. We did have to clean them up a bit, but mine looked pretty good to start with. By the way, rosewood smells great! My hands are currently stained purple, but at least they are really sweet smelling. You’re probably wondering “who goes around sniffing their fingertips?” Well, if you haven’t spent two days working with rosewood, don’t laugh.

The design for the neck that George employs is really clever; from what I can tell, it’s similar to the Taylor “NT” design. I’m sure I’ll talk more about it later when when connect the neck and body, but today we worked on the heel area, which will include the hardware for the bolt-on hardware. It’s a three piece neck: headstock, neck shaft (for lack of a better term), and a stacked heel. Today we drilled the heel for a brass shaft that receives the bolts to attach the neck. Somehow I messed this up and drilled my hole slight off vertical by about 1/16”. That might not sound like a lot, but it could have been a serious problem if we hadn’t caught and corrected it. It was my first screw up, and hopefully (but probably not) the last! Finally, we glued the heel to the neck, and left it to dry overnight. 

Started working at 8:00am, left the workshop at 6:45pm.

My commute to and from "work" each day


Day 3 - Hey, that's already starting to look like a guitar!

Had a great night's sleep last night; my usual 7.5 hours of continuous Z’s. I woke up totally refreshed and hit the workshop at 8am.

Day 3: We started the day shaping the top for thickness; lots of planing, scraping, and sanding. I’m surprised how much we rely on the little metal scraper. It’s a very refined and useful tool, if you keep it sharp. Mostly we worked the back of the top (i.e., interior side) to get it ready for gluing bracing, but also we cleaned up the top around the rosette (which we installed yesterday and let dry overnight). The top is thicker in the middle (around the soundhole and bridge) than on the outer edges, which need to be more flexible to promote bass response. For my 00-sized guitar, that is about 125/1000” and 100/1000”, respectively; for bigger guitars it would be a shade thicker, and for classical and parlor guitars it would be a bit lighter. Thicknessing the top makes a huge stack of shavings!

Once the top was the right thickness, we cut out soundhole using a router and a similar technique to cutting the channel for the rosette, only this time we cut all the way through. We also rough cut the top into shape of the guitar using a band saw. This freaked me out a bit, since any mistake could cause a nasty cut into your top! I was very conservative and didn’t cut right on the line. Instead, I was few millimeters outside (i.e., too big). No big deal (so I’m told)-- I’ll trim that up later.

We also did some trimming up of the headstock and made a template for the shape and layout (e.g., where tuning pegs will go). I had previously been working on a design for a Gibson-inspired headstock shape, but since I’ve switched over to a Martin-style body I’ve now reverted to a simple squared-off design. A few weeks ago I took careful measurements of my D-18 and made a detailed diagram. That came in useful today, and my headstock template came together pretty quickly once I figured out where my center line was (i.e, you have to keep track of the true center of the guitar, which can slip to a side if you’re not careful).

Today we also picked out the wood for the back of our guitars (sides will come shortly, and it’s assumed that they will be the same as the back, although I suppose someone could get creative about it!). I was debating between a striking piece of zebra wood (which, low an behold, is a relatively light colored wood with dark bands) and a really nice straight-grained piece of Indian rosewood. The traditionalist in me went for the rosewood. Like the top, the back is made from two pieces that are joined (glued) in the middle.

Left the workshop at 8pm; pasta for dinner.


Days 1 and 2, and I'm already exhausted

Please pardon any forthcoming typos; I'll fix them later. It's late, we're only two days into the class, and I'm pooped. But it's more from the driving (three hours each way down to Albany to pick up my dad, and the accompanying four hours of sleep last night), not from the work (at least not yet). I am glad that my dad finally arrived!

A view of the shop

The view from my bench

Day 1: I worked double-time today, because my dad wasn’t here yet (he got in last night), doing each operation twice so that he wouldn’t have to start from scratch and catch up when he got here. Instead, he’ll have a partially build guitar waiting for him (approximately 1/18th of the way done), along with a few inches of fresh new snow that blew in today.

The two main tasks for today were joining the two halves of the top (from bookmatched, quarter-sawn sitka spruce) into one “guitar size” piece for the top. We selected tops, and prepared the edges (that would become the center line for the top) on a joiner and then with a router to get them as smooth and straight as possible. Then they were glued together and held tight (overnight) on a contraption of bars that was tightened using rope and wedges driven between the bars and rope to increase the tension.

We also selected wood for our necks, either mahogany or walnut (being a traditionalist when it comes to guitar design, I chose mahogany), and created the rough shape of the neck. This was done by cutting off a piece of the neck blank at an angle, and then gluing that angled piece (which will become the headstock) to the end of the remaining neck to create the rough shape of a proper guitar neck.

The above two tasks took most of the day. After class I drove down to Albany to pick my dad up at the airport; his flight arrived at midnight. We crashed there, and got up early to drive back to Vermont on Tuesday morning for class.

Day 2: Today’s tasks involved attaching the veneer to the headstock; I selected a simple piece of ebony with some subtle vertical striping (and didn’t do the more fancy black/white/black sandwich that the rest of the class did. Again, I’m a traditionalist, and if Martin doesn’t need to fancy up the headstock, I don’t either!). We also routed the channel for the truss rod.

We drew and cut our templates for our bodies, both in full and half-form. I had been planning on doing a Gibson-inspired guitar (like a L-00 or Nick Lucas), but templates for that shape weren’t available, so I chose a Martin 12-fret 00, with the general idea of doing a 00-21 ("double-O-21") style guitar.

Finally, after spending a lot of time working our tops smooth, we installed the rosette (the little patterned ring around the soundhole) into the top, by routing a channel around where the soundhole will be and inlaying the pre-fab (from LMI) rosettes. I chose a simple single herringbone ring.

Today was a long, but good day. Up at 5am, drove from Albany to Post Mills, and was in the shop from 9:30am 'til 8:30pm, with a hour for lunch and an hour for dinner. Looking forward to getting a full eight hours of sleep tonight!


Separated at birth: Lutherie and social psychology?

I arrived safely in Vermont this afternoon (although I still have 3 more hours of Keith Richard's Life to get through), and in other news it looks like my dad will be able to get here tomorrow night, so he'll only miss one day of class.

After arriving at their home and workshop, George and his wife Pippa provided a fantastic home cooked meal for me and the other three students. Over our dinner conversation, in which George talked about his experiences as a luthier (a.k.a., the profession of guitar building) and about the processes we'll be doing over the next three weeks, it struck me that guitar building and social psychology are actually very similar in several key ways. Of course, take this with a grain of salt, since I haven't actually picked up a piece of wood or tool yet:

  • Both work under the apprentice model, in which you learn the craft from a more experienced mentor, taking on the techniques that s/he have developed, and then once mastering those, branching out and then deviating from those practices as you develop your own identity in the trade. There is likely a similarity that stems from a common ancestry within a particular tradition, but that as you become independent you also start to diverge.
  • At their core, lutherie and psychology (as well as other sciences) are about understanding the complex relationships between variables. How will this particular tonewood, shape of the braces, or thickness of the top combine to create a particular tonal voice? What other variables will I be accounting for (or not) in the decisions I'll be making along the way? You can't control everything at once, can you? (although as you become more experienced and sophisticated, you can take on more at a time.) Doesn't this sound a lot like designing and interpreting a research study? Don't I wish that I could run a multiple regression to predict how my guitar will sound? I'd try, but so far I haven't figured out how to get my data into SPSS.
  • With both you need to consider the big picture, but when it comes down to it, success occurs when you are able to focus on and succeed at the particular task at hand. A project is only as strong as the quality of the individual steps along the way. This was advice George gave us tonight: be attentive to each small task, and if executed well, together they will produce a good product.

I'm looking forward to getting into the workshop for the first time tomorrow. We'll be talking about some of the properties of wood and principles of acoustics, and also be making some of the decisions that will serve as the foundation for the rest of the class, and hopefully to some nice sounding guitars.


All packed up!

Tomorrow is the big day! I'm driving up to Post Mills, VT to start the guitar building course at the Vermont Instruments School of Lutherie. I'm looking forward to meeting my fellow classmates and to spending some quality time with my dad (I'm tempted to insert a link to "Cat's in the Cradle" here, but that's a little sappy for my tastes). Everything is packed up; just need to load the camper in the morning. What's coming:

  • Food for the first few days: I made a huge vat of marinara sauce today, a couple of boxes of Clif bars, some fruit, and a few bags of various types of nuts (since my dad likes to snack).
  • Camera gear, since (obviously) I'm planning to document as much of the building process as I can.
  • My laptop, iPad, and other various devices (although my phone won't be much good, other than the drive up, since there's supposedly no cell phone service up there).
  • Some guitar building books, including the Somogyi and Cumpiano texts.
  • A couple of guitars, for me and my dad to play until we've got new, handbuilt guitars.
  • Plus the camper is always stocked up and ready to go, in case there's anything that I've forgotten.

I'm looking forward to finishing listening to the audiobook of Keith Richard's Life on the drive tomorrow. See you in Vermont!


In a week....

...my dad (who is arriving Friday) and I will be in Vermont, getting settled in at the Vermont Instruments School of Lutherie for our three-week acoustic guitar building course. I've been talking about doing a class like this for years, and have been anxiously looking forward to this since I signed up last fall.

My dad will be building a classical (i.e., nylon string) guitar and I'll be doing a steel string instrument. I'm planning on building a small bodied Gibson-inspired guitar; maybe something along the lines of a Nick Lucas, or the modern interpretations like the Collings C-10 and Santa Cruz H/H13. I've spent the last couple of days trying to design a headstock shape that both honors the traditional Gibson design but is still (relatively) unique. It's getting close; I've got a couple of weeks to fine-tune the design.

I don't have any woodworking experience, at least not since junior high shop class when I made a spaghetti measurer. It will be a challenge to be patient and attentive to details, but these skills will be good for me to work on. Hopefully I'll return with all of my digits attached.

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