Entries in vermont instruments (28)


Photo of the week - April 26, 2011

Nikon 35mm DX @ f/4.5, 1/500, on a Nikon D90. Converted with Nik Silver Efex Pro.


Photo of the week - April 19, 2011

Nikon 35mm DX @ f/4.5, 1/100, on a Nikon D90. Converted with Nik Silver Efex Pro.


Photo of the week - April 12, 2011

Nikon 35mm DX @ f/2, 1/320, on a Nikon D90. Converted with Nik Silver Efex Pro.


Epilogue - Some reflections

Epilogue: We left Vermont yesterday just before noon, after doing some last minute finish work on our instruments in the morning. I reattached the neck and fitted the slightly higher saddle that I had made the night before, so now I have a couple to choose from (i.e., higher vs. lower string action). The drive home was uneventful, which is good.

I’ve just tallied up the time spent working on my guitar; it’s just under 200 hours, or over 10 hours a day for 19 days (not counting the last minute work on the morning we departed). So if you’ve ever wondered why handmade guitars cost so much, let me tell you that they are a relative bargain given the artistry and work involved.

This course was such an amazing experience. I left Vermont with new skills, confidence, and interests, a bunch of new friends, and a beautiful instrument. Although there is an intense amount of work to do, George manages to keep the project on track and brings everything together so that we all converged with completed instruments on the last day of the class. I am also thankful for George’s patience; he never seemed to get annoyed by my “ask twice, cut once” approach. We worked hard but had fun doing it; it never seemed like labor and I enjoyed every minute of it (even the various screw ups that hit me [and every student in the class] periodically). And Pippa and George were wonderful hosts. The accommodations were very comfortable and the whole atmosphere was incredibly warm.

A couple of tips for future students who may stumble on this page prior to taking the course:

  • Be obsessive about keeping track of your centerline; you’ll be thankful you did when the neck, body, and bridge come together.
  • Take your time and don’t rush through things; your patience will pay off.
  • Be prepared to work really long and hard. But that’s what you’re paying for, and the more time you spend working on your guitar, the more you’ll learn and the happier you’ll be with it. I spent 95% of my last three weeks on four things: working on my guitar, blogging about the experience, eating, or sleeping. Don’t plan on getting much else done during the course.
  • If you come to Vermont in March/April, bring some shoes that are good for mud!

I realize that it’s weird to have an “about this series of blog posts” explanation at the end of the last post, but it’s something that just occurred to me to clarify: these post are not intended to document “how to build a guitar”; most of the pictures are simply of the results of each operation or day, not in progress shots. I was too busy working to be futzing with camera at every step.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more about my guitar in the upcoming days as I get to know it. For now I can say I’m incredibly pleased with the results of the course. I never would have predicted that I’d ever be able to do anything like this. It was an experience of a lifetime, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from George, hang out with my fellow classmates, and spend time with my dad.

Our class (with the workshop in the background): Stefan, yours truly, George, Brendon, Chinh, & Matt (w/ his daughter)


Day 19 - Last day (sort of)

Day 19: Today was a catch-all day. For some that meant catching up and getting a lot done. Luckily for me, it was doing a few smaller tasks as the final touches on my guitar. In the morning I polished out the finish on the back and sides a bit, and then worked on shaping the saddle and nut. This included learning how to do the intonation on saddle to make the guitar play in tune all the way up the neck. I also learned how to dress the frets (i.e., level and shape them). All of these are handy things to know; in many ways, setting up a new guitar is like maintaining or tweaking an old guitar, so I feel like I got a crash course in Guitar Repair 101 today.

 Once all of this was done, I got to string my guitar up and play it (properly) for the first time!

Of course it didn’t stay assembled for long, and I took the neck off to install fret markers (small dots on the side on the fretboard at the 5th, 9th, and 12th frets) and also to do a few cosmetic touch ups. Everyone else was busy doing the final little tasks as well.

By dinnertime, everyone in the class had (at some point during the day) their guitars in playable condition, and we celebrated by having a final dinner at Holy Mackerel in Fairlee. Afterwards I went back to the shop and applied a couple of more layers of shellac before calling it a day.

The last full day of work stated at 7:30am and went until 9:45pm, with 45 minutes for lunch and a 2 hour dinner.

Tomorrow we head home, but in the morning I need to polish up my finish once more, reattach the neck, and string up the guitar for good (or at least until I decide to tinker with it some more). We’re leaving before lunch to drive back to Pennsylvania; I probably won’t feel like writing anything here tomorrow, but I’ll do a summary post in a few days.

I'm looking forward to getting home, but I’ll miss the view from my workbench...


Day 18 - Strung up! (temporarily)

Day 18: Today was a busy day; seems like I always say that, but that’s the way it is around here. If you're not busy, you're not working hard enough. Since we’re coming down to our final day (tomorrow), we had lots of “little” but crucial things to wrap up today.

I started by sanding off the pore filler and then applying a couple of coats of shellac; the rosewood really looks great! The first troubleshooting that I did was work on getting my neck angle straightened out, allowing the strings to sit centered on the fretboard. This took a while, and I went through several possible culprits before coming up with a fix. It was a bit frustrating, but a good learning experience. Once the neck problem was straightened out, it was onto installing the tuners, which went pretty smoothly.

Then it was on to drilling holes for the bridge pins (you know you’ve been building guitars for nearly 3 weeks when you have no qualms about taking a power drill and 3/16th bit to the top of your guitar), and we could attach the high and low E-strings to see how things were sitting. Problem #2 encountered...My bridge was too tall (thus the action would be unadjustably high) so I had to plane off the top of the bridge.

Next came routing the slot for saddle. Given my previously foibles with the router and the fact that this was (I think) the last operation with a power tool that could wreck your guitar, I was a bit nervous. But George set up a clever jig that made this potentially fatal operation easy and painless. Once the saddle slot was cut, I made the bridge and cut the nut slots and strung the whole guitar up for the first time!

I won’t comment too much on the tone of the guitar yet since it was loud in the shop, and I haven’t set the guitar up yet (i.e., adjusting the action) so the strings were still too high. It did seem to sound good, but I pulled the strings off pretty quickly to do some other work (BTW, my dad also got his guitar strung up this afternoon...the first guitar in the class ready to be played).

The last thing I did was put some more shellac on the back and sides, before calling it a day. Today started at 7am, 45 minutes for lunch, and hour for dinner, back around 10pm.


Day 17 - Shaping the neck and gluing the bridge

Day 17: I started the day by putting a coat of shellac as a sealer on the back and sides; later in the day I applied pore filler to the back/sides. Rosewood has open pores that need to be filled if you want subsequent layers of finish to go on smoothly, so doing the pore filler is an important step. We also worked on the finish on the top of the guitar. It’s looking pretty good! 

The two important operations for the day were shaping the neck and gluing the bridge in place. Up until today the neck was still a rectangular block that somehow needed to become round. I was really worried about how this would work; would I be able to carve it round? Of course, George had a clever way of doing this by having us measure and remove triangular pieces of the neck that were at a tangent to the target radius of the neck. It took some careful measuring and drawing lines, but overall it was pretty painless. I had grand plans of trying to duplicate the neck on my Martin D-18GE, but decided that I should just focus my attention on making a well-shaped neck rather than mess around with a custom neck profile.

I especially liked using the spoke shaver, although that tool is so efficient for working on the neck that I only used it for a few minutes. Towards the end of the day I installed the heel cap, sanded the neck, and applied a few coats of shellac.

The other big task for the day was gluing the bridge into place. We had previously masked off its placement (so not to get finish there), but we still had to do some careful measuring for the location of the holes for the bridge pins and saddle. I discovered that my neck is slightly askew, so we’ll have to dial that in later to get everything lined up properly. I was pretty worried that this was a big screw-up, but George reassured me that we’d be able to correct it (my dad’s neck also had a similar problem, so there must be a genetic predisposition to be slightly askew...left-leaning, as it turns out). Gluing the bridge requires stuffing several large clamps through a small soundhole.

If I'm keeping track correctly, this is what's left (I won't even begin to guess which will be easier and which will be more difficult than expected):

  • Install side dots on the neck; I'm leaning against putting in position markers on the fretboard itself
  • Make the nut and saddle, figure out the intonation, and dress the frets
  • Continue working on the finish on the back and sides
  • Fix my neck angle
  • Install the tuners and string it up

Matt with his maple #9-sized guitar

Went in at 7:00am, an hour for lunch, an hour for dinner, and done at 10pm.


Day 16 - Fretboards and fretting

Day 16: I went in early today to finish my headstock inlay. At the risk of sounding immodest, it does look fantastic!

We started the day by continuing to do additional applications of shellac on the top. Working with the finish is a mixed bag for me. On one side, it is neat to see the guitar get all shiny and new looking. On the other hand, I like the look of worn in guitars, so having a perfect finish isn’t really that appealing to me, especially given the work it can take to get them looking that way.

Much of the day was spent working with our fretboards. First we made sure they were level (i.e., did not have any dips or high points in them). Once we got that set (via planing the surface), we worked on the radius. The fretboard actually isn’t flat; it’s slightly curved. To complicate matters, that radius isn’t the same all the way down the neck (the curve is less severe further down the neck). So we planed our fretboards down some on the edges and then used a sanding block with that radius (12’ on the nut, 16’ on the end) build in. This created mountains of fine black ebony dust, but was very effective.

After things were in shape, sanded our fretboards until they had a near-glassy sheen to them, and then installed the frets. This wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated it would be. You simply put the metal fret in the slot, hammer it down a few times along the length of the fret, trim off the ends, and check the height. Most of mine seemed to be the right height, and those that were a tad high were knocked into place with another hit or two from the fret hammer. We also filed down the ends, but I’m sure we’ll take another pass at getting them all ready to go.

Towards the end of the day we began to shape the neck (i.e., cut the width to shape; still haven’t done anything with the shape of the back of the neck); one of tomorrow's big tasks will be getting the carving the neck.

We did one last application of shellac at the end of the day. I’m actually surprised that there wasn’t more “homework” to do tonight. I guess that means weren’t not behind (at least the majority of us) and are on track to finish on Friday.

Arrived at 7am, an hour for lunch, and done at 7pm. All in all, a relatively short day.


Photo of the week - April 5, 2011

Nikon 35mm DX @ f/1.8, 1/80, on a Nikon D90. Converted with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

(yes, you've already seen this picture in color....here it is in black and white)


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.


Photo of the week - March 30, 2011

I know I missed last week's photo of the week (but I have been taking lots of pictures of the progress of my guitar building class). The picture for this week is of my dad working on his guitar.

Tokina 11-16mm DX @ f/8, 1/100, on a Nikon D90. Converted with Nik Silver Efex Pro.


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.