KOA / Western Red Cedar Acoustic Guitar

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Project by Philip posted 01-14-2011 12:01 AM 9753 views 21 times favorited 32 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’m an ameteur / hobby builder and I started in 2003. I’ve built about 10 guitars in the last 7 years when I can carve out the time (pun intended). I’m currently working on 4 guitars and enjoy the time I spend on this hobby. So I thought it would be a good idea to show some construction photos of how I construct a guitar. I don’t have all the steps here but you get the idea. I’ve also had to insert photos from several different guitars showing the steps, I haven’t been able to find some of the shots I thought I had.

This is a Custom Concert sized guitar with the following specifications.

Flamed KOA back and sides
Flamed KOA bevel and edge binding
FLamed KOA rosette inlay
Western Red Cedar Soundboard
Laminated Mahogany/Maple/Rosewood neck

Below is a picture of the KOA sides being bent in the side bending jig. The sides are around .85 thick and have been squirted with water, then wrapped in tin foil, then sandwiched between a stainless steel slat and a heating element and another metal slat. That whole bunch gets worked around the bending forms via the screw at the top and the two spring loaded guides. The heating blanket takes the wood to around 300 degrees depending on the wood type.

Next is to glue the end blocks of Mahogany to support the Dovetail joint at the end of the neck and the rear tail end block. After that I install the kerf linings to give support and a glue surface for the back and soundboard. I also installed side support strips to give some cross grain support to the rim.

Looks like I don’t have a picture of the back bracing being glued to the back plate. I used laminated bracing of Sitka Spruce with Mahogany strips in the center. Here is a picture of the back already glued to the finished rim. Note the end of each brace is cut into the kerf linings and KOA sides for additional support. Its tricky business to get these lined up and cut perfectly, but it turned out nice on this one. You will also notice the inlay of “Magic Beans” on the Mahogany neck block. The guy I built this for sings a song about this, so I surprised him with this inside the guitar.

I’m not finding all the photos I thought I had for this guitar, so I’ve inserted the next 4 photos of a different guitar below showing these next steps.

Here how I glue up the bracing via a “Go Bar Deck” I use spring loaded 1/2” PVC tubes and a 3/8” dowel to apply pressure for glue ups. I should also note that the round sanding disc under the back is a radius dish that will give the top and back of the guitar a dome shape. I use 30’ for the top and 15’ for the back. All the braces are sanded on this dish before glue up so they conform to the shape of the dish and hold the top and back at their appropriate radius.

Here is a shot of the sanding of the back of the soundboard bracing.

And a couple of how I glue up the back and soundboard to the side rim of the guitar. I also forgot to mention the rosette which is a signature spot for any builder. This area is a nice place for details, this time I did a natural feeling rosette of KOA. This is done before I install the bracing so I can level it properly with a scraper.

Now that the body is in one piece its time for the edge binding. I’ve got a laminate trimmer setup that holds the trimmer vertically perpendicular to the side of the guitar and rides up and down via some drawer slides. I then clamp the body into a sled that can slide around under the trimmer. Below is a shot after the binding channels are cut. This is the “grand junction of binding” as there are 3 pieces of binding (plus 3 additional pieces of purfling trim) that all come together at this point. Notice the sled below holding the guitar body. Time for alot of fitting and more fitting to get the binding just right. All the binding is held in place with heavy masking tape during the glue up with titebond glue. Again a different guitar photo here…sorry.

Once the binding is completed and scraped flush the next step on the list is to get the bevel veneer installed. I had to make a pattern using masking tape, then transfer to a piece of KOA. Then bend it, bevel the edges and fit it into the bevel pocket. I think this took all day if I recall…pretty time consuming bit here. In the photo below you can see the thin black/maple/black purfling strip is already in place using CA glue. The KOA has to fit very tightly into that pocket or gaps will show.

Next the attention is turned to the neck. I laminate Mahogany/Maple/Indian Rosewood/Maple/Mahogany to form a neck blank then cut the profile out.

Building the neck is a complicated process in itself. If I don’t do it in the correct order I’ve found that I don’t have any reference points for alignment on later steps. So here are the bullet point steps in the neck once I’ve cut the rough profile of the neck blank.
-True up the angle cut for the peg head using the disc sander
-Glue the peghead veneer over the peghead
-Drill 6 holes in the peghead for the tuner using a drilling template
-Router the peghead shape using a template that fits into the 6 holes for the tuners
-Router out a center channel for a metal truss rod to support the force exerted by the string tension
-Router the dovetail joint using a special jig and template
-Center line the preshaped finger board of ebony onto the neck
-Pin the fingerboard via copper wire nails inserted through the fret slots, hidden by the frets ultimately
-Router the width of the neck to match the fingerboard width using the fingerboard as the template
-Shape the back of the neck using spoke shave, rasp, chisel, sandpaper, depth template
-Shape the base of the neck
-Cut the dovetail joint pocket in the neck block of the guitar
-Fit the neck to the correct neck angle from the guitar – This is very important to the ultimate playability of the guitar
WHEW! That all takes about a day….or two and looks like this when completed. (again a different guitar from the KOA guitar I started with)
Note the 4 small pins that are indexing the fingerboard to the neck you can see 2 stacked on top of each other on either side of the truss rod channel

Now that I’m in the home stretch its time for glue up of the fingerboard to the neck, and the neck to the body. Then its off to finishing. Here again, finishing is a lengthy process and takes about a month to complete the process. Mostly due to curing times for the lacquer. Here is the process again in bullet points.
-Sand all sanding marks out to 220 grit, then to 320 grit
-Seal the guitar with a sanding sealer wash coat
-Apply pore filler, sand, more pre filler, sand until its completely filled. EVERYWHERE! These show up all through the finishing process if I don’t get them now.
-Apply 2 thin coats of a thicker mix of lacquer, wait 5 minutes between coats
-Apply 2 more coats after an hour
-Wait 2 days
-Apply 4 more coats (thicker mix), wait 2 days
-Wet sand to level the finish
-Apply 4 more coats (thicker mix), wait 2 days
-Wet sand to level the finish
-Apply 4 more coats (thicker mix), wait 2 days
-Wet sand to level and inspect for any unfilled pores, drop fill as needed
-Apply 4 coats of finish mix lacquer, wait 2 weeks
-Wet sand 600, 1500, 2400, 4000, 8000 to an almost polished finish
-Buff and wax on the buffing wheel

Now I can finally install the bridge, frets and tuners. Then set it up for appropriate adjustments on the truss rod, bridge height and bone nut height for playability.

AHH Done. All told its usually about 6 months of work evenings and weekends when I can find the time. I’m estimating about 150-200 hours of total time. But I’m definately shaving that time down by doing more than 1 guitar at a time.

-- Philip, Minnesota,

32 comments so far

View Michael's profile


201 posts in 3262 days

#1 posted 01-14-2011 12:06 AM

awesome, thanks for sharing!

-- "A woodworking project is either a masterpiece or a POS" Dr. Lang

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 3218 days

#2 posted 01-14-2011 12:19 AM


A really beautiful instrument. Thanks for sharing and for the detailed write-up.


-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View gcodom's profile


7 posts in 2957 days

#3 posted 01-14-2011 01:01 AM

It is hard to tell from the photos, but the guitar appears to have a bit of a different shape. The proportions do not appear to relate to a Dread, is this a Jumbo or is it a custom shape/size? Like I said it is hard to tell from the photos. KOA and cedar must produce an interesting tone. I would love to play it for a bit.

I noticed the soundboard bracing is scalloped. How are you able to control the tone, sustain and resonance with pre-scalloped bracing? I know that it is not unusual to have pre-scalloped bracing in production environments, but handmade guitars like yours are often more personal is determining the sound. Another well know guitar maker, being Yairi, is scalloped by hand once the bracing is affixed to the soundboard and the craftsman decide how to do it by tapping on the word and hearing how it sounds. I have always wanted to build my own guitar, but I know that I do not have the patience or the skills required to do so. In addition, the start costs would exceed the cost to purchase another one.

The look of your guitars are absolutely stunning. I really like that big sloping binding and the natural looking rosette of KOA was a nice touch.

View JonJ's profile


163 posts in 4105 days

#4 posted 01-14-2011 01:11 AM

Amateur builder? Holy smoke, I’d love to see your work when get serious! This is awesome. Thanks for posting all the construction photos.

-- Jon

View FreddyS's profile


211 posts in 3039 days

#5 posted 01-14-2011 01:11 AM

Amazing work!

-- Learning one thing at a time

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4289 days

#6 posted 01-14-2011 01:27 AM

I love the way you profiled the top bracing – I was wondering how you were going to do that. Very impressive, even including an edge bevel – that’s a tricky one. I’ll bet it fingerstyles like a dream! Really nice work.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View tdv's profile


1196 posts in 3335 days

#7 posted 01-14-2011 01:32 AM

That is a seriously beautiful instrument I think your kit & work of this standard takes you way out of the amateur league you’re a craftsman my friend. I play Martins & Guild & I’ve built a couple of the easy variety(electric) but I wish i could afford one of these, stunning work. Do you keep them?
Best regards

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View Sodabowski's profile


2385 posts in 3098 days

#8 posted 01-14-2011 02:09 AM

> speechless <

-- Thomas - Pondering the inclusion of woodworking into physics and chemistry classes...

View wood_maestro's profile


135 posts in 2958 days

#9 posted 01-14-2011 02:34 AM

wonderful work. I was wondering if you can elaborate on that beautiful bending fixture of yours.

-- wood maestro....... Be Well, Do good work, and Stay in touch

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2780 posts in 3857 days

#10 posted 01-14-2011 02:57 AM

Absolutely Beautiful!

-- Dennis Zongker

View dozuki's profile


103 posts in 3266 days

#11 posted 01-14-2011 04:19 AM

All i can say is WOW.!!!!

-- Couldn't think of anything clever. I LIKE WOOD

View 58j35bonanza's profile


395 posts in 2957 days

#12 posted 01-14-2011 04:21 AM

Wow! One of the nicest guitars I have seen. I have played all my life and would love to have one of yours. Do you have a website?

-- Chuck

View Orion Woods's profile

Orion Woods

67 posts in 3034 days

#13 posted 01-14-2011 04:31 AM

Thats very cool, I have been exploring the idea of trying but I of course will start from a ukulele kit then onto a guitar kit and beyond if I like it. I will definately add this to favorites to reference when I try!

-- Brian

View SteveW's profile


396 posts in 3123 days

#14 posted 01-14-2011 05:00 AM

Incredible! Thanks for documenting all the hard work that goes into these…
If only the average Joe realized the amount of work to make a fabulous instrument
like yours…

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! SteveW

View RonPeters's profile


713 posts in 3145 days

#15 posted 01-14-2011 05:07 AM

Beautiful. I’d love to play it sometime.

I’ve seen go bars made out of fiberglass rods from Lowes. The ones folks use for driveway markers? They are cheap that way!

-- “Once more unto the breach, dear friends...” Henry V - Act III, Scene I

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