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Building stringed instruments

by woodworker59
posted 08-03-2012 04:03 PM


31 replies so far

View Loren's profile

Loren

10477 posts in 4249 days


#1 posted 08-03-2012 04:12 PM

Steam box, no. It isn’t done that way with guitar sides.

The sides are bent on a metal pipe heated with a propane
torch on the inside. You can get an electric bender too,
but the pipe works fine. You can build or buy a side
bending rig but for one guitar it is probably not worth
the investment. Finally, you can have the sides bent
in a kit, but I wouldn’t recommend it since you’d be
cheating yourself of a most interesting experience.

You might want to buy the fingerboard pre-slotted since
the slots are tricky to cut as accurately without a special
setup and saw.

I recommend avoiding the dovetailed neck and going with
a mortised and bolted neck.

If you don’t have clamps with perhaps 8” of throat
you’ll need some to glue the bridge with the clamps
through the sound hole. Deep throat luthier clamps
can do this job. You can also vacuum clamp the bridge
if you have a pump.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5241 posts in 4561 days


#2 posted 08-03-2012 04:44 PM

I have built solid and acoustic guitars. Bought the fingerboards.
If I were to start today without all the tooling, I’d start with a Martin kit (maybe even a Grizz) just to get the feel before starting from scratch. It will be a good learning experience. A very detailed project to say the least.
Good sound wood is tough to find at best.
Just my thoughts.
Bill

-- [email protected]

View madts's profile

madts

1921 posts in 2941 days


#3 posted 08-03-2012 05:42 PM

I have never built a instrument before. I just bought a Grizzly steel guitar kit to get my feet wet. Let you guys know how it goes.

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 4270 days


#4 posted 08-03-2012 08:26 PM

i’ve built one.

to do the fret board, you’ll need a good sized mill file to flaten your frets and fret file to reround them after they’re flatened. for the bridge pin holes, you need a tapered reamer. if you want the top/backs to be bookmatched, you’ll need a bandsaw with a good resaw capacity. a drum sander would be handy too. i didn’t use one for my guitar, but it made me wish i had one.

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#5 posted 08-03-2012 11:37 PM

thank you thank you thank you, knew I could count on the jocks for good stuff.. will reconsider the kit for first build.. one question, can I replace the sound board with one of my own and still use the rest of the kit or is it all or nothing?... I have some very old Eastern white spruce that I would love to try for the top.. have enough to make a couple of mistakes and still get it done.. just wondering. thanks again… Papa

-- Papa...

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 4270 days


#6 posted 08-03-2012 11:53 PM

i don’t see why you couldn’t use your own top with a kit. but, you’ll only want something that is quartersawn with tight growth rings and good tonal properties.

when i built mine, i made everything on it except the tuners and bridge pins. i even cut my own saddle and nut from a piece of bone. maybe it’s just me, but i felt like if i was going to put that much work into it, i wanted it to be my personal piece. i wanted it to be MY guitar, not a kit guitar.

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#7 posted 08-04-2012 12:00 AM

thanks Bent… That’s what I have been thinking right along, but seems that some are advising to start with a kit to get an idea of what to do and not to do.. I like things that I build from start to finish.. I have some nice bone set aside for nut, saddle and bridge pins. I also have some nice pieces of antler that I thought about trying to use maybe as some inlay in the headstock or something.. do you have any pics up here of your axe?...

-- Papa...

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4726 days


#8 posted 08-04-2012 12:02 AM

I happen to live in an area that’s overrun with guitar builders, but there was a SCWA meeting at Luthier's Mercantile a couple o’ something ago, and it sounds like there are gatherings at places where you can use forms and benders, if you can get to ‘em. Seems to me like it’s totally reasonable to buy a bookmatch back pair (and even side set) if you don’t have your own bandsaw.

And you can definitely pick and choose how much you want to buy and how much you want to build.

I’m hoping to do a solid body electric with a teenager of my acquaintance shortly, hope to see how yours comes out.

And my brother-in-law and his son (well, okay, really the other way around) have just started building guitars for sale.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California, http://www.flutterby.net/User:DanLyke

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 4270 days


#9 posted 08-04-2012 12:24 AM

well it is certainly a trade off between starting from scratch or from a kit. i’m sure either way, it’s a good learning expirience to get started.

if you ever decide to build one from scratch, for a building guide, this book is fantastic: A Guitar Maker’s Manual : A Guide to the Construction of Acoustic Guitars by Jim Williams (1987, Paperback)

here is mine:
Click for details

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#10 posted 08-04-2012 01:16 AM

Hey man out fricking standing, love it.. looks very nice, what did the walnut do for the sound do you think? is that where the bright comes in, of would you lay the sustain on it.. I am thinking the sustain would come from a tight wood like walnut.. very sweet.. one question, how and what did you do for the truss rod.? I know that you can make one without, but with the steel strings, eventually its gonna creep on ya.. again.. wow…

-- Papa...

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 4270 days


#11 posted 08-04-2012 01:54 AM

the brightness(tone) is dependent upon the soundboard (top) and the bracing that is used. the sides and body mainly serve as an echo chamber to project the sound back out the sound hole, and the material used for them is less impactful on the overall sound. hopefully a more knowledgble luthier will correct that if i’m wrong, but that’s how i understood it from the books i read. spruce is supposed to be the best choice for a top, specifically sitka or engelman spruce. i’ve also heard cedar or mahogany will work too.

i found a video on youtube of a guitar builder that swears by using tube steel instead of a truss rod. i used his technique. on the top of the neck, i routed out a 3/8×3/8 dado, and then epoxied a piece of 3×8 steel tubing into it. you have to make sure that the steel is flush with the neck, because the fretboard goes over the top it and you don’t want a hollow spot. it seemed to have worked just fine. it’s rock solid, but you can’t adjust it.

thanks for the compliments. i’ve got 2 others that are half built in my shop, but they got shelved because of some furniture commissions i picked up. i don’t think i’ll be able to finish them any time soon. so, if you’re serious about building your own guitar, i’ll let you borrow my luthier tools.

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#12 posted 08-04-2012 02:24 AM

Appreciate the offer, will get the book you recommended first, get myself ready for the build then let ya know whats happening… by the by, where are you located? I agree that the back board is the bounce, but there is a difference in how the sound is changed dependent on the woods used, my Maple back and sides jumbo is much crisper and brighter than my Mahogany back and sides. Both have solid spruce tops. there is also a better bottom end with a rosewood back and sides then any of the other commercially available guitars out there.. I have been playing for a little over 25 years and have gone through a couple hundred guitars, they all have sounds that are unique to themselves, granted the difference in tops makes a huge difference, I.E. spruce, cedar, Maple, I have a friend that has one of all Koa, very unique sound indeed..thanks again, will be ordering that book tomorrow morning… really want to get the ball rolling on this asap.. I have a real nice piece of 12/4 Mahogany, the real stuff that I was given by a friend a couple years ago, gonna cut my neck out of that..

-- Papa...

View Loren's profile

Loren

10477 posts in 4249 days


#13 posted 08-04-2012 04:12 AM

You can use spruce you have for the top but what you
have may not meet soundboard criteria. It should be
quartersawn and selected for minimal runout. Runout
is caused by trees twisting as they grow and this is one
reason premium soundboard woods are harvested at
specific altitudes and where growing conditions cause
even spacing of growth rings and less twisting of the
trees.

...soundboard selection is not especially difficult to learn,
but I’d rather go to a guitar show or shop where
many soundboard sets are in stock than mail order
them. One luthier I know makes about 40 guitars
a year and mail orders 100 premium soundboard sets
at the beginning of his production cycle. He selects
them for tone, appearance and stiffness and sends
back the other 60.

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 4270 days


#14 posted 08-04-2012 11:23 AM

good info about the differences in secondary woods. any idea on how ash sounds?

fyi, you only need stock to be 7/8” thick to use it as a neck. i know that sounds too thin, but it works out. the trick is in cutting the angle for the headstock.

i’m in lafayette, indiana. the tools i have (reamer and fretboard files) would fit in a small box, i could mail them if you want. if you’d rather purchase your own set, check out grizzly. that’s where i bought these, they have a lot good stuff for luthiers besides just the guitar kits.

View Tennessee's profile

Tennessee

2901 posts in 3115 days


#15 posted 08-04-2012 12:59 PM

Agree with Bent on the guitar tools. Stewmac has great tools, and prices to match! Grizzly has some great tools, and their prices are not too bad.
As far as your first build, it might not be a bad idea to either visit a luthier who is willing to show you maybe a few jigs and the tools they use, or buy a cheap acoustic from a pawn shop to take apart to get the real feel on how it is built. I only build solidbody electrics, but I took apart a lot of them to make sure what I was doing was right. It really paid off.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View wingate_52's profile

wingate_52

226 posts in 3171 days


#16 posted 08-04-2012 01:35 PM

I started off buiding solid electric instruments. I am now building ukuleles, coustic and semi solid. How about cigar box type instruments. Build your own rectangular body, no bending.

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 4270 days


#17 posted 08-04-2012 02:07 PM

wingate52. is the uke in that picture finished? i don’t see any frets, is that how they’re built?

View rpalm's profile

rpalm

57 posts in 3981 days


#18 posted 08-04-2012 02:34 PM

Check out Randy Price’s video blog.
http://lumberjocks.com/rlp/activity

-- Robert, I don't understand everything I know about this.

View wingate_52's profile

wingate_52

226 posts in 3171 days


#19 posted 08-04-2012 06:12 PM

It is a 4 string cigar box guitar. You can play them with a bottleneck/slide so no frets needed. Have a look at http://www.cigarboxnation.com/
This is my latest uke build.

View Loren's profile

Loren

10477 posts in 4249 days


#20 posted 08-04-2012 06:14 PM

Oh that’s very nice.

Is the rosette ablam?

View jacob34's profile

jacob34

465 posts in 2865 days


#21 posted 08-04-2012 06:17 PM

I have briefly read through the comments on this forum and there is a lot of good info. As I have not built a guitar from scratch I can’t ad much, I will say I too really want to build a guitar so I decided to purchase a kit and to take it a step farther it was a solid body I will see how that goes then decide whether to go from scratch or kit again. I am also in agreement with the whole purchase the fret board idea.

Check out the woodwhisper I think he has a series of videos from someone who built a acoustic steel string guitar from scratch. I think to bend the sides he used a light bulb in a aluminum tube. either way good luck man.

-- so a bear and a rabbit are sitting on a log

View wingate_52's profile

wingate_52

226 posts in 3171 days


#22 posted 08-04-2012 09:42 PM

Yes, ablam and violin purfling rosette cut on a bandsaw jig. Tortoiseshell and violin purfling binding.Piezo undersaddle transducer.

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#23 posted 08-04-2012 10:54 PM

I would like to start by saying, You guys ROCK.. I knew that if I asked, I would receive.. thanks to all for the great info.. can’t wait to start on this project.. I have on order the guitar makers book that Bent suggested..have looked through the Griz catalog and will most likely order some tools from them.. will check out stewmac as well, bought some pickups from them a while back..they had some Jackson vintage Jazz humbuckers that sounded great on my ES335 copy.. I have never been on a site that so freely offered such great insight, this is truly the best woodworking site on the planet.. bar none… I think that I will go with the pre-cut fingerboard, if the frets ain’t right there is no right.. Wingate love the cigar box, reminds me of the guitars that they used to play down in the Appalachians years ago..cat gut strings and all.. Les made the log, everything else has just been a copy.. God rest his soul… thanks again folks, got a lot to chew on.. man am I jazzed about this build.. just itching to get building.. yeehaw..Papa

-- Papa...

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#24 posted 08-04-2012 11:04 PM

Bent, was wondering about ash my self, I have quite a stockpile of local ash that is down around 6% and was thinking or using some of that for my back and sides.. was hoping someone else had some information about Ash.. can it be used and what does it do to the sound? I would imagine that its going to be brighter, but don’t know.. I do know that ash bends really well, also is there a reason they don’t bend the sides with a steam box? does it do something to the wood that makes it unacceptable? The reason I ask is because I already have a smaller steam box, and would just have to make the box bigger to accommodate the pieces for the sides..
I was thinking I would make a solid jig, two sides that cover the entire piece and are then compressed into the shape needed to make the bouts.. a couple opposing pieces then compress, once the wood has been steamed.. Am I way off with this, or would it work?? thanks again.. Papa

-- Papa...

View Loren's profile

Loren

10477 posts in 4249 days


#25 posted 08-04-2012 11:06 PM

You definitely want to get something newer than the
Jim Williams book. Cumpiano/Natelson is the bible of
the craft but there’s no money in doing a revision
to cover bending machines, vacuum clamping, go-bar
decks, dished hollow forms and other jigs and tools
most serious acoustic builders are using these days.

Jim Williams’s book is good but it’s more like a course
manual for when he teaches and there are a lot of
discrete steps left out or glossed over. His comments
on french polishing are excellent but his advocacy of
building steel string guitars in the Spanish style with
an integrated neck is pretty weird. His approach is
idiosyncratic.

I haven’t read any books on guitar making newer
than about 10 years old. Starting about 12
years ago luthiers started spilling their “secrets” in
online forums and that’s where you’ll get the latest
trick of the trade.

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#26 posted 08-04-2012 11:28 PM

Loren, where would be the best place to start? would like to watch a few before beginning, have mostly figured out what I am going to do, just want to see if what I think is right, is right>>> I have always used mostly hand tools, and know that I may need to step into the machine world if I am going to do this right.. how bout a couple good links..

-- Papa...

View Loren's profile

Loren

10477 posts in 4249 days


#27 posted 08-04-2012 11:43 PM

I’d go to the local library and check out everything they have
one the subject.

There are a lot of good books out there but the most complete
resource for the first time builder is Cumpiano-Natelson.

I buy from LMI – http://www.lmii.com

Stew-Mac was more focused on Banjos and electrics when I
was getting into luthiery and while both suppliers have some
good proprietary products, when you figure in shipping charges
and getting what you need I found LMI to have the edge
in value.

I built my own Fox bender from their plans and built my
own fretboard slotting box based on the LMI one. They sold
me the index pin and bushing for some insane price,
but it was nothing compared to what the assembled
jig costs from them.

You should be able to make a friend relatively local to you
who builds acoustics. Luthiers are friendly geeks and
for the price of a couple of six packs many of them
will tell you everything they know about the craft and
how to make the jigs to do it. You get to drink half
the beer and you can probably crash on the luthier’s
couch if needed.

P.S. I just looked at your profile and see you are in CT –
the whole New England area is infested with luthiers –
you’ll have no problems finding local ones.

View woodworker59's profile

woodworker59

560 posts in 2802 days


#28 posted 08-04-2012 11:49 PM

Sounds like a win win situation, will have to put some feelers out, don’t know any luthiers up here in CT.
sure there muct be some, just don’t know them yet.. thanks for the info.. Have you ever heard of
Hasselbacker Guitars? One of my friends growing up, His father was a renowned luthier. Had the likes
of Dylan and Kristoferson and others that came to get his Guitars.. unfortunately has passed on now..
His son only ever got one Hasselbacker for himself.. will start digging tomorrow.. thanks again..

-- Papa...

View Loren's profile

Loren

10477 posts in 4249 days


#29 posted 08-04-2012 11:53 PM

I lived in Easthampton, MA for awhile and met a couple of
luthiers who have shops in town. World famous marquetry
guy Silas Kopf has his studio there too.

View Woodknack's profile

Woodknack

13002 posts in 2981 days


#30 posted 08-05-2012 07:29 AM

I second the recommendation for Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology by Natelson & Cumpiano. I’ve only begun to dabble in instrument building but I’ve read that book twice and will probably read it twice more before building a traditional acoustic.

http://www.amazon.com/Guitarmaking-Tradition-Technology-Construction-Steel-String/dp/0811806405/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=1RDTTEO70746N&coliid=I6L595DCDY5XX

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View wingate_52's profile

wingate_52

226 posts in 3171 days


#31 posted 08-05-2012 07:43 AM

Have a look at the WWW.mimf.com site, http://www.luthierforum.com/http://www.liutaiomottola.com/
Or try one of these to get yourself started. This is my quickest build so far.

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