Sunday, December 29, 2013

Preparing the Headstock for Binding

I tell myself with each guitar I make that I'd save myself a lot of trouble if I left my headstocks unbound. Nevertheless, despite the fact that many of the top makers choose to omit this feature, and still manage to produce the kind of elegant, beautifully appointed instruments I aspire to build, the Macassar Ebony headstock overlay on my latest guitar was always destined to be bound in ebony, with a thin maple line inboard of the binding for the sake of contrast. Were I building guitars commercially, there would surely be an added incentive to leave the edge of the headstock overlay unadorned, perhaps offering the bound look only as an option - for an appropriate upcharge of course!

An earlier guitar featuring a bound headstock 
I use a laminate trimmer to cut the ledge for the binding. I select the appropriate bearing and make a test cut on a piece of scrap to confirm that the resulting rebate will match the width of my ebony bindings, with additional allowance for the maple veneer. Having done so, I adjust the depth of cut so that my first circuit of the headstock will cut the ledge just shy of the full depth required. My ancient Hitachi laminate trimmer isn't renowned for ease of vertical adjustment, so I repeat the process, increasing the depth of cut in tiny increments until the bit barely removes the last of the headstock material on the bottom of the ledge.

Routing the binding rebate
It's imperative when routing the ledge that I think carefully about the grain direction of the headstock overlay and the router bit's direction of rotation, with the potential for chipping and tearout always in mind. Proceeding carefully, I can climb-cut the most susceptible areas and end up with a clean, chip-free binding ledge.

The completed binding rebate.
I'll describe the fiddly process of preparing the individual binding pieces in my next post.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Soundboard Braces

The soundboard braces have been shaped to a 25 foot radius and attached to the top, again using hot hide glue. I look forward now to profiling and carving them to their final dimensions, my goal being a light and lively soundboard. This is surely the most tactile and intuitive stage of the entire building process, when machinery and power tools lay temporarily silent, and finger planes, chisels and sandpaper take over.

A useful pointer to where I'm at on my quest to build a high quality instrument is that the soundboard bracing on each new guitar still seems to be lighter than that of the last. In many respects, I'm sure it's a good thing that my evolution as a guitar builder has been such a gradual process, with small incremental improvements marking what has been a long journey. Where soundboard bracing is concerned, I acknowledge that a bolder individual willing to take risks would equal my progress after far fewer guitars, but I'm happy nevertheless to plod along at my own cautious pace, learning as I go, improving my skills and gaining satisfaction from the improvements I see and hear after each guitar is completed.

With my weekends still dominated by household chores, my resolve to chip away at this guitar in spare moments through the week is certainly yielding results, as evidenced by my latest posts. Lurking in the background, however, is the need to construct bending forms and an outside mold to accommodate the modified body shape I've recently devised. Unfortunately, at some point soon, this necessity will act as a barrier to further progress and I'll be unable to avoid the task any longer! 


Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Guitar Back is Born.

A half hour here, an hour there, and before you know it, a guitar back has materialised. I've been making a concerted effort to make progress on this guitar after work throughout the week, when I would typically be less than productive where guitar building is concerned.

The back halves were joined with Titebond as usual, but I thought I'd attempt to use hot hide glue wherever else I can on this instrument. Apart from its great strength and resistance to creep, I enjoy the fact that it's so easy to clean up once the parts are joined and clamped. After allowing a short time for the squeeze-out to gel, most of it can be easily removed with a chisel-shaped scrap of spruce. A sponge dipped in the hot water from my glue pot, wrung almost dry, removes the remainder of the glue pretty effectively.

Attaching braces to the soundboard would seem to be a realistic goal for the week ahead. We'll see whether Murphy's Law allows me to achieve it!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Design, New Guitar

While the task of spraying my Walnut/Redwood OM remains on the "to do" list, I've managed to sneak in a little progress on a new guitar, this time combining a Port Orford Cedar soundboard with the sister set of Claro Walnut back and sides.

I fell in love with the venerable Martin OM when I first saw one many years ago, and as much as I still admire its timeless design and elegant curves, I feel ready to leave it behind me and develop a more contemporary body profile I can call my own.

I build guitars with the fingerstyle guitarist in mind and, taking note of player preferences commonly espoused by players in that style, I've nipped in the waist slightly, reduced the width of the upper bout and rounded the shoulders, the end result of which - I hope - is a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing body shape. The price I pay is the additional work involved in constructing molds and bending forms to accommodate this new design, so it's sobering to reflect on the fact that until the first body is assembled, I won't know for sure that the dimensions will appear balanced and attractive. Building molds isn't exactly my idea of fun, so I certainly hope I don't have to repeat the exercise! 


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Back From Africa

After a memorable trip to Botswana in Africa, I'm gradually getting back into something resembling a routine. With the trip behind me, I'm keener than ever to catch up on my hobbies, including not only the guitars I have ready to spray, but also a new guitar featuring a modified body shape and some fresh ideas where the more decorative elements are concerned.

I'll have more updates soon.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Broken Promise, and Some New Rosettes

After promising myself I wouldn't begin my next guitar until the two I'm currently waiting to spray were complete, I've relented a little and have spent some time fabricating and inlaying some new rosettes over the past week. With wet weather still the norm, and a trip to Africa looming large, it was becoming increasingly unlikely that I'd get to apply finish to those guitars any time soon, hence the broken promise - an opportunity to spend time in the workshop!

European Spruce, with Zebrano, Ebony and coloured veneer rosette
Port Orford Cedar, with Zebrano rostete
Sitka Spruce, with Zebrano and Ebony rosette
Engelmann Spruce, with East Indian Rosewood rosette

I wouldn't tempt fate by proclaiming that I've in any way mastered this aspect of guitar construction, but I'm pleased to be able to produce rosettes like these to an acceptable standard fairly consistently these days.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

From Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan

There's still a long way to go with this guitar, but the full effect of the black and red theme is beginning to emerge now that the top bindings are in place. As gradual as the process is, I'm pleased to be leaving the "ugly duckling" stage behind at last.

More soon!


Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Black and Red Guitar

I've been working on this East Indian Rosewood/Sitka Spruce OM at more or less the same pace as I have the Claro Walnut/Redwood guitar featured in recent posts, but progress has fallen behind a little in recent weeks as I've focussed my attention on preparing the Walnut/Redwood guitar for finishing.

While I wait patiently for a trio of fine days suitable for spraying, it's a good opportunity to catch up a little where this black and red OM is concerned. The purfling has been in place for a week or two, and with the end wedge now installed, I've begun the process of gluing the ebony bindings in place. It's not a task I particularly look forward to, which hints at the fact that I'm yet to feel I've attained any level of mastery over this particular aspect of guitar construction.

It will certainly be intriguing to assess the two guitars' responsiveness and tonal characteristics individually, but I'll be especially interested to make comparisons between them. Shaping of the soundboard braces on both guitars was completed at around the same time, the end result being what I perceived to be similarly responsive tops once I'd concluded the cycle of brace shaving, tapping and flexing. If popular wisdom proves to be well founded, the wood species used in these guitars will have a significant influence on the sound I'm ultimately able to coax out of them, and they'll show themselves to be very different from one another, tonally speaking. On the other hand, my assessment could lend weight to the theory that the sound of an instrument reflects the builder's individual style and methods as much as it does the materials used in its construction, in which case their tonal differences might be more difficult to detect. Whatever the result, and for the first time ever, I can confidently predict that I'll be able to share sound files and/or videos with you here on this blog. Eventually, that is!


Friday, May 10, 2013

Spray Day Delay

With epoxy pore filling of the back, sides, neck and rosette of this guitar completed, it’s a case now of waiting for a string of fine days and a concurrent break in my regular daily work commitments. Without an enclosed spray booth, I need three consecutive days of good weather to complete my spraying schedule, with a day off work an unfortunate additional requirement.

In readiness for spraying, I've calculated the bridge position and masked the top in the area of the bridge and fretboard extension with a thin, low-tack adhesive film known as frisket film. The edges of the frisket film in the area of the bridge are around 3/16" inside the bridge outline. I've found that by leaving such a margin, it's much easier to level sand and buff the finish in the vicinity of the bridge perimeter. The frisket film is removed only after the body is buffed and I'm preparing to glue the bridge.

After two brushed coats of Ilva TF23 sealer, I'll spray a maximum of five coats of Grafted Coatings’ KTM-SV per day, for a final result of 15 coats of KTM-SV on back, sides and neck, with 10 coats on the soundboard. After level sanding and buffing, I’ll end up with a thin, flexible finish that has minimal impact on the responsiveness of the soundboard while still providing an adequate level of protection.

More soon - good weather permitting!


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Delivery Day

What a great day it turned out to be. Tiani visited this afternoon and, after a nervous start, treated us to several songs, accompanied - of course - on her new guitar. I could have listened to her beautiful voice for hours.

Although Tiani is very appreciative and feels fortunate to be the recipient of this guitar, I can't help feeling that I'm the real winner.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Fingerstyle Guitar - Epoxy Pore Fill

While it's perhaps not in the same league as the Claro Walnut used on the guitar I've recently finished, applying the first coat of epoxy pore fill to the instrument pictured reminds me that each piece of wood has its very own character and unique appeal. Once again, walnut has cast its spell over me and I'm very pleased with the way this guitar is shaping up.

It's an unfamiliar feeling to be pore-filling an instrument so soon after completing the previous one. Typically, many months pass after finishing an instrument before I'm ready to repeat the process, but as I work my way through this current batch of three guitars, I'm no sooner finished with one part of the process than I'm ready to repeat it on the next guitar.

With the necessity of a day job to distract me, the prospect of spraying the finish coats presents something of a problem: to apply the necessary number of coats to the back, sides and neck, I need to devote three consecutive days to the task if I'm to limit the number of coats per day to five. As I'm employed on a contract basis and paid by the hour, the bad news is that I'll need to sacrifice a day's pay if I'm to successfully apply a sprayed finish to the guitar - all the more reason to begin selling my instruments!


Friday, March 29, 2013

The Fingerstyle Guitar - I Can Smell the Finish Line!

After a few days' break from guitar building during which I've enjoyed noodling on Tiani's Claro Walnut /Sitka Spruce 000, it's time to get back to the workbench.

I delude myself with the notion that this Claro Walnut/Redwood OM is essentially complete, ignoring the fact - because it pleases me to - that the lengthy process of filling, finishing and buffing lies ahead of me. After a solid day's work installing the remainder of the purfling and bindings, a few hours' final sanding sees me ready to apply epoxy pore fill to the back, sides and neck. The walnut back and sides are not as spectacular as those of the 000 I've just finished, but there's enough subtle flame evident that I'm confident the final package will look pretty slick - the Macassar Ebony and Zebrano components almost guarantee it.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Claro Walnut/Sitka Spruce 000 - More Photos

Some final photographs before I deliver this guitar to its new owner.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Claro Walnut/Sitka Spruce 000

I was finally able to string up this guitar yesterday, and I look forward with some excitement to presenting it to Tiani, its new owner.

Tiani is the talented daughter of a family friend, and her youthful passion for music is truly refreshing. Although her musical inclinations have little in common with those of the players I imagine myself building for in the future, she's nevertheless a worthy recipient of this instrument on the strength of her originality and enthusiasm alone.

I began this guitar three or four years ago, and at some point over the course of its construction the decision was made to donate it to someone I felt could put it to better use than I could. There were some minor cosmetic blemishes that irked me, but more significantly, after the box was closed up and remedial work became impractical, I was concerned that the top was braced too heavily. As a result, I had serious doubts about its likely success from a tonal perspective and it took a back seat to other guitar projects for a couple of years. With that as a background, I was prepared to be less than impressed yesterday when I strung it up for the first time, and my initial assessment was indeed less than enthusiastic. However, after only a few hours, I was much less critical; in the absence of any other explanation, I suspect the strings simply needed to be left in peace for a short time to acclimatise to their new home: bent over saddle and nut and brought up to concert pitch. It's early days still, but I'm prepared to cautiously pronounce the guitar a success - I hope Tiani feels the same way!

I'll let the guitar settle further over the week ahead, make final adjustments to neck relief and action height, and hopefully hand the guitar over to Tiani soon afterwards.

Vital statistics:
Back and sides: Claro Walnut
Soundboard: Sitka Spruce
Neck: Tarzali Silkwood
Fretboard and bridge: ebony
Bindings: curly maple
Scale length: 24.9"
Finish: Grafted Coatings KTM-SV
Pickup: K & K Pure Mini


Saturday, March 9, 2013

KTM-SV - Sanding and Buffing

There are a multitude of guitar finish products available, and it's generally acknowledged that each of them have their advantages as well as their shortcomings. The dilemma for the guitar builder, then, is in deciding which particular compromise they can live with, and what product best suits their particular circumstances.

My current choice is Grafted Coatings' KTM-SV, a water-based, oil-modified urethane that a growing number of musical instrument makers are using with great success. I'm in the throes of completing the guitar pictured - my third using KTM-SV. Although I've been pleased with this product so far, if a little of its flexibility could be sacrificed for the sake of hardness, I'd be truly ecstatic. I'm keeping an eye out for the release of the manufacturer's new product - which I believe will be marketed as KTM-10 - in the hope that it makes up for what KTM-SV lacks in terms of hardness. Early reports sound very encouraging.

My technique with the spray gun tends to improve over the course of finishing a guitar, and by the time I've applied the last of the top coats, I've generally sorted myself and the gun out to the extent that the guitar's finish is level and reasonably smooth. After the finish has cured for a few days, the process of sanding through the grades of sandpaper can proceed. With the paper wrapped around a cork block, I begin sanding with 600 or 800 grit paper, depending on the quality of my last coat. I'm pretty cautious when sanding the edges of the body and the headstock; I skip the coarser grades and begin my sanding of those areas with 1200 grit paper, dispensing with the sanding block. I use soapy water as a lubricant throughout this process, and constantly check my progress by squeegeeing off the water and holding the body or neck up the the light to check for rogue sanding scratches.

Inevitably, I'll sand through the topmost finish coat to one or more of the underlying coats; witness lines are evidence of that, even after a thorough sanding with the finest of the papers. It's at this point, of course, that my attention turns to the buffing wheel, but I've learned that this finish needs a couple of weeks to harden enough that buffing will completely remove these witness lines. I've wasted a lot of time and effort and become quite frustrated when attempting to achieve a mirror-like gloss before the finish has had time to harden - it's just not going to happen! Not unexpectedly, it's also apparent that the finish shrinks ever so slightly over the first few weeks. On future guitars, I plan to delay sanding with 1500 and 2000 grit papers - if not all of them - until a couple of weeks has elapsed and I'm about to buff. Perhaps that's not so much of a consideration where the soundboard is concerned as ridges in the finish corresponding to grain lines seem to be accepted, given their inevitability when any of the more traditional nitrocellulose lacquers are used.

Links to Grafted Coatings' web site:

To view previous posts dealing with KTM-SV, click here.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A New Find - Ryan Francesconi

All too infrequently, I discover a new player who captures my attention. I hope you enjoy this video enough to look for more from this very talented musician.

On the guitar building front, progress has been delayed due to an unavoidable but nevertheless enjoyable trip to the the south coast, but I have at least completed buffing the finish on the walnut/spruce 000 and have attached the bridge to the soundboard. The next task is to install the gold Evo fretwire I've come to favour. It's a little harder than the nickel/silver frets typically used by factories and is only marginally more difficult to work with. It looks good too!

Photos soon.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Fingerstyle Guitar - Latest Photos

I seem bogged down in the details at present, and it feels I'm making little headway. Nevertheless, here are some more progress shots.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Fingerstyle Guitar - Slow Progress

Despite the fact that I'm devoting most of my available spare time to completing a claro walnut and spruce instrument for a friend's daughter, there has at least been some movement with this redwood and claro walnut guitar lately. I'm content to proceed patiently, and I'm currently gluing purflings and bindings one piece at a time, through the week after I arrive home from work.

Acknowledging that the tuners and bridge are yet to be attached, the guitar is very light and, knowing how much I strived to brace the soundboard as lightly as I dared, I have great hopes that I'll achieve my goal of producing a very responsive instrument well suited to a fingerstyle player.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mitre Madness!

With the aid of lutherie's most underappreciated item of machinery, the disk sander, I've been preparing binding mitres and have almost finished these fingerboards and headstocks. 

Should I ever find myself building guitars for profit, bound fretboards and headstocks will definitely be an optional extra, priced accordingly. The rewards are great, but there's a lot of additional work involved.