Six months later however, the urge to give it a try was too great and I finally posed the question, "Suppose I decide to build a guitar...?" I would have no idea of not only how possible it would be to build a convincingly fine acoustic guitar, but to do so without any prior experience, power tools, or a dedicated workspace.
The purpose of this blog is to encourage first-time guitar builders or anyone who may be interested in taking up this incredibly rewarding (and impressive) hobby by chronicling my building experience--both the successes and the arguably more valuable mistakes--and to dispel all notion that you must have a dedicated workspace and a myriad of expensive power tools.
In fact, here's what my "workshop" looks like when I'm not building a guitar:
And here's where all my guitar making tools are stored:
Currently I'm six months into the process and I'm building the entire thing on my dining room table in the kitchen, my tools live in a $15 tool box, AND my condo is on the market so I have to clean up each night so I can convince would-be real estate buyers that they won't find a band saw in the refrigerator (although I could use the storage space...and I could put wood in the "freshness saver" drawers...))
For the next few entries I will attempt to go back and document the last 6 months of my building process with brief descriptions and photos. Hopefully I'll succeed in bringing clarity or encouragement to potential builders, just as I experienced.
One of the great things about this book is that it assumes you have little or no access to power tools. (A few exceptions will be noted later). Once I became more familiar with the construction process, the fun stuff began: wood shopping!
UPDATE: Since many people have been emailing me asking about costs and which materials . tools they should get first, I thought I'd publish my take on the subject, available here.
I chose to build an OM sized guitar (approximately) with a tighter waist, using Amazon Rosewood for the back and sides, and AAA Englemann Spruce for the soundboard. Since I want to build a guitar for fingerstyle playing, the smaller body and livelier soundboard wood should pair well with the rich tones of the rosewood (at least that's what I hope..) I haven't decided yet, but I'll probably use curly maple for bindings and use rosewood for the bridge, headplate, fingerboard, etc.
Cumpiano's book basically spells out all of the necessary tools and rough wood dimensions needed to get going (although you don't need all of the tools he recommends, and many can be bought later in the process to spread the cost). Here are some great links for the harder to find tools:
Here's the back joined and cut out (I used a band saw for this one).
Here are the two plates getting to know each other.
As you can see, our tiny second 1/2 bathroom makes a great place for guitar pieces to be stored while the glue dries. My plates were surprisingly wobbly (especially the rosewood) at this stage, so I handled them carefully and even clamped one to a straight board along the seam when not in use--they'll firm up as the waste is trimmed off, etc. (that glue joint is surprisingly strong).
At this point in the building process, the idea of having to rout a perfect circle of a perfect width out of my soundboard was a little intimidating--there's really no room for error here. The book talks about dry fitting the purflings and inlays and then pulling it all out and glueing it all in again with wood glue in one swift step. Instead, it was recommended to me to take my time fitting all the strips, and then covering the top with a watery super glue, allowing the glue to "wick" down among the strips. That way I would be sure the purflings aligned properly. This actually worked brilliantly, and I can't imagine the hassle of using wood glue for this step (it took me hours to fit all the strips in properly).
Lastly I spent a little while planing down the rough rosewood to approximately the soundboard level, and then finished it off with a scraper (leaving just a microscopic amount for "final sanding").
It actually worked. Lesson learned? Pencils are for drawing.
I used AutoCAD software to try a few different layouts and then printed the one I liked best, transferring the line work to the underside of the soundboard. This way I could better control the symmetry of the bracing, as well as the open / closed relationship of the X-bracing.
Next I cut and planed square all the brace blanks and glued down the upper face graft (top of picture) and the 4 smaller face braces (shown clamped).
Here's a shot of the top sitting on the work board, showing all the little guys in place and carved. Notice I left the 2 sound hole braces taller than most, yet smaller than recommended by the book.
In the end I was very happy with my bracing. The top has a clean tap tone to it (but I really have no idea what I'm listening for...) and in general just looks freakin' cool. The 2 little diamonds toward the bottom are book-recommended seam patches to strenghen those regions. In the future I think I will omit them--I see no need for them there, so they probably only serve to deaden those spots a little...
Below are just some more pictures of my bracing (you can never look at too many bracing photos. Check out this link for pictures of factory bracing).
Close up of the X-brace lap joint and the "bump" wood patch. Most people use a glues soaked linen patch, but some (including Bourgeois) feel that the wood patch is stronger...
I didn't take too many pictures of the back bracing process. It's similar in terms of arching and carving, except the patterning is different. I followed the book's spacing and used a 'Ladder Bracing' pattern. The rounded strips of wood between the 4 main braces are cross-grain grafts used to strengthen the back seam. By the way, the wooden cam clamps shown in the picture below are essential I've found, and completely worth their nominal cost. Here are the braces being glued in place:
Here are the two plates and their respective bracing, side by side:
Here is a picture of the final braced back after carving:
Once the wood is bent, it will look like hell. Mine looked burnt (but they weren't), some grain lines were really dark, others not so much, and the once smooth wood was now rough and "fibery" looking. Sap from deep within had come to the surface, and there were nasty water marks meandering everywhere. I even split the end when I first started (I stopped that piece and super glued it to stop the split--that worked perfectly--and it will get trimmed off later anyway). Since I'm back-posting these blog entries, I can tell you now that after the sides are assembled and scraped smooth, all of those imperfections disappear and the sides look beautiful.
The above pictures show both sides, after they've dried, just sitting there waiting to be trimmed and fitted. The lighter sap wood on the top edge of the sides will be trimmed away eventually.
The tailblock is less complicated than the headblock, so I went ahead and got it out of the way first. I chose to bevel the sides at a 45-degree angle to help reduce the overall mass, and I slightly beveled the top edge to minimize the block's contact with the soundboard (I figure less blocks of wood glued to the soundboard will yield a more freely vibrating plate).
Here's the soundboard with both blocks glued in place:
Here's a close-up of the headblock:
The headblock actually requires a little more attention than you might think, since it's construction and orientation will be essential to the playability of the instrument when the neck is attached later. I laminated the blank for this block from 4 pieces of mahogany, and then squared it into a solid block. The two holes will later receive barrel bolts (to attach the neck), which will be joined to the body with a mortise and tenon joint (dovetails are evil I'm told).
Once the sides are kerfed, and the kerfing is leveled along the sanding board, the sides are trimmed at their ends and glued to the soundboard following the method described in the book. (Boards are placed along the top to prevent the clamps from crushing the sides, and the opposing side is set in p lace to level the boards).
And the rough final product (note: the sides are over sized and will be trimmed later; the same is true for the overhang of the soundboard).
Next I marked the final contour of the back and planed the sides down to their final height. The height at the headblock is approximately 1 inch lower than at the tailblock, so the back will have a longitudinal arch to it. Once planed, the mahogany kerfing that will join the back plate is glued in place (shown below).