Build Journal

Final Assembly

The guitar is now polished to a high gloss are ready to have the hardware installed.

Before installing the tuning machines I need to remove the oversprayed lacquer from the holes that were drilled into the peghead or the machines will not turn smoothly.  This is accomplished with a rattail file and must be done very carefully to avoid chipping the lacquer in the string slots. Read more

Sanding and Buffing the Lacquer

After the lacquer cures for a few weeks it can be sanded perfectly level and buffed to a high gloss.  During those weeks, almost all of the solvents evaporate and the remaining solids get dry and hard.  Instrument grade lacquer isn’t the same as other lacquers, it contains certain chemicals that help it stay a bit more flexible, thus reducing the dampening effect that the coating of lacquer might otherwise have on the vibration of the wood. Read more

Constructing the Pyramid Bridge

While I wait a few weeks for the lacquer to dry I can build the bridge for the guitar.  Keeping true to another original design element, this guitar will have a “pyramid bridge.”  The pyramid bridge design was more common in the early 20th century, though there are certainly guitars being made today with them, including many of my own.  The strings on this guitar will be anchored to a metal tailpiece, so there will be no need for bridge pin holes in this bridge. Read more

Applying the Lacquer finish

I use nitrocellulose lacquer as the finish for most of the instruments I build.  Each of the many acceptable types of instrument finishes has its strengths and weaknesses.  I have worked with  lacquer for many years and have a pretty good understanding of it.  I have developed an approach to working with it that gives me consistent results.  It takes 4 to 6 weeks for me to get the finish on a guitar. Read more

Shaping the Neck

It is now time to shape the neck.  I use nothing but hand tools to complete this process; that is how I have always done it.  I have gotten a lot faster over the years and have developed a pretty good feel for the process without having to make frequent stops to make measurements, but I am always mindful of the fact that a mistake in this process could ruin all of my work up to this point.  One misplaced pull with the spokeshave could ruin the neck and force me to rework a great deal of the guitar, so I stay focused while I am shaping the neck and try not to rush. Read more

Neck (Pt. 5)

Now I am ready to install the frets.  In cross-section, fret wire is T-shaped.  The vertical part of the T has nubs sticking out from it and these serve to hold the fret wire firmly in the slot that was sawn into the fretboard.  I get fretwire by the pound, which is enough for 15 or 20 guitars.  It comes in straight, 2 foot lengths.  After cleaning it, I roll a length through a press to induce a curve which has a tighter radius than the curve on the fretboard.  This makes the installation a bit easier. Read more

Neck (Pt. 4)

The next part of the construction process is the fretboard.  This guitar is being built with a 26.5″ scale length.  The fret slots are very accurately sawn into the fretboard according to the scale length being used.  Placement of the fret slots is determined by something I have seen referred to as the “rule of 18,” but it would be more accurate to call it the “rule of 17.835.”  Here is how it works: to determine the distance of the first fret from the nut end of the fretboard, divide the scale length by 17.835.  With this scale, that comes out to 1.49″, so that is where the first fret slot should be sawn.  To determine the distance from the first fret to the second, you subtract 1.49″ from the original 26.5″ scale, then divide the remaining number by 17.835.  The quotient this time is a little less than 1.49″ and it tells me where the second slot should be placed.  This process of subtraction and division continues as you move up the fretboard until all of the slots are cut.  Read more

Neck (Pt. 3)

Pegheads and fretboards are the two most common spots on a guitar where decorative inlays can be found.  Adding some ornamentation in these areas can really dress up the guitar and, for my instruments, helps personalize it.  I always encourage my customers to tell me what they would like to have in these places.  Some customers don’t want anything at all, preferring the look of a simple, unadorned peghead and fretboard.  Some customers want something, but they aren’t quite sure what, so they ask me for suggestions.  For this guitar, my customer knew exactly what he wanted on the peghead and fretboard.  Read more

Neck (Pt. 2)

After the mortise and tennon joint is complete it is time to shape the heel of the neck (that’s the part of the neck that transitions to the body of the instrument).  With a lot of my guitars I keep the heel a uniform width from the fretboard down to the back of the guitar, but this heel is going to be tapered like it is on Stellas.  The initial shaping of the heel is done using chisels and rasps.  I generally mark one or two reference lines before getting started, but after that, I just rely on my eyes and experience with shaping almost 300 heels to tell me what to carve away. Read more

Neck (Pt. 1)

Now that the body is done, my attention turns to the neck.

There are a lot of woods that make good guitar necks, including maple, rosewood, walnut and many others, but for acoustic guitars, mahogany seems to be the standard choice.  It is strong, light weight and very stable.   Weight is a concern because players don’t want their acoustic guitars to be “neck heavy,” and the stability is a concern because nobody would want to worry about their guitar’s neck distorting every time there was a change in temperature or humidity.  The majority of a guitar’s tone is determined by the body, but the neck adds something, too.  Read more