Every luthier should be able to
play the guitar in order to be able to evaluate their own work. A
year of formal instruction in sight reading and performance
should suffice as preparation for the uninitiated, but they may
still need the feedback and opinions of performers who play their
instruments to perfect minute details which are too subtle for a
novice player to discernibly notice. This instrument has been
designed through my personal concept of an ideal guitar and was
built because it did not already exist. This concept had three
decades of playing guitars to mature before I decided to invent
the instrument I wanted to play.
If this is to be your first building of this instrument, it is highly recommended that you do not change any of the dimensions. You will find challenge enough in building it as presented. If any process is new to you, then first try it on a piece of scrap similar in type and orientation. Use care when clamping, not to scratch or dent the wood yet still hold it secure enough that it will not shift when being worked. Check every tool for razor sharpness and perfect alignment. (Milling machines should be checked and adjusted to ensure that there is no wobble or other problem such as the head being just slightly from square. This is standard procedure for a milling machine operator and can be found in books on the subject.) A dial gauge and magnetic base are used extensively for setting up the actual cuts. A means of accurately measuring angles will also be needed. A variety of bits will be employed in the machining, and a milling machine vise on a swivel base may make many of the setups much easier and quicker.
Instructors are highly encouraged to have all students build their first instruments as close as possible to all of the default (given) dimensions and default materials (including colors) to enable a fair comparative grading. Changes in design which are made by the instructor should apply to all students and their instruments. This will ease the burden on both student and professor alike and allow students to learn by observing each others craftsmanship, and permitting educators to evaluate student skills in an objective manner from class to class. Prerequisites may include; basic math skills through trigonometry, basic wood working skills, the ability to setup and use a milling machine. Exceptional instructional institutions will include education in these subjects in the course and may require the student luthier to also take other study general studies in physics, music, grammar, computers, business and history as they apply to being a luthier. The cost of materials will vary with their quality, but should be expected to be around $700 if built to specifications. (Cost of materials in 1994 for the first instrument were $650.)
An advanced class may be held where a second, customized instrument is built. The student then may be graded on their sense of design and ability to functionally compute and modify the dimensions and materials of the plan. Instruments should always be judged first by their playability, then their sound, and only if these are both within tolerance then judged upon the subjective and superficial aspects such as choice of colors when grading students. Students should be encouraged to learn basic electronics and a computer programming language such as BASIC, to enable them to progress in their acquisition of knowledge after they have completed their course.
Information should be gathered from the customer for custom orders. You will need to know if they have a srtong preference for an certain length of string, and width of the nut (each, only in the case of seasoned players, as this will cause much extra work in designing the new parts.) And have them select amoung available options in woods and inlays etc. that you have at your disposal.
A sample of a custom instrument (I call it the Blond model) is also included here. This sample custom instrument is a suggested alternative designed in lighter colors and with a slightly smaller dimensions. This will provide luthiers (you) with the ability to quickly offer a smaller sized instrument without having to do all the calculations in designing it.
It is recommended that the plans not be altered by the builder until after experiencing the construction of an instrument built to the default specifications.
Extensive use of a vertical milling machine is responsible for many dimensions being measured and cut with an accuracy of aprox. 1/1000th of an inch (0.001). Without this type of machine, it may be difficult to produce this instrument as planned here, as it is also used to make a tool to cut the fret slots. Accurate and safe use of machinery is the subject of a basic metal machining class and should be considered as a prerequisite to this project, just as this instrument should obviously not be part of any introductory course in wood working. Builder and student are assumed to have knowledge of and access to basic woodworking, metal machining, and electronic tools (soldering) as these will be needed to complete an instrument.
Our basic process will consist of cutting parts to size, fitting them together, finishing the instrument, and then setting the instrument up.
Our basic wood parts will consist of a body into which the neck will be glued, followed by the top and then the bridge. Nine (9) knobs will complete our list of wood parts and should be made concurrently with the other parts so that the entire project may be finished (coated) at one time.
It may be necessary to laminate some of your wood pieces to obtain large enough (composite) pieces before cutting to size. Pre-machine (cut) these smaller pieces before gluing to form the larger pieces. Pay attention to the matching of grain patterns and the squareness of your cuts, then use a glue recommended for that type of wood. All raw wood is assumed to have been purchased just a bit over sized and then machined (cut, sanded,) to the sizes indicated. It is wise to begin with stock which has been squared and sized as you may later wish to rely on measurements taken directly from these surfaces, so this can be extremely important.
Layout your cuts by marking (lightly drag) with a white, very sharp (sharp in the sense of creating lines a hundreth of an inch wide, and not in the sense of digging into the wood) pencil (I prefer Berol Prismacolor pencils.) directly on the stock. You will need to maintain reference points, edges, and surfaces to measure from so try to make all your measurements from the same starting point. As your stock should be square and accurately machined to the initial dimensions, you may select the face of the fingerboard as a plane to measure from. The sides of the stock should also be accurate and may also be used to measure from. Marking your cuts will keep you from making a gross error, but you should rely upon measurements for setting up the actual cut and use the marks as a visual confirmation the the cut is about to be made in the correct place.
Use ethyl cyanoacrylic glue (super glue but in a commercial grade, and with an accelerator), unless otherwise indicated or recommended by another source. Sealing the woods with this is recomended, and may also be mixed with the sawdust and used as a filler (fill with the sawdust first, THEN add a thin grade of the glue, followed by spray accelerator, sand, and repeat until filled.) Cleaning and sealing the top repeatedly as you sand it may prevent the grit and dust from discoloring the top by falling into the pores. A drop of acetone will thin the (thin) glue to a wash. Make sure you keep your face away and behind goggles and watch out for sudden releases of vapors when it polimerizes, or you spray the accelerator. Three words... ventilation, ventilation, ventilation. And just in case you glue your eye shut, remember not to panic and just KNOW that it may be rinsed away in an hour or so as your natural oils will loosen its grip at that point, and do not try forcing)