The Beginning Luthier

by Dennis Weaver

This webpage focuses on classical guitars because that is what I make, but the general information applies to other stringed instruments.

Instruction-

You Must Learn Under Someone!
There are books you can buy, and of course there is a lot of information on the internet. Below are images of the books which I learned from.-



I started with Art Overholtzer's book "Classic Guitar Making." It was encouraging as he said things like "Can't never did anything," and "How are you going to make a good guitar if you can't make a good workboard?" Art did some strange things, and I followed, like soaking the rosewood (outside!) in acetone.



Roy Courtnall's book "Making Master Guitars" and the old "Luthier Mercantile's Catalog" opened up the world to me of how various bigtime luthiers build their guitars. I tried several ways of construction but favor the side molds style of workboard.



Jose Oribe's book "The Fine Guitar" stands alone and really is a must read although out of print. No Compromise. If you want to build the best guitar you can you will use ALL hot hide glue, use aged wood, use a proper finish, etc.... This book was the reason I chose to buy some wood in advance and to work at using hot hide glue as much as I could.



I bought Ron Fernandez's "Benito Huipe" video in the 90s on VHS, but now it is available in extended length and at a very reasonable price on DVD. I learned a few things and it inspired me! Here is someone who does not have a Norm Abram set of power tools and he is building guitars, even using a knife!

The Guild of American Luthier's magazine and books are written like the old Luthier's Mercantile Handbook/Catalog I had since the 90s. Same sort of style to the articles.


Visit the GAL website


Fantastic articles written by luthiers sharing their knowledge and experience.


I Joined!


I would recommend buying these two back issues of American Lutherie magazine from the GAL. (Issues 92 and 99)
The Eugene Clark and David Freeman articles give insight into a guitar's basic layout.


I have other guitar making books such as- "Classic Guitar Construction" by Irving Sloane, "Guitar Making Tradition and Technology" by Cumpiano and Natelson, "A Guitar Maker's Manual" by Jim Williams, "The Guitar Maker's Workshop" by Rik Middleton, and "The Art and Craft of Making Classical Guitars" by Manuel Rodriquez, "Build a Classical Guitar" DVD by Robert O'Brien, "Classical Guitar Making" by John S. Bogdanovich.



My First Guitar-




Need some five dollar jazz guitar chords?





My Second and First guitars, both rebuilt


Suppliers-

There are luthier suppliers to order from. I like to shop around. Some of the prices are way too high for me! Some offer good services such as thickness sanding and fret slotting. Woodworking tool companies are also good for buying saws, files, cabinet scrapers, etc...

Here are companies I have bought from in alphabetical order- B.C. Tonewood (in Canada), Ebay sellers, Euphonon, Luthier Mercantile (LMI), Martin 1833 Shop, Madinter (in Spain), Roberts' Hardwoods (local), Stewart MacDonald Guitar Shop Supply, Vikwood, and woodworking tool companies.

Basic Tools-


The Workboard



My first guitar was being totally rebuilt (1990s) on a open workboard.



I am outside the Woodworking cabinet shop which was right nearby my apartment.



One side mold and the workboard I used for my fifth guitar.



My current side molds and workboard.
The workboard is cut out so if you were to dome or arch the soundboard it can belly downward.
Add a block when building to add depth control. I also leave the soundboard thick at this stage.
The top plywood on the neck extension is nailed, not glued, so you can change the angle or have no angle.


This is my 7th guitar being made.



Side molds are made by making one layer of plywood as the template. You then screw pieces to it and use a flush trim pattern bit in the router to make several layers to be stacked up and glued together. I just use small trim nails to hold each as I go when gluing them.



A binding workboard with weather stripping to protect the guitar.
I use fat rubber bands bought from Staples store.


A humidity gauge is extremely necessary to have.


Router(s)




My old routers. I now also own a Bosch Colt laminate trimmer router. You need a powerhouse router to make your mold sides. It is all you really need, but a smaller laminate router is easier to trim the guitar top and backs and do the binding rebates.


Bending Iron



I bought a thick walled aluminum pipe from LMI and got a barbeque starter from Sears and I clamp it in a pipe vise I got from the flea market. That is what I use to bend sides and binding strips. I soak the wood for a short time prior to bending and even spritz it when bending with a plant sprayer bottle. Why? The water just turns to steam under the heat and the moisture I believe helps and stops burn marks on the wood from the hot pipe.



Yea, She gets hot!



Saws and Chisels




A Japanese pull saw (a Gyokucho Razorsaw S-610 to be exact) and a Zona saw




I table sawed the braces somewhat. That gets dangerous!
Then I divided it up more using the Japanese pull saw.




You don't need a whole set of chisels for guitar making. You only need a few of the smaller sizes. I would just buy a set and use the others for other house projects. Here are inexpensive chisels which are a "Marples" knockoff design. They are Neiko, and are Chrome Vanadium (say like "stadium.")



Neck Tools




My Grandpop's old rasp which I used to shape a half dozen guitar necks with, and my new Shinto saw rasp which I tried on the last guitar and seemed to like it.



This is a classical guitar tuner drill jig.



A cheaper alternative is this dowel jig from Harbor Freight Tools.
Use the 3/8" hole and you will need to widen it slightly with some sandpaper wrapped around a dowel.



A fret rule like this Ibex one gives fret positions for various scale lengths as well as bridge compensation placement and nut and saddle layouts.



A fret file is used to file down a fret lower or recrown frets you needed to level with a mill file ( also called a bastard file). Actually I would only use a mill file or sanding block when many frets needed lowering. I like to get the fretboard exactly the way I want it and get the frets seated good and do the littlest as possible messing with them afterward. My last guitar I had to only file one fret! Other files to buy would be a needle file set which specifically has a round file. This is used for the nut slots. Sears Craftsman makes a nice set of these little needle files.



Gluing




Hide glue being heated in a "double boiler" to 145 degrees. This is after the whole "let it gel in a cup" stage.





Here is my new Hold Heet 1 pint glue pot and some Miro Moose cam clamps I bought from thebestthings.com.
I use a can goods can to heat the glue in and use a C clamp to hold it off the bottom of the pot containing water to control the heat further and ease clean up.


You need to build a guitar in low humidity. Winter would be best. This page is to just give someone an idea of starting out tools. There are some other basic tools needed such as a circle cutting fly cutter (find a friend with a drill press or use a brace drill, but a drill press will do way better), a cabinet scraper, sanding paper, etc... but I will just highlight one more tool to buy-


Dust and Finishing Masks-


Always wear a dust mask when sawing or sanding. Always wear a vapor style mask (3M) for finishing, and do that outside!


Conclusions-

Don't buy the very best materials for your first few guitars. Prepare to fail. Learn and enjoy. It is better to play guitar good than to make a good guitar. Thank God.


Some Pictures-



If you use rubber bands to glue your bindings on then do not have the screws or dowels out this far. It should be close to the guitar body to hold the sides of the binding tight.



The fingerboard being glued onto Guitar Number One

It was an exact Torres bracing pattern but I added a bridge bar brace. I later chiseled that off but probably should have left it as cedar needs extra bracing to hold up more for chord playing.

Compliments-

It is good to be encouraged!

I took my first handmade guitar to my teacher's music store for the teachers to try out. A teacher said, "How come this guitar plays and sounds better than the ones they are selling in the music stores?"

My second guitar a person who I took my guitars for them to try out said, "It is perfectly in tune all over the neck," after he played a harmonic chime type of musical piece.

A person said of my sixth guitar, "Don't ever sell it because if you do let me know."


My old guitar teacher Sid Jirak and my fifth guitar which didn't really sound too good. The Cocobolo dust almost killed me! Serious welt level rashes on my arms, chest, stomach, and in my lungs!



Sid fooling around for the camera shot with Guitar Number Five which had my home made rosette in it.



dennisleeweaver@verizon.net