Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guitar #002

This is me 2 1/2 years ago at the end of a 2-week workshop at Vermont Instruments. Along with four others, I built a guitar during that time. Standing behind us is luthier George Morris, the proprietor of Vermont Instruments, and just in front of him, with the beard, is my roomate Adam Buchwald.

The three other guys were there to build a guitar; Adam and I were there to learn how to build guitars--as much as you can learn in a concentrated two-week period.

Adam eventually was able to quit his job in Brooklyn and work in a vintage guitar shop, repairing guitars and building his own under the label Circle Strings Guitars. He has since moved to Vermont to work with George, expanding the teaching workshops (which are now three weeks) from three a year to eight or nine a year while continuing to build and sell his own guitars. It's the fulfillment of a dream for him, and I'm excited for him.

He has built more than a dozen guitars since our workshop; I'm just now finishing my first one on my own. It took a lot of time to get the necessary tools and build the necessary jigs, and there were a lot of fits and starts. Also, I can only work when I have time, and this time last year we were getting ready to move our church, so there were weeks when I didn't touch it. The eventual owner, Mike Jensen, has been very patient, even though I told him at the beginning not to be in a hurry because I wasn't going to be in a hurry. You can build it fast, or you can build it right, but you can't do both, and I'd rather he have an instrument he'll enjoy playing for many years.

Here are a few pictures of the process:

This is the back with the center reinforcing strip glued on. I've chiseled spaces for the back braces, which can be seen off to the side, to be glued on.

Below is the back glued onto the sides inside the guitar mold. You can see the back reinforcing strip and the back braces.

Here is the top ready to be glued on. You can see the top braces, which have to be strong enough to withstand the 150 lbs. of pull from the strings yet light enough to allow the top to vibrate and resonate.

The guitar is out of the mold and the binding has been glued on. Those are one-inch pieces of abalone shell which I've arranged around the guitar top to be glued in. Each piece had to be mitered with a file so that it would fit neatly with its neighbor, and then individually glued with epoxy. As you might imagine this took several hours, but it really dresses the guitar up.

Hammering the frets into the fretboard. You can see the decorative abalone shell position markers. After all the frets were installed the ends were cut off. Later I'll file the ends, level and polish each fret.

This is where I am right now. The neck has been attached and the body has been sealed with three very thin coats of epoxy. I'll level this coat with very fine sandpaper, and next weekend I'll head to the spray booth to apply the acrylic urethane finish. The neck and the bridge position have been masked off to protect them from the finish. The shiny swirling marks are a type of figure in the grain of the spruce called "bearclaw." In addition to being (in many people's opinion) beautiful, bearclaw figure is also stiffer than regular straight grain, which adds to the tone of the guitar. You can also see the abalone shell trim around the edge of the guitar as well as around the soundhole.

After letting the finish cure for two weeks, I'll sand and polish it to a high gloss, then take off the masking tape and glue the bridge on. After the tuners, nut and saddle are installed, I'll string it up, make the final setup adjustments, and it'll be ready to deliver to it's owner.

I'll post some more pictures so you can see what it looks like when it's finished.

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