Tuesday, November 9, 2010


This weekend was spent working on necks--guitar necks, of course.  I'm in the carving stage--taking a rectangular piece of mahogany and turning it into something that feels natural cradled in the left hand.  This is one of the really fun parts of building a guitar, the part that makes you feel more like an artist than a builder.  It's sculpting to a certain degree.  Factories can use CNC (computer-numerically-controlled) routers to carve multiple necks at a time that are exactly the same, with tolerances that measure in the hundredths of inches, but even if I could afford such a unit for a small shop--and they cost $2-3k--I wouldn't want to miss this part.

It's part science, and I use math and geometry to guide the removal of material.  Here's a link to how I do it.  Last night I finished shaping Quigley's neck before moving on to Austins, but was struck by how in this process of creating the perfect neck, you need precision instruments.  I have a ruler that measures down to 1/64ths of an inch, and a caliper that measure in the thousandths of inches, and I use them to get close to perfection.  

But to achieve perfection, I have to use the most precise instrument of all--my finger.  There's a certain point when everything looks good to the naked eye, and this is the point that rulers and calipers can take you.  But players don't talk about guitar necks that look good, they talk about necks that feel good.  You can take a good-looking neck and run your finger up and down it, and you'll feel things you can't see.  

A slight bump.  
A minute unevenness.  
A little irregularity.  
Maybe just a place on one side of the neck that feels different than the same place on the opposite side. 

Small things that take little to remove but make a huge difference in playability, because a neck that feels good relaxes the player, and tension is the enemy of effortless playing.

It may seem that music is about sound, but only superficially; music is about feel, on many different levels.

Near the end of his life, Antonio Torres, considered the father of the modern classical guitar, was asked by his friend Juan Martinez Sirvento share his secret. He wrote in response:". . . my secret is one you have witnessed many times, and one that I can't leave to posterity, because it must with my body go to the grave, for it consists of the tactile senses in my finger pads, in my thumb and index finger that tell the intelligent builder if the top is or is not well made, and how it should be treated to obtain the best tone from the instrument." 

The most sensitive measuring device is not made by humans, but by God.

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