Archtop guitar making class starting 1-9-16

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First, before the class started, I prepared a few things.

I got a nice sitka spruce wedge, and jointed the edges before gluing:

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Then, here is the top, all glued up, being clamped with a couple of bags of lead shot holding things down:

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Next, I got the sides sanded to thickness:

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Then, I took one side (the student will bend the other side in class), and wetted it to prepare it for the bender:

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Here is the side in the bender, clamping down the upper bout:

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After bending, I’m getting the side clamped into the mold:

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Lastly, I’m bandsawing the neck blank.

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That’s about it—now I’m ready for the class to start.

OK–Day one, first thing will be to prepare the cutaway side to be bent.  We start by thinning the side up by the cutaway by about .020″.  We will take a piece of veneer, and glue it to the thinned section.

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Here is the side, glued up and clamped:

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Now we trace lines on the top that show where we will route material away, to prepare for carving the top:

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Here, the overhead router is being set up for a cut.  You can see that one cut has been made, and the next cut is being prepared:

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After all the levels have been cut, I have started carving the top, using an angle grinder.  I learned this method from Tom Ribbecke.  After a demo of how to do it, my student, Nick, takes a hand at it.

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Next, Nick uses a small curved sole plane to clean up some areas:

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After some sanding, the top part is getting pretty close.  Next, we start using the drill press to drill out the underside of the top:

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Finally, Nick uses the angle grinder again, to hog away material on the underside of the top:

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End of day 1.

At the start of Day 2, Nick is using a random orbital sander to remove tooling marks from the surface of the underside of the top:

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While he finishes this, I finish shaping the headblock and the end block.  Shown below is the end block:

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After the top looks pretty good, we use the overhead pin router to cut the f-holes:

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After the f-holes are cut, Nick uses some homemade sanding blocks and files to smooth the edges:

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Once the top is ready, Nick uses a compass to mark the profile of the top onto one of the x-braces:

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Here, Nick is using the bandsaw to cut the brace near the line marked above:

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Next, he sands the saw marks from the brace:

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Now, Nick is using a piece of sandpaper to sand the bottom of the brace while holding it in its position on the top to create a good fit:

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Before we end the day, we glue the sides together by gluing and clamping on the end block and headblock.

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End of day 2.

At the start of day 3, the other “X” brace is marked, cut, sanded, and shaped until it fits properly.  Then, Nick begins to cut the notches in the “X” using a thin kerf saw.

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Once the “X” fits properly, the braces are glued to the top using cam clamps

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While the glue is drying on the braces, Nick begins to profile the sides.  First, we remove all the spring clamps that hold the sides against the mold, and insert a set of go-bars to hold the sides firmly against the mold.  Then, Nick uses a hand plane to cut the sides down close to the proper size:

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Next, Nick uses a flat sanding board to bring the sides evenly down to their proper size:

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Here is a photo of the sides–all profiled, ready for kerf:

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We step away from the sides for a while, and get the top braces carved:

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Here is the top, with the braces carved, and ready to glue to the sides.  We’ve measured the thickness of the top, and it is very uniform.  We will mainly need to add a little recurve after the body is glued together:

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Nick has glued on the kerf, and here he is again using a hand plane to plane down the highest parts.  After this, he uses the flat sanding board to get the kerf level with the sides:

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Here, we are gluing on the top:

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End of day 3.

At the start of day 4, Nick brushes a washcoat of shellac onto the underside of the top.  This is commonly done on carved archtops:

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Now it’s time to get the back ready.  It has been pressed to shape in advance, and Nick is scraping uneven edges and glue:

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Here is the back, scraped and ready.

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Nick is cutting the back to within about 3/8″ from the outline of the sides:

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Here is the back, glued and clamped:

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This is starting to look like a guitar….

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Here, Nick is using a flush cut router to trim the overhanging edges:

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Now, Nick sands the top, where some scratches remain after carving.  We want the top edge to be smooth before cutting the binding and purling slots:

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Here, Nick is cutting the slots for the binding and purling;

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Finally, we get the binding and purling glued on:

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End of day 4.

Day 5 begins with Nick scraping back the bindings and purflings, followed by sanding away glue marks.  Today will consist mainly of scraping and sanding:

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Next, he uses a sharp curved scraper, and starts to shape the recurve.

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Now, there’s a lot of sanding- repairing the marks from the scraper, and blending the new recurve shape into the top profile.  After creating the recurve, we could notice a significant difference in the tap tone of the top.

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While Nick has been sanding and scraping, I cut the fret slots into a fingerboard blank, and shaped the fingerboard on the router table.  We then glued a thin layer of maple onto the fingerboard edges- which will be a purfling layer.  Nick is using a thin kerf saw to cut the fret slots into the purling layer.

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Finally, we glue on the bindings- ebony in this case.  Nick is using a special tool to scrape any glue out of the fret slots.

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End of day 5.

As day 6 begins, it’s time to cut the dovetail into the body:

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Here’s a shot of the dovetail:

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Now, moving to the neck, I’m cutting the truss rod slot:

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After the truss rod slot is cut, the neck is put into a jig that will hold the neck at a 15 degree angle, allowing us to cut the proper headstock angle on the jointer:

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We’re about ready to shape the neck, but we need to trim down a little excess material.  Nick is using the bandsaw for this step:

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Next, the neck is clamped into the jig for routing the proper shape onto the neck blank:

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Nick is cutting the proper angle onto the neck, in preparation for cutting the neck dovetail:

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Here is the neck, clamped into the jig we use for cutting dovetails:

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Nick is now using a chisel to trim material from the flat surface around the dovetail:

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After doing a test neck fit, we find that we have to slightly change the neck angle.  Nick is pulling some sandpaper between the body and the shoulder of the neck to accomplish this:

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Once the initial neck fit looks good, we get the neck ready to glue on the fingerboard.  Here, I’m putting epoxy into the slots we cut for the carbon fiber rods.  The tape over the fingerboard is to keep the glue job clean:

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Here, I’m using a homemade jig to sand the radius onto the fingerboard:

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While I’m sanding the fingerboard radius, Nick is doing more sanding of the guitar body.

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Once the epoxy is dry gluing in the carbon fiber rods on the neck, we glue the “ears” onto the headstock:

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Once the headstock is dry, the channel for the fingerboard extension is cut, and the extension is glued on:

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in preparation for putting in the truss rod, Nick cuts a shim of maple veneer, and it is glued to the top of the truss rod:

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Finally, at the end of a long day, we get the fingerboard glued and clamped to the neck:

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End of day 6.

As we begin day 7, we will glue the headstock laminate onto the bare headstock.  First, Nick takes the laminate (a piece of ebony about 1/8″ thick), and sands a 15 degree angle onto the edge that will come in contact with the nut.

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Now, Nick is using a bandsaw to create a slot in the headstock laminate, that will fit around the truss rod:

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Here, Nick is filing the edges of the slot:

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After the headstock laminate is glued and clamped, Nick cleans glue squeeze out from the nut slot:

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Now, Nick starts to cut his inlay.  He has designed a logo, made a couple of copies, and has glued it onto a couple of pieces of mother-of-pearl and abalam.

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While he’s preparing the inlay, I’m getting the headstock ready.  First, screwing on the headstock template into two of the tuning machine locations:

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Next, bandsawing close to the template to get rid of excess material:

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Now, bandsawing excess material from around the fingerboard:

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It’s time to use the router table to trim the excess down to the template:

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After trimming the headstock and the excess around the neck to the fingerboard, here’s what the neck looks like:

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Now, we’re sanding the headstock to its proper thickness on the belt sander:

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Nick can now finish his inlay.  Since he has finished cutting out his logo, he can use a dremel tool to put it into the headstock:

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Here’s his finished inlay–looking pretty good.

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Lastly, before the end of the day, Nick starts to prepare for fitting the neck, by carving a thin “shoulder” (about 1/8″ wide) onto the edges of the fingerboard extension.  This will simplify the job of fitting the overhang to the top of the guitar by only having to fit the shoulder, instead of the entire width of the fingerboard.

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End of day 7.

Day 8 will be mainly devoted to getting the neck fit.  We start by putting the neck onto the body, and marking the profile of the top onto the fingerboard extension with a compass:

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Nick now uses a chisel to carve the fingerboard extension back to the new pencil line:

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Here, Nick uses a chisel to carve down the dovetail to drop the neck into the dovetail slot:

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He also uses a file (rasp) to carve the dovetail:

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After the neck is nearly in position, Nick pulls sandpaper between the body and the fingerboard extension to make an exact fit:

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I’m using the belt sander to remove some material toward the end of the fingerboard extension:

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Here’s what the final fit looks like on the fingerboard extension.  The dovetail fit is also nice and tight:

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We re-measure the neck angle (both side to side and vertically).  Everything is looking good.

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At this point, we start to carve the neck.  Nick is starting out with a microplane, hogging material away:

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After carving some material away, we start to focus on getting an area around the nut, and another around the 9th or 10th fret to fit exactly:

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Nick checks his work with a template:

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End of day 8.

Day 9 will be mainly devoted to carving the neck.  Nick starts out with a microplane, and moves to a coarse rasp, followed by a more fine rasp:

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To keep the neck straight and level, Nick is using a flat board with 80 grit sandpaper on it, to sand the whole length of the neck at once.  This not only sands it level, but it helps find high and low spots:

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Here, Nick is using a file to smooth out the transition from the fingerboard to the headstock:

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As we get ready to work on the heel, it needs to be cut down.  Nick is taking a little material off the heel before we glue on the heel cap and start carving:

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This is our jig to cut the heel to a pre-measured length, for gluing on the heel cap.  We want the heel cap to be glued down exactly at the edge of the binding.

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After gluing on the heel cap, we go over to the belt sander to hog off some material:

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Nick takes a pass at using the belt sander. It’s really easy to make a catastrophic mistake using a tool like this….

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Now, we start to carve the heel.  This is just about as hard as carving the rest of the neck:

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Once the heel is done, Nick puts in his side dots:

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Here’s the neck–a few tooling marks to still sand out, but it looks really good:

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Just before the end of the day, we have time to draw the curve of the top onto the bridge using a compass, bandsawing on the line, and sanding it down…the fit looks pretty good–we’ll get the bridge fit tomorrow:

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End of day 9.

As we start day 10, we continue working on the bridge.  Here, after drilling the holes for the bridge posts, we are using a tap to put the proper thread in the holes:

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Next, we screw the bridge posts into the holes:

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Now, using a Stew-Mac jig, we sand the bottom of the bridge against a piece of sandpaper taped to the top of the guitar:

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To prepare the top of the bridge, we have marked the fingerboard radius (16″ in our case) onto the ebony bridge piece, and sand the radius onto it:

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The compensation is then sanded into the top of the bridge:

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Next, the string slots are filed, using the same files we will use to file the nut:

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We now sand the “wings” onto the ends of the bridge.  This is to reduce weight and to add some styling to the bridge:

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Here is the bridge with its “wings”:

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So much for the creative part of the day.  It’s time to get ready to spray a finish, so,  sanding, sanding, sanding

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Sanding, sanding, sanding

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Sanding, sanding, sanding……

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End of day 10.

Day 11 begins with Nick mixing some medium blonde shellac.  While he’s doing this, i’m mixing some amber shellac.

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Nick is now taping off those areas of the neck that won’t get any finish or color.

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In the meantime, I’m taping off the body:

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After taping off everything necessary, I’m blowing up a balloon into each of the f-holes, to block finish from getting into the body:

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Time to spray.  First, we’re spraying a couple of coats of medium blonde shellac:

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Nick also sprays medium blonde shellac onto the body:

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Now, time for the color.  This is what I call a “natural sunburst”–just a sunburst of amber shellac around the edges of the body and neck–pretty subtle.  This is why the bindings and purflings were taped off:

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Here’s the neck:

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Now, removing all the tape over bindings and purflings:

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After checking the purflings, a little of the color has bled under the tape–this usually happens–so it gets scraped off with an x-acto knife.

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Next, we spray a couple of coats of the medium blonde over everything, and that ends day 11.

Day 12 begins–and we realize that we forgot to make a truss rod cover…Here, Nick has cut the cover out using a small piece of ebony, and is beveling the edges on the disc sander:

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Now, we start spraying clear lacquer (water base KTM-9):

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Nick will spray 5 coats on the sides and back, followed by 5 coats on the sides and top.  We end up spraying double the coats on the sides (and neck), because since the sides are vertical (and the neck has lots of different angles), we spray lighter coats on the sides and neck, and slightly heavier coats on the top and back:

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After spraying, we end our day a little early, and go to a SIMSCAL (Stringed Instrument Makers of Southern California) meeting.  On the agenda was discussing how to pick a good set of sitka spruce by flexing the wood and tapping:

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Also on the agenda was a talk from Chris Herrod from LMI.  Chris discussed the availability of numerous different kinds of woods–very interesting talk.

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End of day 12.

Day 13 is another day of sanding–trying to get the finish flat before we spray more coats:

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More sanding….

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Once the finish is nice and flat, we start putting on a few more coats.  We won’t get them all done tonight, but we get a couple done:

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Here’s the guitar back after one new coat…looking very good:

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End of day 13.

As we begin day 14, we continue spraying coats on the back and sides, followed by coats on the top and sides.  In the meantime, we’re going to work on the tailpiece as we’re waiting for coats to dry.  First, we roughly shape the tailpiece on a block of ebony about 1/4″ thick:

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Next, Nick uses a dremel tool to route away the section inside the white lines in the photo above:

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Here’s the tailpiece all routed out:

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Now we glue our tailpiece “skeleton” into the recessed area.  This piece is made of stainless steel, to easily handle the string tension, and allow us to ground the strings when we add electronics:

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Nick is cutting out the center section of the tailpiece to add some styling to the design:

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As we bring the day to an end, here’s a look at the top with all coats on:

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End of day 14.

As day 15 begins, we are spending the morning at the NAMM show in Anaheim. I ordered the case for Nick’s guitar from Cedar Creek, and the case has been brought to the NAMM show by TKL (the makers of Cedar Creek cases).

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Here are a few pretty interesting electric guitars….

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Anyway, time for some business…at the Martin Guitar booth:

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I wanted to meet my friend Dick Boak.  Dick was the teacher (along with Bill Cumpiano) of the first guitar making class I took–back in 1992.  Dick also was nice enough to endorse my book last year.  I owe him one…

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Finally, after a little more looking around, we stop at the TKL booth to pick up Nick’s case:

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Now-after lunch and a drive back to Torrance, we get back to work: Nick has a lot of sanding to do.  Here, he’s touching up the f-holes:

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While he’s sanding, I shape the pick guard, and glue on the foot-which will be screwed to the fingerboard overhang:

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End of day 15:

As we begin day 16, we still have a lot of sanding to do, to level the finish, and get ready for buffing.  Nick continues to sand the body:

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While he works on the body, I spend some time sanding the neck:

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With the neck sanded out, and ready for buffing, I get ready to sand the fingerboard.  First, I chalk it:

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Now, I use a Stew-Mac sanding board to straighten the board, and re-sand the radius:

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After the board is leveled, Nick pounds in the frets:

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After the frets are in, he files the fret ends.  Leveling and crowning will be done after the neck is glued onto the body:

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In preparation for gluing on the neck, Nick uses a chisel to remove finish where the neck will touch the body:

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Here’s the neck. glued and clamped:

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End of day 16.

As day 17 begins, Nick is working on the tailpiece again, trying to get the final carving done:

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While he’s carving the tailpiece, I’m doing some sanding on the body:

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After some sanding and buffing, it’s starting to look pretty good:

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Here’s the final tailpiece, all sanded and buffed…

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Now, Nick is working on the fret job.  Here, he is marking the tops of each fret, prior to leveling the frets:

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After leveling, Nick is crowning the fret tops with a Stew-Mac diamond fret crowning tool.

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End of day 17.

As day 18 begins, Nick has finished crowning his frets, and now has taped off the fingerboard and is polishing the frets using micro mesh.

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While he’s working on frets, I’m doing some final sanding on the pick guard:

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After sanding the pick guard to about 600 grit, I’m buffing it:

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Next, sanding the bridge–followed by buffing:

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In the meantime, Nick has put the nut into its slot, and is marking it with a half pencil to determine about where the top of the nut will be (actually about 1/32″ above the line):

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Now, Nick is sanding the top of the nut on the disc sander:

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Now, filing to remove the sanding marks:

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Here, Nick has measured out his string spacing on the nut, and is putting shallow string slots in the top of the nut:

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We’re getting ready to put strings on this thing….first the tailpiece gets put on:

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Now, reaming out the tuning machine holes:

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Starting to put on the strings:

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After a little setup work, this guitar is sounding fantastic…

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After the pick guard gets put on, it’s looking pretty fantastic too…(at least that’s my opinion)

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End of day 18.

As day 19 starts, Nick is filing the notch in the pick guard, which will hold the pickup.

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After mounting the pickup onto the pick guard, we drill the hole to hold the output jack using a forester bit.

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Now the hole is tapped so we can thread the output jack into the hole.

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Here is Nick, testing out the pickup for the first time.  The volume and tone controls are mounted on the underside of the pick guard, so nothing but the bridge touches the top.  The guitar is very acoustic (especially for a 15″ guitar), and the electronics sound amazing.

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Now, Nick does some last minute sanding…

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And last minute buffing…

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Now for the official graduation photo:  Really a great job done by Nick.

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This was a great class…a few late nights–but Nick was a great student, and the results were terrific.

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19 days start to finish…

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