George’s guitar is a Huron made from some beautiful, perfectly quartersawn eastern black walnut and topped with Red Spruce. The walnut came from a tree that was 284 years old when harvested. No figuring, but beautiful straight grain and very musical.
Oct 9: I took a bit off the bottom of the bridge to get the saddle to a good height. I then adjusted each of the slots in the nut to get a good action there. Once I was happy with the overall action, I removed the strings, and I glued my label inside the body. Then it was time for a fresh set of strings, and this guitar is done!
Oct 3: Yesterday, I leveled and dressed the frets. Today, I installed the Gotoh tuning machines, made a nut and saddle, and strung up Eric’s guitar. I will leave the action as it is for several days to allow the guitar to settle in a bit. I have a ToneRite that I will drop on the strings this evening, and I’ll let it shake away for three or four days prior to doing a final setup.
Sep 28: I cut fret wire this morning. The fret slots were cut just shy of the two fingerboard edges to keep nice, finished edges. To fit the fret wire in the slots, a small section of the tang at each end of the frets was removed. I ran a bit of hide glue down the fret slots and pressed in the frets. I’ll dress the frets another day. While the hide glue was heated, I also glued on the bridge.
Sep 27: George’s guitar has a bolt on neck. Many guitars with bolt on necks have the fingerboard extension glued to the top. To me, this defeats the purpose of having a bolt on neck. I have a pair of bolts that run through the body into the neck tenon to attach the neck, and I have a pair of smaller bolts that run through the neck block and top of the guitar into the fingerboard to pull the fingerboard extension down firmly to the top. With this setup, the neck can be removed in just a few minutes. I made a small block with threaded inserts and glued it to the bottom of the fingerboard extension. I used my laminate trimmer to route a matching pocket in the top and into the neck block.
Sep 26: I shot the last coats of lacquer on George’s guitar a couple of weeks ago. The back, sides, and neck all got 16 coats, and the top got 12. The lacquer had cured for just over two weeks, so today, I level sanded the neck and body to 1200 grit and buffed both to a high gloss. I am really happy with how the lacquer turned out. I have a nice deep gloss, and the guitar is ready for frets, a bridge, and shortly thereafter, strings!
Aug 24: My attention has been focused on getting my other build done. This morning, I had some time and made the bridge for George’s guitar. A number of years ago, I purchased a chunk of ebony from a local shop and cut it into blanks I could later use for bridges. I pulled one of those blanks and mounted it on my CNC. I ran a routine to rough out the bridge and run finishing passes using a large ball mill cutter. A separate routing was run to cut the slot for the saddle and holes for the bridge pins.
We decided to carry the inlay theme used on the fingerboard to the bridge, and I inlaid an abbreviated pattern of mother of pearl into each wing of the bridge. The CNC does a good job shaping the bridge, but I needed to final shape and sand by hand. I sanded to 600 grit then finished up by polishing with 0000 steel wool.
Jul 26: I recommended to George that we use curly maple for the heel cap on the neck to match the curly maple binding. George agreed. I glued on a maple heel cap this morning. Once the glue had cured, I sanded the neck to remove the milling marks and do some final shaping around the volute and heel. The last step to finish up the neck was to drill holes in the headstock for some Gotoh 510 tuning machines.
George’s guitar is now largely built. I still need to round over the binding, but I’ll do that just before shooting lacquer. I also need to make an ebony bridge, which I’ll get to sometime over the next few weeks.
Jul 22: I bolted on the neck then used a long sanding block to glue the fretboard bed and top at the neck joint. The two surfaces need to be in good alignment so the fingerboard extension runs true over the joint. Once I was happy with the surfaces, I glued on the face laminate and fingerboard.
Jul 20: I made the laminate for the back of the headstock today. I grabbed a piece of nice crotch walnut and ran it through my thickness sander to get it down to proper thickness. The only inlays going in the back were an abalone representation of Lake Huron, which I had previously cut on my CNC, and some fine purfling, which runs around the perimeter. I used the CNC to cut the pocket for the abalone inlay and purfling. The abalone inlay dropped in easily. The purfling took a bit more work as I had to miter all the corner joints. Once all was in, I wicked in CA to glue everything in place then ran the laminate through my thickness sander to clean up the inlays.
Prior to gluing on the headstock laminates, I cut the headstock profile. I bolted a pattern template to the headstock, mounting it using a couple of the tuner holes. I then used a pattern bit in my router to cut follow the template and cut the headstock profile.
I finished up the day gluing the back laminate to the headstock.
Jul 18: I inlay the headstock laminate and cut it to the proper profile prior to gluing it on the headstock. George sent me a drawing of a clef that has special meaning to him and asked if I would inlay it in the headstock. I worked up the design yesterday and cut out the inlays from abalone and mother of pearl. Today, I routed the pockets for the inlays and purfling in an ebony laminate, glued in the inlays, then level sanded the laminate. The purfling looks complicated once the laminate is on the headstock. But I cut the channel for the purfling using my CNC. The only complicated part is cutting all the miters for the corners.
Jul 15: George sent me some geodesic designs that are common in Romania and asked if I could work them into the fingerboard. I used Rhino3D to create the designs based on George’s images then rendered a fingerboard with the inlays. I sent the rendering to George, and he asked if could tweak the 12th fret inlay a bit. The other inlays needed no modification. George calls his daughter, “Mouse”, and wanted to inlay a small mouse at the base of the fingerboard as a shout out to her.
I pulled a rough piece of ebony that I would be using for the fingerboard. I ran one face over my jointer to get a good flat surface, and I cleaned up the other side with my thickness sander. I then mounted the fingerboard blank to me CNC machine. First step was to use a radius cutter to mill a radius on the fingerboard. Next step was to cut the pockets for the mother of pearl inlays and purfling. I had previously cut the inlays from mother of pearl using the CNC. I installed those in the fingerboard and inlaid some fine white/black/white purfling around the perimeter of the fingerboard, making sure to get nice tight miters on the purfling joints. I set all the inlays in place using CA glue. Once the glue had dried, the CNC cut the fret slots and finally profiled the fingerboard.
I used a sanding block to level the inlays and purfling. The fingerboard turned out very nice.
Jun 28: Got back to George’s guitar today. I marked the locations of the 14th fret and nut on the neck. Once these two locations were laid out, I marked where the face of the headstock would be. I cut the face a bit proud on my bandsaw and used my belt sander to clean up the face. I mounted the neck to a jig and used my router to cut the tenon. I then drilled holes in the tenon for a pair of barrel nuts and mounting bolts. The mortise in the body was cut using my router. With the mortise and tenon cut and neck hardware installed, I mounted the neck for the first time. Given the top of the upper bout where the neck attaches has a slight radius, the neck will need to be hand fitted using a chisel to get a nice tight joint. I’ll do that another day.
Jun 24: Yesterday I glued up some black walnut and curly maple for the neck. Today, I milled the neck on my CNC. I first cut a slot for the truss rod then flipped over the neck blank and mounted it to a spoilboard. I ran a routine on my CNC that uses a half inch end mill to rough out the neck heel, profile, and back of the headstock. A second routine was run that uses a half inch ball mill to do the final milling and put a better finish on the neck. I don’t use the CNC to cut the face of the headstock, headstock profile, and tenon. Rather I will use separate jigs to cut those later.
Jun 21: This week I got the binding on George’s guitar. The first step was to level sand the rims, removing any cupping or undulations caused by bending. This ensures that once the binding is on, the binding will maintain a uniform thickness once leveled with the rims. For the trim around the top, George wants walnut. I cut a couple of strips of walnut and ran them through my thickness sander to get them .08″ square. I pulled some strips of curly maple that I had previously cut for binding, and tossed the binding and top trim in the bender.
I cut the channels for the binding and purfling using my laminate trimmer. I followed up with a file and small sanding block to remove the fuzz left from the trimmer. To make sure the binding and purfling fit snug against the wood, I ran a scraper around the inside corners of the channels then test fit the binding.
I use a jig with a guide bushing on my laminate trimmer to cut the pocket for the tail graft. I installed the tail graft prior to installing the binding. Fine black/white/black purfling runs along each side of the binding. When that purfling gets to the tail graft, it will turn and run alongside the tail graft. I cut miters in the purfling that band each side of the maple tail graft. I dry fit the tail graft and purfling. Once I was happy with the fit, I wicked in some thin CA to lock them in place.
I installed the top binding and purfling before the back. The top is a little tricky to work with as I install the maple binding, walnut top trim, and three runs of black/white/black purfling at the same time. One purfling runs below the binding along the side, and the other two purfling band each side of the walnut top trim. The hard part is getting all these pieces started and located in the correct position. I typically apply glue and work on runs of 7 to 8 inches at a time. I brushed glue in the channels and along each of the pieces to be installed. I hold the pieces in places using strong tape. I worked around one side of the top, gluing, positioning, and taping as I went. Once one side was done, I repeated the process along the other side of the top. After the top binding was on, I wrapped the entire body tightly in twill tape and let it sit overnight. The next day, I installed the binding along the back in a similar fashion.
I used a scraper to level the binding and purfling. There really is no shortcut and the scraper works more quickly than sanding. I used extra care around the neck area as I want the neck and fingerboard extension to fit tightly against the body. I still need to round over the binding, but I will wait to do that and final sand the body until just before I apply the finish.
Jun 13: Goal today was to get the back and top glued to the rims. I like to glue on the back first, but I first needed to carve the braces I glued on yesterday. I carved the braces with a small thumb plane and sanded the braces and the back.
Prior to gluing on the back, I cut small slots in the rims and linings to let the braces through. I then glued on the back and followed up by gluing on the top. With that, the box was closed!
Jun 12: Voiced the top today. As noted below, the braces are a bit on the heavy side when glued to the top. I remove wood with a chisel, pausing periodically to tap the top and listen to how it is opening up. I also measure how much top deflects under a fixed amount of weight. I carve, tap and measure, and repeat until the top is sounding and moving the way I want. Once I had the top voiced, I cleaned up the braces with some sandpaper, signed it, and set it aside to work on the back bracing.
The first step to bracing the back is to glue a cedar reinforcement strip along the joint where the to back panels are joined. Again, I used hot hide glue. I cut braces for the back from mahogany on my CNC. The braces are cut with a 15′ radius along the bottom glue edge. The braces need to pass through the cedar reinforcement strip, so I mark their locations and using a small saw and chisel, remove a small section of the cedar strip to allow room for the braces. I then glued in the braces.
Jun 9: Got the last of the top braces on today.
Jun 7: The other night I mixed up some hide glue and put it in the refrigerator. Today, I heated the glue and started bracing the top. The first step was to join the X braces. Last week I cut the red spruce braces on my CNC. I notched the X braces where the two braces cross then glued them together. The joint of these two braces needs to be nice and tight, and that is what we have. The top will have a radius of 40′ when done. This isn’t much, but it is slightly more than a pure flat top, which provides just a touch of forgiveness with humidity changes. I get the radius by cutting the gluing surfaces of the braces to a 40′ radius then gluing them in with the top sitting in a 40′ radius dish. I glued in the X, tone bars, and finger braces and clamped them using fiberglass go-bars to apply pressure. The upper transverse brace and soundhole reinforcements will get glued in another day.
May 31: I finished up the rosette today by installing the purfling. Once dry, I ran the top through my thickness sander to clean up the rosette and also get the top to final thickness. I run over both sides with the random orbital sander, and the top was ready for bracing.
I cut braces from red spruce on my CNC. The braces are cut with the proper 40 radius along the gluing edge, but otherwise, the braces are oversize. When I voice the top, I carve wood from the braces to lighten them and give them a bit more flex. If all tops were identical, I could use the CNC to cut once size fits all braces. However, tops can have a lot of variability in weight and stiffness, so each top needs to be voiced individually. The CNC gives me braces that are good as a starting point.
May 30: George asked for a walnut rosette with a center ring of abalone. I have a bit of curly black walnut, which I cut into pieces using my CNC. I like orienting the grain radially around the rosette. This requires cutting small sections, which when pieced together provide the desired effect. I routed a pocket in the top for the walnut using my CNC and inlaid the walnut. I had previously cut the abalone for the center ring, so I cut a channel in the walnut and inlaid the abalone. The last step will be to inlay fine black / white / black purfling once the glue holding the shell in place has cured.
May 29: I’ve been splitting time between getting the house and yard summer ready and playing luthier. Progress is being made. Several days ago, I bent the rims. This is done by spritzing one side with water, wrapping in foil, sandwiching between steel slats and a heat blanket. The rim is then placed in the bender and heated to 250 degrees. Once at temperature, I set the waist, wrap the lower part of the rim around the form, then wrap the upper part of the rim around the form. The rim is then cooked for about 30 minutes. Bending is always an anxious time as I have broken the occasional rim while bending. Fortunately, the black walnut behaved wonderfully, and the both rims came out perfect. I then clamped the rims in the mold until I could get the end blocks in.
I use an L shaped neck block that provides a support under the fingerboard extension. The end of the short leg will butt into the upper transverse brace, helping to minimize roll under string tension. I made the block and glued it in. The tail block is simpler. I made one from mahogany and glued it in at the tail.
To provide a good gluing surface for the top and back, I glued in linings around each edge of the rims. I also glued in some reinforcements. The general idea behind these is to help prevent a crack from spreading if the guitar is dropped. I am not convinced these reinforcement strips will stop a crack, but they likely do strengthen the rims a bit, which is a good thing.
May 22: Kick off day today! Years ago, I purchased a perfectly quartersawn board of eastern black walnut, which I resawed and set aside. I pulled a couple of matching flitches and cut out pairs for the back and sides of George’s guitar. I jointed the back plates along the sapwood edge then glued together the book matched plates. The sides are also book matched. I cut out matching pairs and ran them through the thickness sander to thin them enough to bend.
May 23: I ran the joined back through the thickness sander to clean up the glue squeeze out and get the back down to the proper thickness. We are using red spruce for the top of George’s guitar. I pulled a set, jointed the edges, and glued the panels together. I had time later in the evening to run the top through the thickness sander. I left the top a little on the thick side and will dial in the final thickness after I have the rosette in.