Jon’s commission is a Huron made from some superbly quilted sapele and topped with old growth Red Spruce. The scale will be 25.4 with a 1.75 nut.
Sep 20: A bit over a week ago, I shot the last coat of lacquer on Jon’s guitar. The top ended up with 12 coats, the neck 16, and the back and sides 18 coats. On Monday, I level sanded everything to 1200 grit in preparation for buffing. Then it was off to the buffer. I always love seeing that piano shine appear under the buffing wheels. It takes a little bit of work to coax it out, but once there, it is just like candy!
Today, I put the hide glue in the glue pot, then I prepped the frets. I cut each fret to length, nipped the ends of the tangs, then used a file to ensure the underside of the fret end was dead flat so it would lay over the edge of the fingerboard. This is required as the fret slots do not run through the edge of the fingerboard. To install the frets, I run a light bead of hide glue down the fret slot and press in the fret. I installed all the frets and will wait another day to level and dress them.
While the hide glue was hot, I removed the bridge mask, cleaned any adhesive residue using a razor blade as a scraper, and glued and clamped the bridge.
Sep 2: Getting close to lacquer time. As my other build will be finished within a few days, I needed to get everything buttoned up with Jon’s Huron. The only two items left were rounding over the binding and installing side position markers. I got both of these done today and swabbed the guitar with mineral spirits to check one last time for left over glue and sanding scratches. With that, the guitar is ready for pore fill and lacquer.
Aug 4: The last thing to button up on the neck was to install a heel cap. For Jon’s guitar, we used a bound heel cap. I made the cap from remnants of the back with ebony binding. I glued on the cap with epoxy. Once the epoxy had cured, the whole neck needed some final shaping with a file and sanding block. The CNC does a pretty good job, but I sanded out the milling marks as well as blended the edges of the neck with the fingerboard and head plates.
I also made the bridge today. The CNC did most of the hard work. I sanded to 400g then buffed with 0000 steel wool.
At the end of the day, the guitar was largely built. I still need to round over the binding and sand the whole guitar to 220G. But the building is done.
Aug 3: I’ve been out of pocket for about a month due to travel and other issues, so the shop was shuttered. This week, I finally had some time to get work on Jon’s guitar. Jon had a few ideas for the headstock inlays, and after a few emails, we firmed up what he wanted. I cut the inlays from abalone, pulled a piece of ebony from the stash, ran it through the thickness sander to clean it up, then mounted it on the CNC and cut the inlay pockets and profile. I dropped in the inlays, wicked in some CA, then set it aside and repeated the process for the ebony back plate. The inlay on the back is a representation of Lake Huron, which is the lake after which I named this model.
With the laminates made, I located them on the headstock and marked the position. I have a large pattern that I bolted to the headstock. A pass with the router and pattern bit, and the headstock profile was done. The volute on the back has small sweep to it, and I needed to prebend the back laminate prior to gluing. I heated up my pipe bender, and worked the volute area until it matched the curve in the headstock. I then glued the back laminate to the headstock. After the glue had cured, I glued on the face laminate.
I attached the neck to the body, and positioned the fingerboard so the tail just kissed the sound hole opening. After aligning it to the neck, I drilled a pair of small holes for some pins. The small pins keep the fingerboard from sliding out of position when gluing and clamping. I applied some long cure epoxy, pinned the fingerboard, then clamped it using a large rubber band.
Jun 18: Time for a fingerboard. Jon and I traded a few emails several months ago discussing inlay options for the fingerboard. I largely had the designs done, but I needed to spend some time setting up the programming to cut the inlays and mill the fingerboard. I cut the inlays on my CNC from paua abalone. My ebony boards are pretty rough. I pulled one from the stash and ran it through my thickness sander to clean it up and get it down to a bit over .25 thick. I then mounted the ebony to my CNC.
First step was to mill a 16″ radius on the surface. We are running a thin purfling of abalone around the perimeter. I cut a channel for the purfling and inlaid pieces of abalone. The fret slots pass through the abalone purfling, so I needed to level the purfling prior to cutting the fret slots. I cut the profile of the fingerboard and used a sanding block to level the purfling. I then ran a program to cut the fingerboard inlay pockets and fret slots. I dropped in the inlays, wicked in CA, and leveled the entire fingerboard with 150 grit sandpaper and worked through 400 grit to bring out the shine in inlays. With that, the fingerboard is done.
Jun 15: The other day, I mounted the neck to my mortise and tenon jig and cut the tenon on the neck and mortise in the body. Today, I installed the hardware to bolt the neck to the body and put the neck on the body for the first time. Because the upper bout has a radius and the neck shoulders are flat, the neck initially fits with a noticeable gap. To close the gap, I worked the shoulders of the neck with a chisel then finished up by holding the neck in place and flossing the shoulders with 150g sandpaper. All that was left was a quick check to make sure the neck was centered.
Jun 10: This afternoon I milled the neck for Jon’s guitar. First up was to mill the truss rod slot. I clamped the neck in my vise and ran a routine on the CNC to cut a slot. Once the slot was cut, I flipped over the neck and mounted it to a spoil board that was clamped to my CNC table. The neck was basically milled in two operations. The first used a half inch end mill to rough out the neck. I then changed to a half inch ball mill, which cleaned up the neck. The neck will still need a bit of sanding, but the ball leaves the neck very close. I do have to cut the tenon on the heel and use the bandsaw to cut the face of the headstock. Later, I will cut the headstock profile using my router and a template.
Jun 7: Years ago, I purchased some beautiful quartersawn 4/4 mahogany from a gentleman who had purchased it years ago to build a boat. The mahogany is my go to wood for necks. Today, I pulled one of the mahogany boards and cut out pieces to make a few necks. For Jon’s neck, we are using three wide pieces of mahogany separated by thin black laminates. Though thin, I want the black laminates to fan out near the heel cap. To achieve this, the center mahogany laminate needs to be a very specific thickness. I ran the center mahogany lamination through the thickness sander to get it to the targeted thickness, and I then laminated the pieces together with titebond.
Jun 3: The binding and purfling were just a touch proud of the guitar body. I used a scraper to take the binding and purfling down level to the body. This is a lot of work and takes a couple of hours, but nice to see the bright lines of the purfling exposed as the purfling is leveled. Once leveled, I sanded the entire body with 150g and 220g sandpaper. The body is now largely done except for cutting the mortise for the neck and rounding over the binding. I’ll do both of these at a later date.
Jun 2: Started the morning by routing the channels on the body for the binding and purfling. I first cut the channel for the binding and purfling that runs just below it along the rim. After, I cut the ledge for the purfling that runs next to the binding on the top and back.
To help ensure the binding fit with minimal gaps, I used a scraper to clean out the inside corner of each of the channels. A file and small sanding block were used to clean up any sections with loose wood fibers lifted up by the cutter. I then test fit the binding.
Prior to installing the binding, I like to inlay the heel graft. I marked the location on the rims, and clamped my routing jig to the bottom of the lower bout. A few passes with the laminate trimmer, and the pocket for the tail graft was cut. The fine black/white/black purfling along the rims runs between the binding and the top side of the rim to the tail graft then down between the tail graft and the rim and back between the binding and back side of the rim. The joints in the purfling are mitered using a chisel. When inlaying the tail graft, I precut the miter in the purfling that bands the ebony wedge. Later, when I install the binding and rim purfling, I cut a matching miter.
Once the tail graft inlay was in, I could install the binding. I first glued on the binding and purfling that run around the top edge of the rims. These are the harder ones to put in as all binding and purfling have to go on at the same time. For Jon’s guitar, I installed ebony binding, three runs of fine black/white/black purfling, and abalone shell purfling for the top. The most difficult part is getting all the pieces started. I began at the tail graft, brushing on glue, positioning binding and purfling, and taping to hold in place. I slowly worked my way around one side of the body. Then went back to the tail and worked up the other side. Once everything was in place, I wrapped the body very tightly in twill tape to snug binding and purfling in tight to the body. Once wrapped, the guitar looked like a mummy! I gave the glue a couple of hours to cure, the removed the twill tape and repeated the binding process on the back. I then rewapped the body in twill tape. Now I’ll wait for a day or so before removing the twill tape and leveling the binding.
May 31: Today, I level sanded the rims of the body. Despite the rims being sanded prior to bending, the steam and heat from bending cause some undulation along the rims. These high and low spots need to be removed prior to installing the binding. Otherwise, when they are removed later, the bindings will have narrow areas.
I also bent some ebony for the bindings. I first thicknessed the bindings to a little over .08″ then taped them tightly together. A spritz of water then into the bender. Ebony can be tricky to bend, and I have broken too many ebony strips while bending. Fortunately, this time, however, the ebony bent beautifully.
May 30: Closed the box today…yay! This morning I used my small thumb plane to shape the back braces. This process goes much quicker than voicing the top. After shaping the braces, I cleaned up the back with 150 adn 220g sandpaper. To fit the back to the rims, I let the braces through the linings and rim by marking the brace locations on the rims and opening up a slot with my laminate trimmer and a file. Once I was happy with the fit, I put the body in my go bar deck, ran a bead of glue around the linings, and seated the back on the rims. I checked to make sure all the braces were sitting in the notches along the rim, then used bars to clamp the back to the rims. I let the glue cure a bit then removed the bars and cleaned up any glue that squeezed out to the inside. I cut off the portion of the back overhanging the rims using my laminate trimmer.
The top had already been fitted to the rims, so I flipped over the body and made sure it still fit nicely into the slots. Then it was back to the go bar deck to glue on the top. Once the glue had cured, I removed the body from the mold and used the laminate trimmer to remove the spruce overhanging the rims. We now have a guitar body! The hope this coming week is to get the ebony bindings on.
May 28: Pulled out my nice Japanese hand chisels this afternoon and carved the bracing to voice the top. I tap the top, carve wood from the bracing, tap again, measure the deflection of the top, then repeat until the top responds the way I want. Once I finished carving the bracing, I cleaned them up using 150 and 220 grit sandpaper. The top is now ready to be glued to the rims. However, I want to carve the back braces and glue on the back prior to gluing on the top.
May 27: Time for bracing. Yesterday, I heated up some hide glue and glued most of the top bracing to the red spruce top. I want the upper transverse brace to butt in tightly to the neck block. Today, prior to gluing it on, I located it on the rims, and using my router and a file, opened up a small area on the rims at each end brace so the brace ends could pass through the rims. The top was then fit to the rims, again using my small router and file to let the X brace ends through the rims. Once the top was fit to the rims, I reached through the soundhole and grabbed the upper transverse brace. I marked its location and glued it on with hot hide glue. I could then finish the sound hole bracing and add a couple of finger braces above the upper transverse brace. After the glue had cured, I removed the clamping bars from the top bracing and set the top aside. I’ll carve the braces and voice the top another day.
The back is braced by first gluing down a cedar reinforcement strip where the two halves are joined. The mahogany back braces need to pass through the cedar reinforcement. I let them through using a small saw and chisel to remove a section of the reinforcement. As with all joints, tight is good. The back braces are glued on with hot hide glue and clamped using bars. The back braces will later be shaped with a chisel and small thumb plane.
May 25: For larger guitars, I glue in reinforcement strips along the rims. Personally, I don’t think these small strips will do much to keep the rims from splitting or cracking if the guitar is dropped. But, I do believe they stiffen the rims slightly, which is a good thing. We want as much energy transferred to the top as possible, not wasted on the rims vibrating. Today I made these reinforcement strips and glued them in. The strips are made from mahogany. I cut strips on the bandsaw then cleaned them up by running them through my thickness sander. To dress them up a bit, I used a small thumb plane to put a camfer along each edge. I located the reinforcements so they would line up approximately where the back bracing will be and glued them in.
Today, I also made red spruce braces for the top and mahogany braces for the back. I cut these on my CNC. They are milled oversize. After they are glued on, I use a chisel and small thumb plane to carefully shape them while voicing the top and back.
May 24: Glued in the kerfed linings on back edge of the rims yesterday. I build the back with a 15′ radius, and I need the rims and lining to match that radius. To dial in the rims, I use a 15′ radius sanding bar and sand the radius into the back face of the linings, tail, and neck blocks. This is a little tricker than it sounds. Think of a large dish with a 15′ radius sitting on the back edge of the rims. The rims need to touch the dish at every point along the rims. I have a radius gauge I use to check the rims as I sand in the radius. Once the back edge of the rims were dialed in, I flipped over the rims, and glued in the top linings. Even though I build the top with a 40′ radius, I do not sand a radius into the top face of the linings and rims. I simply make sure the lining and rims are level. However, to get the proper action, I do sand a slope in the rims, so the top falls off about 2 degrees from the soundhole to the neck joint. This allows the neck and fingerboard to tilt back away from the soundboard just a bit, lowering the strings closer the fretboard.
May 21: The shop is now open for business, and I should be able to post progress more regularly. Today, I bent the sapele rims and clamped them in the mold. I am always relieved once the rims are bent, especially when using highly figured, very expensive wood. Fortunately, the sapele bent without any issue.
Feb 12: My prime building season will be during the summer, but I had a few days in February to get started on Jon’s Huron. Over the past few days, I joined the red spruce plates for the top and inlaid the rosette, joined the sapele plates for the back, and sized the rims to ready them for bending.
For the rosette, Jon wanted to use a ring of ebony banded by abalone and highlighted with fine black/white/black purfling. I don’t have ebony large enough to cut a single piece rosette ring, so I cut segments from a smaller piece of ebony. I also cut segments of paua abalone to band the ebony. I first inlaid the ebony then cut the pocket for the abalone. Once the abalone was in, I cut slots for the purfling and inlaid those four runs. After the glue had dried, I ran the top through my thickness sander to clean up the rosette. I then flipped over the top and ran the back side through the thickness sander, checking the stiffness of the top with each pass. I kept running the top through the sander until the top had the stiffness I was looking for.