Week 17/18/19: Start of Term 3


I can admit it. I’ve gotten very bad at keeping up with this blog. I don’t know if it’s because I’m losing interest, or if it’s just getting harder and harder to come up with amusing anecdotes about wood, or that I’ve already posted some of these techniques and processes before and I don’t want to be redundant. Maybe it’s the fact that I stepped on this laptop in the middle of the night, and now it has a big crack across the screen making it very annoying to use this computer. Regardless, I’ve definitely been slipping. I apologize for my flakiness towards this blogosphere, offer my sincerest condolences to everyone that has waited patiently for more descriptions of what things smell like around the shop, and promise that I will be more attentive to your needs in the future. That being said, let’s move on.

Since I have three weeks worth of luthiery to cram into one post, this will mainly be pictures. Those of you who do not enjoy words, will enjoy this post more than usual.

At the end of last term, we had begun building our archtop guitars, our sides were bent with the head and end blocks glued in, and the outer carves were complete on our tops and backs - now it was time to carve the insides. As always, don’t forget to do wood-grain doodles

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Week 15/16: End of Term 2 - Get Bent.

Ooof. Ok, so I know it’s been about 3 weeks since I posted anything. My apologies to anyone that has been waiting with bated breath for this post. Circumstances were beyond my control. Ok, so not beyond my control, but I was in the grips of blogging laziness. 

At the time of my last post, my second term guitar was completed.  It has since been graded, and I was pleased with the grade I received. So what now? Do we just get to screw around for the remaining two weeks?


You come in the next day and there’s a stack of wood waiting for you on your bench:

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Week 14: Three Up and Three Down.

After a week of working on tools and other extra-curricular activities, it was time to get back to work on our guitars. On Monday we began with pickup winding:

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Week 13: I’m Surrounded by Tools.

Last week was a pretty slow week; Since we had to wait all week for the finish on our guitars to off-gas before we could wet sand, we couldn’t really work on them at all. So we directed our attention to other tasks.

Mainly I took some time to make some of my own tools and other gizmos. For instance, the fret-bender. When re-fretting a guitar the fret wire has to be curved, or radiused, before prepping and installing the frets. A fret bender curves the fretwire to match the curvature of the fretboard. This is a fret bender sold by Stewart Macdonald:

It sells for $89.90. Kind of pricey. So like many others, I made my own:

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Week 11/12: Half Way There.

Yes. We’re half way there (Wooooaah! Cue the Bon Jovi, ‘Living on a Prayer”). 

When we last left our fearless luthiery student, his neck was fit and ready for shaping. And that’s exactly what we did, using rasps and chisels and the same jig we used to shape our acoustic necks:

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Week 10/11: Yes. Vicks Vaporub. You Heard Right.

 Week 10 was a pretty brief week, so I decided to just lump it in here with week 11. We had Friday off for 4th of July, and on Thursday the air conditioner crapped out, so we only worked half of that day. Which was great for vacation time with Abby, however we will be making up all of that time this week by staying late and coming in on Saturday, so Friday will actually only be “Friday like Thursday” and so on. 

Two weeks ago we spent a lot of time finalizing the outer shape of our guitar bodies, and last week we were ready to start final carving the tops. The first step was to cut in the final thickness of the body on the shaper (the instructors actually did this for us, probably because it’s crazy dangerous and they want us graduating with all of our fingers intact). If you’ll recall the shaper is a sideways table saw-ish thingy that slices through human flesh, like a hot knife through human flesh:

Once that thickness is established we can carve in the edges of the top, which we do using a small carving plane and a flat scraper:

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Week 9/Start of Second Term: This Body is Solid.

Boy oh boy. Ok, there were a lot of things going on this first week; I probably should have posted something mid-week, but it was really hot here, and there were a lot of things like river-tubing float trips, and birthday “scotch and pizza” night, and so-on that had to take precedence. Now the unavoidable, excessive length of this post has becoming a bit concerning to me. I’m currently running late for a wedding, but I want to get this stuff posted before next week rolls around, and I have even more stuff to include.

So the start of a new term means the start of a new guitar, but it also means a new house for me. I moved to a different house closer to the school that is actually on the water. The Muskegon River, that is. Check out the view from the back porch:


Monday morning was no joke. No lectures, no easing into the new term. Just “Here’s a stack of wood. Now go build a guitar.” So what are we making here? Well, it’s similar to the electric from last term, which is to say it is a Les Paul style guitar, but it will be a glued-in set neck (as opposed to bolt-on), humbuckers instead of p90 pickups (which we will wind ourselves), and a carved top instead of a flat top. Additionally, we will be making all of the pieces from scratch, instead of starting with CNC carved pieces. That is really the most major difference.

Step one was to get the body blank all set up. Due to the inevitable difficulty in obtaining Mahogany in the future (For those into wood laws, you can look up CITES and read about what I mean), this term they switched to alder in the body instead of Mahogany. The center of the body is three pieces of alder joined together:

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Week 8: End of First Term

Having finished all of our guitars for the term last week, this week was pretty casual, to say the least. No sanding. I repeat, no sanding required at all. I did have to do a few things that I had not had to do for just a shade under a decade though:

Yeah, that’s a take-home test. We’d also have to do an in class multiple choice test, with questions the likes of “What is the ideal nickel content of fret wire?” So yeah, that was a page-turner. Just like this little piece of light reading I started on:

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Week 7: Done and Done.

At the end of last week we had begun the final wet-sanding on our acoustic bodies and necks. This is one of the final steps in the process, so we’re very close to being done at this point. In fact we will be done by the time you reach the end of this page. After the first 800 grit wet sand, we do the initial buffing:

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Week 6: Strung Up.

So here we are, one quarter of the way through. Although the weeks feel like they’re flying by at this point, it still feels like I got here yesterday. Sometimes last week feels like a month ago, and yet sometimes it feels like yesterday. At some point I have to expect the crazy fluctuations in time will even out.

Where was I? Where was I… right. At the end of last week, our electric bodies and neck were all buffed out and we were ready for the final assembly. The home stretch, if you will. First thing was first, we began installing the hardware, like the tail piece, bringe, etc.. The tuners we fit into place by slowly opening the holes with a reamer like so:

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Random Guitar Building Fact Wednesday

The sound hole cut-out from an acoustic guitar, which looks like this:

Makes an excellent coaster:

That is all.

End of Week 5: Buffing, Bones, and Bugs.

As I suspected, the last 2 days of the week were essentially a healthy dose of spraying clear coats on our acoustic guitars, and wet-sanding, buffing, and polishing our electric guitars. I was up to the task:

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A very cool video on Spanish guitar making.

Week 5: Fret Not. Actually, No- This Part Requires Fretting.

Having had an extra day of rest over the weekend, and having crested the 1st term hump, Tuesday morning we were refreshed and ready to roll. Although we had Monday off, we have to come in on Saturday to make up the day. So even though it was Tuesday, let’s face it; it was our Monday. But we’re moving right along:

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