Build DAZE 30 – Back to School

It’s been over a month since I’ve posted, and it might seem like I put guitar building on the back burner. Although true that I’ve had less time to devote to guitar building lately, nothing has moved to the back burner. In fact in many ways, I’ve turned up the burner to 11.

I knew from the start that I had embarked on a pretty ambitious undertaking. Guitar building requires begin pretty good at woodworking, acoustic theory, math, physics, and even chemistry. Even to do inlay you need to understand more than you’d ever imagine about sea shells! The “simple” geometry of the neck angle is way more complicated than you might think. You need to have all manners of tools and the skills to use them. And above all, you need to be an artist and even hopefully a musician. This is clearly not an endeavor for everyone.

Now, I’m sure not everyone who builds a guitar dreams of building many of them.  However, I went into this having full intention of actually getting good at it. I knew that it would take years, maybe the rest of my life. I treat this first guitar as a beginners lesson – and so far it has served me well. But I’m starting to appreciate just how beginner it really is.  Before I say more about that, let me explain what I have done in guitar land over the last month or so.

One very cool thing I did was visit my good friend Tim White – a wonderfully creative luthier (check out http://www.chrysalisguitar.com/).  It was so much fun to simply talk shop with him for an evening. I brought my work in progress, and I’m pretty sure it picked up some good karma just by being in his shop.

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I also did a few things in microshop land, for example I built a stand for my table saw. I’ve had that table saw for MANY years – a gift from Candi way back when – but it had never been used in earnest until just this past weekend! I guess she knew then that I’d need it someday! I also restored an old grinder, and made a new home for my drill press and band saws.

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I did work on the actual guitar by setting the position and angle of the neck.This was officially “build day 30”. I taped the bridge near the correct position, and then measured to see where the line of the neck would intersect the bridge. To get the angle to be correct, I carefully removed wood from the underside of the heel, a little at a time until the line grazed the top of the bridge.

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I worked on fitting the heel to follow the body contour by using emery cloth and pulling it while pressing the neck into place. The final step was to make a tapered shim to tighten up the dovetail.

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And then…. well, that’s when the real fun began. Because according to my kit directions, it’s time to apply a finish on the neck and body, and only after that’s complete you can return to construction. OK, so maybe it’s just one more thing to learn – but what a doozy of a subject! I learned about compressors, regulators, turbines, different types of spray guns, the newer HVLP type systems, and so many different types of finishes! And then there’s a new world of wet sanding, sealing, buffing, polishing. And one needs to consider the fact many of the materials are flammable and poisonous, and emit highly toxic fumes. Yep, no problem.

It became more obvious to me that I needed to take a step back and really consider what I want to accomplish. It’s not really about this one guitar – I want to LEARN. I had previously known that “someday” I’d take a course in guitar building, and I’ve researched many options over the years. Ideally, I’d learn from a master, and I’ve looked into immersive multi-week courses – however, this is EXPENSIVE. Another option was to take an online course, and I don’t think there’s a better option than Robbie O’Brien’s course in acoustic guitar building. What’s really cool about this is that every aspect of building a very high end guitar is covered in great detail – with all elements built from scratch.  It’s almost like being in the shop with him – over 25 hours of video. There’s also extensive coverage of guitar finishing, which is what made me finally pull the trigger on this. You’re able to download the videos and I could load up a USB stick and plug it into my TV. And it’s awesome beyond belief! Rarely is there 5 minutes when I don’t learn something I would never have known otherwise. I’m mesmerized!

But with knowledge comes a bit of confusion. I already know what direction I’d like to take for my next guitar, but first I need to finish #1. I’m astounded at just how different Robbie constructs guitars from what what I’m doing. For example, he builds and contours the neck directly on the body – instead of attaching it later. This allows him to completely tailor the geometry to be perfect – instead of trying to fiddle the parts you happen to have to “make it work”. It’s a revelation, one of a countless number of them.

Now I’m truly motivated and inspired – but my pace will by necessity slow down. I’m more interested in learning for the long term than rushing anything for short term gratification.  To quote Tim, “Guitar building is the funnest thing there is!”.