PO Box 942, Fourways, 2055, South Africa Tel: +27(11) 465 9088 Fax: +27(11) 465 0994 E-mail: hughsfineguitars@iafrica.com


Amateur woodworker builds his guitar from a Martin Kit:
Below is a letter from WILHELM LAURIE talking about his Martin Kit Guitar and some photos of the process involved:

As a keen amateur woodworker, I have always wanted to build a guitar. For the past 20 years I have been building sailing boats of various lengths and felt the time had come to try my hand at guitar building. Boatbuilding is quite difficult when compared to building furniture, but still easy when compared to building a musical instrument. When building a guitar you have one chance only. You cannot repair or redo a mistake, because the wood is mostly 2mm or 3mm thick. I realised that one would need specialised tools and equipment to work the wood to this thickness and to bend the sides to the correct shape. That is why I decided to but a kit. There are a large variety of kits available to choose from, but (with the gentle persuasion from my son Henri) I decided that only a Martin kit will be good enough. It takes a lot of time to build and finish the instrument - no point in wasting time on an inferior product.

Hugh Cumming imported the kit for me, and it was an exciting moment when the kit arrived. One of the big advantages is that you already have all the parts in the special wood, as best suited for their purpose. East Indian rosewood for the back and sides, ebony for the fingerboard, mahogany for the neck and sitka spruce for the top. The kit contains everything you would need for a complete instrument, apart from the glues and lacquer. I hunted around quite a bit to get the correct glues, because that is quite important. Before I started, I spent quite some time on the internet to read about the experiences of amateur luthiers. There is an abundance of material available and since the booklet that came with the kit is not sufficient in every aspect, I found this to be an invaluable source of information.

The first thing I did was to glue the sides to the front and rear blocks to form the rim. The pre-bent sides needed some persuasion to get them into shape, but a jig I made from plywood kept the sides in shape while I glued the blocks in place. Thereafter I used a simple plywood clamping plate to keep this shape until I fitted the back and sides as you can see from the picture. Next the two separate book matched pieces that make up the back were glued together with the back inlay strip in between.

The top comes already glued with the sound hole cut and the rosette in place. I then glued the ribbon lining in place. As you can see washing pegs provided a perfect clamping system with an equal pressure along the way. I built a female jig to the shape of the back to glue the bracing in place to ensure that the back keeps its shape until it is fitted to the body. The next step was to glue the tone bars to the top. I took great care to ensure that they are in their exact position. The top, and then the back, is glued to the body. As you can see from the picture, you can never have to many clamps for this operation!

To complete the body, the herringbone and binding needs to be fitted. Cutting the edge of the body to accept the herringbone and binding is quite a job and I had to make a special jig, which I fitted to my router, because the angle between the back and sides is not at a right angle due to the arched back. To achieve a perfect cut, I used a new router bit - and that is the only way to go. Spruce is a softwood and a blunt bit will merely rip the wood apart. As you can see from the picture, masking tape works well as a "clamp" to glue the herringbone and binding in place.

Next you shape the neck, which comes already roughly shaped with the kit. It takes a number of hours to get it perfect and to get a good fit into the body. You then glue the neck to the body, fit the torsion bar into position, glue the fingerboard and then cut and fit the frets. You have to calculate, check and re--check the exact position of the bridge before you glue it into position.

I found the finishing to be to most difficult part of the build. It needs many hours of sanding before spraying starts. Spraying nitro-cellulose lacquer is quite difficult - and it takes time to get a good finish.

In the end, the most important thing is the sound of the guitar. Not being much of a guitar player, I had a number of fine players (including Hugh Cumming and John van Nierop) play my guitar. I was very happy with the sound, and more so when these players all nodded their approval.

I think this was the first guitar of more to come!

Regards, Wilhelm