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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
this was the first guitar of more to come!