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Making an Antonio Torres Style Guitar: Top Bracing, Attaching Top to Neck and Bending Sides by Hand

A truly great guitar needs the human touch, intuition, and insight; therefore, I still primarily use hand tools so that I may feel the wood as I work with it.

Dake Traphagen, Master Luthier


Last posting of 2014!

Thanks to all of you who have visited my blog and those who have left comments!

Thank You to Paul and Joseph Sellers (I hope I got that right!) for keeping Unplugged Shop going and posting my blog posts on it.

Thank You to Luke Townsley for starting Unplugged Shop.

Thank You Leif at Norse Woodsmith for his aggregator.

Here's a photo essay with captions of my process of creating a copy of Antonio Torres' FE 19 1864 "La Suprema" guitar. This guitar is for a young, up and coming classic guitarist in the Denver, Colorado area.

The body shape is a copy of FE 19 as drawn by Neil Ostberg, click here for his site, but the top bracing is based upon a guitar made by the great Santos Hernandez in the 1920's.




Braces are glued on with hot hide glue, the clamps are not cl…

My Chair Maker's Bottoming Iron

The term 'Bottoming Iron' was used for a curved Shave for taking out the Adze marks on Windsor seats.

R.A. Salaman, Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, 1989




I have an order to make a close copy of a 1930 Santos Hernandez guitar and since its plantilla, or outline, is a little different than the one used by Antonio Torres, another solera, or workboard, is needed to build this guitar. Once the top is glued to the neck, all the work done to assemble the guitar will be done on this work board.

The soleras that I use are scooped out to create a dish so that when the braces are glued onto the guitar's top the braces will hold that arch once the glue dries. A domed top gives a guitar a real voice, one that has volume and lyricism.





I usually use a curved bottom plane to hog out most of the material, but this time I pulled out a "travisher" that I made quite a few years ago, back when I thought I could make some extra money selling Welsh stick chairs.





I bought the blade from…

How I Made an Eight Inch English Layout Square

The Joiners Square is a tool used in the production of right angles, either in the drawing of lines or in the planing up of stuff...

George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902



I've been using a 4 inch drafting square that I bought in a hobby store 20 years ago to do the layout for transverse braces on guitar tops and backs. It's not the squarest square anymore and I use a 12 inch steel ruler to extend the line off the square when I use it and I've noticed that those lines often are truly square to the center line drawn on the top or back. I correct it by pulling a 3-4-5 measurement to check the squareness.

I rarely make tools for my luthier work anymore, making a tool takes away from spent at the bench creating a guitar, but I'm getting a little tired of fighting that little square.

So I made a layout square based upon the old English layout square that seems to be every where on the wood working internet these days.

I hope many of you have made this English layout s…

On Being Vise-less, Paring Chisels and Carving Guitar Necks

Straight end chisels must be "squared up" on the grinder and shaped to the correct bevel.

Lester Griswold, Handicraft, 1951




I've noticed lately that there are several wood workers in the world of Internet wood work blogging that are bragging about being "vise-less".

Good for you!

I've used hold fasts almost exclusively on my bench for that last twenty years or so, hold fasts are cheap compared to a metal vise and I never got along well with leg vises. I don't make boxes or cut dovetails anymore, I make classical guitars which need much different clamping devices than say, oh, a Federal highboy.

Don't get me wrong, I do need to use a vise for some tasks.



One thing I enjoy about using holdfasts is how quickly you can hold a piece of wood and you don't have to use a pretty piece of wood as a clamping caul.




Hold fasts are efficient for most tasks, they are great for holding guitar necks!



Smoothing the slots in the head stock

I do own and use a Shop…

Stanley No. 45 Combination Plane, Type 7B, 1901-1906

The craftsman in wood may ask himself "Why should I possess a Multi-Plane?"

Hampton and Clifford, Planecraft, 1934




I splurged the other day and ordered a No.45 plane from one of my favorite antique tool dealers, Sydnas Sloot.



I've always wanted a No.45, but I never could find one at an affordable price and then the other day there was this beauty on Sandy Moss's website. I couldn't resist. Thanks, Sandy!



It doesn't have all the bells and whistles that come with some of the 45's, I figure I can buy extra blades and soles as I find them.




The box no longer has its sliding lid, I can live with that, perhaps one of these days I may make one and repair the box.

I love this box for the decal, the box is cool enough to use to hold just high dollar guitar tuning machines...




It has all the parts I need, in the next few weeks I will use this plane to cut drawer grooves. I could use it for sash work, but I'd have to find or make a blade for an ogee, I'm not…

Disston Rip Saw, Stanley Scrub Plane, Douglas Fir Guitar Top

Towering up to heights as great as 220 feet, with sometimes 100 feet of trunk clean of branches, arrow straight, and with almost no taper below the crown discernible to the naked eye, an ancient Douglastree may be 17 feet in diameter.

Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1953



Douglas fir isn't often used as tonewood for classical guitars, many makers think that it is too heavy of a wood to be used for guitar tops. The strength of Douglas fir is phenomenally strong, its specific gravity is 0.50 and its modulus of elasticity is 1.95! Compare that to Sitka spruce's specific gravity of 0.42 and its modulus of elasticity at 1.57.

I think it is great wood, and, yes, I am biased because I was weaned on a chunk of Douglas fir, it was a playmate along with ponderosa and sugar pines, incense cedar and black oak.

The point of all this is there is a young classical guitarist who wants me to make him a guitar with a Douglas fir top.



This is the last piece of old grow…

How to Make a Box Sing, Part 2

Here is a video of Kyle Throw playing the Torres/Santos style guitar that I finished this summer. The guitar has a Engelmann spruce top with California laurel back and sides, 650mm string length.

This guitar is very responsive, very loud and is capable of many musical nuances, with proper playing and care it will continue to improve and become a magnificent guitar!

Kyle performs the Fandanguillo from the Suite Castellana by Federico Moreno Torroba.

How to Make a Box Sing

Stephen Valeriano and Kyle Throw, both classical guitar students at Metropolitan State University, Denver, stopped by my shop last weekend to play two guitars that I have on hand. Kyle also came by to pick out the wood for the new guitar that I will be making for him over the winter.

Stephen played Heitor Villa-Lobos' Prelude No. 1 in e minor on a Sitka spruce/black walnut guitar that I made a while ago.

He does a wonderful job with this piece, he is a very sensitive musician and I expect great things from him.

Enjoy!

1860's Greek Revival House: My Work Is Done!

Greek Revival A style popular in the first half of the nineteenth century, it favored the Greek version of Classicism over the Roman. This meant eschewing arches in favor of post and lintel, basing forms on the Greek temple, and using the Greek version of the Orders.

Mark Gelernter, A History of American Architecture, 1999



Two weeks ago, I and my co-worker, Michael Lohr, were able to walk away from the 1860's era Greek Revival farm house that we worked on all summer.

Siding was replaced, a new door matching an original was added, several days were spent in a skid steer landscaping the grounds, and paint was applied to the building.




Here is what the house looked like when I started working on the building...




Siding and landscaping completed...



A fresh coat of paint...



reveals a true gem.

Hernandez y Aguado Style Guitar - Douglas Fir Top, Mahogany Back and Sides

The classic guitar is a delicate equation painstakingly conceived to produce a brilliant, balanced tone over its entire playable range.

Irving Sloane, Classic Guitar Construction, 1966


The young guitar student that I mentioned in my last post came to my shop yesterday to take delivery on the Douglas fir/mahogany guitar. It is a close copy of a guitar made in 1968 by the great Spanish makers, Manuel Hernandez and Victoriano Aguado.




The top is from a salvaged Douglas fir board...





...and the back and sides are Honduran mahogany.


The young man played several Catalan songs arranged by Miguel Llobet, I thought I was listening to an old recording of Andres Segovia! This guitar has an old Spanish-like quality to it that gave me goose bumps, it sounds so wonderful! I can't wait to hear this guitar in six months!

I hope to get a chance to record the young man and his guitar this winter so I can post the videos on this blog.




He and his father gave me a deposit so I can start working on anoth…

The Best Wood, Part 2

Federico Sheppard: Do you ever use cedar tops?

Antonio Marin: Yes, but only two or three per year. This is a spruce town.


From an interview with the great Granada guitar maker, Antonio Marin, American Lutherie #117



A young man visited my studio the other day to chose a guitar from my inventory, he was looking to replace the Asturias brand guitar that he is currently playing. His two complaints about the Asturias were the string length (656mm) and the neck is too thick and rounded.



Spruce/Walnut Guitar


I handed him a spruce/walnut guitar (photo above) with a scale length of 650mm. He loved the neck and the string length, but I noticed right away that he was struggling to get a good sound out of it.




Spruce/California Laurel guitar, Torres/Santos Model

So, I pulled out one of my latest guitars, the one based upon Antonio Torres's guitar FE 19, which is loud, has an amazing voice and capable of many nuances and again, as he played this guitar I noticed that he didn't get along with …

Wooden Straight Edges

It is not advisable and can even be dangerous, to entrust someone else with the search for a fiancee, the purchase of a pair of shoes or the choice of a guitar.

Jose Ramirez III, Things about the Guitar, 1990




I didn't get everything done today that I wanted to get done, but I did get started on a few things.

After morning chores, I took the dogs for a walk through our wonderful backyard, which is part of Arapahoe National Forest, and then started making legs for a router table. I have about ten windows (6-9 pane) to make before the end of December and I am not about to plane all the muntins, rails and stiles by hand, I have an expensive router bit for that.

I got the legs glued up, went for a 2.5 mile run and had lunch. The afternoon, I thought, was going to be dedicated to working on a copy of a 1968 Hernandez y Aguado classical guitar, click here for a post on that guitar, I need to thickness the fret board and glue it onto the neck.

First thing I wanted to do was to check to ma…