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Making a Copy of a 1933 Santos Hernandez Guitar

In all glueing operations remember to "hasten slowly".

George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902

Last month, a young classical guitarist asked me to make her a guitar that she could play, comfortably. She has very tiny hands and can hardly play the 650mm string length classical guitar that she owns. I handed her a metric ruler and asked her to measure from the tip of her outstretched left hand little finger to the tip of her outstretched left hand thumb. The distance was 190mm. The same distance on my left hand is 235mm. What that means is that she should be playing on a guitar that has a 630-635mm and I should be playing a 650mm, not a 665mm.

We decided that she should have a 635mm string length guitar. I chose the Santos Hernandez pattern, it is an elegant outline and Hernandez did make the 1912 Ramirez guitar that made Andres Segovia famous. Following the original plantilla, I reduced the guitar's body size to what is considered a small box, around 470mm in length, this reduction is to match the proportions of the guitar to the string length.

I also chose the same bracing pattern that Santos used, the original was for a flamenco guitars, flamenco guitars need to be "punchy", almost drum like and since this guitar will have such a short string length I want all the help I can to make it project. I found this wonderful website on guitar design, click here and here to see a comparison of famous bracing designs. The Santos design centers the vibrations on the bridge.

This time I decided to use hot hide glue to glue the braces onto the top. Usually most blogs and websites you will see the maker using a go-bar deck and clamps, I've done that before but I wanted to be old school with this guitar. I got the hide glue up to 145 degrees, brushed it on the brace and then rubbed it into place on the top. I did not use a clamp to hold the brace at all, I just tried for "a rubbed joint", I did use clamps to hold the top against the work board, but not on the brace. I held the brace in place for 4 minutes and then went on to another.

I am so impressed with hot hide glue! The curve that you see in the braces is from the glue holding it in place! I had not quite a 16th of an inch spring back went I took off the clamps and the sound board off the work board.

My glue pot, a hot pot!


  1. Hi Wilson,

    Great post. How cool to have the ability to match string length to the players' hand. I like the idea that this young musician will not have to struggle with an oversized (for her)instrument. It's tough enough, anyway!

    So, I measured my left hand stretched from the out side of the pinky tip to the outside of thumb and it is 121 mm.
    What is the recommended string length? Measured from nut to bridge I assume.

  2. Tico:

    I think you need to re-measure your hand! Stretch out your left hand, from thumb to little finger, stretch it hard until it hurts and then measure from tip of thumb to tip of little finger. I'm 5'10", I'm not considered a big man and I remember being told in a guitar master class that I have small hands, and my measurement is 235mm. I post a chart and a photo of how to measure on the blog.

  3. I find this really interesting Wilson - great stuff! I didn't know (among many other things) that the pattern of the bracing affects the sound but I can see that it would now. The clamps you made are doing the business.

    I have tried and failed to play guitar and one of my problems is that my fingers seem too fat to hold down a string without fouling the string below it. (I've only tried my daughter's guitar which isn't full size, but even so..) Do I need to put my fingers on a low fat diet or what? Maybe you could say something about string spacing or the width of the fretboard some time?

    Thanks! Rob

  4. I just tried your pinky-to-thumb measurement and it's 225mm for me, or about 8 7/8 in the old money.

  5. I can talk more later about a guitar's fingerboard width, string spacing at the nut and action height. A wider fingerboard allows one to articulate the finger movements better, but if you have small hands, wider fingerboards don't always work. Also, if the string action is too high at the nut, it makes the instrument almost impossible to play! I've seen many cheap ukuleles that have impossibly high string actions, I bought one from 1950 that I had to grind down the nut and make a new saddle for before it was close to being playable!

  6. Dear Wilson,

    Thank you for finding my site useful. I have been trying to make them as complete as posible. I hope I can finish my first real guitar (Santos inspired, of course) this year. Thank you for sharing your experience.




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