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Making a Copy of a 1929 Santos Hernandez Guitar, Old Brown Glue--or, Sometimes You Just Gotta Glue Something Together!

copy |ˈkäpē|
noun ( pl. copies)
a thing made to be similar or identical to another : the problem is telling which is the original document and which the copy.

replica |ˈreplikə|
an exact copy or model of something, esp. one on a smaller scale : a replica of the Empire State Building.
a duplicate of an original artistic work.

verb (copies, copied) [ trans. ]
make a similar or identical version of; reproduce.

A couple of years ago, I ran across a classical guitar maker's blog or a guitar makers' forum that discussed the topic of "replica" versus "copy". One maker said that he doesn't make replica's, because it is impossible to make a true replica of a famous luthier's guitar. I agree, because any guitar I make will sound like I made it, no matter how true I try to stay to the original it won't sound like a guitar made by the great Santos Hernandez. I hope, however, the guitar will sound close to what Santos wanted it to sound like.

Did you notice that the only difference between "copy" and "replica" is the word "artistic"?

The other day I took the plunge and started making a copy of a 1929 Santos Hernandez guitar, not a replica, but a copy because I don't have access to the original Santos Hernandez guitar.

I cut the head stock from the neck blank (click here to see that posting) and made the scarf joint. I glued the joint together with W. Patrick Edward's Old Brown Glue, since he was kind enough to send me a free bottle of the glue for me to try again. Everything went well.

Then I really got crazy! I edge jointed this Sitka spruce top, with just the right amount of bear claw, that I've had in my wood cache for the last five years or so and I have been dying to make a guitar with it! I used Old Brown Glue to glue the two pieces together. It's holding together and it should.

I will admit that I just ordered a brass glue pot from Hank Levin at MusiCaravan because I make hide glue to use when I glue the bracing on to the guitar top. I ordered the pot because I am tired of using a hot pot that isn't that controllable and I find the other glue pots that are available from LMII, Stew-Mac and Tools For Woodworking a little too ugly to grace a studio. As Hank Levin says, he was "esthetically and financially repelled by electric glue pots"!

I also downloaded two little booklets on using hide glue from Toolemera Press, The Glue Handbook: The Keystone Glue Co. c1930 and
Doing The Gluing: The Keystone Glue Co. c1930
, the type face print of the original is a little fuzzy, but it looks like there is a lot of great information to be had! When you go to Toolemera's website don't forget to download Charles Hayward's sweet little book, How to Make Woodwork Tools! You gotta love a book that has a chapter on "Eleven Handy Tools" and a "Home Made Smoothing Plane" made from a single block of wood to look like a Spiers smoothing plane.

Remember, get out into the shop and make something!


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I will cite the case of a marvelous concert player, a Japanese lady who is barely 5 ft. tall and with hands that are real miniatures. She plays a 664 mm 10 string guitar and demanded that I build this guitar with an action 1 mm higher than normal, which she handles with incredible ease. This is serious study!

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Here is the hand size and scale length that I found on the forum at

Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 250+ 664mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 230 to 250 656mm scale length
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Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 170 to 190 630mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of below 170 615mm scale length

Here is my flexible imperial/metric ruler.

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Ours is really a simple craft.

James Krenov, The Impractical Cabinetmaker, 1979

So, you want to build a guitar.

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The first thing I recommend doing is to buy or borrow copies of the following books:

Guitar Making: Tradition and Technology, by William Cumpiano and Jonathan Natelson
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