Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A Basic Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar - Another Look

I was looking at a blog post of mine from eight years ago, Basic Hand Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar, Revised and saw that I have made a few changes in my tool kit. Here are some of the changes and my current recommendations for someone who wants to make their first guitar.

I still recommend purchasing or borrowing one of the following books on guitar construction, but choose only one! Pick one book and make a guitar using that book and that book only! Using more that one book at a time will do nothing but confuse you! I speak from experience! Once you complete your first guitar then purchase other books.

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


Making Master Guitars, by Roy Courtnall

You can skip buying a book and find a guitar making course here in the United States or aboard. There are many such courses available today that weren't available when I started this journey thirty years ago.

These books by Roy Underhill are still recommended reading:

The Woodwright's Shop

The Woodwright's Companion

The Woodwright's Workbench

The Woodwright's Apprentice

Why these books by Mr. Underhill? You will learn valuable wood working techniques if you make any of his projects. The dovetail joints used to join a drawer together are far more complicated than any joint you will use in making a guitar. 

A modern classical guitar is made up of butt joints and one scarf joint. Yes, there is the "V" joint to join headstock to neck shaft which requires much more patience and experience. You will do some inlay with the rosette and rout out a few rabbets for the purfling and binding, but there are no complicated joints, unless you join the neck to the body with a sliding dovetail or make a "V" joint to join headstock to neck shaft. 

I think it is easier to build a guitar than to build a Federal highboy.

The very first thing to do is  BUILD YOURSELF A DECENT WORK BENCH! Build something basic and sturdy with a flat top!

There is a plethora of information on the Internet about how to build a work bench, so much so it's a little mind boggling! It seems that many wood workers would rather make work benches than anything else.

I recommend making a work bench similar to the one in Underhill's, The Woodwright's Apprentice. It is simple, goes together quickly and I have been using that same bench for the last twenty years! If you want to, build yourself a Roubo bench, or a Nicholson English bench, which I think is the best bench ever designed; or make a Shaker style bench. Whatever bench you chose, just make it!

In my previous post on a basic tool kit,  I suggested looking for vintage tools at local tool swaps, flea markets and antique stores. I don't say that anymore, unless you are willing to spend the time and effort to restore these tools and if you don't want to do all that work, I suggest buying new tools, especially hand planes. 

The hand planes that are made and sold by Lie-Nielsen and Lee Valley are exceptional tools that are ready to use right out of the book. Yes, they are expensive, but they will save you hours of frustration of trying to restore and set up a vintage hand plane, and if you buy a Lie-Nielsen plane and you don't like it, you can sell it on eBay for as much as you originally paid for it!

If you do want to restore vintage tools, there are several books available on how to restore and keen vintage tools, not to mention the articles available on the Internet. 

Here is a basic list of tools that I use to build a classic guitar. And this is not a definitive list, just a place to start. By the best you can afford!

No. 62 low angle plane (highly recommended!)

No. 5 plane

No. 7 plane 

Low Angle block plane 

Lee Valley Spokeshaves, flat and round 

8 inch drawknife

1/16 inch 

1/8 inch chisel

1/4 inch chisel

1/2 inch chisel

3/4 inch chisel 

Marking gauge,  shop made or purchased

Cutting gauge, shop made or purchased

Sloyd knife, 3 1/4 inch blade (Mora of Sweden #106)

Card scrapers

Classic guitar tuner drill jig, with 13/32 inch drill. This is a must! Get the one from Stew-Mac. There are several other jig available.

Rosette and Sound hole cutter, available from from LMII or purchase an attachment for a Dremel router from StewMac

Dremel router, variable speed

Razor saws 

Fine tooth crosscut dovetail saw

12-14 inch crosscut back saw

20 inch rip panel saw

20 inch crosscut panel

Fret saw, buy the best and get the Luthier Saw from BadAxe Tool Works! I don't recommend any other fret saw, most aren't properly sharpened and you will have a hard time cutting slots in an ebony fret board!

Bow, or Turning Saw, available from Tools For Working Wood, or make your own. TFWW has parts to make one.

Dial Caliper, buy or make your own

Hand held electric drill, don't buy an impact drill!

Dead Blow Fret Hammer, from Stew-Mac

Diamond fret crowning file, from Stew-Mac

Side cutters for cutting frets, from Stew-Mac or LMI

Nut slotting files

Bending iron, buy an electric iron and spot thermometer from Stew-Mac

A Shop Fox vise, available from Grizzly, Stew-Mac and Garret Wade

Clamps-cam clamps (which you can make yourself), bridge clamp, C-clamps, long reach C-clamps, spring clamps, clamps, clamps, clamps. I use a vacuum pump and vacuum clamp to glue bridges onto guitar tops now.

I know I have missed some tools, but look at the tool lists in the book your purchase. 

Don't forget to join the Guild of American Luthiers. You can learn much from their publication, American Lutherie. You can learn so much from them that your head will swim and you will get confused!

And remember!

Try not, do or do not! There is no try. 



Monday, April 19, 2021

Shaping a Classical Guitar Neck - My Latest Concert Grand Guitar


My wife and I took last week off for a quick get-away from the dreadful Denver 'burbs and now a new week begins back in the work shop. 

I carved this neck two weeks ago and today the goal was to finish shaping and sanding all the surfaces that a guitar player's thumb will be resting on. My guitar necks have a flattened "D" profile, in my opinion this profile is more comfortable, therefore more ergonomic that a standard "D" shape. The human thumb is not shaped to ride along a fully rounded surface, a flatter surface is more comfortable.

The heel is shaped in the manner that the Jose Ramirez III guitar shop used back in the 1950's and 1960's, no exaggerated dip and scoop, just a simple arc.

The profile gauge is to make sure that I get both sides of the heel shaped more or less the same.

The heel ready for "whiskering", raising the grain and final sanding before I start pore filling with shellac and pumice.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

New Video - European Spruce/East Indian Rosewood Concert Grand Classical Guitar

My friend, Nathan Fischer, made a video of him playing a Concert Grand classical guitar that I made. Nathan is such a wonderful guy and boy, can he play the guitar! Along with teaching at Indiana University, he is a director of the Twisted Spruce Music Foundation. I am a sponsor of Twisted Spruce and I will donate a Concert Grand guitar to the foundation this year.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Moving Day - From a Small Shop to a Tiny Shop


I moved across the hall to a smaller studio at 40 West Art Studios today. The space I have occupied for the last year is 230 square feet in size, has an acoustic tile ceiling and is nearly impossible to humidify properly. The best the humidifier can do is 37% RH, when I run it at a higher setting the reservoir will run out of water overnight.

The space I moved into today is only 140 square feet in size with a lower ceiling that is dry walled,and I plan on installing a rubber door sweep to help keep a more consistent level of humidity.

For the last several months I have been thinking about how to reduce clutter, a good solution I found was to place things I hadn’t used in one year in a cardboard box and put the box in the FJ Cruiser. I need more boxes. 

I’m not sure there is enough room for a saw horse...

or all of my clamps!

The Dutch-style tool chest is going to be replaced with a sectional tool cabinet to organize my tools with a little more efficiency.

All this work to do organizing the shop and there are two guitars to work on. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

A Very Short Video - New Top for a Classical Guitar

I made this guitar in the style of a circa 1830 Rene Lacote “Legnani” model guitar. It is a small guitar, the string length is 595mm, compare that to a “modern” classical guitar string length of 650mm. 

When I first made this guitar it had a very heavy Douglas fir top with a five strut Torres-style bracing, a lot of wood to drive with a short string length, the guitar’s voice was very quiet and a little choked. It now has a very light European spruce top with three braces of light and strong redwood. The under bridge patch is a thin piece of ebony that will protect the top from the knotted strings, I will use an original style “pin” bridge. 

When I rap the top with my knuckles it has a loud, resonate drum-like tone, even with all the tape and clamps. 

Purflings and neck are next. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Today’s Work...


East Indian rosewood bridge with Mother of Pearl tie block cover for a European spruce/Canadian cypress classical guitar that is on my workbench.  

Sunday, March 21, 2021

New Classical Guitar Solera, Workboard

 My “new” guitar plantilla (outline) is slightly smaller than my regular guitar, which means I need a slightly smaller work board on which to assemble the guitar. I build in the so called “Spanish method” where I attach the top to the neck and place that face down on a work board to attaché the sides and back. This method is described in Cumpiano’s Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology; and Courtnalls’ Making Master Guitars

My work board consists of two layers of MDF, the bottom layer is simple a base for support and the upper layer will have a scooped out area in the lower bout for the dome of the guitar top.  It will be attached to the lower layer with screws.

I rough out the shapes with a jigsaw, the lower layer is refined a bit with the help of a belt sander, then I tack the upper layer on with two screws, put a flush trim rout bit in my router and trim the upper to match the lower.

The sound hole position needs to be located before I start to scoop out the lower bout area. There are a few other things that need to be done before I can use this work board, perhaps that is another blog post. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

20th Fret On a Classical Guitar


The six string classical guitar has a limited range of notes, traditionally there are only 19 frets which allow a player to play B5, that is the second B above middle C. For some guitarists that note isn’t high enough and since the late 18th century they have begged guitar makers for more frets, a good example is the 19th century guitarist/composer Luigi Legnani, who had a guitar made with 22 frets! There exists a guitar with 20 frets that was made in the mid to late 1800’s by the great Antonio deTorres guitar and today, the classical guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk, plays a guitar with 24 frets! 

I have made several guitars with a 20th fret and I was never fully satisfied with the shape of the fret board where that fret resides, this shape is more pleasing to me than the others I have made. 

This guitar will be available for sale when it is completed..

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Re-Working the Outline of a Classical Guitar


A while back, I ordered a new guitar template and templates to make a new work board with matching mold and side bending forms. The new outline varies a bit from my original outline, the two guitars I made with it are shapely and pleasing to the eye. There was a partially completed top cut to my original outline that I have wanted to make a guitar from for a while, so I thought it would be a good idea to re-cut it to the new outline. Well, it turned out that the current sound hole location didn't match the sound hole location on the new outline. In order to use this top, I would need to create a whole new outline. 

To start a new outline I marked the location of the 19th fret on the top and marked that on a cut out of my original outline. The 12th fret will land somewhere near the top end of the outline.

The lower bout is a little too small compared to the original, I can't add any wood to that,

and it became part of the new outline,

and the waist wasn't deep enough to match the original.

 I was able to add a little bulk to the upper bout and a little adjustment with the help of French curves I am quite satisfied with the final shape!

The final length of the body is about 18 7/8 inches, the is about the length that the great Antonio de Torres Jurado used for his famous guitars.

With a little time designing at the bench, this is the next guitar that I will build and it will be paired with East Indian rosewood back and sides.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Yesterday’s Work - Stippling a Classical Guitar Headstock

I believe many people would find the task of stippling tedious, but the result is worth the time and tapping on a nail over and over again. 

My headstock design is based very heavily on the one used by the team of Spanish master luthiers, Manuel Hernandez and Victoriano Aguado. From what I have read about these two makers, they hired a local woodcarver to carve their headstocks, I have no idea what technique was used to texture head stock, the technique I use yields results that I like. 

The mallet I use weighs about 10oz, it is made from California valley live oak that I turned on a spring pole lathe years ago. Holding a bare nail is hard on my fingers, a wine bottle cork was a great solution!

It takes me a little over an hour to finish stippling, this time also includes routing out, or grounding, the area with a Dremel with a base attachment.

The best article I have found on stippling small areas with 16d nails can be found here

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Ebony Classical Guitar Bindings

Happiness is making (and scraping) your own guitar bindings!

Earlier this week, I ripped some Macassar ebony down to 15 strips 1/8” thick, about 3/8” high, by around 33” long to use for binding on the European spruce/Canadian cypress guitar. Today I thinned all the pieces down to 1.93mm thick, I was going for 2mm but I forgot to pay attention to the thickness and ended up with that number. I will double up the bindings when I glue them in the binding ledges, 4mm of ebony bindings is really going to make this guitar visually stunning.

Next week I will rout the binding ledges...

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Ebony Classical Guitar Bindings, New Neck for a Lacote Style Guitar


There is still one guitar in the shop for repair, with the other repairs out the door I have some extra time to catch up on other work, like glueing a stacked heel onto the shaft of a neck for a copy of an 1830’s Rene Lacote guitar... start work on ebony bindings for the latest guitar, one with a European spruce top and Canadian cypress back and sides...

...then to play with ideas on how to brace the new top for the Lacote style guitar. It is a tiny guitar, the top is sitting on a template for one of my full size guitars. The ebony with be the reinforcement patch under the bridge, which will be an original style pin bridge. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Classical Guitar Bridge - Eight String “Brahms” Guitar with Fanned Frets

A Brahms classical guitar has eight strings, an additional bass string tuned lower than the sixth string and an additional treble string tuned higher than the first (or in this case, the second string). This extends the musical range of the guitar, it was originally designed to play transcriptions of piano works of Johannes Brahms. 

In order for all this to work, the guitar must be a “multi-scale” guitar. The bass string spans, from nut to saddle, 650mm and the high treble string spans 615mm (it can be shorter), the shorter distance allows the treble string to be brought up to concert pitch without breaking. 

This makes the bridge angle across the soundboard, by pushing the slot for the saddle back from the edge of the bridge, this allows the bridge to be less angled across the soundboard. This makes the transference of sound energy more efficient. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Soundholes/Soundports on an Eight String “Brahms” Classical Guitar

 A “Brahms” guitar is held like a cello, there is a cello end pin inserted at the guitar’s end block to elevate the guitar just like a cello and a performer usually rests this end pin on a “resonance box”. 

This guitar received a new Western Red cedar top and I moved the sound hole, which is traditionally in the guitar top at the end of the fret board, and made it into to sound holes, one located on each side of the neck in the upper bout. This gives the performer immediate feed back to the sound of the guitar and the music that they are playing.

I am in the process of making a bridge for this guitar, I am excited to see how it sounds!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Today’s Work


A new East Indian rosewood bridge for a “Brahms” eight string classical guitar and some of the tools needed to create it. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Re-Thinking Card Scrapers

The curve or shape of the beveled cutting edge of the scraper is critical and deserves some thought...

Robert Lundberg, "Sharpening Scrapers", American Lutherie, No.36, 1993

Recently, I re-discovered an article in an old American Lutherie magazine that was written by the late Robert Lundberg, who was a well known lute maker (luthier translated from French is lute maker!). 

The article, "Sharpening Scrapers", which is about a "typical French method of making and sharpening violin scrapers, was very timely for me. There is a guitar in my shop with new bindings that need to be scraped flush with the guitar sides and I am tired of using a regular straight edge scraper. The new curved edge scraper I bought isn't the most efficient for the task either, it is too big and meant to scrape big wide surfaces.

Mr. Lundberg's article has templates for five shapes of the scrapers he used in lute making, I chose two shape to copy and marked them out on a Bahco brand scraper that has been floating around in one of my work bench drawers for several years. I ground and honed a 45 degree edge on both scrapers, then lightly turned a hook on the edge.

These small scrapers are great for one handed use, the size and the shape offer better visibility, I'm less apt to dig a corner of the scraper into the guitar's side, top or back when I scrape the bindings.

When I first started out in woodworking, I read several articles that stated a 45 degree angled edge on a scraper with a light hook would create the best smoothed surface on wood. It worked for me, then there were the articles that pooh-poohed this technique, those authors said it was best to sharpen a scraper in the manner of Tage Frid. That is the method I have used for the last 30 years and it does work, but Lundberg's article makes me realize that every now and again, I need to re-evaluate woodworking techniques I use.

Robert Lundberg's article is in the Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Three, which, unfortunately, is out of print.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

More Repair Work

retrofit  verb

ret·​ro·​fit | \ ˈre-trō-ˌfit  , ˌre-trō-ˈfit \

retrofitted or retrofit; retrofitting; retrofits

Definition of retrofit

transitive verb

1: to furnish (something, such as a computer, airplane, or building) with new or modified parts or equipment not available or considered necessary at the time of manufacture

2: to install (new or modified parts or equipment) in something previously manufactured or constructed

3: to adapt to a new purpose or need 

Routing the edges of the sound board in order to remove the top.

Three years ago, I made my first "Brahms" guitar. A "Brahms" guitar is a classical guitar that has an extra bass string, usually tuned to the second "B" below middle "C", and an extra treble string that is tuned to the "A" above middle "C", giving the guitar eight strings. These extra strings extend the musical range of a classical guitar.

Top removed.

The problem with adding those two extra strings is that they increased tension and torque to the guitar's top. This guitar started to collapse at the sound hole end of the fret board making the string action too high for easy playing. 

Shelf cut for neck extension.

The owner brought the guitar back into the shop for me to repair it and I realized I needed to add an extension to the neck to support the fret board. Another thing I decided to do was not use a traditionally placed sound hole in the top, which is located at the very end of the fret board. 

Neck extension support and veneer to support the sound holes in the upper bouts.

The second "Brahms"guitar I made, I placed the sound holes in the upper bouts on either side of the neck, and I will do the same on this guitar. I glued veneer to the bouts to support the sides when I cut the sound holes. 

The neck extension was glued and screwed to the neck block along with the bracket that supports it.

I kept the harmonic bar attached to the sides for as long as I could, it helps maintain the shape of the guitar.

I added a pice of maple veneer to the upper part of the sound board with the hope that it will help keep the cedar top from cracking.

If you look close you will see the "floating brace" that is near the position of the original harmonic bar. This will help keep the top from collapsing in front of the bridge and it can increase the tonal qualities of the guitar.

The top is glued on! 

Since the owner has ordered and bought three other classical guitars from me, and is a good friend, I decided to upgrade the bindings on the guitar. Originally they were cherry, to match the back and sides, but to honor what this guitar has been through I am using ebony. 

The ebony goes well with the cherry.

I still have to install the ebony bindings and black/white purflings on the top, I need to make and install a new fret board, a bridge, and basically French polish the entire guitar again. It's a lot of work for a prototype, it will be worth working out all the bugs to make future "Brahms" guitars better.

A Basic Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar - Another Look

I was looking at a blog post of mine from eight years ago, Basic Hand Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar, Revised and saw that I have m...