Photos from the Building of
Oriskany Guitar #2007-39
Here is a somewhat detailed look at the process of building a guitar. We have tried to take pictures to track the progress. They do not necessarily appear in the order that they were taken, but rearranged to better show the process of building. This guitar was completed in April, 2007.
Part of the process of building a guitar is the conversation with the client to talk about tone, wood preferences, playing style, playability preferences, scale lengths, neck profiles, aesthetic appointments, and everything inbetween. These pictures pick up at the end of that conversation, with a plan for the instrument in place.
The guitar we are showing is #2007-39, a 12 fret Model A with a 24.9" scale. It is being built as a fingerstlye guitar. The back and sides are figured cherry with a redwood top. The binding is koa with a very simple and elegant maple and bloodwood purfling.
We will start with the top. Once we have the top plate joined (it comes in what is called a "bookmatch" of two matching pieces) and cleaned up, one of the first things we do is select and inlay the rosette. This guitar is getting a select paua abalone rosette with maple and bloodwood purfling to match the purfling on the rest of the guitar. What you see in the picture is the rosette pieces being checked for fit in the routed channel before being glued into place. Before we glue in the rosette we also cut out the soundhole (not shown). On the right, you can faintly see the brace pattern drawn out in pencil on the inside of the top for easier positioning when we glue them on.
When we glue on the braces, we use a system called a go-bar deck. You can see the curve in the dowels (go-bars) as they push between the upper ceiling on the go-bar deck and the brace below, holding the brace in place as the glue dries. You can see the X-brace, the bridge plate and the angled lower face brace across the lower bout (at the top of the picture). The small braces coming off of the X are called finger braces.
With all of the braces are glued on, Johanna is carving the braces on the top with a sharp chisel. Here she is scalloping the X-brace. The braces are made of red spruce, the bridge plate is maple.
The scalloped brace profiles - carved, sanded and finished! On to the back!
Gluing on the back braces in the same way as we glued the top braces. There are four back braces in what is called a ladder brace pattern, crossing a center reinforcement strip. The back braces on this guitar are mahogany. Here you can see them glued on, carved, and with our label attached.
With the top and back all ready, it is time to show you what has been going on with the sides.
Curtis is holding one of the sides, freshly out of our side bender. We clamp the sides into a model A mold to hold the shape of the guitar while we glue in neck and tail block, shape the sides to match the curvature we build into the top and back, install the kerfing (also called kerfed lining) and glue up the box. We clamp the kerfing in with many office binding clips!
We take the sides out of the mold to glue in the side braces. Here you can see the side braces clamped in place. We position the side braces to line up with the back braces. It is time to glue up the box!
Curtis applies glue to the edge of the sides and the gluing surfaces on the kerfing, neck and tail blocks.
We use the go-bar deck to clamp the box together. We glue the back on first, then flip the guitar over and glue the top onto the sides to complete the box!
It is really starting to look like a guitar! We still have to rout the overhanging lip from the top and the back off. Soon it will be time for binding!
In the meantime, let's talk about the neck. We glued up a special neck for this guitar - cherry to match the back and sides! Cherry is not a traditional wood for guitar necks but has a wonderful feel and looks gorgeous. Here we have the rough neck blank cut out, and the truss rod channel routed. We also have been working on the fingerboard. We taper the ebony and cut fret slots. Then we bind it (in this case with koa to match the binding on the guitar). Here you can see Curtis using a router to establish a 16" radius curve into the playing surface of the fingerboard.
It is time to bind the guitar. This step requires a lot of routing. First we rout off the overhanging lip from the top and the back and sand everything untill the sides are smooth and flat. Then we use a rabbitting bit to rout a channel in the sides for the binding and purfings. Curtis is holding the guitar in a special cradle while routing the binding channel.
Since this guitar has side purflings, the next step is to rout the tapered slot for the decorative tail wedge. On the right you can see the koa wedge inlayed. The purflings to match the side purflings are bloodwood and maple.
We cut our own purfling strips from veneer sheets. Johanna is using a straight edge and a rotary cutter to custom cut the purfling strips. The cut strips are ready to use - four of each bloodwood and maple.
With the side purflings, we have to carefully miter the joints with the tail wedge. Here Johanna is checking the miter for final adjustments. When we are happy with the fit, it is time to start spreading glue.
Johanna and Curtis work as a tag team with Johanna applying and spreading the glue and Curtis clamping the binding in place with special binding tape. The binding tape is a strong, sticky paper tape. With the guitar body glued up and bound at this point. There is still a lot more sanding to do, but for now let's turn back toward the neck. This guitar gets a mermaid inlay in the head stock. Johanna cuts each one of these by hand.
Cutting and fitting inlay pieces is slow and tedious work. Johanna uses a jeweler's saw with a very fine toothed blade to cut the pearl and abalone. The bodice and hair for the mermaid are mother of pearl (white and gold). The tail is abalone. Each piece has to be carefully selected for figure and color.
After the pieces are cut, Johanna carefully files the edges to have a perfect fit. Each mermaid inlay is unique. To the right you can see three finished mermaid inlays that Johanna cut. The one for the Cherry / Redwood guitar #2007-39 is the one on the far right. (The one on the left has a black mother of pearl tail, the other two have abalone tails.)
With the ebony headcap glued on, Johanna routs a pocket for the mermaid using a Dremel tool for a nice tight fit. The inlay is glued in place with super glue, sanded flush and wiped clean with naptha.
Switching to the other end of the neck, we are ready to prepare the tenon for our bolt on mortise and tenon neck joint. Curtis has established the correct neck angle and is routing the tenon into the neck blank. We drill holes for the bolts and the threaded barrel insets. Johanna is holding the neck on the right to show the finished tenon and the bolt hardware.
Curtis routs the mortise for the neck tenon into the body. With the mortise and tenon cut, we can attach the neck to the body for the first time. The fit is really rough, so it is time to start carving. The first step to carving a neck is to cut off as much of the excess wood as possible using the "big" tools.
Curtis has outlined the fingerboard onto the neck blank and cuts off much of the excess wood on the band saw. He also cuts out the shape of the headstock.
Johanna uses the spindle sander to shape the headstock. She also cuts some excess wood off the back of the neck blank with the band saw before starting to work with the hand tools.
Most of the carving is done with microplanes and files. Johanna uses a round "cheese grater" microplane and a pneumatic sander to shape the heel.
With the heel roughed out, she fits the neck to the curvature of the body by pulling sandpaper through the neck / body joint to remove wood from the neck blank. With the fit nice and tight, we can glue on the fingerboard.
Curtis spreads glue along either side of the truss rod. The fingerboard is indexed with two pins to insure that we line it up correctly. With the glue spread, we clamp the fingerboard onto the neck blank. When the glue dries, Johanna will finish carving.
With the carving completed and the neck thoroughly sanded, it is ready for finish. The first coat of oil really brings out the color in the cherry. Between coats of oil, the finish is rubbed out with 0000 steel wool to insure a smooth and glossy surface. With the neck carved and oiled, we can get the body ready for the spray booth. The first steps are to sand it and pore fill.
In order to get a good finish result, it is really important to have all of the surfaces well sanded. Johanna uses a random orbital sander to prepare the top and the back for pore fill. A sanding block is useful for sanding the sides.
Johanna uses her hand to massage the clear pore fill into the grain of the wood. She uses a "credit card" to wipe off the excess material.
The pore fill brings out the color of the wood and gives you the first sense of what the guitar will look like with lacquer. The back appears uneven and rough from the pore fill. When it dries, it will be sanded and the process will be repeated 3 or 4 times.
Pore filling is followed by final sanding to 320 grit paper. With the guitar carefully wiped down and cleaned with both naptha and a tack cloth, the guitar is ready for a coat of vinyl sealer and lacquer. We don't have any pictures from the spray booth (it is a harsh environment for a camera). The spraying process requires eight to nine coats of lacquer sprayed over the coarse of three days. This is followed by a minimum of two weeks for the lacquer to cure before we can continue to work on the guitar.
After the two week curing period we wet sand the guitar with very fine grit sand paper up to 4000 grit. Curtis brings out the luster in the lacquer on the buffing wheels.
Before attaching the neck, Johanna "burns" the lacquer off the guitar with a hot pallet knife to expose bare wood under the fingerboard extension. The florescent ceiling light reflects off the gloss lacquer, but not the bare wood.
With bare wood exposed, the fingerboard extension is glued and clamped in place. The guitar is clamped onto a specially designed rack to cradle the guitar and the neck and Curtis dresses the fretboard to a tolerance of .002" to receive the frets.
The frets are cut to length for each fret slot and the tangs are removed under the ends of each fret to accommodate the binding on the fingerboard. Curtis uses a mallet to pound in the frets. They are also glued and clamped in place to insure they are all properly seated for optimal playability. The ends of the frets are dressed to insure a smooth feel to the neck.
With the frets installed, we can get a good read on the appropriate height bridge to carve.
Johanna uses the drill press to pre-drill the bridge pin holes and locate the saddle slot. The ebony bridge is shaped using a variety of tools - spindle sander and belt sander (shown here being used to thickness the wings of the bridge) to rough in the shape, and hand files and sanding blocks to refine the lines.
The bridge is carefully indexed for proper intonation. Curtis removes the lacquer on the top of the guitar before we glue on the bridge. Glue squeezes out from under the bridge all clamped up. It is easiest to clean this up before it dries.
While the glue dries for a minimum of 24 hours, Johanna keeps busy installing the tuning machines, pickguard and getting the guitar ready for strings. The bone nut and saddle are carefully fit and shaped. The bridge pin holes are reamed to accommodate the tapered bridge pins. Finally, it is time for the first set of strings and the chance to hear the payoff of the last three months of work! Curtis' smile tells all!
Johanna does some additional set up work on the guitar before it is ready for the client. Here she is filing the nut heights to bring the action down form optimal playability. She checks the action on each string at the nut and adjusts the truss rod and saddle heights too.
The last step before we can ship it out is to take pictures. Here are some of the final portraits:
The guitar is now finished and delivered to a happy home. The end... for our involvment as luthiers, and hopefully the beginning of many decades of making music!
We hope you have enjoyed following the building process of #2007-39 in this photo essay.
Johanna and Curtis