Wednesday, March 16, 2011

All In A Days Work

As you read through this installment, you might sense that I am a refreshed, more relaxed Tim. I can confirm that this is a factual circumstance, not just a tremor in the force. I am back in school now after an extraordinary spring break. Just prior to embarking on a ten-day stretch of hedonistic late mornings in bed, my employer informed me that they would not accommodate another change to my wacky school schedule. My status as a full-time student/part-time employee was just too much for their rigid corporate ways. Thank you for my emancipation, Southeast Tech! What this meant to me was ten days without a calendar or a watch and no bottom feeding haircut clients seeking the latest Bieber-doo or backwoods mullet. I drove straight to Minneapolis and pitched my tent. Many heartfelt thanks to my dear friends the Coopers for flinging open the doors of their home to me. Also, thanks to my friend Sarah for reminding me what it's like to connect with a like mind. She's a peach.

I'm building another guitar! Just a reminder really, but it is such fun to see these things take shape. The electric guitar is basically a stick, bolted to a board with some strings tied on to it. Watch the movie It Might Get Loud to see Jack White make a guitar out of a front porch, a coke bottle, a string and a couple of nails. Anyway, the acoustic guitar is self-propelled in a manner of speaking. All of its volume is produced by the woods/other materials, a vibrating mass (the strings) and physics. Consequently, there is a lot more going on with the construction. Our first steps include sanding the wood for the top to the proper thickness. This varies according to the type of wood, type of guitar and so on. Check my previous posts to see this piece of wood as it came to me.


Next, we cut out the shape on the band saw. I'm building a Martin-style "Single O" guitar. It will look sorta like this.


The guitar in this image was built by Charles Hoffman, a well known Minneapolis luthier. The Single O is a wee guitar that often has a beautifully sweet voice and they are especially well-suited for solo guitar work.

After some head scratching, we route a channel and install the rosette. Besides adding some aesthetic spice to the top, the rosette is functional in a small, but important way. I kept mine understated so as not to distract from any of the many subtle charms this guitar will possess. It's Abalone wrapped in two very thin purfling strips. Getting this installed was a forehead wrinkling endeavor, to be sure.



When a guitar is all strung up to the proper pitch, there is a huge amount of tension created by the strings. There are several factors involved in the exact figure but it can range well over a hundred pounds. An acoustic guitars top, back and sides thicknesses are way under 1/8 of an inch and so something has to bear the brunt of all of the string tension. Enter, the brace. Most are carved from spruce because it has an exceptional strength to weight ratio. The big daddy of all the braces is the X brace. If you squint, you can see pencil lines marking the layout for all of the other braces.


X brace. Aptly named, no? Once that chunk is glued on, you taper and scallop it in order to maximize the strength where it is needed and reduce the stiffness where it is not. Most guitar builders, from the big guys at Martin and Gibson all the way down to the high-end boutique producers have their own way of doing this. I am utilizing the Martin style. All the carving is done using a block plane, a very sharp chisel and a wee finger plane.




All of the brace carving you've seen here was whipped out today. There are a half-dozen more of these braces that will get carved, then glued on in the next couple of days. Once that is out of the way, we will glue the wood for the back of the guitar together and begin the process of bending the wood for the sides. Sweet! Stay tuned.

One final word before I hit the sack. Please take a moment to do something for our fellows in Japan. Send money, send prayers or send up gratitude for all that we have here in the USA. Bonsoir...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Hi. I've got a bunch of pictures for you this week. Changes are afoot here in Red Wing and we are without a doubt on the downhill portion of this ride. So take one last look, for now, at this ravishing beauty and prepare yourself for a whole new idea of guitar building.


Simply gorgeous. My Tele will be getting tarted up with a fancy paint job sometime in May. For now, all the pieces built in our class will live in the nude, perhaps languishing in a cold closet, out of sight. See if you can spot the guitars built by my mates Chad and Derek.

chad tele Derek vioguit

Derek's guitolin is probably the edgiest, most unusual axe that was built during our class. He has years of instrument building under his belt and definitely brings an informed voice to our discussions. Great job dudes!

From here on out, it's all about box guitars. They will take us four times as long to build as the electrics did. In fact, for the next seven weeks, I have only one class, the acoustic guitar building lab. It lasts all day, dawn 'til dusk more or less. It pays off though. I mean, dig the quality! These pieces were built by cats from the other group of students.


Yes, they are still naked, and bridge-less. All that will change during the last three weeks of school.

We build from scratch, starting with "boards". Here is my stash. Honduran Rosewood back and sides, Adirondack Spruce top and a super light piece of Honduran Mahogany for the neck. This one is going to be a heartbreaker folks. Play her at the risk of losing yourself to the muse.


Today I got as far as jointing the top. Joinery is the process of preparing two pieces of wood for permanent (we hope) and sturdy connection. It's not unlike two people in the process of becoming ready to fit the other. It can be complicated and take longer than you think it should. If you are patient and keep working, it still might not happen. Most of the time, it is not a beautiful accident but the result of hard work and forethought. In luthiery, we use a big old jointing plane that is clamped square to a shooting board. It looks like this.


The blade is danged sharp and the tool can be set up to remove slices of wood that are translucent, thinner than paper. My top did not give me too much trouble. Now I have two edges that are absolutely compatible and ready to be glued together. That will happen early tomorrow morning and we will steadily continue to transform the simple, earthy ingredients into a gumbo to savor for a lifetime.

Ya'll come.