So, even before the beginning, I had some decisions to make about the guitar I wanted to build, and how.
First, the type of guitar. I could go for an electric, a steel-string acoustic, a classical, or an archtop. In many ways (but not all), that’s also the order of complexity involved in the construction, with a solid body electric being the simplest, and an archtop being the most involved. With some guidance, I chose to build an acoustic because it’s a good foundation for taking skills to other guitar types.
From day one, I was head first and hands on. Planning, as it should be, is step one. Body shape, size, and details like string spacing all come into play here. This is typically a pretty straight-forward process, but since I’m a masochist, I decided I was going to do it big: a seven-string fanned fret acoustic guitar. Sure, I could copy some classic design by Martin, Taylor, etc., but why build something I could buy at a store? Boring. That’s what boring people do. So, planning took a few extra minutes to make sure the bridge plate would fit between the braces (here’s a labelled diagram detailing what those things are), among other less-than-typical issues. Small potatoes, in the end – it was easy enough making sure that my guitar wouldn’t collapse on itself.
With the plans drawn and cut to shape, I wasted no time in getting to the next step – selecting a top wood. This process centres around three components: the wood type; aesthetics; and tap tones. For the type of wood, although no two pieces of anything are exactly alike, certain trees have certain typical characteristics. For example, since cedar is a little softer, it’s often used in classical building. Sitka spruce is a very popular steel string guitar top. For my guitar, I chose red/Adirondack spruce. After tapping flat pieces of wood beside my ear for a good 10-15 minutes, I decided that this piece had a nice combination of resonance and variety in the overtones. What’s even better is that I looked back at it after, and realized that the top has some really nice figuring on it! Once it’s sanded and finished, I think the top of this guitar is going to look extraordinary. Unfortunately, the pictures I’ve taken don’t show this, but I guess that’s how to build suspense, right? You’ll see it when it’s finished!
Here’s something that wasn’t on the brochure: you’re going to do a LOT of sanding. The amount of sanding in your head? Triple it, and that’s just the beginning. It’s for a purpose, of course, as things have to be airtight in their fittings, but man…I just wasn’t ready for it. That said, the more time you spend sanding, the more rewarding it is when you do get that airtight fit.
So my top pieces were joined together, and it was time to design my rosette. I mentioned before that I like making trouble for myself, so I decided a crescent shaped rosette was a good idea. I chose some interesting wood, and since I don’t yet know what type it is, I have been affectionately referring to it as bumblebee wood.
Once I had taken a few slices off, I got to arranging this wood into an aesthetically pleasing pattern:
After that, I superglued it down and used a Dremel to cut out my crescent:
You’ll notice the corner on top is not in the photo. That’s because after routing out the shape, it was no longer attached. Remember that time when I told you I have no woodworking experience? That showed here. But the good news is, there’s a solution to that problem, and that solution is glue. I prettied it up, glued some purfling around the in and outside, and traced it onto my guitar top. That was then Dremelled, chiselled, and knifed into the perfect fit. Once I got it where it needed to be, I mixed up the epoxy, gobbed it in the cavity, and set it to dry. I have to wait a whole week until I’m back in class, but I can’t wait to see how it looks!
Look out for Chapter Two next week!