So, the title didn’t tie in exactly like the other good ones, but still, I was pretty close.
Speaking of close, the guitar is very close to being done. I’m pretty blown away by that, actually. It seems like so recently the whole thing was in pieces, and now it’s just a few steps away from being a real thing that makes (hopefully beautiful) sound.
I have noticed that I’m taking far fewer photos as I go through, and that’s probably both good and bad. Bad because I’ve got less to show you on here; but good because it means I’m more in the moment, and my skills are improving so that I feel like not everything I do is photo-worthy.
Now that the bridge is fixed on, it was time to drill out the holes for the tuners. Simple enough, a quick trip to the drill press and I was done. Installing the tuners is a breeze, too, so I don’t have much to say there. I had to buy Hipshot because they were one of the only companies who sold individual tuners, but it worked out nicely because they’re mostly polished silver with a dull brass gear – just like my frets and inlays, respectively.
Back to the bridge – I had to drill down into the body so that the string holes go all the way through the top and the bridge plate that I glued in all those weeks ago. Yes, it was terrifying, thank you for asking. Once those were done, it was time to make my nut and saddle. The word saddle makes sense to me, because the strings sit on it and stuff, but I have no idea why a nut is called a nut. One day, I might investigate the etymology, but today is not that day.
Horn is a bit like fingernails, in that it’s made from the exact same stuff as hair, and with that said, working this stuff was one of the smelliest jobs in this entire process (epoxy and hide glue are still in the lead). It’s easy enough to work with, though, so the process wasn’t too frustrating. The worst part was my punishment for doing a good job – the saddle fits into the bridge very snugly, and once it was all polished it was incredibly smooth. Those two coupled together meant taking the saddle off was a huge pain in the ass when I needed to make more adjustments. It’s worth it, though, to know that I’ve got a really solid connection on all the pieces there; the better the contact, the more efficient the energy transfer, the better the sustain, the fuller the tone. At least, that’s how it works in my head with its rather limited understanding of physics and acoustics.
So the saddle was seated tightly, and the nut was made in very much the same way, but with the added challenge of an angled bottom. Because the headstock goes off at an angle, and contact is important (like I just mentioned talking about the saddle), I had to do some tricky sanding. There is also the matter of string slots. This is where those plans I made before I even had glue on wood came into play. The string spacing was determined a long time ago, so now I had to reference that to file out channels in which the strings would sit as they break over the headstock. The ‘break angle’ is pretty key to the sustain, and ideally it is in the middle of the angle made by the headstock and fretboard (15º). With each slot filed out a little larger than the strings I had planned to put on, I was ready to polish both the nut and saddle, then string this thing up for the first time!
Ta-freaking-da, right?! Who knows how many hours between when I started and when I first heard it, but I can tell you it was a bunch. So, the immediate question in your mind is probably, ‘how did it sound?’ My answer – underwhelming. Terrifying, right? I spent all this time and money building a guitar that sounded sort of choked. But, like almost any crack, dent, or mistake, it can be fixed! The simplest way was to use heavier strings on the bass side. This is the nature of multiscale guitars – the longer strings can have more massive strings. Another solution is to scrape away some of the bracing with a small plane. This allows the top to vibrate a bit easier. But the last method was the coolest – do nothing.
Especially with acoustic guitars, people celebrate the oldest ones, and say they definitely sound best, and it’s true. Acoustic guitars grow into their sound, and as they age they just get better and better. What I was able to observe was that there is even an improvement within the first couple of weeks of having it strung up, and a pretty marked one at that. If you imagine one of those graphs of diminishing returns, it was just like that. The improvement in the tone was huge.
And with that, there are just a few more steps before I can call this guitar complete. I’m really looking forward to showing you all the final product!