Monday, October 8, 2012

Thickness Sanding Soundboard and Back of Guitar

So hopefully at this point you have now joined your pieces together for your soundboard and/or the back of your guitar. Also hopefully you did not leave the pieces overly thick but at least thick enough to make sure you could sand out any unevenness in the joint you made. Most likely your plans will have recommendations for thickness of your soundboard or back of your guitar. I’ve seen anywhere from 1.6mm to 2.5mm.

If you are loaded and a ton of money you wish to just invest in wood working tools, then now would be a great time to go by a really nice thickness sander. Here is a nice one, it costs about $1,229.99

Of course if you are like me you either don’t have the money or you have other better things that money could be spent on. So let me tell you what I came up with an alternate option that is a lot better than going at it with a sanding block. Specifically I went and bought myself an inline sander at Harbor Freight along with some wood sanding belts that I cut to fit on the inline sander. Typically and incline sander is meant for use for body work on a car, but it serves its purpose for thickness sanding wood as well. Now obviously if you don’t already have a good air compressor you will need to get a decent air compressor to run it as well. But in the end you still will spend a lot less than a thickness sander and the air compressor can obviously be reused for many things.

First you will need a way to hold your piece in place. I opted to lay it on my wood work bench and drill holes and stuck wooden dowels around it to hold it from moving around as I sanded it. Now you can use your inline sander to go back and forth over your board to thickness sand it. Because it has such a long sanding pad it is easier to keep everything even across the board. Another option that I have seen others do when hand sanding and trying to achieve a uniform thickness is to use a drill press with a stop to put holes to the exact depth they want all over the boards. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Joining the Guitar Soundboard and Back

Assuming you didn't spend outrageous money for a single piece top and single piece back for your guitar, you will have to join your book matched pieces together in order to have a single piece for your top and/or back. For the professional with a full workshop including a joiner, this task is pretty easy and straightforward. For us amateur garage wood workers, we have o be a little more creative. You may come up with your own creative ways to get a good solid joined top or back, but here I will explain how I went about it. I tried a couple other ideas first but after finding this solution, it has proved consistent.

Step 1

First you have to decide which edges you are going to join. Obviously the joined edges will end up in the center of your guitar, so most of the time you will have a preference in the grain pattern. Once you do this fold the two pieces together so that the sides that are together are either both that should end up on the back of the guitar or both are those that will end up inside the final guitar.

Step 2

You will need two identical metal straight edges that are longer than your pieces as well as a piece of scrap wood as long as your pieces and at least 4-5 inches wide. . Align your board edges so they are even. Take your scrap wood and place it on top of your board pieces so that its edge lines up with the board edges you already aligned. Take one metal straight edge and lay it on top of your scrap piece and your two board pieces so that it’s edge also lines up with the edges of the boards. Clamp that sandwich together on both ends. Now take your other straight edge and lay it on top of the boards a couple inches behind the other straight edge. Now clamp that to the boards. The second straight edge is simply to help provide a flat surface for your router that you will be using in the next step. Now that you have that all clamped together clamp the whole thing to your workbench with the flat edge that needs to be joined facing out and hanging off the work bench slightly.

Your sandwich should resemble this

Step 3

In this step you will need a decent router with a good 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch straight router bit. Put the router bit in your router so that the shaft is sticking out far enough to run against your straight edge without catching it but not so far that your bit is past your scrap would in step two.  Basically you want to make sure the bit will be hitting your final board edges completely without hitting the metal straight edge. Now very carefully run your router on top of the flat straight edges with the router shaft guiding you against the straight edge. You will want to make sure you keep your router flat on top of the straight edges.

Step 4

Once you are sure the router has completely edged your pieces, you can unclamp the entire sandwich you made. If you unfold the pieces and put the freshly router’d edged together you should find that they match perfectly.

Step 5

Now that you have good edges on you boards it is time to make your joining jig. Yes we still have more to do before we can glue those nicely edged pieces together. To make the joining jog you will need two pieces of 3/4 inch cabinet grade plywood that are about as long as your pieces that you want to join and a little wider than your end joined top or back will be. You will draw an evening spaced 5x5 grid on those pieces and cut them out so they look similar to the picture below. You could use thinner plywood but you will then have to reinforce it since the purpose is to be rigid while your pieces are joined.

Step 6

Now that you have your joining jog ready you can join your pieces together by

1)      Placing one of the grid pieces on a flat surface.
2)      Place a strip of wax paper down the center of the grid
3)      Evenly spread glue on the two edges to be joined
4)      Lay down the pieces with edges to be joined in the center of the grid and line them up and pushed them together.
5)      Lay another piece of wax paper down over top of the glued edge
6)      Place other grid piece on the top.
7)      Place hand clamps on the 8 grid edges
8)      Use bungee cords to squeeze the glued pieces together by wrapping them around the top bottom and middle locations where the grid is indented.

Step 7

Now you just have to let them dry and you will end up with a nicely joined piece.  You will obviously need to sand them but I will cover sanding and thicknessing the front and back in another post. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sides and Bending Them

Once you have all your materials and a mold built to assist in building your guitar, you have a few options of what to do first. You could join and cut out the front or do the same for the back. You could start by working on the neck. Or you could start with the sides. I chose to start with the sides because I honestly thought that would be the most difficult part of building a guitar. I figured either I would be able to do it and the rest would be a breeze or I wouldn’t and I would just stop there without wasting any more time or money on it. To my surprise, bending the sides is not nearly as difficult as it first appears. As with most woodworking, a little bit of patience will get you a long way when it comes to building a guitar including bending the sides. But it is not that difficult.
There are several different ways you can go about bending the sides of a guitar.
  1. Bending Machine – A bending machine is likely to be the easiest method of bending the sides of a guitar consistently. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive. Additionally you would have to get different side molds for the bending machine every time you wanted to build a different size or style or guitar. But if you have enough money to buy one, you probably are not concerned with having to buy additional side plates for it. Luthiers Mercantile International sells bending machines like the one shown below.
  1. Heating Blankets – No, not the ones you put on your sore muscles. They make high temperature heating blankets that can be used to evenly heat up a full length side of a guitar to make it pliable so that it can be shaped to your guitar mold that you built. Once the wood reaches a certain temperature it is easily bent into shape, when the heat is removed, the wood will retain the shape of the mold.  Luthiers Mercantile International also sells these heating blankets.
  1. Bending Iron – A bending iron is essentially a heated pipe that you manually work the wood against in the correct locations to bend the wood into the correct shape. This is probably by far the most difficult, but this is how I did mine and as I stated above it is really not as difficult as it seems. Below is a picture of a bending iron from Luthiers Mercantile Internation. But if you read on further, I think you can save some money like I did.
Now before you get too concerned with the prices of the above LMII’s products, there are plans on how to build bending machines as well as bending irons. A bending iron would obviously be the simplest choice to build on your own. You basically need a board, a pipe, a collar, nuts and bolts and a heat source. Some people have used electric heaters inserted into the pipe. Others have used blow torches. I personally opted for what I thought was the easiest and safest heat source that would reach the right temperatures. I use an electric heat gun. If you choose your pipe size wisely, the heat gun fits rather well. Below is a picture (and link) to a bending iron with plans that I found on the internet.

If you want to get a little fancier, you could try building the below side bender machine. If you click on the picture it will take you to the free plans that are available. If you are going to build many guitars and want them to be consistent, this may be the way to go.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Other Guitar Parts You Will Need

Now that you have looked at patterns and narrowed your choices of wood, you also need to consider buying all the non-wood pieces for your guitar. More specifically you will need the following

            1)      Truss Rod
            2)      Fret wire
            3)      Tuners
            4)      Nut & Saddle
            5)      Bridge Pins
            6)      Neck Connection Hardware
            7)      Strings

Good guitar plans will likely make recommendations on at least several of those while leaving some up to personal choice. I will go through a few of them that I have learned a few things about in my research.
Although the length of the truss rod is going to depend on the style of guitar you are building, there are basically three categories to choose from. The first category is a simple non-adjustable truss rod. One of the main purposes of a truss rod is to strength the neck. A non-adjustable truss rod would certainly strengthen the neck and help it to maintain its position but I personally think it would be a mistake. Unless you were absolutely perfect, you will probably want to be able to make neck adjustments using the truss rod. And even if you were perfect, everything settles with time and down the road it may be necessary to make neck adjustments. As far as adjustable truss rods go, they have both single action and double action adjustable truss rods. From my understanding the double action truss rods are a relatively newer item. A traditional single action truss rod is in essence used to counter the pull of the strings. That is it will adjust to provide a back bow away from the strings to compensate for the strings pulling in the opposite direction. A double action truss rod will allow you to adjust the neck either direction regardless of the tension from the strings. I personally went with the double action, although I think for the most part a single action truss rod should be more than enough.

Fret wire will likely be recommended in your plans as far as size. Fret wire then comes in several materials such as nickel, brass and stainless steel. As with all things they all likely have their good points and bad points. I believe nickel and brass are the more traditional fret wire materials while the stainless steel is a relatively newer concept. I actually have yet to buy my fret wire, so anyone reading this please feel free to make your recommendations.

Tuners are one of those things that will probably be a very personal choice. I grabbed my tuners on EBay for pretty cheap but they are nothing special. You can spend a lot of money on tuners if that’s what you want. One of the main things to keep in mind is that closed gear tuners will usually maintain better since the moving parts are not exposed to the dust and dirt.

The nut, saddle and bridge pins should match and be purchased together. Beyond just color you have several choices of material from the cheap end of plastic to bone to fossil ivory among other choices. All of which can affect the tone of your guitar. So it would be good to do a little research before buying these. Here is a decent article talking specifically about material for the Nut of the guitar. Going Nuts.  Although not discussed in that particular article, my nut, saddle and bridge pins that I purchased are made out of horn. I believe they would probably follow the same characteristics as bone.

Well that pretty much covers what I have as far as buying parts.  Below are some good places to purchase all of the above parts.

Useful Links

Monday, September 17, 2012

Guitar Plans and Molds

Let’s take a look at guitar plans and molds. There are a lot of guitar plans on the internet. A simple Google search for “guitar plans” will turn up many possibilities. Of course you will then have to search through them and find one that you believe is what you want and what you can manage to build. Even though there were quite a few free plans that I found, I chose to go with a more detailed plan that I paid for since I have not built a guitar before. Now that I am a ways into building my first one, I might not shy away from the less detailed free plans but for a beginner I definitely would get as detailed of plans as possible.

I won’t insult you by listing out the Google search results for you but I will provide you with the link to where I bought my guitar plans. I bought my guitar plans from Ultimate Guitar Online. I was extremely happy with the plans provided. They included 8 pdfs of full scale sheets containing all aspects of the guitar as well as full size templates for all the pieces and plans to build the guitar form for that guitar. Each sheet contained detailed comments and instructions. I am sure there are a lot of good guitar plans out there but if you want to make sure you get good plans then I would take a visit to Ultimate Guitar Online.

If you are a newbie to guitar building, as I am, you may be wondering what a guitar form is. I know I certainly was wondering what it was. It is actually a structure that you build to help form and assemble the guitar. They come in a variety of styles but the 2 categories would be the outside form or an inside form. An outside form would be one that you basically form and build the guitar around the outside of the form. An inside form is one in which you form and build the guitar inside the mold. Below are some pictures of my inside guitar mold that I built, for my guitar that I am building. Again the plans came from Ultimate Guitar Online with my guitar plans I ordered. I would not have thought of using a form or mold and it definitely adds time and money to the project, but in the end I think it is well worth it. And it is obviously reusable.

Now that I have built a form and I am over half way done building my first guitar, I will say that an adjustable form may be worth the investment. Below is a picture of an adjustable form I found on EBay. The EBay seller is cnc-products. If you click on it, it will take you to the EBay seller who seems to continue to produce these for auction. I’m sure any of you looking to build a guitar could easily build of of these as well or just buy one from cnc-products. The benefit to the adjustable mold is the ability to make different types and sizes of guitars using one form, as opposed to I can only make the exact same guitar with the form I made.

Or the other option is to make really cheap, basically throw away, forms each time you build a guitar instead of going through the effort of making a really nice form. This may be particularly appealing to the person that only plans on building one guitar. Below is a YouTube video from a guy that I found helpful to watch his guitar build videos. This video specifically goes into materials etc. for the guitar he is building but pay attention to his mold. It is very simple and quick to put together. So if you are looking for a one time build you might want to do it his way. You should definitely check out all of his videos, but just keep in mind your guitar plans may call for you to do things differently. Mine did I know.

Now go pick find/buy your plans so you can get started picking out your materials you need and get ready to build your guitar!!! Post or send pics of your plans and materials you plan to use. I am always interested in seeing what everyone else is doing.

Guitar Woods

So let’s talk about wood for a guitar. You will need several types of wood to build a guitar. Specifically you will need wood for the soundboard, the back and sides, the neck, front and back bracing, the bridge and fingerboard, tail and neck blocks, and then possibly some purfling and kerfing.
Before I start suggesting woods…if you aren’t aware yet, you should always get quartersawn wood for each piece of your guitar. Quarter sawn wood is much more stable and less likely to warp and give you headaches as you build your guitar. For a better explanation on quarter sawn wood, here is a link. Quartersawn Lumber for Guitars.
The soundboard wood could be argued as the most important choice you will make when building a guitar, although I personally think every choice probably needs to be made wisely. There are a number of woods that people recommend. Probably the most recommended is spruce. There are several varieties to choose from of spruce, but besides looks I don’t think there is a great deal of difference. Some other soundboard wood options that seem fairly common are red cedar or redwood. I have bought some pieces of redwood to make an attempt using that on my next guitar (or possibly some other stringed instrument). I chose to go with Engelmann Spruce. It is not quite the bottom end but pretty close. Again to me there did not seem to be a huge difference among the spruce choices.  Make sure you get a book matched set unless of course you feel like dishing out some money for a solid piece for your top.
For the sides and the back you will have a lot more choices of wood to choose from. The general thought is that you want a hard wood that will provide great tone as well as look nice. And you will want to make sure you buy a book matched set. Mahogany is a very popular choice because it is relatively easy to work with, provides good tone and looks alright. It doesn’t look bad, but it definitely won’t stand out. There really is too many choices to list when it comes to types of wood you could use for your back and sides. You will just have to look around and see what you want along with how much you want to spend. I definitely suggest a good day or two of research as a minimum before purchasing your wood. I ended up choosing Walnut for my back and sides. I have always liked the look of walnut. 
The third main wood you will need for your guitar is the neck wood. Now you can go about this two ways. The first is to use a solid blank piece of wood. If you choose this route you should again make sure you get quartersawn wood. The other way, which is the way I chose to go is to use multiple pieces of different kinds of wood glued together to make a single piece thick enough to make your neck from. Being cheap and having access to some decent hardwood of a couple different kinds, I opted for gluing pieces together. I’m sure some guitar makers might frown on this, but I found quite a few “professional” builders that do this. If you stick with a single quartersawn piece, your best bet is probably mahogany. If you choose to glue several pieces together, your choices and combinations are endless it seems. I went with Maple and Walnut in a 5 strip pattern. Outsides are Walnut and next layer in is Maple and the center strip is a thinner slice of Walnut sized to match the width of my truss rod.
Now we get to some of the smaller pieces of wood you will need. Bracing and kerfing are used to strengthen and attach the top, sides and back. Kerfing is the slotted wood that will follow the curved sides and is used to attach the sides to the top and back along with provide some strength. They pretty much follow similar recommendations as the top, back and sides. That is the bracing for the top will be similar wood to what you used on your top. For example software woods such as spruce and basswood are the typical. And then for the bracing and kerfing for the sides and back should be a harder wood such as Mahogany or the same wood you used for the back and sides. There really isn’t a lot of choice to be made here, especially if you are just going to buy the pieces online.
The tail and neck blocks are the next in line. The neck block probably be the more important of the two choices, although you might as well make them both the same type of wood. The neck block is where the neck attaches to the body of the guitar. So you really want to make sure this piece is strong and will hold up. Most builders seem to stick with a good string Mahogany for these two pieces.
The bridge and fingerboard wood should probably purchased together, or at least that is my preference since they are typically the same type of wood. Again you have a huge selection of wood. They should be a hardwood so that they hold up. I personally went with an ebony to contrast with the light colored soundboard, you could choose just about any hardwood I would think.
Purfling is an optional thing according to most, but some suggest that it adds additional strength to the guitar. I would be of half the mind to believe that it does add some strength to the guitar. If you don’t know what purfling is, it is the decorative (again possibly more than just decorative) strip that goes around the edge of the sides of the guitar. The kinds of purfling are almost limitless as well. You can even use plastic or leather purfling. I stuck with the same wood as my sides but I may switch that when I get to that stage.
So now where can you get all of this wood from? Well first I would recommend that you read my next blog post before going on to purchase your wood, which will be on patterns and molds. Perhaps I should have written that post first but woods seemed like a good place to start.
But I will point you at a few links to places you can purchase guitar woods so you can start browsing around them. I will mention that I personally bought most of my wood on EBay. I know most wouldn’t think about buying wood on EBay but there are a lot of people selling luthier supplies including wood on EBay. Obviously you need to be careful but usually if you red peoples feedback you can get an idea of the level of satisfaction that other have had.  Personally when I am shopping on EBay I am looking to get a deal, so I would suggest becoming familiar with the pricing of these other online vendors that I will provide the links for below. I have order pieces and parts from some of these vendors, I just stuck with EBay for the main pieces of wood for my guitar.
Useful Links

Tell us what you are working on!

Ok. So for a little while on this blog, I will be focusing on guitar building since that is the current main project I am working on. Occasionally I will divert for other projects. But just because I am focusing on guitar building feel free to let us know what you are working on. I actually may just occasionally stick a post in simply for everyone to discuss what they are working on. In fact consider this post one of those posts. Comment on this post and let myself and everyone know what you are working on.
I also feel the need to keep reminding everyone that I am not an expert but just want to share my own experience and things I have digested from the web and other resources. Feel free to interject your own opinions and experience if you have them.