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Advice For Building First Acoustic Guitar


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Hi

I'm getting ready to build my first acoustic guitar and would apreciate your advice on the following points

1. Side bending.

Whats the best method for a beginner ? A mould with a heater banket looks like it might be easier although a bit more expensive - does this produce finished sides without scorching ?

2. Build on a workboard freestanding or in a mould ?

So far I`ve read (and am currently re-reading ) Cumpianos book and Kimkeads book. Both seem good but use different methods. Cumpiano constructs the guitar on a workboard whereas Kinkead uses a mould. To me the mould looks more foolproof although requiring the additional work of building a mould. What do you use / recomend ?

3. Tenon Joint / Spanish heel

In an endeavour to simplify things I am considering doing a Spanish heel on a steel string guitar thus avoiding the complicated neck joint . Do you think this would be ok ? It looks simpler to build and the only downside I can see is that it couldn't be reset in the future (since this is going to be my first attempt I dont see that will be an issue)

4. Finishes. Since this is my first guitar I am trying to keep things simple and minimise investment and am therefore considering using an oil finish (Tung oil). Is this ok for an acoustic guitar ?

Thanks for youre help

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I can't speak from experience (yet!) but I have done many years of reading up on the subject, and have many years experience building electrics.

An exterior mould is more common, and by all accounts easier.

I believe a spannish heel is more complex than most other techniques - certainly harder than a bolt on butt joint or a simple tenon.

Oil finishes are not recommended for acoustic guitars, since they penetrate deep into the wood and impart high damping - which is undesirable. A hard film finish is better. You could use lacquer, or french polish if you want something you can apply without spray equipment.

Side bending I'll leave for others to address. Mattia, Fryovanni?

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1- www.technicalvideorental.com you can rent tons of great videos, in this case luthier videos for $10, and get them all week. Get some acoustic building ones, watcht hem, take notes.

2- Join the www.luthiersforum.com cause no offense, for acoustics, that's a much better resource, PG is very electrics oriented IMO.

3- Talk to Rich, or Myka. Those to seem to have a hang of it.

Chris

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Good to hear your going to build an acoustic (I think they are a lot of fun).

1. Side bending; My personal belief is that without question the side bending machine is best, and a simple heat pipe can be used if any light touch up is needed. I personally use a combination of three heat lamps below and a heat gun to heat from the top. This is pretty good for me (mainly because I have used it for a while). I strongly suggest you use heat blankets if you can. They are definately a more straight forward approch. The overheating potential is on a matter of dialing in the equipment so the temp is regulated properly. At which time you are golden. As far as other options- only heat lamps (very slow and requires a good deal of experience to make it work well), Hot Pipe- Requires practice and patience (it is the cheapest option, but requires the most skill and time).

2. I use both. Molds are not as good for Spanish style, because of the construction method. Molds offer you a great way to lock the sides with great stability. I would say using molds are a better approch overall, and make the process easyier and more consistent.

3. Spanish is not simpler. You are worried about setting the neck and that is why you think it is that way. Spanish style is like doing a neck-thru guitar. You get the neck issues out of the way up front (better get it right or you are screwed), but you pay the price from there on (because the neck is in the way). I would say the easiest joint is a glued tenion. You can make adjustments dry, and then drop it and clamp. You should keep looking at different neck configurations (different tenions, bolt-on, glued, and diffenet neck block configs). Plan well while you build your neck block and you will do fine.

4. Look into Shellaced finishes if you prefer a rubbed finish. French Polish is a bit tricky(takes practise), but a wonderful way to go.

You should have a look at some of the builds going on and see what methods look good to you.

Click

Click

guitared's Page (PG Memeber)

Jammy's 1st

Jammy's #2

Hope that helps a bit.

Peace,Rich

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Have a look at Cumpiano's bolt in neck system at Bolt in neck

I've used it and it is simple and very effective. I have just modified a Hofner 12-string, which had a very dodgy mechanical bolt in system, to this method with very successful results.

Keith

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I took a class. Without it, I think some of the steps would simply not be intuitive. You really have to see some steps being done to understand them(or at least I did).

Unless you can find a class I would recommend for the very first one, if you are working alone, you should get a kit. If the sides are already well bent, making the guitar without is mold is certainly doable and saves you A LOT of time building jigs. There is plenty of work assembling the guitar, and a tremendous satisfaction in seeing one done. You really don't need to add the work of milling and preparing the pieces as well.

As far a side bending, a side bender is WAY easier than doing it by hand. I have done both and can say that hand bending on a pipe is an exercise in frustration. "Ooops, too far." "Shoot, not far enough." "Now I've bent and rebent so much it is starting to look like washboard on a dirt road" "Do amoeba guiars sell well?" etc.

Finally a modern neck tenon and head block assembly is very straight forward and definitely NOT the hard part. I'm not sure how you would make a truss rod work with the Spanish heel, although I'm sure it's been done. Regardless of which you choose, my best advice is to follow the traditiona construction and design of the guitar you want to build as much as possible. With a few guitars under your belt you can begin to experiment on other techniques. Often times I think I have a better way just to find out, "so this is why they do it this way."

Good luck, and enjoy. I find an acoustic is significantly more work than an electric, but as a result my pride when I'm done is an order of magnitude greater!

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1. Side bending.

2. Build on a workboard freestanding or in a mould ?

So far I`ve read (and am currently re-reading ) Cumpianos book and Kimkeads book. Both seem good but use different methods. Cumpiano constructs the guitar on a workboard whereas Kinkead uses a mould. To me the mould looks more foolproof although requiring the additional work of building a mould. What do you use / recomend ?

3. Tenon Joint / Spanish heel

In an endeavour to simplify things I am considering doing a Spanish heel on a steel string guitar thus avoiding the complicated neck joint . Do you think this would be ok ? It looks simpler to build and the only downside I can see is that it couldn't be reset in the future (since this is going to be my first attempt I dont see that will be an issue)

4. Finishes. Since this is my first guitar I am trying to keep things simple and minimise investment and am therefore considering using an oil finish (Tung oil). Is this ok for an acoustic guitar ?

Thanks for youre help

1. Build a (simple) bender, buy a blanket. John Hall at Blues Creek Guitars does a good deal on a combined packaged. Best way to guarantee success, dead simple.

2. Build in a mold. Don't even think about freehand. Not worth the hassle, and it's so much easier to line things up solidly. Essentially, bend sides, place in mold, do not remove from mold until top and back are glued, and you're almost guaranteed a sqaure, symmetrical, good-looking result.

2a. Make radiussed sanding dishes. MIMF.com has tons of info in the library, a google will reveal websites with more info. Makes tapering the back and adding a top radius absurdly simple, and MDF is cheap. Messy, but cheap.

3. Spanish Heels are not simple. Drop that idea. Easiest joint is a bolt-on butt-joint, no tenon, just threaded inserts, bolts, done. See info on LMI's website, and various discussions at the MIMF.com (register and use the library). LeeValley has good pricing on inserts and nice looking and feeling bolts. Cumpiano's method works fine, but it's not quite as idiot-proof.

4. Oil finish...not really a great idea. A polymerized oli finish like Tru-Oil can work fine for back/sides/neck, but at the very least you should seal the top with shellac (Zinnser seal coat if you don't want to mix your own) if you want to oil on top of it, because you want a film finish, not one that penetrates into the wood and dampens vibration.

Honestly, kits are good, although I decided (with a bunch of electrics under my belt) that from scratch was the best option for me. Buying materials for my first four cost me about as much as two equivalent kits.

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Thanks for your replies guys.

I've been reading some more and I think youre right that the bolt in neck route is probably the best.

I am however still determined to build from scratch and accept the fact that its not gonna be easy - I guess thats part of why I want to do it anyway. I'm sure a kit would ensure a better guitar but I'd rather end up with a less than perfect guitar which I can really feel that I've made myself !!!! (Time may prove me wrong !!)

Mattia - I see that youre in Amsterdam , can you recomend any good European suppliers please- the best I've found so far is "Madinter" who are pretty good but there are still a few things they dont have.

Thanks for youre advice guys

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Thanks for your replies guys.

I've been reading some more and I think youre right that the bolt in neck route is probably the best.

I am however still determined to build from scratch and accept the fact that its not gonna be easy - I guess thats part of why I want to do it anyway. I'm sure a kit would ensure a better guitar but I'd rather end up with a less than perfect guitar which I can really feel that I've made myself !!!! (Time may prove me wrong !!)

Mattia - I see that youre in Amsterdam , can you recomend any good European suppliers please- the best I've found so far is "Madinter" who are pretty good but there are still a few things they dont have.

Thanks for youre advice guys

Madinter's great if you can afford to wait a little; their back/side woods are great, great prices, but they can be and all the ones I've bought have been a bit green, ie I wouldn't use them before letting them dry for a further 6-9 months. Not a problem per se, but something to keep in mind. Their WRC tops are apparently great. A supplier I like, with slightly higher prices on back/sides (but mostly ready to use stuff) is Rivolta (riwoods.com), just be sure to ask them for older tops (1-2 years old) if you're getting some of their excellent spruce. They tend not to have a lot of older stock, though, just that years' production. I still do order quite a bit of stuff from the US, thanks to the low dollar. StewMac and LMI are always good bets, and where I tend to get my tuning machines/fretwire from. If you want binding/purfling, there's Karin Rost (google), and David Dyke's Luthiers Supplies (Google) in the UK is a bit pricey, but call and he can probably find you whatever you want. Touchstone Tonewoods is another good UK supplier, and Rockinger.com (Germany) has good prices on electric parts/hardware/truss rods and similar.

There's a pinned topic on EU suppliers somewhere here...

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks a lot Mattia.

You say thet the wood you recieved frm Madinter was green. Do you measure the moisture content of the wood with a meter or can you tell by touch ?

I don't, but I asked them when it was cut/how it was dried, and they in no way guarantee the stuff's ready to build with. Green wood feels different to acclimatized wood; it's often colder than the surrounding environment, it moves more, etc. I don't know how green, but since I don't build fast, it's not an issue for me. I plan on getting a moisture meter at some point, mostly because I plan to start doing a bit of resawing, and I've got a few sources that somtimes have less-than-completely-acclimatized wood...

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"Green" generally means freshly cut (as Mattai mentioned it has not had time to aclimate post cutting), but the wood has been partially dried prior to cutting. Some dealers use the same term to describe freshly cut and wood that is "wet"(generally better than 25% MC). Wood is highly unstable until it drops below that threshhold. There are a lot of those terms tossed about that can mean different things, The best thing to do is ask for the drying history on the wood like Mattia does(very simple and smart thing to do). As far as telling if wood has stabalized without metere or testing. Mattia is right that you can tell pretty well with air dried wood (it has the clues he mentioned-**Note-He has a pretty fair stockpile of wood to reference, and has learned from a fair bit of observation). The same can't always be said of kiln dried.

I had a board that was KD and I personally had it stored for better than 2 years in a stable environment. I thought nothing of re-sawing it, and I found out very quickly it was not stabalized. It was case hardened and had trapped the moisture (it read about 18% when I tested the cut wood). I am much more cautious now with KD lumber, and test moisture with a meter when I buy it and then again before I cut it. If I see a board is holding moisture I will slice off the outer 1/8" or so and see if that allows it to release the moisture. This is something that occurs because of a overly aggressive kiln drying schedule and air dried wood does not have the same issue. It can be a bugger to detect.

Peace,Rich

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Also a note: the 'cheap' way to check whether a piece of wood is acclimatized in a stable environment (no huge shifts in humidity or temp) is to weigh it. Accurate scale, note the weight, weigh it once a week for a while. When it stops changing weight, it's come to an equilibrium. You will need an accurate scale, though.

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and I've got a few sources that somtimes have less-than-completely-acclimatized wood...

Do you mean madinter?

Yes. And Maderas Barber. And Rivolta, in Italy, to a degree, since they tend to have a lot of relatively 'new' topwood that's best left to dry for a while longer before use, but if you ask they should have some older stuff too.

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