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Most Common First-build Mistakes:


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I ordered my first batch of wood for my first guitar. Not even going to touch it until AFTER I have read the Benedetto book and made any molds or jigs I need. I am building an ES-335 out of Mahogany back, sides, center block, and neck, and a Spruce top. I asked for the wood with the best tone available and got a very excited Marc at Gilmer Woods to find me some apparently excellent-sounding wood (he was just as excited about this as I was). So I want to make sure I do not mess this up more than my learning curve requires.

Which leads me to this thread. What are the most common mistakes builders make when making their first hollow or semi-hollow body style guitars, flat or archtop? Is it the carving of the top/back, bending of the sides, routing the edges for the binding, etc.?

As an aside, if there is a thread about just this that I missed (I tried the Search but only found the common mistakes for solid-body electric guitars) then feel free to just post a link, or the mods could PM me and delete this thread. Thanks in advance!

-Cheers

Edited by Dave I
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The first mistake you did was buying high grade wood for your first build. The second was assuming that it's impossible to mess up the first time. It's not impossible, but very improbable. Just reading a book is not enough. You will, and have to make mistakes, so your second build will be better. Believe me, you wont make the same mistake twice. Screwing up a build is awfully painfull, especially if you have to start again from scratch.

I suggest you buy standard grade wood, and familiarized yourself with the tools, wood, and how things works together. The basic idea of the first build, is being able to build without fear of screwing up everything. Mistakes usually happen when you're too confident in what you're doing and you want everything to be perfect.

The 'most common mistakes' list can be long. There is so much things that can go wrong. But that's okay. Experience is build on errors. You can make a mistake at any steps during the build. I can suggest you be careful with the glue; not enough is bad, and too much also. But what is too much glue when you never did it?

Read a lot, do some test run. It can be stupid as glueing 2 pieces of wood together, or buying a pre-slotted fretboard, and install the frets on it.

Good luck!

Edited by MescaBug
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The first mistake you did was buying high grade wood for your first build.

I actually got student grade wood. Good tap tone, not highly figured, so it was cheaper. Basically, if I do not screw up too badly, it will sound amazing but not necessarily look as cool as a really drop-dead highly figured piece would.

The second was assuming that it's impossible to mess up the first time. It's not impossible, but very improbable. Just reading a book is not enough. You will, and have to make mistakes, so your second build will be better.

Fair enough. Just want to know the most common pitfalls.

And I am not assuming it is impossible to mess up. I get the impression people generally make mistakes as a rule during their first builds. I am just trying to stack the cards in my favor so that I can avoid the most common mistakes.

I suggest you buy standard grade wood, and familiarized yourself with the tools, wood, and how things works together. The basic idea of the first build, is being able to build without fear of screwing up everything. Mistakes usually happend when you're too confident about what you're doing and you want everything to be perfect.

I am actually taking a 10-week long woodworking class through the local Technical College. I am either going to build the guitar as my first project, or make some project for my wife first as a way of getting better at my woodworking skills (both for familiarity with the wood AND the tools).

-Cheers

Edited by Dave I
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Hey Dave, good to see you starting out with questions already.

The biggest mistake is not preparing thoroughly enough. Getting the Benedetto book is definitely the right step. Be sure to read it through and understand each step. There are many bits of advice you will get that will not make sense until you actually build a guitar but getting a grasp, at least conceptually, of the entire process is mandatory before you start your project. The next step is to draw out full size plans. This way you take what you have read and build it on paper first. When you do this you can see potential pitfalls and avoid them. It will also be an excellent opportunity to ask more specific questions.

I actually disagree with most wood recommendations for first time projects. You did the right thing with the student grade woods. It is not the absolute cheapest option but it is properly cut and dried musical instrument wood, which is exactly what you want. That mahogany from Marc will be perfect for this project.

When you get to the carving stage be sure to use the templates in the book. These will help you immeasurably. Take things slow and aim for a thicker top and gradually go from there. A nice carving plane will be your best investment for this.

You probably already thought of this but if you get stuck at any stage ask questions. Don't proceed if there is any doubt as to how to do anything. Get excited and be as enthusiastic as you can but take it all slowly. These are new skills for you and they will not develop overnight. But with a bit of patience, good advice, and proper planning you will be able to build a nice instrument the first time out.

And that woodworking class sounds like a good place to start. If this is your first woodworking project ever then build something else first. You will be glad you did.

~David

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To go with everything David just said, I found one thing to be very helpful and that is: practice with your new tools on scrap. Before I started what I am working on, I had no prior wood working experience, so every part of the build is completely new to me. For each tool I have to save up a while to buy, then I spend just as much time becoming acquainted with them. I research tips on different tools as well. This idea has saved me so much time and money. I think the tools that require the most time and pratice are hand tools. It will take a bit before you can adjust, sharpen, and use many of the hand tools, so try it on scrap first, get comfortable and then go to your wood, when you know how to use the product. Anyhow, that is just an idea that has helped me out quite a bit and I hope it will help you out, even just a little. Best of luck. J

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The first mistake you did was buying high grade wood for your first build.

Yes indeed. I killed a very nice piece of 4A quilt on my first project :D

By the sounds of things, you seem like a fairly sensible person and I should imagine that the woodworking course will work wonders. Common mistakes to me normally come down to impatience.

Edited by ToneMonkey
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The first mistake you did was buying high grade wood for your first build.

Yes indeed. I killed a very nice piece of 4A quilt on my first project :D

By the sounds of things, you seem like a fairly sensible person and I should imagine that the woodworking course will work wonders. Common mistakes to me normally come down to impatience.

I am planning on building something else first. Namely, my wife has asked for a new kitchen table. I am planning on that for (re)learning the tools and technique involved with the tools I am going to need to use with my guitar builds and for smoothing over things with my wife when I am preoccupied with building things in the future. I just installed a floating laminate floor in our kitchen, but aside from that and scraping/sanding/repainting my garage door I have not done a woodworking project since high school so this will be a nice refresher course.

Would it be smart to try and use the same wood as I am planning for my first guitar (e.g. Mahogany) or is it safe to just use whatever I want and learn the trade on what is available (I am thinking some hardwood for the table like Maple or Oak, depending on woods the instructor has that look decent)?

-Cheers

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Although wood all has it's own properties, at the end of the day wood is wood so I'll think you'll be OK.

I've got a week off inbetween jobs next week and providing I can strip all the wallpaper (which appears to be held on by the force) I've got a desk to build. Lucky I have access to a cabinet maker that works for beer and owes me a favour or two :D

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Are you building an archtop? I would do at least one practice top, that is major major carvin, and how good are you at carvin? Woodwroking? Mark is exellent, now I want some more gil wood darn it!

Ive messed up on just about every step, so Im not the right guy to ask. Gluing my top/sides up today or next week I hope!

I will probably do 2 more practice tops before the next real one, I would like to have just done tops to a premade body at this point, becaue thee top is the key component.

Good luck and measure 3X and cut once.

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Are you building an archtop?

Semi-hollow body with a carved archtop. Not a true archtop though.

I would do at least one practice top, that is major major carvin, and how good are you at carvin? Woodwroking?

First major carving on my part. First woodworking project, other than installing a laminate floor (which I do not think counts) since high school (~12 years ago). Fortunately I will have a teacher there to help me out, and I will make either a table, book shelf, CD/DVD rack, or something for my wife first. I think I will make some tops to practice on first so I can get some experience in carving before I do the real thing. Seems like a good idea.

Good luck and measure 3X and cut once.

Thanks! I appreciate it.

-Cheers

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Seems like you are moving forward just fine, and you are planning well. Those are key to doing well. I believe a good portion of problems often stem from first time builders who rush, or think there is some reason to build with speed. When you don't do this for a living you do not need speed, and time is actually a great ally in allowing wood to stabalize, glue to cure fully, finishes to cure properly, being able to give every blade a fresh razor sharp touch up before making that cut and so forth, give yourself time to check measurements one more time and so forth.

Selection of wood that is going to work well is something that takes a little time to understand. Asking Marc for his expertise on selection of wood for your project is smart on your part(you pay a bit for his knowledge, but better than winging it just to save a couple dollars when wood is such a cheap but critical part of your project). Often times higher grading standards have little to do with the performance of the wood and more to do with visual criteria. Often times "student grade" wood is every bit as musical and workable as a higher grade, especially if it is selected by a person who knows what to look for. Not choosing high figure woods for your back and sides, and chossing about the most stable and workable wood around is also a good choice, not to mention much more reasonably priced.

Your doing great, stick with it and have fun :D

Peace,Rich

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I got the Benedetto book. I have read through the body chapters, skimmed the rest about the neck, fretboard, binding/inlays, etc. Three quick questions:

1) Even though I have not done woodworking in about a decade, the bending of the sides and the top and back (drilling holes, chipping away excess, and shaving/carving the insides & outsides so it looks smooth and flexes properly) seems kind of intuitive. Some of the other stuff with the neck and binding seems a bit more complicated, but I think I can wrap my head around the body. Would it be o.k. to start with the body as long as it makes sense and I go slow? Or should I do some kind of starter project first?

2) What would be a good starter project that will give me some woodworking skills that will translate over to guitar making? Would making the mold, side bender, and any jigs needed for the neck and anything else be enough or should do something entirely non-guitar related first? Any ideas? I could do something for my wife or my baby girl. Just not sure what.

3) Where is a good place to get ES-335 plans? And/Or a program to do my own design or modify designs CAD-style (without CAD, which I do not have).

-Cheers

Edited by Dave I
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Why not try a solid body or noncarved semi hollowbody first. All of the experience you glean from a project like this will apply. Not saying that solidbody guitars are a simple task, but as a guy new to woodworking, bending sides and carving a top are pretty highly skilled accomplishments. Building a body alone that has the neck pocket properly cut and the proper bridge placement. Even drilling a hole in a top without tearing out takes practice. You could build a body, buy a cheap neck, then practice carving a neck and setting frets then build your own neck for your body. After a project like this you'll probably have real success in your carved top project.

I've been working with wood for 50 years and have built 4 SB guitars (I'm working on #5 now) and countless other wood working projects. Now, finally I feel ready to try carving a top for a PRS style Hollowbody.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone. Who knows you may be one of those who has a natural talent for working with wood.

Edited by CrazyChester
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Build your jigs and mold, this is a good place to get warmed up. Also practice sharpening tools. You are going to want to pic up some wood to practice carving and getting a feel for using planes, scapers, chisels, routers and such. Do practice on scrap, and test out your molds and such using scrap to make sure your comfortable and everything is working well. The tasks such as carving or bending sides, cutting binding channels etc... Are not difficult, they are specific and you do have to get used to them. Learning to sharpen and use bladed tools does require the most practice to build your control and ability to get a feel for the grain.

Woodworking aside, you have the "instrument" specific skills and knowledge. This will be things like fretting, understanding scale lengths, action, nut setup, and the what have you. You can practice your set up and fretwork skills on built necks. This is an area that sets appart woodworking from instrument building. Finishing is another area where you can practice on scap and get used to the process. Developing your skill in each of these areas takes years and years of practice. This does not mean that you can't achive fine results, on your first attempt. It just means you have to work harder and with greater patience on your first (this requires more time, and as long as you accept that you can give yourself room to get these things right). As you get more practice and your skills develop you will find tasks become easier and flow more smoothly. The "trick" if you will, that you can get away with is to cut down a lot of wasted time and effort fighting things like using the wrong tool for the job or trying to make shortcuts work. You will find guys that have been working on building for years that keep realising this tool or jig makes this or that task simple and so much more accurate and repeatable. They often times have spent years fighting with this or that when they could have just stopped and took the time to make the right jig or save up and buy that tool, or maybe even learn how to sharpen that blade better.

On the knowledge side of things you will find people who don't stop and work through things that they have trouble understanding, or possibly even buy pre-built parts because they don't take the time needed to learn and understand. You can avoid all that by not fearing what you don't understand, and stick with it till you work it out. The guys who work these things out and don't take sloppy shortcuts are the ones who build a pretty darn good guitar right out the shoot.

Probably one of the best ways to get that solid start, is to take an instrument building course from an experienced builder. You would see the methods, have access to a person who could explain what you are having trouble understanding, and probably gain years worth of knowledge in months. If you can seek out another builder that has solid experience in your area that is really helpful also. I know one fella on this board that was fortunate enough to meet up with an experience builder when he started building acoustics. He has gained probably more years worth of experience than he knows from that association.

Peace,Rich

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