First guitar - dreadnaught

DLJeffs

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I think I'd only ever looked on Craig'slist once or twice in my life. For some reason two days ago I went on to see if there was any lumber I could use for a stand for our printer. Lo and behold a local person had just posted that he was selling his guitar making jigs. I've wanted to build my own acoustic for maybe 30 years, just never found a class, etc. and didn't want to invest in all the special tools, jigs, etc. So called the guy and said I'm interested in his jigs but only if he was willing to coach me along the way. He said that sounded really interesting to him as well, as he'd been thinking about setting up a small group class type of thing. We met today and worked out a plan! I'm so psyched! Finally will be building my own acoustic guitar, a standard dreadnaught, Martin pattern. Can't wait to get started.

dreadnaught jigs.jpg
 

Arn213

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What a great barter and deal you made! I would if you can afford to is to slowly purchase whatever he has because you would save so much $$$ from buying used and on top of that see what guitar building wood sets he has that he is willing to let go so you have a head start. The advantage to that is the wood he has slowly seasoned and ready for suit up in building. Pick up a room hygrometer for the wood; he might have one.
 

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Arn, thanks very much for any advice. He and i talked for about 3 hours this morning and that's one of the things we talked about. He recommended the same thing - he has a bunch of Adirondack spruce tops and mahogany sides and bottoms and I'll get at least 3. I will probably pick up a myrtle set as well just for something different. He's a traditional guitar builder so prefers the spruce and mahogany for tone. But I think I'd like one with some more character in the wood - maybe. I'm starting with one to see how it goes. Both my son and daughter play so I figure if I'm halfway successful I'll build at least 3.

Hopefully, I can ask lots of questions of you and other luthiers on here, at least for a second opinion. I 'm really excited about this project. The seller isn't getting completely out of guitar making but wants to focus on the CNC design aspects and electrics more than acoustics. He said to make any money at them he has to buy very high end wood and charge a lot because of the time involved.
 
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Arn213

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^That is great and I am happy about the part that you were able to barter with him on helping you build as part of the jig purchase. I suggest be a “super sponge” and ask away on his build approach from beginning to end. That would be a “pricele$$” entry into steel string building.

The Adirondack red spruce is a must for soundboards. Martin was a prolific user of that species during the “Golden Era” and they switched to Sitka from my understanding because it was easier to obtain /plentiful for commercial builds. Genuine mahogany is a good place to start for back and sides. Ask him about using genuine rosewood for the back and sides for one of the builds. You will notice a big tonal and sound difference between that and the mahogany. Well, you can go to a good guitar store and try the same model and you will hear a difference between the 2 different species. Also, there are other guitar sizes that you might be interested in like an OM, Concert (between a dred and an OM), Jumbo, 00 parlor, etc.

We do have a lot of good domestic woods that is suitable for back and sides as well as soundboards available here in America. Myrtle wood is an interesting wood- Collings and I believe Breedlove uses them for back and sides. There might be available videos online so you can get an idea of the tonal properties.

There are some talented builders here and hopefully they will come out of the woodwork.

What he said is true on your last paragraph. The CNC is a great tool for cutting and to be able to have a larger production and be able to cut intricate details with intricate transitions. Most acoustic users tend to only want to use mahogany or rosewood- most because of tradition, familiarity and because it it true and tested. But, don’t let that stop you as more and more builders tend to experiment to see how other species can work for specific voicing and because some woods overtime will become restricted (due to over harvesting) requiring alternative woods to be used. I am primarily an electric guitar player and those too I must admit there are certain traditional woods used to net familiar sound results that musicians tend to go for because it is familiar. However, in the last couple of decades that “thinking” has changed as more exotic woods became available and curiosity seekers followed.

Best of luck. Excited for you and waiting to see how your development and your builds unfold!
 
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DLJeffs

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Arn - One thing I know I am going to have to make is one of those tables with all the spring rods for gluing up the braces, top and bottom (I can't remember what it's called). Have you seen any simple designs for those? The guy I bought the forms from said they're nothing fancy and easy to make along with the rods. I can use another work table so I'm thinking maybe I can come up with something that I can dual purpose - when not clamping a guitar I can use it for other stuff. Maybe a way to make the upper support removeable.
 

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That’s a “Go Bar Clamping System” that efficiently glues the braces and bm panels. You could buy them from the luthier builders outfits that will cost you around $ 600 or you can build them yourself as it is pretty simple outside of purchasing the flexible rods, hardware and the radius dishes (could be made too). There is plenty of info. on line and YouTube if you want to build one of these. Here is one useful link: https://www.liutaiomottola.com/Tools/Go.htm

You should ask the luthier you are working with how he built his and ask him what he would change to it based on his build experience to make it better and more efficient.

Hopefully some of the fine luthiers will come out of the woodwork and give you some advise.

On a side note, there is a little easier way to “get your feet wet”. Have you ever thought of building a guitar kit first? Not trying to push you in that direction, but it is an option.

Not my photo, but attaching it for readers reference:

052431E1-7C45-417E-808C-D3C1272E6090.jpeg
 
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One of those once in a lifetime opportunities! Take FULL advantage of what is right in front of you! Congrats! Chuck
 

DLJeffs

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Thanks Arn, I'll check out that link. 99% sure I'll build my own rather than buy one. The guy I'm working with mentioned building one so hopefully he'll have some design guidance. He did say you want to be able to rotate it like a lazy susan I think. I got the two radius dishes needed for a dreadnought when I got the jigs so I'm all set. Hopefully I can use the same radius dishes for both sanding the sides, braces as well as gluiong and clamping when the time comes.
 

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Yeah, Doug. Make your own go-bar table. Rotating is good. Just put a removable top on it and you have a great general-purpose table.

Arn's idea to get a kit is a good one if you don't have a bending iron and some of the other tools you'll get along the way. The tools are pretty expensive. Buy good ones rather than buying cheap stuff because it makes financial sense in the long run. For example, buy one good chisel rather than a cheap set, etc. Same goes for clamps; cheap clamps will drive you nuts and maybe ruin your work. I learned that the hard way and LOVE Irwin Quick Grip clamps; they're expensive and worth every penny--truly one-handed, strong and have fine ratcheting where as look-alike clamps don't have as many adjustments or slip under pressure.
 

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Thanks for chiming in Carla. I'm hoping you luthiers keep providing suggestions and advice (the price is right!). One question - when you say rotating, could I make the base of the go-bar table a couple thicknesses of 3/4" plywood, wide enough to accommodate the radius dishes, and then simply get a 12" lazy susan bearing and attach it to the bottom of the 3/4" ply? I'd still have to build a stand for it to sit on - or another sheet of 3/4" ply that would sit on my work bench. And I assume you want to be able to lock it in place sometimes so you need a way to stop it from rotating when needed.

Second question - what are your thoughts on the spring bars? Can they be made from wood or some other material (lots of 3/8" round fiberglass rods here people use to mark the edge of their driveway in the snow so they know where the pavement ends). Or is it worth the cost to simply buy them?
 
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barefoot

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Doug,
You can make the rods, but wood doesn't actually have the right spring for a go-bar table, I've found. I'm rather poor, so I made my rods out of split bamboo. They work okay, but honestly, I'd rather have the fiberglass rods (having worked with them on another luthier's table). They have the right spring, don't lose that spring like wood/bamboo does, and should have the covered tips so that they don't damage the wood or stick to it if they get glue on them. If you can get them free or cheap, jump at them. Get at least a three dozen, all the same length, of course. Each brace might need at least three rods, so the more the merrier--having enough means you don't have to do things in pieces and bits.

I'm less convinced about having a rotating table. If your go-bar table is in the open floor, you can just walk around it. I suspect that a rotating table might have some built-in wobble but maybe not. If it has wobble, then the rods would have varying pressure which I don't like the sound of. You do need quite a bit of pressure to get those braces down tight. I tend to clamp pretty tight anyway. If you just put the glue on and then clamp them tight, you run the risk of squeezing too much glue out and creating a dry joint--WRONG. The way around that is to either clamp lightly and come back later and clamp tight when the glue's had time to sink in and is beginning to set, or (my way), spread the glue and wait until it's just starting to tack up before placing it with a medium-tight clamp, checking in 15 minutes to make sure it's down tight. These processes usually result in less squeeze-out around the edges--therefore less cleanup needed. Another trick is to spread the glue and then run a finger or rag around the edge and wipe off the very edges of the piece so that the squeeze out ends up at the edge, rather than all over the place.

Many clamps will leave impressions in the wood, so padding the clamps/wood is a good idea. I cut up wine corks to insert when I need padding and can't use wood pieces like popsicle sticks, etc. Even better is thick plastic because it never sticks to the board/brace, which can be a nightmare. It's good practice to make your braces out of really good, straight-grain wood. I use my best wood for braces; it pays dividends in strength and acoustics. I always hand split my braces off of larger wood, a practice followed by the best luthiers to avoid run-out.

Most luthiers use several types of glue for instruments. Hide glue can be tricky, has a short working time if made from scratch, but is super strong and reversible, plus acoustically superior--AND, it's traditional. The premade type you can buy in a hardware store is okay in a pinch, but nowhere as good as the granular stuff you mix yourself. You can buy it in strengths but the stronger the strength, the shorter the working time, sometimes decreased to no more than 15 seconds, which is tough to get right. It always pays to dry fit your clamps before adding glue. The other type of glue is regular wood glue (NOT waterproof). It's easy to find, cheap enough, has good open time and is reversible, but not as easy to remove once dry as hide glue is. It's also available in a dark color for dark wood. Hint: don't wipe off wet squeeze-out because it will leave a discoloration on the wood. Wait until it's dry and chip it off carefully with a chisel. That sounds difficult, but actually, done carefully, makes for a much cleaner look. Of course there's cryo for many things like spotting it on the bottom of frets, for certain types of inlay, like pearl and various things. They make it in black for work on ebony, which is nice. Another hint: Mixing thin cryo with sawdust makes a great fill but you have to plan that it WILL darken, so you might have to mix sawdust to get the right color--always test the mix before applying.

BTW, you might know this stuff, and I don't mean to presume you don't/do. Just trying to cover the basics here in case.

I have to leave town for a few days to go to Vermont. We'll be very busy and I don't know if I can resume here until I get back, but I will be back. Count on it. I love talking with other woodworkers!
 
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DLJeffs

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Thanks for all the insights and advice, Carla. It doesn't bother me at all if you cover something I might already know, just reinforces it. I've learned there are many ways to make a guitar and about twice as many opinions as what's the best way. I met with my mentor today and he concurred with your recommendation of Cumpiano's book. He also said it wasn't necessary to make the actual go-bar deck rotate around like a lazy susan. Just make it such a way that I can walk 360 degrees around it to install clamps, etc. That'll work nicely because I have a mobile work station I made from an old bathroom cabinet. Reinforced the sides, put on lockable casters and a 2" thick top. I can wheel it anywhere to work and it's solid. We're going to check out rosettes next.
 

barefoot

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Doug, the unquestioned best rosettes in the world, overall, come out of Russia. http://www.schrammguitars.com/russian_rosettes.html They really are beautiful.

There are a lot of nice rosettes, both SS and classical, on eBay, where they're generally much cheaper than at Schramm and somewhat cheaper than at LMI. Stew-Mac doesn't carry much, but they have rosette-making supplies! There are a bunch of good luthiers who have posted tutorials on making them.
I've never had the urge to do it because it's so tedious and time consuming...

...and I'm all thumbs at teeny, tiny things.
...but it is the indelible mark of a master.
...fascinating possibilities for subtle, cultural and artistic expression.
...hmmmmm.
 
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barefoot

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When I started in luthery I bought out an old button factory and resold her 50-year-old shell from Australia (he best!) for two years on eBay. Learned a lot about shell. Here are some more very fine inlay outfits:
https://www.knifehandles.com/culpepper-and-company (Culpepper & Co.)
https://www.inlaybanding.com/products.html (prime wood bandings)
http://www.harveyleachinlays.com/custom-inlays.html (custom and exquisite--good for ideas)
https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/abalone-inlay-material.html (large pieces of shell and ablam)

Bottom line: From personal experience, I suggest caution in using ablam; it is so thin that it can be difficult to inlay successfully as very thin inlay can too easily pop out. I have had the best luck with using 1/8" inlay because it stays put. Another hint about inlaying, I got from Larry Robinson himself (yeah, from a phone conversation with him. He is a very nice fella!) is to back cut the edges of your inlay pattern; that is, to cut the pattern back from the edge so that the top edge protrudes a bit. That way it's a lot easier to get a tight fit with no spaces showing. BTW, Larry does all the million-dollar anniversary guitars for Martin. His work is a bit fancy for me, but astonishing for the skill he displays.

My inlay idol is Grit Laskin because, aside from skill, his work shows so much art.
 

Arn213

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If you are planning to sell what you are building- buy any shell inlays (abalone, mother of pearl, etc) from a reputable seller that can furnish you with Fish & Wildlife permit (import/export). Yes, it will cost you like $ 100 whether it is a handful or a big order- but, it gives you peace of mind that you can import or export guitars you built with “shellfish inlays” because you have the proper paperwork. If you don’t have a permit and you ship it outside the country, customs at the destination country can confiscate it- you don’t have proper paperwork, your guitar is long gone. This also pertains to CITES restricted woods (proper documentation for import/export).
 
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barefoot

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Back when I was selling my pearl, CITES hadn't restricted it. My stock was, indeed, 50 years old. Here's a picture of some of it--black pearl. Pretty stuff. I sold to, mostly, luthiers. I had promised he original owner that I would make sure it was well used. lgblcircles1.JPG
 

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Beautiful stuff. I'm probably going to keep my guitar pretty basic and focus more on trying to achieve quality woodwork, joinery, etc. Hopefully, the sound will be awesome and it'll be an upgrade over my current guitar. Maybe down the road I'll consider some of this fancy stuff.
 

barefoot

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Wise idea Doug. It might not hurt to do one inlay of some sort to make it yours. Not mandatory, though. Just building it is enough. c:
Incidentally, black pearl is getting to be almost unobtainable anyway, and always expensive.
 
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