Building an Acoustic Guitar

I decided to give a try to build an acoustic guitar, I choose to do a copy of the Gibson J-45. I Find on Ebay some mahogany wood, back & side. I start to build a go-bar which is a glueing station. Also I build an iron bender, it is just a hot resistance in a piece of pipe you can use to bend the side with steam. And I build a mold to hold the shape of the bend side.

Here is the iron bender

The mold

I also have to get a radius table, yes the back and the soundboard of a guitar are not totally flat. there is a slight radius, usually more important on the back than the soundboard. I will use a radius of 15ft for the back and 28ft for the soundboard. So the radius table help to shape the braces, and then to glue them.

The radius table

I receive the mahogany, maybe 2.8mm thick, I glued the back together as a book-match. Then I start to bend the side, I leave 5mn the side in the bath tub with hot water then put a wet rag on the hot pipe and start to bend the wood, not an easy task… It took me 1h20 to do one side, going really slowly. Maybe I should have the side thinner…Anyway the job is done now, and I realize my mold is not really perfect!

Gluing the back together

Now I am waiting for the unshaped braces to arrive as the tail block, the neck block with a dovetail and the kerfing. I also decided to get a real mold.

The flat sides

After bending the sides

Here is the soundboard plan with the braces position.

Same for the back

September 22

A little update. I read somewhere someone saying “you need to check every single thing you use”, this guy was right, after a long brainstorming I realize that the template I received does not match perfectly!! My mold is useless now… I had to order one so at least I know the shape of the guitar will be exact. (mold from LMI).

I glue the tail block and the neck block, then I sand down the side on the 15ft radius table.

Then glue the kerfing

Glue the back braces and shape them.

And Voila! I am pretty happy how it turn, it start to look like a guitar.

Next, I am going to give a try to shape a neck, a really interesting process in my opinion.

Here, I start to cut a piece of mahogany in two part, trying to make 2 necks…. I clamp some metal part with a straight edge as a guide and use a Japanese saw to cut the wood.

Then I cut at an angle for the headstock and glue it back to the neck (yeah picture will be better than my explanation…).

Here you can see I was using the radius table to sand the top surface of the body. You can also see the soundboard under the neck.

I did not take any pictures of the top bracing!

I went to Harbor Freight and bought a lot of cheap clamp, good enough for the job. So I was able to glue the top.

Then I don’t know what happen, why I didn’t take any picture of the rosette process and binding??? I was probably too much excited with the cheap tools from Harbor Freight, a little palm router. I use it to rout the groove for the rosette and also to rout the edge for the binding . It works well for me, I had to build a jig for the rosette and I will definitely build a binding jig for the next guitar.

Then I dry fit the binding, cut a lot of pieces of tape and start to glue with the cement glue from Stewmac. I like this glue because it dry quicker than the wood glue.

I find a nice 14′ Grizzly band saw, make the job a lot easier, I still have to learn a bit and adjust everything to the right setting to do some nice straight cut.

After the binding was install, I decided to spray some color to the soundboard, and one coat of clear to the side and back, this generally reveal the grain and also the scratch….

The paint looks rough but I still have to wet sand the top and apply some coat of clear.

Here is where I am now. I tried to build the neck, everything was fine until I came to the Dovetail!!! Cut a dovetail and have a perfect fit is a real challenge…specially as a first time.

The first neck I built, I cut the dovetail too much. The second one I mess with the headstock=garbage. The third one, after shaping the entire neck, cutting the groove for the truss rod, I was not able to have a good fit with the dovetail. The fourth one, I decided to start by the dovetail before spending time with shaping, and I was right because the dovetail did not fit again, I had a gap between the heel and the body…

I receive some pieces like the bridge, the saddle, the finger board with a 24.75 fretting scale (Gibson), the truss rod, just need a neck! I am thinking of getting the template from Stewmac with the router bit to make a perfect dovetail.

October 30 2012

It is really exciting to see a guitar take shape little by little adding some pieces of wood. It is really nice, I mean you are trying to make something beautiful (ok everybody have his own perception for what we call beauty) this is one thing, but the main thing is to make a musical instrument, so I am looking forward to be able to play (if it stay together when putting the strings which will put a pressure of 170 pounds on the soundboard!!!) and see how it sounds…

Cheers

I ordered the fretboard with a radius of 12 degrees and the Gibson 24.75 scale for the fret. I order some dots inlay from Stewmac and I receive the Mother In Pearl diamonds!! I was at first skeptical as using those because it will be harder to carve the ebony. But I give it a try and here is how it looks:

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After carving the wood I glued the diamonds with some black superglue, let it dry for 10mn, then you take the black sawdust from the bony, fill the little holes in the diamonds and apply the black superglue. Again wait  few minutes, then you can sand the fretboard. But because the fretboard have a 12 degree radius, you need a sanding block with the same radius, I order one again from Stewmac. Then here is the result.

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I was to excited and I f—-d up! Look were the two diamonds are installed they are supposed to be on the 12 fret! yep a proof that it is homemade.

I needed a neck, with a dovetail already cut to fit my neck bloc. I got one from LMI, they have great product, they are based in California, but the delivery time is always too long for me, Stewmac is much faster. Anyway I received the neck, and of course the dovetail does not fit perfectly, and they do it on purpose so you have to sand and adjust for your guitar neck angle, which make totally sense. So I spend a day trying to figure out where I should sand to make it fit right, I use some carbon paper in the neck bloc, insert the neck in take it of and look where there is some carbon trace, and sand those mark. Also take some strip of sand paper and run then under the neck heel (where it fit the body), and you pull the strip, so it follow the shape of the body and sand the heel. I didn’t take any picture of that step, too frustrating! I already try to built 4 neck from scratch and always messed up with the dovetail, I didn’t want to mess with that neck, which also is not cheap at all, but quarter sawn Honduran Mahogany, is not cheap!

A day after the neck had a good fit not perfect but ok. next step install the trussrod, super! Yes super the trussrod is too big and does not fit in the neck? Why because the neck was ordered from LMI and the trussrod from Stewmac! not the same spec and dimension (thickness). I had to wait an other week to get the trussrod from LMI. Put some silicone and install the trussrod. Done!

I shaped the fretboard to the neck size, and cut a little bit more to be able to put my mother in pearl binding, superglue the binding to the fretboard and sand the whole thing. Then I make a fret bender, the fret need to be bend prior to install for a better fit. I read somewhere someone was saying if you use stainless steel fret bend them to the right radius. That what I did, and frankly  I should bend them a little bit over the 12 degree radius! Anyway I realize that after instaling the fret. I also had to remove the tang from the fret because of the binding I installed. Then drill small hole for the side dot, not happy how it turns, but for doing that on the garden table, it is ok, next time I will be in my shop with all the proper tool!!

Then glue the soundboard on the neck, and glue the neck to the body, sorry I didn’t take a lot of pictures I was so focus!

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Then I glued the bridge, I drill two little hole and insert some small screw so the bridge will not move when I will put the glue and apply pressure, it work pretty well, then drill the rest of the hole for the bridge pin. I use a 5 degree reamer so the bridge pin will fit perfectly. take a little saw blade and saw a line for sting to run from under the soundboard thru the bridge (a lot of people recommend to use plain bridge pin rather than the one who have the room for the string to run into it). I receive my Gotoh tuner and ebony head-plate, glue the ebony head-plate, drill the hole for the tuner, install the tuner, and then run to Guitar Center to get some string. I Had the bone nut and saddle shape the saddle with some sand paper.

Yes Now this is the moment of true! is she going to stay together or just crack and brake with the strings pressure. “Roulement de tambour” Yes it works, the string make noise, yes for now it is noise because she really needs a good tuneup, neck profile, string height, make a compensated saddle, and make a better nut.

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Now I know she is working and sound great. Apparently a guitar needs to be play a lot before she reveal a better sound! Stewmac also sell a little device to install on the soundboard between the string at the bridge, it makes a vibration, you are supposed to leave for a week, and after that the guitar sound better!!! Anyway if this is true and I believe it is true, it is really optimistic for that guitar.

Next step is the finishing, I build a drum sander, I can put it on my screw gun, put some adhesive sand paper and sand the sides really easily. Then I will pore fill the mahogany, probably with some epoxy, sand the epoxy, then sealer, sanding, some more tobacco brown color for the soundboard to fix the bridge mark, sand again, nitrocellulose finish, sand and sand again, wet sand and wet sand again and after all of that polishing… Yep not done yet!

I worked on the tuning, intonation of the guitar, I get myself a Peterson VSII strob tuner, very accurate, I also found some apps for Ipad, I will have to give a try to see how accurate they are, but it can be helpful in parallel of the Peterson.

I use Z-poxy to do the pore filling, everybody say it is a great product. I put too much on the first coat and with maybe too much or not enough hardener, the result was a gummy sticky body, I had to let it dry for 48h, maybe because here in Florida it was cold during those 2 days! Anyway the sandpaper was not the solution, so I use razor blade like a scraper, spend a lot of time to get rid of that sticky epoxy. Then I start again with this time a better result, use an old credit card to spray and push down into the pore, and then use a razor blade. this time it was sunny, I put the body in the sun and it went harder much faster. I was able to scrape again in the evening.

I decided I will put something on the headstock, I didn’t want to order some Mother Of Pearl for the inlay, I had some stars I did a few month ago, and I like it, simple, maybe next time I will put my name or a logo on the headstock.

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Done with Z-poxy, I understand now why guitar builder does not like that step. Anyway, I clean the entire guitar with naphta, put masking tape on the binding , fretboard and soundboard, and start to spray the tobacco brown nitrocellulose.

Here is the result after the first coat.

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Because I want the binding to pop up much more I though I will darker the entire guitar, so I apply more tobacco . I am pleased with the result, this time the dark color match perfectly with the binding. I wet sand the tobacco brown to prepare for the clear coat. I know professional spray the neck and the body separately and then glue the neck on, but this is my first build, I didn’t want to spend money in clear and stain until I was sure the guitar will work and sound good.

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See, now the only thing you see is the binding. We can still see the grain of the wood. I really like it like that, it reminds me the 30’s sunburst from Gibson.

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Next I will have to fix the sunburst on the soundboard. And then spray the whole thing with some nitro. I hope next week, if so I might have the guitar ready for the end of the month, how exciting is that!!!

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Thanks for watching

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3 thoughts on “Building an Acoustic Guitar

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