Voicing the Guitar

My wonderful Lie-Nielsen low-angle apron plane.  Not a required tool in the program, but such a help

My wonderful Lie-Nielsen low-angle apron plane. Not a required tool in the program, but such a help


An exciting event has come and gone; I have voiced my first guitar top.  Following the concepts of Dana Bourgeois and the guidance of my instructor, I flexed and tapped the braced top, listening for tone, sound quality, and response.  Bits of spruce bracing were shaved off, the height of the finger braces were lowered.  I’m using an exceptionally stiff piece of Adirondack Spruce (Picea rubens), so I was able to elegantly taper my braces into smooth arcs.  When finished, I could tap the top nearly anywhere and be met with clear, musical tones.  It felt like tuning a marimba key, shaving away bit by bit, until it seemed as good as it could be.  This should make the guitar truly speak.Image

Next, I quickly braced the back, which is a lovely peice of Claro Walnut from Oregon.Image 


So: the top and back are joined and braced, the rosette installed, the soundhole cut, the top and back are joined and braced; the sides are bent, blocks are glued in and shaped, half of the kerfing is glued, templates are made for neck and headstock shape. 

By the end of next week, I should likely have the box closed up, binding channel routed, fingerboard shaped and slotted, neck cut out and begun getting shaped, truss rod channel routed…

Meanwhile, back at home I’m graduating F5 mandolin plates, fabricating spool clamps, managed to get the 1-18 Martin copy (home build, starting last spring) going with the top and back joined, thicknessed and cut out.  I’m going full tilt, trying to stay productive and still get a nights sleep.  We had a great visit from a friend and prospective student from New Orleans; I’m sure he enjoyed our below-zero windchill (although it wasn’t too cold at 9 degrees F).  Till next time, friends.


Classes Finished! New Classes Begin!

I just finished up my Acoustic Set-up and Neck Reset Classes, am looking forward to a hard won A grade report.  I find that the bar is set high.  It is very easy to have a very good looking (to you) nut, saddle, or bridge copy that will barely rate a C grade.  To achieve a 93% or better grade is very difficult.  Wanting that grade and working diligently simply isn’t enough.

Forgetfullness, poor time management, mistakes, the bad luck of delicate pieces of wood breaking after hours of labor; these are everyday pitfalls. However, it feels great to get over it and push through.  It’s getting better along the way.  Many in the class are struggling.  When I occasionally raise my head from my work, I can guess who is getting their work done nicely.  Concentration, care, and patience are prerequisites.  If not taken, you are undone.

Now!  On a brighter note, I am getting much better at using my tools—chisels, plane, files, sandpaper and beautiful hand cut curved scraper blades.  These past few days, I’ve been all but finished with assignments (the few I’ve had left mostly involved waiting for glue to heat up, then waiting for glue to dry).  I’ve been making the most out of free lab time to work up some more tools from home.  I’ve quickly grown to love my violin knives and hollow ground blades.  It’s always a good feeling to know that your essential tools are sharp, well adjusted, and ready to work.

One of the final assignments was to make a traditional Pyramid Bridge from a blueprint.  This was left up to us to figure out, using flatsawn rosewood with irregular grain; it sometimes felt like a punishment.  I sweated and labored over it;  I kept the refinement going until I felt I had truly done the best I could in the allowed time.  I was fairly elated to get a perfect score!  Even better, my awesome classmates were all support and encouragement.  Their support, above all else, made me feel great about the work and the community.

Next up is the Fretwork and Electric Set-up classes, with Brian instructing (I’ve had David and Steve for the past 5 weeks).  I can imagine that it will be similarly time sensitive, precarious work.  I’m determined to get ahead early on, if at all possible.  Wish us luck!

Pictures to come!

Day Two of the …

Day Two of the Guitar Program at Minnesota SE Technical College.

Day One of Tools Class had us first etching the tools with our initials,  then on to lapping flat the soles of our block planes, plane iron, and chisel backs.  A cutting edge occurs at the intersection of two flat, precise planes, so all of our cutting tools need to start life with perfectly flat backs and soles.

While the majority of my classmates purchased the Veritas block plane, I had the pleasure of reconditioning a Stanley 9 1/2 adjustable-mouth plane, with a Hock iron.  It flattened out nicely, and will perform about as well as the modern superhero handplanes.  To polish the backs of our irons and chisels, we adhered a very fine adhesive-backed sandpaper to our thick glass plates, then employed the flat, abrasive surface to annihilate all nicks and machine marks.  What is left is a flat, mirrored finish.

a very fine sandpaper is adhered to the flat glass plate. The plane iron can then be ground flat.

“good to go”

After a days work at the grindstone, it’s nice to take a sunset ride on the Schwinn Torpedo.