Build Complete, Bluegrass, and SNOW.

ivoroid cut by hand

ivoroid cut by hand











P1090275So, after 7 weeks of building, the dreadnought is together, fretted, inlayed, carved, and jsut about ready to be sprayed with lacquer. Unfortunately, we must first complete a finishing class before we will all cut loose in the spray booth. That means 7 weeks of practice sanding, color-matching, sunbursting, grain-filling, spraying, more sanding, etc. We’ll also have a Repairs Class, where we practice routing for pickups and necks in electric guitar bodies, make oodles of guitar nuts, and squeeze in some self-directed repair work. This will all of course be scrutinized by our stringent taskmaster, so I will be sanding my fingers to the bone! I’m pumped!

This past weekend the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association had it’s winter wingding at a big hotel just west of Minneapolis. A bunch of us old time musicians made our way out there, danced our hineys off, and played tunes to boot. I had a great time, hung out and played tunes with some great folks like Chirps Smith, Bill Peterson, and Clancy from Port Wing Donut Fame, not to mention the awesome Twin Cities crowd. I even got in some bluegrass and honky tonk while I was at it!

Next week is SPRING BREAK, and I’ll be living it up Midwest Style, going to a square dancing festival, skiing, hot tubbing, visiting luthiers (and saunas) from Northwest Minnesota clear down to Madison Wisconsin. Whee!

Tailgraft, binding, and plug cutters!




The tailgraft is in, the box is bound, and I made some nifty ivoroid position markers. So, you’ll notice that I have a thing for ivoroid, the grained celluloid so favored by the fretted instrument makers of the (first) golden age of American Lutherie. I’ve loved the look of ivoroid fret markers, but haven’t been able to purchase them. So, I made some.

For the 1/4″ markers on the face of the fretboard, I was able to use a commercial plug cutter to cut some out of ivoroid sheet stock. For the petite side markers, I took the example of Frank Ford at and fabricated a plug cutter out of brass tube stock. It made some nice 3/32″ plugs when chucked into the drill press. Sweet!







The bracing layout is in pencil, once the rosette is installed and soundhole cut


What a busy week!  With 9 hours per day spent between lecture and shop time, we have our hands full with our building schedule.  While we do have the benefit of jigs set up for certain tasks, such as sanding a radius into brace stock, otherwise we spend a bulk of our time learning how to carefully attach small pieces of wood together, then elegantly carving away much of the material we’ve just attached.  What remains is the guitar.

The bracing of the top is a great part of the artistry of guitar making and design. You would think that the soundboards of a guitar would be made flat and strong, right? What isn’t apparent when looking at a fine guitar, is how it has been engineered to withstand the constant pressure of the strings, not to mention made to sound good when played.


Flat to the untrained eye, the top (front, usually light-colored spruce), top braces (the sculptural reinforcement glued to the underside of the top, mostly hidden from view), back, and back braces are a much more complex system than first meets the eye.  Modern guitars are built “under tension”, meaning that the top and back plates (the major sources of sound from the instrument) are forced into a subtle arch during construction.

The plates are first sanded flat and fairly thin.  Next, the sturdy spruce braces that are to be glued inside are given a radius usually between 15′ and 25′.  When glued to the top and back, these braces induce arch into the thin plates.  This creates a stronger and more resonant structure.  It is also a fair amount of work.

One of the wonderful clamping tools we use in the shop is called the Go-Bar Deck.  The deck consists of two plywood plates held about four feet apart; the assembly to to clamped faces upward, and flexible shafts are bowed between the part being glued and the upper plate.  This allows one full access for glue cleanup, fine control over clamping pressure, and and inexpensive alternative to using deep-throat clamps.  Best of all, it looks way cool.


Once the braces are attached with hot hide glue, they are profiled and scalloped prior to final voicing.  This is a major contribution to the fine, nuanced sound of a hand-built guitar.  For a first-timer, it is also laborious and time-consuming.  The 1930’s Gibson design I’m using has 14 bracing components.  Each has a purpose, and each must be precisely fitted and shaped for the best result. 


Meanwhile, back I’m listening to old reggae favorites and having nightmares about my chisels not being sharp enough. In other news, I’ll be taking a trip down to visit friends in Viroqua, Wisconsin this coming weekend. While I’m down there, I’ll be participating in a wonderful radio show sunday evening.  Styled after the great old-time radio barndance programs of the 1930s, the Driftless Radio Barndance is loving variety show played live in a gorgeous tobacco wharehouse-turned-bookstore in Viroqua.  You can expect some fiddle music, some fine country harmonies, and plenty more. You can listen in live streaming around 7pm this Sunday February 3rd, 2013.

And what is possibly the most beautiful book store in the whole world:


Tools Class ends, Fall Begins

Boy Howdy,

We’ve been keeping busy over here, busting out our projects, playing music during lunchtime, and eating the last of the sweet corn and making salsa fresca as much as possible.  I’ve also been keeping busy after class by prepping my little cottage for a fresh coat of exterior paint.  It’s a bit of rush to completion, with the brisk promise of autumn chill in the air already; the trees begin to show gorgeous perennial colors and the wool clothing is gladly taken out of the closet.

This week, we wrapped up our Tools Class, where we’ve become well acquainted with block plane, chisels, the concepts of Square and Flat, and the efficient and accurate use of time and material.  It’s been an excellent proving ground for me, as my at-home practice and experimentation of woodworking gave me a bit of a head start.

Just the same, I struggled along with everyone else, finding my own best and most  accurate way to accomplish each task.  I learned well, and and well pleased with the results.  I was able to finish all projects with a couple of days to spare; I was then able to work on my violin-maker’s knives (that I’ll make a post about later).  All in all, it’s been a blast so far.

local wildlife

Been loving roasted taters and cheese curds!




More Tools and Projects

Well, we’ve been keeping busy in this first month of school by focusing on hand and power tools, wood theory and mechanics.  We’ve recently made our own curved cabinet scrapers, with perform like  excellent little curved-bottom handplanes.  We’ve also continued on our scarf-jointed neck mockup by adding a mahogany headcap veneer.  We’ve also been prepping stock for a myriad of new projects.  Before too long, I expect our projects will be very useful tools and neat to look at as well.


plenty of work completed for a Wednesday…


Well, well! This first week has been great, so far we’ve plowed right into the tool preparations, and got up to speed on the safe use of the Jointer, Planer, and Table Saw. I’ve found that, despite having devoted a fair amount of time to learning about lapping and sharpening and hand tool use, I’m still struggling to efficiently achieve class goals. The standards are (thankfully) rigorous, and there is no allowance for shortcuts. While I’m frustrated that my tools have taken longer to shape up than usual, I’m glad to say that we should all come out of the tools class with exact standards for tool maintenance, safety, and effective use.

I also will say that my hands are sore from too much lapping, honing, and planing. I’m ready for a weekend trip to Wisconsin for some much needed music, food, and friendship with my homesteading buddy Jesse Downs.

As for the new house; it is gorgeous! Every sunset has been spectacular, as well as the sunrise this morning. I could hear owls softly hooting and critters a-rustling. It was such a pleasure to wake up this morning with amber light streaming through the trees, making myself some good strong coffee with eggs and toast. Every good day starts with breakfast!

We have two old apple trees that are laden with fruit; I grabbed a handful, then cored, peeled and sliced ’em so that I can make a pie. Yum!

I’ll be sure to take some elegant photos of the Labor Day festivities!