Stringing up and starting the finish

We've come to the most exciting moment, when all of the wood-working is done we get to hear a rough idea of what this guitar's voice is going to sound like.  I always string my guitars up prior to finish, in case I need to do any additional thinning on the soundboard or back to tune in the sound I'm going for.  In the past, this practice was more valuable as there would often be adjustments I had to make to fine-tune the instrument, but in the last couple of years it's pretty rare that I modify anything.  My sense-memory has strengthened to the point that I know when the right soundboard and back thickness has been achieved simply by flexing with my thumbs and tapping the instrument.  But I think I will always continue to string up each guitar before finishing, just to make sure I prevent any "duds" and keep my guitars very consistent.

I decided not to make a video until a few sessions of shellac were done, so that the sound would be closer to what it will be on the finished product.

Perfection is both subjective and impossible to qualify, but sound-wise I've pretty much accomplished what I set out to do with the flamenco guitar, and can now do it quite consistently.  This particular instrument is, in my opinion, "above the curve", but the curve has been getting higher and deviations from it much smaller. 

What I set out to do, which is very well exemplified by this instrument, is to make a flamenco guitar that can "do it all".  It needs growl and percussiveness when pushed hard, as well as a sweet, melodic voice when played softly.  It needs to be extremely responsive and dynamic.

A thousand blog posts will never say as much as a single note, so here is the video.  Please excuse my sloppy playing!

Here are a few photos of the guitar, with the first coats of shellac applied.  It will be finished by the end of the month!

Carving the neck, bridge, and fretting

After the fingerboard is glued on, the neck can be carved.  The number of tasks remaining is dwindling as the guitar's final form becomes apparent.  I can almost start to hear the music it will soon make.

Using a spokeshave to trim the neck down to the edges of the fingerboard.

I cut flat surfaces first, before rounding them off.

Rasps, files, chisel, spokeshave, scraper, sanding block.  They all have a role to play.

The rectangular bridge blank is first radiused to a slight curve on the underside, then the wings are cut and shaped.  It's taken from the same piece of Indian Rosewood as the headplate and bindings.

The saddle slot is cut using an endmill in the drill press.

Going for a novel design on the tie block.

Gluing it up.

The bridge (mostly) finished.

This is another very precise and important step.  Laying out the bridge position accurately is crucial for proper intonation.  It's very difficult to describe what's going on here, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

The lie of the strings is determined and measured out, and the holes are drilled.

Gluing the bridge.  Once again, small wooden locator pins are used to keep the bridge exactly in place.

The frets are cut and ready to hammer in.

Cathartic, but somewhat nerve-wracking, especially over the soundboard (a special technique is used there).

Dressing the frets with files.

Bindings and Fingerboard

Once the guitar is removed from the workboard, the overhanging edges are trimmed down, and the next step is installing the bindings and purflings.

First a channel is cut for the tail stripe.

Tail stripe inlaid.

Veneer strips are cut and glued up for the purflings.

Side purflings are glued to a strip of Indian Rosewood binding material.  This sandwich is sawn into strips that are thicknessed to 2 mm.

Binding channels are routed on the top and back.  A piece of wood is used to divert the router around the tail strip as the side purflings will be mitered into it.

The channels are cut in a "staircase" on both sides.

Detailing and completing the channels is done by hand.  Here the reflection in the chisel is used to miter the purflings to 45 degrees.

Bindings are bent using the same method as the sides.

Strapping tape works wonders, providing plenty of gluing pressure.  Glue is painted into the channels with a brush.

Scraping down the bindings.

The miters came out perfectly.

The slotted fingerboard is planed to the correct taper.

The curve of the soundhole is marked, cut and sanded.

This is an important step.  The thickness of the fingerboard has to be determined in order to allow for the proper string height at the bridge.  The action is modeled using different blocks until the taper is determined, in this case it's 6.5 mm at the nut and 5.25 mm at the soundhole.

A graduated wedge gives me the number I'm looking for: 8 mm string height at the bridge.

Stacks of veneer and tape of decreasing heights ensure that the board will receive the correct taper when run through the drum sander.

The gluing surfaces are sanded and prepared, and the fingerboard is glued on using high quality Epoxy.  Water-based glues have a tendency to cause some warping on a joint of this size.

Closing the box

At this stage, the guitar is operated on face down on the workboard, until the insides are finished and the back can be fit and glued on.

Wedges are cut from a block of Spanish Cedar.

The wedges are inserted to tightly fill the neck slots, two on each side.  The second one has some glue applied and is tapped in with a hammer. 

These are side reinforcement strips.  A tentellone is grafted onto a strip so that the reinforcement runs the full width of the side.

Gluing a reinforcement to a side with a couple of clamps and a special caul.

Closeup of a tentellone (glue block).  It takes 2-3 hours to glue in each one of these individually, to form the lining joining the sides to the soundboard.  I press them in for about 20 seconds each, long enough for the glue to take hold.   I opt to use tweezers over the more traditional ice pick.

After the glue has dried on the tentellones, it's time to plane the contour of the sides.

The Spanish foot/heel block gets planed down with a low angle block plane.

Notching out reverse-kerfed Mahogany linings to fit over the side reinforcements.

Hanging it out to dry.

Sanding down the rim with a radiused sanding block, which matches the curve of the back braces.

According to the label, I'm up to guitar #72!

The back is placed on the rim in order to mark the position of the braces on the linings, which are then notched out to accommodate them.

Everything's ready...

For the big moment...

And the box is closed.

Beginning assembly

Once all the various parts of the guitar are completed, it's time to start assembling them. 

First, a step is cut in the heel block to accommodate the thickness of the soundboard, which will be flush with the face of the neck when glued together.

The joint between the neck and soundboard is very important, not so much for structural reasons, but to establish the center line of the guitar.  I use a Plexiglass template and several locator pins to make sure the joint is perfectly aligned.

I sand the sides to rough thickness on the drum sander, then scrape to optimal flexibility for bending.  They usually end up around 1.9-2.0 mm with Padauk.

Using a bending iron and liberal spritzes of water to bend the sides.

The ends are trimmed and the sides are fitted into a shallow outside mold, clamped onto the workboard.

The tail block, with its slight radius, is glued using cauls.

More progress

Moving right along on the Cedar/Padauk negra!  The soundboard and neck are done so assembly will begin shortly. 

Working the back center reinforcement, first planing...

Then sanding it smooth.

Planing down the back braces to 8 mm thick.  I'm using Western Red Cedar for its light weight.  The braces have already been curved in order to achieve a slight doming of the back.

Chiseling out the reinforcement strip.

Gluing the back braces.  I use my solera, and some thin wedges to match the curve in the braces.  Humidity control in the shop is paramount when gluing anything across the grain.

After the glue has set, there are more shavings to be made.  A sharp chisel cuts through the Cedar como mantequilla.

Here's how the headplate came out!  The two dots are toothpicks used to keep the center seam on center when gluing up the sandwich.

After the outline of the headstock is carved, the tuner holes are drilled.

Roughing out the slots with a Forstner bit.  They're finished with chisels, files and sandpaper.


Et voila.

Gluing more braces on the soundboard.

And carving them down.

Last job of the day, making tentellones.  Just one whack from the hammer splits a block into two.

100+ are needed for one guitar.

Working on the soundboard, back and neck

Here is another batch of pictures from the Cedar/Padauk negra in progress! 

The soundboard and back are rough-thicknessed with a drum sander.  I then use a cabinet scraper to remove any rough sanding scratches, and finally sand all surfaces by hand to 220 grit before gluing the braces.

The Spanish Cedar heel is stacked and glued using two bamboo pins to keep the pieces from slipping.  I lay out the shape of the heel and foot on both sides with a template and bandsaw roughly to shape.

I cut the side slots with a Japanese saw, using an angled block clamped on as a guide (not pictured).  Then chisel out the waste.  Two wedges on each side will be used later to press the sides flush to the heel and fill the slot.

Rough-carving the heel with a sharp chisel.  The Spanish foot is shaped with files, scraper and sandpaper.

I decided to cut a bookmatched headplate out of a piece of flatsawn Rosewood.

Joining the headplate with the end vise on my bench.

Gluing the headplate along with white and black veneers.

On Cedar tops I use a very thin patch, located just behind the bridge to prevent buckling of that area due to string tension.

Gluing the fan braces.  The layout is my own design, used on the last 50 guitars or so.  Closing struts and harmonic bars, etc. will be added after carving these braces.

Starting to carve the fan braces.

Gluing the cross-grain center reinforcement strip on the back.  I used a strip of Cedar from the offcut of the soundboard.

Starting a Cedar/Padauk flamenca negra

I'm pretty excited to use this combination of woods for the first time, on a flamenco guitar.  I'm a big fan of Padauk (also known as Coral) as a back and side wood for flamenco guitars.  It falls somewhere between Cypress and Rosewood, making a guitar with very broad range that also packs a strong flamenco punch.  I'm going to dip into my stash of rare Andaman Padauk for this guitar.  It will be for sale when finished.

Enough talk, let's get down to business with the first set of pictures.

First, strips of stacked veneers are sawn and thicknessed to make the rosette mosaic.

The mosaic log which is sawn into 2mm thick tiles.

AAAA Western Red Cedar soundboard being joined on my homemade jig.

Cutting out the soundboard.

Rosette tiles and border strips ready to inlay.

Some quick circle math.

Using a circle cutter to score the channel for the rosette tiles.

 Gluing in the tiles is really fun.

Gluing in the tiles is really fun.

Separate channels are cut for the border and the rosette is complete.

Lots of tiny pieces of wood.

Meanwhile, the neck and scarf joint are prepared.

And the back is jointed with help of a shooting board.

New blog, Spruce/Indian Rosewood classical completed

Hello aficionados of the guitar!

I have decided to start a new blog here on my website.  Please check back regularly for updates on new projects and completed guitars.

I'll start it off with some pictures and video of my guitar #69, a Spruce top classical with Indian Rosewood back and sides.

The rosette was based on the customer's color and design preferences, and inspired by one of my favorite Ramirez rosettes.

Thanks for looking!