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Build #4 Progress

Posted on 2012.11.24 at 17:52
Time for guitar building continues to be scarce but I have made a bit of progress, mostly on the top. I was also able to clean up and even out the soundhole cut in the side as the picture below shows. 


The soundhole is going to extend an equal distance into the top when I'm done. 

You can see roughly what the soundhole will look like on the top in the picture below. Note that this is the back or inside part of the top. The soundhole will be on the base side of the upper bout.


Next up I need to reduce the thickness of the top  to something close to what it will be in the final product. Its still about 50% thicker than it should be if I don't want this guitar to sound totally dead. I don't have a drum sander so this task is a bit more challenging than I'd like. I'm probably going to use the Wagner safety planer I've discussed here in the past to get things close and then use my orbital sander to do the final cleanup and fine tuning.

I'm hoping to get a bit of time in the shop tomorrow. 

Build #4 Lives

Posted on 2012.10.09 at 07:00
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I've started on four different stringed instruments over the past five years or so. I completed the first one, a ukulele kit from the Stewart McDonald company; and it turned out reasonably well. The second was a kit guitar from Martin. Its still incomplete and a bit of a disaster. The third was guitar I built as part of a class I took from Luthier Charles Fox. That one turned out well.

I started the fourth, another guitar a bit more than a year ago and stalled fairly early in the process due to a combination of stupid mistakes and my garage/shop being too cluttered with boxes and other stuff not relevant to building guitars. I'd been acquiring additional tools and power tools over time and while they made things easier they also exceeded the available space.

One upside of our impending move is that we've spent a lot of time getting stuff in the garage organized and moved to a lockup so I now have a lot more room. I've spent a couple of hours the past two nights working on build #4. Build #4 is going to be an interesting guitar; more interesting than I'd originally intended since I accidentally thinned a portion of the upper bass side bout to the point where the guitar was either going to be a total loss or I was going to have to get creative. I decided to go the creative route and moved the sound hole. This isn't completely unprecedented but the placement is odd. The picture just below this text shows what I did. 


I've since evened out the cut and given it a radius of 1.5 inches. The portion of the soundhold on the top will also have a radius of 1.5 inches for a total sound hole size of three inches. Hopefully it will look and sound OK, time will tell.

The tops and backs of guitars are made up of two pieces of book matched wood joined together. If you think of a tree trunk as a book with the central part of the trunk being the spine then book matched pieces of wood come from two adjacent "pages" in the book. They thus have very similar patterns which is why a good join can be nearly invisible. I've struggled a lot with getting a good join up until now. The level of precision needed is daunting for a novice. The right tools and experience help. I have the two pieces of wood I'm going to use for the top ready for joining and I think they are going to turn out well. I had a good result in Charles Fox's class but he's a master builder with a shop that is simply amazing. Having him and his tools available is a net positive to say the least. Getting a good result by myself is going to be a huge boost. I'll likely do the join in the next couple of days and start working on the top bracing as well.

I already have the neck as this guitar is a hodge podge of Martin cast offs parts I bought on EBay like the neck and rim and the braces, top and back which I've created myself. With a bit of luck I could have it all together by the end of the year. Fingers crossed on that one.

Finishing and "fancy" stuff like binding and rosette's take up a fair % of the time in building a guitar. This guitar is meant to be an expirement so its going to be very no frills. Getting the top assembled and glued on is going to be most of the remaining work. After that I'll need to fit the neck, do some sort of basic finish and install the bridge and tuners.

There are three critical decisions that you have to make in putting together a DAW(Digital Audio Workstaton). When I started this process I assumed that the DAW software was the most important. Given my experience I'm going to put it third. The other two components are the computer and the sound module. I'm going to start out talking primarily about the computer but I'd probably place the sound module at the top of the list in terms of importance and the DAW software last.

In a traditional recording situation some sort of tape is used. When I was in my mid twenties I got together with my brother and some friends and we recorded several tracks at a home based studio with an analog eight track reel to reel deck. That was a blast, but it's nothing compared to what can be done today for a fraction of the cost if you have the right equipment.

I've had my DAW workstation for about eight months now. The amount of time I've gotten to spend on it has been limited by a combination of technical problems and other hobbies getting in the way. The technical problems were primarily due to a combination of ignorance on my part and having the wrong hardware. Initially I was trying to use my then one year old HP laptop. It's a nice enough system but something is happening that causes the time it take to respond to "real time" tasks to be excessive. This inability to respond isn't noticeable when I'm writing BLOG posts, cruising the web or even playing the occasional game but it was causing dropouts in my audio recording which was not good.

I tried a number of different things to fix the dropout issues with my laptop before giving up and deciding to invest in a computer that was designed from the ground up to work with DAW applications. To fund that acquisition I sold off one of my old acoustic guitars. It was a tough choice but one I'm OK with. I was able to buy a nice laptop from a company called ADK Pro Audio. I would have gotten more bang for my buck with a stand alone computer but the laptop is portable and thus more flexible. Plus I haven't owned a non laptop PC in five or six years and it's difficult to get my head around changing that.

I made a mistake at this point. I installed the Valve Steam client and a number of games. The laptop is a powerful gaming machine as well and I figured I'd try it out. The problem with this is that additional software introduces the potential for problems as it makes the system more complex. My early impression is that Digital Audio Workstations are a bit fragile. Installing non essential software isn't something I'm going to do again as I ended up having to wipe and re-install from scratch and that took awhile as there are a lot of different software components involved in the process. DAW's are like finely tuned race cars. They do one thing really well.

On to the second most important component. I actually went through three sound modules before I found one that worked well in my setup. Initially I went for something cheap with lots of ports. This was my second mistake. The sound module is incredibly important to the overall performance of a DAW system. Good ones have very low latency and provide high quality conversions between the analog and digital realm.

I won't talk about my first sound module since I can't say anything nice or even neutral about it. My second sound module was the focusrite 2i2 (http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Scarlett2i2/reviews). There was nothing wrong with the 2i2. It was easy to install and worked very well. I have some inexpensive condensor microphones though that require phantom power and the 2i2 doesn't provide phantom power. The third sound module I tried, and the winner for now is the Steinberg UR28M (http://www.steinberg.net/en/products/audio_interfaces/ur_series/ur28m.html)
. The Steinberg offers latency on par with the best firewire sound modules and many other bells and whistles that make it a great choice for a small home studio. It's right in the sweet spot for my needs. </span>

If you're going down the DAW path make sure you download, install and use the ASIO (Audio Stream Input Output) Driver called ASIO4ALL that works in conjunction with Windows WDM. (http://www.asio4all.com/). The ASIO4ALL driver is in my experience extremely stable and offers by far the best latency and performance for a given piece of hardware. I've tried it on three different USB sound modules at this point and in every case it was a better choice performance wise than the manufacturers driver.

There are a number of other things I'd like to talk about including the software I chose but this post is getting kind of long already.

Fingers crossed I'll manage to find the time to actually become proficient with this setup over the next year. 

Eleven Months

Posted on 2012.07.21 at 14:09
It's been about eleven months since my last entry here.

I've been meaning to make one for a few weeks now but life keeps getting in the way. I'd love to say I've made great progress on the various guitar building and repair projects I discussed in previous entries but that would be a lie. I had a fairly significant setback the last time I was out in my shop and that in combination with a number of other things has pretty much left me stalled. The warm dry weather isn't helping right now either. I am going to get back out there.

I tend to take vacations from my hobbies when the fun factor drops below zero but I'm not the sort to give up and I think I know how I'm going to worm my way out of my current mess. More on that later hopefully.

I haven't been totally inactive on the music front though. Last January I sold off one of my guitars to fund a modest home music studio. I now have a Digital Audio Workstation and various other related accouterments and software. I've been having a fair amount of fun remembering what little I learned when I took keyboard lessons many years ago and working my way through learning all the bits of software.

I had a lot of trouble initially getting good latency from my sound module which delayed (no pun intended) me for several months but those problems were resolved a few weeks back and things have been great since. In case anyone is wondering; yes, I just knocked on wood. I'll likely be posting about the various bits of hardware and software I'm using here in the future as I do want to revive this BLOG and I have a lot of things I could write about on that front.

My mid to long term goal with the home studio is to record some original compositions that I've created over the years. Being able to consistently play at a particular tempo is something I'm working on now as that will make laying down multiple tracks much easier. I always thought I had a great sense of tempo but it turns out that isn't the case. Machines are annoyingly good and evaporating illusions like that. The fact that I'd never liked playing along with a Metronome should have been enough to clue me in to my deficiency but somehow I managed to avoid making that connection.

I'd also like to get back to writing songs. That part of my brain has been mostly dormant for a few years now. I do have a few things in an unfinished state that I kind of like. I may share links here at some point if I manage to create something that doesn't make me wince.

Weekend Guitar Making Dare #3 Results

Posted on 2011.08.22 at 06:38
I had to totally abort on this one. I had other projects that were higher priority that took precedence.

The past few weeks have been a pretty good illustration of my slow progress. Either I run into problems I hadn't anticipated or other things eat up my time. This isn't a "woe is me" post though. I have at least some amount of control over my priorities.

I did get a lot done on other fronts though and I have a long weekend coming up so things should hopefully go much better next time.

Now it's time for me to get back to studying. I have a technical certification exam today that I'd like to pass.

Weekend Guitar Making Dare #3

Posted on 2011.08.20 at 07:24
Tags: ,

My dare this weekend is very modest. Two hours in my garage shop. I've got a lot of things planned for today and tomorrow and even that is going to be a challenge. In terms of actual accomplishments I want to finish getting the back fitted to the rim of the guitar and do the glue up. Realistically that should be very doable but this has already taken a lot longer than I would like.

Expect the unexpected is good advice in guitar making or anything else for that matter. I’ll report back Sunday night or Monday morning on what I managed to get done.

Next weekend should hopefully be more productive. We still have a lot planned then as well but we’re taking off a few days so I should be able to squeeze in some extra time.

I ordered and received some extra brace stock and back strip material. I don’t think it will ever stop being exciting to receive new guitar making materials and tools in the mail. That’s a bit weird I suppose but it’s nice to have some simple (albeit not cheap) pleasures.

Here's a more verbose explanation of what went wrong this weekend. First though some background. I've explained some of this before but it won't take long and it helps if somebody randomly comes across this entry in the future and is trying to figure out what I'm talking about.

Modern acoustic guitars have rounded tops and backs. What this means is the top and the back of the guitar can be thought of as part of a large sphere. Typically the radius of the back will be different from the top.

For this to work the bottom of the braces are radiused along with the rim. If everything is done correctly they will fit each other like a glove. In the case of this guitar I'm using a 16 foot radius for the back. So if the back were part of a giant beach ball it would be thirty two feet across, and thus have a radius of sixteen feet since the radius is one half of the diameter. Thankfully that's as much Geometry as we'll need for this discussion.

I talked about how I built a jig to help me radius the bottoms of the braces in the following three earlier entries.


To radius the rim I need a radius dish and some sand paper. Here is a picture of my 16 foot radius dish. The shadow beneath the ruler shows the arch. Even a sixteen foot arch is fairly hard to discern without a visual reference.

Radius Dish

And here is a picture of the radius dish with a very big piece of 80 grit sand paper.

Radius Dish And Sandpaper

The dust on the vacuum cleaner is a pretty good illustration of why a dust vacuum system will be my next major investment. 

Below you'll see a picture of the radius dish with the sandpaper sandwiched between the rim of the guitar and the radius wheel. I shone a light up from the bottom so you can see the gap in that spot. The light area doesn't look that large but it's a big problem, at least for me.

Build #4 BackGap

To fix that I had to remove that much wood all the way around the rim. At least that was the idea. Doing so takes some planing and a lot of sanding. Getting everything even is still a bit tricky for me. The gap was there when I bought the rim already assembled as Martin surplus. Maybe that gap was a mistake on their part, maybe it is part of their manufacturing process. Businesses don't reject parts that are good if they want to stay in business. I repaired a small crack awhile back though and had assumed that was the reason for the rejection. Maybe not.

Another problem I'm having is of my own making though easily resolved now that I understand the issue. I sanded the lower bout (the wider part of the body) of the back down about 1/20th of an inch thinner than the upper bout. This creates a gap when I go to do the glueing. To resolve that I'll just use some poster board and paper between the radius dish and the back when I finally get to gule everything together.

The resolution for this problem is going to be more of the same. Carefully plane, sand some and then check. I may get some time tonight to work on this.

Weekend Guitar Making Dare #2 Results

Posted on 2011.08.15 at 08:12
Tags: , , ,
 I'll try to write a longer post later in the week that describes my recent experiences but suffice it to say that I was very optimistic last week when I blamed a broken clamp for my inability to get the back on build number 4 and that optimism carried over to this weekend. I made some progress but I'm struggling to fix a problem that is not of my making. 

In the future I think I'll limit my dares to time spent rather than a specific result unless I have a lot of free time.

Here is a picture of my final dry run last night. I was trying to compensate for tiny gaps between the rim and the back by applying more pressure. Yes, desperation can make one contemplate stupid things. Luckily I decided to abort when it became clear I still had more work to do.

Just a little more pressure... (Build #4 Back)
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Weekend Guitar Making Dare #2

Posted on 2011.08.12 at 07:17
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This weekend is going to be tricky. I have a lot of things that need to get done that don't include working on guitar building. I'm setting myself two goals. One, to complete the work I had to abort last weekend on joining the back to the rim of build #4, and two, either making the trip to the Healdsburg guitar festival on Sunday to check out the Luthier's Mercantile International open house or getting the top plates for build #4 joined.

I'd originally wanted to attend all three days of the Healdsburg festival but the scheduling just didn't work out. They only do it every other year so I'll have to wait awhile for my next chance to attend.

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Results of Weekend Guitar Dare #1

Posted on 2011.08.07 at 20:23
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Due to technical difficulties I failed to complete the dare. Here are the things I did get done.
  1. Pulled apart my joiner and made some adjustments. It's working much better now
  2. Picked out a nice set of tight grained Sitka Spruce for the top that has some minor blemishes
  3. At the suggestion of a guitar building friend of mine I purchased some long clamps (More on this later)
  4. I sanded the lower bout of the back down to twelve hundredths of and inch from sixteen hundredths
  5. radiused the back side of the rim
  6. Trimmed the braces to the proper width and did some semi final shaping
  7. Did a dry run on the glue up of the back and the rim
Step six is were I ran into trouble. It turned out that one of the four long clamps I bought was defective. By this time it was 7:30PM. I made a quick run to the local Lowe's and grabbed a replacement plus a spare just to be sure. When I got to the cash register I realized I'd left my wallet at home. By the time I made it back home it was to late to make it back before they closed at eight so I had to abort.

Luckily I discovered the defective clamp during the dry run. It's always good to do a dry run before doing the final glue up and this time it paid off big time for me. 

In addition to the clamp problem I also realized I need to do some more work on getting the radius of the back side of the rim correct. 

Here's a picture of the dry run at the point I stalled out.

Build #4 rim and back dry run #1

I decided to end the braces at the lining this time. It's much easier than cutting channels into the lining and from a stability perspective I don't think it will make much of a difference. Time will tell of course. The point of experiments like this one is to try something different.

You can see the defective clamp towards the top of the picture. It's a different brand from the other three, all of which worked perfectly.

It took me a couple of hours to sand forty one thousands of an inch off the lower bout of the back plate. I started out with to fine a grit of sand paper on the random orbital sander I was using so it won't take that long the next time. 

I'm disappointed that I didn't complete this weekends dare but I got a lot done and I'm going to consider it a qualified success since the failure was caused by an equipment malfunction.


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