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Tip, Techniques & Tools


Steel String Guitar Making Sequence

by Bill Cumpiano



This guitar making sequence is a summary of the steps outlined in GUITARMAKING: Tradition and Technology by William R. Cumpiano and Jonathan D. Natelson. Here is a MSWord version for you to download.

  1. Preparation and Planning
    1. Make a template
      1. Draft the parameters
      2. Draw the curves
      3. Cut out template
    2. Make the assembly workboard
      1. Trace the template on plywood
      2. Cut out workboard
      3. Make the workboard shim and clamping shoe
  2. The Neck and Headpiece
    1. Construct the neckblank
      1. Lay out lines on the shaft
      2. Make the scarf cut
      3. True the scarf surfaces
      4. Reduce the headstock thickness
      5. Glue the scarf joint
      6. Mark the shaft for the heelblock
      7. Prepare the stacked heel pieces or heelblock
      8. Glue the heelblock
      9. Trim the neckshaft and height of the heelblock
      10. Draft the outline of the fingerboard on the shaft
    2. Fabricate the truss rod
      1. Fold the rod
      2. Thread the rod
      3. Fabricate the cap
      4. Wrap the rod
    3. Cut out rod slot and neck joint
      1. Lay out lines on the neckblank
      2. Rout the slot
      3. Cut the joint
    4. Install the truss rod
      1. Trim the veneer
      2. Glue the veneer
    5. Cut out the headpiece outline
      1. Lay out the headpiece
      2. Saw the outline
      3. True the edges
      4. Finish the crest
    6. Drill the headpiece
    7. Carve the heel
      1. Lay out the heel cap and heel curve outline
      2. Saw the heel profile
      3. Ramp the heel
      4. Concave the heel ramps
      5. Carve the primary facets
      6. Carve the secondary facets
      7. Refine the carved heel
  3. The Plates
    1. Joint the plates
      1. Make a shooting board
      2. Select the correct edges of the soundboard
      3. Shoot the edge
      4. Candle the edge
      5. Joint the back plate
      6. Joint the side plates
      7. Dimension the side plates
    2. Join the plates
      1. Make a joining board
      2. Position the plates and the blocks
      3. Glue and press the soundboard halves
      4. Join the back
    3. Thickness the plates
      1. Cut out the soundboard
      2. Clean the faces
      3. Plane the soundboard to thickness
      4. Plane the back to thickness
      5. Plane sides to thickness
  4. The Soundhole Rosette
    1. Prepare rosette material
      1. Select lines
      2. Prepare pearl or marquetry purflings
    2. Excavating the rosette channel
      1. Lay out the rosette
      2. Rout out or carve out the channel
    3. Inlay the rosette
      1. Pre-bend the lines
      2. Glue in the lines
      3. Glue in the pearl segments
      4. Clean up
    4. Cut out soundhole
  5. Soundboard bracing
    1. Prepare the brace blanks
      1. Split and dimension the brace blanks
      2. Plane the blanks to dimension
      3. Prepare the flat grafts
      4. Arch the arched braces
    2. Brace the soundboard
      1. Make the bridge patch
      2. Glue the bridge patch
      3. Prepare, glue, shape upper transverse graft
      4. Glue and shape flat braces
      5. Glue and shape upper and lower face braces
      6. Cut the X-brace lap joint
      7. Glue and shape the X-brace
      8. Glue the center seam diamonds
      9. Glue the linen patch
      10. Final graduation
  6. Side Bending
    1. prepare and mark slats
    2. bend the slats
  7. Soundbox assembly
    1. Prepare and glue the headblock
      1. Cut the joint into headblock
      2. Align and pre-drill for the brads
      3. Glue the soundboard to the neckshaft
    2. Make and attach the tailblock
    3. Trim the sides to length between the headblock & tailblock
    4. Make the solid or kerfed linings
    5. Apply linings to sides
    6. Level the kerfed side edge
    7. mark and notch the linings to accept the brace ends
    8. glue the sides to the soundboard
    9. trim and taper sides to final height
    10. apply back linings to sides
    11. prepare the lined edges to accept the back
    12. Make the bridge block and upper face caul
    13. Make the back
      1. Slot center seam
      2. Insert inlay
      3. Make and install the back center seam graft
      4. Make and arch the back braces
      5. Slot center seam graft to accept back braces
      6. Glue the back braces
      7. Carve and refine back braces
    14. Fit the back
      1. Align and mark
      2. Cut back the brace ends
      3. Trim the back grafts
      4. Trim the back overhang
    15. Glue the back on
      1. Apply glue to the edge and rope the back
      2. Remove the soundbox from the workboard
    16. Bind the guitar
      1. Prepare and insert the end graft
      2. Rout the binding and purfling ledges
      3. Even the ledges
      4. Prepare and pre-bend all binding and purfling materials
      5. Fit and glue the bindings
      6. Scrape the binding flush
  8. The Fingerboard
    1. Make the fingerboard
      1. True the billet
      2. Mark the fret slots
      3. Saw the fret slots
      4. Taper the fingerboard to final outline
    2. Glue the fingerboard to the neck
      1. Mark the shaft
      2. Glue and clamp the fingerboard
    3. Fret the fingerboard
      1. Arch the fingerboard
      2. Install frets
      3. File and bevel the fret ends
      4. Level the frets
  9. Final Carving and Refining
    1. Glue the heelcap
      1. Prepare the heelcap
      2. Glue the heelcap
    2. Finish carve the neck
    3. Inlay the emblem and bind the headpiece
    4. Set the neck angle
      1. Flatten the bearing surfaces on the sides
      2. Fit neck into soundbox
      3. Shave heel bearing surfaces to set angle
    5. Refine all surfaces
      1. Final scraping of plates
      2. Fill end-gaps under frets
      3. Install marker dots on fingerboard edge
      4. Coarse sand the guitar
      5. Round the bindings and all sharp edges
      6. Final sanding
      7. Mask fretboard and purflings on back and sides
  10. Finishing Neck and Soundbox with Lacquer
    1. Fill the open pores
      1. Pre-seal all surfaces to be filled
      2. Prepare the filler
      3. Apply the filler
      4. Remove excess filler and clean up
    2. Apply undercoats
      1. Vacuum the guitar inside and out
      2. Make and install shooting handle for soundbox
      3. Apply one or two sealer coats
      4. Scuff the sealer and vacuum
    3. Apply the overcoats
      1. Apply tinted lacquer undercoat if desired
      2. Apply two or three lacquer top coats
      3. Allow to dry thoroughly and level
      4. Apply two to five lacquer top coats
      5. Allow to dry three to seven days
    4. Polish the finish
      1. Dry sand with 320 No-Fill sandpaper
      2. Wet sand with 500 Wet or Dry sandpaper
      3. Polish with coarse compound
      4. Polish with fine compound
  11. Attach the Neck
  12. The Bridge
    1. Make the bridge
      1. Square the billet and mark
      2. Excavate the saddle slot
      3. Drill for the bridge pin holes
      4. Shape and refine the bridge
    2. Glue the bridge
      1. Locate the bridge on the soundboard
      2. Scribe the bridge location
      3. Tape around the bridge location
      4. Scrape off finish with the tape
      5. Insert the bridge block
      6. Glue and clamp the bridge
      7. Clean up glue squeeze-out
  13. Stringing and Setup
    1. Dress and polish the frets and fingerboard
      1. Final truing of frets
      2. Recrown the frets
      3. Dress the fret ends
      4. Scrape the fingerboard
      5. Sand the frets and fingerboard surface
      6. Polish and oil fretboard
    2. Setup the guitar
      1. Drill through soundboard at bridge pin holes
      2. Fit bridge pins
      3. Cut bridge pin ramps
      4. Fit the nut and saddle blanks into their slots
      5. Preliminary shaping of nut and saddle
      6. Install tuning machines
      7. Install strings at bridge
      8. Preliminary notches in the nut for strings
      9. Bring the strings up to pitch and measure clearances
      10. Final shaping of the nut
      11. Final shaping of the saddle
      12. Polish nut and saddle
      13. Cut and apply pickguard
      14. Prepare and apply maker’s label



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