Billy is my new student, “taking a break from the corporate world” where he has excelled at varying positions with Georgia Pacific and Amazon, among others. He found my website online and is coming to build his own guitar during this downtime, a reward to himself for hard work. I have a set of plans from the Guild of American Luthiers and for the first time, I’m building a classical guitar to spec. It’s been really fun to see the excitement on his face during the first few days of class. He has an online guitar business selling collector-quality instruments.
The artist, engineer, and luthier Francisco Gonzalez was a guitar builder in Madrid in the mid 1800s. In 1867, at the Universal Exposition in Paris, he was awarded a bronze metal for his guitars.
The layout of the bracing differs from the “fan bracing” revolution of Antonio Torres which was taking hold of the lutherie world right about the time this 1869 guitar was made.
Over the course of the first week, Billy and I accomplished a TON of items on the list to make his guitar. Then, I had to go home to Greenville, SC to take my mom to the doctor and spend a couple od days up there. When I returned, I fell ill for several days (not with Covid-19) and only days before the Coronavirus became an inevitability. After some delay, we were able to get back to work. Seeing the near future clearly in front of us and the disruption to modern life that was shaping up, we decided to just be casual with our approach, in no hurry. I advertise my guitar building intensive as a 7-day course. That flew out the window and we added to our projects the process of French-polishing our instruments. So, this also added a but more time to the process.
My first student at Hart’s Guitar’s Co. Ltd has been a friend of mine for a long time. His wife bought him a spot in my guitar building intensive as what must be the coolest Christmas gift ever for anyone who plays guitar. We’ve had so much fun reliving the time we knew each other Athens, GA where we met. For a short while we were even roommates sometime around the year 1999 or so.
We decided on his first visit to the shop that we’d be building a Goya G-10. The Goya brand name was initially used by Hershman Musical Instrument Company of New York City in mid 1950’s for acoustic guitars made in Sweden by Levin, particularly known for its classical guitars. In the 1970s, CF Martin (Martin guitars) bought the company and kept producing guitars under the brand name until the 90s. The “Goya” name comes from Francisco Jose de Goya, the famous 18th century Spanish painter known as the father of modern art (Francisco drew a lot of Spanish guitar players too). There’s a Goya G-10, made in Sweden, hanging in my house that belongs to my lovely girlfriend and it’s a beautiful antique instrument that plays like a dream.
Jeffrey has woodworking experience so it’s been a joy to give him basic instruction and watch his mirror neurons replicate through his hands exactly what I’ve demonstrated. He’s putting together quite a fantastic instrument.
If you’ve ever entertained the idea of buying yourself a “nice guitar,” then let me give you an idea you've most likely never entertained. Come build your own guitar with me. I've searched my entire life for the elusive guitar that pleased my eyes as much as it felt amazing to my hands and fingers. Sadly, I've always found the same thing which is a multitude of manufactured guitars out there, dime-a-dozen, boring, and cost too much. Do you wanna spend a ton of money on some well-known brand name and have a guitar that thousands of others have? No, you want something unique, built for your specific hand size! I’m talking about the very special guitar which you will never get rid of. You just can’t find anything more special than the guitar you’ll build with me using your own hands.
The instrument I will guide you in building can be a classical guitar of many styles. There are many legendary classical guitar plans we can work from. When you enroll, I will give you the options. You can also choose to build your guitar using any of the designs you like of mine here at Hart's Guitars.
Skills you will acquire building your guitar:
Precision cutting, truing, and squaring of hardwood pieces.
Use of hand planes, Japanese pull saws, chisels. and other unique hand tools.
How to prep and use the indisputable go-to glue for any serious luthier: Hot-hide glue.
Use of precision measuring tools.
Use of files and rasps to shape wood.
How to use a French curve template to make unique designs in woodworking.
Use of metric system units when they’re more appropriate in lutherie tasks.
Proper use of clamps to join trued surfaces.
Use of bandsaws, drill presses, routers, and other power tools.
Proper sanding techniques for the various stages of the woodworking process.
How to select wood that will serve to make a structurally sound and beautiful instrument.
General physics of how acoustic guitars make sound and the techniques luthiers use to maximize the wood’s potential.
Precision setup of the guitar that will make it a joy to play and maintain forever. This includes shaping the guitars nut and saddle to provide the lowest string action possible for your individual playing style. Speaking of…..a guitar’s action is a very subjective area. It describes (in simple terms) how “easy” the guitar is to play to make the sound you desire from your instrument. If a nice expensive guitar from the store is not easy as pie to play, then what is it worth to you? I’ll tell you. N-o-t-h-i-n-g. Save your time from going on a fool’s errand. We will make your perfect guitar for the hands you have. Yes, in seven work days I can teach you how to build a classical guitar or “crossover” guitar (a nylon string guitar not bound by the strict aesthetic orthodoxy of the classical guitar world). This is my specialty.
The guitar building intensive does not include:
The course does not include the final finishing your guitar (such as stain, shellac, French Polish). There just simply is not enough time to complete this step. It involves too many variables requiring too much waiting, etc. You will go home with a beautiful guitar with a nice oil rub finish that will be elegant. You may choose to French Polish it, varnish, stain, etc. later at home, at your own pace and leisure.
The course does not include a guitar case. Everyone will be building different sized instruments and each person has their own taste in case aesthetics. I will absolutely send you home with your guitar safely and securely packaged for the journey.
This is not a business class. I’m happy to share my experiences and setups, my skills and my methods. But this class is NOT about how to run a “successful” business.
This is not a “kit” build. We will cut everything ourselves.
The course does not include lodging. However, there is an optional add-on of staying at my house with me for an additional $200. This is a whole other level of commitment on my part (extra work) BUT I’ll be happy to provide this service which includes: comfy bed, towels, washcloths, linens, unlimited wi-fi, coffee-and-toast breakfast each morning, endless coffee and tea all day, and complete access to a decent library of lutherie books, magazines, and videos. As an additional bonus: I’m also an avid plant medicine enthusiast with a whole apothecary of herbal material ready to make teas that you need at any given moment. I love to share my knowledge on this topic and to help people feel happy and balanced. If this bit of extra expense is too much of a burden financially and would keep you from coming to build your guitar, I am open to discussing some sort of barter exchange.
Articles about the building experience I’ve had with two different students:
Sand and true headstock and heel block in relation to the neck
Choose and cut headstock veneer(s)
Mark and Drill holes into headstock for tuners
Glue headstock veneer(s)
Draw outline and shape of the headstock
Rough cut tuning pin channels
Mark heel block outlines
Cut side slots into the heel block
Cut heel-block to its final dimension
Rough shape-in of 85% of heel block
Plane sides of neck true (from nut to heel block)
Top & back Plates
Sand top and back to within 1/16” of final thickness (Soundboard final thickness: +/- .095” BACK final thickness: +/-.090″)
Draw shape of guitar and cut soundboard and back leaving 3/16” around perimeter
Drill sound hole center
Route traditional Spanish rosette channel
Cut out sound hole when rosette channel is completely finished
Install and glue rosette
Sand rosette down to flush with soundboard.
Cut braces for soundboard.
Sand braces in 30’ arch sanding dish
Mark and Glue braces in place
Cut and shape tailblock:
Glue tailblock to soundboard
Sides: prep and install, Pt.1
Cut width of sides to desired thickness for guitar. (Height of the heel block)
Thickness sides to +/- .065”
Sand insides to final smoothness.
Top and back Bracing
Make cut list and mill pieces to use as braces for guitar’s top (soundboard)
Mark the guitars bracing pattern onto the underside of the soundboard.
Glue braces into place
REPEAT ENTIRE PROCESS FOR THE BACK’S BRACING
Route top of headblock to fit guitar’s top
Glue soundboard to the headblock of the neck.
Measure down from nut and mark the precise scale & location of the guitar’s saddle
Glue the guitar’s bridge into its place based on the saddle slot placement & compensation marks.
Cut and shape tailblock with a height equal to the width of guitars sides (at the back after taper)
Glue tailblock into its place
Bend and shape sides to fit the outline of the guitar and place squarely into position
Glue kerfing into place to hold both sides of guitar to final shape
Once dry, sand the bottom of guitar in the 30’ sanding disc to its final domed shape
Glue on the back of the guitar.
Once dry, do a complete flush trimming of guitar’s top and back, then sand all around the perimeter to remove all glue.
With guitar sides trimmed flush and everything sanded, Measure width & height of binding to be installed.
Sketch a plan/rendition of what the routed channel(s) will be in relation to where top and sides meet. Repeat same process for guitar’s back.
Route the guitar’s binding channels for top and back.
Clean the channels (remove any debris, fibers, etc)
Do any necessary bending of the binding so that it conforms and nests easily into routed channels of the guitar’s shape.
Glue guitar’s top binding into place
When glue has had time to set, use sharp blades and chisels to remove excess glue.
Repeat top for the back of the guitar.
Clean up all glue from surfaces before it has time to dry hard.
Sand run of neck’s surface true across plane where it meets soundboard.
Plane and True bottom of fingerboard if necessary.
Recheck centerline and mark placement of neck.
Install fret markers (if desired)
Install frets into slots, clip, and sand flush for slots that will be above soundboard (usually 12th fret and beyond). This will allow frets to be seated properly without the need to hammer surface of fingerboard supported only by soundboard.
Glue neck into place.
Remove excess glue.
Install frets and clip as flush as possible
File frets flush to fingerboard.
Prep for setup.
Shape headstock if not already done.
Do final sanding where necessary.
Perform meticulous inspection of everything.
Install tuning machines.
Setup. Pt 1
Place nut into the nut slot.
Use straight edge to mark rough shape-in of nut.
Mark center of nut.
Mark string placements across the nut
File in initial slots at string placement marks
Using straight edge, mark and file/sand height of bridge
Rough-in height and shape of guitar’s saddle.
Check with straight-edge from fretboard to saddle’s top the string height and make adjustments as necessary.
Setup. Pt 2
String up the guitar
Adjust height of saddle to meet proper string action @ 12th fret.
Make adjustments by checking, shaping saddle, and rechecking height of individual strings at 12th fret.
When action of guitar at 12th fret is set, file nut slots to exact depth for proper string action at the Nut.
Play the guitar. Does it feel amazing? If you answer NO or “not sure” make another micro adjustment. Repeat until answer is YES.
Consider type of action desired (picking versus finger style, playing style, etc) while making the final micro-adjustments.
Additional details of Guitar Building Intensive
This is not an exhaustive list of all the details, but rather gives a feeling of what your time with me will be like.
Cost of the workshop IS $2350.* The price includes instruction & materials.
*If you would like to choose from the materials I have available at my shop. Here are the options (TOP: sitka spruce, mahogany, Spanish cedar SIDES: mahagony, Spanish cedar, padauk, canary wood, curlymaple, or maple. BACK: mahagony, Padauk, or Spanish cedar. NECK: mahagony or Spanish cedar. Fingerboard: Ebony Macassar, Bolivian Rosewood, Canary Wood, Cocobolo Rosewood, or Padauk. Tuners:Golden Age Classical, Strings: of your choice, Rosette: traditional Spanish-style of your choice, and Binding to compliment your wood choices).
Ready to reserve a spot?
A deposit of $750 will reserve your spot in the class, balance due on day 1 of the workshop).
Your new instrument will be completed in 7 consecutive full workdays.
A beautiful guitar you made with your own hands using quality tone woods of your choice, a traditional Spanish-style rosette, with simple complimentary purfling/binding, quality tuning machines, and your favorite strings. The instrument will have a professional grade setup and sanded down to a very nice completion up to 320 grit. I choose to finish my instruments with a Mahoney’s Oil Wax rub. I prefer the non-toxic nature of this. So….If you choose to a more complicated finish, it will have to be on your own time after you return home with your instrument.There just is not enough time in the workshop for these sorts of finishes (staining, French Polish, etc) as they require repetitive steps with lots of time waiting in between those steps.
My guarantee: If for any reason you are not satisfied, I’ll give you a 50% refund ($1,175), and I’ll keep the guitar. We’re going to spend a lot of hours on this. Time is money no matter where you live. For this reason, I don’t offer full refunds. To qualify for my 50% refund guarantee, you must follow this simple set of expectations:*
finish the course
do the work as described. I’ll be teaching you the way I build guitars using methods I’ve learned in my own workshops. If you want to take a radically different route from one of my traditional methods, this will forfeit the guarantee.
have all major work tasks signed off on, approved by me (the instructor) as an ongoing record instructions were followed throughout the process.
take your guitar home and play it for 14 days. If you still do not like the guitar, give it back to me
*when you finish your guitar and put strings on it and play it for the first time, there’s no way you are not going to be absolutely beside yourself with joy!! I don’t ever anticipate having to even go through this with anyone.
If you’re flying or driving in from far away, you will need to find a place to stay (Air BnB, Hotel, or my favorite, Couchsurfing). If you prefer, you can stay at Hart’s guitars for an additional fee of $250 (this includes a comfy bed, coffee and toast breakfast, wi-fi, all-day endless coffee).
Locals to the Atlanta area (in driving distance) can negotiate a different schedule if unable to attend 7 consecutive days.
This course is an intensive. We will work long days (at least 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) so do NOT plan to go be a tourist around the Atlanta area. Plan to arrive a few days early or stay a few days after we’re done if you want to explore the city.
*Please explore other guitar making courses to fully understand that $2350 is a very good deal. I am providing a list of such courses below.
Pick a date that works for you and contact me: 404-971-1007 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you e-mail me with a date request, send a text to the phone number to bring it to my attention for immediate response. I get so many robocalls that I don't answer phone calls. Texting me will get a better response time.
This guitar 006 was completed in record time, for me. It has been an experimental guitar in that I drastically changed the shape , moved the sound hole, again, and even shortened the scale to 580 mm (22.8″). This is an ideal shape for a travel guitar or for a young person who is interested in learning the guitar, among other things. It’s simply easier to play but still sounds like a regular guitar. The same construction principles were used as with all the other ones. Sometimes this is referred to as a “half-size.” By the numbers, it’s not a half size but actually 90% of a regular sized guitar. A glass half full is one thing but this is a guitar 9/10ths full. Nevertheless, the little change in size makes a big difference in the change of comfortability of play, especially for people who aren’t professionals or who have hand sizes that are not matching well with the “full size” models.
Comfortability while playing an instrument is the number one reason individuals don’t get past certain points in their guitar playing development because their hands hurt after a short amount of time. One of the worst things that can happen to a young person interested in learning to play the guitar is to give that poor soul a guitar that hurts to play. Adults who never learned an instrument and find themselves wanting to learn often buy a cheaper guitar to sort of dip their toe in the pool before diving into serious study. This guitar would be perfect for these situations as would my previous guitar, 005. There is a way to calculate the ideal guitar scale size for any person and that is exactly what I’ll do for you when I make your custom guitar. I hope everyone is having a good Christmas season, a happy Hanukkah, and a cool Kwanza. Here are a few pics of the new instrument.
This is probably the last guitar I’ll make for 2019. I plan to do some home renovation work I plan to build cabinets for at least a partial remodel of my kitchen and also gonna explore some creative ideas for taking out the carpet In a basement bedroom and doing a mixed harwood floor using plywood and scrap wood. Plywood floors are a thing and they look pretty cool. I also hope to find time to do a thorough setup of my fledgling luthier’s shop. Maybe I’ll sit and write a couple of posts thru all of this.
If you are interested in buying this guitar, let me know with a message. $225.
As I was still building guitar 001, I was processing a ton of info through books and videos. One luthier that caught my attention was making guitars with the sound hole in other locations than the typical middle of the waist under the strings location. From the beginning, I’ve had the intent to make nylon string guitars, but not with the stodgy old classical guitar look which is dime-a-dozen to me (just talking about the look, not what’s underneath). That is to say, classical guitars all look the same from 15 feet away, pretty much. Think about a house you really like the look of near or in your neighborhood. It may be more appealing to you than the home beside it. But, underneath the contractor and skilled labor had to follow certain construction codes. The guitars I’m making are classical guitars inside, following the “codes” of the trade. But on the outside, I’m aiming for something a little different. If you buy one fo my guitars, you’ll definitely have something nobody else in the world has.
The reason for placing the sound hole in the location you see it in with this new guitar: the normal location of guitar sound holes (in the middle of the guitar’s waist) is a very active part of the soundboard. When you cut a hole in that particular piece of the wood, you take away a large portion of potential sound. On the contrary, the lower side of the upper bout is a relatively inactive part of the soundboard. Moving the sound hole to that area frees up a lot of the guitar’s waist for midrange activity. Does that mean that guitars with the sound hole in the “normal” location sound inferior? Absolutely not. It’s simply a tweak on your stereo EQ (remember those?).
In summary, this guitar 005 was sort of an experimental one. In a way, they all have been. But, with this one, I changed the sound hole placement and I made it to a shorter scale of 630 mm (usually 650 mm). That’s a change from 25 1/2″ down to 24.8″ which is 24 51/64ths (or about 24 7/8″). If I make a guitar for you, I will ask you to measure the distance between some of your fingers and with that information I can make a comfortably playable instrument for your personal hands, something that is almost impossible to find in a music store.
After a year and three months of obsessive learning, working and more learning….I have three guitars for sale in one of the coolest stores in Atlanta, Big House Guitars.
On the top row of the guitar wall, mine are the ones on the far right (two up top and one below). The two on top are the nylon string guitars which I love to death. On the bottom is the only steel string I’ve made. It holds a very special place in my heart as well, being the first guitar I actually completed. Not in the picture is the one I’ll never sell, not even for a million dollars.
Prices will be finalized tomorrow. But, tentatively….prices are: nylon string on the top left (mahagony top, back, sides, neck, cocobolo fingerboard) $899. On the right is the special “kasha brace” guitar (spruce top, mahagony back, sides, and neck, cocobolo fingerboard) and it will be, most likely, +/-$1099. The steel string guitar price will be determined tomorrow but somewhere around $1500. It comes with an Ameritage Hardshell case worth $600.
Speaking of the pricing….
I’m sure some people saw those prices and think to themselves…”Oh my God, that’s ridiculous (as in, that’s expensive!)!” Actually, these are very cheap prices for hand-crafted guitars and I’ll never sell them this cheaply again. For some comparisons, check out other makers’ prices here, here, here, and here.
I’m also sure that some people (luthiers and collectors) probably think those prices are ridiculously cheap. All i know for sure is that for now, these are prices I’m comfortable with. The guitars have had a chance to “settle in.” To my ears, they sound sweeter and sweeter with each day. They are solid, quality instruments. Cheap pricing is not a reflection of absolute worth or value. My product and brand is just new, that’s all. As my experience and skill level progress, I’ll definitely be getting much more for each instrument. So, get ’em while they’re hot (and cheap!).
For fun, between guitars 004 and 005, I decided to build a ukulele into this cigar box I’ve had around the house for a while. It was fun, annoying, then fun, frustrating, infuriating, and then fun again. It took me two work days. Now that I know the process, I’ll build a few more and write up a curriculum with detailed notes and hand drawn (maybe watercolour) illustrations. Then, in the near future, I plan to offer cigar box ukulele building workshops. It’ll probably be a weekend kinda thing. Let me know if you’re interested and that will light a fire under me to get the ball rolling quicker.
My dad passed away in early 2018. He would have loved this guitar, in particular, given its gentle nod to Victorian era instruments. I’m only able to pursue this career change into guitar lutherie because James Thomas Hart (Tommie) left behind, much to my surprise (as he never, ever mentioned it), a modest sum of money that was enough to simply buy the tools I needed to get started, spend a week with a professional guitar builder in a workshop, and to take a few months out of life without a bi-weekly direct deposit into my bank account. Thanks, dad. I’ve never used money more wisely than I am right now.
I chose to go with a special bracing system for this guitar (pictured above), which added a lot of time to the process. Also adding more time was learning how to use new tools I’ve had to buy along the way. I’m still very much in the learning curve of my transformation into this profession and I have countless hours ahead of me as a hermit in a cave with my books and woodworking forums.
This guitar, as the others, is solidly mellow in its tone with resounding bass that vibrates into your belly and pleasant highs that will fill your space. They’re ideal for playing any style: in your living room for your sweet thing, as a solo guitarist or with another one or two, acoustically with other finesse players on instruments of complimenting sonority, equipped with a pickup and sound to play a show in your favourite venue, or at your music lesson because it’s such a joy to play. Now, I’ll say what this guitar and all the others I make is not good for. It’s not built for competing with 10 other instruments around a campfire or down at the bluegrass hootenanny. After all, it is a nylon string guitar. If you need your guitar to be LOUD more than anything else, go get yourself a steel-string dreadnaught. Now, get yourself one of these and melt the hearts of everyone you play to.
I have agreed to a deal with a local guitar shop, Big House Guitars, Atlanta’s Finest Selection of High End Vintage Guitars. They like my guitars and want to sell them. So, I’m putting all of them (except the special one) for sale in their store. What a nice bunch of folks and they have a complete luthier shop downstairs. Fingers crossed for a successful launch.
This article is about my experience building my first guitar bridge. In the pics, you’ll be able to see the steps for this process in some notes I took from the book “Classical Guitar Making: Tradition and Technology” by Cumpiano and Natelson. In addition to the normal bridge making, I’ve had to do some modification because….for this guitar I have made the soundboard bracing in the style of Dr. Michael Kasha. Follow the link to an interesting article about him.
The first thing a luthier must do when doing this sort of bracing is to establish the location of the guitar’s bridge. Since I had no experience making bridges, I thought I’d just make the “base” of what could be called a Kasha bridge and that I’d later simply attach a factory built bridge on top of this base. This guitar has been sort of a prototype and thus I’ve taken an unorthodox approach on just about everything. To complicate matters on finishing this guitar, there is nobody out there making “Kasha bridges” (using quotations marks as I don’t even know what to call them). That should give a clear indication of how rare these guitars are! So, I’ve had to invent this whole approach. As I’ve made it through this process and now know the fundamentals of bridge construction, on the next guitar I will obviously be able to make my own “Kasha bridge” as a single piece. When I do that, I’ll post another article detailing those steps. If you are reading this and want to purchase a Kasha bridge made by me, let’s talk.
If this is your first time to my site….I’ll begin by explaining that I’m building guitars with classical specs but with a nuanced flair that more appeals to the jazzy-blues chord melody fingerpicking aficionados (all 10 of us). So, while my guitars are not “classical” in the orthodox school of classical guitar lutherie, and they are not strictly “jazz crossovers” with cutaways in the body to maximize playing in the higher frets, etc., they are like an offspring of these body styles. So, I’m calling them clazzical for the purpose of this article. Jazzical sounds too, ….I don’t know.
The bridge on an acoustic guitar, one could argue, is the most important element in a guitar’s sound. Always take care that it will not be the source of any energy loss, is one luthier’s main objective in approach to design whose opinion I respect. The bridge serves as a conduit to and distributes the strings tension onto the soundboard. I had my mind blown the first time I read it explained this way: the strings do not make the noise you hear when someone plays the instrument. The bridge converts the strings’ energy and sends the vibration to the soundboard, which disperses those vibrations. Indeed, the flexibility of the wood selected and mass determine how that energy is converted and dispersed. So, there’s a reason why the guy at the guitar store tells you “Yeah, man this guitar is spruce top, Indian rosewood sides and back with a mahogany neck.” You could make the guitar out of all pine, or pallet wood, but it would not be a great sounding instrument no matter how crafty the hand-craftsman is. Later on, I’ll write an article about tone woods. Back to the topic of bridges converting vibration from strings and sending that energy to the soundboard. Some luthiers with considerable experience are adept at removing bridge mass (after the guitar is strung) to fine tune the sound of the instrument.
Below is the set of notes and pics I’ve taken while researching bridge design and build…
It’s hard to take your time when working on something you’re so excited to see finished. This is not unique to guitar building. I keep learning this lesson over and again: Slow down and I will finish faster (or is it quicker? more quickly? ah who cares.). I’ve spent more time than I care to remember fixing things in the process that I did in haste, overlooked, didn’t consider, measured wrong, didn’t set up correctly (like not checking to make sure the blade is square to the surface and putting piece… and so on). Today I’m going into the shop with a sick feeling in my gut because as I was putting on the frets last night, I could not help but noticed a certain concavity in my latest guitar (the area between the sound hole and the bridge sits “below sea level” (sea level being the imaginary plane between the neck and lower bout of the guitar’s top, usually a pretty straight plane). Hopefully I was looking at it wrong and everything’s gonna be alright. But, I have the sinking feeling I’m gonna have to take off the back and address whatever this problem is, which is something, surely, I probably could have avoided if I had slowed down.