Only days after we began our journey together, it became clear that Corvid-19 was no longer a warning but a guarantee. Billy and I decided we’d continue to do the class. I had some hand sanitizer and we kept our 1 Joey Ramone distance 90% of the time. Last night he took this beautiful instrument to show to his wife and kids: a Spruce top with Limba back and sides and a Brazilian Rosewood fretboard. The guitar was built from plans from the Guild of American Luthiers of an 1869 Francisco Gonzalez classic.
I can’t believe we made this. Thank you so much for this amazing experience.
A bit of a recap on our work together
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 of 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.
As we worked, we realized there was a lot of common ground in our life experiences. Days flew by quickly. Billy said he’d picked up so many skills that would be useful in his daily life and other projects. That is such a gratifying thing to hear as it’s what has been my wish all along from the beginning, when this hole business was just a daydream.
With the soundboard voicing, we really took our time and did things right. Those tonebars are very important in determining the character of a guitar’s sound. Some have said they could listen to a classical guitar played while blindfolded and name the luthier who built it. Billy and I decided to take an online course together on guitar top voicing.
Then it was time to bend the sides. It was the first time I had ever worked with Limba. I made a form to bend our sides. Heat is applied to the thin piece of wood using a thermal blanket with a temp controller.
With the sides attached, and glue drying, Billy now has to carve more cross strut braces for the back. The back will be entirely domed in a 25′ radius dish. It’s a process of sanding which involves pushing and pulling the back all around the dish until it takes on the domed shape.
Attaching the back……
Attaching the back is always a nerve-wrecking endeavor, at least for me. This time I decided to make some new spool clamps to aid in the process. Normally, keeping the back tight to the body while the glue sets is done using a number of clamps. That number is every clamp you have available in the shop. Plus rope. And a cinderblock on top. Here’s how a made the new spool clamps.
With the back in place, we move on to routing out the channels for binding, which is used to protect the edges of the top and back. Binding is also an area where some luthiers give a special touch, their own signature in the way they pick colours and textures.
Making the fretboard
Making the fretboard is a task. First, usually the piece of wood you plan to use is in the form of a short and slim board, called a “billet.” This particular billet was locked away in a special closet at Carlton’s Rare Woods and Veneers. It has been sitting in that closet since the 1970s. It’s a special collection of Brazilian Rosewood, which is now prohibited from being imported. There are many legal issues surrounding this wood including travel restrictions. Here is a good article on the endangered wood, Dalbergia nigra.
Early on in the process, Day 1 I’m sure, we planed this beauty down to be trued and squared in two adjoining sides. This way, it will be cut with precision by the bandsaw. Otherwise, it comes out ugly because the bandsaw will make it wavygravy. Not groovy!
So the final stage was a lot of sanding, pore-filling, sanding, pore-filling, and. Billy was a great student, a sponge for valuable and pertinent lutherie information. He was eager to learn and do a French-Polish finish for his guitar, which is not normally a part of the guitar building intensive. But, with nothing but time on our hands, I was more than happy to learn it with him. He ended up being my teacher in some moments. Here’s a slideshow.
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 a joy to play, then what is it worth to you? 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 of 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 between applications. 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, my skills and the methods I’ve learned and are proven to work. But this class is NOT about how to run a lutherie business.
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). If you are local and not in a 7-day Intensive build, different payment arrangements can be made, if needed.
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 do 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.
I spent over a decade as a public school teacher. I’ve worked with every learning style imaginable. There is no reason I won’t be able to teach and help you build your own guitar. Nonetheless, I will offer you 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. The price of the course is 50% for the guitar and 50% for the instruction. The instruction takes a lot of my time. For this reason, I do not offer full refunds.
To qualify for my 50% refund guarantee, you must follow this simple set of expectations:*
Finish the course by: coming to all scheduled meetings and completing all the steps described by the instructor.
Do the work as described. I’ll be teaching you the way I build guitars using methods I’ve learned in lutherie workshops and from the process of building all the guitars I’ve built. IThere are countless ways to approach certain parts of the building process. If you want to take a radically different route from one of my proven traditional methods, you forfeit the guarantee.
Have all major work tasks signed off on, approved by me (the instructor) as an ongoing record that the 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 and I will give you a 50% refund.
*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.