Custom Dreadnought Guitar #53 159

Completed April, 2016

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This bluegrass guitar features a red spruce top, East Indian rosewood back and sides, Waverly tuning machines, and celluloid bindings. The fretboard and bridge are ebony, and the nut and saddle are bone. This guitar delivers all you could ever ask from a bluegrass instrument: volume, projection, resonance, and clarity.

Construction Photos

The first step in construction is the joining of the red spruce top with hot hide glue. This simple jig applies clamping pressure quickly and uniformly, while maintaining proper alignment of the separate bookmatched halves. Perfectly quartersawn mahogany is used for the neck. The headstock is fitted to the neck with an old-style v-joint -- cut on the table saw -- that is both strong and keeps the wood grain moving in the right direction on both pieces. A slot is routed for the two-way truss rod. The heel block is glued up from the same billet of wood. Since setup time is a factor, I'm doing several necks at once.

The top is sanded to thickness. Purfling channels are cut with a fly cutter on the drill press. The channels are coated with shellac. The purfling lines are glued into the channels with cyanoacrylate glue. The rosette is scraped level, and the soundhole is cut out.

The bracing pattern is laid out on the inside of the top. The maple bridge plate is glued in with hot hide glue. The rosewood back plates are joined. The headblock is fabricated and assembled. Again, while I'm set up, I'm doing several, as I also am with cutting bracing blanks.

The x-braces are notched and fitted together. Recesses are cut to receive the bridge plate. A very thin (.040") spruce plate is glued in ahead of the bridge plate to help alleviate the dimple that nearly always develeops here over time. The balance of the top bracing is shaped and glued in with hot hide glue.

The rosewood back and sides are sanded to finished thicknesses. The back braces are shaped and glued in place. The adjustable external form is set to the proper shape. The rosewood sides are slightly moistened and wrapped in Kraft paper.

A sandwich of stainless steel slats, heating blanket, and rosewood side are placed in the side bender. The wood is heated, and the waist is pulled down first, followed by the upper and lower bouts. When cool, the sides are removed from the bender and placed in the form. The head and tail blocks are glued in.

Mahogany lining is kerfed on the bandsaw and glued to the ribs. Spaces are cut in the lining to allow reinforcing strips to cover the entire width of the sides, rather than fitting them between the lining. This is a time-consuming little chore but one that will prevent a problem that may not show up for forty years or more: cracks that travel along the edge of the lining. I've fixed a lot of vintage guitars with just that problem. The reinforcing strips are glued in place, then thinner lining is replaced over top. The back's center-seam reinforcing web is glued in.

The ebony fretboard is radiused on the drum sander. Again, I'm doing several boards while I'm setting up. The boards are slotted on a dedicated radial arm saw. The plates are tuned by carefully shaving the bracing, tapping and listening all the while for a spectrum of musical notes with no dead spots, evaluating the resonance and sustain with each change. The ribs are sanded to match the arching of the plates.

Mortises are cut to receive the bracing. Hot hide glue is applied to mating surfaces. The parts are clamped together, and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The body is removed from the form, and the end graft is recessed into the end block. A random orbit sander is used to thin the edge of the top to open up its resonance.

The edges are coated with shellac, and the binding ledge is routed. Binding and purfling is glued in place and scraped level. A specialized jig is fitted onto the top of the guitar. A neck-setting assembly is aligned with a straight edge.

The guitar's body replaces the straight edge, and the jig is adjusted for proper alignment in all planes. Templates are inserted into the jig, and both the male and female parts of the dovetail are routed.

The end result is a perfectly aligned joint with a minimum of adjustment. The neck heel is cut to the proper taper. The slotted fretboard is cut to shape, and the carbon fiber reinforcing bars are recessed into both fretboard and neck. The headstock and neck are roughly shaped before they're glued together. Mother of pearl fret position markers are installed.

The body is recessed to receive the carbon fiber bars and the truss rod. The logo is cut from mother of pearl, recessed into the headstock, and set in epoxy. The overlay is glued to the headstock.

Frets are set in a thin line of hot hide glue and pressed in place. The carbon fiber bars are glued into the recesses on the fretboard. The truss rod is set in points of silicone to prevent any future rattles. The fretboard is glued to the neck. Ebony blanks are shaped into belly bridges through a series of steps using router, spindle sander, and

belt sander. Final sanding and reaming of the pegholes will take place after the exact height is established for a particular guitar. The unsanded top is given a coat of shellac to protect it through the pore-filling operation. The neck is shaped with chisels, planes, and srapers.

The mahogany is darkened with dichromate dissolved in water. The rosewood and mahogany pores are filled with epoxy. The process is repeated until the pores are completely filled. Then the instrument is sanded level. The bridge is accurately located, and areas to remain unfinished are masked off.

The spruce top is given a slight aging toner, then the instrument is coated with vinyl sealer. The following day, application of the lacquer coats begins with a 24-hour curing period and a light sanding session between each series. After two series of three coats each, the instrument is lightly sanded with coarse sandpaper and allowed to cure an additional day; this process allows the lacquer to offgas, producing a faster and better cure. Then the instrument is sanded level with progressively finer paper, then given two final coats of thinned lacquer. The instrument will now cure for ten days to two weeks before being rubbed out and set up. When the finish is fully cured, the instrument is wet sanded with MicroMesh paper.

The instrument is buffed on a flannel wheel, using increasingly finer compounds. The neck and bridge are glued to the body. Nut, saddle, pickguard, and strings complete the package. A bit of setup, and this one's ready to go.

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