Custom Dreadnought Guitar #56 168

Completed December 2016

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)


I find myself without a bluegrass dreadnought guitar to show; this straight-up dreadnought guitar rectifies the situation. Red spruce top, East Indian rosewood back and sides, Waverly tuners, and vintage look. Ebony fretboard, peghead overlay, and bridge. Bone nut and saddle. Rosewood purfling and rosette. Maple bindings. Mother-of-pearl logo. Gloss nitrocellulose lacquer. 1-11/16" nut width, 25.34" scale length. Hardshell case.

After just a few days of not being a tree anymore, the guitar is really starting to open up and provide a taste of what it will be, and already is:

As you can tell, it's a real bluegrass instrument: big voice, strong bass, and lots of "doink" when you drive it hard.

This instrument is a demo, and like all my demos, is for sale. $2,650 will make it yours. 48-hour approval, PayPal accepted.

Construction Photos

Construction gets underway with the joining of the top and back plates with hot hide glue. The sides and top and back plates are sanded to finished thickness. The center section of the rosette is cut. A two-headed cutter cuts pieces of rosewood to fill the recess. The rosewood is glued in, and recesses for the remaining purfling lines are cut.

The purfling lines are glued in place with hot hide glue. The top and back are sanded to finished thickness and cut to shape. The soundhole is cut. Bracing patterns are laid out on the inside of the plates, and the back's center reinforcing strip and the top's bridge plate are glued in with hot hide glue. Red spruce bracing is cut to shape and profiled to the arching of the top and back. The x-bracing is fitted together and notched to receive the bridge plate.

The intersection is strengthened with a patch that spans the joint. The bracing is given a parabolic profile and partially shaped; final shaping will be performed during the tap tuning process. The bracing is glued in place with hot hide glue.

A variety of clamping systems assures good contact during the gluing process. A head block is created and glued together. The sides are cut to shape, and a sandwich of stainless steel slats, heating blanket, and sides is placed into the side bender.

My adjustable external form is set to the proper shape, and the bent sides are placed in the form. The neck and tail blocks are glued in with hot hide glue. Mahogany lining is kerfed on the bandsaw and glued into place. The lining is notched for full-width side-reinforcing strips. The strips are glued in place, and thinned pieces of lining are glued in over top.

The top is tuned by shaving the bracing while carefully tapping and listening for many different musical notes with no dead spots. The ribs and lining are shaped to the arching of the top and back. Recesses are cut into the ribs to receive the bracing. Hot hide glue is applied to the ribs and to the top and allowed to dry.

The parts are clamped together and the glue is reactivated with steam. The process is repeated for the back. The body is removed from the external form. The edges of the plates are trimmed flush with the ribs.

A recess is routed for the end graft, and a piece of maple is glued in place. The edge of the top is thinned with a random orbit sander to "open up" the tone. Recesses are routed for binding and purfling, and they are glued in place with hot hide glue. The bindings are scraped flush with the top, back, and sides.

The headstock v-joint is cut on the table saw. A slot is routed for the truss rod, and the neck heel is glued together. This neck blank was actually made up during an earlier build, while the equipment was set up to make the joint. A dovetail jig is adjusted to a zero plane, then the guitar is mounted in the jig and the jig is adjusted to the angles and slopes of the guitar.

The jig is separated into two pieces, and a router is used to cut both halves of the dovetail without further adjustment. The neck heel is roughly shaped. A very small amount of hand work results in a perfect fit.

An ebony fretboard is slotted, profiled, and sanded to a 16" radius. Matching slots are cut in fretboard and neck to receive carbon fiber reinforcing rods. The neck and headstock are partially shaped before gluing together. The ebony peghead overlay is glued in place.

Mother-of-pearl position markers are installed. Frets are cut to length and pressed into a thin bead of hot hide glue. Side position dots are installed. The logo is cut from a mother-of-pearl blank.

The logo is recessed into the headstock and set in epoxy, then sanded level. Carbon fiber fretboard reinforcing bars are glued into the channels cut in a previous operation. Channels for the bars and for the adjustable truss rod are extended into the head block. The fretboard is glued to the neck with hot hide glue. The maple heel cap is glued in place.

The neck is shaped with rasps, planes, and scrapers. Countersunk holes are drilled for the tuning machine bushings. The entire instrument is sanded. After final sanding and grain-raising with a thin mist of water, the mahogany is treated with a dilute solution of dichromate. This will gradually oxidize and darken the neck. Then the mahogany and rosewood surfaces are given a thin coat of vinyl sealer. Pore filler is applied to back, sides and neck. The water-based compound is rubbed into the pores, then wiped lean with a paper towel. It's lightly sanded, and the process is repeated until the pores are adequately filled.

Only after the insidious purple dust from the redwood is sealed away do I turn my attention to the top. It's carefully sanded. The bridge is accurately located. The unstained areas -- rosette, binding and purfling, and neck -- are masked off. Though most luthiers simply apply stain to all, then scrape off the areas that remain unstained, I'm much faster and better at masking than scraping, and I enjoy it more. The top is given an aging toner. When it's dry, the masking is removed, and the pore-filling process is repeated on the top. When the filler has completely dried, the instrument is again sanded. The fretboard and dovetail are masked off.

Another coat of vinyl sealer is applied to the instrument, and it's allowed to dry overnight. Then two series of three coats each of nitrocellulose lacquer are applied, with an hour between coats and a day between series. Then the finish is sanded perfectly level, and two more thinned coats of lacquer are applied. Then the instrument is allowed to cure for 10-14 days before final rubout and setup. When the lacquer is fully cured, setub begins with wet sanding with increasingly finer grits of MicroMesh abrasive paper. I'm not buffing this instrument, but rather sanding through the grits to 3600. This takes a bit more work, but I love the soft shine that is produced. Themasking is removed from the fretboard, and teh fret ends are shaped.

Tuning machines are installed. The masking is also removed from the body. The fretboard is glued in place. A pickguard is shaped and glued in place. The bridge is perfectly fitted; only a few very light-pressure go bars are used to hold it in place while the hot hide glue cures.

A bone nut and saddle are shaped from blanks. Strings are installed, and after a bit of setup work, it's ready to make some music.

Thanks for watching this project

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