Custom Dreadnought Guitar #60 178

Completed September, 2017

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


This custom-built guitar for a Maryland customer is my second venture into Torrefied tops, and once again I'm delighted with the results. Just off the bench, this guitar already has the boom more often associated with a vintage guitar, but there's also an underlying warmth and a broad spectrum of overtones that make me want to play more. A red spruce top is matched with mahogany back and sides. Herringbone trim and Waverly tuning machines add special touches. A tortoise motif carries through bindings, pickguard, tuning keys, strap button and end pin, and bridge pins. Wow. I wish I could keep this one.

Construction Photos

Construction begins with the joining of the plates with hot hide glue. A head block is fabricated and glued together. The mahogany sides are sanded to finished thickness and cut to profile. The sides are lightly dampened, then bent over a hot pipe. This job is normally done with heat blankets and a bending machine, but doing it by hand is a job I've always enjoyed, and I'm in the mood to do it that way.

As they're bent, the sides are constantly checked against a template. The sides are placed in an external form, and the head and tail blocks are glued in place. The top is sanded to finished thickness and cut to shape. The rosette lines are cut with a fly cutter. The herringbone rosette and the purfling lines are glued in place, then scraped level with the top. The sound hole is cut out.

The back is sanded to thickness and cut to shape. The bracing pattern is laid out on the insie of the top. The bridge patch is glued in with hot hide glue. A very thin triangular with-grain patch is glued in ahead of the bridge plate to prevent the dimpling so common in this area. Torrefied stock is sized for bracing. The x-bracing is notched together and recessed to receive the bridge plate.

The bracing is partially shaped and checked for fit. The x-bracing is glued in place. The back center web is glued in. Mahogany stock is shaped for lining, then kerfed on the bandsaw. The side-reinforcing strips are run the full width of the sides, and the kerfed lining is fitted around them. A thinned piece of lining fills the gap.

The balance of the top's bracing is roughly shaped and glued in place. The back braces are contoured to the plate's radius then sanded to a parabolic shape that provides a maximized weight-to-stiffness ratio. The braces are glued in place. The ribs are removed from the form, and a recess is routed for the end graft.

The end graft is glued in place and scraped level with the surrounding wood. The top is tuned by tapping and listening, shaving braces here and there until I arrive at a multitude of musical notes with no dead spots. The sides are arched to the same radii as the plates. The location of the bracing is marked onto the sides, and a recess is cut to receive them.

Hot hide glue is applied to the mating surfaces, then allowed to dry. The top is first clamped to the sides, and then the glue is rejeuvenated with a shot of steam. The process is followed with the back, and the box is closed. The instrument is removed from the form, and the plates are trimmed flush with the sides.

The neck-to-headstock joint is cut, and the neck heel is glued up. The truss rod slot is cut. The neck is cut roughly to shape. The edge of the top is thinned with a random-orbit sander to increase resonance and sensitivity. The binding and purfling channels are routed.

The herringbone top purfling is first glued in with hot hide glue and allowed to dry. Then the tortoise celluloid bindings are glued in with the appropriate adhesive. A dovetail jig is set to zero, then to the particular measurements of the guitar.

Both halves of the dovetail are routed without removing the guitar from the jig, resulting in a dovetail that fits perfectly and is aligned in all planes with virtually no hand work. The neck heel is shaped. The ebony fretboard is sanded to a 16" radius.

The fretboard is slotted. The fretboard and neck are shaped to the same template. Matching slots are routed to receive carbon-fiber bars. The headstock is cut to shape. The neck is roughly shaped in the neck-to-headstock joint area.

The headstock is glued to the neck. The ebony headstock overlay is roughly shaped and glued to the peghead. I'm out of mother-of-pearl dots, so I take some time off to turn a new supply. The dots are recessed into the fretboard as position markers. Fretwire is bent to a 16" radius and cut to length.

The frets are set into a thin line of hot hide glue, then pressed into place. Side position markers are installed. The "Skipper" logo is cut from gold mother of pearl. The logo is recessed into the headstock and set in a mixture of epoxy and wood dust.

The epoxy is sanded away to reveal the finished inlay. The reinforcing-bar and truss-rod slots are extended into the body. The tortoise heel cap is glued on. The overlay is trimmed flush with the headstok, and the corners are shaped. The carbon-fiber bars are glued into the recesses on the bottom of the fretboard, and the truss rod is installed. The fretboard is glued to the neck.

The tuning machine holes are drilled and reamed for bushings. The bindings are scraped flush with the wood, and the body is sanded to 320-grit. The neck is shaped, and the volute area is refined. The bridge is accurately located with the help of a shop-built jig.

The areas under the bridge and neck that are to remain unfinished are masked off, along with the fretboard. A dilute dichromate solution is applied to the neck, back and sides; the chemical is liberally applied, then wiped off with a clean rag. The chemical has a yellowish tint when applied, but overnight will oxidize the wood to a rich red-brown. The instrument is given a coat of vinyl sealer, followed by multiple applications of pore filler, with a period for drying between each coat.

The filler is lightly sanded, and another light coat of vinyl sealer is applied. The first of two series of three coats each of nitrocellulose lacquer is applied. The following day, the instrument is lightly sanded and given a second series. After a 24-hour drying period, the instrument is sanded perfectly level. This is a tedious job that requires close attention to prevent sanding through the very thin finish. The instrument is given two thinned coats of lacquer, then allowed to cure for 10-14 days before the finish is rubbed out and the instrument is set up. When the lacquer is fully cured, the instrument is wet-sanded with increasingly finer grits of MicroMesh paper.

The masking is removed from the bridge, neck, and soundhole areas. The frets are leveled and dressed, and Waverly tuning machines are installed. The neck is glued to the body with hot hide glue. The bridge is glued to the top. A bone nut is fashioned and slotted.

Tortoise strap button and end pin are installed. The bridge is fitted and slotted to receive the bridge pins. Pickguard, saddle, and strings are added. After a bit of setup work, it's ready to make some music.

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