Designing a Custom Instrument

General design considerations

Many decisions need to be made in the course of designing a custom instrument, but it's not difficult. For many of my customers, the time involved in considering the many options and imagining the end result is a most rewarding part of the build.

Whether your next instrument is a guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, ukulele, bass, or other instrument, decisions fall into the same basic categories:

  • model (size and shape)
  • materials (wood species)
  • trim (binding, purfling, inlay, etc)
  • finish
  • hardware
  • accessories (case, strap, etc)

Not so hard, right? To help simplify the process, you won't have to decide the following; these are common to almost all Skipper instruments. In combination, along with many other little techniques I've learned in nearly three decades of lutherie, this mix of traditional methods and the latest in technology defines my New Vintage Series Instruments:

  • Hot hide glue construction: my adhesive of choice is hot hide glue, and it's used on all of my structural joints. Hot hide glue is difficult to use, but it's enduring, it doesn't creep, it has superb acoustical properties, and it can be repaired.
  • Carbon-fiber neck reinforcing: with the exception of my violin-family instruments, all Skipper instruments have carbon-fiber neck reinforcing -- often in conjunction with conventional adjustable truss rods. Carbon-fiber is stronger than steel, yet lighter than the wood it replaces. I love it. Additionally, my guitars and mandolins have carbon-fiber reinforcing not only in the neck, but attached to the upper portion of the fretboard.
  • Computer-assisted tap tuning: not only do I constantly tap and listen to the woods as I work, but I also utilize both deflection testing and a sophisticated computer program that provides a graphic image of what I'm hearing.

The following links will take you to pages that will assist you in designing specific instruments:

- Designing a custom guitar

- Designing a custom mandolin

- Designing a custom violin

- Designing a custom banjo

- Designing a custom ukulele

- Designing a custom double bass

- Designing other custom instruments

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