Custom 000-14-fret Guitar #46 141


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This 000-14-fret guitar is a custom build for an up-and-coming young guitarist. The red spruce top and East Indian rosewood back and sides are set off with pink abalone purfling, a sunburst finish, and Waverly tuners with ivoroid buttons that match the bindings. At the new owner's request, it's strung with folk nylon strings; even with this low-tension configuration, this guitar has lots of power and clarity.

Construction Photos

The first steps in this project are to join the rosewood back and red spruce top with hot hide glue. This fixture both provides for quick alignment and even clamping pressure. The plates and sides are sanded to thickness. A groove is cut down the back's center seam, and a marquetry backstrip is glued in. The shape is drawn onto the back, and it's cut just a bit oversize to allow for later trimming.

Heart shapes are cut from pink Abalam, and are inlaid up the line of the backstrip. The pieces are glued in with a mixture of epoxy and rosewood dust, then sanded level. The spruce reinforcing strip is glued up the center of the inside. The rosette and soundhole are laid out onto the top.

A recess is routed in the top for the abalone portion of the rosette. A dedicated two-headed cutter cuts both the inside and outside radii at one pass. The pieces are glued into the recess. The top is sandedl level, and rosette purfling grooves are cut on the drill press with a fly cutter. The soundhole is cut out.

The top is sanded to its final thickness, and the bracing pattern is laid out on the back. The rosewood sides are sanded to the proper thickness, cut to profile, and bent in a jig that utilizes stainless steel slats and a heating blanket. An adjustable external form is set to accept the proper profile.The bent sides are placed in the external form.

The tail block is glued to the ribs, and a head block is fashioned and the parts glued together. The head block is glued to the ribs. Rosewood side reinforcing strips are glued in place. Mahogany kerfed lining is cut and glued to the edges of the ribs. A maple bridge plate is glued to the top.

The lining clamps (aka clothespins) are removed and the lining is glued onto the other side. In order to prevent the cracks that are so often found running along the edge of the lining in vintage instruments, the side reinforcing strips run the full width of the sides, and the lining is fitted around it. The x-bracing is partially shaped, and it's both notched at the intersection and also recessed to receive the bridge plate. A recess is cut to receive a small patch at the center of the x. The x-bracing is glued in with hot hide glue. The balance of the top bracing is partially shaped and glued into place.

The back bracing is shaped to the radius of the back, then partially shaped. Notches are cut in the back reinforcing strip to accommodate the bracing, and it's glued in with hot hide glue. When the glue is dry, the back bracing is trimmed and shaped with planes and scrapers. The top is tuned by scalloping and shaping the bracing; while I'm trimming, I'm tapping the plates, listening for a multitude of musical notes with no dead spots. The ribs and lining are shaped to the radii of the back and top with a curved sanding block.

The plates are fitted to the ribs, and notches are cut to receive the bracing. Hot hide glue is applied to the mating surfaces and allowed to dry. The parts are clamped together, and the glue is reactivated with a burst of steam.

The instrument is removed from the form, and the top and back are trimmed flush with the sides. The end graft is marked onto the sides, and the recess is defined with a knife, cut to depth with a Dremel tool, and cleaned up with a chisel.

The celluloid end graft is glued into the recess, then scraped and sanded flush with the sides. A dedicated cutter is utilized to cut the binding and purfling recesses. The top's black/white inner purfling is glued in first,

followed by a Teflon strip, an outer black purfling, and finally an ivoroid celluloid binding. When the glue has dried, the Teflon strip is carefully removed and pieces of abalone are glued in its place. The back binding is glued in place.

The neck blank is cut roughly to shape, and the truss rod slot is cut. The body and neck blank are mounted in a specialized jig that facilitates the cutting of the dovetail joint at the proper angle and alignment. Final fitting is done with chisels and sandpaper.

The ebony fretboard is thicknessed and sanded to a 16" radius. A table saw jig cuts matching slots for the carbon fiber fretboard reinforcing in both the fretboard and neck. Fret slots are cut on a dedicated radial arm saw. The neck is cut to shape on the bandsaw. The fretboard inlay pattern is designed. This inlay will mimic the pattern of a snowflakes-and-diamonds design, but will consist of heart shapes of graduated sizes.

The patterns are glued to an Abalam sheet and cut out with a jeweler's saw. The cut pieces are soaked in water to remove the paper pattern. The script "Skipper" logo, sized down to fit on the 15th fret, has nearly impossibly delicate and fragile lines that test both my patience and ability with a jeweler's saw. To make sure I've accounted for all the pieces, they're roughly arranged on a black background. The QGT -- the new owner's initials -- will

adorn the headstock. Recesses are routed for the fretboard inlay pieces, and they're glued in with a mixture of epoxy and ebony dust. Celluloid binding and side position dots are installed. Frets are cut to length, and the tang is cut away for the binding with a special pair of nippers.

A bit of hide glue is added to the fret slot, and the frets are seated with a handheld press. The carbon fiber fretboard reinforcements are glued into the back of the fretboard. The headplate is located and cut to shape. Recesses are cut for the headstock inlay, and the pieces are glued in with a mixture of epoxy and ebony dust.

When the epoxy has cured, the ebony overlay is sanded level. Celluloid binding is attached to the overlay, and it's glued to the headstock. The headstock is thicknessed using a drill press planer. The heel cap is glued in place.

Channels for the carbon fiber fretboard reinforcing bars are extended into the body of the guitar. The truss rod is set in a few spots of silicone caulking to prevent future rattling. The fretboard is glued to the neck. The neck is shaped with rasps, scrapers, and chisels. The volute is carefully carved with a sharp chisel.

Holes for the tuning machines are drilled in the peghead, and a reamer is used to counterbore for the bushings. At this point, the instrument is ready for final sanding and finishing. The bridge position is determined and marked. The bindings are scraped level, and the instrument is thoroughly sanded.

The back and sides are given a coat of vinyl sealer. The neck is stained to better approximate the color values of the back and sides. Pore filler is applied, and the instrument is again sanded level. The top is thoroughly sanded, the bridge and neck areas are masked off, and it's given a light coat of shellac. All but the top is masked off, and the sunburst is built from the lighter center to the darker perimeter.

The masking is removed, and the purfling and rosette lines are scraped lean. The instrument is given another light coat of vinyl sealer to fix the colors and prepare for the lacquer finish coats. These coats are applied over a period of several days, leaving adequate curing time between series of coats. Then the instrument is again sanded level, and the final series of lacquer coats are applied. Now the instrument will cure for 10-14 days before the finish is rubbed out and buffed. The instrument is first wet sanded with progressively finer grits of Micro Mesh paper,

then it's buffed on a flannel wheel. The neck is glued to the body, and the tuning machines are installed. The bridge is glued to the top. Bridge pins are fitted, a pickguard is fashioned and installed, and a bone nut and saddle are shaped and installed. A set of strings, and this one's ready to go.

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