Lutherie is an art. The art of converting the soulless wood to a miracle that can speak to you, sing to you and travel your emotions. Lutherie is a science, taught in universities, but there are many things that cannot be taught. The luthier, through his intuition, can put his trademark to his own creations. It’s not only an art of visible things. The most fascinating part is that it is an art of invisible things, ”seen” only by senses; welcome to this incredible world. My article refers to my latest construction of a Les Paul style guitar with some differences from the original, and it is named so because of the feeling created by the top. Invisible vision! So, let’s get started.
The whole procedure starts from the design. I have the guitar plans and know exactly what I am going to need and what to do. It’s very important to start with plans and not to improvise during the process, because of the many potential mistakes. The whole thing can be either drawn by hand or designed by AutoCAD in computers. In guitars with tune-o-matic bridges it is very important to predict the correct “neck angle” (we will discuss this more later on), or the whole result will be very unpleasant and the guitar will never work.
First I must gather the woods and select the best item. A good item must be very well dried to be resonant, and have a beautiful grain pattern if it is going to be visible in the result. For this guitar I used rare and unusual woods. I will use elm for the body, which is a very strong but pretty light wood with open pores which I need for staining later. I will use Indian rosewood which is an excellent tone wood for the neck, sandwiched between purpleheart wood, and cocobolo (dual colored) for the fretboard.
The whole building from scratch can be divided in the following categories and subcategories:
A) Building the guitar body
- Making the body
- Carving the top
B) Building the guitar neck
- Scarf joint
- Final shape
- Fretboard /inlays
C) Assembling body with the neck
- Neck angle
- Setting the bridge
- Staining the top
- Gab filling of burl maple
- Grain filling the elm
- Base coats
- Top coats
E) Wiring-hardware parts
Buolding a guitar from scratch is a very lengthy procedure. Imagine that at the D stage every base coat needs about one day to dry and after final top coats, the waiting time before wet sanding can vary from 2 weeks to one month (depending on the type of finish)
So let’s begin!
MAKING THE GUITAR BODY
I first cut the slabs and after the jointer machine I glue the pieces. Finding one piece with these dimensions is pretty rare so, we glue two pieces.
The template is ready and I choose the best part of the wood
I then use my bandsaw and cut the profile roughly in order to be able to use my template to route the guitar precisely .The body is now ready!
It is now time to create the cavities for the electric pots, the switches and the channel for wiring. Elm is a light wood but I still need to get rid of some of the wood and create a more resonant guitar. I use my drill to open some holes. Those cavities work best for clean channel playing.
We are now ready to move to the next stage:
CARVING THE TOP
I draw the profile for the top and cut it…
…and glue the top to the body
One of the most difficult jobs with this guitar is to carve the top. Many luthiers do it by hand but I use my router which I think is the best way to be precise and safe. I have my templates which I use just to draw the lines and then with a router I route free hand
The whole thing is now very rough and flat, so I need to sand it
Ok, we are done with it. Time for neck making!
The neck can be one piece of wood or more. The more pieces, the more stable the neck. I decided to use Indian Rosewood which is a very stable tonewood with a purpleheart rib between 2 pieces of rosewood. Another important factor is the grain along the neck. There are 2 types: quartersawn and flatsawn and this has to do with the way of the way the slab is cut. If the slab is quartersawn the grain runs along the whole neck, which makes it more stable and more resonant. In addition I will add 2 carbon fiber rods which give stability to the neck.
On this guitar there is an angle between the neck and the peghead. The bigger the angle ,the bigger the sustain. In lutherie there are many ways to get this angle. On our Les Paul style guitar it is 16 degrees. I just cut the neck in this angle, twist the “peghead slab” and that’s it…
I then route the neck to insert the truss rod.
I cut the neck to the final dimensions with the router and have this result
Time for headstock arrangements. After gluing a piece of ebony I use my template to route it to the desired shape.
Ok, time for the fretboard… cocobolo - an amazing Mexican rosewood! I cut the slots for the frets…
… and glue it on the neck.
My next step is to route for the bindings.
Then there is the neck shaping. I use a router to shape in the middle and then I do it by hand. This step is very important. There are many types of neck shapes such as C, D, U, V and so on. It depends on the taste of the player, but I prefer a U profile.
The final stages include the inlays engraving and the fretwork, another artistic aspect. It’s like jewelry and adds many credits on the final result.
Finally, the frets. I use a press to place them properly. This step is another important thing. They must be pressed all evenly and then leveled in order to avoid higher frets which cause the terrible buzz we all know.
After the neck we are ready to continue in part C: Assembling the neck with body…
As I mentioned in the beginning the most crucial part in this building is to achieve the correct angle between the neck and the body. If the angle is bigger than the desired there will be buzz and the strings will hit the frets. In opposite case the action will be very high and the guitar will be unplayable. There are many factors which determine the neck angle such as the scale of the guitar (25.562”in our case), the bridge’s height and so on.
This jig helps us route the neck pocket and see it in our angle gauge (4.6 degrees)
After this process we route for the binding, and drill the holes for the pots. We will not show pictures for this because it s very easy to do. We are ready to place the bridge.
There are many types of bridges. The most common include the bridge and the stoptail which holds the strings. In my project I will use a “wraparound” bridge which includes those 2 types in one bridge.
Another crucial part: We have only two holes to drill. If we do them wrong it will be very difficult to cover the mistake. The correct placement determines the scale and the intonation. Besides the strings must be in the borders of the fretboard. For this I use a laser pointer to double check it.
After many checks we drill the holes, we route for the pick-up cavities
After gluing the neck the guitar looks like this:
The guitar is now ready for finishing…
This could be a whole chapter in itself, an art which cannot be easily described here. There are many factors and many types of finishes to choose from. It is a very busy process and takes a long time because of drying times sanding. The philosophy is simple: we must fill the pores of the wood, we must stain it and then create a base coat. This will be the basis of a truly wonderful clear coat which will add protection and beauty to the wood. To achieve a mirror like surface after the final clear coat has dried, we sand it with very fine sandpaper, with water and buff it. This is very similar to using car paints or even nail polishing! I decided to work with polyurethane because the final result is very resistance to scratches and is very glossy.
In our case both burl maple and elm are woods which have to be filled with something in order to close the open pores of the wood .So, at this stage I have stained the burl maple and we see the epoxy glue to fill the voids.
BASECOATS - CLEAR COATS
After closing every void we proceed to the final stages: base coats and clear coats:
The waiting time has come. In order for the finish to become hard we must not touch the guitar for 2 weeks at least. Then comes the wet sanding. The purpose here is to correct the “bad spraying results “such as orange peels, overspraying etc. and get a smooth leveled finish.
The finish now looks very dull. We must buff it in order to get the desired shine and the guitar will get its final look. We use a buffing machine for this purpose:
WIRING - HARDWARE PARTS
The guitar is now ready. We can wire it, add the hardware, the strings and check it.
At this point we must do the set up needed. A common setup includes truss rod adjustments, action adjustments, intonation adjustments.
We have finished. The guitar looks like this:
Thank you for reading my article. Feel free to leave a comment or ask any questions on the forum. You can also write to this email: [email protected]
You can also see about 200 photos of this procedure by clicking this link: