Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Is Beginning To Look Strangely Like A Guitar

Completing the neck
This is getting downright thrilling. There have been many periods in the building process that have gone at a snail's pace. Sometimes a month or six weeks would go by without feeling like I accomplished anything, but this is definitely not one of those periods. It seems as though every time another minute of class time goes by, another big milestone is passed. I'm not naive enough to think that will continue - there will undoubtedly be plenty of opportunities for whining and frustration down the road - but it's harder and harder to avoid the fact that, while I still can't predict a date that I'll have a finished guitar, it's only a matter of weeks before I will have something assembled that any reasonable person would call a guitar. Once that happens, the rest is lacquering and tweaking and, based on what I've seen from students in past classes, that could be a few weeks or it could be a couple of months. We'll see.

I went to my regular Tuesday class this week, then joined the Saturday class to do a little catching up, and I'm sure I haven't made as much progress in a single week since I started almost a year ago.

At this point in the process there are many small projects that are going on at the same time, unlike earlier when we might spend a month or more on a single task. Over the past two classes I've worked on gluing veneer to the head stock, cutting and planing it to the proper shape, attaching the heel plate (more on that later), carving the neck, and several other things. And each of these little parts contribute to a very rapid pace in the evolution of the guitar.

Carving the neck joint
One project that I'm sure is pretty dull to read about, but I find interesting, is the addition of the veneer to the head stock. Three very thin sheets of veneer - two of walnut and one of maple - are glued onto the back of the head stock, reaching all the way to the intersection of the neck. After they dry, the neck joint is then carved, exposing the maple veneer in the form of a decorative line. When carving it, it's possible to manipulate the width of the line by changing the angle of the cut, which has the effect of exposing more or less of the veneer. And of course the veneer forms a line all the way around the head stock if you look at it from the side. The line is still very rough since I'm not finished carving it yet and it's a lousy photo, but you  can get a sense of it in the picture at right.

Speaking of carving, I think it might be my favorite part of building the guitar so far. Much of the process of building the instrument is making exact measurements and precise cuts, but the carving of the neck allows lots of freedom of interpretation. Obviously, certain dimensions have to be maintained, but a lot is left to the imagination. The shape of the heel where the neck meets the body, for example, or the contour of the line I just mentioned, are things that are left to the eye. And I really love using the rasp file to move a little here and a little there until it's just the way I want it.

Cutting the head stock to shape
Another very exciting step this week was finally starting to cut the head stock to shape. I've bored you with enough details in the post already, so I'll be brief. It takes a little imagination to picture the final product when all you have is a shape drawn on a rectangular face plate with a pencil. But when you start to cut it to shape it's exciting to see it come closer and closer to what you've envisioned for months. First, you cut away the excess with a band saw, then use a spindle sander and a hand plane to finish the rest of it. The only thing left to do now is to cut the arc on the top. Ted urged me to leave it for now because he says it will make some of the other final steps easier with the top still squared to it can be used to stabilize the neck when working on it. But I think he really just wants to torture me.

I could go on and on about other amazing feats of guitar building, but I'd be surprised if I haven't lost you already, so I'll save those for later. In the meantime, all I can say is the feeling I have right now is like the feeling I had when I was a kid going to the ballgame or the fair. I'm just practically jumping out of my skin to get to that guitar. And it just feels soooo close.

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