Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Down To The Wire (Literally)

13 more frets. 6 tuners. 6 strings.

Preparing the frets
That's all that is standing between me and a guitar I can play. And the moment of truth is nearly at hand because, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, I'll be putting strings on it in my next class. What happens after that is a mystery but, with luck, I'll be spending more time playing it than I am adjusting it. But only time will tell.

Last night's class was a very productive one. The first big task was to level the fretboard and to clean up the binding that runs along its edge. It was mildly monotonous, but after six straight weeks of sanding it was a breeze. And the sanding requires a little special care, since the fretboard is radiused (meaning it has a slight arc from one side to the other rather than being flat). After finishing the sanding and cleaning out the fret slots, it was time to move on to the frets.

Fretting a guitar is an especially interesting process. Even after 40 years of playing the guitar, I really had no idea how a fret is attached or even what the whole thing looks like. It turns out it's a pretty complicated little piece of wire. It's basically a "t" shaped piece of wire with a rounded top. The rounded part is the part you see when you look at a guitar and the "t" is the part that is inserted into the slot on the fretboard. The "t" part has barbs running along its length so that it grabs the wood when it's hammered in.

Magnified close up of a fret
But it's not that simple. The fret extends from the fretboard to the edge of the binding, so a small portion of the "t" needs to be cut away from the rounded top part at each end. This requires a special tool and lots of precision. In addition to that, the fretboard gets slightly wider as it goes toward the body, so each fret is slightly longer, meaning each one has to be measured individually, and then carefully clipped before hammering in. As is almost always the case with guitar building, it's the preparation that takes most of the time. When it comes time to actually hammer the frets in, it goes pretty quickly. I could have easily finished in 20 minutes or so, but it was already 10 minutes past the end of class time so I had to save it for later. I should be able to finish that quickly in the next class. Then I'll just need to level the frets and file the ends down.

Then it's just a matter of attaching the tuners. The difficult part has already been done, which is preparing the holes in the head stock. Now that that job is behind us, it's simply a matter of fitting the tuner parts into the head stock.

The Collings and the Harris getting acquainted
I will then have a guitar. A few cosmetic details will remain, like the pick guard, truss rod cover, and strap button, but it will be ready to play without those things. Then it's just a matter of adjusting.

So the word has been delivered from upon high: We WILL be stringing up guitars next week.

I brought my guitar home this week, not because I'm going to do any work on it here, but because I can. And I have it hanging up in my music room right next to my Collings and it looks like it belongs there. By the way, the color of my guitar is about the same as my Collings (on the left) was when I bought it ten years ago. The wood will darken gradually, although my new guitar has an Adirondack Spruce top as opposed to a Sitka Spruce top, so it will be a little redder in color when it ages.

So, to sum it all up: Wow.

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