Cumpiano's String Instrument
What's this "tap tuning?"
The take on Brazilian rosewood
Classic vs. Flamenco?
More volume, please!
Oil or wax on guitars?
Funny scale length
Tapering the classic fingerboard
Keep the filler off the binding
Single-piece rosette ring
Guitarmaking as a second career
How do I restore this mandolin?
Straight piece of wood
Screwed up fingerboard angle
Maple bodied classics
Guitarmaking as a first career
|Thoughts on tap tuning (cont.) and more...
Đ William R. Cumpiano 2005, All Rights Reserved
For once and for all, what's this "tap tuning"?
Dear William: This question came to my mind after reading Roger Siminoff'
"luthier handbook". I have many doubts about tuning the soundboard. What do you
think of his method of tuning each brace separately? He uses a stroboscope. I tried this
method and came up with nothing. Also, he suggests tuning the air chamber by changing the
soundhole diameter. Do YOU do this step? I don't think so, since you never mentioned it.
Moreover, changing the soundhole might very well ruin a nicely made hole. I destroyed a
nice soundhole in trying to make it larger. Now it is very ugly, but is exactly tuned to G
98 Hz. I have never read anything about changing the soundhole after you already installed
the rosette, just before finishing. Could you please tell me your opinion on this?
My first advice would be to take anything you read by Roger Siminoff with skepticism
(and mine too, for that matter). But I remember him once saying that if you
"tune" the different parts of the guitar to the notes of a certain chord, the
instrument will acquire the character or quality of that chord. So if you tuned the parts
of a guitar to say, a C Major chord, it would acquire a bright and happy sound of that C
chord. Yes, its as wacky as it sounds. He has been proposing his peculiar ideas for
at least twenty years, and no one whom I know understands or follows him.
I also don't blame you for having many doubts about tuning the soundboard. It is probably
the one question that beginners ask me with greatest frequency, and apparently the most
tantalizing and confusing for them.
For a beginning guitarmaker, it is certainly a tantalizing dream, to have that kind of
power and control over the sound of their guitars, no matter what woods or what designs
they choose, or how the instrument is dimensioned or put together. Imagine that, just by
removing a few slivers or scrapings of wood in the exact places, your guitars can be
transformed into world-class instruments. Indeed, why would anyone want to go through
years of practice and trial and error, if just acquiring this "tuning" skill
will ensure success every time, right off the bat?
I admit, I once fell prey to the same sirens song, early in my career. But after
talking to dozens of professional guitarmakers about tap tuning (Ive had
the luxury of meeting many professional luthiers over the years) I've found few that have
claimed hat the success of their guitars comes from a specific step called "tap
tuning." On the other hand, the few who DO use that term each describe completely
different actions or activities that fall under the same rubric. So Ive
concluded that tap tuning isnt a specific procedure, but an amorphous
concept with many different definitions, probably as many as there are
Among the very few that
actually say that they "tune" their guitars or "tune" their
soundboards, some say that they do it while thinning their soundboards only, until it
feels or sounds "right;" others say that they remove material from the braces
after they are glued to the soundboard, before it is applied to the guitar; and one or two
say that they remove material selectively from different parts of the soundboard and
braces AFTER the soundbox is enclosed and completed. Some of these last guys attempt to
change the tambour of the soundbox to a certain familiar sound by sanding the plates
further or removing more wood from the braces.
Yet none have been able to explain to me clearly why they do what they do or what
specifically are the goals they are trying to achieveor how what they are doing is
supposed to work. They just say that they manipulate the parts or the instrument until it
responds in a "familiar" way. For example, one prominent maker claimed
unhesitatingly to me that removing some wood from a certain spot on the bridge
"cleared up" a certain note on a certain fret on a certain guitar. That would
undoubtedly fall in the realm of "tuning", wouldn't it? He's convinced that it
works for him. But if you asked him to teach you what he's doing or what he's thinking, I
guarantee you'll end up as confused as trying to follow Roger Siminoff's reasoning. So
even if you found someone who really tap-tunes their guitar, don't expect that he can also
teach you to do what he does. Hellish, isn't it?
However, the great majority of professional builders I've inquired from, seem to agree
that tonal success and consistency is, rather, derived from far more straightforward, if
not equally elusive, considerations:
1- Careful and thoughtful selection of the unprocessed soundboard plates before the guitar
is begun, so that their "feel" and appearance conforms to the way they
"should" look and feel, in a familiar way. Most are very careful that their
soundboards come from wood that has been split and the plates sawn precisely from the
split face. To insure this they don't have to trust the wood seller, they instead have
come to be able to SEE evidence on the surface and FEEL the evidence when they handle the
pieces. This applies just as crucially to the wood that ends up as braces on the
2- Success and consistency is derived from reducing the thickness of the guitars
top, back and sides to a set of precise dimensions that have been learned over time to be
the most appropriate--relative to the guitar's intended size and design. Very small
deviations from the learned ideal, they perceive, have large effects on the final response
of the instrument, so they strive to achieve great control over these thicknesses.
3- Success and consistency is derived from placing and shaping the soundboard braces to
patterns and contours that, they have learned, gave consistently good results in the past.
Braces are carved until they "look right", only rarely because they
"sound right." Rarely are braces shaped on the finished guitar, and if then,
only after some grievous miscalculation.
4- Success and consistency is derived from building the entire guitar so that its
structure is as light and efficient as only it needs be to withstand the string tension
effectively, and no heavier. The ability to ascertain when that is the case is also is the
result of trial and error over a span of persistent and thoughtful experimentation...and
assuredly, several setbacks on the way.
5- Success and consistency is eventually derived by starting from the beginning by
duplicating as closely as possible the dimensions and plate thicknesses of specific
admired guitars, guitars which serve as models and a starting-off point in further
developing a personal building style.
6- All agree as crucial the achievement of the greatest dimensional accuracy possible
during all the assembly steps--as regards joints, neck angle, etc. In other words, that
parts of the guitar that have to be flat are very flat, that the angular relationships
between adjacent parts end up being what they are intended to be, and that all the parts
fit together precisely and tightly. Acquiring this precision is again, derived over an
extended period of time. This precision culminates in the responsiveness of the action and
the precision of its string's pitch, all which impress the player perhaps even more than
any "subjective" evaluation of its sound. Usually a guitar that plays
superbly--usually because it is assembled superbly-- performs superbly.
These are the only guitarmaking "secrets", in my estimation, that really matter.
Alas, they are hard and time-consuming to achieve, and the road to their achievement has
many switch-backs and set-back. Sorry. I, like you, wish there was an easier path.
So I don't worry much about
"tap tuning". I've come to avoid claims that some simple set of movements
or motions will enable you to perfect the sound of your guitar, and all you have to do is
understand these simple movement and motions, and all will be well and excellent no matter
what else you do. It's a fool's errand.
My path has been the harder one: Just doing guitarmaking until my ears and fingers and
mind became familiar with the medium of guitarmaking. Indeed, your fingers and muscles and
perception do become smarter and smarter over time: I promise you. Your decisions become
more informed, your questions become better and the search for answers will become more
fruitful over time.
Time and persistence, alas, is the only way mastery is nourished. If it weren't so,
mastery wouldn't be as valuable as it is. If guitarmaking weren't so elusive and the
rewards so significant, it wouldn't be worth puzzling so much about it, would it?
Com to think about it, the approach of people who've said that they
"tune" their guitars and the ones that don't, in the end, seem to morph
together. What is the same is that THEY have become "tuned" to what the guitar
is feeding back to them in all kinds of ways, in ways that they can understand but cannot
explain or teach. But it arrives nonetheless, at it's own sweet time.
what's the take on Brazilian Rosewood?
Is there plenty of brazilian rosewood out there still,or have they planted enough
trees now to get it close to safe again ,or is it just protected and put on the endangered
list so that it will always be plentyful?
No, Brazillian Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra) is for all practical purposes, extinct.
Although there are a small number of trees still living, the species is considered extinct
because the total tree population is too small and too spread out for the species to
survive. So its gonzo as a commercial timber, indeed, as the premiere timber of commerce
since the 17th Century. What remains is: salvage stock (the crazy-grained stuff that has
recently and temporarily come into the market in large quantities) from large stumps that
still remain; dwindling stock on hand all around the world which is being sold at
ever-growing prices (avg., $1000-2000 per set); and immature trees that are being poached
and cut down and sold (with muddy, indistinguished grain features). A mature BR tree
takes about 100 years to grow to commercial size, so forget about benefitting from the
various rescue projects that are currently being undertaken.
Floating kosher soundboard
I had a problem with one of my jigs, and I didn't bolt down the top to the body
very well. There are two areas with significant gaps at the glue joint. My plan to rectify
this, is to steam the joint with an iron, soften the glue, add fresh glue, and clamp it
closed with C clamps in the offending area. Does this sound kosher?
What kind of glue did you use? How do you intend to "steam the joint with
I used yellow carpenter's glue. I'm hoping to steam it with a clothes iron. I've
seen fancy steaming setups in the Stew Mac catalog but I don't have one. Think it'll work?
Don't steam it. The wood is going to swell up and make a mess. Dry heat is the
way I would approach the problem: I would set the iron to it's lowest setting (just
over "off") and rig up a way of actually clamping the base of the iron right
over the seam--but nowhere else, if possible--and actually "ironing" it shut.
You might want to place a curved strip of metal right over the seam, and prop the iron
over the strip.
The idea is to keep as much of the heat of the iron focused on the seam and off the rest
of the guitar as possible. Multiple layers of corrugated box cardboard make an excellent
heat sink to protect the rest of the soundboard.
Once the seam appears to be softened, remove the iron and replace with clamps and cauls
until reset. In the end, the bindings should secure the edges shut.
But don't hold me responsible if it doesn't work as anticipated. I don't
have enough information about your situation to guarantee anything. But that would be my
By the way, this is exactly why I don't use any assembly "fixtures" or molds.
They're very hard to make work properly and consistently. Use the free assembly method
described in my book--you might save yourself a lot of time and wasted effort and fiascoes
Classic vs. Flamenco
I have read most of your writings on your website and have enjoyed them thoroughly!
I am still curious to know if there is a difference between classic and flamenco guitars,
other than action sets and wood used for the plates? Thank you for your time, and all of
the food for thought.
The web if full of resources for that: just Google "flamenco guitar"+
"differences" and you'll get everybody's opinion, like for example, http://www.guitarsite.com/flamenco.htm ,
"What are the differences between a classical and a flamenco guitar?
The primary difference between a flamenco guitar and a classical one are:
1) Flamenco guitars traditionally were built using cypress for back and sides and spruce
for the top. Classical guitars usually are made with rosewood back and sides, spruce or
cedar tops. In recent years, a high-bred between a classical and flamenco guitar has
emerged, the so-called "flamenco negra" which has its back and sides made of
rosewood, but is otherwise built like a flamenco guitar.
2) Flamenco guitars are more lightly constructed than classical
instruments-- and weigh almost nothing. The top on the flamenco guitar is generally
thinner, and there may be differences in the bracing patterns used. The thin top gives the
flamenco guitar its characteristic snare drumlike rasp when strummed. As well, because the
top is thinner, flamenco guitars have less sustain than their classical counterparts.
3) Another common difference is that the body of a flamenco guitar is often shallower than
a classical guitar.
4) The strings of a flamenco guitar are also set much lower than on a classical
instrument. This makes for a much faster action. Usually flamenco guitars come with tap
plates to protect the top. As well, traditionally (although seldom today) they used tuning
pegs rather than machines.
The result is a sound of a flamenco guitar that is vastly different from a classical
"Vastly" may be an overstatement, but otherwise this coincides with
the "wisdom" I follow when I build them. Guitars are essentially cultural
artifacts, and flamenco guitars are no exception. The major differences between Flamenco,
Spanish and Classical guitars are actually nothing more than... culture and class
What are now called flamenco guitars were once just Spanish guitars, like all the other
guitars made in Southern Spain for centuries. Unlike vihuelas, guitars were the commoner's
instrument and none were more common than those made for the Roma, the outcast Spanish
community that created Flamenco music.
Instead of being made with expensive imported woods, they were made from a tree that grew
like weeds in Spain: Spanish Cypress. Time was, I'm told, you could go to the
countryside and throw a rock in any direction and you'd have a good chance of hitting a
Cypress tree. The low action may be just a way to get the strings to rattle percussively
or, perhaps more likely, the rattling percussive sound is actually a result of the
instruments' traditionally rustic and slap-dash construction.
So flamenco guitars were originally just Spanish guitars made as cheaply as local artisans
knew how. The higher-income players could afford maple, rosewood or mahogany guitars, and
could afford mechanical tuners instead of whittled-out wooden pegs. And rattle-free sound.
My question is in regard to fretboard angles. In Newsletter #5 you use the terms
"positive fretboard angle" to describe the situation where the nut end is higher
than the soundboard end and the fretboard slopes down towards the soundboard, and
"negative fretboard angle" as the situation where the nut end is lower than the
soundboard end and the fretboard slopes up towards the soundboard. On classical guitars
you state that it is customary use a positive fretboard angle.
You describe that on classical guitars where the neck has been set so that the fretboard
gluing surface is level with the soundboard, the fretboard needs to be planed in order to
achieve the customary positive slope. The result of this action is that the fretboard will
taper in thickness from the nut to the sound hole. You note that this disturbs some
builders "aesthetic sensibilities", Michael Gurian your teacher, among them. You
describe his solution to this problem was to impart a positive slope on the fretboard
gluing surface. He accomplished this by placing a 1/16-inch shim on the flat workboard
right under the nut location whilst the back is being roped on thus locking the neckshaft
forever in a sloped up configuration.
I am a little confused by the description of Michael's method as by my reasoning the
action of placing a 1/16-inch shim under the nut location on a flat workboard would impart
a negative slope on the fretboard gluing surface as it effectively moves the nut location
1/16-inch below the surface of the sound board (see file attachment). I have been mulling
the situation over and my confusion may have arisen over what is meant by a "flat
workboard". I have arrived at the conclusion that the workboard used in Michael's
method should not have the 1/8-inch layer of pressboard glued to the workboard's neck
extension as described in your book, this pressboard layer normally raises the surface of
the neck extension so that it is level with the workboard shim thus creating a flat
workboard surface. This is how I perceive the positive fretboard gluing surface is
achieved using Michaels method. The backless soundbox and neckshaft are placed on a
workboard that has no pressboard layer on the neck extension, the soundboard will rest on
the cork shim 1/8-inch above the workboard surface, a 1/16-inch shim is placed under the
neck shaft at the nut location and the then the back is roped on. This will set the neck
to the soundbox so that a positive slope is imparted to the fretboard gluing surface. The
position of the nut will be located 1/16-inch above the soundboard surface.
So finally my question. I am I correct in my interpretation of Michaels method of
imparting a positive fretboard gluing surface or have I missed something and got it all
Ahh yes, (he said red-facedly) you've pointed out a dislexic mis-statement of
mine in my earliest newsletters (written easily ten years ago) which I have not yet
corrected. Before I started working with Michael, he was making both classic and steel
string guitars in the Spanish method. On his steel string workboards, he placed the
1/16" shim under the neck's nut location--and on his classic workboards he did the
opposite: he tapered the thickness of the neck extension of the workboard by 1/16" at
it's end so the neck shaft would be held at a positive fretboard angle during
construction. I simply mixed the two up in my mind. I have corrected the text to read:
"His solution was (he's retired from building now) to build the classic neck with a
positive slope on its fingerboard-glueing surface already built in. This was accomplished
by planing a long, 1/16-inch taper into the neck extension of an otherwise-flat
workboard--thus locking the neckshaft forever into a positive slope configuration after
roping on the back."
I do not use Michael's tapered-workboard-extension technique, I now build the neckshaft on
a level with the rim of the soundbox --and then taper the top surface of the fingerboard.
My workboard shim is shaped like the entire guitar perimeter, and simply raises both the
neckshaft and the rim of the soundbox off the surface of the workboard to keep the lower
transversal face brace from being stressed during the assembly process.
My guitar came out feeling stiff to play. What did I do wrong?
The hand responds to minute
differences in the fingerboard, neck shaft and string array. There is no real practical
way to foresee with certainty what combination of neckshaft contour, fingerboard
curvature, fret cross section, string separation, action height, string gauges and string
length add up to optimum comfort for a particular individual. These are all the factors
that contribute to the ease and feel of the guitar to the player. And each player's
ergonomic requirements are unique.
And what complicates the matter even further, particularly on an acoustic guitar, is that
changes in any given factor have consequences that may reduce the optimization of other
factors (i.e., lowering the action quiets the guitar and reduces its dynamic range;
shortening the scale makes the strings more pliable but sweetens the tone and reduces the
pop of the strings).
So when you say the guitar feels "stiff" that's like telling a doctor you don't
"feel well". It's a vague complaint that can be caused by many individual or
interrelated factors. You may simply not be strong enough to find the action responsive at
that particular height setting. Or perhaps at that exact setting it would not feel stiff
if say, the frets were taller and the scale shorter.
But there are patterns that a thoughtful builder keeps in mind. The average hand prefers a
slender neck shaft, but a large hand will find the same tiring. The more arch in the
fingerboard, the easier an inexperienced hand will find barring it. But it makes the strum
more difficult--since the string array must be curved at the saddle to conform to the
fingerboard arch. Taller frets feel more "forgiving" to a sloppy technique
because you don't have to press precisely behind each fret to get a clear tone. When a
neck feels "stiff" in the middle, the stiffness can be reduced by tightening the
rod--assuming it hasn't been recently adjusted already. Just a tiny excess of string
height at the nut will stiffen the action dramatically. Lower action eases the perceived
stiffness but limits the dynamic range of the instrument. Too much of a "shin"
or crease down the centerline of the neckshaft is tiring to well-schooled players who keep
their thumb close to this centerline. It's not a simple matter.
Yesterday was a wonderful day. Why? Because I gave my second guitar (first
classical following your book) to my former guitar teacher to try. It was a
great emotion to hear it played by a professional. Much greater than when I
first played it myself. He was literally shocked by the fact that I had made
the guitar. He could not believe it and made me a lot of compliments. All of
the time I was standing there trying to highlight all the defects, but
despite this he liked it a lot. Of course he didnīt know there is a book,
which is a masterpiece, out there called "guitarmaking, tradition and
technology". Everybody could build a guitar following that book. I think I
learned a lot from this guitar. Many of the mistakes I made will disappear
on my next. Unfortunately many will still be there even on my 10th guitar.
Despite the fact that Mirco (thatīs his name) liked it a lot, he said that
the sound was not very loud. He compared it with his factory , cheap
"alhambra", with very old strings and it played louder. My guitar had a
somehow "warmer" tone, but was not loud at all. So, I realize how difficult
must be to answer this question, but, can you think of some reasons why my
guitar should sound ... (whatīs the opposite of loud?). In one of your
newsletter you make a hard critics to Frank Ford saying that often a luthier
does not know the reason why a guitar sounds that way. Does this apply also
in this case? What would happen if you give a guitar to a customer and he
says that the sound is not strong enough? Could you find out the reason for
this? Yes, I know what you are thinking: your guitar is gonna play just
right. I think this too.
But what can you do in order to increase volume? By reading your newsletters
(and elsewhere) I learned that the height of the bone saddle affects sound,
also bone is better than Corian for nut and saddle. What else? Is this a
difficult question to answer? I hope not to steal too much time from your
work. You are always so nice in your replies.
You chose the question that is perhaps the hardest guitarmaking question of all. You
may have to make many, many guitars before learning how to make consistently loud guitars.
Of course there is nothing I can do, thousands of miles away. to guess what it was that
you did that made your former guitar teacher feel that it wasn't as
loud as his cheap guitar. Assuming that both your guitar and the cheap guitar
were played together and equally and there was a clear, unmistakable difference, what then
could vary the loudness? A few considerations:
1- A shorter-scale guitar is often quieter than a longer scale guitar.
2- A guitar with a very low saddle is often quieter than a guitar with a
tall saddle. The difference is the angle that the strings drop behind the
saddle to the holes in the tie bar. A flatter angle results in lower volume,
because the mechanical advantage (leverage) on the top is reduced.
3- Many times a guitar made with harder density woods will sound louder than
softer density woods. Indeed, some plywood (laminated) guitars may sound
loud because there is so much glue in the plys, and glue is much denser than
wood. But the effect is a thin, brittle quality to the "loud" sound. Also,
it may sound louder to the player but not project well to the listeners.
4- If your soundboard is excessively thick, it may quiet the sound. On
classic guitars, it is important to be able to reduce the top to an accurate
target thickness each time. The target thickness will vary according to the
bracing scheme and the overall design. If you make it only a little thicker
than the ideal target thickness for the design (Ramirez, Aguado, Smallman
all have a different top thickness that works best for their particular
bracing scheme), it will affect the loudness. You should try to find a way
to thin your top accurately to the target thickness. An abrasive planer is
the most accurate. 2.5 mm is considerably thick than 2.3 mm, and you will
have to be able to control small differences to achieve consistent results.
5- If the strings are the wrong gauge for the overall flexibility of the
guitar, it will affect the loudness (putting strings that are too light for
the overall stiffness of the guitar--your guitar may sound louder with
higher-tension strings. But if you put excessively high tension strings on a
very flexible guitar, it may distort the guitar quickly.
Guitarmaking is an art, not a science. There are so many variables that you
have to learn to control, and many invisible ones that you can never
control. You also can't control or predict a particular player's response to
the instrument, because the guitar is judged so subjectively--you are likely
to find another good player who will find the loudness to be perfectly
acceptable, but have another different complaint that the first player never
had. Many times I have had the experience of having a guitar be put down by
one good player and considered mediocre, and then later a different good
player picked it up and thought it was the best guitar he ever heard!!! So
the main thing NOT to do is to have ONE player play your guitar and make a
dissapointing comment, and then feel that the guitar is a failure. When it
comes to tone, guitars are evaluated very subjectively by each ear. That's
very much the same as when one person loves a painting and another person
dislikes it. But regardless there are issues which everyone likes: accurate
pitch and action, comfortable neck, beautiful workmanship!! The rest is pure
subjective opinion. Live with it!! And show your guitar to several other
players before concluding that it is a lump of coal.
Oil or Wax on guitars? <Shiverr...>
I write an inquiry concerning your experience with such finishes as oil, or wax.
Have you ever used an oil finish; what is your opinion? I've always liked the was it looks
and feels on guns. Same question for furniture type waxes. I was surprised to see Tru-Oil
offered as a guitar finish at LMI.
I was surprised too. But they probably offer True Oil as a finish for solid body
electric guitars. I've never seen an oil finish on an acoustic guitar. But it would be
certainly nice if the craft tradition allowed oil finishes on acoustics: it would cut a
week and a half out of the actual process and allow you to deliver the guitar three to
four weeks sooner. But in spite of that, you never see an oilfinish on a seriously good
There must be some pretty compelling reasons. But I don't know what they are. But we can
speculate together. These are some of the arguments I've heard:
It negatively affects the sound. (But how can you prove that? Many things
negatively "affect" the sound.)
The guitar is above all a cultural artifact. Oil finishes are outside of the tradition.
(What panel of judges decides that kind of thing nowadays, anyway? The marketplace. Make
enough oiled acoustics that people buy and mysteriously, it soon enters the tradition.
That is currently happening with matte acoustic guitar lacquer finishes.)
Polished lacquer finishes look better. (If you've never seen an oil finish on an
acoustic guitar how would you know for sure? Although if you wipe oil on a spruce
soundboard, it looks pretty funky.
These are all pretty flimsy challenges to the case that you should never use
oil finishes. But if you ask most professional luthiers they'll all categorically shoot
back, "you should NEVER use oil finishes. It penetrates the wood and dampens the
sound." But then if you ask them if they've ever tested that proposition (compared
the acoustic damping of a wood sample with oil to a sample with lacquer), or have heard
anybody make two identical guitars, one with oil, one with lacquer and compared them
evaluatively...well, you'll make them very upset and uncomfortable.
If you asked me, I'd answer, "I just don't". If you pressed me as to why, I'd
answer, "I just don't". I know there's no science behind the subject so I don't
make up any, like most luthiers do. I just don't like the oily feel and know that you have
to re-oil an oiled piece of furniture because it get's dull and dingy after a while.
Hey, William this is J.C. again. I have a question for you about fret board scales.
I dont remember if Ive already asked you this question but I dont think so. Ok, I have the
blue prints for a 1956 D"Angelico New Yorker guitar drawn by Tom Ribbeke. Well, the
scale its calling for is a 24 13/16" scale. Is this an accurate scail or is this a n
error on these blue prints? Im really concerned if this is right or maybe its really
suppose to be a 24 3/4" scale length for this particular model guitar. If you have
any Ideal about this Question I would appreciate that very much .J.C.
First find out what the "scale" is. People have different opinions of what
"scale" means. Some just measure nut to saddle and call that the scale. Others
(like me) hold that the scale is properly twice the twelfth-fret to the nut measurement,
because the additional compensation increment in not, in strict terms, a fixed or constant
amount (on an arched-top guitar, it can vary slightly with the setup and stringing). But
you don't specify whether that number is the "scale" (12 x 2) or the
"string" (nut to saddle) length. I'll assume its the (12 x 2) for purposes of
That odd-sounding scale is less odd-sounding in metric: 630mm. Old man D'Angelico probably
was carrying over his European metric tradition. So it's a perfectly valid scale.
Calculate it in terms of 24.81. If you have to convert it to 64ths because all you have is
an English standard ruler, its a pain in the butt. Better if you calculate in decimals of
an inch and use a decimal-of-inch ruler. You can just read the fret intervals right off
the ruler without having to convert it to 64ths. You should be able to get sufficient
accuracy reading the decimals to 2 places, i.e, 24.81.
Tapering the classic fingerboard a
tiny bit with... a hand plane?
Hello Mr. Cumpiano. I have a simple question, maybe even dumb. I need to taper the
classical fingerboard by 3/64" from one end to the other as specified in your book. I
see you do this with a hand plane. I'm a novice. Can you detail how you go about doing
1) Where do you start? I am guessing that you don't plane the whole span in one pass as
this will not taper the height. Do you start at the soundhole end and work your way back?
2) Since my blade is 2", I guess I would alternate cuts since the width of the
fingerboard is greater than 2"?
I guess I better practice on some poplar!
Unless you know how to sharpen your plane to razor-sharpness, you're going to have
problems. No way to get around that. The answer to your questions is, yes, you have to
make alternate cuts and start at the soundhole with multiple short cuts, then follow with
longer cuts that fall short of the opposite end. Then you should true the choppy planed
surface with a "sandpaper plane" which is essentially a very straight piece
thick hardwood with 80-grit paper lining one face, which you stroke lengthwise along the
freshly-planed surface until you get it straight, smooth and flat.
If you have problems with your plane (i.e., the plane digs in instead of giving you fine
shavings), and don't wish to master the plane's sharpness and adjustments just yet, you
could put the plane aside and do the whole job with the sandpaper plane, favoring the
soundhole end, of course. But get ready to spend twenty minutes or so pumping. You can
final true the sanded surface with a scraper blade, reading the surface against a
straightedge, followed with fine sandpaper to finish.
Keep that filler off the binding!
I'm using natural maple wood for the binding. Do i need to mask the binding when I apply
the grain filler? I'm thinking it will stain the binding and I won't be able to remove
Option A: If you spray the guitar with a highly diluted coat of lacquer before you
fill it, the filler will only enter the pores and not stain the wood in between. So not
only will it look more natural overall (but with dark pores) but it shouldn't stain the
maple binding. If you've left a lot of gaps between the binding and the sides, though, it
may look a bit funky. Save this only if your binding job is perfectly tight. Otherwise
follow option B.
Option B: But if you DO want the filler to darken the wood but leave the binding intact,
you can either mask just the binding with masking tape strips that you've cut narrower
with a razor blade, or just as laboriously sand the filler off the binding. The latter can
be risky if the binding is curly at all, because the filler will enter the curl and be
hard to sand out. So unless you use absolutely curl-free maple, I would best tape the
binding before filling. During the scrubbing process, some filler will creep under the
masking tape and enter the binding, but that little bit will usually sand off without any
Single-piece rosette rings
I want to make a Wood soundhole rosette for a guitar that I am making. I would like a wood
soundhole ring approx 1/8" wide of only 1 type of wood. I can't seem to find any
information on how to cut out the piece of wood. Do you have any information to guide me
through making a wood soundhole rosette?
First you get a veneer of the wood of your choice and with a scissor or razor knife,
cut out a square that is larger than the finished rosette. If the veneer is too curly or
crazy-grained, rub epoxy glue thoroughly and deeply into the grain all over both sides of
the veneer and set aside to dry. This will help keep it from breaking.
Then you put double-faced tape all over the back of the veneer square, and adhere it
gently to a larger flat square of plywood. Use the thinnest double-stick tape you can
find. If the tape is too thick, or if you rub the veneer down too strongly, you won't be
able to pull the rosette off without breaking it.
Get a small nail or brad and find a tiny drill bit that is the same diameter. Drill a hole
through the center of the veneer square and into the plywood backing board. Snip or grind
the head off the brad, and tap it through the veneer and into the plywood until just
1/8-inch sticks out.
Find a popsicle stick, which is the small, flat, thin stick that comes stuck into
ice-cream bars. They usually have rounded ends and are about 6-inches long. Or use any
even-grained smooth thin flat stick. Drill a hole with the small bit through one end of
the stick. Mark the inner and outer radiuses of the rosette onto the stick.
Now obtain a pointy razor-knife replacement blade and tap it through the stick so only a
tiny portion of the tip pokes through the back of the stick. Very tiny. The blade must be
oriented on the stick so it is aligned with the direction of the circle you want to cut
out. Place the hole in the stick over the nail that is sticking out through the veneer.
Twirl the stick around the nail, with the blade slicing a circle into the veneer. Now give
the blade a gentle tap with a small hammer to stick it out a bit deeper, and twirl it
again. Keep tapping and twirling until you get a clean circle cut through the veneer.
Repeat for the second diameter. When you are through the veneer, use a flat knife or thin
spatula (an artist's spatula works best) and carefully pry the veneer circle off the tape
and backing board.
Guitarmaking as a second career...
I was a chef and now need a new career since I was injured on the job. I feel that since I
have been playing music for almost 30 yrs. now and have tried to build an electric guitar
in my past, a smaller version of the flying V guitar. Learning the art of the luthier is
extremly interesting to me and since I have been online for years now I thought I would do
a search on anything I could find about this art. I started with the DIY network webpage
and learned a lot from master luthier Lynn Dudenbostel. Then I did a websearch about
supplies and schools as well as luthiers and I found your website and found out you are
the best there is. I would love to correspond with you and learn a bit from the best. In
essence, It would be and honour for you to be my mentor. Thanx a bunch hope to hear from
Thanks for you message, Brian, and for your kind words of praise. I wish you well in
your new pursuit. If you were a good cook, chances are you will be a good luthier!
By the way, the term "Master Luthier" actually means something. Strictly
speaking, it is not a title you can just call yourself or just throw at someone you like.
In the 17th and 18th century it was a title conferred to craftsmen who had reached the
very top of their field, by Crafts Societies called Guilds, after a series of rigorous
tests. No such Guild exists nowadays for Luthiers, so there is really no title like
"Master Luthier." Some Unions confer a title like Master Plumber or Master
Carpenter to people who also have undergone a period of time and rigorous tests in their
field. But no similar structure exists for luthiers as many people still believe.
So Lynn Dudenbostel may be really good luthier, but calling him Master is a misapplication
of a word that means much more than "really good".
Let me know if you need any assistance along the way.
Quick, how do I restore my mandolin?
Unfortunately I am not asking you to restore my old laud (a 12-string Spanish mandolin
type thing), but I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to do so. I read
the article on your website about about the restoration of that amazing renaissance lute
and was inspired to try and restore my laud. My name is Ben and I am 16 and have recently
decided that I would really like to start getting into lutherie.
I am currently planning my lap
steel, but another luthier that I emailed told me that starting with restoration was a
good way to get started.
Anyway, I have this laud that looks
in pretty shocking condition and what I want to do to it is replace the top/soundboard,
give it a new bridge, new fretboard, new nut and replace the machine heads. Could you
please give some advice on the best way to remove these glued on parts, especially the
soundboard as I have never done it
before. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
That luthier gave you some very bad advice. The path to restoration is the other way
around. First you learn how to make guitars, THEN you learn how to restore them. What you
ask is far too difficult and complex for you to do with only some "advice" given
over email. I wish I could, but I can't. Sorry.
How do I get a straight piece of wood?
Ok. I successfully tapered the fingerboard. In your book, you mention using a quarter sawn
hardwood caul on top of the fingerboard when glueing. You mention it must be dead
straight. I don't have any quarter sawn material and I'm unable to get some before the
holiday. I would love to glue the fingerboard on tonight. Is there an alternative? My idea
was to go to Lowe's and get some 3/4" maple. I would rip several peices 1 1/2 inches
and glue them together making a 1 1/2" x 3" x 18" block. I would then sand
the face that shows the 3/4" dimensions on a sanding board.
The premise is that if your very stiff caul is curved or kinked, you're going to press
the opposite curve or kink permanently into the neck and fingerboard when you glue them
together. The chances of a very stiff hardwood caul being straight and true, and remaining
so over the years for subsequent fingerboard gluings goes up when it's quarter sawn or
vertical grain. It is just additional insurance. If you have any even-textured hardwood
which has been just recently milled, you can use that. But if it was milled last year, and
not vertical-grained, I would hold it suspect.
My fingerboard warped!
Hope all is well and prosperous for you. I am hoping that you can help me with a small
problem. I fretted a ebony fingerboard that I of course flattened on the underside. After
gluing the board to the neck I noticed after a couple of weeks that the fingerboard has
warped laterally across the end of the board that gets glued to the top. It almost looks
as if I curved the bottom of the board at that end which of course I did not do. Have you
seen this before and is there a cure for it?
Sorry to write again but I failed
to mention that the fingerboard is still radiused properly on the top side. It just seems
that the bottom of the board nearest the end of the scale (21 fret) is arched with an
offest of almost a 16th inch.
That's what a completely flat-sawn fingerboard does when it is not well
seasoned. That never happens on quarter-sawn or vertical grain fingerboards
that are well aged. Yes, that has happened to me. There is really no good
permanent solution. If you force it down flat to the soundboard with a caul
that pressed down on the edges, it'll stay down if the glue joint is a good
one. But then, in time the top of the fingerboard is liable to crack.
Alternatively, you can clamp
the fingerboard down to a heated, flat chunk of
metal of the right size and bend or "persuade" it flat again. Again, that
may in time result in a fingerboard crack down the middle. That can eventually be repaired
with tinted epoxy. The best solution is a compromise: if you can abrade, chisel or plane
the undersurface of the fingerboard flat, or close-to flat, you can then reduce the
stresses on it when you press it down flat to the fingerboard when you glue it down. This
will reduce the arch of the fingerboard over the soundboard, but nobody barres there
anyway. Its not a good outcome in any case.
Select your fingerboards better next time. It's hard because they're all black, but you
have to look real closely. And sometimes the blanks themselves are slightly cupped, which
is a tip off.
up fingerboard angle. What now?
I glued on the [classic] fingerboard and think I have a major problem. When I put a
straight edge on the fingerboard and measure the gap at the saddle (25.7) as
mentioned in the book, I get 1/8. This is below the lower range of 3/16;
therefore I need adjust the slope of the fingerboard by reducing the height at the nut end
more so than the opposite end. The concern I have is that I will lose the taper that I
planned, which is correct. In fact, I may end up with a reverse taper or
taperless fingerboard when I accomplish increasing the gap another 1/16 to meet the
minimum gap of 3/16. Am I in trouble here? Is this salvageable?
Here are some specs:
1) Currently, the fingerboards height is 19/64 at the nut end and 16/64
at the soundhole end. This corresponds to the correct taper as instructed in the book.
2) If I lay a straight edge on the ledge of the neck (the un-carved portion beside the
fingerboard) at the nut to the saddle, there is a gap. I assume this is normal because of
the domed top?
3) The gap mentioned in #2 is a lot less when you run the straight edge from the nut to
just the end on the fingerboard. Thanks for your help and advice.
The correct taper is the taper that gets you the correct "gap at the saddle".
The 3/16" happens when your neck shaft is level with the soundboard. When it's less,
it means your neck shaft wandered up during the assembly process--probably because your
workboard flexed when you roped on the back (or it wasn't flat to start with). The remedy
is to change the slope of the fretboard surface--removing material on the nut end of the
fingerboard, to zero material at the 12th fret--until the level reads more like 3/16 at
the saddle. On your next guitar, stiffen your workboard so it doesn't flex when you're
roping, and make sure it's dead flat from the beginni ng.
I liked the sound of the one maple body nylon string guitar I played, a Taylor, although I
know it's not in the same league as a hand built guitar such as
yours. What do you think of maple body classicals?
I personally like maple classical guitars, but current fashion among recitalists
demands far rarer materials such as Brazilian rosewood and Cocobolo. There is a slight
difference in tambour or sound color between the glassier soundbox woods such as the
rosewoods and the more leathery maple and mahogany woods. I steadfastly maintain that it
is not a difference in quality, but only a personal preference or fashion, that results in
maple classics being so rare nowadays. Indeed, during the 1930s, I understand, maple
classic guitars (they were just called "guitars" or "Spanish guitars",
then, since the term "classic guitar", I am led to understand, was first coined
by the New York Classical Guitar Society in the late 1940s), were very popular among
classical recitalists of the day.
Maple guitars are highly prized, however, by Hispanic players, for playing romantic Latin
American music like in Bolero trios. I have seen a number of Flamenco players on stage
with maple guitars besides.
I become a guitarmaker?
I am 15, and in search for what I
will do in the future, I came across Guitar Making. This profession fascinates me. I have
been playing guitar for a few years now, and have been doing small wood working projects
with the help of my father all my life. I have been so interested in this career that I
ordered your book, _Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology_. The book only arrived a few
weeks ago, but with what I have read so far, I am fascinated You seem like such a well
accomplished luthier, and I aspire to be where you are some day. I am having difficulties
in finding a path to take after high school to become a guitar maker. I was wondering if
you would be able to advise me in a college or trade school where I will be able to study
Lutherie and, more specifically guitar making. Also, if you have any information about how
you made a living by making string instruments. What was your first job? How did you get
started? I would greatly appreciate a response. Thank you for your time.
All the guitarmakers I know
ended up being guitarmakers after having left another career that was making them unhappy.
However, the skills and experience they had acquired in their previous lives served them
and helped them become better guitarmakers.
I'm making the point that if you go from high school directly into guitarmaking you will
be a narrowly focused person and your guitars will show it, and be mediocre guitars. I
received a degree in Art and Design in college after high school, and even though I was
unhappy as a designer working in an office all day, my guitars are all the more beautiful
for them. Another person received a degree in Business, and was able to turn his
guitarmaking into a large, profitable business. Another person studied history and now
makes historical instruments and restores vintage instruments. In the end, I would urge
you not to stop your educational career in order to start a guitarmaking career. Take your
schooling as far as you possibly can and then become a guitarmaker if you are still
And there's another good reason for that. Becoming a guitarmaker requires CAPITAL. That
means that you have to pay your bills while you learn, while you take that learning and
turn it into experience, then to buy all the tools, wood and workspace you need, and then
to wait until you find your place in the market (and your market finds YOU) in a way that
it will afford you a living.
Yes, some of the greatest guitarmakers that ever lived never went to Art school or
college. But Manuel Velazquez, the greatest living guitarmaker worked in his older
brother's furniture shop and then was a ship's carpenter in the Navy before becoming a
guitarmaker. But he evolved as a guitarmaker at a time when there were only a small
handful of them in the entire United States. Today, every state of the Union is dotted
with professional makers who have a head start. So the chances of success in today's
market are far more difficult and strenuous than during the 1950s when he was learning.
The competition is greater now than ever before.
If you like history or art or technology, I would advise that you round out your education
in those fields and build up your intellect. It will be a great advantage to your eventual
guitarmaking, should you pursue it afterwards. And if you don't make it as a guitarmaker,
you have a foundation for any number of other careers that will still be open to you.
But if you don't like the intellectual life, you can then go into the woodworking trades
after high school, and then pursue a thorough training in wood technology, or wood
science, or wood products manufacturing and any of the advanced-level woodworking fields
that are out there. It will serve you magnificently well when you decide to specialize in
guitarmaking. But don't neglect your artistic training either. If you follow the
technology route, I would still cultivate your aesthetic skills such as writing, drawing
or art appreciation. And keep up your training in music. The better guitarist you are, the
better the artist you are, the better guitarmaker you will make.
I hope this helps. This is what I have come to know after 35 as a professional