William Cumpiano's  String Instrument
Newsletter #23

What's this "tap tuning?"

The take on Brazilian rosewood


Floating soundboard

Classic vs. Flamenco?

Fretboard angles

Stiff guitar

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

Warped fingerboard

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, it’s 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 siren’s song, early in my career. But after talking to dozens of professional guitarmakers about “tap tuning” (I’ve 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 I’ve concluded that “tap tuning” isn’t a specific procedure, but an amorphous concept with many different definitions, probably as many as there are   practitioners.

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 achieve—or 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 soundboard.

2- Success and consistency is derived from reducing the thickness of the guitar’s 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.

So 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 an iron"?

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 approach.

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 like this.



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 , to wit:

"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 one."


"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 differences.

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.

Fretboard angles
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 completely wrong?


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.



"Stiff" guitar...
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.

More volume, please!
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 acoustic guitar.

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.

Funny-sounding scale length
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 the answer.

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 this? Specifically:

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 it?????

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 problems.


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 you....


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.

Screwed 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 fingerboard’s 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.


Maple-bodied classics?
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.

Should 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 interested.

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 guitarmaker.