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Second-year students are taught such advanced techniques as constructing archtops and mandolins.
The Deep End
Over the course of the first semester, Samek and his class covered nearly every facet of conventional acoustic and electric guitar design. The curriculum covered such topics as the physics behind the movement of wood under varying degrees of tension, the use and identification of adhesives and abrasives, resetting acoustic necks, and fretboard leveling, radiusing, and refretting.
At times it was daunting. “Every new thing I’d attempt came with a set of nerves,” admits Samek. “But after a while, you just get locked into a mode, and it suddenly doesn’t seem as scary. For example, we had to do three acoustic bridge copies. We were given a wood blank and a bridge from a random acoustic guitar, and we’d have to make an exact copy—the height, angles, all of that stuff. I kept asking myself, how could I possibly make this exactly the same?”
Samek eventually realized that the assignment was designed in part to teach the all-important lessons of working slowly—and knowing when to stop. “We figured out that a big key was knowing when to stop instead of continuing to shape it,” he recalls. “After that, it came along much easier, and we worried a lot less about messing up. It taught me how important it is to get it ‘close enough,’ and then go back over it carefully to get it absolutely perfect, a little bit at a time.”
Instructor Brian Boedigheimer demonstrates brushing techniques.
Choosing the right tools after assessing a problem was another important lesson. For an assignment on making pyramid bridges for classical guitars, the students were given only a diagram to work from instead of a real-life example. Samek explains, “We had to figure out how to cut the pyramids properly, as well as what tools to use. It was harder than I expected! Should I use a scraper? A file? Maybe a chisel? It’s one of those things you don’t think about until you’re faced with it.”
When Samek’s class reconvened after Christmas break, it was time to start building the instruments that they’d designed the previous semester. Vincent and Boedigheimer gave the class pointers on acquiring wood, but allowed them the freedom to source materials for themselves. Lectures and labs led the class step-by-step toward completing their guitars while training them in finishing technique, structural repair, and how to calculate repair estimates for customers.
Samek holds the blank African limba body for his electric guitar.
Samek turned to the Gibson L-00 of the early 1930s for inspiration when designing his acoustic guitar. “I looked into a lot of designs throughout several decades, and the size and shape of that one really called out to me,” he says.
Using the dimensions and shape of the classic flattop, Samek drew up a large blueprint. The midsized dreadnought would have a back and sides of padouk, a Sitka spruce top, and a mahogany neck. Its fretboard and bridge would be made of padouk, with a maple bridge plate. There would be a soundhole rosette and pearloid binding. For a final personal touch, the neck shape would match Samek’s well-worn Aria acoustic guitar, though the instrument would feature Gibson’s 24.625" scale length. “I was going for a gaudy ’50s country and western look, which I think is pretty cool,” says Samek.