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Weekend Warrior Luthiery, Part 3

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Weekend Warrior Luthiery, Part 3
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For those of you who have been following this series I last left off with my first full day of spraying clear on the guitar. As I write this, the guitar is complete and class has been over for three weeks, which is both bittersweet and rewarding. When I say class is complete, it really means I completed my guitar at that point. Like most projects of this magnitude, everyone works at a slightly different pace. Carlos finished his guitar a week earlier than me and as I wrapped up my final day, Tim, Rob, Mike and Don were all still in their last stages (they’ve all since “graduated” from class with beautiful guitars). Let’s go back to week 11 and see how this guitar made its final journey to being a playable instrument.

Week 11: Finishing Day
After letting the clear coats dry thoroughly for the week, my guitar was ready for (more) sanding. I can’t reiterate how much sanding goes on in building a guitar…it literally felt like 50 percent of the work! This time with 600 grit “wet-or-dry” sandpaper on a block I worked out the uneven spots on the guitar until it was flat enough for yet another couple of final coats of clear. Sanding took a long while and it wasn’t until after lunch that I sprayed the last three coats, making this shortest day, leaving at 3 p.m. since the paint needed to dry for final sanding and buffing.


Finishing and sanding are finally complete!

Week 12: Final finishing
After seeing Carlos on the buffing wheel for most of the day last week I knew what to expect, but didn’t realize there was still a lot of sanding to do before getting to that stage. Armed with a series of graduating sandpaper grits (from 800-1500) I spent a good bit of time wet-sanding the guitar until everything evened out. This included the neck, headstock and body. The neck actually got even a little finer sandpaper with some micromesh because there would be no buffing of the back of the neck since it would look glossy but feel sticky to the hand.


Neck glued and clamped

The next step before buffing was to glue on the neck and bridge. Before I could glue the bridge on, it was necessary to chisel off any excess finish that could interfere with the gluing process. Since the bridge has to come in contact with raw wood to make a strong bond, any finish could compromise the integrity of the connection. The bridge was glued down and held in place with several clamps and left to dry while we bolted and glued the neck on. The bolt, if you recall, was necessary as we didn’t have enough time in class to learn the difficult dovetail joint but I can say it doesn’t feel like it has made a difference in the final result.


The bridge glued and clamped down.

Once that was complete, I spent the remainder of the day working the guitar and neck on the buffing wheels to bring the finish to a glossy luster. It was unreal to experience this stage because for the first time it began looking like a true instrument. All of the details of the wood grain, binding and finish work that I’d done came to life. A very proud moment. Buffing is one of those steps that just feels good. It’s not terribly difficult, and is actually a bit meditative and cathartic. After all of that was complete, I wrapped up my area and headed home for the day.

All buffed and shiny!

Week 13: Neck and Frets
With the guitar in its completed structure, the next step was to get the frets on and prepare the nut and saddle for strings. It’s hard to believe, but this time came up faster than I’d expected. Perhaps it was the weeks of finishing and sanding work that droned me into a bit of a lull that all of a sudden I was back to work on something that seemed significantly different again. I’ve never leveled a fingerboard, dressed a fret or done any type of level, crown, or polish in my life, so this stage had me a bit concerned. All of the good working skills in the world would never make up for a lousy fret job and bad setup. This was going to be interesting.

The first step was to cut the nut and saddle to size. Fortunately, there was a template for this and it went surprisingly fast and was very easy. A little bit of the grinding wheel on the bone nut and saddle took them down to size quickly. After the basic shaping was done I spent some time with a file and rounded over the edges to smooth out the break points and take any sharp corners off. Both were set aside for the fretting stage.

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