Jol Dantzig's Esoterica Electrica: Fewer Headaches, Better Guitars
If a guitar maker tells you he or she is lazy, it might be your craftsperson is simply an efficient builder.
I’m basically a lazy guy. My friends tell me I’m selling myself short and point to all the systems and procedures I’ve created over the years. I see these developments as shortcuts, because I’m lazy. I’m organized and tidy because clutter is hard to navigate. I put my tools close to where I need them—even if I have to buy multiples—because I hate rummaging around looking for things. I label stuff with precise reminders so I’ll remember how to do tasks correctly without resorting to memory. I color-code things that get used together so I don’t make mistakes, because mistakes mean more work. And I’m lazy.
Every endeavor, whether it’s a hobby or a vocation, has its own set of tools and toys. Builders get their own version of GAS (tool acquisition syndrome?) and we spend an inordinate amount of time plowing through catalogs and websites to ogle saws, clamps, and all manner of gadgets. It’s our hope that we will make our jobs a little more streamlined and easier, which is better for us and better for our customers. From little things like drill guides to the big toys like CNC routers and laser cutters—aside from being fun, these acquisitions pay for themselves.
I’ve found endless uses for a small, 75-watt laser. No, not for actually cutting out guitars, but for creating templates. Slicing through a sheet of 1/4" acrylic to make detail-router fixtures is a breeze. My fret-slot saw uses a series of notched templates cut from clear acrylic, which lets me see the fretboard while I cut it. If I need a different scale, it’s easy to draw up a new template on the computer using CAD or graphic software, and then zap out that template in a few minutes. Inlays can be done the same way. You just need a master drawing of your fretboard to use as a starting point.
I’ve got all my critical hand-drilling locations blasted into Plexiglas or phenolic fixtures that either guide drills or hold drill bushings. Some builders lay out things like control- or tuner-hole locations each time they make a neck, but if you are lazy like me, the next best thing to CNC is a good drill template.
The first time I saw a laser being used was at Ovation Guitars, where there was a small standalone machine for serial numbers. Later on, after we built the Guild factory space in New Hartford, Connecticut, we used lasers to cut the spruce tops and rosewood sides and backs. (I think we got the idea from a visit to the Taylor factory.) Lasers are also great for etching names and logos on items, like case candy for your guitars, or even the guitars themselves. There are some really affordable lasers being imported today, so owning one is not out of reach, even for small-operation builders. With some imagination and a little bit of time, you can make it worthwhile. Tip: Get a more powerful laser than you need so you don’t have to run it at full power. This can save the laser tube and a lot of headache.
Another thing that being generally indolent has taught me is to create stations for every step in the process, and keep the needed tools for each step in their stations all the time. Of course, this is easier if you have a big shop, but with some creative thinking you can stack, hang, or double up stations to maximize your floor space. If you can, arrange them in sequence, too. You’ll be able to leave work in place at the end of the day and know exactly where you left off—without filling your cranial hard drive with minutiae. When I visited the Parker factory in the 1990s, I saw a fretboard-radius sander that was oriented vertically. The entire guitar was loaded in standing upright on its tail end and the machine’s footprint was a fraction of the one I had built for my shop. (I used the memory space in my brain to remember that.)
Admittedly, I haven’t mentioned anywhere near all the things you can do to simplify your days and make the task of guitar building more pleasurable than it already is, but I think you get the idea. When you don’t have the headache of chasing tools or clearing space for the next step, you can concentrate on the artistry. It’s your turn to get lazy and make better guitars in the process.
My motto is cut waste, not corners. It’s not cheating. It’s smart.