Monday, February 16, 2009

Electric, so Frantically Hectic

Here we are in second semester, the scholastic equivalent to a rebound relationship: it's familiar but not quite comfortable, challenging for its own reasons . . . and fairly likely to end in tears. Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but the stakes are definitely rising.

What exactly has been going on? Those of us losing the most sleep are probably those in Mr. Vincent's section, who are currently engaged in the enviable & challenging process of building an acoustic guitar. The rest of us are likely sweating a little less, being engaged the first half of the week in finishing class. Mr. B has kept us occupied with more than a dozen projects, introducing us to a broad swath of finishes and application techniques, and a *seemingly endless stream of study guides. You'll see in the photo my very first project board, wearing a few coats of brush-on shellac (and, behind it, the next several ducks in the row).

Thursdays are filled with repairs. In addition to making Fender nuts and practicing crack repair, we've been asked to bring in project guitars of our own. Say--for example--your brother tried to pull the frets out of his Ibanez with pliers and sanded most of the finish off the headstock. Oh, and it had a plastic nut to begin with. Sounds like a project, right?

And then there's Friday. --Electric Construction day-- Let's just say that it's a lot of fun, although--as I hinted earlier--at times harrowing.

"What's so scary? Don't you just buy a neck from Warmoth and a body from Stew Mac and bolt them together?" Short answer: no. Long answer: read on.

The first step in production is blueprinting. This apparently simple task of slapping straightedge to paper and drawing a few lines belies a number of important design concerns. Is there room in the neck for the truss rod? Is the body cavity deep enough for the electronics? Where do you put the flaming-skull decal? If you squint at the picture, you can see that I took inspiration from Rickenbacker's 300 series, which meant figuring out how to convert a neck-thru design into a bolt-on (neck-thru designs having been nixed by the instructor).

The first day of class (or two, in my case) spent blueprinting, we move on to making templates, and it's . . . it's a toolroom blitz. Superfluous sweet paraphrases aside, template making is a time-consuming process of roughing out shapes on the band and scroll saws and then sanding and filing them down to the desired dimensions. Most of these templates are later used for routing and flush-trimming the body, so the more time we take making them flat and smooth, the better our guitars will wind up. (Thanks to Cory C. for letting me photograph his mad filing skills.)

Then things get stressful. Once our templates are complete, we start working on our actual electric guitars, with our actual wood. After prepping our stock and gluing it together where necessary, we set into it with saw, sander and router, and that's when the tears might start to flow. Witness Luke R.'s "shark attack" router incident. The area circled is an area that is of the most concern, requiring a patch of wood, contouring, filling or all of the above. To his credit, he took the loss with his usual joie de vivre.

And that's the semester summary thus far. Next week, the sections will switch places, and we'll each receive a new set of challenges--and, no doubt, make a few new educational mistakes--in our ongoing development as luthiers.

*instructors note: Yes study guides, homework occasionally - this is school remember!