Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Songs from the Wood

An acoustic guitar starts life as a pile of wood. Well, hopefully not a pile, exactly. In truth, we respect our woods. We sticker them up to get plenty of air. We spend hours admiring their voluptuous figures. If things go well, we take them home to introduce them to our parents.

Above all, we try to use them well. Unlike, for example, the typical "unplugged" album, acoustic construction is hardly laid back and unplanned.

For this year's class, the process started about five months ago, when Mr. V. had several past graduates bring in their guitars. It was an opportunity for us burgeoning builders to hear what all those woods had to say. We heard Sitka spruce tops side by side with Engelman. We heard mahogany say "hola" and koa say "aloha." It was also our chance to see these woods with a finish, in combination with each other, in real instruments.

Having received those glimpses of the final picture, we set about purchasing the pieces of our own puzzles. That led to the piles of wood I started this post with. Perhaps more interesting to the layman is what we've done with the wood in Acoustic Construction over the last month.

Most of the first week was spent making templates, molds and workboards, so our guitars can come out guitar-shaped. In the picture on the right, you'll see the two halves of my guitar top (Carpathian European spruce, for the curious); I was in the process of straightening their edges on the joiner plane to prepare them for gluing.

I skipped ahead a little bit and jointed and glued my back together early (Australian blackwood). It was large enough that I could cut one end off to make a book-matched rosette for my top. I lined the inside and outside of the rosette with thin strips of white and black purfling to complete it, glued the whole thing in place, and scraped it level to the top.

After that, I cut the soundhole and glued in the top braces. Just this week, I finished shaping the braces and voicing the top--that is, shaving down the braces to change the stiffness and improve
the tap-tone.

Sometime in there, I found the time to bend my sides and glue in all the blocks, braces and kerfing to hold them together. I radiused the sides to match the top and, in one of those moments of gratifying success, at one of those points where the goal becomes tangibly closer, glued the top to the sides this afternoon. I now have something that looks, from the front, like a real guitar, albeit without a neck. It's indescribably fulfilling to have put that pile of wood through a transformation into . . . well, okay, it's pretty much just a wooden drum at this point, but the point is, it's not a pile of wood anymore.

Of course, I forgot to bring my camera home, so you don't get pictures of that just yet. With any luck, I'll get my back braced and glued on next week and begin work on my fingerboard and neck. It really is nice to watch that pile shrink.