Catching up on guitar news

Thinning guitar sides with my dad's Bailey #5 jack plane.

Thinning guitar sides with my dad’s Bailey #5 jack plane.

I slowly worked on guitar #002 throughout 2015, accelerating the work over the summer and finishing the guitar sometime in September. There were lots of minor setbacks and do-overs – too many to list here – but in the end I’m quite happy with the sound. It’s by far the best-sounding guitar I’ve ever owned. Stay tuned for some musical samples this month.

Now I’m at work on #003. The design will be nearly identical to #002, but I want a chance to redeem several cosmetic mistakes I made in the last build. I’ll probably tinker just a bit with the acoustic properties, too, just to see what difference it makes.

I joined the TechShop in Redwood City over the summer (a thoughtful 50th birthday gift from my beloved), moving my work from my old haunt the Sawdust Shop. The TechShop is closer to my workplace (no traffic to fight for after-work shop time) and draws a different mix of creative makers, with facilities for textiles, metal, electronics, and all sorts of CNC goodies. I’m the resident Neanderthal, working with 19th century hand tools on a musical instrument with no electronic components.

It’s interesting to note what a difference shifting shops has made in my build process. I’ve written before how software engineering trains one to think in terms of tool kits – what tools are already provided for you, and what do you have to build yourself? In moving to the TechShop I lost a working drum sander (used for thinning down wood to around 2mm), and using the table saw has a higher activation energy – I need to reserve it, check out a key, make my cuts, return the key… So I’ve noticed that I tend to gravitate to hand tools for certain tasks that I might have previously used a machine for.

The photo above shows tonight’s effort to thin down the wood that will be bent into the sides of the guitar, using my dad’s old Stanley Bailey #5 jack plane. From my last build I know I need to get it down to around .070″ (1.8 mm) in thickness, from an original milling of around 3.2mm.  Shaving a millimeter and a half off the wood doesn’t sound like much, but even with a freshly sharpened blade it took a lot more muscle than I expected. In terms of time, though, I don’t think it took me any longer than it had when I used a drum sander to perform the same work on the last guitar, especially considering the setup time for the machine. Plus, though a sort of lucky accident, I thinned the sides a bit unevenly, making them a smidgen thinner in exactly the spot where they will need to bend the most (the waist of the guitar). I’m planning on bending the sides when I have a full afternoon to work, most likely this weekend.

I’m also noticing that I’m a bit rusty in my blog writing; the words don’t flow as easily as they might have toward the end of my last blogging burst. As with all things – planing wood, playing music – daily practice will help.


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