Experiments with guitar building

Click on image to enlarge.

Bud Guitar

This was my first attempt to make a hollow bodied acoustic guitar many years ago. It was very crude and made from the cheapest materials (no proper tonewood was harmed in the making of this guitar). The original plan was to paint the whole guitar black but due to the crude surface of the materials used, I decided to cover it with Budweiser labels and call it the ‘Bud guitar’ (who’d know that wasn’t the plan all along?)

However, it worked. It played well, stayed in tune, sounded crap but most of all – it proved I could do it and gave me the confidence to try more ambitious projects.

Double neck guitar

The double neck guitar followed on from the ’Bud’ guitar. This time I used authentic tonewoods for the soundboard and laminated the back and sides from mahogany (and cheaper veneers).

Due to the extra width of the guitar I shaped the side edge of the back to fit around my chest and angled the soundboard backwards to allow easy access to the strings with my right arm.

The extra bracing I estimated would be needed to counter the force of eighteen tensioned strings did, in fact, restrict the tone and prompted me to think of the alternative way to brace a soundboard resulting in the next project – the Pentagon guitar. I still have the necks from this guitar in my guitar bucket but the body has long since been retired to the tip.

Original guitar

My son recently found all my old 35mm negatives in the loft and kindly took them away to ‘digitize’ them. There might have been a few in there I might want toFirst ever guitar.jpg forget but Carl has been brought up to be very discrete so I’m sure I’m safe from a surprise blackmail note or two.

Anyway, I found this particular picture amongst the thousands of photos he transferred. Whilst it is not a fantastic photo of my bedroom when I was a spotty sixteen year old, it does include a guitar hiding to the left in the darkness of the shut out room. This is in fact the very first guitar I ever made. It was a joint venture with one of my best friends from school. His dad was a joiner and had chopped up an old wardrobe for the tip. We ‘salvaged’ some wood from the wardrobe doors and cut out the shape of the guitar. We used bike spokes for the frets and 8mm nuts and bots, slotted at the end, for the tuners. The only authentic guitar parts used were the strings and a cheap pickup made for an acoustic guitar.

It was very exciting but a bit disastrous when the strings took the tension for the first time. What we didn’t know then was that steel strung guitars have a steel truss rod running through the neck that is tensioned to bend the neck backwards and so counter the tension from the strings. Without the tension rod our neck bent forwards like a banana rendering the guitar useless. However, all was not lost, I consulted the metalwork teacher at school who suggested putting a steel flat bar along the back of the neck. This helped strengthen the neck but was still no match for the pull of the strings. My next idea was to put some brackets on the back of the body and the back of the headstock and connected them via a brake cable which was tensioned up to equalise the tension from the strings.

Tension cable.png

The end result actually worked – for about ten minutes before it all needed re tensioning. It also looked as if the weedy neck would surely snap under all that pressure so I decided to remove the cable and slacken off the strings and just keep it for something to look at. Although this was not the most successful guitar construction in the world it did give me a good insight into the invisible forces that are present in every steel strung guitar you see.

A bonus was realised later when my laziness resulted in my art portfolio being a bit bare when it came to submitting it for my GCSE exams. Along with a few quickly produced crude paintings I’d knocked out days before the deadline I included this guitar as an art project. To my surprise, it was selected for the schools’ end of year exhibition and earned me top marks for my GCSE.

 

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