My First Guitar

This blog is intended to pass along my experiences related to guitar building, repair and setup.

I don’t know why but for as long as I can remember, wood has been my material of choice for most building projects. In school I would choose a project which required wood “ I had an edge!” As a hobbyist I built the standard projects; shelves, bookcases, etc. In my early twenties I worked in a close friends cabinet shop and learned to build and install cabinets. My interest in guitars began in my early teens when my brother received a Silvertone electric with integrated case/amp for Christmas. We banged out a few simple things for a couple years then let it collect dust. I bought a Yamaha FG 75 in 1972 I played pretty regularly and improved well. Around 1981 the Yamaha took a fall and broke it’s neck just below the nut and to about the second fret. I used a piece of dried white oak, fashioned a new headstock, chiseled and sanded two steps on the neck and matched them to the new headstock and glued it up! This repair was surprisingly good and I played on for close to twenty years. I did have another guitar, an Eterna by Yamaha, which I played with a band for a couple years but the old one was still my favorite because of it’s tone. I met a luthier around 2000 who explained to me how to reset the neck on the old Yamaha which had unmanageable high action. Amazing! The reset was correct and she was playable again. It has since passed to my son and had some more mods.. more about that at a later date. While playing at a wedding in ’02 or ’03 the brides uncle told me about a guitar building class sponsored by Martin Guitars and a couple years later I was enrolled and on my way to Peters Valley Craft School in Southwestern New Jersey. Still have the first guitar I made at the class and have since built 16 guitars, some of which are ‘Terz’ guitars that I build from my own plans. Every one of them has a story so that’s where I’ll start..

“My First Guitar”

This story has to start with the excellent instruction of Dr. Brown of Martin Guitars and Tom M. , Doc’s assistant. Doc Brown was at the time, running the store at Martin and teaching some of the classes. He had also been a custom builder at Martin and I believe worked on a Clapton signature guitar. There were seven of us attending, all starting out with the same D-18 style kits; Walnut back and sides, Spruce top, Mahogany neck, back-strip, and remaining parts and hardware to complete the build. We began to assemble our parts and learn the ins and outs of guitar building while the rain poured outside and the humidity climbed inside. When a learning curve is involved mistakes will be made, good thing is we all learned from, not only our own mistakes but those of others as well. The goal was for each of us to have the body and neck ready for assembly, not final fit and glued unless that was a personal goal. This worked well for those who wanted to finish on their own to see how it was done first. So at the end of class I headed home with a neck to fit/glue and a bridge to locate and install, a guitar to ‘finish’ and the assurance from Doc Brown that due to the humidity during the week of rain, most of the guitars built there would ‘implode’ if they ever fully dried out. I was successful in getting the guitar complete and must say it turned out well and has gotten pretty high praise from others who have played it.

One of the subjects during the class was ‘repair’. Doc was constantly reminding us as we progressed that taking things apart at some point was a given. He told an amazing story about a guitar taking a fall in their repair shop and literally shattering into large and very small pieces. Claim was, they put it back together, informed the customer as to what had happened, who was pleased with the repair-repair. Knowledge of this feat came in handy when in the early winter months a couple of years later, some painters in the building left windows open and the shared thermostat caused the temp to go over 80 degrees F for the entire day. Needless to say Doc was right. She was cracked down the glue joint on top from bridge to tail, cracked on top at each side of the fingerboard and sliding forward =1/64”, cracked down the back in two places. I searched the web for repair tips, properly reset the ‘slide’ at fretboard/ soundhole and re-enforced the bracing as well. The center line crack got a couple cleats on the inside and some feeble cosmetics on the out side. These repairs got me back to playing so I ignored the cracks in the back for probably two years before deciding to remove the back and repair it. First let me say if you are going to remove the back from the guitar plan on taking the neck off and do it first. Simple reverse order of assembly. I had not done this repair before and didn’t realize the obvious … that things moved. Once I did have the back repaired and re-glued I ended up doing a neck reset. Cosmetically it isn’t the best looking guitar but it is one of my favorites.

Author: Rick

A life long woodworker, I've been building guitars for just over ten years. I build acoustic dreadnoughts, electrics, and the "Hambone", a Terz guitar. I am a North Carolina native and am currently located near Charlotte, NC.

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