An average Joe builds a guitar from scratch.

Today was the most difficult but somehow the most rewarding day.  Instead of doing big obvious things, like cutting the body shape out of a plank of wood, or putting the decorative rosette around the sound hole, we focused on the bindings.  Holy crap are they difficult.

Bindings run around the edge of the guitar.  They make it look clean and pretty, and can have some pretty nice decorative touches to it.  Here’s the one I did:

It still needs a little cleanup, so it’s not a final version of the thing.  But if you look closely at the corners, you’ll notice the tight fitting decorative joint.  Here it is blown up, with poorly designed blue circles to hit you over the head with what to look at:

Again, it needs cleanup, but still…that was HARD.  And it looks cool, so it was rewarding.  

And the way we cut the channels for that inlay was damn genius.  If I had better writing/photo/journalist/engineering skills, I’d try to explain how Charles fashioned a fancy jig that put a router on a stand that swung around the guitar just so, until it needed to be raised 3/16ths of an inch for just about an inch worth of cutting, and how he put a little shim under the router to raise it just so again…

Yeah, I’ll skip the “how it works.”  Just know, it’s freaking genius.

What’s funny is that it really has zero bearing on how the guitar sounds.  And that’s been one of the most interesting subplots to this whole guitar-building extravaganza.  I’m getting the sense that there is an odd relationship between craftsmanship and music.  In that it seems there isn’t much of a relationship at all.

Let me briefly explain.

Luthiers use many of the same techniques (body styles and shapes, materials, etc.) to build their guitars so there’s a ton of standardization.  Add to that the idiosyncrasies from each individual piece of wood, how a guitar changes over time, etc., and it’s tough to say one guitar is or will sound “better” than another.  ”Better” is a totally subjective concept anyway.

So I think decorative touches are what a lot of luthiers can hang their hats on.  But as a player who can’t afford the fanciest inlays, or most beautiful wood, I don’t care about appearance as much.  I just want it to sound great.  Which, again, given all those idiosyncrasies, is kind of tough to evaluate.

And now that I’m making one of these things, I have a lot more understanding for that dynamic between looks and sound.  It is impossible to cater perfectly to a players taste in sound in an instrument.  But you can make it look exactly the way she wants.  And I suppose that’s where the craftsman beats out the music.

7 months ago