An average Joe builds a guitar from scratch.

Today we cleaned up all of the bindings for the body and continued our progress on the neck.  I had my first unrecoverable screwup—I sanded my neck a little bit too much so it’s a bit short, and we can’t get anything back—but it’s going to be okay.  We’ll just move a few other things around, and the guitar will still play and sound fine.

I neglected to take a picture of my cleaned up bindings, which was dumb because that would have been the best photo of the day.

Instead, I’ve got this:

What is that contraption, after all?  That is called a “jig” and they are freaking everywhere in guitar making.

The basic concept is when there is a process that requires precision in exactly the same way, every time, you build a separate tool that does the job perfectly every time.  Here’s another example you’ve seen, plus a little diagram to show how it works.

Seems pretty complicated, right?  Well, it is and it isn’t.  The designs themselves are actually remarkably simple.  But knowing what needs to be accomplished, and designing something that accomplishes that simply and effectively is damn near brilliant.

Charles Fox, my instructor, is a jig genius.  The side bender above is such a widespread tool that people just don’t bend sides any other way.  Charles invented it.

There are jigs everywhere in the shop.  It’s something I’ve learned to admire and appreciate, and also sort of loathe.  How am I ever going to make all these parts?!  How do I make sure I don’t have to make one a bunch of times, just because I screw up my custom made tool?  Do I really need all of those anyway?

When I do this on my own, yes, I’m going to need some of this stuff.  I can throw money at some of it, but really should make my own stuff that meets my own, specific needs and process.  Anybody got a workshop I can borrow?

Here are a few more jigs, all of which Charles designed and made himself.  Amazing.  (Full disclosure, I might get some of these descriptions wrong.  I have all of them in my notes, but there is too much to sift through in too little time.  Cut me some slack on this one.)

It turns out the back and top of a guitar are slightly domed.  Check out the yellow board he’s working on.  That’s actually a vacuum with a very specific curve to it.  It sucks the back and top flush at a curve so you can glue on bracings and have them be at just the right radius. 

This rotating arm is, again, at just the perfect curve.  If you look at it closely you can see it’s not perfectly straight.  This cuts the edge of the sides at, again, just the right angle so the curved back and top fit to the sides at just the right angle.

I forgot what this is called, but I think you can figure out by it’s shape how it’s related to guitar making.  Specifically, we put the sides in here, nudge those fat dowels up against the sides, and then clamp linings against the sides.  Charles made this.  Simple but complex, right?

This is one of my favorites.  That’s Charles holding a “sled” that goes up against a belt sander.  The edge of the sled is, again, cut to just the perfect curve.  You put little spruce sticks in there, sand it at the right curve, and voila!  You are ready to make bracing.  How the hell did he get the perfect curve on there?!

This thing squeezes backs and sides together tight, so they get a nice tight glue joint.  Again, he made all this stuff.  Wow.

7 months ago