Guitarmaking

by Neil Fein

Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology

The guitar is a refined musical cabinet that must respond freely to the complex blend of signals produced by its six strings. It must also bear, with little distortion, the unremitting stresses imposed upon it by string tension. The luthier‘s task is to make these often conflicting requirements work well with each other.

WITH THAT PARAGRAPH, the deceptively, simply-titled Guitarmaking starts a textual journey that has started many aspiring makers on a path of constructing guitars. When I was thinking of treading on this path many years ago, I bought this book and discovered that this isn’t an easy task. I also found that I’d have to invest a good amount of money in specialized tools.

There is a chapter on wood: How to select it, even how pieces should be sawed from the log. Knives, drills, planes, clamps, files, and vises are all discussed as well, and before the book’s chapter on design.

The book focuses on making one of two types of basic acoustic guitars: the steel-string or the classical. The steps are well-described, and the pages contain many photographs.

If you are comfortable doing finely detailed work with wood, you will be able to use this book to make a guitar. If, like me, you’re more of a player than a builder, you may enjoy paging through this book anyway. I’ve referred to it several times over the years, to answer questions about the structure of the guitar.

Although not nearly as detailed as the descriptions you’d find in a book on guitar maintenance, the book also discusses how to fit tuning machines, cut a nut, install strings… all procedures that any guitarist who maintains their own instrument will want to learn to perform.

The style is clear, simple, and somehow conveys the atmosphere of a woodworking shop. The chapter on bending wood for the sides of the guitar manages to evoke the smell of wet wood, and I found myself thinking of the smell and feel of hide glue when reading about bracing the guitar’s top. Guitarmaking is not a flashy book, but is easy to follow and enjoyable.

While I didn’t use the book to make a guitar, this is one of the volumes I treasure the most on my shelf of music books.

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