Glue smudges, ebony dust and all.
September 21, 2016 10:17 AM   Subscribe

“I just want to get this guitar to where it’s used to being a guitar. Because right now it still thinks it’s a tree.” Spend an hour of zen watching master luthier Michael Greenfield build a hand-crafted acoustic guitar.
posted by bondcliff (10 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I skipped ahead to the sanding. So satisfying to watch.
posted by jessamyn at 11:00 AM on September 21, 2016

The assembly line version is much less chill and didn't even bother using guitar background music but it's interesting to compare the processes.
posted by mattamatic at 11:22 AM on September 21, 2016

Also worth comparing: it looks like guitars from Godin (the factory featured in the How It's Made video) start at around $350, while guitars from Greenfield start at $10,000. Ouch.
posted by The Tensor at 12:14 PM on September 21, 2016

Spend an hour of zen watching master

That's me, when it comes to this kind of project. You don't want me helping.

I'm a zen watching master.
posted by Herodios at 12:23 PM on September 21, 2016

Instrument building takes a lot of confidence about the many skills involved and how to tweak the variables to get the results the (finicky) customer desires. So many demands on the builder!

There are a couple of good videos about how Steinway pianos are made. IIRC they have specialists for many steps in the build. Lone luthiers, though, have to have it all. Takes someone with a real love for the process. AND a discerning ear for sound. No wonder these folk are rare.
posted by Twang at 2:18 PM on September 21, 2016

This is beautiful. I can't even tell you.

Now I want to play it.
posted by The World Famous at 4:19 PM on September 21, 2016

Really interesting bridge design. And interesting that the video is of the making of a couple of guitars, edited to seem like just one.

A music-making friend of mine recently documented his process of building himself a new acoustic guitar after his touring guitar was stolen. It's such a beautiful process, where science, art, and craftsmanship combine to create a tool that, itself, creates art.
posted by The World Famous at 5:34 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's also a couple steps they omitted, such as the making of the bridge and putting the compound radius on the fretboard. I'm wondering if he uses a CNC machine for those parts, and they didn't include it because it would detract from the hand-crafted aspect. Nothing wrong with CNC, a compound radius is very difficult to do by hand, but I suspect they left those out on purpose.

There's a million videos on YouTube of dudes building guitars but this one is a much higher quality than most and really does a good job of explaining the process.

I especially love the process of making the rosette. The way the various bits of wood are combined to make such a beautiful, complex part of the guitar.

I also enjoyed all the various jigs and other tools he had. I've seen a lot of videos where people do everything with not much more than a pocket knife and some chisels, but this guy had all the right tools, which is something I really appreciate.
posted by bondcliff at 5:47 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

bondcliff: "a compound radius is very difficult to do by hand"

It takes practice but for someone with the touch it's pretty easy. I worked at a recycle lumber yard with an old guy who worked in Chrysler's design shop in the 50s and 60s. Back then they used to make prototypes out of wood at one point in the design process and that is what he did. He could flatten a 24" wide 10' long SPF glulam in a couple hours by touch with nothing more than a #8 jointer. And that is random species with random growth direction.

Or crank out a solid barrel top chest top out of the same stuff with a couple hand planes, a big honking rasp and the aforementioned #8. We didn't have the tools to make a concave curve but I'm sure that wouldn't have been a problem either if we did. Or anything inbetween really. It was impressive.

As for the bridge (at least the one pictured) it would be pretty straight forward.
  1. Prepare the blank to the correct thickness and width but leave it long.
  2. Set it in a jig to drill the alignment holes the correct distance apart and at a nominally correct distance from one edge. From now on everything is referenced to those two holes.
  3. Set it in another jig narrow edge up that has guides for the string holes. Drill holes.
  4. Swap to a jig still narrow end up and use a router to rout the the channel the string retainers sit in.
  5. Move to a jig to rout the long channels on the to pull the strings through.
  6. Swap to a template to route the relief on the front.
  7. Flip it over and place template to rout the tiny relief on the back.
  8. Finally place on template to rout the shape out of the long blank.
If you have a dedicated drill, router and bit for each step (and why wouldn't you?) it would take less time to do then it took me to type this out as long as you were doing at least a few at a time. Variations in the outer shape are easy to accommodate. And you can adjust the string spacing (as mentioned in the video) by having steps 2 and 3 use something like a variable router dovetail joint jig.

Doing it with a CNC router you'd either need a bunch of jigs to hold the bridge at various steps or you would need a 3 axis mill. Either way if you had the machine why wouldn't you also use it to cut out things like the inlay channels and fret grooves?

I bet they left it out because it would be a bunch of jig, rout, jig, rout, jig, rout that would have put them over their time limit without being all that interesting.
posted by Mitheral at 10:52 PM on September 21, 2016

Wow. I interviewed this guy about his work back around 2003, when he was just starting out.

I was younger, and his workshop was my first experience of a space really dedicated to creating beautiful things. I can only imagine how it looks now.
posted by Dr and Mrs Eaves at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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