Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Just About Ready for Picking...

It Looks Pretty Good At The End of the Tunnel!

Take a look at this!

Not quite done, but done enough to tell how it will be

This is Bruce Roper putting some not quite finishing touches, but fascinating touches nonetheless, on my guitar. The Build My Guitar Project is almost over, certainly by the end of the summer. You are probably wondering what is taking so long. The answer to that would be "Nothing, it's taking as long as it takes."

One of the important lessons for me, a man who spent a lifetime meeting and beating deadlines and grinding pretty good stuff out as quickly as I could, is learning the pace of something that simply takes more time. Bruce picked the wood for this guitar when it was still a big slab out in Des Plaines, cut that slab into guitar sets and began the meticulous process of building my guitar back in February. I have watched every step. One of the first things I have to say is if you want to learn how to build a guitar, Bruce is the man to see.


Take a look at this.

Taking a fine measure at the bottom of the neck

Bruce is measuring the little legs he built into the base of the neck of this guitar to make certain it sits flat on the top of the instrument. But he's not measuring them to make sure the slots he cuts for them are exact. He is measuring them because the slots have to be a little loose. This part of the effort is all about setting the guitar neck in the right place, a mixture of mathematics, geometry, craftsmanship and, perhaps most of all, patience. When he starts cutting, Bruce could easily lop a huge whack out of the guitar whenever he wants to. His tools are very sharp and he knows how to use them. No. From here on out, things happen a tiny slice at a time. It's the only way to make certain everything is going to fall into the right place. He's going to need some room to make the neck fit just the way it should. This is where you walk into a world where everything becomes a little unforgiving. So he doesn't want to make any mistakes.

He is using a utility knife here to score the top of the guitar so those little aluminum braces will have slots to slip into. If this guitar top were made of spruce, like most of them, he could cut this just using his utility knife. But it's sapele, a pretty hard wood, so he is going to have to shift soon to a Dremel tool to cut away the rest, then fine tune the slots with chisels. This part of the effort gets a lot of attention because it is a weak spot on most guitars. Bruce knows that after 30 years of repairing them. There's nothing much to vibrate and create sound up at this end of the box, so he is comfortable inserting a little more support so the neck sits flat and the top doesn't move. Thirty years from now (when I am 95....shit! Make that 15 years from now, when I am 80....SHIT! Make that a decade from now....Sh....never mind) Bruce wants these guitars to be as solid as they were on the day he finished them. That's great, because this one is going to get a lot of use over the next 30 ye.....shit! Never mind.

He makes a dozen passes with his Dremel router tool before he is satisfied with the grooves, then slices away paper thin pieces with a very sharp chisel. All the time, he is fitting the neck to see how it sits in the place he is creating for it. Every guitar he builds is different because he is not making a guitar on a factory model. Truth be known, despite the refinements, Bruce could walk into a time machine and step on the floor of any luthier's shop 50, 60, 70 years ago and build a brilliant guitar by himself. It's that individual.

And a little nerve racking for those of us who haven't done this 100 times before.

Another "look at this" moment!

The little top brace channels

The little fingers for stability

See how they will fit together? The little aluminum legs sit right in those grooves. Then they are pulled down by a little block of wood with some machine screws in it that fit into those holes on the legs. tighten it up, and that neck isn't going to move in that direction.

Now it's time to drill what seem to me to be pretty big holes in pretty delicate places. Those are for the neck bolts that hold the neck onto the guitar on the flat plane.

Neck bolts being put into place

Okay, I'm not comfortable with this. You really have to know what you are doing to put bolts like that into a piece of mahogany without splitting a big, ugly chunk off of it. And yet, Bruce gets it done quite neatly. Then he takes his drill to the guitar body and pokes two vast holes in that. I'm starting to sweat. All the time, he's talking about wood and how it works and how some people put dowels into make sure the neck doesn't split and so on.

Look at those babies! Isn't that troubling? Somehow, Bruce gets this all to work without wrecking a single thing. Then he tests the effort and the guitar neck slides into place like it was born there. He will still do some fussing and trimming over it so it fits just right and aligns itself properly with the bridge.

The bridge?

He made one of those, too. It took exactly 21 minutes to go from a rosewood blank to a completed bridge, holes and all.

Here's how it started.

Those are bridge blanks. If you blow this picture up and look closely, you will note that some of them have just hint of pink in them, and we want that. There is just the slightest hint of red/pink in the wood, and a bridge that bonds with that will be very sweet. So we agreed on one. Second from the left on the bottom row. Bruce took it to his sanding machine, cut it down, then found a blank bridge with the right spacing on the holes and used it as a template. Before I knew it, he had the guitar standing with the bridge taped in place.

It's not ready to string up yet. The bridge needs to be glued on, and then Bruce has to decide what angle to give that little saddle the strings ride over. That has to be right. He does it by eye and sound, using two strings to find just the right angle. Then he will cut it with a router and stick a saddle on it. The string holes will be drilled through and...

But that's for the next time.

Please come back.


  1. WOW....what a artist! Sure will be fun to see and hear the finished results...happy strumming for many years brother....your not over the hill yet...and besides that I am right behind you...we will just keep climbing!

  2. Bruce's cantilever neck design, with the aluminum braces, is pretty unique. Most production guitars, including high end models, glue the fingerboard directly to the top of the body. This can cause a "hump" problem at the 14th fret over time as the guitar ages and moves with different temperature and humidity. Bruce's cantilever neck should be more stable.

  3. This is like watching a miracle happen! Bruce is a gift in your life experience!