Volume # 102 Building Instruments

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice

                         Stay in Tune                                                                             vol#102

                                                                 By Luthier Patrick Podpadec

We have been having beautiful weather so far this October , but I felt a bit of Autumn in the air the other day. This means it's time for me to button down the hatches of my “summer shop”. That is the shop I do all my bigger wood cutting projects in so that I can keep the majority of the dust out of the main repair area. I plan to make the outside shop a bit more full seasonal room by putting walls at the end that can keep the heat in a bit longer when I fire up the torpedo heater. It's one step at a time ,the next stage will be a full size 10,000 sq.ft. Shop with all of the latest CNC machines and ten luthiers working full time ?..... Until then …......

After a visit to the Lowden Guitar shop in Ireland I had decided I needed to sharpen up my game a bit and try to start making the things that I keep seeing flying around in my head. I've been “revamping” some of my jigs and molds to work a little more efficiently for me. I might add a new section or a added clamping mechanism just to make whatever process I'm trying to perform just a little easier or more precise. I'm also experimenting with making my parts in multiples of 6. I find that I can get very accurate results when I build in multiples because I can compare the parts to each other and get a more consistent profile and I always have a few left over to compare to the next batch that I build.

After my repairs I have to re setup my shop for building instruments. I bring out the other jigs that will be needed for the task at hand. There is at least 20 different small pieces of wood (and many times twice as many) that have to be processed (either by sander or router) . It's extremely important that all of those “setup procedures” are as accurate, precise, and efficient as possible. There is a big difference of building one instrument that takes 200 hrs to build against building 4 at a time and having them built on an average of 50-75 hrs each.

If your system of production is "In Tune" you can 1) build more product , which means you get better at building them the more that you do, 2) You can sell them for less because your production time has become smaller and 3) You are reaching more potential customers at every sale.

I have also noticed that it's important to have a large selection of wood on hand when trying to build custom instruments. I like the idea of building instruments with as many domesticated woods as possible. I'm always in the search for locally grown hardwoods like nicely flamed maple,walnut,cherry, butternut, sycamore, cedar, etc. I f any one out there knows of a supply of any of these woods I would greatly appreciate a call . (440-474-2141)

My method of production always start by wood selection for each instrument. I then join the two book matched pieces of wood for the top and back. I then cut, shape and glue all of the braces in their proper locations. Next I build the "box" of the instrument. I start by thicknessing the wood for the sides (usually the same species that is used for the back). .090 is my preferred thickness to start with before I start to bend the sides, I then attach the neck and end blocks and kerfing all around the edges to have some gluing surface for the top & back. I then start on building the neck. This has about 7 or 8 different processes in itself. You must glue up the stock. Then route the truss rod slot and install it, then profile the neck, cut the headstock shape and add a decorative headplate, install the tuners. cut the male dovetail joint to join it to the body and cut the slots and fret the fingerboard and attach it to the neck. The instrument now is starting to come alive at this point. all that is left is the fancy inlays and the binding ,sanding, selecting a finish and final assembly. The trick is to do this in a timely fashion (50 hrs or so) that it can still be affordable to the average musician that makes far less than 6 figures a year.

It seems to be that the instruments that are being bought today like the big boy guitars like the ones from Gibson, Fender and Taylor are the ones that the public has become to know as a quality guitar because of the fact they have built a "shit load" of them. After producing 5 to 10 million of them they"re bound to get quite few good ones out there. I'm not saying that these companies don't build quality guitars , I'm just saying that quality control often suffers when you increase productivity without paying extreme attention! . I do not want to build 5 or 10 million guitars. If I could be responsible for building about 1 thousand great sounding, beautiful instruments in the remainder of my life, it would be a feat of extraordinary accomplishment. So now all I have to do is figure out how I'm going to do it.

Well I just got a new production idea and I had better try to put it to good use while it's still fresh in my head So while I'm in the shop please "Stay in Tune" See ya soon!

Keep Smiling!

Patrick from Liam Guitars/ Wood-n-Strings