Introduction: Build Your Own Instrument (Guitar With a Violin Shape in My Case) !
Hi every one !
I always wanted to create my own instrument. My grand father use to play violin, but know only how to play guitare. As i realy love the sound and the shape of a violin i decide do start building a unique instrument : a Guitalon, a Viloard ... call it as you want !
During this project i learned a lot of about woods, use of tools and instrument making. I will expose all the knowlage and tips I used.
I will give you the places where i baught all the furniture.
As I'm not a professionnal, this project took me a lot of time, the good thing is that you do not need so much tools (you can build them !!!) so when you start building your instrument you have to be patient !
I tried to give you the list of all tools to use for the step, some tools can be optional so i marked them like that :
- Mandatory tools
* Optional tools
Step 1: Draw the Instrument
- paper sheet
* design software
This step is realy important and have to be well done. Feel free and reasonable in the same time, it is important to apropriate curves that you will work on later. You can take a look to many other instrument to give you ideas.
- You have to know exactly the shape of your guitare before starting building it, because modifications during the build will probably cause dimentions problems so take your time to draw a shape that you like and you are sure of.
- The more complicated the shape is, the more your work will be complicated, so think about simple shapes to realize.
- To have good proportions you can use an existing instrument and modifie the draw (i did like this i first drow a shape i like than i used my guitare to have good proportions)
- For the edges dont make sharp curves, prefer angles and smooth curves
Step 2: Choose the Wood
There is two parts in this step : Theorical one and practical one
I choosed to build a guitare like a violin, the table have to be in spruce, and for the rest i have to choose a hard wood. That is because european Spruce is a realy tender wood and not so dense, with the strings force it react like a drumhead, and the rest have to be in hard wood to make the air resonate and each wood have his property for exemple ash is realy hard and will rise he hight frequency the sound will be more salient, maple is more soft so it will give you a more round sound whith mediums. There are a lot of differents woods you can choose.
The imortant thing is that you need to know about wood knot. Some poeple can say that it will disturb the sound and is ugly, but a lot of good istrument are realy beautiful and have a so beautifull sond.
The quality of the wood is realy important some woods can be beautifull but it can be sensitive to moisture, the problem is that your instrument will not be stable and it could chage shape, the way it sound, and even come off...
The beauty of your instrument is important, you want some thing that you can be proud. I choosed flamed ash.
For the spruce choose a clear a piece of wood with strait lines. the more close together thy are the best it is.
Wood can be realy hard to work on : i choosed ash for the body because of the price but it is realy hard and brittle, next time i will use maple. Wood knot are hard to work on and reacts in unpredictable ways, so keep in mind that is more work.
As i live next to this seller i could choose my wood but here is his website :
Step 3: Start the Flattop
Before begining the story I have a precision about the glue ... For the whole project I used common wood glue there is somes adventages and drawbacks :
- easy to use
- easy to find
- Instrument makers say that it is not so good for the sound of the instrument
- It is complicated to unstick it (unlike fish glue)
- ugly if visible
Choose the one you prefer : it have to fit well on your project, depending on how much time, money you want to spend and how precise and beautiful your instrument will be
Come on ! let's start to eat the cake !
Preparing the wood
- circular saw
Theoricaly, to have a uniform sound in the flattop, the wood peice is cutted and stuck like an open book that is why you will receive two pieices of wood (if you choosed to make it like me). To prepare the wood to be stuck you have two choices : you can make it on your own but you need tools ,
1 To be sure that the wood part witch will be stuck is 90° with the back, so it is better to cut with the circulat saw (red line in the schema)
2 Then use a large plough to have a clean and straight surface
3 Stick the two parts like the red arrows in the schema and clamps (you can use rope to tight the two boards)
Cutting the wood
- scroll saw
- sand pape
Once you have your flattop drawn, make it full size on paper (or print it) and stick it on the wood.
Keep in mind that is better to remove wood than not having enaught of it, so keep a 1 cm margin when you cut the borders. I used a scroll saw, yes it is slower but it is precise and easy to use. Take your time and be careful not to damage your wood by cuttin like a bull.
- table / workbench
- gauge (you can build it easitly see schem)
If you don't have any workbench, take a table wich you can damage. Clamp a piece of wood to stall your flattop. The goal is to remove regular wood chips, so to do this, apply the same force from the begining to the end of your move. Take your time, it is beter to remove slowly and precisely than quickly and too much ! Don't hesitate to train on an other piece before. Do the top first and start from the bottom to the top of the flattop, from the center to the edge. You will point out that the way the chips are depend on the angle the tool have with the strait of the wood. the more horizontal the tool is, less you remove wood, the more parallel you are with the strait of the wood, less you are precise. Don't use hammer ! it is less precise and it can crush the wood !
Once you have a satisfying job (don't smooth it !) start to sculpt the downside of the flattop. Do it like the top: from the bottom to top, from a side to the other. You have to have a thickness between 6 and 8 cm so be careful.
To verifie the thickness of your flattop use gauge or build one with and wood pieces like in the schem. Screw the top bold until the free space measure is equal to the thickness you want to verifie, and pass thrugh the whole flattop with the tool.
- Sand paper
* Knot plough
Once you have a flattop with a thikness of about 8 mm you have to smooth it, you can use only sand paper to do it, but there is a way to make it easyer and faster ;). At the end you have to optein a flattop Thickness between 3 and 5 mm (5 mm in the center and 3 on the edges). To know the thickness you can use the technique I presented previous step.
Making a Knot plough is very easy so dont hesitate to make one (i made mine by recicling an old one which was not precise )
Step 4: Addon's on the Flattop
You can choose what ever form you like, you don't even need to make an f ! Theoricaly if you make it like this the top of the f shall foint to the center and the bottom to the edge. this is for the geometry of the flattop.
First, draw it on paper, once you are satisfyed of your drawn cut it (time two) and put it on the flattop. You can use the center (where you stuck the two part of the flattop) like a symetry axis. Then when you like the shape nd the position drow the f shape in the flattop (don't do the f bar yet).
- scroll saw
- small wood file / scalpel
Once you have drawn the f on your flattop, drill little holes in the f. Than finish the work with the file (don't do the f bar yet).
Making the curved braces for the flattop
- scroll saw
- send paper
For this step you have know how you will do the curved braces for the flattop, I choosed to do it like violin, but there is a lot of way to do it, it will modifie the sound and obviously the difficulty.
Start to position a wood board like the brace you want to make. Then stall a wood piece on the flattop and the brace. Slide the wood from the beginning of the brace to the end touching both pieces and use the pen to mark the wood brace bottom. Then cut it following the pen line with the scroll saw and finish the work with sand paper
- send paper
- inlay tool(bended fork with honed teeth)
As my plan moved i didn't well did this step : as i had to remove wood on the edges a few step later all margins i made here were wrong ... anyway in my next guitar i will not reproduce this error(that's why i told you that your plans have to be the same from the beginning to the end).
First you have to have inlay material (very thin coloured piece of wood/plastic/nacre). With the fork remove a ray of wood (use it like a gouge), than put the glue and instert the inlay. When the glue is dry remove excess glue and wood with sand paper.
Step 5: Start the Back
This step is more or less like the flattop as the only difference that the wood is harder (in my case like stone ...) So I coosed to sculpt the back of the back whil the drill press technique ... be carefull the drill press can be verry stron and can crush the wwod board ! So if you choosed to do like me don't press too much (It can erase the beautiful flame of your wood). In my next guitar i'll choose maple because it is way more easier to sculpt (softer).
Step 6: Start the Edges
Make the mold
- scroll saw
In playwood cut the shape of your instrument twice, then cut corners, bottom and top with square shape (the shape you will stick later). Then assemble them together with four bolds (to be able to adjust the height of your instrument's body). Glue squared shaped wood pieces in the mood where the corners should be (in the first picture you can see the wood peices stuck on the mold in each corners and bottom and top). Then shape the wood pieces stuck on corners to reproduce exactly the shape of your instrument. Here we are our, mold is ready!
- scroll saw
- gauge(the one you builded before)
- steel pipe (5 cm diameter)
- welding torch
Before bending and sticking the wood you have to prepare it : first you have to make the sides thinner (about 3 mm) so use the plough to remove excess wood with the plough and verify the thickness with the gauge. You can just with sand paper, but be careful not to remove too much wood. then cut the wood pieces to the size they shall have when they will be bended.
Once you have your wood pieces ready to be bended put them in the water during 15min. During this time clamp the steel pipe on a workbench, light the torch and put the flame in the pipe (be careful the pipe will be very hot so). Once the pipe is hot (water boil on it) take a wood side and bend it on the pipe. You will see that it is really easy like doing it with paper. Be careful don't apply too much force because you can break your wood side !
Bend each wood side part to make it fit exactly on your mood without any force or clamp.
Sticking & removing the mold
- sand paper
This step is quite simple if you well performed previous steps. So glue sides on corners of the mold and clamp them. When the glue is dry remove bolds from the mold, then remove the mold without removing the corners you glued before. Once you removed the mold remove the excess of wood on corners with the gouge and finish the work with sand paper.
Make and stick the backing plates
Like i said i choose to do it like a violin (guitare is a little different ...). So i took the rest of side wood I had and made some strips (thickness 2 - 3 mm), I bend them like i'have done in previous step and glue them inside of the body (look at the picture i modified ... red strips should be backing plates).
Step 7: Start the Neck
Cut'n'stick the neck
- circular saw
Start by cutting following your dimentions and the plan (first picture). To stick parts first plane with the plough.When the glue is dry use the router to dig the truss road place.
Making the truss road
- round steel bar (2/3 mm dimeter / twice the lenght of the neck)
- drill press
- squared steel piece (5mm x 10mm x 10mm)
Once you finished the neck you can start the truss road. Start by bending the steel bar (once bended it has to be 1 cm less tall than the neck and one of the two sides has to be bigger than the other - Look at the schema -> second picture -).Then make the little steel piece and drill two holes in it (one of the two has to be a through hole).
Then you have to make a thread pitch with taps on the bigger side of the truss road.
Assemble the two part and put a nut to close the truss road and place the truss road in it's place to verifie sizes.
Finaly close the neck with the trusroad in it by gluing the finger board (the nut of the truss road shall be down like in the schema). I advice to buy an professional one because this work has to be very precise (errors can make your instrument never well tuned), or to make a fretless instrument.
- sand paper
* gouge (for the top)
This step depend realy in your plans so feel free to give the shape you want. Use the file in priority and finish the job with sand paper.
Step 8: Asembling
Assembling the body
This part is one of the more critical ! you will see if your instrument parts are well done. Use glue and clamps to assemble the box. Don't hesitate to use a lot of clamps to be sure that the instrument is weel stuck. start with te back and finish with the flat top.
Assembling the neck
There is a lot of ways to do this step ... I used woods pegs but it is not a good way to do it : it is fragile so I used additional wood screws to strengthen the neck. The proper way to do it is to make a mortez tenon. Normaly at this step you are able to assemble your instrument without glue and test it. Glue the neck to go to the next step.
Step 9: Start the Varnish
Hardering the guitare
- painting tape
- cellulose varnish
The varnish you have to use is cellular varnish. It will harder your instrument and make it stronger. The finger boardshall not be varnish so tape it. To varnish well you have to do it verticaly then horizontaly. Do 2 or 3 layers.
When the varnish is dry use realy thin sand paper to be able to go to the next step. Be carful not to stab the varnish layer.
- shellac varnish
To make this step use a cloth ball with shellac in it and apply it to your instrument by making little circles from the bottom to the top for the firts 4 layers. Finish by appling, with strait movements, 2 layers verticaly and 2 layers horizontaly.
Step 10: The End !
For this part you have to buy all chandlery and assemble them.
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