You are on page 1of 45

Introduction

January 7, 2012 zimnickiguitars

I am just beginning a new guitar construction that might make for some interesting reading. It is going
to be a lattice-braced classical guitar with a cedar soundboard and ziricote back and sides. This
instrument will combine traditional classical guitar features and construction techniques with some
modern elements that seem to improve the performance of the finished instruments.

Neck, part 1
January 7, 2012 zimnickiguitars

Classical guitar necks are most commonly made of Spanish Cedar or Honduras Mahogany. Some are
made from a single piece of wood, others have the heel and peghead laminated from separate pieces.
There really doesnt seem to be any universally accepted standard, although each design has its
proponents. I can see advantages and disadvantages of each method of construction.

Historically, most classical guitar neck shafts were made from a single piece of wood. The strings dont
exert too much tension, and this single piece of cedar or mahogany is sufficiently strong to withstand
those forces for many decades without the need for any sort of reinforcement (such as the truss rod
found in steel string guitar necks). Nowdays it is not uncommon to find classical guitar necks that have
been laminated along their entire length, rather than being made from a single piece of wood. The
lamination can be used to decorative advantage and it also creates a stiffer neck than the solid piece,
although, as I just wrote, this latter property may be unnecessary.

For this guitar, my customer has chosen to go with a laminated neck. The main part will be mahogany
and there will be a center strip of cocobolo which will be separated from the mahogany by a thin layer of
holly that has been dyed blue. Here are all of the pieces ready to be glued together.

I used modern waterproof woodworking glue to laminate the pieces. Scientific testing by the US Forestry
Services and other groups has shown this glue to have superior strength, which is my greatest concern
when laminating necks. I dont want these joints to ever fail.

Here the glue has been applied and I have clamped the pieces together. After 24 hours I will be able to
start shaping the neck from this stack of wood.
Neck, part 2
January 7, 2012 zimnickiguitars

After laminating the pieces for the neck, my next step is to make the peghead for the guitar.

I have squared the block on a jointer and have drawn the profile of the neck on the side of the block.

Here I am cutting the rough profile of the neck on a bandsaw.

I will use a plane to true the top surface of the peghead in anticipation of gluing the veneer that will cover
it.

In this photo I am sawing a thin layer of cocobolo that will serve as the peghead veneer.

The cocobolo is then glued to the top face of the peghead.


Next, I draw the profile of the peghead on the back side and cut it with a saw. The shape is refined
with rasps and files.

This is the pr ofile I typically use on my classical guitars:, but on this guitar, my customer has chosen a

more modern and simple profile:

A critical observed might think that these peghead veneers are identical. Well, they are. I had
absentmindedly cut out the peghead using my standard profile before I remembered that my
customer wanted something different. We had worked out the design many months ago and it just
slipped my mind. Fortunately, the desired profile made for a shorter peghead than the original, so I was
able to use the pieces I had already glued together. If this hadnt worked out, I would have started over
and used the mistake neck in a different guitar.

Once the profile is finished, it is time to drill the holes for the tuning machine rollers. I use a
commercially available jig that ensures precise alignment of the holes. I know this isnt the traditional
way of boring the holes, but their alignment is critical to the proper functioning to the tuners, and that is
much more important to me.

After the roller holes are drilled, I cut out the string slots. First, the upper and lower limits of each slot
are established with a 5/8 diameter drill bit, then the spaces between those holes are cut with a saw. I
use rasps and files to refine the slots.

The peghead is done for now. Here is a test fit with the tuning machines.
Neck, part 3
January 21, 2012 zimnickiguitars

With the peghead complete, I turn my attention to the other end of the neck. This guitar will be built
using the traditional Spanish heel method, where the sides of the body are integrated into the
neck. This approach creates a very rigid neck-to-body junction. Most steel string guitars are built with
the neck and the body as separate parts, which are joined together at some point in the process.
Depending on the type of joint, the neck can start to separate from the body over time, requiring a neck
reset. For those readers who are not familiar with the Spanish heel, I hope it will become obvious with
the next few pictures that there is never going to be a concern for neck separation in this guitar or any
guitar built with this approach.

After marking the exact position of the 12th fret on the neck, I cut slots into the heel block where the
sides of the body will eventually fit. The slots are about 3 degrees from perpendicular so the sides can
slope into the neck at the right angle. The slots are cut most of the way into the neck, but I leave about
3/4 at the center.

Next, I draw an approximate profile of how I want the foot (the part of the neck inside of the guitar)
to appear and cut it out on the bandsaw.

After that, I trim the neck to its approximate final dimensions, which will be 52 mm at the nut end and 62
mm at the 12 th fret. This, too, is cut on the bandsaw.
At this point, the foot is very large and would be unsightly if left as it is. The feet on classical guitars
vary quite a lot from maker to maker, both in length and width, but they always have a significant taper
from top to back and a look of refinement. I am going to taper the foot so it will be about 30 mm wide
where it eventually meets the back of the guitar, but stays the full 62 mm wide where the soundboard is
attached. Stability is a concern where the soundboard attaches and where the fretboard overlays the
body. I want the block to be at least as wide as the fretboard.

After a good deal of refinement with a rasp and scraper blade, the foot is finished for the moment. I will
smooth off the hard edges later, but right now I turn my attention to carving the heel.
Neck, part 4
February 4, 2012 zimnickiguitars

There doesnt seem to be any universally accepted size and shape for a classical guitar heel. I have seen
them made as small rounded bulbs only projecting 10 or 12 mm from the body, or as very long, sharply
pointed projections that extend 40 mm from the body. I dont care for either of these extremes, so, like
most builders, I generally aim for some middle ground.

Heel carving begins by drawing the desired shape and a few reference lines on the bottom of the neck
block. I use a number of chisels to cut facets into the mahogany. Initially, these chisel cuts are
relatively widemaybe 1/2-3/4and not too close to my reference lines, but as I move through the
process and the block starts to look more like the heel of a guitar, the chisel cuts become more narrow
and the broad facets start to blend together.

The time spent doing the chisel work depends a lot on the particular piece of wood being used. Even
within the same species, there can be a wide swing in the density of the wood. Generally speaking, I find
it easier to carve denser woods because the fibers tend to hold together without tearing. Spanish cedar
makes a very nice, light weight neck, but it can be difficult to carve the heel because the wood has a
tendency to tear and leave a lot of divots on the surface being carved. I have to proceed more slowly in
that circumstance, taking very small bites with each pass of the chisel.

After the heel is roughly the shape I want it to be I am done with the chisels. Next, the heel is refined
with scraper blades. The scraper in this photo is very good for neck heels because of the varying curves
along its surface. The different curves allow me to refine every aspect of the heel.
I have carved a lot of classical guitar heels over the years. Early in my career I relied on contour gauges
to help ensure symmetry, but after several years I got to the point where I could tell if it was
symmetrical by looking and running a thumb and finger along the heel, so that is how I do it now.

Finally, after scraping, I use sandpaper to smooth the surface of the heel. It is now finished and
awaiting the sides of the guitar body.

Soundboard Construction, part 2, the Rosette


March 27, 2012 zimnickiguitars

The soundhole ring, or rosette, of a classical guitar has traditionally been made up of hundreds or thousands of small squares of wood
carefully arranged to form a repeating pattern. The guitar I am building now will have a very modern look, so my customer has
decided that a modern looking rosette would be more appropriate. At the end of this chapter, I have included some pictures and
descriptions of how the traditional mosaic rosette is built.

The soundhole rosette serves two purposes. The most obvious purpose is aesthetic. A well conceived rosette serves as the focal point
for the entire guitar. It can also tie together color or material themes present in other places on the instrument. The other function of
the rosette is to strengthen the soundboard in the area that would otherwise be the weakest part, due to the presence of the hole.
Removing a bit of the soft cedar or spruce soundboard and replacing it with the rosette material and glue makes the area stiffer, which
improves the durability of the instrument and also affects the tone and responsiveness of the guitar.

The bulk of the rosette on this guitar will be made from a piece of amboyna burl. Amboyna is a tropical hardwood related to the
Padauk tree. The burls produced by this species are some of the most highly sought-after and expensive. Here is a piece of an
amboyna slab I have used for several rosettes.
I will start by slicing off a 1/8 thick sheet from this slab and sanding it to about 0.070 thick. Then I secure the thin slice to a
workboard with double-sided tape. Using a Dremel router with an adjustable circle cutting attachment, I cut out the soundhole ring to
the desired dimensions. In the photo below I have already removed the excess wood beyond the outer edge of the ring.

Next, I determine the exact location of the center of the soundhole on the cedar soundboard and carefully rout a channel to accept the
amboyna ring. This cut is about 1 mm deeproughly 1/2 the thickness of the soundboard.

Next, I glue the amboyna ring into the channel. After the glue dries, I scrape the ring flush to the top of the soundboard.
If left like this, the rosette would have an unfinished look, so I am going to insert rings of veneer on both sides of the amboyna. The
rings will be made from sheets of black, white and blue wood veneer and these same colors will be used in the purfling around the body
of the instrument. Here are the sheets of veneer, which are each about 0.020 thick. I will slice strips of about 1/8 width to use as
the border lines.

A channel is carefully routed on either side of the amboyna ring. It is important that this channel be exactly the same width as the
three veneer strips combined so that there are no visible gaps. After these lines are glued in, the entire area is scraped and sanded
and the rosette is finished.

For those readers who are not familiar with the construction of a traditional mosaic rosette, here are some pictures and a description of
the process:

In the foreground of the photo below there are bundles of dyed veneer sticks arranged by color. The sticks are 1mm X 1mm square.
In the background is a pattern I have drawn onto graph paper. The graph paper allows me to see the pattern as a series of rows and
cloumns.
Below, I have arranged the dyed veneer strips and glued them together in the correct sequence to reproduce each of the columns on
the graph paper. Each square of the paper is represented by one veneer strip.

Next, I glue the columns together in the appropriate sequence and end up with a mosaic log that, when viewed on its end, displays
the pattern I drew on the graph paper.

The log is carefully sliced into 2mm tiles and a channel is cut into the soundboard of the guitar where the rosette will be located. There
are always a few tiles that dont look as good as the others, so I examine each one and place the less-than-perfect pieces where they
will eventually be covered by the fretboard.
After the tiles are glued in place, I scrape them smooth. As with the other rosette, I want to finish this one with a series of veneer
lines. I carefully cut a channel for the lines, trying to get as close a fit as possible for the veneer so no gaps are visible.

Finally, the entire area is scraped and sanded smooth. The mosaic rosette is complete.

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: guitar rosette, rosette construction. 2 Comments

Lattice Braced Classical Guitar Soundboard Construction, part 1


March 19, 2012 zimnickiguitars

Now that the neck and sides are built, it is time to start making the soundboard.

My customer has chosen to use a Western Red Cedar top with lattice bracing. Lattice bracing has been used on classical guitar
soundboards for a number of years. There are a lot of different configurations for the braces, as well as different materials used to
make the braces. Some of these have been quite successful, others have not. I have built around 15 or 20 guitars with lattice bracing
and have come up with a configuration that I feel produces the tone and responsiveness I want my guitars to have. To my ears, lattice
bracing is particularly successful on cedar soundboards, so I am confident that the combination will work well in this project. I will
describe the lattice pattern in more detail later, but first I need to prepare the soundboard.

I start with two bookmatched halves of red cedar, which were sent from the supplier about 4 mm thick. Incidentally, the term
bookmatched means the pieces were cut successively from a large billet and so, when they are joined together along one edge, the
grain pattern on one side is mirrored on the other. This usually isnt very apparent in cedar as it has very straight, evenly spaced grain
lines, but in spruces and many of the hardwoods used for the backs of guitars, the bookmatching is quite obvious and visually striking.

Before joining the halves, I reduce their thickness on a drum sander. In the picture below, the dust cover is open so readers can get a
better sense of how the sander works. Sandpaper is attached to the rotating drum and the wood is passed under it. The height of the
drum is adjusted downward with successive passes until the wood being sanded reaches the desired thickness.

After I sand the pieces to about 2.5 mm I glue them together on this adjustable assembly board. The blocks on the right side serve as
stop points. On the left there are pairs of wedges which, when slid in the right direction, apply even pressure to the center seam and
create a very strong glue joint. By adjusting the blocks I can use this board on many different sized tops and backs.

After the glue dries, I will sand the soundboard down to about 2mm. Ultimately it will be thinner than that, but keeping it at 2 mm for
now gives me plenty of material to work with in the next step, which will be construction of the soundhole rosette.

Posted in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Guitar Sides (ribs)


March 1, 2012 zimnickiguitars

Traditionally, the sides, or ribs of classical guitars are bent from a solid piece of wood that is somewhere around 2 to 2.2 mm thick.
Several years ago I started hearing about double sided guitars, where the sides were laminated from 2 pieces of very thin woodeach
piece being about 1 mm thick. The argument was that these double sided instruments would have stiffer sides which would, therefore,
not absorb any of the soundboards vibration so the soundboard would not lose energy as quickly. Intuitively, this made sense to me
so I started to occasionally build guitars using this technique. I have not done an appropriate A B comparison to allow me to say
how much difference, if any, that the double sides make in the sound of the guitar, but it still intuitively makes a lot of sense. One
definite advantage to this approach is that the sides are very stable, meaning they are much more resistant to cracking, as well as
dimensional changes with environmental conditions. There are a few relative disadvantages also: the double sides are heavier than
traditional single piece sides; more material is needed, which means there is an increase in cost; and construction time is increased by
many hours, which also makes the guitar more expensive.

This guitar is going to have double sided construction. The outer layer will be made of ziricote, a beautifully figured, great tonewood
from Mexico. The inner layer will be mahogany. The back of the guitar is also going to be made from ziricote.

After preparing the side pieces and working them down to a thickness of about 1 mm each, they are bent using my side bending press.
The press consists of two layers of sheet metal, which the wet side is sandwiched between, and is heated with three 200 watt light
bulbs. The sheet metal is hot enough to make water drops sizzle before the wet side is inserted. Here are a couple pictures of the
press.

In the next photo, I have one ziricote side and one mahogany side bent and ready to be glued together. They will be clamped into the
mold until the glue dries. Before being laminated, these thin pieces are trying to flatten out, as can be seen in the photo, but after the
lamination process is complete, they will hold the shape of the mold almost perfectly.

Lamination of the sides is a messy process. The mold is lined with paper because a lot of glue squeezes out from between the sides
and the paper keeps the sides from subsequently being glued to the mold. After the glue is spread and the sides are positioned, I
apply as many clamps as I can fit around the mold to try to get even distribution of pressure and good adhesion.
I intentionally leave the inner side piece wider than the outer so I dont have to worry too much about aligning them during the
lamination process. In this photo the mahogan can be seen overhanging the ziricote on both the top and bottom sides.

The excess mahogany is trimmed away with chisels.

After that, the top and back surfaces are trued with a plane and the wood is scraped and sanded smooth.
The process is repeated for the other half of the guitars body, and the pieces are trimmed to length so they will fit into the mold.

The next step is gluing in the kerfed linings along the soundboard edge of the sides. The main purpose of this lining is to increase the
gluing surface area for attaching the soundboard and back. Kerfed lining is not used in traditional Spanish construction. Instead, after
the soundboard and sides are glued together, small triangles of wood are glue to their junction to provide stability. I cannot see a clear
advantage to that approach, so I continue to use the linings. Here is a strip of lining ready to be glued to the side:

Below, the lining has been covered with glue and it is being held to the side with as many clamps as possible.

The next step is to join the two halves of sides at the tail end. The neck end of the sides will remain open, as the sides will eventually
be glued into the slots that were earlier cut into the neck during the shaping of the Spanish heel. As with almost all of my instruments,
I laminate the tailblocks (and headblocks, when I am using one) from two pieces of wood with perpendicular grain. I do this for
stability and resistance to cracking if the guitar should experience a severe trauma. The tailblock for this guitar will be made from a
piece of mahogany and a piece of spruce. Here are the rough-cut pieces ready to be laminated.
After the halves are laminated, the surface that will be glued to the sides must be curved to match the curvature of the mold. For this,
I use a block of wood that has been machined to a 16 radius and has sandpaper attached to it.

The inner facets of the tailblock are chamfered and sanded. The block is then ready to be glued to the sides.

Below, the tailblock is being glued to the carefully trimmed sides.


At last, the side assembly is complete.

Back construction
April 22, 2012 zimnickiguitars

The back of a guitar not only serves to reflect the vibrations of the soundboard, but also to shape and hopefully enhance the
instruments tone. It is probably well recognized that the choice of back material will have a noticeable effect on the sound of the
completed work. While the impact may not as crucial as decisions made about the soundboard, there are still recognized tonal
characteristics of each of the commonly used back materials: rosewoods tend to produce a darker tone with long sustain, while maples
make for a brighter sounding instrument with sharp attack and quicker decay, etc.

Ziricote grows in Mexico and Belize. It is not a traditional guitar tonewood, but I have used it in several guitars and have been very
happy with the sound each of these instruments produced. Although it is not a rosewood, ziricote has produced rosewood-like sounds
in the guitars I have built.

Here are the two halves of the back, sanded to a thickness of about 1.8 mm and joined together.
The center seam is not particularly strong because the gluing surface is relatively small. Also, the back of the guitar is probably subject
to more physical mishandling than the soundboard, making this seam a potential weak spot. For these reasons, the center seam is
reinforced to help hold it together in the face of physical trauma. In the photo below, I am gluing a thin strip of spruce to the seam; it
is barely visible under the clamping caul.

After the center strip is glued, I carefully notch out and remove the small sections where the back braces will be glued.

Bracing of the backs on guitars has been the subject of a lot of experimentation. Many different approaches can be taken and each,
naturally, has its pros and cons. I have experimented with different patterns, even going as far as making a laminated X-braced back
where the braces actually only touched the back at the edges (on Kasha-style instruments). For the most part, I prefer to stay with the
more traditional approach of 3 parallel braces on the back of the guitar. The results are predictable and the pattern does a good job of
keeping the back stable. The braces are made from pieces of quarter sawn spruce and worked to dimensions of 7mm wide by 14mm
tall. The gluing edge of each brace is shaped to a curve of approximately 20 feet, which will give the back of the guitar a similar radius
of curvature from side to side. The two outer braces are glued at the widest part of the upper and lower bouts. The center brace is
half-way between the outer braces, which puts it a little bit behind the guitars waist.

After the braces are glued, they are shaped to either a gambrel or a rounded triangle cross section. Either shape seems to work about
the same for me. Shaping gives the braces a much nicer, more finished appearance, and it reduces unnecessary weight, which could
otherwise dampen the backs vibration. Here is a photo of a brace being shaped with a plane.
The ends of the back braces are scooped out, just as they were on the large soundboard braces, to reduce unnecessary weight
and improve the responsiveness of the back.

Next, the sides of the guitar are trimmed to the desired dimensions using a plane and a chisel. There is generally about a 12mm
reduction in the height of the sides from the tail block to the neck block, but it is not a straight, linear taper. Instead, the taper of the
sides is gently graduated in such a way that, when the back is attached, it has a nicely curving radius from the neck to the tail.

After the sides are tapered, I install the kerfed lining strips around the edges for increase surface area when the back is glued on.

This guitar is going to have a side port next to the heel on the bass side. I have found the addition of side ports in this location to have
a huge impact on the guitars tone and volume, both to the player and to anyone listening. The guitar becomes louder and the tone is
more full. I have become a strong advocate for the addition of this port on classical guitars. I have experimented with side ports in
other locations and have not found them to have nearly the same impact on the finished instrument. I have also tried putting side
ports in steel string guitars and found them to have minimal effect.

Before making the port, I will glue a reinforcing piece of mahogany on the side. This probably is not necessary on this particular
double-sided guitar, since the inner side already acts as a reinforcement, but I am doing it anyway as it is a part of my normal process
when installing ports.
The side port is made with a 1 diameter drill bit.

I glue a layer of black veneer on the edge of the hole to hide the layers of wood and give the port a nice finished appearance.

Next, the kerfed lining is sanded and refined to the desired radius of curvature, then small sections are carefully removed where the
ends of the back braces will sit. This is done very slowly so I remove just enought of the kerfed block to accomodate the back brace,
leaving the majority of the kerfed section to act as a reinforcement for the back brace and reduce its likelihood of coming loose.
Finally, the top/neck/side assembly is clamped to a workboard that keeps everything in perfect alignment and the back is then glued in
place. This photo shows the bottom side of the workboard. The soundboard is immediately under the workboard and the back is
farthest away. Using this workboard keeps the neck and soundboard at the proper angle in order to ensure that the fretboard will be
at the right height for proper string action when the guitar is complete.

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment

Neck-side-soundboard assembly
April 10, 2012 zimnickiguitars

It is now time to assemble all of the pieces I have made. I start by trimming about 2 mm from the soundboard side of the neck where
it extends inside the body. The soundboard will be glued to this surface in a little while and, when complete, will be on the same plane
as the surface of the neck.
It is now time to fit the sides into the slots I had earlier cut into the neck. These sides are a bit thicker than normal because of the two
layers, so I need to scrape and sand away some of the mahogany in the area of the heel/foot to get a good fit in the slots.

Here one can see the sides inserted into the slots in the neck.

Here I am inserting a wedge of cedar on either side of the heel. This pushes the sides up tightly against the visible edge of the heel so
there will not be any gaps between the heel and the sides when the assembly is complete.

Here are the neck and sides joined together.


Now it is time to attach the soundboard to the neck and sides. I start by shaping the large braces.

The region where the soundboard and sides join together is stiffer, so the ends of the braces do not need to be as tall as the main
sections. I trim each brace end with a chisel to reduce unnecessary weight and to allow the soundboard to vibrate more freely. The
final thickness of the brace ends is usually about 4 mm.

Next, I align the soundboard with the sides and mark where each brace intersects. The kerfed lining along the sides is removed at
those points and the braces are trimmed in length so they will fit within the assembled sides.
The soundboard is then placed on my assembly board. I apply glue to the top face of the sides, align the sides with the soundboard,
and clamp everything into place.

Finally, to support the soundboard braces against the constant strain induced by the strings, short feet are shaped from pieces of
spruce.

These feet are tightly glued to the sides of the guitar and the ends of the braces.
The last few bits of kerfed lining are glued between the top and sides where any gaps may have been. This assembly process is
complete and I next turn my attention to the back of the guitar.

Posted in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Lattice Braced Soundboard, part 3


April 6, 2012 zimnickiguitars

Now that the rosette is complete, I turn my attention to the inner surface of the soundboard. My customer has already specified that
he wants it to be lattice braced, as opposed to using a more traditional fan bracing pattern, where the braces are laid out like the ribs of
a fan. Lattice bracing creates a very strong support system for the soundboard, which means the overall thickness of the top can be
reduced from where it would have to be if fan bracing were used. This can lead to a more lively and dynamic guitar.

There are many variations of the lattice bracing pattern, both in terms of layout and materials. I have heard several guitars that used
a combination of wood and carbon fiber for the braces and I was not entirely impressed with the results. They all seemed to have a
few notes that were considerably louder and harsher than the others. I have also heardand even made a couplesome lattice braced
guitars that did not respond much to changes in the players right hand position. Typically, as the right hand moves toward the bridge,
the tone of the instrument becomes brighter and weaker; when the right hand moves away from the bridge, the tone is warmer, richer
and more powerful. One of the criticisms I have heard about all lattice braced guitars is that their tone is more even regardless of hand
position, which can limit the players ability to express the proper mood of the music being played. Of course, there are people who
feel that this even responsiveness is an advantage, not a disadvantage, but I do not share that opinion.

I have built a lot of lattice braced guitars over the past 6 or 8 years and after some experimentation with both materials and patterns,
have developed an all-wood pattern that I feel works quite well without any of the drawbacks previously mentioned. I use Adirondack
red spruce for the braces and lay out the lattice pattern asymmetrically.

The first step is marking where all the braces will be located on the soundboard.
After that, I glue a spruce reinforcement under the rosette. This helps strengthen the area around the soundhole, which is a weak
point on the guitar. A wide, short, straight brace on either side of the soundhole works equally well and I use those on some guitars.

Now comes the slow process of making the lattice structure. There are 10 braces, each roughly 3 mm wide and 7 mm tall to begin
with. After the braces are cut and sanded to these dimensions, they need to be notched out everywhere they will intersect another
brace. So I lay 5 parallel braces on the soundboard over their respective pencil lines, then place one of the other braces over them and
following the pencil line. I then mark each point of intersection on each brace. Next, I remove the braces and notch out the points of
intersection, removing wood from the top of one brace and the bottom of its intersecting brace. This tedious process is done with a
saw and chisel. After the notching is completed for the 5 braces on the soundboard and the first intersecting brace, all of these are
relocated on the soundboard and another intersecting brace is put into position and marked. Notches are made and the process is
repeated three more times until all of the braces are tightly intersecting.
Here is the lattice network ready to be glued to the soundboard. The asymmetrical pattern is apparent in this picture.

The entire network is glued to the soundboard at the same time. Glue must be applied to the bottom surface of all of the braces, as
well as in the notches to help keep them locked together. I use yellow woodworkers glue for this step. Hide glue sets up much too
quickly for the amount of time this process requires.

Once the glue is applied, the braces and soundboard are placed in a vacuum press for about 30 minutes. The vacuum press allows me
to glue all of these braces at one timesomething that would be virtually impossible with clampsand it provides even distribution of
pressure everywhere. Inside the press, the soundboard is positioned on a board that is dished with a 28 foot radius. Because of the
vacuum pressure, the soundboard and braces will conform to that dished surface and will thus have a slightly domed profile when
removed from the press.

The perimeter of the soundboard is much stronger than its center, so I plane down the braces to reduce weight where it is
unnecessary.
Now I glue short strips of spruce to reinforce each point where two braces intersect.

The lattice bracing system is now complete. The upper and lower face braces are now glued on either side of the soundhole.

These braces will be shaped later, before the soundboard is glued to the sides.

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: lattice braced soundboard, lattice bracing. 6 Comments

Binding the body of the guitar


May 20, 2012 zimnickiguitars

Binding the edges of the soundboard and back of the guitar serves two purposes: first, it seals and protects the more delicate end
grain of the wood, reducing the likelihood of cracks developing if the guitar is subject to extremes of humidity; second, it is decorative.
The first goal, sealing the wood, could be achieved with a single layer of wood or plastic binding, but since most players and builders
want something more interesting and creative, there are usually accompanying inner lines or marquetry strips, which are known
collectively as purfling.
This guitars purfling will continue the same color theme as the lines in the rosette, black, white and blue. The binding will be made
from cocobolo rosewood with laminated blue and white lines extending into the sides of the guitar. Here are the pieces of cocobolo and
blue and white veneer ready to be laminated. The pieces are about 1 wide and 34 long.

Now the pieces are glued together and held with a lot of clamps.

After the glue dries, the pieces are cut into strips, and sanded to about 0.075 wide, then bent in the same manner that the guitars
sides were bent earlier.

The first piece of binding to be installed is the tail graft, which covers the seam where the two side pieces meet. I like to use a wedge-
shape tail graft on most of my guitars, simply because I like the way it looks more than a straight graft. In the picture below I have
clamped a fixture onto the guitar that will allow me to rout the wood away where the tail graft will be located. This fixture is adjustable
for different widths and tapers of grafts, as well as different body thicknesses.
Here is the tail graft after is has been glued in and scraped flush to the sides.

Here, the bindings are bent and the black, white and blue purfling lines have been cut from wider sheets of veneer. The binding strips
are taped together before being bent, which helps keep them in alignment and also helps keep the blue and white veneer lines from
coming unglued in the bending process.

The edges of the top and back are now routed to the proper widths to accomodate the binding and purfling strips. The channels are
routed in stair-step fashion to keep the top and back plates as strong as possible. The deepest (outer) channel is just wide enough for
the cocobolo binding; the inner purfling channel is wide enough for the purfling strips, but only extends about half way through the
soundboard, giving it a depth of roughly 0.040. This is done to avoid weakening the attachment of the top (and back) to the sides,
which would happen if the purfling channel was deeper. These photos show the two-step channels after they have been routed and
cleaned up to receive the binding and purfling.

The blue and white side purflings are carefully mitered to form crisp angles between the bindings and the tail graft. The strips are then
installed on one half of the soundboard and one half of the back. After the first halves are dry, the ends are carefully trimmed to
accomodate the other half of the binding strips, which are then glued in a similar fashion. There are many ways to secure the pieces to
the guitar. I prefer using strapping tape to hold everything in place until the glue dries.

Here is a photo of the tail end of the body after all bindings have been scraped flush with the back, sides and soundboard.

Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment

Classical Guitar Fretboard


July 15, 2012 zimnickiguitars
It is now time to attach the fretboard to the neck. As I have explained in other blogs, I prefer to purchase pre-slotted fretboards
whenever possible because they are more accurate and save me a considerable amount of time. In this photo, the neck has had a 1/4
X 1/4 carbon fiber bar glued in for additional strength. The rough cut fretboard is in the forground.

I taper the fretboard to the desired dimensions by securing it to a perfectly straight piece of wood with double sided tape and running it
across a router bit with a bearing guide. For this guitar, the fretboard will be 52mm at the nut and 62.5 mm at the 12th fret, which are
fairly common demensions for a classical guitar.

Next, the end of the fretboard is cut and sanded to match the edge of the soundhole. I then position the fretboard and drill two pilot
holes about 10 frets apart. I insert small pins into these holes to keep the fretboard from sliding around when the glue is applied.

After the glue dries, I check the fretboard with a straight edge to be sure it is perfectly level. Any high spots are planed or sanded off.
I sand the entire ebony board to 320 grit to give it a high shine and a smooth feel. Now I am ready to install the frets. The fretwire I
use is supplied in two foot lengths. This guitar will require almost 4 feet of fret wire. The photo below shows the uncut fretwire.
The fretwire is cut slightly longer than each slot, then secured in place with a brass hammer. Brass is used because it is soft, so it does
less damage to the surface of the frets or the ebony board if there is a misplaced strike.

After all of the frets are installed, I put a small drop of cyanoacrylate glue (Super Glue) at each end to cover the exposed slot. The glue
also works a little way into the fretboard and helps keep the fret from coming loose inthe future.

Next, I run a fine leveling stong across the tops of all frets to ensure that they are exactly level. This is very important in order to
avoid buzzes at high frets when the guitar is played.
The edges of the frets are filed flush with the edges of the fretboard.

If a fret was particularly high, it will get flattened out in the leveling process, so it has to be recrowned. In the photo below, there is
a small metal sheet protecting the ebony fretboard while I use a file to reshape the fret to the usual semi-circular profile.

Finally, to complete this procedure, the frets and fretboard are sanded with 320-, 400, and 600-grit paper for a high polish and smooth
feel.

Applying the classical guitar finish


September 16, 2012 zimnickiguitars

There is some question about which finish is best on a classical guitar. Most devoted players would probably say that French Polish is
the best because, as they have read many times, it offers the thinnest coating and therefore must result in the best sounding
instrument. (As an aside: I have talked to many people over the years who think French Polish is a type of finish. It is actually a
technique for applying a finishalmost always shellacit is not a type of finish unto itself.) While most high-end hand made classical
guitars probably do have French Polished shellac finishes, there are certainly notable exceptions, which I will not identify here.
I have used a number of different finishes over the years on many types of instruments. Every finish has strengths and drawbacks. I
currently favor nitrocellulose lacquer for most of my instruments. I have worked with it enough that I am very familiar with how to
achieve the results I want, namely a thin, level film that can be polished to a high gloss. I have French Polished shellac onto several
instruments and achieved reasonable success. I do agree with the notion that French Polishing yields a very thin film on an
instrument, but I have not done any systematic side-by-side comparison that would allow me to speak confidently about whether or not
the difference in film thickness had a noticeable effect on the sound of an instument. Intuitively, it does make sense that a thin (light
weight) film would have less of a dampening effect on the vibration of the wood than a thick (heavy weight) film. For that reason, I
have started using a combination of French Polished shellac and a lacquer topcoat on my classical guitars. Shellac is used to seal the
wood with minimal build up of a film, then I apply a very thin film of lacquer, which I can sand and buff to a high gloss. Unlike
shellac, lacquer is practically impervious to perspiration so there is a much lower likelihood that this finish will ever be damaged or
completely wear off the guitar.

I begin the process by dissolving shellac flakes in alcohol. It takes about 24 hours for the flakes to completely dissolve.

While the shellac dissolves, I sand the guitar up to 320 grit then tape off the fretboard and bridge location. The sound hole and side
port are sealed to keep any of the finish from getting inside.

Next, shellac is polished onto the entire guitar. This process is well documented elsewhere, so I will not try to describe it in any detail.
I repeat this process several times, watching how the film builds with each subsequent coat.
Once the shellac is reasonably level, I spray a thin film of nitrocellulose lacquer on the guitar. I use just enough lacquer to allow me to
sand it completely flat then buff it to a high shine.

The lacquer top coat cures for a minimum of two weeks. It can then be wet-sanded using 320-, 400-, 600- and 1000-grit paper, then
buffed to a high gloss.
The finish is now done and the next step will be to construct and attach the bridge.

Classical Guitar Bridge Construction


October 20, 2012 zimnickiguitars

Bridges do not seem to draw a lot of attention compared to many other components of the instrumentpeople are much more
concerned about the woods used on the top or back, the bracing pattern, the neck, the tuning machines, or choice of stringsbut the
choice of wood and the dimensions of the bridge definitely influence the tone and dynamic responsiveness of the guitar. Of course, the
bridge serves as the anchor point for one end of the strings, but it is also the intermediary that facilitates conversion of string vibration
into vibration of the soundboard and the rest of the guitar, as well as the air within the body. A stiff, heavy bridge will not transmit as
much of the strings vibration to the soundboard, but a very soft, light bridge may have difficulty withstanding string tension over time.
Also, a bridge with a larger surface area will have more of a dampening effect on the soundboard, but one with too small an area will be
pulled off the soundboard more quickly because there is less glue keeping it held down. Fortunately for me, guitar builders have been
faced with these issues since the advent of the modern classical guitar in the late 19th Century, so the correct bridge dimensions
have been fairly well established within a fairly small range of variation. Also, rosewood is the long-established choice of material for
the vast majority of instruments.

I use Brazilian rosewood for most classical guitar bridges. I was fortunate to acquire several pieces of this wood about 20 years ago
that had been brought into the country in the early 1960slong before CITES. Most of the pieces are too small to make the back and
sides of an instrument, but they have provided me with a lifetime supply of nicely colored bridge material. Here a slab is being cut on
the bandsaw to start the bridge for this guitar.
The bridge blank is cut and planed to a thickness of about 9 mm, a length of 180 mm and a width of 28 mm.

Here I am slicing off a piece of the amboyna left over from the rosette construction to make the tie block inlay of the bridge. After
getting it to the desired dimensions, the wood is bound with bone strips, which have both a decorative an functional purpose. Bone
prevents the strings from digging into the wood when they are wrapped around the tie block.

My next step is done on a table saw and, unfortunately, I was not able to take any pictures (it takes two hands to safely cut the
wood). Four cuts were made into the rosewood to define the saddle slot, the tie block and the bridge wings. In these two photos, the
tie block inlay is being glued to the rosewood and the cuts from the saw are clearly seen.
Next, I drill the holes for the strings. This bridge will have 12 holes rather than the traditional 6. 12 hole bridges are a relatively recent
developmentI have no idea who gets the creditand I am a big fan of them because they not only make the string anchoring easier,
but they increase the angle that the string bends over the saddle, creating more downward pressure on the saddle and, theoret ically,
increasing the amount of energy transmitted to the soundboard. I put a thin coat of white paint on the rosewood so I can see my
drilling points more easily, then I make the marks and drill the 1/16 diameter holes.

Next, the wings of the bridge are shaped with rasps and scrapers.

After the wings are shaped, I chisel out the wood on either side of the saddle slot.
Next, the entire bridge is scraped and sanded smooth and the ends are rounded in accordance with my customers preference.

Classical Guitar ConstructionThe Final Steps


April 25, 2013 zimnickiguitars

To keep the bridge from sliding around during gluing, I insert two very small wooden pins into holes I drill through the saddle slot and
into the soundboard. This picture shows the pins coming through the bottom surface of the bridge ready to be inserted into the holes
in the soundboard.

Before the body of the guitar was assembled, I created a bridge clamping caul with notches where the braces lie. This caul is now
inserted through the soundhole and taped into place directly under where the bridge will be glued. This gives me a strong, rigid surface
for clamping. After the clamp is removed, I will reach back into the guitar and untape the caul.
Now I apply some woodworking glue to the underside of the bridge and clamp it in place. Hide glue also works well for this step, but I
prefer using wood glue because it allows me a longer set-up time. The masking tape captures most of the excess glue that squeezes
out under the pressure of the clamp.

I usually use bleached bone to make the nut and saddle. Different materials are available for these parts of the guitar and each type
imparts its own characteristic sound. Bone is durable yet relatively easy to work with and its tone is clear and bright. I purchase nut
and saddle pieces roughly cut to the dimensions I need, then fit each one individually to every instrument I build.

After the dimensions of the nut are refined to fit it perfectly into the slot at the end of the fretboard, I mark where the strings will be
located and use thin files to cut the slots. Great care must be taken to assure that the strings are all evenly spaced and that they are
all at the same height off the fretboard.
Before I install the strings, I fit the saddle into the bridge slot. The saddle height determines the action and can be adjusted as
necessary to fit a players tastes. Obviously, removing material from the bottom of the saddle to lower the strings is not a problem. If
I want to raise the string height, I will make a new saddle. Generally when I am stringing up a guitar for the first time, I start with that
saddle a little taller than what I think it should be, then remove material as needed until I get to the desired string height. This saves
me from having to shape a lot of extra saddles.

Here is the saddle fitted to the slot. The top of the saddle still needs to be rounded off and tapered so the treble side is about 1/32
lower than the bass side.

Finally, I install the tuning machines and the strings and make the final adjustments to their height and the guitar is finished!