Slow Down in Building

My building has hit a bump in the road. My diagnosis of ALS is hitting home. I am now past use of the walker I have been using to get to and from my garage workshop. I have a new electric wheel chair that gets me around in the house well but so far the shop remains out of reach. I have two new wheel chair ramps. Now I need to put them down and go for a trial run. The chair has plenty of power so I am pretty sure I can get down to the drive way and then into the shop thru the garage door. Once that is accomplished I need to get things cleared out of the way to make room for the wheel chair. Funny how stuff collects in the garage when I can not get out there every day.

So that’s been my bump in the road to finishing my arch top. I also have a dread that is nearly done. I will feel better when both of those guitars can be completed.

A few weeks ago I sent one of my wooden hollowing planes to friend Michael in Florida. Pictures he posted show me the plane worked well for him. I knew my prototype worked nicely for me but was happy to see how well he got on with his. The thing with planes for guitars is the lack of variety. Most I have seen are designed for violin work and are too small. Now I need to carve some more tops.

I have been selling off my hand tool collections on Ebay. I am saving tools I can still use but reality set in a couple of months ago. I just do not need drawers full of chisels and gouges. Same for the big Stanley wood planes. The largest of which I can no longer lift – let alone actually use. Block planes are more my speed these days.

Eventually I need to address the top, back and side wood up on my racks. Hate to see it go in a carport sale some day. Need to begin spreading it around among my guitar building friends.

So I am slowly winding down the building of more guitars and beginning the process of reducing my tools and wood.

If I can’t build with these things I at least find comfort in knowing some one else will do the building.


Making a New Plane for Carving Tops and Backs

Many of the tools used for carving tops & backs for the arch top guitar are based upon tools designed for violin makers. Violins of course are quite a lot smaller than guitars so some of these tools are pretty hard on user hands. Tools for carving the cello and larger violin family instruments don’t seem to be pictures or featured often in tool catalogs either.

In a prior post I showed pictures of the larger of my small tools. These work well on cedar or spruce – maybe a bit slow due to the small size – but they have worked well for me for many years. The current Quilted Big Leaf Maple guitar build however has really been hard on my hands so I have been thinking about making a new plane of better size having a body I could hold and push with my hands rather than just my fingers.

Here are pictures of making my new plane.




The Hock blade fits in to this plane really well and holds an edge much longer than normal plane irons. I am still working on getting the curve on the iron just right but even as it is now I am finding I get smooth cuts and my hands feel beter.

Here are some pictures I took of the interior carving – I put a square stick across the cavity to highlight the view of the carving.



The new plane and sharper iron are making my carving go very smoothly.

Happy I took the time to make the new tool.



New 16 inch Arch Top Build

Prior posts showed the beginnings of this new arch top build. Because the build is a demo build for my on-line Build Along on, I wanted to get right into the carving. I chose to begin with the back as this shows carving tools and shop made fixtures.


Part of my Build Along process is “one on one” responses to student questions. In the beginning most questions involve wood selection and tools. Building an arch top guitar involves many similar processes to building a flat top guitar but there are also some unique parts. The top and back of an arch top guitar are carved from 1 inch plus thick pieces of wood. Top and back of the flat top guitar are thin sheets of wood braced internally to withstand the force of strings and focus desired sound.

I try to show pictures of my specialized tools and also show how they are used.Like any other wood working process there are quite a number of options for carving. Some builders use pattern carving set ups, CNC machines while others use grinders.  I have chosen to do my shaping with hand tools. Sometimes I will use power tools to get my top or back down to a workable size but  I really do enjoy the process of carving and building with hand tools.



Each student has a dedicated thread on the Forum where they are encouraged to post questions and pictures of their progress.I try to check up on their progress daily and offer questions or comments to help them jump in to get started or maybe work around a new problem. I have made most of the mistakes they will make and so have some ideas to share. Sometimes the best advise is that they start over.


I have done several of these arch top “classes” in the past  furnishing drawings of instrument shape and arching patterns. Each student is urged to purchase the book by Robert Benedetto for it’s excellent presentation of building an arch top guitar.

This back for my 16 inch arch top is nearly shaped on the exterior. Future posts will show the scooping out and thicknessing of the inside. Then it will be off to working on the spruce top.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.


Planning New Arch Top

Really getting excited about my new arch top build. We have 7 builders signed up for this new Build Along – through

This project has been under discussion for a couple of months and now is coming together.

For my part I have purchased a nice back set of quilted maple. DSCN3507Here is the over sized pattern – 16 inch size.

The spruce I will use is in my shop becoming acclimated to our dry Bend climate. This past week I created a new half pattern that is exactly 16 inches at the lower but – my spruce and back wood will just fit.

My part of this new arch top Build Along program on Luther Forum is to furnish patterns and then help each of the 7 participants make their first arch top guitar. We began discussing wood choices, specialized tools and forms/fixtures and now will move on to building the forms and fixtures needed.

Much of the usual guitar building process for these arch top instruments is common with flat top instruments. The really big changes for first time builders will be the carving of the top and back. We begin with glued up blanks that are a bit over 1 full inch thick and will carve away a great deal of the thickness.

Our final tops and backs will vary in thickness from 1/4 inch near the center dipping down to about 1/8th of an inch near the edges. The will be a great mountain of chips on our shop floors when all the wood has been removed. Here is an example done a few years ago. First you can see the full thickness claro walnut back – this one has been cut out over size with my band saw.

Sep2009 084The thickness is carved down around the edges and then carefully shaped – small shavings at a time. Templates are used to guide the carving of the outer shape and then the inside is hollowed to create just the right amount of flex to help project the desired tones. Sep2009 087

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Nov2009z 121This shows the inside of the cedar top I put on the walnut back. Here the inside measurements can be seen as they were recorded. The yellow outline is marked to show where the sides will be glued. Since I have gone this far with pictures of this guitar – here are pictures of the completed instrument. April2010 008 And the required pictures of the walnut back. April2010 011 Couldn’t pass up this close up either. Jan2010 049b As our new quilted maple project progresses I will show more pictures. Check out our progress on too. We will be posting our build comments and pictures under Build Along #16 in the Learning Center section.

What I Do

We builders of guitars seem to be constantly in search of the perfect sound. Books have been written about sound board thickness, wood type, tap tuning, brace layout, and other internal structures. I have read ideas of neck wood weight affecting sustain and even electronic tuning. There are builders who only build copies of vintage instruments considered to have that ideal balance of sound. We have so many variables to deal with – little wonder that beginning builders seem to chase from one idea to another.
Originally I too followed many of these authors to try and improve my guitars. When we begin such a complicated process as building a guitar we need to rely on the ideas of others. There does come a point though when we as builders need to begin to form our own thoughts and practices concerning how we build our instruments. Each builder will have his or her own point of departure from published ideas but some never will.

I do not find fault with any one continuing to follow the ideas of chosen authors. Every builder has his or her own reasons for building.  I have chosen to form my own conclusions based upon my experiences building many instruments. I also have worked with many styles of steel string guitars. I am currently fascinated by the tonal potentials of the arch top guitar. I am building more arch tops these days than ever before. There will be another Build Along beginning soon on Luthier Forum. This might be fun for any of you arch top fans to check in on from time to time.

I do wish now that I had kept a better count of just how many guitars I have made. I can say though that the other day I sat down and listed all I can remember and came to a count of just over 100. Not all were master pieces but I did learn from every one of them. I don’t make as many guitars a year as I once did and I am not as quick to sell them as they are completed. I enjoy playing and listening and just having them there in the living room to look at.
Building guitars is for me a passion – I really do enjoy the process.

New Claro Walnut

DSCN3205 DSCN3204 DSCN3203

Just returned from California with two new large chunks of claro walnut. This may not look like much to most people but for a wood guy like me they are beautiful. My nephew John cuts slabs for very large conference tables and once in a while he finds pieces like these for his uncle Steve. Uncle Steve is very happy to receive these gifts. Thanks John.

One of these pieces is dry enough for me to begin thinking about new guitar sets. Date marked is 9/10 and the wood does feel quite a bit more dry. The other will need several more years to dry. Worth waiting for though.

I have several guitars in inventory and have added new pictures.

Two are arch top and four a re flat top. All are steel string.

For those of you not familiar with guitar talk, I have added pictures of the two types.

Arch top DSCN3302 guitars have top and back carved from thick pieces of wood. They also have sound holes that are similar to instruments in the violin family. The arch top guitar has become the guitar type of choice for jazz players.

Flat top DSCN3259 guitars usually have round sound holes with body made of thin wood top and back. 

There are many variations of the flat top type guitar including the classic guitar that is strung with nylon strings.


Walnut Beauty


Walnut has been one of my favorite woods for guitars. The grain and color variety is wonderful and the warm – some say dark – sound of walnut is enjoyed by many musicians. The jumbo flat top pictured first here has a wonderful grafted claro walnut back with a laminated walnut neck.

April2012 065 April2012 064 Mar2010 180 Jan2010 049b

The arch top just above is carved from a beautiful billet of claro walnut. The top on this one is cedar and the tone is fantastic.

Moving to Bend, Oregon

In November of 2012 my wife Pattie and I loaded the cat and as much other belongings as we could into our pickup and drove to Bend, Oregon from Joshua, Texas. We arrived just ahead of a snow storm and several days ahead of the moving van. We spent our first week here sleeping on camping equipment we had with us for the trip. We had time to rest up for the unpacking and also do some exploring of our new town. We had fun but were really happy to see the big van pull up out front.

Pattie of course had the major job of putting our house together. Amazing how she can transform wherever we move into our home in such a short period of time.

My main project this past year has been putting together a new work shop and exploring the fishing spots around Bend. What a great way to spend time. The climate here in Bend is ideal for the woodworker and super ideal for building guitars. Low humidity most of the year along with moderate temperatures make Bend ideal for the garage work shop. Living and working in Phoenix, Arizona for so many years followed by 10+ years in North Texas has made me really appreciate life in Bend.

Local news outlets refer to this part of Oregon as high desert. Seems a little odd since there are pine trees everywhere and the Deschutes River flowing through town but the humidity is low. That combination makes this the nicest desert I have ever seen.

Our last place in Joshua, Texas was about 2 acres – here we have about  1/3 of an acre. In Texas I needed a ride on lawn mower, big water bottle and a ball bat to fend off the neighbor’s pack of dogs. [No joke]  Here in Bend the lawn takes 1/2 hour to cut and the dogs are friendly and on leash. Pretty civilized place this bend, Oregon.

After the big van filled the garage with our machines, workshop boxes and piles of hardwood it was a chore to find a place to walk. We have been at the unpacking and building of storage for over a year now. Not quite done but we have made great progress. Enough so that we actually did get a few guitars made. I will be showing pictures of my current assembly of guitars in future posts.

Luther Forum [ ] has continued to be my means for connecting with builders world wide. There is a link on this page for you to check it out. I have posted hundreds of pictures of my builds over the past several years showing construction of a wide variety of steel string instruments. There are also Luthier Learning Center  demo builds where I have led groups of students from around the country on building both arch tops and flat top guitars.

Plans are forming for a new arch top build along beginning this fall. Stay tuned.