Building my first guitar at American School of Lutherie

In September of 2014, I acted on a long held desire to build a guitar and enrolled in a workshop with Charles Fox at his American School of Lutherie.  I chose the Steel String Acoustic Guitar course which promised that we would build a playable guitar from scratch in only 2 weeks.  Mind you, that meant 6 days a week and up to 11 hours a day.

It turned out to be two of the best weeks of my life.  In addition to coming away with a great sounding guitar, it was wonderful fun.  And the shop techniques and habits that I learned from Charles provided me with a firm foundation for my retirement hobby.

What follows is a very brief overview of what we did on each day.


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We began by getting to know each other ( there were four students), finding our way around the shop, and examining our materials.  Charles provides a few things but most of what we needed came from Luthier’s Mercantile Int’l.

We began by prepping and glueing up the Rosewood plates for the back.  When they were dry we rough cut the perimeter, and glued on the back strap using a “Go-Bar Deck” and a radius dish.  We bent the Rosewood sides in a Fox Bender (more about that in a later post).  We also started on the neck by milling the Mahogany billet to dimension and making the scarf cut.  The cut off piece was flipped over and glued back on to form the headstock.


We learned very quickly that lutherie requires many clamps.  On the left is the head stock being attached on to the neck shaft.  We started working on the top, or sound board, by joining the Spruce plates.  Next we routed two channels around the intended sound hole and inserted pieces of abalam and purfling to form the rosette.  Then we soaked it all with super glue and left it to dry.


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After scraping and sanding the rosette level , we cut the sound hole and the perimeter of the top.  Next we cut and shaped braces from Spruce and glued them on to the sound board.  The pattern is very typical X-bracing and in this picture there is much carving left to be done.


The previously bent sides were placed in a form while the head block and tail block were glued on.  Then we installed linings on the edges all around.  By the end of the day we had solid rim that definitely was starting to look like a guitar.


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We installed and carved the rest of the back braces.  The edges of the rim had to be planed and sanded down to the proper profiles.  Then we glued the back to the rim with another gaggle of clamps.


With the rest of the braces carved and sanded smooth it was time to autograph the top and glued it on to the rim and back.


With the box now closed, we started making it pretty by routing channels and inserting an Ebony tail graft and bindings and purfling all around the edges of the body.  The bindings are held in place with strapping tape and then adhered with thin super glue that is wicked into the joints.


After much scraping and sanding the box looked beautiful.


Then it was all about the neck. On the left, the headstock is on and marked for the tuners  Also, the slots are ready for the truss rod and two carbon fiber reinforcement rods.  On the right, position marker dots are being installed on the edge of the fingerboard.  Obviously, we had already cut the slots for the frets.  At the end of the day, the finger board was glued onto the neck and left to dry over night.

DAY 10

With the fingerboard glued, we attacked this bulky square block of wood with chisels and rasps and sanding blocks and transformed it into a smooth and graceful neck.

DAY 11

We installed, leveled, dressed, and polished the frets.  The neck was then bolted on to the body to stay; although it can easily be removed again if necessary..

DAY 12

On the last day we installed the tuners, located the bridge, made and installed a nut and saddle, stung it up and did a basic set up.

After only two weeks in the shop I was the proud owner of fine looking, great sounding guitar that was fun to play!  It was still just raw wood with no finish on it.   That would come a few months later.  But I already knew I couldn’t build just one…..  I would have to build another one, by myself,  at home in my own shop.

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