Preparations – an intensive learning process

With absolutely no woodworking experience whatsoever it was a sort of crazy plan. But a challange at the same time…

After a week of google research I made it to John Bogdanicich’s website (jsbguitars.com). john sells a book about concert classical guitar building and a complete dvd set documenting and explaining the whole process step by step. The only one of its kind so far.

Not thinking for long I ordered both, the dvds (as downloads) and his book. That same night I watched the first couple of lessons. After a week I had watched them all (for the first time that is)

It is true that John makes it look so really easy ๐Ÿ™‚ if it wasn’t for John’s work I think I would not have made the next step….but I was like enchanted by the idea that it was… Sort of possible after all…

It took me several months of digesting all that new information from John and lots more from youyube ๐Ÿ™‚ So much that I literally reduced my guitar practice sessions to a bare minimum (sth that my teacher noticed as well ๐Ÿ™‚

Finally I had assembled a detailed list of the initial set of tools I would need. since I was not sure that I would succeed in my mission I had decided to stick to handtools only. Cheaper and they would require me to develop a “feel” for working with wood. (That’s what youtube suggested :)) but it was really to keep the initial investment low (sort of damage control in a way)

I share that list in the section about tools and equipment.

one last thing or question kept giving me headeachs though…:

Suppose I would succeed in successfully building a guitar, why would “my” guitar be sounding any better then all the ones I’d had the opportunity to play during my initial quest? Let’s not forget that I checked some pretty high-level stuff, like the Hanike Meisterklasse. So, given the pricetag of the shopping list (3000+) why would it be at least as good as that Hanika 60 ps that I could just go and buy for the same money?

John mostly talks about the physical building process, and I had that funny feeling that sth key was still missing from the equation. If it all came down to following a plan, cutting wood to shape and gluing it together… Then every guitar build that way would be a top instrument…would it not?

So I decided to postpone the tool buying until I would have found the missing elements… And that took some time. In the end I came accross a man called Ervin Somogyi. he has written 2 books (that amazon does not sell :)) . The most interesting one is entitled “the responsive guitar”. Trust me, as a novel they suck even so Ervin tries his best too keep them -well- easy reading (no offense!!). But if you’re interested in this kind of stuff, well in that case, they represent a real treasure chest of rare information…. well explained, clear and (once you’ve read them a few times LOL) sort of understandable even for a novice like myself.

In this book Ervin does not focus on the wood assembling parts so much, but instead he goes into great detail trying to explain what design decisions and fine-tunings are responsible for the sound of the instrument. He spends a lot of energy explaining “why” this is so. Once digested, you start to understand elementary elements of design, and you can appreciate why things are made or done a certain way.

Years of hands-on experience in fine guitar building and fine tuning on 250 pages. Enough to give you headaches ๐Ÿ™‚ and I read it all, a few times. Through his book Ervin got me introduced to “tap tuning” and other concepts like the top vibration modes (the monopole, long dipole and cross dipole vibration modes etc.). what they do, what they are, how they complement each other, and which ones you should strive for to target a given tone or sustain or sound or projection for your instrument.

The master explains it all much better himself in a small video on youtube:

Ervin on his book “the responsiive guitar”

Another 2 videos he posted where you get some insight on what this is all about:

The famous airpump video

and the second part (I never found part 3)

Even so the book focuses a lot on steel-string guitar building sufficient analogy is made to classical guitars where needed. A lot of the principles (this my interpretation) remain valid for both types of instruments. Where differences are fundamental -like when he talks about the bracing patterns, which are totally different for good reasons (which are also explained)- there he talks about both. I do not have the impression that the steel-string focus would have been a disadvantage for my classical guitar undertaking. In any case the doesn’t seem to be a real alternative out there…

Anyways, all ofย  sudden I felt that I understood what the benefits of a asymetrical bracing pattern like the one John uses were, and when or why to stick closer to the traditional Torres style fan bracing patterns. Things like why its a good idea to keep the top a little stiffer in the middle and why it is important to increase flexibility towards the border of the lower bout. (Through reducing the top thickness gradually from the center to the border), and what design considerations will benefit a “far projecting” thus stage optimized instrunentm and what to prioritize if you’d rather prefer the pojection to be more player focused etc. etc.

Here an interesting article about bracing styles and their evolution since Torres:

Various guitar bracings

Another article Eryin Somogyi publishes on his own site

Meanwhile I had also built myself a travel electric nylon guitar. The intention was clearly to get my hands dirty with an (sort of) easier project. Like all electric guitars, it is not much more than a solid piece of wood, glued and cut to shape with some electronics, a fretboard and one or the other elementary design element. Since the complexity of analogical sound creation is just not present, you can really focus on the physical aspects around measuring, sawing and gluing. Before starting the “real” thing I wanted to see if I would be able to make something that looked like a guitar, and that would eventually play in tune. You still need to cut precision fret slots, install the frets, glue the fingerboard on etc. etc. It took me some time, and I think the end-result is actually amazingly good. I posted some pictures here: My electric nylon travel guitar

Maybe I should also mention that I was traveling a lot for work in the past and that I always had wanted one of these travel guitars, but never found one that played like a classical instrument. So in addition to learning about how to use a saw, this was an excellent opportunity to finaly get my hands on a cheap classical travel guitar. (If I wasn’t gonna screw up the sawing, the gluing and the measuring too much that is ๐Ÿ™‚ Quite honestly, I think the result is presentable don’t you think?

But back to Ervin and his amazing book: All those missing answers that had kept me worrying for months were suddenly all there…. the only thing that was still missing was my practical experience in “making it happen”…. And the only way to overcome that…. well… was to give it a try…you unfortunately cannot gain practical experience from reading a book, no matter how often or how hard you try, but you can very well convince yourself that it is in reach…. and doing that I succedded!

Amazing. Don’t misunderstand me. It all remained obscure and foggy, but I was finally convinced enough to cross that line of no return. If i decided to invest the 3k in the tools and the initial set of wood, then there was no way that I would invest another 3k 3 months down the road in the Hanika in case my project wood fail… That was not an option!

As they say: no risk, no fun ๐Ÿ™‚ and that december night before christmas in 2014 I placed my order with LMI.

And the following week-end I drove to Espen wood (near Frankfurt) together with Mike to buy all the tonewood for my firt guitar. (I actually bought enough for 2 just in case I would screw up while trying ๐Ÿ™‚