Building an Acoustic Steel-String Guitar

Updated version here!

The following illustrates the approach I use to build acoustic steel-string guitars. It's intended to be a sort of pictorial journey through the construction of a guitar. It's currently a work-in-progress; I'll add sections as I reach those points in building this season's instruments.

In general, I use the approach described by Irving Sloane in his wonderful book "Steel-String Guitar Construction" (E.P. Dutton and Co., NY, 1975). I've varied from his method in a number of areas (arched top, neck joint, truss rod, etc.), but I still use his wonderful rubber-band gluing jig for joining the top and back to the sides.

I'm currently in a "native American" phase, using native North American woods whenever possible, so many of the woods used in the photographs are non-traditional. For example, the backs and sides illustrated use mulberry and quartersawn red oak, the binding is curly maple, the back braces are walnut and soft maple, and dogwood is used for the bridge plates. The tops are Sitka and Engelmann spruce. The only parts I haven't found good local substitutes for are the fingerboard and bridge, for which I still use East Indian rosewood. I've also been using rosette designs that are inspired by native American pottery and textiles.

The photographs show a number of tools and jigs used to build the guitars shown, but the same steps can be done with less elaborate equipment - using a hand-held jigsaw instead of a bandsaw, a handplane instead of a jointer and planer, etc.

  1. Top and back plate gluing
  2. Mosaic rosette construction
  3. Inlaying the rosette
  4. Brace arching
  5. Bracing the top
  6. Bending and joining the sides
  7. Joining the top to the sides
  8. Bracing the back
  9. Joining the back and the top-side assembly
  10. Binding the body
  11. Constructing the neck blank
  12. Cutting the dovetail joint
  13. Carving the neck
  14. Constructing the fretboard
  15. Attaching the neck and fretboard to the body
  16. Applying the finish
  17. Fabricating and attaching the bridge
  18. Fretting
  19. Final assembly
  20. The result