Building a Steel-String Acoustic Guitar

The following illustrates the approach I use to build acoustic steel-string guitars, as a pictorial journey through the construction of a guitar. Each step is described and illustrated with photographs of the process; the chapters start with the gluing of the top plates and end with the stringing and setup of the finished guitar. The final chapter has photographs of one of the guitars used to illustrate the build steps. Other examples of guitars built using these techniques can be seen here.

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 many of his methods, including 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 use the traditional 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. However, a good familiarity with woodworking techniques in general and with wood as a material are key to undertaking the building of an instrument.

Many additional resources for guitar builders are available on my Lutherie Resources page.

Building a Steel-String Acoustic Guitar

  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

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