Building an Acoustic Guitar
Chapter 1 - Parts And Pieces
What's In The Kit The first thing that you need to do is to identify all the parts of the kit. In the standard kit you will find all parts needed to build a guitar. An itemized list is often found in the instruction booklet or some other form. For those that are going to purchase their own parts I will include a list of a Martin dreadnought kit. Sides - one pair Ribbing - usually cedar Bracing - there is a set for the top and bottom Blocks - neck and tail Soundboard and back Pickguard Bridge and Saddle Pins - for the strings and strap Bridge Plate Neck and Truss Rod Fingerboard, Nut, and Frets Pearl or Herringbone - depending on kit Tuners Binding Material - either plastic or wood Purfling Side Braces - thin pieces of wood While this is a dreadnought, most other kits will have similar lists. I will explain the different parts and what they do.
Sides When you look at the sides you should look for cracks, holes or any damage that may need to be addressed before building. You must identify the top from the bottom and the right from left. Lay the set on something flat and you will quickly find the flat or top side. You can mark this with masking tape or a piece of chalk. Set them on their side, flat side to flat side and note that the length and curvature match. If the match looks fine you can get ready for assembly.
Ribbing This is the strips that look like so many door stops lined up in a row. It is usually made of cedar but I have seen other woods used. You are checking that there are no holes and cracks, or any flaws that will weaken the guitar body. You will attach this to the sides after they are assembled with yellow carpenters glue. Clothes pins make great clamps for this part of building.
Bracing The bracing set consists of a number of pieces depending on the pattern used by the kit. There is X braced, scalloped, A frame, fan style. All the bracing is doing is allowing the most efficient use of material for the strings to transmit the sound. Today's X bracing was developed by C. F. Martin in the 1800's and was the discovery that made today's modern steel stringed instruments possible. A number of variations were created. The other style that uses the X form of bracing with a modern twist is the A frame. The name comes from the A pattern of bracing at the neck area. Again this is determined by your kit.
The X bracing set will have: the pair of X bracing, either scalloped or not; a few tone bars that will tie into the X brace pattern; a set of bracing for the neck area; a bridge plate and a few smaller pieces that will reinforce the sound hole. In the Standard X bracing pattern the top will have a total of 11 pieces. The bottom is straight forward with 4 pieces that will brace the bottom and some cross grained bracing to support the glue joint. Please note that the bracing set does have a slight radius designed into it to maintain a convex shape. Both the top and back have this, even if it is ever so slight. Blocks The blocks are usually Mahogany or some kind of laminated stock. Your block must have pattern that matches your style of bracing. So make sure you understand the patterns of bracing you have by reading the instruction book and reading the blueprint that is included. Often times there is a radius on the blocks where the sides are attached. Also note the match of the blocks to the sides. They are usually a little over sized and that is normal. It is a good time to mark the centers both top and bottom for future reference.
Soundboard And Back Now examine the top and back pieces. Sometime both need assembly. Sometimes only the bottom. If assembly is needed check for the bookmatch and mark with a pencil. Also check for the jointed edge. This is the edge that has been trued. In the case of the back it will be where the purfling will be used to join the back sections together.
Neck The neck is sometimes assembled but often times not. If the neck is in pieces you are going to check for defects of the neck blank and that all the parts needed for the neck are present . You need the blank, truss rod, fingerboard, fret wire, tuners, pearl dots, (if not on the board) and edge dot material (usually a strip of white or black material). If the neck is a bound neck there will be a set of bindings for it. You can tell the fingerboard binding from the guitar binding by the width of it. The wider binding is the fretboard set.
The truss rod will have a black carbon fiber strip, and a side that is masked off. This is the side that goes down into the groove in the neck. The fiber strip goes on top between the rod and fingerboard. The neck blank will have 2 dowel pins that align the fingerboard to the centerline. Be sure they are there and not holding the fingerboard off. Dry assemble the neck and check for fit.
Binding This is the material that is used to cover the edges of guitar tops and backs, and to set it off. It is usually a plastic material and comes in white, black, ivoroid, or tortoise shell. Also there will be small pieces that are used as trimming of the binding so be sure and study the instructions carefully. Wood bindings are also available in some cases and will often be pre shaped. Herringbone is an example but is used as a decoration in conjunction with other bindings on the top. Pearl will sometimes be used, but the binding material for that is often teflon or some other not adhering plastic that will be removed after the friezing and binding process. A wedge shaped piece is for the tail joint.
Purfling This is a strip that is used to separate the backs 2 or 3 parts. They come in many combinations and are quite simple to rather elaborate. They are glued between the back pieces with regular white glue. Be sure they are as thick as the backs, or at least close. If they are too thin you will have a lot of sanding to do and that will weaken the back.
Tuners Most tuners are assembled but check them for all the screws and hardware. If anything is missing contact the kit supplier and call for replacements.