Making an Archtop guitar (my way!) Part 1
It was the 7th guitar that I made and it was built during my second year at the London College of Furniture. I got the guitar out of storage the other day to help me with the design of the hybrid, I can’t believe that I made this 30 years ago when I was 19
At the time two other students Bill Dinsdale and Mark Lacey were also making archtops. Herbert Schwarz, our tutor had a great deal of experience in building this type of guitar, when Bill and I had completed ours, Herbie arranged for the jazz guitarist Ike Isaacs to try them. I can’t remember his reaction, but needless to say it was quite a thrill for both of us.
One of my favourite parts of this guitar is the art-deco styled tailpiece.
It was all hand made by me out of brass and then gold plated. I can remember taking the brass tailpiece to be plated, somewhere in the East End, long before it was full of bars and art galleries and the guy asking me how many microns thick did I want the gold? I didn’t know anything about microns so I asked for ten quids worth! That must have been a good amount as it’s still in mint condition with no signs of corrosion. You’ll notice that the Nava “N” has changed a bit!
Anyway back to this one, after much thought and research I produced some full-size drawing to work from. Robert Benedetto’s book Making an Archtop guitar is invaluable for anyone wanting to build this type of instrument; I wish he had published it 30 years ago! There are also some great articles in the Big Red Book series published by the Guild of American Luthiers.
I joined the top a while ago, so the next step was to get the underside completely flat, even though this will be hollowed out later, it must be flat around the edges, where it will be glued to the sides. Having flattened the bottom it's turned over and planed down to the overall thickness. It makes me laugh when people talk about going to the gym, just plane up some wood; it’s great for upper body development! Many archtop specialists use a 3D pantograph machine for these roughing out stages. Hey, but when I say that my guitars are handmade guitars, I mean it!!
The following sequence of photos show how the shape emerges from the initial wedge of wood.
Now the outside is done, I’m going to put this aside for a couple of weeks. Two reasons; firstly so that I can come back to it with a fresh set of eyes and decide whether or not I want to modify the profile and secondly to let the wood “rest” and stabilised to its environment now that a large amount of its mass has been removed. I’ve no doubt that building a guitar over a long period of time improves the stability of the wood once the guitar has been completed.