Who said, "If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles"?
Well, the answer is at the end of this month's journal. Many of you may not know of Carl Perkins and, to understand the influence of his song writing and music, one has to turn today's musical pyramid upside down_ with the point on the bottom. Perkins and a few others make up that point which came together due to a collision of musical styles in the 1950's... i.e. when the Beatles were coming together across the pond_ as they say. This page is not to be a history lesson but the quote above came from someone who recognized the appeal of Nashville/Memphis music to the young audiences of Liverpool and elsewhere. Perkins was about 10 years older than the Beatles.
Back to Guitar Building__
Last month we ended with the assembly of several boxes and the initial routing of the binding channel (rabbet), or ledge to accept the binding and perfling. The routing is not a casual undertaking as many hours have been spent to this point in manufacturing and assembling the various parts of guitar box. A slip of the router in this process would be disaster. The router that is pictured here is actually a laminate trimmer and weighs about 4 pounds. The power is rated at 5.6 amps. It operates at one speed, 30,000 rpm. There are many good, small routers on the market. The website noted below provides a review of the most popular brands.
There are a few characteristics to keep in mind when buying a router for cutting the binding rabbet. It should be light and balanced in your hand. It should have a tilt base which is necessary on the back of the guitar but not the top (of a flat-top guitar). You might have to fashion a skid plate that is wider than the one that comes with a standard machine. Note the clear plexiglass plate in the photo above. This allows plenty of room for your hand to keep the plate flat on the surface which should provide a cut that is perpendicular and square to the plate. The upper bouts of the back are a bit of a different story as the back is arched and you will need to compensate for that in the router set up in order to keep the rabbet square to the side. That's when a tilt base is handy.
Remember, there are two ledges to be cut, one for the binding and one for the perfling. Your perfling selection will have to coordinate and fit into the back strip. It may require hand work in mitering multi-line perfling to meet the back and butt strips. Also, some nice things can be done by incorporating continuous perfling into the heel cap. Be sure to have a design in mind before the binding is cut. If there is no perfling (which is the easiest thing to do), the edge binding and the back strip can just be butted (most manufactured guitars are built this way). Take a look at some of your favorite guitars the next time you are in a music store. There is no harm in copying, or modifying a design that you like.
Routing of the binding and perfling rabbets, most likely, will have to be terminated before it reaches the back strip in order to hand-miter multi-line perflings into the back and butt strips.
A routing set up that can be variable in both depth of cut and width of cut requires the cutter and rollers pictured below. These are available from a number of supply houses (Luthier's Mercantile International, Stewart Mac Donald, etc). The cutter remains fixed in the router. By changing the diameter of the roller, the depth of cut (into the guitar) can be controlled. The width of the cut is controlled by raising or lowering the router base, thus exposing more (or less) of the cutter.
Pictured below is a beautiful example of perfling as an artistic embellishment. (photo courtesy of LMI website).
One of the guitars that I am working on features a cutaway. These add a bit to the challenge of assembling the sides of the guitar. The box will now have three blocks to hold it in shape instead of two, and a short section of rosewood must be bent to a tight diameter to complete the cutaway. The techniques for bending wood vary depending on the luthier's experience and equipment. Woody's method is old school (bend it over a copper pipe) mixed with some new tech in that I now lay an electric heating blanket from the LMI side bending rig to heat the rosewood. A picture is worth a thousand words
Thickness the Cutaway side section to ~0.070" (dampen)
Clamp a Copper Pipe to your work bench
Lay Heat Blanket (orange) over the pipe
Moisten the Rosewood and wrap in aluminum foil
Heat to ~290F, Bend Slowly
Clamp in place to cool and set overnight
Right now, Woody has five guitar boxes and necks roughed out and ready to start on the long stretch toward completion. For the boxes, the next step is binding and sanding. For the necks it is the installation of truss rods and the building of fretboards. Fretboards involve some delicate moments and precise cutting for the installation of frets and mother of pearl position markers. The necks and bodies are joined before the fretboard is glued to the neck.
Joining the neck to the body is probably THE most critical process in the construction of the guitar. Essentially, a guitar is a stick and a box that are joined. The joint must withstand a stress of 160-190 pounds from the moment that the guitar is strung and throughout its unpredictable life.
The completion of the acoustic box is a major milestone in the construction of the guitar. Once the neck is attached and the fretboard is in place, the final carving of the neck and headstock can proceed. Joining of the neck and fretboard to the body represents the beginning of the home stretch in the guitar making process.
LUTHIERY FOR PROFIT (just a note)
Building stringed instruments by hand in a small shop is an expression of art and taste. Simultaneously, that expression of art and taste is what you put into the luthiery process and it is also what you get outof the process. There's no way one is going to get rich doing this. So many skills are involved in guitar making that it's difficult to list them all. Endurance and constant attention to detail are essential regardless of the distractions of life. Most of us are not into guitar making with the goal of becoming the next production manufacturing business.
That being said, the first guitars that you make, if they come out OK, you should sell cheap... or (better yet) give them away. Later you might be able to break even on the cost of materials. Finally, when your shop can consistently produce 20-25 guitars per year, building guitars might be profitable.
A month or so from now this journal will explore the techniques of binding the guitar box, installing the truss rod and creating the compound dovetail joint which holds the neck to the body.
Take care and keep the music playing.
The answer to this month's question:
Who said, "If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles." The answer is,
Binding Ledges Routed
Lutherie for a Living