Saturday, August 22, 2015

Guitar Building Diary Pt.1

Hello everyone, today we're hosting the first part of the guitar building diary of an artisan luthier from Città di Castello (Italy), in which he will describe the process behind the creation of a guitar from scratch!

Here Luigi Valenti from Unique-CustomGuitars, I handcraft custom and numbered electric guitars under request; I've been asked from Atoragon to write a little diary, following each step of the construction process wich brings from a chunk of wood to a proper instrument, with a beatiful sound, perfectly setted and which satisfies its owner's musical needs.

By the way, this is not meant to be an online tutorial on how-to-build a guitar, I'm not a teacher and also it will take much more than a single little diary to fulfill all the topics and building methods; I'm here to show you what's behind the planning and building of a brand new instrument made by an artisan, and to give you some advices on tonewoods properties and on how the components of a guitar affects its tone, with the aim to help you choosing your next guitar with a little bit more of knowledge-on-what-you're-going-to-buy (hopefully!).

So, let's start! This is the building process of the Unique #004:

This time I've been asked to build a seven string guitar with a fenderish sound and shape (Stratocaster); the customer has also made some other request:
  1. A neck shape as close as possible to a Fender Stratocaster neck.
  2. Maple neck and fretboard.
  3. Scratchplate.
  4. Tremolo bridge.
  5. Half-scalloped fingerboard from XII to XXIV fret.
  6. Possibility to switch from humbucker to single coil.
Nice! I've already have some ideas...

I would never stop writing on this topic, so I'll be very simple, but hopefully not banal: to a certain type of wood that you choose corresponds a certain sound that your guitar will have. How big is the difference? It depends. Let's say that roughly the wood affects from the 30% to a 40% of your total guitar sound, the rest is done by the hardware, frets, nuts, string type and gauges, electronics, and obviously the pickups, which are the biggest players in this equation.
Now, speaking about bolt-on and set-in constructions, of this 30-40% the main work is done by the neck, this because the strings vibrate for a 70% of their lenght over the neck itself, so the string vibrations are transferred mostly here, instead of the body! If you take a neck-thru body construction you'll then have that basically all the strings lenght is over the neck wood (or woods!) and the two body wings and eventually the top (if thick) will affect the final tone in a much minor percentage.

You also have to know that wood acts as a passive equalizer, in other words it cuts out some frequencies of a given vibrating string. What frequencies are cut out depends on the type of wood, basically we could say that hard woods have a tendency to cut out the low frequencies, giving a bright sound and good attack (hard maple) while a soft wood such as basswood cuts highs and some middles, giving a bass sound and a not-so-clear attack; then there are woods such as mahogany (wich I love) that are pretty much neutral, but with a tendency to boost low frequencies, which gives a good attack and sustain, with a very warm sound...
I should stop here because it could become a very long topic.
Other characteristics that should to be kept in mind are the elasticity coefficient (this is very important on acoustic and classic soundboards, for istance) and the amount of resin and oils (rosewood has a darker sound compared with ebony not only due to its lower density, but also because it's an oil-rich wood).

With all this (and so much more) in mind, lets see what we can do for #004: as I said before the customer wanted a fenderish sound, and his choice to have a maple fretboard and neck are coherent with his whishes; as I do like high figured woods, I'll go for a flamed maple neck and fretboard. Plus we have to keep in mind that flamed maple could be a little bit unstable, compared with classic hard rock maple, and the added tension due to the seventh string might make things even worse. 
To avoid problems, I'll go with a 3 pieces laminated flamed maple neck; remember that a laminated neck (if properly glued) is always stiffer, stronger, and more stable than a single piece neck, this because on a ply-neck the single parts are glued togheter in a way that each piece balances the tendency to move of the others.

                         an example of not yet glued laminated neck taken from the internet

What about the body? If I'd be scholastic, I should go for an alder or ash body, but I want something very special: some month ago I have found a beautiful one piece flamed maple body blank that would be perfect for this situation, so we'll have an all flamed maple guitar! 
Talking about the sound, this brings to a brighter sound than a standard Strat', but we will compensate this with the pick ups choice and an accurate selection of the wiring components. Also remember that a single body piece (especially if highly figured) could be very unstable; to avoid this, the blank I have chosed is very old, and it has been left to dry for more than 10 years, giving it the time to stabilize properly; so in this case, there won't be any problem.

Good! The wood has been chosen, next time we'll talk about the construction method, pick ups and wiring, and shape, then we can start with the real work!

See ya, and check out my brand new page !!

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