108 – Birth of a Guitar (Part 1 of 3)

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This is a Wood Whisperer first: a series featuring an aspiring luthier, Rick Urschel. Rick takes us through the process of building a classic guitar from a kit available at LMII.com.

This is Rick’s first attempt at a guitar, and as such, I am not presenting this as a “how-to”. Instead, this is just one man’s experience as he works his butt off making a beautiful guitar for his wife. I think you are really going to enjoy it. A special thanks to Rick for allowing me to “Whisperize” his content!

Jump to another part in the series:
Birth of a Guitar Pt. 2
Birth of a Guitar Pt. 3

Music provided by MusicAlley.com:
Mean Gene Kelton and the Die Hards
Brian Mcrae
Ariels CyberPR


Category: Projects

Comments

  1. Tom (http://tomsworkbench.com) December 10, 2009

    Oh, dear god, save us from the Guitar Hero! :-)

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer December 10, 2009

      You’re just jealous of my mad skills. ;)

      • Hoverman December 12, 2009

        So when do we get to see your mad skills on your drums?

        Can we at least get a little bit of The Drum Whisperer???? :)

  2. What a cool video documentary of the process. It’s awe inspiring to watch the guitar come to life and am a bit envious of the skill Rick process in woodworking. Crazy that this is his first guitar he’s building. I can’t wait to see the rest of it!

  3. Jason December 10, 2009

    Nice video. I’m amazed with the range of skills necessary to build something out of a “kit.” He makes it look so easy, yet it’s obviously not.

    Also, it makes me appreciate Marc’s production quality even more. A good microphone can make a huge difference. Or maybe he just needs some tapestries hanging on the walls to reduce the echo.

    •  
      thewoodwhisperer December 10, 2009

      Maybe if Rick and I work together again in the future, I’ll send him one of my extra mics. :)

    • Rick December 10, 2009

      Jason, I agree about the audio. Sorry about that :P

      This was never meant to end up in the hands of professionals like Marc!

  4. First off, I just found thewoodwhisperer site about 2 weeks ago. Great Stuff – keep it up!

    I don’t have the resources to build a full size dreadnaught (acoustic) or solid body (Stratocaster-like). But I have found a great compromise in building cigar box guitars they are much easier to build and play.

  5. JP December 10, 2009

    Great video! I read about the bending iron in FWW but it was very cool to see it done! How about those freehand bandsaw skills! Marc, ever consider building a drum set?

  6. Bryan Huot December 10, 2009

    Rick –
    Fantastic work! It is really coming together. Someday I’ll get to building my own guitar, and it is inspiring watching you work. Can’t wait for the next installment. Hope your wife enjoys the gift!
    Bryan

  7. Caleb Sarty December 10, 2009

    That was a great video. Looking forward to the next installment.

    I’ve never seen the sides done that way before. I’ll have to build my own bending iron and play around with it a bit.

    • Rick December 10, 2009

      Caleb-

      While doing the sides, all sorts of harebrained ideas started popping in my head. I got some crazy ideas for making a jewelry box with curvy sides using the iron. I think it’ll look unique if I can get away without it looking like a bent lamination.

  8. Tim December 10, 2009

    Well, my buddy wanted to know if I could build him a guitar. Now I can tell him no, but I know how! Great vid! Ever consider making yourself a new drumset?

  9. Wow, I’ve seen Luthier videos but they always seem intimidating. It’s great to see someone build their first guitar without going crazy, I’ve wanted to make a Mandolin for a long time and this gives me courage to try. Nice job Rick and cool Idea Marc, maybe we’ll see more user footage whisperized. Can’t wait for part II.
    Brad

    • Rick December 10, 2009

      Brad-

      It’s just like eating a 32 oz steak. It looks intimidating when they bring it to the table, but take small bites, go slow, and be sure to take the rest home in a doggy bag for later!

  10. Dan Drabek December 10, 2009

    What fun,
    Coincidentally, I’m currently in the process of putting the finish on my first classical guitar. I’ve got about 200 hours in the making. (a seasoned luthier can do it in half that time). But it’s nice to see someone else go through the process. There’s nothing magical about making a guitar. Just a lot of time and very careful work. Thanks Marc for sharing Rick’s experience with us. Hopefully it’ll encourage others to try their hand at guitar building. I think it’s one of the most satisfying challenges for the wood craftsman.

    DD

    • Rick December 10, 2009

      Dan-

      Couldn’t agree more! We’re at the same place in the process. I just put the last coat of finish on the body, and this weekend, I’ll be glueing on the bridge. Can’t wait for Saturday!

  11. What a great effort, Rick! It’s a dream of mine to some day build a guitar from scratch – and this is very inspiring to see.
    Calling this a “kit” guitar is a major overstatement – seems like some nicely pre-selected wood, after which Rick is doing all the hard work :)
    Looking forward to the next part in the series.
    p.s. I love the light-bulb bending jig!

    -John

    • Rick December 10, 2009

      John-

      It’s very similar to the ‘kit’ car that my grandfather built. A box of bolts and some sheet metal, but he still called it a kit!

      The nifty thing about lmii.com is that you can specify how much ‘work’ you want done to the pieces before they send them to you, i.e., if you don’t have a bending jig, they’ll bend the sides for you, etc.

      Of course, that would take all the fun out of building yourself a bending jig…

  12. Matt December 10, 2009

    Marc…..you got competition man looks great. Rick ya done good I can’t wait till the second one comes up. Marc get him a PM sponsor and get him up and rollin’. Nice light audio crappy but hey, the content was awesome. Great job you two!!!!! No hurry up with #2 or I will be forced to say…….NI NI NI NI
    Matt

  13. Mac Lyle December 10, 2009

    This is awesome. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the episodes. I’ve always wanted to build a guitar. I bought an old Ibanez steel-string acoustic that had a broken off headstock (I won it on eBay auction for $15 and it cost $25 to have it shipped to me – HA!). I’ve dreamed of one day fixing it right, this video has just inspired me. M

  14. mark williams December 10, 2009

    If I remember it right to whisperize is to infuse with total awesomness.. Well done gentleman. Rick, nice job and send a clip of your wife playing it! Marc as always big pimpin! Can I say that???

    • Rick December 10, 2009

      Mark-

      There is a .1% chance that my wife will play the guitar on video. She just started taking lessons in August, and she’s extremely shy to top it off!

      I’ll keep hoping, though…

  15. Mike Greenwood December 10, 2009

    inspiring.

    very motivating.

    And DAN shhhhhh! don’t talk about the hours, my wife would pull the plug

    great job guys

  16. Rob Cottle December 10, 2009

    Great work Rick – shows what you can achieve when the wife and family suggest something – can’t wait till video 2. Was wondering how much time you had in the process?

    • Rick December 10, 2009

      Rob, I’m decided I would be too depressed if I kept track of how many hours I would spend on this project. The first day I shot video was September 10th. You’ll see in upcoming videos that it gets progressively colder in the shop as I start adding layers (and pants.)

      If I had to make a rough estimate, I would say somewhere in the ballpark of at least 200 hours. I think the next one I do I can cut in half just from all the growing pains!

  17. Joe Watson December 10, 2009

    Love the content and the music played. I like jazz was a trumpet player through high school. also a friend of mine plays guitar this video series peaked my interest because its possibly something I want to try someday. thanks marc.

    Joe

  18. Not being much of a woodworker myself (to be honest I follow you for your affiliation with Scott Johnson) I found the bending to be quite interesting. I had always wondered how that was done, and never would have guessed it was with an iron.
    The guitar looks great so far Rick! And the editing is very well done Marc. Looking forward to part 2!

  19. Dean December 11, 2009

    Inspiring video! Rick, do you think that building the kit guitar is something you would have felt comfortable doing after you had say one year of woodworking under your belt?

    • Rick December 11, 2009

      Dean-

      I suppose it depends on your experience. Although I have about ten years of experience in the hobby, all of my work was done with power tools. Before this project, I had never used a hand plane, so a majority of the work I did on the guitar was completely foreign to me. Many times I felt as if I were starting over from the beginning, and many of the things I encountered made me want to throw the thing out a window.

      Good luck!
      Rick

      • Dan Drabek December 11, 2009

        Rick, the edited video tends to focus a lot on the power tools, but as you know, the majority of the work on a guitar is hand work. The machines can make the major cuts, but what may not be obvious are the hours of chiseling, planing, rasping, filing, sanding, carving and scraping. And there have been plenty of fantastic guitars built in little workshops with no power tools at all–so folks with less well-equipped shops shouldn’t feel discouraged from trying. There is nothing on a guitar that can’t be made by hand. And a lot that can only be done by hand. Like boat building, there aren’t very many straight lines or right angles on a guitar.
        DD

        • Rick December 11, 2009

          Dan-

          I couldn’t agree more! My post did tent to be a bit power-tool heavy, but that was not the intent. The only power tool my father-in-law had when he built his first guitar was a band saw.

          There is something to be said about the people who have the skill, patience, and dedication to make such a challenging project completely by hand. Unfortunately, I am a child of the microchip, and have become accustomed to instant gratification. Such is the direction most of my generation seems to be heading.

        • Dan Drabek December 11, 2009

          I think the fact that you’re making your own guitar rather than going to Guitar Center and buying one tends to make one suspect that you march to the beat of a different drummer.
          Anything that makes the job easier without sacrificing quality is fair game in my book. It is a fact, however that folks were making guitars in the mid 19th century that are as beautifully done as any made today. And someone who has minimal tooling should not feel left out. Even with a shop full of machines, building a guitar is no small achievement. I’ve heard there are guys in Mexico who can build one with a jack knife. (but then, one hears a lot of things. :->)

          DD

  20. Rick,

    That guitar is coming together nicely. Are you using real bone or ivory for the bridge and nut? What type of bridge are you building?
    -Sam Correa

    • Rick December 11, 2009

      Sam-

      I’m pretty sure it’s real bone. It’s got that telltale stink of freshly drilled teeth set on fire when sanded.

      I’m not sure how to answer your bridge question. What are the different types of bridges?

      Rick

  21. Luke December 11, 2009

    I have played guitar on and off for almost 20 years. I would love to build my own guitar. Grizzly offers some kits ranging in price. Has anyone ever done one of these kits?

    • Dan Drabek December 11, 2009

      I’ve never built from one of their kits, but I do know that the owner of Grizzly is a serious amateur guitar maker. So I would guess their kits are pretty well thought out.
      DD

    • Uncle_Salty December 23, 2009

      I have played the guitar for 25 years. My Granddad was a amateur luthier and buit several dozen acoustic and electric guitars, as well as mandolins, violins, etc. In fact, I own the first guitar he built: It is a hollow body electric that resembles a Gibson 335. He told me once that he even “cut down the tree” that he made the body out of on that guitar. Totally priceless! I also have an acoustic that he built in the late 80’s… one of the last guitars he built!

      My Granddad passed away in 1997, and my Granny gave away all of his guitar building jigs shortly before he passed away. Darn the luck!

      I will get around to building them from scratch one of these days. However, I don’t see it happening for several years yet. Just not enough darned time!

      That said, I have built two guitars from Grizzly guitar kits: 1) The $80 Classical Acoustic Guitar Kit, and 2) the cheap Fender Strat kit.

      The instructions for both guitars were pretty good, although the acoustic had a major omission in it that I had to call the service number for clarification. When I mentioned the problem…. there was silence for a good couple of minutes before the guy informed me that I was right and there was indeed an omission! He then asked me if I had worked through the problem and I told them that I had. They asked details and told me that my solution would be included in the updated manual. Haven’t checked back on that one!

      Back to the guitars: The acoustic is my teenage daughters favorite: it is easy to play, sounds good, is ALWAYS in tune, and she is picking up some solid fretting techniques. I would rather students learn on acoustic guitars because you can’t “cheat” on your fingering and fretting.

      I actually bought the electric kit for my middle daughter to build. She had expressed interes in an elelctric, and I thought we could spend some quality time in the shop. A little mistake on my part: My daughter didn’t really have the patience that it takes to do this at the present time. We are creating a nation of texting kids who want everything now!

      That said, the Fender strat knockoff is my favorite practice guitar: it too is ALWAYS in tune, has pretty good action, and has good sustain. The pickups are average, at best. But my guitar set-up knowledge has made this a much better axe than stock.

      All in all… I like the Grizzly kits. You get what you pay for… but I would put both guitars I have assembled from these kits as bargains for the money you spend. In addition, my friends (and students) are pretty impressed with both!

  22. JohnT December 11, 2009

    I liked seeing you use the vacuum bag. I had just read about it in a magazine last week, and thought it was one of those extra contraptions that only editors of woodworking magazines used, or people with huge shops with lots of extra space, so it was cool to see it used in a home shop.

  23. Ray McCon December 11, 2009

    Wow. Thanks for this video, Rick. Like others, I am impressed with your cool use of work skills. The art of Instrument making has always seemed lofty and too far out there for a meager sawdust maker to aspire to. Thanks for walking us through the journey. You are removing a lot (but not all; man that’s nice work) of the intimidation factor by your demonstration. I eagerly await installment number two. I’m headed back to watch the first one again now that the popcorn is ready….

  24. Doug McPherson December 11, 2009

    I’ve not yet read all the comments, but this is REALLY great stuff. Marc- so cool that you would do all that editing and music to document someone else’s project and then promote his work on your site! Rick- fantastic. What a highly valued gift.

    • Dan Drabek December 11, 2009

      I agree. It’s really fun to watch. Marc is an artist with video.

      DD

  25. Hey Rick this is awesome buddy. Loving it so far. We need a shop tour at the end of this. Until then I have a couple of questions. Is that perspex covering your bench? Surely not glass? Also, what camera was you using and were there any additional lights other than the overhead fluros? If just fluros, do you have day lighters in them? I thought the sound was pretty good considering you were using the on camera mic. I hope we’re going to see your own podcast now?

    Can’t wait til the next episode, well done Marc for giving us a peak into someone else’s shop.

    • Rick December 11, 2009

      Tom-

      You can view my shop at http://lumberjocks.com/RickU/workshop/

      The covering on the torsion table is actually a pour-on epoxy. The product they sell in my local home center is called EnviroTex Lite, but I have seen it under different names. I used the pour-on epoxy for a couple of reasons. First, it is self leveling. I put the table where it was to live, got it as close to level as possible, and then applied the epoxy. The surface is very very flat, and very very level. Second, the stuff is really durable. It’s practically bullet-proof, and anything I spill on there wipes right up without any hassle. Third, I can drill holes, drive screws, and make all kinds of marks on it. To fix them, I just mix up a small bit of 5-minute epoxy and it’s like new!

      The camera is a Panasonic HDC-SD9. It’s a solid state HD camera that I borrowed from my dad.

      No additional lights, just overhead fluros. The lights are el cheap-o home center lights. I didn’t know about T8 bulbs until after my shop was built, so a lighting upgrade is low on my list right now. (Keep it a secret, but a little bird told me that Marc had to do some color correcting to the video.)

      I doubt you’ll see my own podcast. It sounds like that takes a whole bunch of time.

      •  
        thewoodwhisperer December 11, 2009

        well maybe if we’re lucky, Rick will film his future projects and allow us to share it with our viewers. :)

      • Thanks Rick. I’d have never guessed it was Poly. Interesting concept, I might try it.

  26. Wim December 11, 2009

    Rick: NICE WORK!
    Marc: Try this :) http://www.airguitarworldchampionships.com/

    Great viewer project! Wanna make my own bass now.

  27. Michael December 11, 2009

    Rick, this is a great idea and I give you mad props for tackling a complex project like this. Thank you for allowing Marc to take your raw footage and editing it for the masses. I really hope your wife enjoys all your hard work.

  28. AnthonyBklyn December 11, 2009

    Wow Marc, I got to tell you, 24 years of playing guitar I never thought to look for video on how to build them. You would think I would be interested in the process, well now I am. I can’t say I could be able to build one being I don’t have the machines to complete it, but it is something to think about in the future. Great job to Rick and you with your video skillz. As for the guitar skillz, hmmmm I don’t know I think ya should stick to them drums. ;) Hey maybe one day you can start a Wood Whisperer band, I’d rock the guitar for ya!

    Can’t wait to see the rest of the videos!!

  29. Chet (http://www.kloss.org) December 11, 2009

    This can only be described in the immortal words of Dick Vitale – AWESOME BABY!!!!!

    Seriously, this is fantastic stuff. Thank you Rick, and Thank you Marc.

    ,,,,,,,,Chet

  30. Jim December 11, 2009

    Rick,

    Really inspiring video – it’s amazing to see this done without any support.

    I’ve been watching folks working at the Red Rocks CC Luthier prgoram in Lakewood, CO . If anyone in the Denver area is looking for some help they might check this out – http://www.wood-shop.org/finewood/index.html. Tomorrow (Saturday 12/12) from 10 AM to 2 PM is the schools’ end of semester open house for all the fine woodworking classes Some pretty amazing student work will be on display.

    Jim

  31. Derek December 11, 2009

    Dang it! Now I have to build a guitar… Thanks a lot!

    Seriously though, I’ve been thinking about doing this for quite some time now. I think this might just be the push over the edge. Thanks!

  32. Jim December 11, 2009

    Nice job cant wait to see the rest of the videos. Your wife should really apreciate the project. does she know you are building it?
    Jim

  33. Apprentice_aka_chris December 12, 2009

    This video is ridiculous and awesome… it’s ridiculously awesome! You do really make it look easy Rick. I applaud this project. I hope to one day tackle something like this. Thanks for the inspiration! Looking forward to the following episodes to come.
    -Chris

  34. Robert Palmeter December 12, 2009

    Very inspiring video.I have wanted to build a guitar but a little intimidated.The kit looks like a good way to start.Now to the LMII site.

    Thanks,Robert

  35. Tony Z December 12, 2009

    Awesome video. This has got me motivated to build one also. I was going to ask about the top on your assembly table but I just found the answer. What is the gridwork under the epoxy finish though?

    • Rick December 13, 2009

      The table is a torsion box, so the ‘grid’ represents the location of the underlying vertical support. I drew the grid on there so I would know where to drive the nails :)

  36. Josh W December 12, 2009

    That bending iron is a great idea. I have heard of all the other ways but the one you made is so simple and looks like you can control it so much better than a flame! wow. great idea!

  37. Gary Bell December 12, 2009

    Great video!

  38. Muddlermike December 13, 2009

    thanks Rick, and thanks Marc for helping him with the production. very inspirational. Lutherie is an art I too aspire to and hope to delve into in the next couple of years. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this!!!

    Mike

  39. Woodfiller December 14, 2009

    WOW!

    This is a really fantastic thing to see. I keep coming back to the idea of building my own guitar…and running madly away from it when I think about the effort.

    You guys have changed that perception with this video. Most other videos I’ve seen tend to focus on the decades of Lutherie apprenticeship required and the misconception that it is something well beyond the scope of an amature woodworker.

    I really appreciate that Marc has the interest and will to branch out on woodworking projects beyond the standard magazine fare….after all, how many sets of plans do you need for cigar humidores?

    Ian

  40. Charles Green December 14, 2009

    Rick,

    Thanks for sharing your process with all of us. I know I wouldn’t want anyone watching my work. Look forward to the rest of it.

  41. Michhes December 15, 2009

    That was fascinating guys–thanks for sharing Rick and Marc for posting! The Viewer Projects, so to speak, really come to life in video and I can’t wait to see more of this series and more along these lines in general. Love your work gents!

  42. Charlie Hallman December 15, 2009

    Not something I would attempt. But it seems that with a bandsaw, jointer, router, and clamps you could make a guitar to be proud of. Nice work!

  43. Vic December 16, 2009

    As many others have said, the video is very inspiring! Rick, where did you find the article on the light bulb bending pipe? I think I’ll take your advice and go visit my cousin who’s a luthier before I try one of these. But, with several guitarist in the family(not me), I’d love to learn this skill.
    I can’t wait for the next episode!

  44. David December 16, 2009

    Excellent video.

    It is amazing what little tips and tidbits you get just from watching someone work on a project.

    Great job guys.

  45. nateswoodworks December 16, 2009

    I don’t know if I will ever build one but I do really enjoy this sidestep from the normal projects to further our imagination. I really love the heat bending with a bulb,I will be trying that soon I just have to figure out what for.
    Nate

  46. Justin December 16, 2009

    Great video… great community contribution. I hope to see more!

    Thanks!

  47. Frank Kovach December 24, 2009

    Loved watching this. The one thing I love most about these kinds of things is seeing somebody and mentally breaking through the “I could never do that kind of stuff” barrier. Now I believe that I could. Now I’d like to see a series on wood musical instruments. Pianos, organs (especially B3’s), drums, guitars, and anything else. Marc could do some, play some, and he could post videos from other people who submit them; it could become it’s own thing!

    Seriously, though, could someone find something on refurbishing old pianos? That’s an industry in itself, but I need to see someone do it so I don’t have to pay thousands for my old Steinway to get done by somebody else.

    • Rick December 24, 2009

      Frank-

      Truth be told, I actually looked into making my own piano. There is zero information available on doing it. After visiting a piano store in Chicago and seeing the mechanism of just ONE key, I knew I would never have the skill to make them all the same, let alone have the time to make all 88 of them, either.

      In the case of your Steinway, PLEASE have someone do it professionally. As I’m sure you know, Steinway is (IMNSHO) the best piano money can buy, whether it was 100 years ago, or yesterday. It should be left in the hands of the pros. My neighbor had her 1905 Steinway professionally refurbished, and it was worth every penny and then some.

      Good luck!
      Rick

  48. nathan December 27, 2009

    Great job Rick. I’ve had all the raw materials to make my own guitar for about 3 years now. I’ve stalled at bending the sides, you’ve given me the motivation to pick it up again!

  49. Toby December 27, 2009

    Hey, this is great, I’m intrigued by the bending iron, how thick were the sides to allow you to form them like that? Would steaming and sandwiching between two formers work too?
    Great vid, thanks Rick and Marc for putting in the hrs.
    T

    • Rick December 28, 2009

      I don’t remember the exact thickness, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of .095″.

      Steaming and forming is certainly another way to do it. (It’s probably the better way to do it, to be quite honest.)

      • Toby December 28, 2009

        Not sure that it’s better, you made the bar method look very effective.
        T

        • Rick December 29, 2009

          The only reason I said that is because the technique was difficult to get perfect. On one of the sides, I ended up with several flat spots where I kept it on the iron for just a bit too long. I have a sneaking suspicion that with a form, the consistency of the curve would be of a higher quality. However, practice will most likely make the bending iron a better option in the long-term.

  50. matt January 1, 2010

    As a guitar player and tinkerer, half the reason I took up woodworking was to some day build a guitar. Learning to build furniture, cabinets, cutting boards and nick-knacks, etc. has been a wonderful detour but this series is inspiring me to pursue my original goal. Thanks Rick!

  51. mattapsitis March 12, 2010

    Great video ! I assume it wasn’t as straight forward as it appeared . Have played the guitar for many years , but only recently started tinkering with wood .Would it be possible to make , ( in theory at least ) using just hand tools , as I have very little in the way of equipment ? many thanks.

    • Matt-

      It’s most certainly possible, and from what I hear, actually really fun. Remember that the guitar has been around a lot longer than electricity, so making one with hand tools is only limited by time. If I had to choose only ONE power tool to use when doing a guitar, it would be a band saw. Just take your time, read all the books you can find, and have fun!

      Rick

  52. michaelh July 31, 2010

    Very impressive.
    Like your band saw and i’m looking at buying one at the moment. Would you recommend any in particular?

  53. Ping W January 10, 2011

    Fantastic Work! If you are interested in Honduran Mahogany, Swamp Ash or Alder bodies, please contact: pingw@nawpi.com
    We bring in 3 to 4 containers of Genuine Mahogany per month graded for guitars. We are starting a block program for electrics and acoustic guitars and we are looking for new customers. Would you have an interest? Our prices are very competitive. We also will be offering Swamp Ash and Alder. Our spreads will be mostly two piece with some three piece. We also offer all above species FSC certified. We will be at this years NAMM show in Anaheim, CA., booth #1249 in hall E. Hope to hear from you. Best Regards,

  54. Jay April 24, 2012

    Loved the intro!!! LOL

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