Any Amateur Luthiers?

Hi everyone,

One thing I learned about Luthiers, is that they are like any other professionals - there are good ones and there are bad ones. I seemed to get more than my share of bad ones and got tired of feeling like I was wasting my money. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn the trade, so to speak. I bought some Luthier tools off of Amazon for about $50, a $20 Squire Bullet that looked like it had seen every college dorm east of the Big Muddy and went at it. Oh yeah - YouTube Videos -lots and lots of You Tube.
That was about 8 months ago or so. What I learned is that many of the things I would never have attempted before (intonation, fret dressing etc) are, with the right tools and approach, actually straightforward and doable.
I’ve gotten respectable results and with that gradually moved on to more serious stuff. The most challenging I’ve done so far is leveled and dressed frets, but I’ve also straightened necks, adjusted saddles, bridges and nuts to spec, etc. I’m always open to tips, resources or just conversation. Here’s the finished Bullet. (Of course it doesn’t help that I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo… :roll_eyes:)

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Looks great! I have had fun with guitar tech as well. That bullet looks great and I bet it plays well! Even more “your” guitar now, so what is not to love?

A local luthier to me has acoustic guitar building classes. He told me most students end up playing the guitars they built over bought models that are much “better”, because the guitar they built is the guitar they love.

I took a beat up old strat and replaced the electronics, bridge, adjusted the pickups, and yanked all the frets and put new ones on. All without buying tools! Of course, I have too many tools to start with. No significant nut work, though.

On my steel string, I have fixed a saddle, but paid to get the nut done.

I also have taken a classical and cleared and glued a bunch of dehydration cracks. I just hope no one which any knowledge looks under the hood of that one. What a hack job. Worked though and the guitar plays fine.

Mostly I do routine maintenance, like truss rods and the like, and since I am moving away from electric, I won’t do more of that.

You tube has been super helpful! But some things seem scary even when the guitar is worth so little it doesn’t matter if you mess up.

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Nice to make your acquaintance…

Fret work as you describe is pretty ambitious for me - but I applaud the skill and craftsmanship it takes to take on such a task. I’ll likely stick to routine stuff, but there is no doubt about the ‘fear factor’ you mention. It’s worth it to me because it’s as you say in the end it all yours, just the way you like it. A side perk is that through tinkering, I’ve come to regard guitars differently and appreciate them on an entirely new level. (I’m reminded of John Hiatt’s “Perfectly Good Guitar”). It’s really added an unforeseen and interesting dimension to my playing experience.

Do either of you, or for that matter any others with some experience (@TheCluelessLuthier) know anything about what it takes to rescue a guitar that has caved?
I have a '70s Dorado (Japanese Gretsch) that I have had since high school. It never had ‘loving care’ and the press board case rotted away many years ago. Much of the guitar is still in decent shape, but when I took it to a Luthier to see if the action could be lowered, he said the guitar had caved and there wasn’t a cost-effective way to salvage it.
Well, my labor is cheap and I am thinking of having a go at it. I am an accomplished woodworker but guitars are not something I have any experience with.
Advice?

Has the guitar been exposed to a dry climate for a long while?
I’m no expert, but I’ve learned from Taylor that long term exposure to low humidity can cause a guitar top to cave. If this is the case, (big if) it can be reversed by carefully and slowly re-introducing moisture via an instrument humidifier designed for such a purpose. You shouldn’t have to look too far to find something that works for you. The best part is that it’s low expense no grunt work involved. Good luck

Hey guys, I really just started building acoustic guitars early this year. I just finished my 2nd StewMac kit and found that I love it. I’ve decided to make that my main retirement hobbie. I am redesigning my shop and buying & building tools and jigs to start building from scratch. These are the only ones I have done the fret work on. I will probably double check my work on the first one after being much more confident with the second. I have watched a crazy number of youtube videos. In fact, watching some done by Driftwood Guitars got my interested in the first place. I have never dealt with a caved neck, but I agree that you should make sure it is properly hydrated first. At least you will have taken that off the table. I also recommend checking out the Amatuer Acoustic Luthier Facebook page. They have helped me with a number of questions. I usually start getting replies within a couple of hours. If nothing else, this will be an adventure and you will undoubtedly learn a few things. If you have woodworking experience you will be in good shape. Just take you time with it. I’d like to hear how you make out.

Pictures would help, but it may need a new sound board. Which could be done, but would be a ton of work.

Maybe with heat, you could work off the soundboard and see if you can fix or flatten it, but some things aren’t worth the trouble.

See what the website for amateur luthiers has to say.

Edit: my spell check corrected “amateur” to “a mature”….so yes, that too.

Hi Gary, good hobby/ pastime. Should you require any suggestions concerning anything guitar related a very good site to check is ‘knowyourgear.com’. The guy is not a luthier but has worked on guitars for years and has lots of how to vids.

@Jamolay;
Thanks - it cleaned up pretty good and now plays as it was meant to. I’ve worked mostly on electrics, but starting to play acoustic more and want to be able to care and service them properly also. I’m a rookie and don’t have a ton of tools, and much more a fearless (but cautious) tinkerer than a wood craftsman so I buy tools and learn trade tricks as needed. The Bullet was a good learning project and you are right - the bond that comes with bringing a guitar back to life is the payout. Interestingly, through these projects, I’ve come to really appreciate all guitars regardless of brand-name or perceived quality, even the likes of bottom-end Bullets. It really does ‘break my heart’ to see how some are thrashed, and I see no ‘romance’ in it at all.
This hard-to-find1967-68 hollow-body Kent (Kawai) was purchased at auction. It was part of a large collection that included drool-worthy Martin, Taylor, Alvarez, Gibson and Fender guitars as well as mandolins, banjos, violins, amps etc. It appeared to have been sitting in it’s original case, apparently untouched for maybe 20-30 years. After some necessary fret and neck work, action adjustments, a gentle cleaning and new strings, it plays like whipped cream tastes and has quickly become my ‘new favorite’. Pretty sexy, huh…?


I’ve never heard of dehydration cracks, and would like to see a pic of the ‘hack job’. I don’t know about you, but for better or worse, my mistakes are the first thing I see in a finished project. Sigh…
As for truss rods, I’m to understand that the same adjustment principles and processes apply irregardless of electric/acoustic, providing there is one to begin with.
@Malz;
Thanks for the tip - I have used Stew-Mac quite a lot - that old guy is like everybody’s favorite grandfather! I’ve gotten some good leads to resources from other responders and always looking to expand my knowledge resource library,
@TheCluelessLuthier
I was to understand that it was the sound board had caved on Robert’s Dorado - perhaps I misunderstood. An over-relieved neck can be corrected. Some require a more intense approach than than others, depending. But if it’ is the soundboard and if it’s because of exposure to low humidity, I’d try introducing moisture first because it’s relatively non-invasive, effective and low cost.
On a separate note, I applaud you for your new direction. (“When passion meets ability, expect a masterpiece” - John Ruskin). The design possibilities are endless. I bought a Stew-Mac Strat once and wanted to carve a design into the body, but had too much going on and never got around to it. Maybe someday…Think about sharing some pics of your projects at various stages of completion. And finally, thanks for the site suggestions - you can never have too many!

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The “hack job”:



It really wasn’t terrible, just about 6 cracks some along the bracing. Payed $200 for the guitar. Would have been $800 plus without the cracks. The patina makes me unworried about abusing it. The finish took a hit though. I am not skilled at that.

@Papa_g The sound board is what I understood also. Here are pictures of my first 2 “children”. I actually put the builds on a YouTube channel. That is where ‘The Clueless Luthier’ tag name came from. I believe in truth in advertising. :wink: The first is a 12 fret 000 and the second is a 14 fret OM.


You are way too modest…These are exquisite. And nothing to be ashamed about the ‘hack’ job - finish blemishes or not. I’m guessing that’s one sweet-playing and sounding piece.

Those are some pretty guitars! You should be proud and I am jealous! How do you like the 12 fret? My brain wants one, but (silly brain) I have never played one.:man_facepalming:t3:

Thanks, I am really happy with them and they sound incredible. The advantage of a custom build is that you can make them more responsive than a manufacturer can. They don’t know how they will be treated so they have to overbuild them. I do have to be more careful on the finish if I am going to sell them though. I am hoping my shop remodel and some new tools will make it easier to do. I am really getting into the inlay work which surprises me. It gives them an individual character.

Thanks, the 12 fret has a very nice sustain and I think would cut through a mix well. It is good for fingerstyle which I really enjoy. I was pretty daring for a first guitar in thinning and voicing the top. I paid off in the responsiveness.

Wow! So fun, except one thing I have learned is that although I am technically savvy and can fix and do a lot, I have no ability to be fastidious and finish work, anything fine and precise and I can make a mess of it.

I will probably buy my guitars….

I understand completely. I am not detail oriented by nature, it is something I am striving to learn. It turns out that this is a pretty good avenue for that.

I have watched Phil quite a bit, and I agree that he is very knowledgeable. He also knows the business of guitar sales very well.

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Setting up a guitar is something every guutar player should be able to do after restringing. Everyone has their own personal preferences and let’s be honest, it’s too expensive to have someone else do it.

Changung the frets is a level further, or at least it seems like that to me.

Your guitar looks nice @Papa_G

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Beign able to build and repair guitars is amazing and even the first, basic things are useful as a “regular” guitarist. It helps you find what’s wrong and sometimes just fixing it yourself as you go!

In my (on this Community strongly propagated) opinion, a guitarists should know

  • how to tune
  • how to change string and know when to do so.
  • how to determine if intontation is off and how to fix it
  • how to feel that the action on a string is off and know how to adjust a saddle
  • lubricate the nut
  • determine wheter nut slots are wide or deep enough.
  • find the reason for string breakage
  • clean body and fretboard.
    determine whether the neck is straight and in the right position + bowing correcly
  • know the deal with the action on the 12th string versus the rest of the guitar (bow)

If you know the stuff above, you can take the basic parts of a guitar apart, put it back together and do a (sub)average setup :smiley:

This is my guitar. There are many like it but this one is mine :wink:

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