GUITARMAKING: Tradition and Technology
A Complete Reference for the Design & Construction of the Steel-String Folk Guitar & the Classical Guitar
by William R. Cumpiano and Jonathan D. Natelson 392 pages

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Hardcover edition soon to be republished by Rosewood Press
"...perhaps the finest book on making guitars ever produced."
Guitar Player magazine

" unparalleled treasure"
Fine Woodworking magazine

"...the bible of the craft"
C.F. Martin IV, CEO, C.F. Martin Guitar Company


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Softcover edition published by Chronicle Books

Updates, changes, feedback,
commentary and clarifications
Retrospective thoughts
The history behind the writing of GUITARMAKING.
Headblock dimension typo error in early editions
Upper transversal graft dimension error in early editions
Options for the pinned mortise neck joint
Swapped captions in the classic bracing sizes diagrams
Tips on obtaining rubber rope
Workboard shim clarification
Workboard clamping shoe caveats
Interior fingerboard glueing caul (classic): additional comments
"It says to leave only 1/8" for the nut!"
"Difference between the classic headblock and tailblock heights only 1/8?"
"Where are all the French Polishing details?"
Improved truss rod design


Retrospective Thoughts

Jon and I wrote this book in 1985, and to my great joy and satisfaction, it has become a perennial bestseller, and consequently the standard textbook in the guitarmaking field. It was truly a labor of love, its creation being an enormous challenge, burden and sacrifice (writing the book was like "enduring a protracted illness") but the payoffs have been ample: over the years I have made countless friends and thankful acquaintances as a direct consequence of that effort. Proudly, I have watched the field blossom with a great number of new, fine builders which have "graduated" from the book and from their additional efforts and sacrifices. Together with a burgeoning market for fine handcrafted guitars, these many new builders have entered the field and lifted American guitarmaking into a true Golden Age. I'd like to think that my book has contributed to this resurgence.



Headblock dimension error in early editions

The earliest (hardcover) Rosewood Press editions of the book had a glaring dimension error in diagram 9-6 on page 191 captioned "The mortised headblock three-view (steel string)" It showed the over all height of the headblock as 3 5/8" PLUS  the 1/2" height of the angled cutoff segment on its bottom. People following this would have ended with a headblock on the guitar which was considerable taller than it should be (some folks informed me that they just trimmed it off).  The error was corrected in subsequent editions which properly showed that the overall height of the blank was 3 5/8 BEFORE the 1/2" angled cutoff segment was sawn away--leaving a headblock with its mortised end 3 1/8" in height. For those with the older editions, here's a scan of the corrected version found in the corrected editions and the paperback:

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Upper Transversal Graft dimension error in early editions

In early editions of GUITARMAKING, diagram 7-7b on page 15 showing the "schedule of final finished brace-blank cross sections" has a dimensional error shown for the steel string UTVGFT (upper transversal graft). It shows the width of the graft as being 1". In later editions, this was corrected to show 7/8", after it was realized that the space alloted for it between the headblock and the upper transversal face brace was 1", and you can't fit a 1" object into a 1" hole! 




A new hardware-based neck joint replaces the recommended pinned mortise-and-tenon joint. Easier, better. If anyone wants to argue the merits or demerits of hardware, I'm game. But please don't do so on emotional grounds. I'd rather you'd confront me with hard engineering or acoustical evidence (or even precedents) to bolster your case











A reader discovered swapped captions on the CLASSIC section of diagram 7-7b on page 151. The handwritten legends for "ros.gft (2) 4"L" and "utvgrft (1) 5 1/2" are mistakenly swapped. No profound consequence. These grafts are minor components simply used to "strap" the soundboard fibers together at weak areas, or areas of shear stress, and their precise length or width are not a critical factor in the sound or stability of the guitar.









Readers are complaining that automobile inner tubes for making the rubber rope (for roping the back while glueing it onto the guitar shell) are getting harder and harder to get, and while the book text discourages people from using a truck inner tube (because its "too heavy") it seems expedient to recommend these now--because these indeed are far more common to find since they are not obsolete. Check the Yellow Pages for truck repair shops. You may have to slice the rope into a slightly narrower band than what's indicated in the book, but you'll get a far, far longer strip than if you had used an automobile tube.














The diagram on page 36, figure 3-5b shows a dotted rectangle in the middle of the shim. The text describes this as where a small piece of cork should be glued.The shim supports the transversal face braces right under the workboard shoe. The text does not suggest that in addition, since the lower cross strut is arched, the clearance to the workboard is reduced and thus you should sand that piece of cork until it is thinner by the indicated arch deflection--than the outer cork lining.










I should add the following update comments: You must be careful when tightening down the clamping shoe over these shims. The thumbscrew or bolt must be snugged down firmly but be aware that if you bully the tightening of the clamping shoe, it is entirely possible to collapse the tiny cork rectangles and break something on the top. My concern over this possibility has driven me in recent years to dispense with the corkboard shim altogether, and hollow out the workboard with a scraper blade directly under where the arched lower transversal (CL) or the arch upper transversal and x-brace (SS) is expected. It is a choresome step, but probably better technique in the end. Use the same arch template that you used to arch the brace, as you check your progress while scraping the hollow in the workboard. Extend the scraped area, feathering it up towards where the soundhole would be, and down gently towards where the bridge would be. It should be correct in depth right at the main brace locations, but if it is not strictly accurate to the way the top would flex below or above the main brace(s), it is not critical--because the top plate is resilient and will temporarily distort without harm if the precise curvature of the workboard doesn't precisely match the curvature of the top. But it should match right under the main brace(s).





Confusion has arisen from:diagram 10-16  on page 220 titled "The upper face brace/cross strut caul." it is indeed the upper face brace caul for the steel-string, not the classical, and no distinction is made in the text. A reader building a classic guitar must extrapolate from the text, and use the actual measurements from the instrument to devise the caul for their classical..I will be uploading a classical IFG caul diagram soon at this location.









It says to leave only 1/8" for the nut!!

I'm trying a classical.  I'm in the process of laying out the head block.   It says to measure an 1/8 of an inch from the line where the plane of the head meets the plane of the neck and draw a line.  This to indictate where the fingerboard is to begin.  But the nut's going to be a 1/4 inch thick.  Right?   Shouldn't I leave a 1/4 inch space?

Yeah, it sounds funny, I know. But it makes sense after you read ahead, on Page 63 "Applying Headstock Veneer" and then page 310, Step5-- Classical only: Cutting Back the Nut Slot." Jon's technique was to cut back the veneer AFTER the fingerboard is glued down, in case the board ends up wobbled away a bit after the glue dries. It makes sense, since the maximum thickness nut blanks available commercially come 1/4" thick, and if it wobbles to 1/4+1/32, then you're going to have a bad fitting nut. His procedure avoids this possibility.






The height difference between the classic headblock and tailblock is only 1/16" !!

I'm to the point in your book where I'm geting ready to arch the back on the classical guitar I'm making. I realize that the amount of the arch is much less in the classical, than on the steel string, but I can't figure out how the arch is supposed to look if the tail block is 3 3/4 inches and the head block is pretty close to that, at 3 11//16. If it's just 1/16 this seems small enough so that it could be disregarded. I'm thinking about adding an additional 1/4 to the tail block to provide for a more significant arch. What do you think?

No, don't add any extra height to the tailblock Remember that the 3 3/4" tailblock is mounted on the top, so the starting difference is not 1/16" but more like 1/8" to 3/16". The difference will be exacerbated when you trim the sides down to the proper taper between the two blocks, and then applying the large sanding board. That will apply a slope to the top of the
headblock, and remove yet another 1/8" or so from the front of the headblock. The arch on the classic AND the slope of the back are indeed subtle.






Alas, no French Polishing details...<sob>!!

I have gone through your book very throughly as preparation for my building of a Martin Guitar with their kit. I found the book very well written and extremely helpful.

What I hope to know more about is French Polishing since I don't have the use of spray equipment available to me. Your book has just that one picture on it and it doesn't really describe very much. Can you give me some tips and pointers?

My book never intended to cover French Polishing at length. Because first, I am not a master at it, and second, the directions required are quite lengthy--not that its a long process, but that it takes a lot of space to explain it properly--and the book had reached 400 pages as is. But you have at least two options:



Improved truss rod design

Over the years, I've been using an improved truss rod which has a more massive bearing cap. The cap on the rod design pictured in diagram 4-16  page 55 simply did not grab the top rod adequately, and tended to distort and tip under load. This new design will not distort in the cap area. Wrap the rod with gummed foil as in diagram 4-16