First Time StewMac Kit Builder

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I have enjoyed composing original solo acoustic guitar pieces for many years, and dabbled with instrument repair for years while I was in College (’89 – ’93). I am new to instrument making, and wish to document my current project and my LINT membership experience as I feel it may benefit others who wish to begin instrument making.

When I recently decided to begin making guitars, I decided to do two things – join LINT to gain insight and perspective, and begin with a ‘starter’ kit from Stewmac.

I chose the rosewood bolt-on Dreadnaught kit.

I chose the bolt-on kit because I have no desire to wrestle with a dovetail joint. My favorite acoustic guitars are typically Taylor guitars, and they don’t use dovetail joints so I felt I was in good company with my choice of neck joints. I’m also very curious about the intriguing neck-joint advancements that Chris Jenkins showed at the October ’04 LINT meeting. What and eye-opener!

Anyway, back to the kit…
Waist Clamp holding sides to the inner cardboard form. The video supplied with the kit really separates the Stewart MacDonald kit apart from the rest. This is a great guide and brings a level of sanity to the project. First I started by gluing the sides to the neck and tail blocks. Then, I installed the kerfing. I did this exactly like the instructions guided. Here you can see the waist clamp that holds the sides to the inner cardboard form.
Not many tools needed here at all up to this point. Just some glue, clothespins, clamps, etc.

For the soundboard bracing, I deviated from the instructions a little. During the June LINT meeting Bob Harris showed me his Go Bar clamping system. It made so much sense, and seemed like such a ‘no-brainer’. Having seen it, I just couldn’t see any reason not to use a Go Bar right from the start on this Stewmac kit. I found a fellow that sells the dishes on ebay for a very reasonable price. I then went to Into the Wind on the advice of Chris Jenkins (June ’04 meeting) and purchased the fiberglass rods and rubber tips. I fashioned a Go Bar ‘ceiling’ from plywood and attached it to the bottom of the shelves just above my workbench. The make shift Go Bar system was a snap!
 Go Bar System
I learned during this process that it would be wise to use little cauls on the braces as the fiberglass rods have enough force to mar the surface of the brace. Not that big of an issue here in that the soundboard bracing is not visible once the guitar is complete. Also, a little sandpaper took care of most of the blemishes without issue.
Gluing the Sound Board to the Sides Next I glued the soundboard to the sides. The Stewmac kit makes construction as easy as possible. They guide the builder to create a cardboard inner mold. I do not think I will use this method in the future. Either the universal workboard or an outer mold would be easier in my opinion because keeping the kit ‘square’ would be greatly simplified. The Sound Board Attached to the Sides
If you are sitting there just waiting to start your first project, trust me – you can do it! Just start!

If you’re new to instrument making, I strongly encourage you to learn from others. Books are good, videos are better, but nothing beats a LINT meeting! I value the meetings because I can learn from the many years of experience and discovery that the more senior builders have to offer.

For example, in the short time that I’ve been part of LINT, I’ve had some extremely beneficial education. Bo Walker gave me some great insight into how to trim braces for tonal enhancement; Chris Jenkins showed me an innovative, infinitely adjustable neck joint; Bob Harris showed me the value of a GoBar system; Dan Fobart showed me his router arm for a laminate trimmer for binding and offered to help me make one of my own; Moses McKnight walked me through his inlay process; Ken Sribnick explained his joining technique; Bo Walker showed me an excellent way to easily finish an instrument and the value of keeping an instrument light. Plus, I’ve had the opportunity to play finished Bo Walker and Chris Jenkins instruments which both blew me away! It’s just proof that there are true masters at these LINT meetings and I listen very closely to their suggestions and advice.

When I played Bo and Chris’s instruments, I came to realize something important that is of educational value in itself… Master-crafted instruments have no equal. In other words, there is nothing at Guitar Center that even comes close – even the highest end Martin, Taylor, Larrivee guitars just don’t sound as good. This is not something that can be learned by reading my words…it must be experienced. My primary instrument up to this point has been a Taylor, so this is somewhat humbling. My Taylor is nice, but it honestly doesn’t hold a candle to the instruments that I played from Chris and Bo. Here’s a picture of me stunned and amazed at how Chris’s guitar just vibrated in my hands:

The value of handcrafted instruments goes far beyond flashy wood and ornate inlay. Hand crafted, master-built instruments are built expressly for tonal value that exceeds all graspable conception. It must be heard to be believed.

I hope this has been helpful, and I will give updates as the project progresses.

-Andy Avera