Guitar manufacturing

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Gibson Les Paul 03.jpg

Guitar manufacturing is the use of machines, tools, and labor in the production of electric and acoustic guitars. This phrase may be in reference to handcrafting guitars using traditional methods or assembly line production in large quantities using modern methods. Guitar manufacturing can also be broken into several categories such as body manufacturing and neck manufacturing, among others. Guitar manufacturing includes the production of alto, classical, tenor, and bass tuned guitars (with classical being the most widely used tuning).

Contents

A luthier is a person who has learned the craft of making string instruments including guitars, generally on a very small scale.

History

Form and Materials

The guitar has been played for hundreds of years, since evolving from the Lute and the Vihuela. The earliest guitars were made almost entirely out of wood, with some using animal intestines for strings and frets. Materials have become easier to obtain over the past 200 years. As a result, guitars are currently made out of materials that better suit their intended use. Frets and strings, for example, are now almost exclusively made out of metal, which is much longer lasting and more ideal than organic material.

Tools and Process

The earliest guitars were not designed for mass production. Each guitar produced was a unique instrument artfully crafted by its luthier. This practice was common until the turn of the 18th century when the powers of the world experienced the Industrial Revolution.

While early mass production of guitars dramatically increased the number of guitars in circulation, each instrument was still handcrafted by a single or team of luthiers. For luthiers who still choose to handcraft their instruments, methods have changed very little over the past 500 years. As more advanced tooling options become available, however, less of the work in manufacturing a guitar is necessary to complete by hand. Handcrafting guitars is a time and labor-intensive method of production. Some common tools used by luthiers today are a Band saw, Drill Press, Table Saw, Stationary Sander, Jointer, C Clamps, Sanding Board, Column Sander, Power Planer, Dovetail Saw, Scraper blades, Hand Files, Router, and Sand Paper. [1]

Current Guitar Manufacturing

Materials

A guitar body, crafted from wood. Formentera guitars.jpg
A guitar body, crafted from wood.

The majority of material comprising a modern guitar is wood. Typical woods used for the body and neck of a guitar today are Mahogany, Ash, Maple, Basswood, Agathis, Alder, Poplar, Walnut, Spruce, and holly. Woods from around the world are also incorporated into modern acoustic and electric guitars. Some of these exotic tonewoods include Koa, Rosewood, Bubinga, Korina, Lacewood, Zebrawood, Padouk, Redwood, and Wenge. With modern manufacturing techniques, almost any wood can be used if it can be obtained in an acceptable quantity. Abundance is not the only characteristic taken into consideration during the selection of a type of wood; woods have unique acoustic properties and produce different sounds and resonances at different frequencies and points. Woodgrain, pattern and defects (understand defects as genetic defects of the tree-like quilt, flame...) also are factors that contribute to the beautify of the instrument. This happens especially on guitar tops or veneers.

Other parts of the modern guitar such as tuners, frets, the bridge, and pickups are made out of metals and plastics. These materials offer increased performance and strength over wood or other organic material and are easy to obtain and machine.

With modern machining methods, luthiers and companies are no longer confined to working with woods. In addition, as tonal woods that offer the best sound quality become increasingly hard to come by, manufacturers are exploring different materials for the neck and body of guitars. [2]

Aluminum is a functional alternative for crafting guitar bodies. Its combination of high strength and low weight are attractive to guitarists around the world. Aircraft-grade aluminum (6061) is the composition of choice for guitar manufactures such as Normandy Guitars and Xtreme Guitars. [3] [4] It is highly machinable, weldable, and strong enough to withstand the tension created by the strings while maintaining a relatively low weight. Some companies have experimented with aluminum necks, although aluminum's high degree of thermal expansion can cause the instrument to go out of tune after a short time.

Another popular alternative material for the body and neck of a guitar is carbon fibre. Advances in technology over the past century have allowed guitar manufacturers to use the excellent strength to weight ratio and cost-effectiveness of carbon fibre in their guitar designs. Manufacturers such as Rainsong have built their businesses around carbon fibre bodied guitars. [5] Rainsong in particular uses carbon fibre in the tops, backs, sides, necks, headstocks, and fretboards of their guitars, offering intricate patterns of the fibre on select models.

Modern Manufacturing Process

While handcrafting guitars is still a popular method of guitar manufacturing for luthiers and large manufacturer custom shops, the major players in the guitar industry are shifting to computer-controlled mass production of guitars. This approach maintains the quality of their instruments while increasing efficiency and productivity.

A CNC machining center, similar to those used by guitar manufacturers Makino-S33-MachiningCenter.jpg
A CNC machining center, similar to those used by guitar manufacturers

Most manufacturers use some form of geometric modelling and CNC machining software when designing a guitar. A common choice of a CAD (Computer Aided Design) system is Solidworks, which is utilized by Taylor Guitars. [6] With a CAD system, a two-dimensional or three-dimensional model of the guitar can be designed and seen before a physical model is created. This allows for consistency and convenience in the design process, whether the guitar is made out of wood, metal, polymer, or any machinable substance. For a guitar made out of aluminum, for example, the top, sides, and back of the body are drawn in a modelling program and a 3D model can be created by combining these 2D features. This representation gives the ability to see the final product before any material is cut.

A popular choice for a CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software suite is MasterCAM. It is also used by Taylor Guitars. The CAM software takes the 3D model created in the CAD system and uses a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, also known as a CNC router (typically a vertical machining center) to cut out the 2D pieces from, in the example above, a sheet of aluminum. This process can eliminate waste as well as decrease machining time and machine downtime. The pieces cut from the sheets of aluminum are assembled by a worker using a TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welder. [7]

CAD and CAM systems are not limited to cutting guitar bodies alone. They are utilized by several manufacturers in cut necks, fretboards, and other parts of the guitar quickly and efficiently. The advantage of CNC machining is the accuracy and precision of the cutting. These machines can make thousands of parts with tolerances of mere ten-thousandths of an inch. C.F. Martin & Company uses CNC machines to cut the necks and neck pockets of their guitars. [8] C.F. Martin uses the machines because of the precision and quality of cutting that CNC offers. The Plek machine is a CNC machine currently being implemented by a large number of guitar manufacturing companies. The machine is a time-saving way to level and shape fretboards through a process called fret dressing.

CNC machining does not do all of the work, however. It is merely a tool to reduce variance between guitars, allowing the craftsman to do their jobs more efficiently and quickly. Gibson Guitar Corporation has had 2 policies relating to the manufacturing of quality instruments throughout their 100 plus years of manufacturing:

"Buy or invent machines for dangerous or repetitive operations requiring great accuracy and employ a highly skilled worker when the human touch or the musician’s ear is required." [9]

Related Research Articles

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing the strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.

Computer-aided manufacturing

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) also known as Computer-aided Modeling or Computer-aided Machining is the use of software to control machine tools and related ones in the manufacturing of work pieces. This is not the only definition for CAM, but it is the most common; CAM may also refer to the use of a computer to assist in all operations of a manufacturing plant, including planning, management, transportation and storage. Its primary purpose is to create a faster production process and components and tooling with more precise dimensions and material consistency, which in some cases, uses only the required amount of raw material, while simultaneously reducing energy consumption. CAM is now a system used in schools and lower educational purposes. CAM is a subsequent computer-aided process after computer-aided design (CAD) and sometimes computer-aided engineering (CAE), as the model generated in CAD and verified in CAE can be input into CAM software, which then controls the machine tool. CAM is used in many schools alongside Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to create objects.

Gibson SG

The Gibson SG is a solid-body electric guitar model introduced by Gibson in 1961 as the Gibson Les Paul SG. It remains in production today in many variations of the initial design. The SG Standard is Gibson's best-selling model of all time.

The fingerboard is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

Fender Stratocaster solid body electric guitar

The Fender Stratocaster, colloquially known as the Strat, is a model of electric guitar designed from 1952 into 1954 by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has continuously manufactured the Stratocaster from 1954 to the present. It is a double-cutaway guitar, with an extended top "horn" shape for balance. Along with the Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG and Fender Telecaster, it is one of the most-often emulated electric guitar shapes. "Stratocaster" and "Strat" are trademark terms belonging to Fender. Guitars that duplicate the Stratocaster by other manufacturers are sometimes called S-Type or ST-type guitars.

Steinberger

Steinberger is a series of distinctive electric guitars and bass guitars, designed and originally manufactured by Ned Steinberger. The name "Steinberger" can be used to refer to either the instruments themselves or the company that originally produced them. Although the name has been applied to a variety of instruments, it is primarily associated with a minimalist "headless" design of electric basses and guitars.

The Jackson Soloist is an electric guitar model by Jackson Guitars officially produced since 1984. Overall design started as a superstrat with differences from the Stratocaster such as a neck-thru design and often a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo bridge and premium woods.

Bolt-on neck

Bolt-on neck is a method of guitar construction that involves joining a guitar neck and body using screws or bolts, as opposed to glue as with set-in neck joints.

The truss rod is component of a guitar or other stringed instruments that stabilizes the lengthwise forward curvature, of the neck. Usually it is a steel bar or rod that runs inside the neck, beneath the fingerboard. Some are non-adjustable, but most modern truss rods have a nut at one or both ends that adjusts its tension. The first truss rod patent was applied for by Thaddeus McHugh, an employee of the Gibson company, in 1921, though the idea of a "truss rod" appears in patents as early as 1908.

Inlay (guitar) Decorative material set into the wooden surface

Inlay on guitars or similar fretted instruments are decorative materials set into the wooden surface of the instrument using standard inlay techniques. Although inlay can be done on any part of a guitar, it is most commonly found on the fretboard, headstock—typically the manufacturer's logo—and around the sound hole of acoustic guitars. Only the positional markers on the fretboard or side of neck and the rosette around the sound hole serve any function other than decoration. Nacre, plastic and wood are the materials most often used as inlay.

Set-in neck

Set-in neck is one of mainly three methods of guitar construction that involves joining neck and body with a tightly fitted mortise-and-tenon or dovetail joint, secured with some sort of adhesive. It is a common belief that this yields a stronger body-to-neck connection than a bolt-on neck, though some luthiers believe a well-executed bolt-on neck joint is equally strong and provides similar neck-to-body contact. However, neither of these joints is as strong as a neck-through construction, which requires more material and is usually found only on high-end solid body guitars.

Kramer Guitars

Kramer Guitars is an American manufacturer of electric guitars and basses. Kramer produced aluminum-necked electric guitars and basses in the 1970s and wooden-necked guitars catering to hard rock and heavy metal musicians in the 1980s; Kramer is currently a division of Gibson Guitar Corporation.

Resonator guitar

A resonator guitar or resophonic guitar is an acoustic guitar that produces sound by conducting string vibrations through the bridge to one or more spun metal cones (resonators), instead of to the guitar's sounding board (top). Resonator guitars were originally designed to be louder than regular acoustic guitars, which were overwhelmed by horns and percussion instruments in dance orchestras. They became prized for their distinctive tone, however, and found life with bluegrass music and the blues well after electric amplification solved the problem of inadequate volume.

Electric guitar design is a type of industrial design where the looks and efficiency of the shape as well as the acoustical aspects of the guitar are important factors. In the past many guitars have been designed with various odd shapes as well as very practical and convenient solutions to improve the usability of the object.

Vigier Guitars

Vigier Guitars is a French musical instruments company based in Grigny, Essonne and founded by Patrice Vigier in 1980. In addition to manufacturing, the company is also active in the import and wholesale distribution of musical instruments, amplifiers and accessories through its division High Tech Distribution.

Flaxwood Guitars

Flaxwood is a Finnish manufacturer of guitars and instrument parts based in Heinävaara, North Karelia. The company produces the instruments from a natural fibre-reinforced thermoplastic through a patented injection moulding process. Flaxwood was founded in 2005 following a research project on natural fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composites led by Heikki Koivurova. A prototype was developed initially in 2003 with the design input of luthier Veijo Rautia and two years later Flaxwood introduced their first line of guitars. In 2011, they released a line of hybrid guitars.

CNC router

A computer numerical control (CNC) router is a computer-controlled cutting machine which typically mounts a hand-held router as a spindle which is used for cutting various materials, such as wood, composites, aluminium, steel, plastics, glass, and foams. CNC routers can perform the tasks of many carpentry shop machines such as the panel saw, the spindle moulder, and the boring machine. They can also cut joinery such as mortises and tenons.

Jon Kammerer Guitars is an American manufacturer of acoustic and electric guitars and basses, founded in 1999 by Jon Kammerer. The first Jon Kammerer guitars were acoustic, featuring an innovative, patented parabolic design that increases structural strength and durability, yet maintains tonal projection while reducing the size/weight of traditional acoustic guitars. Electric models followed, including full-sized and downsized solid-bodies, chambered, semi-hollow-body, and hollow-body models using similar rounded design cues based on parabolic arcs.

Santa Cruz Guitar Company

The Santa Cruz Guitar Company is an American manufacturer of acoustic guitars, located in Santa Cruz, California. The company was started in 1976 by luthier Richard Hoover, who is reputed to have "trained some of the most accomplished contemporary luthiers in his workshop", and investors Bruce Ross and William Davis. They produce somewhere between 500 and 700 guitars a year, and their instruments are known for being "some of the world’s finest steel-string guitars" with characteristics described as "being highly resonate and having a complexity of overtones".

Joseph Lukes Guitars is a stringed instrument manufacturing company based in London, England. They currently produce one acoustic guitar model known as the "Grand Concert" and a Ukulele.

References

  1. Guitar Repair Tools a website describing and explaining many different tools used by Luthiers
  2. Guitar maker tunes up with metal cutting.(2008). Manufacturing Engineering, 141(3), 49-50.
  3. Manufacturing is a high note for aluminum guitar makers.(2008). Machine Design, 80(22), 22-23.
  4. Korn, D., Danford, M., & Jordan, J. M. (2008). Start-up shop makes splash machining aluminum guitars. Modern Machine Shop, 80(8), 130-135.
  5. Decker Jr., J. A. (1997). Production technology: Commercial composite-materials acoustic guitars. Part 1 (of 2), May 4, 1997 - May 8, 42(1) 582-592.
  6. Bates, C. (2005). MACHINING beautiful music. American Machinist, 149(7), 26-31.
  7. Anonymous. Manufacturing is a high note for Aluminum Guitar Maker. (2008, November). Machine Design, 80(22), 22-23. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1603665201).
  8. Guitar maker tunes up with metal cutting.(2008). Manufacturing Engineering, 141(3), 49-50.
  9. How today's guitar legends are made.(2006). Wood & Wood Products, 111(1), 33-36.