One of the things I enjoy most about woodworking is the wide variety of specialties you can drill into.
Do you like carving? You can do chip carving, power carving, relief carving, carving in the round…
Cabinetmaking? Build a set of kitchen cabinets, a freestanding pantry, an elegant home library…
And, then you could become an instrument maker. While brass and woodwind instruments require metalworking know-how, luthiers can build some incredible pieces from wood.
No, luthier doesn’t mean that you are more luthy than someone else… A luthier is someone who builds stringed instruments. Guitars, ukuleles, violins… the works.
“We get lots of requests from luthiers of all levels of experience,” said Eric Poirier of Bell Forest Products. “You’ll see people just starting out who want to build a solid body electric guitar to those who craft playable works of art.”
While cellos, dulcimers and harps are interesting projects, nothing can compete with guitars for popularity. “Electric, acoustic, bass… so many woodworkers who are musicians – or know someone who is – want to build one of these iconic instruments.”
When it comes to building an instrument – especially a stringed instrument – many design and structural elements need to be taken into consideration. “A properly tuned guitar or bass guitar puts tremendous strain on the neck and the body of the instrument. When planning on building one, you need clear stock of significant strength to prevent warping and possible cracks down the road.” That’s why Bell offers guitar neck blanks of maple, mahogany or Indian rosewood. Equal parts beauty and strength, these neck blanks can make an awesome through-neck or bolt-on neck guitar.
On the face of the neck, luthiers frequently apply a fretboard to the instrument. “The fretboard is another critical part of the instrument. It has to hold the fret wire – if you are building a fretted instrument – and resist abrasion from the strings as they are held down to make notes.” The fretboard offerings by bell come in a selection of beautifully sawn exotic and domestic species, ready to make a statement on the instrument.
And, when it comes to guitar body materials, just about anything goes. “Luthiers making solid body electric guitars and basses can let their imaginations run wild for the body. For those making hollow body models, a strong, light wood that can be readily resawn into thinner strips for bending is the way to go.”
Ultimately, the skill of the luthier is what’s on show when an instrument is played. “Your first guitar will take you a whole lot longer than you realized because the work is exacting. But, once you get the hang if it, you’ll get into the flow of things.” Eric added, “Besides, when you are learning how to play, everyone will forgive your fumble fingers and stare in amazement at your beautiful axe!”