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Step-by-step Guitar Making [Paperback]

Alex Willis
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Paperback, Oct. 1 2010 --  
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Book Description

Oct. 1 2010
In this title, the Sussex based author provides accessible text, clear instructions, step-by-step photographs and a full-size plan of the guitar. Readers will learn how to make a steel-stringed OM cutaway guitar with 14 frets from scratch, following the clear step-by-step photographs and straightforward instructions. Suitable even for woodworkers with a basic level of skills, this is a rewarding project to undertake and will no doubt become a family heirloom. Packed full of handy information and expert tips, close guidance through the whole process from choosing the materials to the final stringing up and a full-size plan of the guitar to follow, readers can't go wrong. Plus this revised and updated edition features new and expanded material on: power tools and jigs, bolt-on and dovetail neck joints, alternative ways of making a guitar body, soundboard bracing for a Classical guitar and much more.

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"The greatest strength of the book is its readability. Every step is clearly described and numbered, and keyed to a full-color photo of that step."  —Woodcentral.com

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Alex Willis has been a boat builder, marine cabinetmaker, marine rigger, house renovator and is a self-taught guitar maker, repairer and restorer. He has demonstrated guitar making at shows and run workshops on guitar making. He lives in Westham, East Sussex.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who was this written for?? Aug. 30 2011
I am on my fifth guitar build, and bought this to help with some technical questions regarding adjusting the neck angle with a bolt on neck. It didn't provide any answer, so it was of no use to me. Se here is my general impression.

I can't figure who this book is written for. On the one hand it assumes you have no tools yet and don't know how to organize your own workspace. Thus these handy tip; a good way to get tools is to ask for them for Christmas, and, don't subject your family pet to noxious fumes.

On the other hand he uses very very advanced manual techniques and includes complex details that only an advanced craftsman could handle, with no overall benefit to the 'guality' of the guitar. Just funny embellishments (internally and externally) that appear to be nothing more than the author's personal preference.

The real danger with it is that a novice woodworker might think that this book will help them to build their first guitar. That person would be doomed to fail. Only the author's traditional hand tooled methods are described in short one-paragraph captions to the photos. The level of detail is very poor. And that assumes that you want the exact single design that is discussed. For that matter I find the steel string 'OM' style with integrated 'spanish/classical' neck is a bit peculiar to begin with. Alternatives and optional choices that a person might made even with this design are rarely mentioned. The opportunities to make critical flaws without knowing it would be staggering, and you would be well past the point of no return before you realized something wasn't quite right.

I am sure that the author builds fine guitars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars July 17 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great book
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Proceed with Caution! April 24 2010
By T.W. - Published on Amazon.com
Being a collector of luthiery materials, I had to buy this book to keep up to date. The photos and sequence of construction are nicely put together and there are a number of interesting techniques I've not seen in other manuals. That being said, I could not recommend the design offered as a viable first instrument for the beginning instrument builder.
There seems to a movement of sorts in the U.K. for enthusiastic amateur builders to come up with highly personalized designs, ideosyncratic assembly techniques and then... publish. Doubtfire, Kinkead, and now Willis all fall into this category. Each offers us an instrument design quite unrelated to what's been considered "the norm" in North American steel-string building. Of the two, I'm more confident in the Kinkead design.
Never having played one of Mr. Wills instruments, I can't comment on it's tonal characteristics. I am confident however, that this is an UNDERBUILT guitar. A dozen years of building and repair gives me concern about the following:
-The assertion that 2mm is the "optimum final thickness... for spuce tops" is pretty much insane. Two millimeters is considered razor-thin for most nylon-string classical designs.
-Couple that thin top with the X-brace layout described and you have a recipe for collapse. The braces are heavily decoupled, and they are at lacking at least 25% of the mass found on typical factory guitars.
-The low-profile design of the heel is elegant, but structurally problematic.
-The Spanish heel design with integral neck and top block can work for steel strung instruments, but is highly irregular.
-The extreme back-set neck angle necessitates an auxillary wedge under the upper part of the fretboard. Why? This geometry results in 3/8" of saddle protruding above the hight of the bridge. Assuming one can find a commercially prepared bridge blank this tall, you've still got an awesome amount of forward torque on the top.
-The assertion that, "a suitable height is about 5/23in (4mm)on the sixth string" is again,-laughable. Any repair person presenting a customer with a lightly built instrument obviously designed for fingerpicking with that sort of setup would be out of business in short order.
If I'm reading the label afixed to the instrument correctly, this is Mr. Willis' 16th instrument. The text bio states that he started devoting his time to instrument building in 2003. This book is copyrighted 2006. I'd be interested to see what changes he's made to his design. (There are very few photos on his website, but quite a number of ads for this book).
In summary, if you want to build a guitar modelled on the Martin OM design as was stated in the introduction, purchase a Martin plan from one of the suppliers. It's a time-tested design, unlike Mr. Willis'. And if,(again like the introduction says), you think the idea that starting a business making musical instruments is an exciting possibility, do follow his advice and consult a qualified business adviser. Perhaps he or she will suggest taking photos of one of your first guitars and publishing a book so you too can be a master.
-In all seriousness though, please don't use a regular household fan to exhaust the lacquer fumes from your spray booth as pictured on p.23. A spark from the motor could cause an explosive fire that could end your luthiery career very quickly.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guitar making review Sept. 27 2007
By J. A. Whiteside - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It turns out that guitar making is a complex art and there are many different ways for a beginner to approach it. The most complete book is William Cumpiano's "Guitar Making, Tradition and Technology". However, I found Willis "Step by Step Guitar Making" useful and valuable. It is shorter and clearer than Cumpiano and interestingly, a lot of the steps, sequence of operations, and jigs are different. For me, the differences between the two books help in understanding which steps are the most critical and which steps can be altered to best accomodate your particular skills, experience, and available tools. If you are serious about learning guitar building, I would recommend getting both books.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for first time builders March 26 2009
By C or E Kleinman - Published on Amazon.com
This is a great book for first time builders.There are a number of caveats to consider before embarking on making a guitar. You need to ask yourself if you are up to the task of using woodworking tools, and maintaining and sharpening them. The author assumes that you have previous woodwork experience. Another point to consider is the authors use of a solera, and or spanish heel type neck/foot joint. This is the preferred method for many hand builders. Personally I prefer a hand made or machine routed dovetail joint, to joint the neck to the body. In my opinion this would be easier to disassemble, at a future date. Wheras disassembling a spanish type neck can be very tricky. Overral the pictures are excellent, and the author gives novices plenty of information on making their first guitar. I would also recommend reading at least 2 or more guitarmaking books , to get exposure to other luthiers ideas.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well set out Aug. 3 2008
By O. E. Turner - Published on Amazon.com
I have made one guitar and one ukulele, guided by Cumpiano and Natelson, so this book was the perfect follow on from that point. The photos and text are well set out and as a slightly experienced luthier, I gained much. The spanish foot approach is unusual in steel stringed guitars and Mr Willis explained it in detail, including how to construct the cutaway. I am now keen to try it. The only mild criticism I have is that I thought the section on truss rods was a little light, but apart from that, a great book, I am glad I bought it.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Would Recommend March 31 2009
By T. M. Stock - Published on Amazon.com
Although I found the book to be reasonably informative on generic luthiery tasks such as binding, finishing, etc., it is obvious that Mr. Willis has little experience building this type of instrument, and has likely never had to reset a neck on an instrument with a Spanish foot. Willis' use of a Spanish heel for attaching his neck is a poor choice for the higher stresses inherent in steel string guitars.

Another area where I see both the ernest intentions of the author and his inexperience is in the discussions on truss rods and on bracing. Not having an understanding of the stresses involved, Willis is unable to explain the role or considerations for selection of a truss rod, and his suggested practices in shaping the top bracing ignore key areas where steel string stresses differ from lower-tensioned classical guitars.

In summary, a useful book for a journeyman luthier looking for some jig or fixture ideas, but not a replacement for core texts like Cumpiano or the more readable but less comprehensive Kinkead. Whatever these books may lack in readability, they make up for in advocating tried and true construction techniques.

FWIW, any new builder is well advised to join one of the on-line building fora such as Official Luthier Forum (OLF) or Musical Instrument Makers Forum (MIMF). Either site had dozens of more experienced builders willing to provide advice to a novice, and the archives are full of very complete treatments of most common new builder questions.
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