Brace yourself

I am a graduate od Duke University, and for a time shortly thereafter I worked in Chapel Hill, NC. I have known what it means to experience rivalry.

Given that statement, I can think of no other topic that sparks such rivalry and debate amongst guitar players as acoustic guitar bracing. The methods, the placement, the materials. Were the braces perfectly quartered? X bracing? Forward shifted or standard? Scalloped? Relieved? Hybrid? Pre-war?

The war in fact, rages on. At least if you frequent guitar forums where opinion is passed off as scientific fact with alarming regularity and lines are constantly drawn in the sand over adiaphora.

It’s worse than the Fender/Gibson question.

It is little wonder then that bracing the soundboard has been, from the beginning, the most intimidating aspect of this project. I sidestepped some of the questions by choosing to build a 000 sized guitar instead of a dreadnought, but not all of them. I still had to decide whether to go with a traditional X brace placement or forward shifted, and believe me I fretted over that 1/2″ for longer than I should have. I decided early on that I would scallop the upper and lower face braces, but not the main X brace. My reasoning for this was that I wanted to err on the side of caution on this first build, but wanted some subtlety in the tuning of the top.

For months I have been looking at just about every picture I could find of traditional and non-traditional bracing in 000 style guitars. Modern models, historical models, production models, etc. One of the interesting things I found in historical models (Especially CF Martin) is that form always followed function. Some of them (from the early 20th century) were beautiful inside. Most of them were a little rough.

I wonder if that’s not because the people building them were more concerned with the way they sounded than whether anyone would ever take picture of the insides and stick them on the internet someday?

Contemporary models, by contrast, especially those made by individual outliers had highly refined braces, carved and sanded to a beautiful standard. Certainly function was still the primary concern, but visuals weren’t far behind.

There were also plenty of beautiful old guitars that looked like they were held together with popsicle sticks in side but sang like angels.

All of this made me curious enough to stick a camera inside of my Martin OM to see what those braces looked like.
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The braces here are part of Martin’s Hybrid Scalloped X bracing that they use on many contemporary models. They’re all function as far as I can see. I’ve watched enough videos of Martin guitar factory tours to know that these are carved to standard specs and glued in a standard pattern, but I’ll be darned if they don’t get the job done. My OM is a fantastic sounding guitar.

With all of this swirling around in my head, I laid out the pattern on my soundboard in a fairly traditional style (with slightly splayed lower face braces) and took a step back for a day or two while the weather improved. I was waiting for better humidity in the shop and this week has been gorgeous weather, with humidity in the lower 40% range so the glue started flowing.
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Here is the soundboard on a specialty made radius dish in my go-bar deck. I’m not going to go into detail about the go-bar system because you can find exhaustive information and endless variation on that topic, but I will say it has performed flawlessly. The radius dish is concave to a 40″ radius.

I began with the upper face brace and the “popsicle stick”, added the sound-hole braces and the lower face braces. I did this because I wanted to wedge the lower face braces under the x brace arm during final glue-up (more on this later).
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I added the other finger braces and let that sit overnight before trimming the ends to accept the X brace.
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On the lower face braces I left the ends slightly overlong and carved at a 45% angle, which I matched by notching out the x brace to accept the ends of the lower face braces, locking everything into position for final glue-up.
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After that was complete, I cut out a bridge patch and glued that into place between the x braces after carefully fitting it with a block plane. The patch itself was made from hard rock maple planed down to 3/32″ I actually tapered it a bit so that closest to the X it is a bit thicker and reduces in size toward the lower face braces. I won’t claim that this will make any sort of real difference in sound or function, but it mimics the taper of the X brace and felt good to add this subtle touch.

Whether or not this bracing pattern is “right” by any subjective standard is fodder for the forums. To me, it is a good first effort. I feel content with this work and I believe it to be good work.  I will leave the shaping of these braces for the next post. That’s where the real black magic starts.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Brian Clites says:

    My Martin is a hybrid with x-bracing, I think. It sounds glorious. Now if I could just learn to play it.

    Like

    1. Brian Clites says:

      Also, for those of us non-luthiers out here, what in the world are all of the black rods you’re using for the glue up? Do you have weights stacked on them? What is their benefit over traditional clamps? (Thanks!)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Brian, those are go bars. Essentially they work on an interference fit – they are two long for the space into which they are placed, so press down. Traditional way for luthier’s to glue braces, and the benefit is they reach further into a soundboard than a normal clamp does.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yep, that’s pretty much it. I was just about to write a whole post on the set-up, but Kieran covered it.

        Brian, if you’re interested in more details I can email you the details or write up a post about the specs of the go-bar deck and accessories. It was all made in my shop, mostly from big box home store parts.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oops, sorry James! You should blog anyway – I’m sure I’d learn from your thoughts.

        Like

      4. No worries. You just saved me a half an hour 😉

        I’ll post some particulars about my version of the process tomorrow in case anyone’s interested. I must say that when I went about building one on my own there were a lot of questions that I had to work out on my own, so it may be of use.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Looking good James, the bracing is always one of my favourite elements of the build. Looking forward to bracing (and writing about) the parlour guitar as soon as the sound hole decoration is finished.

    Liked by 2 people

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