A bridge too far

Some things take a long time. Some things take longer than they should.

Last November, just before leaving town to visit family for Thanksgiving, I put the final coats of nitrocellulose lacquer on the body and neck of the acoustic guitar I’ve been building. My intention was to let it sit for a month and then buff it out in December so that I would be in a position to finish it around the beginning of the year.

That was nine months ago, and I just finally finished wet-sanding and buffing this week. 

This guitar has been in process since roughly the month before my youngest daughter was born which means I’m pushing 16 or 17 months now. That’s absurd, really.

I want to say that I’ve been preoccupied. That’s true, but it’s not an excuse. The real delay has, I think, been my own hesitance to tackle what I consider the two biggest operations in building an acoustic guitar: setting the neck and locating the bridge.

One nice thing about the neck is that it’s a bolt on design. There is a dovetailed tenon / mortise, but the heavy lifting is done by a single brass bolt that threads into an insert in the tenon. I spent some time refining the shoulders of the neck, but once everything was tweaked and ready, it was simply a matter of scraping the finish out from under the fretboard extension and putting it all together. With equal parts white glue and hope, I clamped the heck out of it with a custom caul made to fit inside the sound hole.

The bridge is sort of a one shot deal. You either nail it or you don’t and after all of the work that I’ve put into this thing you can see how this would instill a procrastination-inducing anxiety in a person. In reality, it just requires a process and patience. The process is basically this:

  • line up the middle of the bridge with the middle of the fretboard
  • measure from the nut to an imaginary spot half-way across the saddle slot on the bridge. (Martin full scale length is 25.4″ here)
  • measure from the 14th fret to each front bridge corner and make sure those are equal.

Oh, and if you’re off anywhere along the line, return to step one and start again. That’s where the patience comes in.

Honestly, it only took me a few attempts to feel confident that the bridge was in the right place, at which point I surrounded it in several layers of masking tape, scraped away the finish and prepared the bridge for glue.

Like gluing the neck, this operation requires a special caul that fits inside the guitar body and over the braces. It also requires a caul to fit over the bridge so that the clamps can distribute pressure evenly.

Again, equal doses hope and glue, but this time I used aliphatic resin glue. I cleaned up the squeeze out when it started to get leathery and left it to sit over night.

No more excuses. I’m finishing this thing.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Brian Clites says:

    I’m not sure I agree with your sense of dissapointment Jim. If woodworking is truly more of a spiritually meditative practice for you, then ought not certain special projects take a very, very long time? Belief isn’t found in a day (for most of us, at least.) And faith isn’t built overnight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point Brian. I guess we all sometimes set expectations for ourselves, and then get discouraged that we don’t meet them in a timely manner (or ever at all). I didn’t really think I was being as hard on myself as I was until I went back and re-read the post in light of your comment.

      I’ll ease up. 🙂

      Your point about woodworking being a spiritual practice has put something else into context for me that I need to flesh out more in a future post, but the short version is that my decision to build a guitar has opened up all sorts of worlds to me beyond luthiery and even if that guitar has been hanging unfinished in my shop for a year and a half, I need to be thankful for that.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s