How Guitars Are Constructed

Wood selection is the first important step in making a guitar. Not many people realize that the type of wood used in a guitar’s production affects its sound. The wood should have a straight vertical grain and be flawless. From this point, construction follows these steps:


Steps 1 and 2: after wood selection comes bookmatching. This involves cutting one piece of wood into two exact slices, matching the width and length of the section being sliced. The two pieces must be glued together and sanded down to make them the correct thickness. The top piece is then cut into what will be the shape of the guitar. The top piece is oversized for now. It will be trimmed later. This is the point at which the sound hole is cut into the wood.

Steps 3 and 4 are called strutting. This involves gluing three wooden pieces underneath the top piece to brace the top, since the pull of the strings will exert force. The top piece will also vibrate, so the three braces serve as a control. The back of the guitar reflects sound, so it, too, is braced, with strips of wood running left to right, parallel. One strip runs lengthwise along the glue joint of the back, cross-grain. Once the back piece is cut, it is glued in the same manner as the top, using a technique called bookinatch.

Steps 5 and 6 involve side construction. The wood strips that are used to make the sides are cut, sanded and soaked. The strips are molded to fit the shape of the instrument. The whole structure is temporarily clamped to make sure the parts fit symmetrically. Basswood is next glued to the interior to connect the sides. More wood strips are glued to the sides inside the guitar. This reinforces the guitar to protect it from damage from the sides. The neck, the back, and the top are also joined by two end blocks, one near the instrument’s bottom and one near its neck. The back and top are now glued to the sides and the extra wood that was left is cut away. Along the junctions at the side back and side top, slots are cut to allow for body bindings.

Steps 7 and 8 involve the construction of the fingerboard and neck. One solid piece of rosewood or mahogany is used to form the neck. A rod is inserted through this piece for reinforcement. The fingerboard is placed over the top. Frets of steel wire are placed into this board. The neck piece is then attached to the body. The whole instrument is coated with sealer and laquer.

Step 9 is when the bridge is attached to the top of the guitar, close to the bottom, near the sound hole. A saddle is also attached at this point. The strings are positioned on the saddle as they extend over the bridge piece. The piece at the neck on which they lie as they stretch toward the tuning keys is called the nut.

The keys used to tune the guitar are part of what is called the tuning machine. The tuning machine is attached to the back of the guitar’s head. Which hand should be dominant to play the guitar can be determined by the placement of the strings and the pick guard. The pick guard, which keeps the pick from grazing the wood of the guitar below the sound hole, is at the bottom. The strings are ordered from thickest (bass) to thinnest, with the thickest being on top. A guitar can be strung in the reverse order to change handedness, if need be.