Guitars are one of the most popular musical instruments to date and, as a musician, it’s only natural to wonder how these incredible devices are actually made. Though at first glance they may seem simple enough, making a guitar is a complex process.
The entire process can take from between three weeks to two months to complete depending on the size, design and decorative choices that have been made.
But let's simplify it to give you a clearer idea of how guitars are made.
The Design Phase
In order to make a guitar, the maker will decide what kind of guitar it will be. Different guitars produce different sounds. A smaller guitar will have a higher pitched sound than the larger, more traditional acoustic guitar, which are the ones used during most performances.
The methods for guitar making can vary slightly, but here are the basic steps involved in making a traditional acoustic guitar.
Selecting The Wood
The first and most important steps taken when making a guitar is deciding on the right wood for the right guitar. This is vital in ensuring the best sound quality possible. The better the wood used, the better the guitar will sound, and you will usually find more than one type of wood used on a single guitar.
A guitar is split into sections of wood for the top, back, sides, neck and fretboard. The wood that is most commonly used to make guitars include walnut, mahogany, spruce, maple, agathist, rosewood and poplar.
Construction of The Body
Once chosen, the wood is bent, trimmed and carved to form the shapes and sizes needed in order to put the guitar together. The front and back of the guitar are usually made first by having the traditional figure-eight shape cut out.
A round sound hole is then cut into the middle of the front piece. The bigger the sound hole is, the higher the pitch will be, and the smaller the sound hole, the lower the pitch will sound.
Constructing The Sides
Two pieces of wood are cut long enough to wrap halfway around the body piece. The sides are either steamed or placed in boiling water to soften the wood, which is then placed in a mold (shaped like the body of the guitar) to dry and harden.
Once dry, they are then glued to the body. Reinforced wood is placed on the inside of the body to strengthen the guitar and prevent the wood from cracking.
Making The Neck
The neck of the guitar is either carved out by hand or cut by a computer-controlled machine from a piece of hardwood (usually mahogany or rosewood). A reinforcing rod is then placed through the neck so that it’s strong enough to hold the strings.
Then the whole thing is sanded down and the fingerboard is measured out and placed on the neck. Measuring of the fret slots is prepared for the placing of the steel-wired frets. Once completed, the neck is then attached to the body.
Adding the Bridge, Saddle, and Nuts
Once the guitar has been assembled it usually gets a treatment of coat sealer and several layers of lacquer to protect the surface. The body can be decorated or painted with various design depending on the make/maker.
Once dry, the bridge can then be added at the bottom of the guitar, then the saddle is fitted where the strings pass over the bridge. Then the nut (which is a piece of wood that the strings Passover into the tuning machine) is placed between the head and neck.
Some guitars need a headstock to attach the tuners, depending on what type of tuner is placed on the guitar. The tuner is usually mounted on the back of the head, there the pegs are added as well as the gears for tightening strings.
The last step to making a guitar is, of course, the strings. The guitar is either fitted with steel strings or nylon strings. The steel strings require that metal reinforcement rod that goes under the fingerboard, the nylon strings do not.
Realizing what it actually takes to makes a guitar can be quite illuminating. Clearly, a lot of time, skill and patience is gone into the task, but once completed is a reward unto itself!
About the Author: Julie Adams
I am a mom, a music lover and teacher from Tampa, FL. After completing a Bachelor of Music in Performance Arts, I traveled for several years before returning home where I started offering private piano and singing lessons as extra income. I met my husband in 2009 and 2 years later moved to Dallas where we settled down and I started focusing on vocal training to aspiring singers and performance artists of all age groups. I still enjoy playing the piano very much, and in my spare time you will catch doing some horse riding, drawing, doing some light reading, or just spending quality time with my family.