Tag Archives: string instruments

If it looks like it’ll fly – it should make a good guitar

11 Sep

Today I was helping my student guitar maker with the thicknessing and bracing of the soundboard.

kitten building a flamenco guitar

This is my student guitar maker – 2 month old kitten ‘Tickles’ building her first flamenco guitar

The thicknessing took a while to go from about 4mm to a fairly even 2.2mm. A greater distance than it sounds, believe me. About 4 hours careful and thoughtful planing, measuring, tapping, listening, flexing, considering….

Considering all the various implications of each woodshaving removed (this is, let us remember, his first guitar) and how it will effect the tone, the feel, nay! the very soul of the guitar. We got to talking about Mary Shelly. It occurred to me how similar is guitar making to the (well intentioned but ultimately doomed) work of Dr Frankenstein. Breathing life into something that is dead. In that borderline region between chaos and order, the luthier takes some pieces of dry, dead wood – gives them shape and form, brings them to life – creates something with a living soul. Sort of.

‘Well I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a monster’, says my literal and logical student.

Although, from what I can remember of that story, Dr F’s creation became a monster because of the inhumanity of the people he met. But that’s another story. No sense in taking an analogy too far.

One last pass with my trusty and ever sharp Lie Nielson low angle block plane with cryogenically freeze-tempered high carbon steel blade (is this starting to sound like Victorian era science fiction?) and suddenly the soundboard is there. How do I know? I lift it from the table and let go and it hangs in the air momentarily before gently gliding down, like a feather. It has become almost weightless. I flex it in my hands and it bends easily but then springs back. I hold it to my ear and tap it and it resonates with a deep ring, almost too low for the ear to hear.

Someone once asked the great guitar maker Antonio de Torres what his secret was, to which he replied (something along the lines of): There is no secret – it is here, between my thumb and forefinger. What he meant by that and whether or not he had a secret and whether it had anything even to do with guitars – will remain forever a mystery. Like his guitars, which were numbered according to whether they were built in his first or second epoch – so are our days. Numbered.

Antonio de Torres. 1817 – 1892

‘OK, that’s it – quick let’s glue  the braces on.’ The humidity has just dropped from 95% where it was in the morning to 60%. It’ll probably stay there for about 4 hours before it starts to rise again in the afternoon so there’s no time for standing around philosophising and self congratulating. If the guitar’s assembled when it’s too damp it’s quite likely to crack when it gets dry. Take what lessons you will from what I have to say, but always keep one eye on the hygrometer if you don’t want your guitars to implode.

Four hours later, just as the humidity is on the rise again, the last brace is glued on. Now it really looks ready to fly. We take a step back to admire the sleek lines of symmetrically and extremely well placed fan-struts that adorn the underside of the soundboard. It looks like Concorde about to take its maiden flight. Or the Space Shuttle about to go into orbit for the first time. Now is the time for self congratulation and philosophising.

Final shaping of the harmonic bars

‘It looks good.’ says my student, who is sparing with his words but quite a perfectionist when it comes to his work.

‘Yes it does’, I agree. ‘It looks like it could fly.’ And then it occurs to me to say, ‘If it looks like it could fly, then it should make a good guitar.’ And so is the wisdom of guitar making passed on.

There are three types of guitar maker, I have discovered:

The first type are the perfectionists. They strive for perfection and will not admit any fault into their guitars.

The second type are not perfectionists but they are creative, imaginative, intuitive and artistic.

The third type are perfectionists who are also creative, imaginative, intuitive and artistic.

The third type make the best guitars, of course – but the first and second types can also make some pretty good ones. It takes all sorts. Yes it does.


g weigert handmade guitars

25 Aug

This is my new site dedicated to everything to do with guitars that I couldn’t manage put on my old site.

If you’re interested in learning how to build a guitar, you should read my ‘how to build a guitar’ pages that I’ve started writing.

Alternatively you could come and enjoy a guitar making course with me, Gideon Weigert, here in Hararit – in the delightful and tranquil hilltop Galilean village not far from Nazareth, Acco, the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean – where I live and work.

You can see more pictures of my guitars at www.gwguitars.com as well as of our charming guesthouse where you can stay, whether you’re coming especially to learn guitar making – or just for a holiday.

Please feel free to write comments. I’d like to hear from you and welcome any suggestions


this is where my blog begins

25 Aug

OK, here is my latest attempt to keep up to date with the exciting, fangled, new world of the internet. Ha! Not so new any more, but fangled nonetheless. (My computer tells me fangled isn’t a real word. Does it know more than me? Probably.)

Here’s the story so far (abbreviated and containing only what is relevant to this post):

Sometime about 1995 I became aware that something called the Internet had come into being. It looked exciting, a bit scary and full of undreamed of possibilities. Intuiting that it must in some way herald the End of The World, I promptly packed my bag and disapirated for the rest of the millenium.

It was about this time that anyone with any sense were going about learning the necessary skills to become computer programmers, web designers, multi-media internet entrepreneurs and hackers. Meanwhile, I was learning to play the fiddle – badly. In this brave new world, after all, when all the power stations have shut down, the supermarkets have been ransacked and the petrol pumps have run dry – people would always want music to cheer them up, or drown their sorrows. Wouldn’t they?

The Y2K (year two thousand, you may remember it) came and went with no sudden meltdown. OK, I thought, It’s about time I got myself a vocation. Well obviously I wasn’t going to be chained to a desk and a computer screen like all these other unfortunate suckers (some of them actually quite rich by now). I had to do something with my hands, with my brain, with music, with wood. Something authentic and real. Something where I could be my own boss. Something where I could wear scruffy clothes and not have to shave everyday. Something to show all these technoheads ‘look, this is the way things have been done for centuries, the past is the future, let’s not forget our roots, let’s bring back the old ways….’ etc.

And so it was that I took the fateful step and became a luthier – a guitar maker. Of all things. Naturally.

And so now, as a luthier, with my trusty wooden toolbox and my secret knowledge of the mysteries of luthiery, passed down from generation to generation of traditional craftsmen, I would be able to travel the world making beautiful and unusual musical instruments of my own imaginings – out of the bits of wood thrown out by wasteful consumer society.  Or so I thought.

The first problem is that you actually need quite a lot of tools. Not loads, but enough to require a small, organised workshop to make it practical. Then there’s the wood. Though you can make a guitar out of almost any wood – there are some that are more suitable than others. So you end up collecting it and hoarding it – bits of old furniture, pianos, table legs – but also searching out the finest Alpine Spruce, figured Maple, Rosewood, Ebony – unusual bits of wood for decoration. Before you know it you’ve got stacks of wood everywhere, logs quartered out in the yard to season for years to come – and you know every piece and where it came from and you don’t throw anything away – not even the smallest offcut, because you know it’ll come in useful for something.

But that’s all by the by, so to speak. Things rarely turn out how you’d expect, in any walk of life. The main problem is after you’ve made a few lovely, traditionally handcrafted guitars – how, in this high speed, overpopulated modern world of mass production and image branding, do you let the right people know about these two or three really amazing, unique guitars? Of course – the Internet! You need a website.

Of course, by now all those sensible folks who have been developing websites for the last ten years charge a small fortune for the service, which is something that quite naturally I do not have. And so while they’re sitting on the beach in Bali or Thailand, sipping coctails and doing a spot of website design, I’m going to my local library (in those days there were still books) and taking out a volume on HTML for beginners.

About a month later I’ve built my very own website www.gwguitars.com with its very own catchy domain name www.gwguitars.com

It doesn’t look like much and doesn’t really work properly, but it serves me well for a few years, until it all starts to fall apart and I’ve forgotten how to do HTML, which nobody uses any more anyway. These days it’s all moving pictures, animated buttons, facebook, twitter, ipods, ipads – I don’t know what. You can see I’m finding it hard to keep track of all these advances. I only moved from tapes to CDs about 6 months ago – now I find nobody uses CDs any more either.

So I said to my friend, who’s something of a somebody on the WWW ,”What can I do to increase my internet visibilty?” (I figured that’s how these people talk).

“Simple”, he said. “It’s all about content.”

“Oh I see”, I said, not really seeing. “Content.”

“Yes, content. And SEO. Lots of content and high SEO. That’s what it’s all about.”

“OK, how do I do that then?”

“Go on wordpress and write a blog”, he said. At least I think that’s what he said. So that’s what I did. And this is it.