10 Tools You Wouldn’t Associate With Guitar Making
Some things are just made for each other, like bacon and eggs, dogs and bones, ride-on lawn mowers and people to ride them.
With this rationale, upon entering the realm of the luthier there are many quintessential tools and machinery you would expect to see. Bandsaws, sanders, dust extractors, routers, rulers, perhaps a screwdriver or two.
This blog isn’t about them, though I won’t deny their existence in my workshop. This instalment is about the unusual, the forgotten, the downright have‑no‑place‑being‑there rogue elements within the Lucas Guitar quarters that somehow weaselled their way into frequent usage as though they arrived at tea‑time bearing a packet of Monte Carlos and it was too rude to turn them away.
The Dirty Diez*
1. West-German-made scissors. Stamped elephant motif, brand unknown.
These big Berthas are really a little big for a lot of the things I use them for, but I have a special attachment to them. They’re one of a few items that I ended up with from the estate of my late great-aunt. They hold a sharp edge for aeons, no doubt due to the purity of old-school German steel.
2. US-made spokeshave. Brass body with hickory handles, Lie-Nielsen.
It seems I always do things in reverse order. As a guitarist I went from devouring Metallica’s …And Justice For All to cultivating an appreciation for Albeniz’s Asturias.
When I began building guitars nearly ten years ago I used power tools for as many processes as I could. Nowadays armed with knowledge and experience I choose to select what I feel is the best tool for the job. I have found over time that using a spokeshave and other hand tools to carve necks and contours really gets me in touch – literally – with the way the instrument will feel for the player.
3. Japanese-made profile gauge. Hosco.
This tool is just über-cool. It looks a little weird but it’s a lot of fun.
It’s basically a hundred round pieces of stainless steel that move independently of each other and are held in place by a sturdy metal frame. This tool aids me in ensuring that my neck carves are an even curve, peak or flat as requested by the player. Really what I like to do is just check the profile of everything in my shop with it just to be sure.
4. German-made spirit level. Yellow.
I just own one of these to boost my handyman cred.
But seriously, what use could a guitar maker possibly have for one of these things? Well, those who have followed my Facebook posts for a while would know that I often espouse the beauty and functionality of the humble hand-plane. I use a hand-plane for jointing bookmatched tops and creating an imperceptible scarf-joint in my necks.
If you’re a novice hand-plane operator as I once was, I’ll give you a tip that’ll really aid you in getting the result you want. When you put your piece of timber in the vice, make sure that it is in agreement with gravity according to your spirit level. That goes for the vertical surfaces inside your vice, too. Once you get that right you’ll find a 90° edge much easier to achieve.
5. German-made tiny cordless hand-drill. Festool.
Actually now that I think of it, this looks pretty standard in the luthier’s shop, right? What makes this drill a bit unusual is the ways this great German brand conceive of using something as simple as a cordless drill.
Get this. With this pocket-rocket you can drill a hole at 90°, switch from screwdriver to drill chuck in under 5 seconds, and charge the batteries from dead in under an hour. Most importantly, you can set it on 12 to drill a hole in a Redgum sleeper, then back it down to 1 and screw grandma’s Wedgwood cup back together.
6. Mortar and pestle, marble, brand unknown.
This tool performs a simple but vital role in the workshop: I use it to mix up wood grain filler for use on very porous timbers such as Mahogany and Vic Ash.
7. Brazilian-made gas hand torch. Orca brand.
How would you feel if I told you that I had subjected your new custom-built guitar to being branded with a chunk of steel at 300°C?
Well, this is how I get the Lucas logo onto the headstock on my guitars. Light a match, heat a die stamp up until you could vaporise an egg with it and push it into the unsuspecting hardwood.
8. Long German-made 8mm drill bit.
Believe it or not, this tool is often used in the construction of guitars. For those electrics that have bodies made of one piece of timber (or those that do not have a feature cap on top), makers often use a very long drill bit to create passages for electrical wiring to travel from the pickup routs to the volume/tone controls.
Traditionally this is done by drilling a hole from the neck pocket through into each of the pickup routs, and then another hole is drilled to get the wiring to the controls. It’s pretty scary the first few times you can do it… you really hope the hole ends up where you want it to be! I do this less and less nowadays, as I tend to use feature caps and can be a lot more surgical about creating the wiring passages before gluing everything together.
9. Taiwanese automatic centrepunch. ABW.
It may come as a shock, but one of the foundations to my self-training as a luthier was spending many years in many capacities within the automotive sector. It was as a very green apprentice mechanic that I was taught many fundamental engineering skills that have stayed with me forever since.
This brilliant invention, no doubt by someone sick of needing three hands to do a job, is even more useful to me now than it was in my days of grease-monkeying. Basically the centrepunch is spring-loaded and can be adjusted to create just the right mark in your workpiece; you simply push down and the tool does the rest.
10. Generic 2m measuring tape, Taiwan.
This seemingly benign object rounds out the ten.
There’s really nothing remarkable about this tape, it’s probably forty or so years old, maybe not particularly accurate. I mostly use it just to get a thereabouts measurement when cutting some plywood for a jig or somesuch. I don’t actually know how I came into possession of it… one day there it was.
One day though I noticed something faintly written on it that made the hairs stand on the back of my neck. The initials, written in biro – ‘G.L.’ …
It was my grandfather’s.
*diez = ’10’ in Spanish