Martin Guitar Kit Project Build – Part One

| November 27, 2010 | 6 Comments

Editor’s Note – This article is the first in a series on the building of a Martin guitar kit. You may find some useful background information on the kit in our earlier article Martin Guitar Kit First Look. Our author and builder is Bob Moore, aged 60, a regional IT manager for the State of Texas who recently stopped a 15-year stint coaching youth soccer. Since “retiring” from soccer he’s renewed his interest in golf and guitar playing. Bob is known as CoachBob in various online guitar forums. We’ll let Bob take it from here:

I built my first kit for myself after seeing the prices of Martins and other quality guitars. As it turned out, I could have bought a decent Martin for what I spent on the first kit and the tools, etc., that go with it. However, it became something that really interested me, and my plans now are to finish the one I’m building for my daughter – from a kit, and for my son. After those two are completed, I’ve obtained some figured bubinga back and sides and will build a “semi-kit” for myself. After that, who knows, I might keep on and sell a few – as long as it doesn’t turn into work!

The Martin kit comes with everything you need to complete a quality guitar. Some or all of the parts may have defects that kept them from being completed and sold by Martin as their own guitars. The defects should not have an effect on the sound; they’re mostly cosmetic.

There is no documentation on how to build the guitar – you’re left to your own devices in that regard. I’ve purchased several books and DVD’s on guitar kit building, and one is specifically for building the Martin kit by author Bill Cory. I also looked around and found a local luthier, Stephen Kinnaird, who has been extremely helpful to me in my building so far. Steve’s a great guy and, from day one, treated me more as an equal than a newbie amateur. He makes awesome guitars both aesthetically and audibly. Check out his web site here. If I ever get half as good as he is, I’ll have produced some good guitars. If you decide to get into building, look around for someone near you to bounce ideas off and ask for advice. There’s nothing like having a mentor. Most of them are like Steve, friendly, helpful, and glad to have people stop in.

Back to the kit. Here’s a picture (Photo 1) of the top that was provided with the Martin guitar kit.

Photo 1 – Top supplied with Martin Guitar Kit

And now a close-up (Photo 2) showing why Martin didn’t put this top on one of theirs. Notice the blurring on the right and lower right section outside the rosette. Evidently when sanding the rosette flush, some of the rosette material marred it.

Photo 2 – Close up of why Martin puts this piece in their kit and not a factory guitar

I could use this top for my build, but I happen to have one (Photo 3) sold to me by an internet friend. The replacement top is Lutz spruce, a hybrid of Sitka and White spruce if I’m not mistaken. This one has a lot of “bearclaw” figure in it, which is why I got it. With finish applied, the bearclaw ripples through and looks almost 3-dimensional. You can get a sense of it in this picture where some lacquer has been applied to bring out the claw.

Photo 3 – The replacement top has nice “bearclaw” figuring

This top has a nice deep tap tone and sustain even now. It’ll need to be thinned a little, but I’m going to do that when I install the rosette. I’ll sand the top to make the rosette flush and remove the lacquer, then any other thinning will be on the inside.

The back is made from East Indian Rosewood, and came in 2 parts (Photos 4 and 5) with a strip down the middle. I’ll do the joining of those as one of my first steps.

Photo 4 – The two back pieces and center strip

Photo 5 – This is how the back will look when assembled

Regarding the sides I should explain that I got this kit second hand from a couple who were both teachers and about to start a school year. It takes about 100+ hours to build from a kit and they didn’t have enough time to build it. During the time they had it, one of the sides cracked in two spots. I joined the edges of the crack flush with each other while my wife spread superglue down the length of the crack. With a little sanding it all vanished. We did that 2 months ago, and I cannot find the crack at all now.

I love these sides (Photo 6). The grain is pretty straight, and there’s enough color differences to make them look nice to me, just as the back does. Straight grain is a very nice thing to have when working with wood, as figured grain can present some problems. I’ll have to deal with that issue with my next build of figured bubinga.

Photo 6 – The good looking sides that came with the kit

The neck has some blemishes, which I’ll discuss later, but here it is (Photo 7) along with the fingerboard (rosewood), the truss rod, the neck block and the tail block. If you’ll look closely, the fingerboard has inlay holes for the position markers, and both the neck and fingerboard have registering pins and holes. When I go to glue the two together, they’ll be exactly aligned. This is a nice feature to have, as I’ll explain later.

Photo 7 – Neck, fingerboard, truss rod, neck block and tail block

Finally, here (Photo 8) are the bits and pieces. Binding, purfling, braces, kerfing, strings, nut, saddle, bridge, bridge plate, bridge pins, some wood for making braces for the sides, fret material, a tail wedge with its purfling, and tuning keys. The only thing I see missing is the strap pin. It might be misplaced, or might not have come with the set.

Photo 8 – Miscellaneous components of the Martin guitar kit

If you build a guitar, you will need a very flat surface for several tasks. The granite slab in the photos is something I bought at a tile company in the next town over. I asked for some scraps, and they had a piece that was 60″ by 22″. They charged me $40 and even cut it in half for me. This stuff is heavy – each half weighs 50 lbs. – but it’s a great work surface for guitar building. You don’t need to get this, but get something that’s pretty true. I did my first two kits without it, but I can see its benefit for later on. For example, when you go to hammer in frets on the fingerboard, a granite slab or the concrete floor of a garage or drive way is perfect.

I will be building this kit in a room that we use for the computer. It’s actually a spare bedroom with a lot of our books as well. You can build almost all of the guitar in a room such as this, or even on a kitchen table if you want. The only time I don’t work in here is when I have to saw, drill, sand or do the finish work. And I actually applied finish on the first guitar in this room because it was a brush on lacquer. The second and now this guitar will both be sprayed using aerosol cans of nitrocellulose finish products, so they will be done outside. I hope the East Texas weather cooperates.

OK, see you in Part Two when I start building the kit. By the way, if you have any questions for me, please post a comment here and I’ll post an answer.

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Category: Acoustic Guitar Kits

Comments (6)

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  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    Nice start Bob. I don’t have a question yet but I’ve been thinking for awhile that I’d like to build a guitar, and have wondered if this kit would be too challenging for me. I’ll be watching with great interest as you build this one. Thanks for posting the info.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    The only thing that I’m apprehensive about is the dovetail neck. I’ve done bolt-on necks before. A dovetail presents some challenges. I’ll let you know when I get there.
    Bob

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    Bob, what do you figure the special tools and jigs will cost me if I get one of these kits.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    A mold cost me about $100, clamps – you need various kinds, cam clamps, spring clamps, bar clamps, – you can build spool clamps cheaply. A couple of chisels, a small router with a jig for cutting purfling/binding channels and trimming the top and back (about $40 maybe for the jig at Kenneth Michaels Guitars. To set the bridge in its proper location, you’ll need a jig (I can’t remember, maybe $75, but Ken Michaels will give you a quote, or LMI or Stewart-Mcdonald has prices). Scraper, small razor saw or similar, jig saw or band saw, small files, drill or drill press, orbital sander, lotsa sand paper. Finishing supplies are not too cheap, about $100+. I’m afraid it adds up. I spent between 400 and 500 on my first, but not very much on my 2nd, and the only extra cost on this one is the extras that I bought because I wanted to modify it and finishing supplies.
    I could have bought a Martin for about what I spent, and been happy, but this is fun for me, so the cost was somewhat secondary. I ain’t rich, but now I will have built 3 for less than 3 good ones would cost, and giving them to my kids to pass on is well worth it. I’ll try to formalize something in part 3 about essential tools, nice to have tools, and splurge tools. For example, you can use small jeweler’s type files to cut nut slots, but dedicated nut slot files are about $85 or so for a set. Not necessary, but they do make better work on the nut since each file is the width of the string. Setting the bridge can be done without a jig, but it’s painstaking and you have to really concentrate to make it perfect.
    Bob

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