James Ellis’s RGac-59 BYO

James has travelled from Queensland- Townsville to be exact- to build his own guitar with me.

After careful consideration, he’s decided to build a cutaway acoustic but he wanted to choose his own timber for the back, sides and neck and consequently we took a trip to see my old friend Kevin Bertram, from whom I’ve purchased some really lovely guitar making timber over the last twenty odd years.

Kevin again rose to the challenge and showed us some wonderful figured Tasmanian Myrtle and James has selected that for his guitar.

The model that James has chosen to build is a version of my RGac-59 cutaway acoustic, with the neck joining the body at the 15th fret which has a cutaway that might prove to be a challenge for a Build-Your-Own guitar.

The guitar in these photos has a Sitka spruce top and the back, sides and neck are all African mahogany, also sourced from Bertram Timber.

Anyway, I’ve machined up the timber that James bought and because James was keen to learn all about the making process, we’ve started by finish thicknessing the back and the top and cutting and sanding the sides to the required size.

James has glued up both the back and the top…

Next, James learns the delicate art of side bending, starting with the left hand side…

The cutaway side could prove tricky…

…but that’s worked out well also.

The excess is cut off and the bent sides are starting to look decidedly guitar- like.

The next task is to make the head and tail blocks…

…and glue them into position.

While we’re waiting for the glue to dry, we’ll look at the bracing for the back.

The back is marked out and then cut to the approximate shape.

We’ve decided that the braces should be spruce and James has stripped up the spruce into the appropriate sizes and marked out and cut the back braces…

…and with the braces cut and sanded, they’re glued down.

Before the top bracing is done, we’ve got to address the sound hole inlay and I’ve suggested to James that we use a rosette made from the same myrtle as the back and sides, and having made the myrtle rosette, the top is appropriately marked out…

The routed inlay channel is tidied up…

…and the rosette is glued into place.

While that’s drying, James sands off any scorch marks from the bending process on the inside of the guitar.

(James has done an excellent job of the side bending process because the sides sit inside the mould without props or braces. Things don’t necessarily always work out this well…)

With the rosette sanded flat, the sound hole is cut out and the edges sanded.

Now for the bracing…

The top is roughly cut to shape…

…and James starts on the top braces.

The halving joint on the  x braces is carefully cut…

…and the X-brace is glued down.

The rest of the top bracing follows…

The bridge plate is an off cut from the myrtle back…

…and it’s glued down also.

Now we can start on the linings on the top edge of the body…

…and while they’re drying, James shapes the back braces.

The top is test fitted and adjusted where necessary and when all is right, the glue is applied…

…and the top is glued down.

When it’s dry, the clamps are removed and the top is trimmed  to match the sides using the router.

The procedure is repeated for the back…

Here, we did have a small hiccup…a clamp- the one with the circle- was inadvertently placed just a little inside where it should have been, and we heard the distinctive sound of a back brace coming unglued…

When the glue had dried and the guitar was removed from the mould…

…unfortunately, this had happened…

However, it’s all fixable…

…and nobody will ever know.

Trimming the back…

…and sanding the body.

Now, after some discussion with James about the complexities of wood binding and the comparative simplicity of plastic binding, James has opted for the wood binding and has also opted for making his own using jarrah which will, when it’s finished, provide a nicely complimenting colour to the myrtle.

Cutting the binding channel is always problematic using this setup, though.

We need more time for the fitting of the binding because it is a time consuming process, so in the meantime, we’ll start on the neck and specifically, the truss rod channel.

And with that done, James can cut the neck profile on the bandsaw.

While we’re at it, we’ll make the truss rod and install it as well.

James can now cut the neck to shape…

And now for the binding…

The jarrah binding has to be bent to shape and then glued and held in place with binding tape until it’s dry.

With the binding done, we’re now going to fit the neck to the body.

With the alignment as it should be, the neck is glued in and allowed to dry. The next morning, the locking dowels are glued in and trimmed flush with the top.

The fretboard is next…

We’ve glued the completed fretboard to the unshaped neck over lunchtime and after lunch, James sets about shaping the neck.

Now it’s really looking like a guitar!

Next- the bridge and James has decided to make his bridge out of the same timber as the neck, back and sides…Tasmanian Myrtle.

And while the bridge is being completed, I’ve sprayed sanding sealer to the guitar…

…and with the finishing process underway, the beautiful myrtle has come to life.

With the painting completed, James has rubbed back and polished his guitar to a really great finish.

The fret board edges are dealt with appropriately and the frets are levelled and polished.

The Grover open back machine heads are fitted…

…and the bridge position is readied for the gluing on of the bridge.

Now, with a bit of help from me, the nut is cut and the guitar is strung for the first time…

I wish I could have talked James into an appropriate headstock logo…but the guitar has proven to be all we were hoping for- a great sound, very playable and great looking.

We also fitted James’ guitar with a K and K Mini pickup system and through my small pa, it sounds gorgeous.

And it was only appropriate that James took his new guitar to show Kevin Bertram that his lovely plank of figured myrtle had been put to VERY good use…