Is CNC the way to go ?

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by Seth B, Oct 8, 2011.

  1. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    Hi all,

    I am hoping some of the expert luthiers here will find this thread.
    I am currently a small custom builder and I am looking to take things to the next level and develop a small range of "standard" models and to speed up build time and increase accuracy. At present I just use a hand router and jigs for neck joints/pickups etc and the rest all by hand.
    I have been toying with the idea of getting a Desk top CNC router for various parts of the build, and was wondering what views are with regards to CNC vs pin router and copy carver ? Or any recommendations for a small to mid size workshop set up on a sensible budget.
    Any information on pro's and cons would be most welcome.

    Thanks
     
  2. sondich

    sondich Supporting Member

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  3. simon_62

    simon_62 Member

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    I'd prefer to have a CNC at hand to reduce the leg-work (and cost) on certain aspects of builds. I enjoy the making process but there are times when things would be so much more straightforward to be able to CNC them instead....
     
  4. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    Thanks for posting guys. I read the Decibel blog, I also found an old thread on here discussing CNC with some great contributions from some great luthiers such as John Suhr, Anderson, Briggs, Thorn etc. A very interesting read. It seems a good way to go if quality and accuracy are your number one priority and also I like the idea of doing less donkey work and concentrating more on the finer hand details.
    Exciting ....
     
  5. corn husk bag

    corn husk bag Supporting Member

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    Hi Seth,
    Good luck to you on your venture! Can you post a photo of one of your builds? Where are you located?

    Kind Regards,
    Steve
     
  6. Eagle1

    Eagle1 Member

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    Absolutely .
    You should spend the hand work time doing the things that need it.
     
  7. Crash-VR

    Crash-VR Supporting Member

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    Once I was talking to Jason Schroeder and he said that he's already suffering from the physical strain of hand carving everything. When I was a steal fabricator I had similar physical pain. All I can say is work smarter not harder....
     
  8. _MonSTeR_

    _MonSTeR_ Member

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    Darren at Decibel knows a lot about guitars and I trust his opinion greatly.

    Jaden Rose who's a very "up and coming" British builder also uses CNC in his workshop. His guitars are amongst the highest caliber I've ever tried in my 30 odd years of playing. I've always wondered why there's the objection to CNC, if it's "ok" to use a power saw, why not the next step?

    Maybe we should moan at luthiers who don't scratch out the basic body outline with their own fingernails? ;)
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2011
  9. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    I agree totally. I agree about the physical toll of hand building guitars. I can feel it to a degree all ready. My step father has been building guitars for 45 years totally by hand and is feeling the burn a lot these days. I also was reading up about pin routers and read something by Juha Ruokangas saying his pin router is nick named the thumb router as he lost his thumb on it. Ouch !

    So with the obvious accuracy benefits and the physical well being side of it, I think I have decided to start the process of moving in that direction.
    There is so much good information and communication on this forum. Glad I found it.
    I see a whole new set of challenges coming up though to achieve the goal of making the best guitars possible. The 3D programing side of things looks a little daunting but I'm up for the challenge !
    And I am glad that after investigating it more that there is so much hand work involved still. I didn't want to feel disconnected from the guitars and that is where my strength lies, in the hands and the fine details of things.
     
  10. Krayon

    Krayon Senior Member

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    I'm not a Luthier. but I know one locally thats building some very nice stuff.

    He and I have had several indepth conversations about his experience with CNC over the last 4 years..

    his opinion is its a must in order to compete in the current market.

    But the equipment and the learning curve is very high, and he still maintains that "handwork" in the "right areas" is still very critical. and no CNC could ever really replace that.

    he also points out that some builders use their CNCs for nearly everything and thats not always very efficent, so a combination of hand. modern power tool and CNC is needed. with the emphisis on accuracy, speed, consitantcey, and playability being the focus. and if the builder also has the "old world" traditional woodworking skills as well. then he should be able to build some very fine instruments.. quickly.

    sidenote; if you REALLY want to hang out in a forum where the pro builders actually talk shop and show you how its done.. then go to "My Les Paul Forums" and look in the "luthiers corner" you wont believe the wealth of info there.
     
  11. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    Yeah that's what I was thinking, it is nearly impossible to make a living, hand making electric guitars unless you have a huge reputation and a huge price tag. It's good to know I am on the right track, makes me feel much more confident about making the leap. I don't underestimate the learning curve, I also have had similar thoughts about using for particular jobs rather than trying to do the whole thing. It seems to be the best marriage then of technology and skilled hand work. I know I could never replicate the accuracy of a cnc for neck pockets/joints or bridge placement or fret slot cutting so it seems it can only improve my guitars in these areas at least.
    I am also very interested in exploring the inlay possibilities, hand cutting inlays is very satisfying but I wouldn't want to do it all day long. It will breed a whole new kind of creativity in my work.
     
  12. Sawarow

    Sawarow Gold Supporting Member

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    Not sure what your definition of desktop CNC is, but I would not get one with less then ~30" travel in the long (X on mine) axis and less then ~16" in the other axis. You want the longer travel to be able to cut an entire neck and the other to have enough width to cut a body with e little travel to spare. One with less travel could be made to work by moving the work piece, but that is time consuming and adding the possibility you could have indexing problems.

    Unless you invest in a large milling machine, the smaller CNCs can be accurate, but not necessarily cut fast. If you're not building lots of guitars, this may not be a huge issue, and you certainly can be doing something else while the machine is running. I can do things with my CNC that would be difficult with templates, but overall I'm not sure it is much faster.

    It does have a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it and make a few parts, it is not too bad. One cool thing in having one is how useful it can be to make jigs, etc.
     
  13. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    Yeah I was looking at something like maybe the cnc that Luthier tool make. It would be nice to buy one from someone that has built it for a specific task. Building guitars. I realize that a machine like this won't cut quickly like the big ones. It's fine for me, I will not be making huge numbers anyway. A friend of mine pointed out to me earlier that it would also be an incredibly accurate way to make jigs. And presumably scratchplates and back plates etc .....
     
  14. meangene

    meangene Member

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    Love the buggers big or small, K2 CNC makes a great entry level machine ran on 120v single phase power, but HAAS rules although requires big dough, space, and 3 phase power. My K2 has a 38x22 table great for guitars 5 inch Z, the HAAS VF4SS 50x20 and a die hard worker. eBay gets some great deals on used Fadal's or HAAS machines if you can find a place to put one. Very accurate and reliable machines, hard to hurt them. Once you get to know one their your best friend and ya wanna play with them all the time.
     
  15. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    Thanks Gene, I appreciate your advice. I love your B3 guitars, beautifully made.
    I'm convinced now, just need to shop around a bit and choose the right thing. A whole new world of things to learn ! Did you find it hard to get your head around the 3d design software/programming ?
     
  16. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    Hi Steve,

    I am just finishing a new build now, I'll post some pictures tomorrow. I'm originally from the UK but recently moved to Portugal for the sunshine !
    Thanks for your interest.
     
  17. jfalcs

    jfalcs Member

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    I agree with a lot of your post but not that. Having had experience with a CNC, its not always the best option and certainly not the only one in order to be successful. Thoughtful jigging/fixturing and a well thought out process are just as important. The advantage of CNC is easy "tweaking" of your design and excellent accuracy. That being said, there are a lot of builders using well maintained analog machinery doing just as accurate work. I'd argue that you could build templates and fixtures and be up and running in the same amount of time it takes to learn the software and get everything working. I think that an "all CNC" expectation is unrealistic.
     
  18. octave1

    octave1 Member

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    I agree, I think there is a misconception that building with a CNC is "easy" and "hand building" should therefore command a premium over it. With the prevalence of software everywhere now including every person's pocket, people assume the CNC software does the hard part for you. It overlooks the skill required to setup and program each build action, as well as the risk of code or logic problems causing malfunctions which trash wood. And you have still have to design it right to begin with, do the frets, electronics, finish, and setup.
     
  19. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff Member

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    CNC is great in the right hands. Ive always run 100% analog, but have been tempted periodically to get a CNC.

    The only thing about CNC being used on a TCM neck..I dont know how a neck could be made via CNC and maintain the dimensional specs that I require. Im sure that it could be done but handwork would have to intrude at certain stages in order to maintain certain specs and to accomodate for wood movement. That would remove many of the CNC advantages.

    I have a very strict neck methodolgy which has produced thousands of necks with zero warantee returns and very very very few in-house rejects.. Ive thought this thru many times...I do not know how my methods could be transferred to CNC and maintain that standard.
     
  20. Seth B

    Seth B Member

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    Thanks for your input Terry, I appreciate it. Out of interest what aspects do you think the CNC couldn't deliver for you ?
    I am seeing it as a good roughing out device for neck shapes etc with all the final work being done by hand still. I think for me it is a question of combining skills to come up with the most accurate consistent work. I know it is not for everyone.
    I work with my step father Andy Manson who has been hand building acoustic guitars for 45 years and you couldn't do things more analog, in fact he could pretty much get there without electricity even ! His work is absolutely stunning and consistently brilliant. I guess it is really about finding a method that works for you and enables you to do your best work. For me I can see it only adding to the quality of my guitars, obviously coupled with a lot of hand work still.
     

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