CNC vs. all handmade

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by tms13pin, Jun 5, 2005.

  1. scott

    scott Supporting Member

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    David,
    I also voice my guitars much like you do. The CNC takes a lot of the grunt work out, similar to the way you use you duplicarver. On hollowbodies I always tune the tops before I glue them down. Same with semi hollows. The CNC can be used to rout tops thicker or thinner depending on where you zero out the machine. A guy can be pretty creative with these machines....its all how you look at it.
    Im glad I built for so many years by hand, it taught me a lot about tapping and tunning but Im never going back. I figured I had better learn it sooner than later before I get left in the dust.
    I build a lot of custom one off guitars that are still made entirely by hand. Its fun and it keeps my skills tuned up but I love watching that machine do its thing. Its pretty cool.

    DaveS - yes the learning curve is massive but it is worth it and then some. I just save the drawings on a disk then take it to the computer that runs my machine and I write the code there with another program.
    In a few years it will be next to impossible to compete if you dont have one IMHO. The competition is fierce for sure.


    www.heatleyguitars.com
     
  2. Chun13

    Chun13 Member

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    Incredible post there, I guess the conclusion of the post is that luthier don't drive in Ferrari's because they drive their CNC's (or their saving for one :D)

    Keep building the good stuff guys, that's so much love you'll share with us !
     
  3. Gadowguitars

    Gadowguitars Member

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    I agree with everything Scott said...and yes the learning curve is there but its getting easier with every year....5 years ago it would take 3 times as long to learn how to operate one of these beast. We use Rhino cad and Visual Mill cam.....5 years ago this technology would have cost $20 grand......we bought it for $1200.

    To go from Cad to the machine....after design, we put a tool path on it with our Cam, which turns the program into G-code...we then save it to a disk (I can't believe we still have to use a floppy)...then load it into the Haas.
     
  4. bluestein

    bluestein Member

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    Thank you David - I was hoping a Luthier would weigh in with that point of view.

    Personally, I don't want a CNC anywhere near the top and back plate of my archtops....other than a very rough cut.

    I can see where CNC might help with some of the grunt work in carving necks etc - but there is no substitute for a great set of ears and the mechanical skills to translate that to an instrument.
     
  5. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    FWIW, master luthier Bill Cumpiano says tap tuning per se is mostly hocus pocus/******** though what many luthiers actually do while calling it tap tuning (see Myka's post, above) plays significant a role in voicing the instrument.

    In a nutshell: "... the approach of people who've said that they 'tune' their guitars and the ones that don't, in the end, seem to morph together. What is the same is that THEY have become "tuned" to what the guitar is feeding back to them in all kinds of ways, in ways that they can understand but cannot explain or teach. "

    The full article is here:

    http://www.cumpiano.com/Home/Newsletters/Issues/twentythree.htm
     
  6. bluestein

    bluestein Member

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    ...And perhaps for him - it is.

    But there are luthiers that DO know how to do it. Guys like Benedetto, D'Aquisto, D'Angelico, Schroeder and others.....
     
  7. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    I'm guessing you're unfamiliar with Cumpiano's work, e.g., it's probably fair to say his book on Guitarmaking is the bible of its field. In any event, through his website and newsletters, the guy routinely shares knowledge and techniques that many other luthiers in his position would be more likely to zealously guard as trade secrets. That's a good thing.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0811806405/infoline0f-21/202-5480219-9103052
     
  8. David Myka

    David Myka Member

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    Cumpiano certainly can make a nice acoustic guitar. I own his book and there are some excellent ideas in there but it certainly lacks in the area of voicing a top. He suggests just following the blueprints and building to dimentional spec. Does this produce a good guitar? Sure. If I have a particular way I want it to sound will he be the guy I would go to? Nope.

    I took a class from Harry Fleishman years ago on the hows and whys of acoustic guitar building. This is where I learned the techniques of tap tuning and controlled voicing. There is a good reason hy you don't see books written about and it is because to demonstrate the ideas you really need to get your hands on several pieces of the same material to hear the inherent differences in them. And then you have to build a soundboard to practice the theory and realize how it works (we build the whole guitar). The results were mixed in the classroom but afterwards I went on to build guitars for people and had more than a few tell me that I nailed the tone in their head (both electric and acoustic guitars). If we are all having a group hallucination then at least it's got good tone :)

    The difficilculty in talking about tap tuning and voicing without building is the same as describing improvisational techniques without actually playing. You need the hands on experience or you just don't get it. I never did.

    Here is a different take by another master luthier Irvin Somogyi:
    Somogyi article
     
  9. robmarch

    robmarch Member

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    since this thread is already full of good information from respected, quality luthiers of varying appreciation for CNC, I will go ahead and pollute it with the opinion of a "hack." :)

    Building a guitar (or aspects of a guitar) by hand can give you a large dose of perspective in a short time on facets of guitar building. I know that, for me, a guitar is only as good as it's intonation, regardless of other aspects. I immediately decided that I would not cut my own fret slots on my last two projects, and would start with a CNC'd/precut fretboard at least.

    I also had very few tools and no shop access on my most recent build, which happened in my finished basement. I wanted to maximize my chances of ending up with something playable, so I decided to start with a Carvin through body neck. Don't get me wrong, I definitely feel like I need to build a neck from scratch one day to have it in the bag of tricks, but in my position at the time, I decided to start with a known quantity here.

    Now, starting with a CNC'd neck doesn't make for a good "handmade" guitar argument, right? :)

    The next step was joining the 7/8" maple top. This thing was figured like crazy, and had moved quite a bit in shipment. The most exotic tool I had available to do this work was a hand plane. I don't see myself ever doing this again without at least a router table...it's just not worth it.

    Next, join the neck and the body "wings" together. More joint planing (though the neck didn't require it, the wings did), clamping, and gluing. Now, remove the extra thickness of the neck to make a flat surface for the maple top to glue to. A forstner(sp?) bit in a drill press would have been great here, or a router in a jig, you name it. What actually happened was a hand drill, some chisel action, and sandpaper cleanup. I won't do this again without some sort of fixed "z-axis" wood removal, as mentioned above. I chambered the body at the same time, with similar technique, and also "routed" the pickup/switch wiring with a chisel before gluing the top on.

    Plane the maple surface (a planer would have really helped here, probably before gluing the halves together due to size limitations), and glue together. "rout" the pickup cavities and control cavities by drilling most of the material out with a hand drill and chisel cleanup. I used a dremel freehand to clean up the edges that would show. I won't rout pickup or control cavities again without at least a router and a template.

    This is probably already boring enough to most of you, so I'll stop here (especially not boring you with the details of hand carving the top). But, from my experience, I feel like there isn't much difference between milling parts on a CNC and using a template router, etc., except that the CNC'd parts usually come out more consistent. I also know how skilled you have to be to get a hand planed joint to make a perfect glue line (far more skilled than I am) and other items that are critical to the structure of a guitar.

    At this point, I believe that the "magic" of a handmade guitar is in the quality control, the attention to detail, and the critical eye. I don't think using a CNC for critical operations diminishes the value of the work, and only makes for consistent guitars, and less gambling on whether a particular guitar is going to be a "dog" or a "gem." Wood is a natural product, of course, so there will always be variation, but better mating surfaces and tolerances help minimize the variables we can control.

    Which is better, "handmade" or "cnc made"? In my opinion, even the CNC'd guitars have a lot of hand work, and even most of the "handmade" guitars use some form of a less robotically controlled CNC type operation (pin router and templates, etc.). I don't think there's a lot of difference in those operations. Now, if we're talking about someone who makes guitars with only hand tools similar to the manner I worked on my body above, I would say that these guitars would take a master luthier to be consistently excellent. If this appeals to you, be prepared to pay whatever this master luthier feels his time is worth. The rest of the boutique/high end luthiers select their own compromise of CNC, hand/template operations, and hand operations to meet their balance of cost and schedule. I don't see a big distinction here.
     
  10. hansoloist

    hansoloist Supporting Member

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    When it comes to building guitars I know one thing: jack. When it comes to the whole CNC vs. "Handmade" thing, I know another: ****. That's the extent of my luthiery know-how. All I know is that my Thorn demonstrates a level of precision that I have never seen in another guitar. And it sounds absof*ckinlutely bitchin.

    Mr. Peterson, this thread is definitley one for the archives.

    peace
    -jeff
     
  11. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    I'm with you, hansoloist, on guitar building, generally, and agree, there's lots of really interesting & good info. here in this thread.

    David, thanks for your last reply - very informative and interesting! :)
     
  12. Scott Peterson

    Scott Peterson Administrator ^/|\^ Co-Founder of TGP Staff Member

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    It seems to me that there *is* a middle ground on CNC, even for the guys that tap tune or whathave you. And most of the CNC aware builders here have stated it, though not as plainly as this - the CNC does the grunt work and the detail work (fret slots, inlay) far better than by hand.

    And for all it is worth; even a CNC cut archtop needs a ENOURMOUS amount of hand sanding and work to "tune" it. It seems to me, though I might be wrong, that folks are assuming that if you rough cut a top with CNC that you are then done and gluing it up. Not so.

    You still gotta work it, sand it, chisel it, perfect it.

    CNC doesn't rob the artisty from luthiery, it empowers the luthier to do his job to a higher level of perfection.

    IMHO anyway; as a guy who has built 2 guitars by hand (took over 2 years on the first and the second was abandoned long ago) and assembled more than a few parts guitars (ala Warmoth). So take my opinion for what it is and nothing more.
     
  13. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    For those who have visited my website, you may have noticed the little spiel about no cnc machines being employed. Well, let me tell you, it's not because I have anything against cnc. Far from it, I'm a techno junkie and if I had the $ and the space, I'd sure as heck have the cnc.

    It all comes down to perpetuating a myth just to market your product. Why do you think Gibson still claims handmade when everyone knows otherwise.

    Jeez robmarch, you really wanted to build yourself a guitar that day.
     
  14. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

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    Actually, a PLEK machine will do that :D

    I saw one in action last week. It was COOL!

    --chiba
     
  15. David Myka

    David Myka Member

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    Scott, very well said.

    There is not a fine line of distinction between hand built and CNC (or semi-production) made guitars provided that there is equal and appropriate skills being used. How much a person uses a CNC or a hand carving plane is not a meaningful statistic for determinig the quality of a guitar. It is what you do with it that counts.

    I think part of the difficulty with this topic are these extreme viewpoints. If you feel that you have to cut down a tree with a knife, sand it by hand with the sharkskin sandpaper that you got from a shark you caught while paddling a sealskin and whale bone kayak, and armed with an obsidian tipped spear in order to have a truly hand made guitar then I think the point is utterly lost. On the other extreme if CNC made means that you put wood in one end and a robot on the other is ready to string the guitar up for you then all is indeed lost.

    Personally, I would prefer to have the job of falling a tree done with a nicely made chainsaw wielded by a skilled lumberjack. Their waiting lists are not as long ;)
     
  16. robmarch

    robmarch Member

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    :(

    day? I wish. I was spoiled with access to lots of tools on the second one, and convinced myself that I could do it without them on the 3rd.

    [​IMG]

    as highlighted on here already, the finishing is a very tricky part of the process also. Shooting spray can nitro didn't make this any easier.

    If any of you reading this thread want to gain an appreciation for what actually goes into building a guitar, you now know what I'd recommend.
     
  17. Dirge

    Dirge Member

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    I've seen one in action too, it is cool but it is not as perfect as you might think. The problem is the grind stones, if there is an air pocket the stone can/will become flawed and then it eats the fret. This is what I saw happen and I was told that it happens fairly often. The documentaion is in German too. :D

    Great thread, I thought it was going to be another one of those rant things. But it turned out to be really informative, thanks guys!

    Off-topic: I have lived in the Bay Area and now live outside St Louis.
    One of my friends back in CA bought a house in Freakmont 5 years ago for $450k, her house is now valued at $985k. And this is for a place where people steal the mail out of the mailbox, you have to keep you garage door locked and everything in your backyard chained down.
     
  18. r9player

    r9player Silver Supporting Member

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    Great thread btw! wish I could afford all that cool machinery and stuff to make guitars .. me just tinkering along for now, nearing finish stage on a oft redone very abused guitar body :) (at least I got plenty of practice ..)

    and the off-topic part
    I can get you a place like that in Philly for ... $40K .. I think (prices have gone up, used to be $20K) Includes convenient drug dealer down the street and outside school shootings and stabbings!
     
  19. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    And so how's Phil doing? ;)
     
  20. scott

    scott Supporting Member

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    Right, I forgot about the PLEK. I saw one in jan at the NAMM show. it was cool. At 100K I doubt I will be able to justify one for a while yet.



    www.heatleyguitars.com
     

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