The Luthier And His Art

Ever wondered how to make a guitar? Well, nestled neatly in the rain tree forest of Hulu Langat, Selangor, is a guitar workshop. A sturdy young man sits in that workshop, hard at work on creating his next masterpiece. The workshop sits far away from the hustle and bustle of the noisy city, as he prefers the peace and quiet to concentrate on his work. A luthier, he calls himself, and he has developed his craft for ten years until he is able to make a beautiful, perfectly tuned guitar in just two weeks.

Jonathan Woo, a luthier working on one of his guitars
Jonathan Woo working on one of his guitars.

What is a luthier? The word “luthier” originates from the French word “luth,” meaning any plucked stringed instrument. From this, we can conclude that a luthier is one who builds stringed instruments such as the guitar. If you want to read more about what a luthier is, please visit this site.

Jonathan Woo, just thirty-one years of age, has mastered the art of making acoustic guitars, and is the sole apprentice to Mr Jeffrey Yong, owner of Jeffrey Yong Guitars. Mr Jeffrey Yong is a world-renowned luthier who won the 2006 OM (Orchestra Model) Guitar’s Blind Listening Test for best sounding guitar in terms of tonality, timbre, and sustain, at the Guild of American Luthiers (GAL) Convention held in Tacoma, Washington, USA. Jonathan has dabbled in photography, graphic design, drum-making, and even shoe-making, but found his heart in creating guitars. Here we will take a look at the steps Jonathan takes to build his perfectly handcrafted guitars.

Step 1 To Becoming A Luthier: Preparing The Wood

The first step to making an acoustic guitar is to of course, prepare the wood. In the picture below, you can see Jonathan cutting some wood from a tree stump in order to build his guitar. Selecting the type of wood you’re going to use is also very important as it affects the sound. In Jonathan’s case, he prefers to use rain trees, especially Monkeypod wood (Samanea saman or Rain Tree). You will also have to cut and sand the wood to the correct thickness, which varies according to taste.

Jonathan Woo, a luthier, cutting wood from a tree stump
Jonathan Woo cutting wood to make his guitars.
planks of wood stacked against a wall
The planks of wood after being cut from the trees.
planks of wood stacked on top of each other
The wood after being cut, planed, and sanded neatly.

Step 2: Cutting It Out And Adding The Bracing

After preparing the wood, the next step is to cut out the shape of the guitar, not forgetting the sound hole, and adding the bracing on the inside of the guitar. The positioning, thickness, and how much wood you add will also have an effect on the sound of the guitar.

Pieces of wood cut out to the shape of a guitar by a luthier
The wood after it is cut out to the shape of a guitar.
Weights holding down guitar bracing as it is being added
The weights holding down the bracing as it is being added.
Guitar with bracing added
The pieces of wood after it has been cut out and the bracing has been added.

Step 3: Making The Body

The next step to making your guitar is to build the guitar body and bend the wood so that it fits the sides of the guitar. It will start to resemble a full guitar, and you are only a few steps away from completing a fully playable guitar.

Clamps holding guitar body in place
Building the body of the guitar.
guitar body
The guitar body before the top has been attached.

Step 4: Adding More And Building The Neck

Now that you have made the parts of the guitar body, you will have to add more to it. You will have to add the truss rod, and build the neck of the guitar. Optional things to add are the tailpiece, and the tailpiece inlay. You should also add the frets to the neck, and any inlays.

guitar neck being built
The neck of the guitar being built.
Measurements on the neck of a guitar
Measuring the neck of the guitar to know where the frets are placed.
A luthier placing the frets on a guitar
Adding the frets of the guitar.
guitar inlay designed by a luthier
Beautiful inlay on a guitar.

Step 5: Binding The Body And Attaching Everything Together

Now that you have finished all the separate parts, it is time to bind the body of the guitar. Once you have done that, the guitar is strung and tested for sound quality.

weights holding down guitar body as it is being binded
The various guitar parts are glued together and held in place with C clamps to dry.
guitar lying on a table after being made
After the neck and body have been attached together.

You Are Now On Your Way To Becoming A Luthier!

You have now made a fully functional guitar. How well it sounds and how good it looks will all depend on you and your skill. Practising your craft and making more guitars can improve your skill, and one day, you may become an accomplished luthier in your own right. Below is an example of one of Jonathan’s finished guitars.

beautiful guitar standing up facing front made by a luthier
The front of one of Jonathan Woo’s beautiful handcrafted guitars.
beautiful guitar standing up facing back made by a luthier
The back.

Besides making guitars, Jonathan also conducts workshops where you can learn to build your very own guitar in only two weeks! If you want to learn how to make a guitar or buy one of Jonathan’s beautiful guitars, you can email him at jonathanwooshengyi@gmail.com.

Jonathan Woo's signature
The product of Jonathan Woo’s hard work.
Aurelia CHAN

About Aurelia CHAN

She has a background in design and journalism, and a passion for photography, music, and more importantly, writing. A deal that was sealed the day she started participating in short stories and poem competitions.

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