Tag archives: Guitar Making

Antonio Stradivari - The Sabionari Guitar

Amongst the many violins made by Antonio Stradivari, he also made violas, cellos, double bases, harps, guitars and probably other instruments as well.Sabionari Guitar 1 The Sabionari guitar (1679) is one of the five surviving guitars made by Antonio Stradivari. At the present time is the only playable one in the world. In guitar making it is definitely appreciated that to have a guitar this old and still playable is truly incredible. The interesting thing about old instruments is their history..........

A manuscript has survived which provides informations on the guitar being sold and bought in the 18th and 19th century.

Courtesy of Web Statistics, a translation of a letter below, written in 1854 by the owner of the time, Filippo Benetti, a bookseller from Ferrara to a new buyer, the landowner Vincenzo Tioli from Bologna, informs that the guitar had been previously sold by the Stradivari family descendants to Giovanni Sabionari (from whom the guitar takes its name), the year of the sale is not provided and therefore we cannot ascertain who was the Stradivari family member who sold the guitar.Sabionari Guitar 2

Translation of the manuscript posted Bologna March 2 (18)54

From : Filippo Benetti

Address : Most honourable Engineer Vincenzo Tioli Bologna


Dear Friend,

Your kindest paper is written on last February 19 : but I did not have it until

the present moment and I don't know how it is.

The guitar is of Stradivari and the authentication is born by the neck doing the

legalization by his own hand.

This guitar was purchased in Cremona from the descendants of the family who sold

it to a certain Giovanni Sabionari and I purchased it from him : but maintain it as

the pure truth, that the instrument is true and real manufactured by the above

mentioned Antonio and that he made only that one.

This is what I owed you in due answer, meantime I submit to your orders, I am

already collecting other things and manuscripts that at your coming we will make

other bargains.

Meanwhile believe with distinguished esteem .


Ferrara First of May 1854


Very humble servant of you best Sir


Filippo Benetti

The Legacy of Stradivarius

This does not have much to do with guitar making, although there are about four guitars made by Stradivarius still in existence - perhaps I will do a blog on this in the near future - but as a violin maker as well, I find the history of the violin and how little has changed over centuries,makes this a fascinating and wonderful instrument.

Cremona is truly a great city to visit. It is an old city with some interesting ancient history and it is steeped in the tradition of music and instrument making. The whole feel of the city is centred around music and if you want to see old violins, their museums are well stocked. Below is some interesting information on some of the master violin makers courtesy of Martin Gani.

The golden age of violin-making in Cremona began with Andrea Amati (1505-1577) who is considered the pioneer of the modern violin. Cremona-workshopHis grandson NiccolA? Amati (1596-1684) made some significant improvements, both aesthetically and acoustically. Guarneri del GesA? (1698-1744) made robust instruments with a powerful, rich sound, qualities so admired by the virtuoso violinist and composer Paganini that he owned four of them. But the city owes its fame to the inimitable master of all time Antonio Stradivarius (1644-1737). Stradivarius crafted around 1,100 string instruments, mostly violins, of which half are still in existence. He became rich and famous in his own lifetime, violinists and collectors alike started salivating over his instruments soon after he set up shop in Cremona in 1670. In 1990 a Stradivarius violin was sold for a record $1.4m. In April 1998, Stradivarius broke his own record when his violin,Kreutzera, auctioned by Christiea's in London, fetched $1.58m. The owner had paid $24,000 for it in 1958. Alas, Kreutzera's primacy didn't last long. On 1st November 1999 the Swiss music dealers Hug announced that the violin owned by Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1998), a 1742 gem by Giuseppe Guarneri, had just been auctioned for $2.83m.

Binding on Acoustic Guitars


What is binding?

Acoustic guitar binding in guitar making,can be made out of many different kinds of material including, various woods, plastic, or celluloid. Binding is inlayed on the edges of the body and sometimes on the neck and headstock.DSCF9552 This is done by cutting a rebate into the edge, either with a router, or as was done more traditionally in the past, by hand, with a rebate tool. Next to the binding, a strip of purfling is usually inlayed in along with the binding. Purfling strips are thin laminate pieces of different woods or woods dyed different colours. The purfling on guitars is usually more for aesthetic purposes.

The bindings main purpose

  • is to provide strength to edges. The top and back are glued to the sides, which are normally round 2mm thick. A 5mm thick strip called a lining, is attached to the inside of the sides where they meet the top and back. The reason for this is to a) stiffen the sides, and b) to increase the gluing area. When the binding rebates are cut they are specifically done to not disturb the joint of the top and back to the sides. Binding 1When the bindings are glued into position, again, the gluing area has been increased to strengthen the joint even more. It protects the fragile, grain edges of the top and back while helping attach them to the sides.
  • To lessen the chance of the top and back cracking or splitting, especially at the top (headstock area) and the bottom.
  • To protect the edges when accidently bumped.

So, as well as looking good and aesthetically finishing the guitar, the binding has a very specific purpose and plays a very important role in the construction of the instrument.


The Chisel - What makes it Good?

The term "Chisel" is believed to have evolved from the Latin word "seco" (I cut) or the French word "ciseau." As ancient, archaeological discoveries indicate, the crude, stone-fashioned forerunners of today's chisels, may have been the first of its kind used by primitive man. Although improved, versions are believed to have been used for marble carving in 6th century BC Greece, inscriptions on an ancient tomb of 7th century BC Egypt, suggest otherwise.

Chisels are used primarily for cutting, planing, gouging, carving and finishing of such materials, as wood, stone, metal or marble. However, the end-applications and materials will usually determine which type of chisel is to be used.DSCF1216 To perform efficiently, chisels are driven into the base material manually, using different levels of pressure, depending on the nature of the intended task. A hammer or mallet is generally used as the driving force to exert pressure on the hand-held, chisel/s being used.

I do not think there is one workshop that does not have some kind of chisel in it, especially shops that work primarily with wood. In a Luthiers workshop, there will be many different kind of chisels. In violin and guitar making, chisels are most important part of the workshop. But, what makes a chisel good?

Firstly the type of steel that the blade is made of is very important, It must be of a high quality steel, because, it must hold the sharp edge as long as possible. If the steel is too soft, the tool will blunten too quickly. Secondly, the chisel must be sharp at all times. There is nothing worse than working with a blunt chisel.

How do we get this sharp edge?

  1. Grind the edge to 22,5 degrees a (different chisels can have different angles, 22,5 is the average)
  2. Remove the burr caused by grinding on a polishing wheel, preferably with a grinding paste.
  3. Keep the chisel perfectly aligned with the edges when polishing ie. Do not lift the chisel so the edge goes into the wheel.
  4. Polish till the beveled edge and the bottom edge is smooth (it will usually start to shine).

If you can shave the hair on your arm with the chisel, then this is usually a good indication that the chisel will be sharp enough to work with. The reason for getting the chisel to a smooth polished surface, is, so that when you push or drive the chisel into the wood, the friction will be reduced making it easier to allow the tool to cut.

Acoustic Guitar Neck Width

Why are guitar necks as wide as they are, who decided that that is what it should be? In guitar making there are standard neck widths. These have been worked out over time to be the most comfortable and effective. Much like violins, there are also very strict standard dimensions. For violin players this is more pertinent, because if you as a player, pick up an instrument that is not your own a this may be to test, or maybe an emergency before a concert, or a student that you are teaching a your muscle memory will automatically place your fingers in the right place to play the right notes. Now, if the dimensions are not correct, initially, you will have difficulty getting the right notes. After a while you will get used to it and you will sort out the difference, but if you move to another instrument you will have the same challenge. The same applies to guitar neck widths, there has to be a standard size. However, the guitar has frets which help tremendously in finding the position for the right notes and so, you do not rely on the same muscle memory as you do on the violin where there are no frets.DSCF8038

For the guitar, the smaller, or narrower the neck, the easier it is to play, the easier and quicker it is to change chords. But, it is also easier for your fingers to mute the string alongside the one you are pressing, the one you don't want to touch. So, if you have small, or average size hands, you will cope well with a narrower neck, but if you have bigger hands, or thicker fingers, you may prefer a slightly wider neck. The width difference in the neck to facilitate a change is very small, one or two millimetres would make a big difference! In this case, if makers and manufacturers made a variety of neck widths, their guitars would become a lot more specific and each instrument would be bought by someone who found that specific neck width comfortable, so they would to have to manufacture many more guitars in order to meet their sales targets. This would be good for the consumer, but not good for the manufacturer. One could have an instrument specifically made for you and then hope that the end result is to your satisfaction. You can also make your own instrument and when it comes to shaping the neck, you can customise the neck to your liking.


Having said all this, if you have an acoustic guitar with a standard neck width a steel string44mm (approx. 1,76inches), classical 50mm - 51mm (approx. 2,04 inches), after playing for a while, you will learn to cope with it and you will get to prefer your instrument to others.