Make Your Own Guitar
A new book on the subject is reviewed by our own guitar-chopper Adrian Legg.
Make Your Own Electric Guitar
Blandford Press: £9.95
It's nice to welcome a technical book by a U.K. author. It is detailed, and in places, very dense, but the cheerful anecdotal style makes it all accessible.
Melvyn offers thoughts and experiences over 164 pages from initial pre-sawing considerations through to putting the strings on the finished masterpiece.
The major problem, and the root of any argument with a book like this lies in the assumed level of technical competence in the reader. Here, unpleasantly gory cartoons emphasize the dangers inherent in tool use, and Melvyn draws the line well, avoiding both assumptions of A-level ability and excessively detailed explanation. He encourages his reader to seek out help when necessary, points out limitations and safety problems, and gives supply contacts.
His chapter on finishing deals sympathetically with the amateur by recommending a specific aerosol and advising how to use it, as well as discussing, briefly, simple spray and brushing options. I liked his oil and wax finish explained in a different chapter — a very viable low tech alternative — and by and large he is right about airbrushes being inadequate. I would argue that the Paasche VLS5 with the needle pulled back a bit will cover very well, but this would be moving unnecessarily deep into a technical speciality.
His pick-up and wiring section is clear and informative, with some historical background and precise wiring diagrams. I would nit-pick over his troubleshooting guide — most faults I've seen have been as a result of a failure or omission on the earth side, and I don't think the significance of string-earthing is emphasised enough. I also have reservations about the efficacy of screening paint. But he lists diagnoses for other common cock-ups, including the gloriously popular "amplifier not turned on".
His woodworking sections are excellent, and he takes the reader through a discussion of tools, timbers, and sources, and the detailed building from scratch of three example guitars. I think this must be his forte, the crisp photographs show some very nice work in progress. I like the way he uses his mishap with some rebellious curly maple to illustrate the nature of wood and the flexibility that working it requires.
I think his fretting section could be a tad more substantial — the bead is easily marked in some of the higher silver content wires, and I have visions of some incautious curving with graunchy old pliers and some bashing with ancient and pitted hammer faces. But he encourages practice on a scrap piece, and his recommended technique is accurate. He also gives a concise explanation of the 18 rule, some distance tables, and a run down on some commercial methods.
In all, my quibbles are the stuff of sociable squabbles at the trade fair bar. It's a good book, clearly one of the better ones in this area, offering a better understanding of the instrument to the thinking player as well as the would be builder. Read it thoroughly, there is a lot of detail in some short sentences, and buy it rather than borrow it — public lending right royalties are enough to put the specialist author off altogether.
And now, own up time; his recommended reading list includes my book. I'm honoured, but honest guv', I'd have written the same review anyway.
Review by Adrian Legg
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