Every serious guitarist learns to set up, repair, and maybe even customize their own instruments. It’s economical and fun and gives players insight into how and why their instruments sound the way they do, and how to make them sound better. Some amateur luthiers will even build their own instruments, at least those not famous enough to have custom guitars built for them by famous makers, an honor—maybe not unlike a basketball player having their own shoes—that tells the world they’re at the top of the game.
Everyone else labors away in basements, garages, and woodworking shops, leaning heavily on advice from master luthiers like Dan Erlewine. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have the space, tools, and know-how to make your own guitars, then the video above from Montreal-based master builder Michael Greenfield of Greenfield Guitars is for you. It shows every step in the process of his custom built acoustic guitars, and along the way shows you how you can build your own.
Electric guitars derive their sound from magnetic pickups, which can be affixed to everything from oil cans to plexiglass. Materials and workmanship can majorly affect tone and sustain, but not nearly to the degree they do in an acoustic guitar, in which the sound comes entirely from the instrument itself—from its shape, size, bracing style, wood selection, and even, believe it or not, the finish. The shaping, carving, and joining of each of the guitar’s structural parts—sides, top, back, and neck—makes its own unique contribution to the finished instrument's tone.
Greenfield’s documentary isn’t only for the amateur—or professional, for that matter—luthier. It’s also an all-around fascinating look at how fine, hand-crafted acoustic guitars get made, of interest to anyone from woodworkers to sound engineers to music fans in general. Most consumer-grade guitars get an assembly-line factory build, turned out by the thousands to keep superstores like Guitar Center stocked. Master builders like Greenfield devote considerable time and attention to every individual instrument—the process documented here for a single guitar, he tells us, took place over a period of four to five months.
Want to hear the finished product? Skip ahead to 57:47 for a demonstration by Canadian Celtic-folk singer Lizzy Hoyt. Learn more about Michael Greenfield’s handcrafted guitars at greenfieldguitars.com.