How to Build a Custom Handcrafted Acoustic Guitar from Start to Finish: The Process Revealed in a Fascinating Documentary

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Repair­ing Willie Nelson’s Trig­ger: A Good Look at How a Luthi­er Gets America’s Most Icon­ic Gui­tar on the Road Again

Bri­an May’s Home­made Gui­tar, Made From Old Tables, Bike and Motor­cy­cle Parts & More

Mark Knopfler Gives a Short Mas­ter­class on His Favorite Gui­tars & Gui­tar Sounds

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Alan Redner says:

    Erlewine sells tools for every step includ­ing three for scratch­ing body parts while glu­ing braces.

  • Alan says:

    The process of build­ing an acoustic gui­tar is absolute­ly amaz­ing. It takes an insane amount of knowl­edge, skill, patience and pre­ci­sion. I would imag­ine that even small defects in body/neck may have a bad impact on sound since it’s so reliant on the struc­ture so much.
    One day I plan to build an elec­tric gui­tar since it’s eas­i­er and share it with my fol­low­ers at

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