Background to "The Book"
The book came about almost by accident as a result of me documenting my research and development activities and making notes on how my building processes turned out. The book turned into two volumes, with original working titles of Contemporary Acoustic Guitar “Design” and “Build”.
I proposed the idea of a “proper” book to my friend and long-time luthier Gerard Gilet, who had always been interested in furthering the craft but had more than enough work to do running his busy workshop. He agreed to help out on the “Build” side so that we could cover both the boutique construction techniques I mainly use, and some of the more production oriented techniques that he mainly uses. That was back in 2007 and the amount of work involved was enormous.
The Design volume starts with how we hear and the tricks our ears and brain play on us to synthesise what we hear from what we sense. It explains why we can’t just rely on scientific instruments to assess guitars, because much of what we hear is an aural illusion, i.e. a construct between our ears and brains, and the usual engineering equipment doesn’t measure that too well. I then take a look at strings and how they drive the guitar soundboard. After all, if you want to build a better guitar, you need to know how the “engine” works.
I cover standard engineering principles such as resonance and resonators, how they relate to stiffness and mass and how these issues impact on the performance of a guitar. I cover in detail the mathematical modelling techniques that I developed and the acoustic analysis techniques that I use, which includes the science behind modal tuning of guitar soundboards and backs. I then take a look at how one can articulate the requirements of a guitar in terms of musicality and playability and relate those to the physical attributes of the guitar and its woodwork.
Trees, wood and the relevant material properties are discussed, along with how to measure those material properties and then use the measurements effectively to design bracing structures for tops and backs. The procedures I use to determine the appropriate thickness for the top and back panels are explained in detail. I discuss the detail design of components like bridges and necks, nuts and saddles and my compensation techniques, finishing up by explaining how to lay out a plan for a guitar to your own design with a high degree of confidence that it will all fit together.
Yes, there’s a lot of physics, engineering and mathematics in there, because I felt that was required to prove my points. Otherwise this would have been yet another book full of unscientific, unsubstantiated opinion about how guitars work and, frankly, I’ve seen too many of those. If physics, engineering and mathematics aren’t your strong suits, don’t worry! The points I make are still there, are explained qualitatively, and the concepts are still usable. However, there’s no avoiding the mathematics if you want to get quantitative. As one of my old friends in academia said, “if it was easy, someone would have written your book years ago”.
The Build volume puts the Design concepts into action covering in detail all that is necessary to build four different types of guitar – two classicals; one fan braced in the Fleta style and the other carbon fibre/balsa lattice braced, together with two steel string models, one X-braced in the style of a J45 round shouldered Dreadnought and the other in my contemporary Falcate style. How to bring the guitars to peak performance is explained using the modal tuning concepts and the acoustic analysis techniques that I have developed. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how small the investment in analytical hardware and software is. The majority of the software I use is down-loadable at no cost and the hardware you will likely have to hand already if you are reading this on a computer screen.
All that research, writing, photography, editing and printing happened between 2007 and 2011when the two volumes of the book were finally published. Please feel free to download the Contents listing for both volumes by clicking here, and if you like what you see (and have read the reviews), you can purchase a copy by clicking here.
In August 2010 we were honoured by a visit from Professor Tom Rossing (Stanford University Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics) who was in Sydney for the 20th International Congress on Acoustics and the International Symposium on Musical Acoustics. Tom is the co-author (with Prof. Neville Fletcher) of "The Physics of Musical Instruments", arguably the most comprehensive and authoritative publication on musical acoustics currently available.