WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Step-By-Step Guitar Making

Step-By-Step Guitar Making
by Alex Willis

Fox Chapel Publishing: 2007
Paperback, 144 pp., $22.95
ISBN 978-1-56523-331-7

     As a long-time guitar player and woodworker, I've always wanted to make my own acoustic guitar from scratch. Guitarmaking offers a challenging opportunity to apply a wide range of woodworking skills - some of them unique to this particular craft -- with the added dimension of sound, a property of wood that doesn't figure into most other woodworking pursuits.
    So, when Alex Willis's new book, Step-By-Step Guitar Making, came out, I was first in line to review it, particularly since it is about making a single-cutaway, acoustic steel-string concert guitar - similar to Martin Guitars' OM series -- a type of instrument that I have always wanted to own. Willis's book has convinced me that I can make my own.
    I had read earlier books on guitarmaking and repair, including well-known volumes by Irving Sloane and Don Teeter; Willis' book is different. Though he has been designing and building guitars full-time only since 2003, he demonstrates a thorough understanding of the tools and techniques involved, and, in this book, he illustrates every step of the process clearly and effectively.
    This is not a book for the novice woodworker, as it assumes you have a reasonable skill set and at least a modicum of tools and equipment; but, it is directly aimed at the first-time guitar builder. I felt that an ambitious beginner with basic hand-tool woodworking skills could successfully complete one of these instruments.
    Part One of the book gives an overview of guitar anatomy and the planning process, including a catalog of the woods, tools, adhesives and accessories you will need. Part Two is divided into twelve chapters that describe the phases of construction, from making the "solera" (a plywood platform on which the guitar is laid out and built) and templates, to making the individual components - the neck, the back, the soundboard, the ribs and linings - to assembling and finishing the instrument. Included is a large two-sided drawing that includes full-size details of the body and every component. If you would rather build a conventional, non-cutaway model, there are instructions here for how to do that too.
    The greatest strength of the book is its readability. Every step is clearly described and numbered, and keyed to a large, full-color photo of that step, making it easy to know exactly where you are in the process at all times, and leaving precious little to the imagination. That's reassuring to a first-time guitar builder.
    Overall, I think Willis has done an excellent job of documenting this challenging project, and I recommend his book highly to any woodworker who has toyed with the idea of building an acoustic guitar. You can see more of his work at his website, http://www.willisguitars.co.uk/.

. . . Ellis Walentine