Making a Guitar

It all starts with a tree. With several trees, in fact. Since the first modern guitars were made in northern Spain over 150 years ago, craftspeople have known that a guitar is only as good as the wood from which it is made. Rosewood, mahogany, maple, spruce, ebony, cedar, willow—the names of the wood almost sound like music themselves!

Every guitar is made of several different kinds of wood. Each piece is carefully chosen and then cut to fit the part of the guitar for which it is designed.

The most important part of any guitar is the soundboard—the piece of wood with the large hole that lies underneath the strings. Guitar-makers are careful to make the soundboard just the right shape and thickness. Then they glue strips of wood across the inside in a special pattern. This bracing helps strengthen the soundboard. It also improves the tone of the guitar.

Wood for the curvy sides of the guitar must be soaked in water and bent over a hot iron pipe. When all the pieces of the guitar are ready, they are carefully glued together.

Special woodworking tools, like the rasp, are used to shape and smooth the neck of the guitar. Making a guitar takes a lot of time, patience, and skill. Craftspeople must make sure the neck is perfectly centered over the soundboard.

Finally it is time to apply varnish or lacquer. This finishing polish brings out the beauty of the wood and protects it from moisture and wear and tear. Varnish also improves the sound of the guitar—but too much makes the guitar sound flat and dull!

Guitar strings are attached and tightened to make just the right musical tones.

And now—it's time for a song!

Vocabulary

bracing:
A support.

rasp:
A coarse file.

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Activity

  1. How do you think volume on a guitar is changed?
  2. A guitar usually has five or six different strings. How do you think pitch is controlled on a guitar?
  3. There are many different instruments that have strings. Violins, cellos, and banjos all have strings. What is your favorite stringed instrument? What kind of sound does it make? Why is this stringed instrument your favorite? Write a few sentences about your favorite stringed instrument.
  4. Craftspeople take a lot of time to make the different parts of a guitar. They make sure that the soundboard is the right thickness. They use certain woods for the parts of a guitar. Why do you think craftspeople spend so much time making each part of a guitar? How might each part of a guitar affect the sound and tone of a guitar?