The building of a guitar starts with the making of the individual components like the top, back, neck, fret board and the sides.. The actual construction begins to take shape when the back and sides are clamped in a pre-shaped building mould. After the top and back are glued on the sides the body is taken out of the mould. Next step is to route the binding channels and to insert the bindings. After that the dovetail is made in the neck and the counterpart in the body. The neck and the fret board is glued to the body. The neck is shaped, the fret board first flattened and then radiused. The positions markers are glued in and the neck is fretted. After this the finishing period starts. Sanding the guitar, filling the grain and lacquering. Finally the hardware is attached (tailpiece, tuners, strings) and the guitar is being set up for playing.
> The Top
A very important part of the guitar is the top (photo top 5). Especially for the Selmer/Maccaferri models I prefer European spruce. The characteristics and stiffness of this wood gives an optimal acoustic respons that matches the original sound of a Selmer.(photo top 2) The book matched pair is glued together and sanded to a thickness of approx. 4 mm. Then the position of the sound hole is located. The next step is to lay the rosette into the top. After that is done the top will be sanded down to a thickness of approx. 2 mm. At this moment I will flex the top and determine the stiffness of the wood. In general I will make a stiff top thinner then a more flexible top (photo top 1). This is all based on ‘feeling’ the wood. This is also the case for the bracing. I start with slightly oversized templates for all the individual braces. After the braces are roughly shaped I will glue them on the top. Then I will shape the braces. Again a stiffer top will receive lighter bracing. (photo top 3) The final thickness of the top and shaping of the braces is a part of the voicing of the top and has a big influence on final acoustic characteristics of the guitar.(photo top 4). Before the back is glued on the inside of the top is signed and dated (photo top 6)
I use both European spruce and Sitka spruce for the bracing depending on the stiffness of the top. Bracing wood is of very close grain. Wood grain, thickness, weight, shape, spacing and glue are all parameters that also influence the acoustic characteristics of the top.
The rosette is traditionally made from several layers of veneer. I use veneers with thicknesses of 0.3, 0.6 and 1 mm. White veneers are Maple, the coloured veneers (black, green, red, etc.) are dyed Maple. The D hole rosette is made up from 25 layers of veneer. These layers are glued and the final shape is formed in a press. After the glue dries the stack of veneers are removed and sliced into individual rosettes of about 2 mm thick. Now they are ready to be laid in the top around the sound hole
The rosette is temporality fixed in its position around the sound hole with a few drops of glue. (photo rosette 1 & 2) The inner and outside contours of the rosette (as tight as possible) are traced with a sharp knife. (photo rosette 3) Then rosette is detached again in order to deepen the traced outlines. (photo rosette 4) Subsequently, the wood between the outlines is carefully removed with a sharp chisel or a mini router. (photo rosette 5 & 6) The resulting slot is filled with glue (photo rosette 7) and the rosette is positioned over the slot and pressed in by hand (photo rosette 8), followed by more force full pressing (photo rosette 9) (I use an old book press for this job). Excess glue is removed with a damped cloth (photo rosette 10). I don’t worry about the stains, because later when dried I will sand of about 1 to 1.5 mm from the whole top side anyway, including the rosette. In this way, the top and the rosette will become very smooth (photo rosette 11 & 12).
> Back and sides
For the back and sides there are 2 possibilities: using solid woods or using veneers. Solid wood is steam bend and clamped into a building fixture (mould). In case of veneers three veneers are glued together and pressed into the shape of the upper and lower bout. This process is referred to as laminating. Almost every original Selmer has laminated back and sides.
> Steam bending the sides
Two book matched wood pieces are needed for the sides of a guitar: (photo steam 1). 11 cm wide, 80 cm long and 1.8 to 2 mm thick. One piece for the upper bout of the body, one piece for the lower bout of the body. These side are soaked in hot water for about 20 minutes. After taking one side out of the water, it will be rocked against a heating tube (stainless steel pipe with heating element). Pressure will be applied to bend the wood. The heat will vaporise the water into steam. This will soften the wood and make it easier to bend. I try to bend it as close as possible to the shape of the upper bout (photo steam 2). For this I need to wet and rock the wood regulary. I then clamp it in the building fixture and leave it to dry (photo stream 3). The process is repated for the lower bout.
> Back and sides (laminated)
Laminated back and sides are made from 3 layers of veneers (photo veneer 1) glued together in a veneer press (photo veneer 2). Each layer is 0.6 mm thick. Inner layer is Mahogany, middle layer is Poplar and the outside layer is Indian or Brazilian Palisander (or other wood). (photo veneer 3). For the lamination process I build so called veneer presses for the upper bout and lower bout of the body. I made replica’s of the presses that were used by Selmer. No heat and steam bending is used. Instead, glue is spread on the surfaces of the veneers and the still flexible 3-layer laminated side and/or back is put in the press. The press is tightened and kept like this to dry. When the sides and/or back are dried and taken out of the press they have the correct shape, both light and strong.
The linings (inner rims) inside the body are essential for glueing together the top and sides and the back and the sides. On original Selmer guitars these linings were made from laminated veneers (photo lining 1). These linings are also used on the Signature models and model Antique of Eimers-Guitars (photo lining 2). Another type of lining is the so-called kerfed lining (photo lining 3). These linings are used on the standard models and on the nylon string D hole (Finesse). The linings are glued to the sides (photo lining 4). Once the lining is glued on the sides, the top can be glued on and pressed down (photo lining 5). Same procedure for the back.
The purpose of the binding is to hide the seams (top/sides and back/sides) and to protect the edges of the guitar. Binding also contributes to the final appearance of the guitar. With a router the binding channels are routed in the edges of the guitar (photo binding 1 & 2). The outer binding is bend and fitted (photo binding 3 & 4). Then the complete binding of the edge is fitted.(photo binding 5 & 6). The binding is glued and hold in place with tape.(photo binding 7). After the glue has dried the binding is scraped flush with the top/back and sides.
The original Selmer necks were in most cases made of three pieces of wood (French Walnut) (photo neck 1). The heel, neck and headstock. This was done for economic reasons. The neck of the Selmer guitars where reinforced by three aluminium strips. For stability I use a two-way adjustable truss rod for my guitars. Such a truss rod enables you to correct the neck in both directions (hollow/back bow), if needed. If the neck has lost stability (e.g. by environmental influences) the neck adjustment should preferably be done by a luthier. The neck on model Quatre (Favino style) is made from 3 parts of Maple (photo neck 4). The neck is attached to the body with a dovetail joint (photo neck 3)
> Fretboard, frets and position dots
The fret board is standard made from ebony (photo ebony) in combination with jumbo frets. Ebony because of its density, and the combination with the mass of a jumbo fret has positive influence on the sustain. The frets have to be fixed tight and must have good contact with the fret board (tang and crown). On the Selmer style models round position dots are used and located at position 5, 7, 10, 12 and 17 and the dots are made of Mother of Pearl . Most players are not familiar with a marker on position 10, they prefer the 9-th position (photo position dot 1). The position dots on the side of the fret board are also preferred by most players (not standard on Selmer guitars !) (photo position dot 2) For model Quatre a Favino style inlay can be used, also made from Mother of Pearl (photo position dot 3)
> Bridge and moustache
I use Ebony or Brazilian Palisander for the bridge. Making and fitting the bridge I personally consider as a important part of the voicing of the top. Some tops require a bridge with more mass or contact surface than other tops. There is not such a thing that one type of bridge is the best. There is no standard bridge dimension that will suit every guitar. Making a good bridge can take up to four hours work (see strings, action and compensation). The function of the moustaches is to keep the (floating) bridge in place. Even the moustaches have an effect on the acoustic characteristics of the top.
> The tuning machines
I use several factory made tuning machines on my guitars like Schaller, Waverly etc. I also make replica Selmer tuning machines.
> Finish (foto’s Fini-1 t/m Fini-6)
When the guitar is constructed the finishing begins. First the guitar is sanded, then the grain of the body is filled with a filler to close the grain. Then the guitar is sanded again. Most guitars are finished with Nitrocellulose lacquer, an one component lacquer that dries by air contact. It’s a traditional lacquer, and has been used as such for a long time already. I try to keep the lacquer on the top as thin as possible to avoid “choking” of the wood. Some customers prefer a coloured top like clear (photo finish 3), vintage orange (photo finish 1), vintage yellow (photo finish 4), Sunburst brown (photo finish 5) In all cases the guitar is wet sanded and polished against a polishing wheel (photo finish 6). Another way of finishing the guitar is ‘ageing’ or ‘relicing’. Beside that the ageing procedure gives the guitar an antique look, it also contributes to the amazing sound of these guitars. Model Antique (photo finish 2)
Compensation, action, zero fret
The setup of the guitar is the final and very delicate step. The setup is a direct consequence of the complete construction of the guitar. There is no such thing as a standard setup for a gypsy guitar. The bridge, which sets the string height (action) is a major part of voicing the top. Every single guitar needs a dedicated setup.
Defining the correct bridge position on the top
There is a mathematical scale length and the actual scale length. The mathematical scale length is the distance between the nut (or zero fret) and bridge (saddle) in a perfect situation. However a guitar is an imperfect instrument. The actual scale length is always greater than the mathematical scale length. This is caused by the fact that there is a distance between the strings and the frets. This distance is called the string action. When a string is pressed down to the fret, it is stretched a certain amount. This amount increases as one goes toward the higher positions because the distance from the string to the fret increases (for the lower string even higher). The effect of the slight stretching will raise the frequency of the desired note than what you expect from the mathematical calculation (perfect situation).
To compensate this you can make the length of the string a little longer. That’s why the top of the bridge (saddle) is in a slight diagonal position with respect to the longitudinal heart line of the body. This is called the compensation of the string action. To check if the bridge is in the right position, the harmonic produced at the twelfth fret is compared with the fretted note at the twelfth fret. If the fretted note is higher than the harmonic the string in question needs more compensation. Furthermore, the construction of the string itself might also require different compensation. Another important feature on the Selmer style guitar is the zero fret. The use of the zero fret above a regular nut, or instead of a nut only, is chosen to achieve optimal intonation. This is caused by a more accurate contact surface between string and zero fret. The type of frets and the thickness of the strings also do influence the compensation of a guitar. Once the bridge location is found the moustaches can be glued on the body.
> The flat-pick, right and left hand technique
Although a guitar could be optimally constructed for a player, the bottom line is that a tone is picked by the player. The flat-pick, location of picking etc., will in the end decide what the tone will be. The Selmer guitars are famous for their ‘sweet spot’ being the optimal picking location. (photo pick 1)
Your guitar is a delicate instrument made from thin woods. It will likely outlive you if you take good care of it. Please see care and maintancefor some useful tips.