On kit instructions & tech support

Questions and answers for beginners. If you have a question, so do most other people.
Red Dogg
Posts: 13
Joined: Sun Dec 06, 2020 12:46 pm

On kit instructions & tech support

Post by Red Dogg »

Put your feet up. This could take a while. I'm working on a StewMac Pre-war OM 18 kit and have encountered some stumbling blocks that I thought I'd bring to the attention of this group, especially beginners like me.

Before ordering, I'd read that StewMac had very good instructions and offered very timely support and decided that was just what I needed. Since this is my first guitar I didn't want to mess it up so decided to follow instruction to the "T". The kit included a 70 minute DVD and a 44 page manual.

I've read that in building a guitar, one needs to pick an approach and just follow it...don't mix methods. That made sense to me and, after all, I did have instruction straight from the maker so I'd go with that.

I watched the video, but being on the older end of the age spectrum, my memory isn't what it used to be, and since it would be very time consuming to keep referring back to the DVD, I decided to rely mainly on the printed book, and when I felt stuck, I'd go to the DVD, call SM or search YouTube.

Sadly, on the 1st page, I had 3 questions so I went to the DVD and found different instructions on how to deal with them, as follows:
1) Both book & DVD say the neck block outside edge is curved and needs a curved clamping caul. Mine is flat as can be.
2) Book says to use wax paper to prevent glueing wood parts to the cardboard. What cardboard? This is the only mention of cardboard. The DVD explains that the "back" side of the neckblock is angled 1 1/2 deg, and needs to be smashed into the cardboard to accommodate the angle. My neckblock is perfectly square to the faces.
3) Book says to install a tailblock reinforcement strip, but the instruction are too vague to understand. The DVD doen't even mention this reinforcement strip.

So I called SM and discovered that with Covid in process, technicians were working from home and I had to submit my questions via email. I did this and it took a full week to get brief responses to my questions. To wit: Yes, the block should be flat, not curved. The cardboard is not necessary as the bottom of the neckblock IS square and no longer made with the 1 1/2 deg. angle. The tailblock strip should be installed, but I still couldn't understand the explanation or the attached photo and there's no mention of it on the DVD.

Other conflicts, some, really big, popped up as I progressed.
1) When the cardboard mold is made according to instruction in both book & DVD, it's too deep for the OM body, so once you glue in the kerfing on one side as I did, there's not enough room for the kerfing on the other side. I had to yank it out and rebuild it to fit. I found out later, that the dimensions are for a dread body, but are still furnished for the OM kits.
2) Once the mold is in place, the instructions say to install fabric side reinforcing strips, which is, of course, impossible. Had to remove the mold again.
3) Then it says to install the fabric side strips as per the drawings, which show 3 strips on each side. Later on, the instructions say there should be 8 on each side but give no indications of where they should be. Now I have 3 on each side with kerfing glued over. Now what?
4) The book says the sanding block should have a 5 deg wedge on one side and be flat on the other. The DVD says 5 deg on one side and 1 1/2 deg wedge on the other. StewMac says this is an obsolete method, but it's still there.

I am stumbling by, but only by the grace of my previous woodworking experience. And I'm only to the 7th page of instructions.

Since instrument making is completely new to me, I'm really afraid of making a fatal error and not discovering it till much later.

Have others encountered these kind of discrepancies? If so, how do you deal with them...especially when Covid has disrupted SM's regular customer service?

And how is it that there are so many discrepancies between the manual and the DVD? How difficult could it be to make the corrections and send out a 1 or 2 page addendum with the kit? Isn't this an avoidable problem.

BTW, I have looked at many, many videos on guitar building but find that most have different, conflicting ways of dealing with the same problems or use tools that I don't have and can't justify buying for only one guitar.

Looking for any input on these issues.
Posts: 354
Joined: Mon Jul 09, 2012 9:49 pm

Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by phavriluk »

If OP can locate a luthier to walk him through this project, that would be wonderful. Even a few hours of explanation would help. There's so many questions, all legitimate for a first-time builder. And forums like this are email conversations, too, where nuance and supporting explanations are rare.
peter havriluk
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Location: Forest Ranch, CA

Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by carld05 »

Mr. Dogg,
I will again suggest Bill Cory's book Complete Guide to Building Kit Acoustic Guitars which is over in the left column. It was a tremendous help to me and I still refer to it occasionally. I haven't ever seen the StewMac instructions so can't comment on them.
I've got one mold that is about the same thickness as the guitar side so I slide the joined sides out one way to clamp on the lining to the top edge and then slide them out the other side to clamp the lining on the bottom edge. It is an outside mold, is yours an inside mold? Kinda wondering why it needed to be removed to add the side strips.
Anyway, just add the other strips spaced as evenly as you can between the existing ones and over the linings. Won't look pretty but it will work. I use only 6 per side.
Make more than one sanding block, a 5 deg one, a flat one and any others you might find useful. Are they for adjusting the neck dovetail?
Took me 3 guitars before I felt like I was getting a handle on the assembly, but they all sounded and played OK so I kept going.
Ask more questions here, I'm sure you will get more feedback tomorrow.
Cheers, Carl
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Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by Skarsaune »

Sorry you're having such trouble.

It sounds like SM has issues with revision control on their build documentation. Some changes have been made in their kits and not all the instructions have been updated to reflect that.

I did a bunch of research and reading before I ever built my first kit - I probably spent a year studying on building a guitar before a sale on Martin kits put me over the edge. I prefer books to phone calls or videos. If I have a book on the bench, I don't have to hope someone will answer the phone, especially nights and weekends when I spend the most time in the shop. I bought Cumpiano's book as a reference, I read the Stew Mac instructions online & printed off a copy, I used the Martin kit instructions (that's where the kit came from). Reading helped give me a background on the Why's behind all the How's.

To your specifics -

First three issues -
1) If it's flat, it needs a flat caul.
2) Cardboard is used for the mold. You refer to it yourself in your next set of issues. If the neck block is square, it's square.
3) I'm not sure what's being referred to here. Never heard of a tailblock reinforcement strip. Many guitars do have a strip of wood at the tailblock where the sides meet, contrasting with the back & sides. Perhaps that's what they meant.

Next batch -
1) Sounds like you got the mold made.
2) Molds generally do have to be installed/removed repeatedly.
3) Small guitars may have less reinforcing strips, larger guitars more. 8 per side is excessive. It's a fabric strip, that will help to stop crack propagation in the sides if one ever starts.
4) 5 degree wedge is for the back, flat is for the front. Your neckblock is square as you've said, so you need flat for that side.

I don't see any big issues yet. Relax, take a deep breath, you're doing fine.

Critical items so far - neck block and tail block glued to the sides, aligned to each other (purpose of the mold), properly oriented, sides square to the blocks. Kerfing glued in slightly proud of the sides, so it can be sanded a) flat for the top or b) 5 degree angle for the back.

When you hit the next issue, post up here. Probably get a quicker response than emailing SM. John's videos on YouTube are a treasure.
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Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by jread »

I had a lot of the same questions. I agree the Bill Cory book is a good place to start.

The only thing in that book I'd change is, don't cut your brace rim notches all the way thru the sides. Just the kerf. Otherwise your binding might be too short to cover the hole. I see this question pop up a lot.

Your questions are welcome here.
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Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by tippie53 »

we have 90 videos on you tube. Not all building support is the same. We at Blues creek really take this part serious
best of luck to you. Post pics we can help. That carboard mold is not the best method. It is difficult to maintain control of the neck block.
John Hall
Blues Creek Guitars Inc
Authorized CF Martin Repair Center
president of Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans
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Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by phavriluk »

Should have remembered I read both of Corey's books several times over before I started. Strongly agree!
peter havriluk
Diane Kauffmds
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Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by Diane Kauffmds »

SM is probably referring to the end wedge when it talks about the tail block reinforcement strip. However, I always reinforce my tail block with a piece of wood, inlaid into the block on the rim gluing surface. This will prevent catastrophic breaks if your guitar is ever dropped on end.
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Diane Kauffmds
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Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by Diane Kauffmds »

The ribbon or cloth strips, also known as struts, are glued in strategic places along the sides. They're purpose is to mitigate side cracks should they occur. I like to install 4 to 5 per side. That's just my preference. Your guitar plans should tell you where to glue these.

I've glued 4 per side on this build.
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Andy Mitchell
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Re: On kit instructions & tech support

Post by Andy Mitchell »


I'm a beginner as well, just now in the home stretch of one of those StewMac kits.

I thought maybe I should respond because I had some of those exact same questions regarding the instructions when I first started out. However, once I realized that stuff in the video was really generic guitar building stuff (i.e. not absolutely aligned with the specific kit it was shipped with) I was able to sort out a lot of the seemingly conflicting instructions. There's actually a lot of really good stuff in both the book and video... and forums like this one. Going slow and thinking things through is sort of the key here, I think. I had a blast building my kit (now all finished except the bridge mount and set-up), and easily spent as much time building special tools, jigs, cauls etc. as I did in actually building the kit. And that was all just part of the fun for me, hope it turns out like that for you too.

Attaching a pic of my build, just because, because... well, because I'm proud of it! And to show that an absolute beginner can still get there in the end. This took me most of November-December to get this far, and now I just have the bridge mount to go.

Good luck with your project, hope you have as much fun as I did with mine.
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