Classical Guitar Making Book Review

An excellent book geared to the more experienced luthier.


Classical Guitar Making: A Modern Approach to Traditional Design

This is a book that I wish had been available when I built my first guitar back in the 80s. Although a lot of books have been published on the subject since then, Bogdanovich has still managed to add to the luthiery literature.
Every book on guitar building that comes to mind details the nuts and bolts of how to assemble an instrument; but this is the first book I’ve read that devotes a decent section on the preparatory stages of the building process. In particular, I was pleased to see a clear and thoroughly illustrated section on the building of templates and molds, without which the chances of building a decent instrument are severely reduced.
However, this section also exemplifies one of my criticisms of the book. While Bogdanovich obviously appreciates the importance of these aids to construction, he tends to gloss over some of the difficulties that would confront the builder in fashioning these accessories. For example, one of the molds requires a hollowing out of the centre to a 25' radius; Bogdanovich doesn't inform the reader as to how this might be done, apart from a reference to a measuring stick radiused to 25'. It’s the kind of thing that would keep me up nights, thinking about how I might accomplish this.
Another critical area that he tends to cover far too quickly is bending the sides. I can recall how mysterious this seemed to me before I bent a few over the years. How do you bend these thin pieces of wood into such severe curves without breaking them? He does mention a couple of options including the traditional bending iron (an electrically heated block of aluminum over which the wood is manually bent into shape) and a bending machine (usually a guitar-shaped form over which the wood is bent using high heat). However, his instructions to the reader are virtually non-existent. Moreover, his recommendation to laminate the sides (e.g. rosewood with cypress) would challenge even a seasoned guitar maker. There’s also an omission of the plans for the caul that he uses to laminate the sides, although the reader can probably figure it out. Unfortunately, I think a novice builder would have a serious problem bending a set of guitar body sides using this book alone.
There is no 'one way' to build a guitar, and so every builder has developed his or her own favorite techniques and options. However, I am curious about one of Bogdanovich’s choices. In joining the neck of the guitar to the body, luthiers typically use one of two methods, a dovetail joint where the tenon of the neck fits into the mortise of the body’s heel block, or the Spanish heel, where the sides are inserted into slots cut into the neck. Both methods are structurally sound but the former has the advantage of being able to be disassembled in the event of a repair such as a neck reset. I’m sure he has his reasons for his choice of the Spanish heel but I wish he’d share them the reader. After all, part of the fun of building something like a guitar with different paths to the same end are the debates over the techniques different builders have chosen.
Another shortcoming of the book is his failure to include full-size plans. I feel that they facilitate the building process immeasurably. Instead, Bogdanovich provides scaled-down plans with instructions to enlarge one by "about 455%" and another two by "about 305%". I’m not sure I trust a photocopier to accurately reproduce his plans without some distortion, and I’m also a little uncomfortable with the imprecision of "about…".
One of the topics that he does treat very well is the thing that gives a guitar it’s aesthetic personality, namely the sound hole rosette and the purfling that goes around the body. His examples here are truly breathtaking and he provides plenty of detailed instruction and beautiful photographs to take the reader through the building process.
He also covers the topic of finishing the guitar quite well, going into detail on French polishing the soundboard and lacquering the back sides and neck. Also, I’m pleased that he isn’t reluctant to use power tools. If you’ve ever tried to use a hand purfling cutter, his use of a laminate trimmer to do the same thing is quite understandable and appreciated.
Despite some of the shortcomings of the book, I found that Bogdanovich has admirably managed the difficult task of adding tangibly to the literature on guitar building and certainly provided food for thought for experienced builders. I think I’d buy it for the photography alone. However, a novice builder might be better served by a different book than this one, which tends to assume too much of the reader’s skill and experience.



  • Part One - Preparation
  • The Guitar
  • The Wood
  • The Shop
  • Templates and Molds
  • Layout and Planning
  • Chapter Two - Construction
  • The Neck
  • The Sides
  • The Details
  • The Top
  • The Back
  • Assembling the Body
  • The Fingerboard
  • Part Three - Final Touches
  • Finishing
  • The Bridge
  • The Setup
  • The Gallery
  • Bibliography
  • Metric Equivalents
  • Index
PUBLISHER:Sterling Publishing
AVAILABLE FROM:Your local bookseller or online
FORMAT:Hardcover, 320 pages
AUTHOR:John S. Bogdanovich
Reviewed by Gerry Tsuji, October 2010
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