It is only fitting that my inaugural Blog post should be about my elevated fingerboard design. Since 1993 almost all my guitars have had an elevated fingerboard, or more properly, an elevated neck. During the experimental and discovery stage I came to understand that the sound of the guitar was virtually unchanged by my method of elevation, yet the guitar was easier to play in the area of the 12th fret and above. This is the sole reason for building my guitars this way. It is not a cutaway, but it truly does help with those awkward high notes. Over the ensuing years many people have asked about the procedure by which I achieve this. It is not so difficult but there are a few points that have to be honored along the way.
For starters, my workboard is shaped to have an upward swoop in the upper bout, starting at the waist. This provides the motivation for bending the soundboard downward toward the back in the finished guitar, This, in turn, enables the neck to ride up over the top to give the elevation. However, in the area of the neck the workboard is straight and flat and extended to support the neck at the appropriate angle. On my workboard a straightedge placed on the neck support extension is elevated by almost 4 mm at the bridge position. An insert can be pinned in place to provide continuous support for the soundboard when the neck blank is not in position.
First, the neck, in position on the workboard, is shaped with a spoke shave to follow the exact swoop of the workboard. Then the rest of the slope, heading back toward the headstock position, is planed flat. This is the gluing surface for the heel block. Meanwhile, the heel block is machined to have a mortice which will receive a spline when all is glued together. It is also provided with slightly angled faces either side of the mortice to approximate the curve of the box. This shape is refined on a belt sander with a properly shaped platen supporting the belt. Finally, a scraper is used for fine adjustments to the sides of the box. When the box is complete it will ride snuggly on the workboard, following the built-in swoop. In this position, held in place by the outside mold, the heel block will be fit against the box and lie flat against the neck blank. The angle of the flat area on the neck is adjusted so that the heel block fits tightly against both the neck blank and the box. When all is “perfect”, the heel block is glued to the neck (but not the box). Now the neck has its heel block and if all the parts were aligned with the grain lines of the quarter sawn neck blank it will appear, when carved, to be a single block of wood.
Now the neck is beginning to take shape. I haven’t discussed the headstock, which is another Post…, but assume that it is now part of the neck. The next step is to cut the neck to follow the curve of the soundhole. I always cut it a little short so that the soundboard is revealed by a mm or two and rounded over. Now the fingerboard, which is designed to mate with the neck with the same amount of soundboard reveal, can be glued. I use polyurethane glue here. It is very important to do this in position with the neck clamped to the box. The fingerboard is pinned to the neck (until the glue sets) so that its midline is congruent with the midline of the soundboard. Finally, when the neck is carved and even after the French polishing has begun, the neck is glued in position with epoxy. A caul is taped in position inside the upper bout of the box to provide clamping surface for one or two clamps.
That’s about it. I haven’t described every step in detail, but I think luthiers and players alike should be able to follow the broad outline presented here. Anyone who decides to try this will undoubtedly bring their own solutions to small problems that may arise. Actually, the most difficult step is fitting the sides to the curved soundboard when assembling the box. It is too involved to go into here. Maybe I will tackle it in a future blog post. Leave a comment and a picture if you attempt this procedure. Good luck!