Here is a note from Joe Yanuziello to whet your appetite… “Hi PrewargibsonL-5, I’ve finally finished the L-5 style archtop! I designed and built the tailpiece and pickguard bracket, which are brass, nickel-plated. It’s fun to have my own detailing. The pickguard is very similar to the tortoiseshell Gibson had back in the 1920’s and 30’s.
“I fitted individual Waverly open back tuners (I use these on all my guitars) and they present well on a vintage style instrument. The bridge design is also a departure; it has a solid base which gives the guitar a nice warm bottom end. My friend, the incredible inlay artist Mark Kett, did my logo engraved in pearl.
“My headstock shape (which I’ve used since 1982), is close to the Gibson shape so I used mine instead of a direct Gibson copy.
“The guitar is X braced as well, so a few changes from the original, but it’s in that visual/aural ballpark in every way.
“I also built a black face electric mando at the same time as the L-5. That mando goes to a customer on the west coast of Canada. I’ve included a shot of the two of them together (see below).”
To see this guitar being built, scroll on down.
Here is Joe with the vintage 16-inch L-5 that inspired the guitar pictured above.
Yanuziello 16-Inch L-5 style Archtop Build
Joe Yanuziello explains step-by-step how he built this L-5 style guitar.
“I created this guitar in the spirit of the original Gibson L-5 archtop guitar, which is recognized as the first modern archtop. It was built for my friend David Gillis, who is a very gifted and creative player.
“Session guitarist Mike Francis made his 1934 L-5 available to me to measure and examine and this was done at the shop of luthier David Wren. It provided me with a good excuse to hang out with David for a few hours at his fantastic studio in Toronto! Dave was one of a long list of guitar builders to apprentice with Jean Larrivee back in the 1970’s.
“Although the guitar pictured here has the same basic dimensions as a 16-inch L-5, I made a number of structural changes that bring it into line with a modern archtop. These include an X-braced top and a bridge with a solid base rather than two feet like a violin family bridge.”
I started the build by shaping the maple sides over a hot bending pipe. Next, I glued in the mahogany headblock and tailblock. At this point I installed the kerfed Spanish cedar liners which hold the top and back plates to the sides.”
You can never have too many clamps!
“Thin mahogany reinforcement strips were glued at a 90 degree angle across the grain of the sides. If a crack develops in one of the sides, these reinforcement strips help to keep it from travelling around the side, which is more likely to happen with quarter-sawn timber.”
“The next two photos show the top jointed, glued up and bandsawn to a slightly oversized profile. At this point, I had already removed the bulk of the outside spruce and was starting the carving process with small hand planes. These have a convex shape in both directions that allows you to carve the compound curves of the top and back into an arched shape.”
“In this shot, the finished sides were ready for the top and back, both of which were now carved on the outside.
“I designed and built this ebony and brass plane (below) back in 1981. Its sole purpose was to carve tops and backs on the outside and inside.”
“I used the plane to bring the outside and inside of the plates close to their finished shape. The small ridges left from this tool were then removed with a scraper blade. The top and back were carefully graduated from the centre so that they tapered in all directions out towards the edges.
“This picture shows the back close to its final dimensions. Once glued in place it was scraped and given its final sanding.”
“After the top and back had been planed and scraped close to their finished dimensions, an X-brace, made of sitka spruce, was carefully fitted and glued in place beneath the sitka top. It’s important to closely fit both the lap joint at the centre of the X and the compound curve of the two braces against the underside of the top. Once the glue had dried, the braces were gracefully shaped with chisels and then finish sanded. After the X-brace was installed, I cut the F holes with a small router, using a template over the spruce top.
“These three shots (left and below) show the top glued to the sides and trimmed flush. It was starting to look like a guitar!”
“These pictures (left) show the back finish scraped and sanded on the inside. The label was glued in and the back signed and dated.”
“The photo below shows the body completely glued up and the neck blanked out. The dovetail joint on the neck was cut with a router and hand fit (slightly oversized). The ebony headstock veneer was glued on, as was the black veneer on the back of the headstock. Having already dimensioned the ebony fingerboard, I slotted the board for frets, tapered it, sanded it to a 12″ radius, installed the pearl dot markers and finally bound it with one-ply Ivoroid celluloid plastic. It was now ready to glue on to the neck blank.”
“The next step was to rout the binding ledges on the top and back of the body. Once these were done, it was time to fit the three ply (Ivoroid/black/Ivoroid) binding. I used an acetone-based adhesive to glue the celluloid binding in place. The binding was held in place with masking tape and I left it to dry for a few days before I scraped it flush to the body.”
“The tape was removed and so the body was ready for flush scraping.”
“Once the fingerboard had been glued in place and the frets installed, it was time to carve the neck. The neck was clamped into my neck carving fixture, which allowed me to carve it freely from all angles.”
“I started by removing wood with a mini grinder and then I progressed through the various rasps and files until I was close to the finished shape.”
“I used a micrometer to measure the basic thickness and taper of the neck from the nut to the heel area. The neck shape was finished off with sandpaper, starting at 120 grit and then going through to 320 grit.
“When I had finished I checked the neck and heel all over for any slight fluctuations in the shape.”
“This photo (middle) shows the heel assembly and the grafted-on fingerboard extension. The dark wood line down the middle of the neck was used by Gibson, and various other makers, it’s still seen on many modern guitars and mandolins. The photo (above right) shows my headstock logo. This was done by my good friend Mark Kett. Mark is a world class inlay artist. His beautiful design work and hand cut inlays can be found on many contemporary handmade instruments.”
“The pictures below show the neck fitted to the body and the heel with the Ivoroid heel cap glued on and shaped. I use this heel cap design on all of my flat topguitars as well.”
“Above is a photo of the archtop beside an electric mandolin, both of which I built at the same time. They would go on to have black lacquer tops, in the tradition of certain pre-war Gibson mandolins and guitars – you can see the finished result at the top of this page.”
“Now the guitar was ready for its lacquer. I sprayed the body and neck separately, in this case the curly maple back, sides and neck were a medium dark sunburst, and the top was jet black. The final clear coats were left to cure for a minimum of two weeks and then machine and hand polished to a high gloss prior to assembly. After the neck was glued on, I installed the hardware, tuners, tailpiece etc. and lastly, I made the height-adjustable, African blackwood bridge.”
“The next group of photos shows the hardware that I designed and built for the archtop. I make all of my own metal hardware for my instruments. My material of choice is brass, though I also use aluminum for certain parts. I don’t have any of the traditional metal working tools, milling machines, lathes etc. but I can safely cut and shape the brass and aluminum using my woodworking machines because brass and aluminum are non-ferrous metals. I start with bar stock, sheets and rods, depending on the parts that I’m making and cut them to sizes that I can work using my band saw, table saw, drill press, power sander, files etc. Once I have the metal parts finish sanded to 1000 grit wet and dry paper, I machine polish them to a high shine, and then send them out to be nickel or chrome plated.”
The finished result!
All images on this page and the build commentary courtesy of Joe Yanuziello