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Top plate of this electric mandolin made by Harold Weber for instrument builder Andrew Jerman.
Eldon High School, Eldon, Missouri
Luthiers and CNC
Luthiers of all disciplines can now supplement their traditional woodworking tools with CNC routers. While the CNC may not duplicate all of the specialized processes involved in instrument making, it brings new capabilities that can transform an ordinary shop to an extraordinary one. A CNC can bring two very important elements to any luthier’s shop: time savings and repeatability. Mundane or repetitive tasks such as rough or finish carving instrument bodies, neck carving, inlay work and fretwork can now be done with speed and precision that will impress even the most discriminating of artists. And, it can be done over and over again.
Old Dogs / New Tricks ...
CNC machining was the hot topic at a recent American Stringed Instrument Association’s (A.S.I.A.) Annual Symposium and Luthiers Frolic. Several sessions covered topics ranging from software design to outsourcing your machining. Many cautious warnings were heard on the complexity of 3D machining, inlay work and producing parts in quantities. Some of the largest instrument manufacturing companies told of their steep learning curves and large start up costs. In their midst came a very different, down-to-earth, session from ShopBotter Don MacRostie called, “You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.” Using inexpensive CAD software and the ShopBot digitizing probe, Don demonstrated that even complex 3D carving and intricate inlay is not rocket science. By reverse engineering his own parts, Don was able to shape his F5 mandolin arched top that he cut on a PRTalpha BenchTop at the show. The tool was sent to Stewart Macdonald after the show to produce their popular mandolin kits. In addition to producing his high end Red Diamond mandolins, Don also works on development projects for StewMac and was instrumental (sorry) in getting some of their kits into production.
Although Don’s BenchTop only runs a few hours a week, he is able to stock some parts for months in advance. His tool has changed the way he manufactures parts, and he is a true innovator in new CNC methods for musical instruments. One example is in how his ivoroid bindings are produced. They are pre-shaped in a mold cut to size and baked in his oven (150 degrees at 20 minutes I believe). When they come out they are ready to glue directly onto the headstock without a struggle. His intricate rosewood and abalone fingerboard and headstock inlays are cut with small micron size carbide end mills and will rival the quality of machining centers 20 times the cost of a BenchTop ShopBot.
Howard Needham, first project
Other noted luthiers have been using ShopBot for years. Zion Guitar of North Carolina has made hundreds of solid body electric guitars, and their PR BenchTop is still producing parts today. Lynn Dudenbostel has appeared on the DIY Network's TV series called Hand Made Music. His ShopBot was featured on a series teaching how to make mandolins. And ShopBot newcomer Howard Needham has just pulled of his first violin parts from original molds. He is now excited about increasing production.
Guitars, Mandolins, Mandolas, Cellos, Basses, Wooden Flutes, Piano Forte Parts, Church Organs, Tops, Backs, Necks, Inlay… you name it.
It has all been done on a ShopBot.