A good chef continually tastes their dish as the components come together, adding more salt, more acid, etc, until there is complete harmony among flavors. Consider a guitar maker a woodworking chef, working from sensory input through feeling and hearing. A good guitar builder taps on the components of the instrument as it comes together, feeling and listening to frequency richness and continuity. The observed results are internalized and adjustments are made. The perfect harmonious result is when all the components are working efficiently together under one complete system.
As we work down a piece of wood we notice many changes. The sound of the plane and scraper change. Even the sound of our fingers scraping the grain tells us a lot. The wood becomes more lively and vibrates more easily as we get it closer and closer to its destination. When I graduate a plate, or thin a top or back from the inside, I am always stopping, tapping, and listening. I find this process to be one of the most meditative steps in guitar building because I am in action and observing as deeply as possible. Having simple lighting, where much of the room is dark, with little to no background noise is very important to me when I’m thinning a top or a back. I love the days when this tasks falls into nighttime as it adds a quietness and calmness to the process.
It is not important to me what fundamental note the plates rings at; my main goal is to achieve a very musically complex tone. I take note of the pitch of the plate and observe how it develops as I work it down. I notice how the different nodes where I hold it, ring at relating frequencies and how those change as the plate gets thinned. If I hold it at the end block and tap on the arch I can hear the upper harmonics. If I hold it at the node at the edge of the lower bout, I can hear the lower and more fundamental pitch. I also find placing my palm up with the arch balanced on top and tapping the edges of the plate very helpful because it vibrates freely and you can hear all the pitches together with little interference. I notice all of these pitches getting more and more clear and distinct as I progress. Sometimes, I find myself just tapping and tapping because it is such a fun drumming experience. 🙂
The top and the back need to be working together and the relationship of frequencies need to enhance each other. The relationship of the top vibrating to the back creates such a wonderful instrument. As we add the sides to the back, the frequencies change and as we brace the top, the frequencies change. As we cut the fholes, carve the braces and thin the top, the frequencies change. This constructive interference, creates a system that wants to move at the least bit of energy.
The more we observe and listen, the more we can understand how our actions apply.
In this video, you can hear the musicality of the back and sides. There is a strong harmonic going on (close to a C#) and I like that, to me its very musical. This note will most likely get lower as I carve the recurve a little deeper after the box is together. The fundamental pitch is much lower, and it is hard to pic up with the microphone. The microphone also does not do justice to the nuances that are happening while I’m tapping here. The biggest reason I tap is to feel the vibrations, flexibility, and overall liveliness of the parts I’m working on.