In case you were wondering what guitar making tools to put on your luthier list this year, I put together a list of tools I use and a few thoughts about why I like them. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and not a list of everything you need to build a guitar, it’s just a few ideas and recommendations of tools I have found to be helpful in my own adventures in the art of lutherie.
I would love to hear your recommendations too, so please use the form at the bottom to share the tools you use and recommend with me and the other readers – Thanks!
Guitar Fretting Tools
Dual Grit Diamond Fret Crowning File – I have been using these for years, they work great and the angle helps when working above the 14th fret over the guitar top.
Fret End Dressing File – Critical to getting those fret ends super comfortable without damaging the fingerboard.
Straightedge For Fret Leveling – I have the 16″ version and I love it, I use it for making a compound radius on the frets when I am leveling them.
Precision Straightedge – Great for checking the neck blank, fingerboard, and frets; an indispensable set of tools.
Radius Sanding Beam – Awesome for getting a perfectly radiused and flat fingerboard before fretting
Dead-Blow Hammer – I don’t have this one yet, but I want to get it soon. I’m still using the old version fret hammer.
Nut Files – Definitely a critical tool to have, the seating of the strings is unbelievably important, they must be very solid in the slot, but still slide easily for tuning.
Hand Planes, Saws, & Scrapers
Lie Nielson Low Angle Block Plane – I have talked about this tool a lot because its one of my all time favorites, click the link to read the full article.
D’Angelico Planes – I have the larger one of these and I couldn’t live without it. Its my work horse for highly figured maples when carving archtop guitar backs. I need to get the small one too, just never got around to it yet, but I will.
Ibex Violin Plane – My other work horse plane; this baby is hard on the fingers, but it makes smoothing out highly figured woods easy, and its just the right size for those last stages of carving an arched maple back before scraping and sanding.
Hand Scraper Set – One of my most used tools, you can read all about it by clicking the link to ready my article.
Chisels – I use the ones linked to, but my dream chisels are these Lie Nielsen socket chisels. They are modeled after the ones my mentor Eugene Clark has which were originally made by Stanly back in the day. I only really use 1” and ¼” and ⅛” sizes, the other sizes just collect dust.
Dosuki Saw – Love this saw, I use it everyday for many things, its hanging on the right front leg of my bench, I grab it make a cut and put it back in seconds.
Measuring , Guitar Set-up, & Intonation
Peterson Auto Strobe – I love this tuner, being able to see the strobe helps me to dial the intonation in much more accurately than if I were just watching an indicator light or something – this one is super important to me.
Starrett 24 in. 16R Ruler – Expensive but worth it, vital if you layout and cut your own fret slots by hand. You can also easily see the relationship between 8th and 10ths and make sure you are building “on the grid” as I talk about in my book – The Art Of Lutherie
Caliper – I have owned and eventually destroyed many calipers over the years, some super expensive and some cheap. The one I use now is moderately priced, but works well. That way I don’t have to cry so hard the next time spill a bottle of shellac on it and ruin it.
Guitar Assembly & Construction Tools
Side Bending Iron – Man I need a new one of these, mine is worn out, but still going after 15 years. I did replace the heating element once, but great and convenient tool.
Milwaukee Router – Kind of random to have this on the list, but its the best router I have ever owned. Perfectly in tune with itself, it sounds like an instrument, really amazing balance and precision.
Binding Router Bit & Bearings – I have been using these since day one and they are great. I keep one just for spruce and rotate the others from maple to rosewood as they become more dull each time.
Guitar Makers Vise – Cant work without this one, a must.
Go -Bar Deck – One of the simplest ways to glue your braces. I use this type which are good, but I think if I was doing it all over again I might go with these or make my own out of pipes with spring loaded bars inside for super fast hide glue action.
Glue Clearing Chisel – Absolutely love this tool, it keeps my tops clean and save me a lot of work. It also lets me clean the squeeze-out without flooding the area with water for cleanup – very important.
Glue Bottles – Seems dumb to put this on here, but they really make it so much easier to get the right amount of glue on the surface and they are so cheep you can replace them when they wear out or when you loose the cap. Any similar bottle will work fine not just this brand.
Quick clamps – Best to get the 4 pack, you save tons that way. I learn about these in 2000 when I studied with Boaz Elkayam, so handy and light weight.
Guitar Making Books
Making An Archtop Guitar – This is the book that changed my life. I will always remember the cool autumn the day I found it in a book store, and read it cover to cover in one sitting. I’ll always be thankful that Bob shared that with all of us.
The Art Of Lutherie – I have to recommend it because it contains what I consider to be the core concepts of the guitar itself and how to use them to engineer the voice you want from your guitar. It’s designed to be a companion to your favorite “How To” Step by step book on guitar making.
Guitarmaking: Tradition & Technology – The second book I ever got on guitar making. I don’t use many of the techniques here, but I think it is very important to know what the tradition says and understand the parameters you are working in while you design your own guitars and systems.
Making Master Guitars – The same as above, I love being able to look and see things like how big was the heel cap on a Torres, it is so awesome to have that info and to be able to compare such great luthier’s work side by side to get an understanding of their thinking and approach.
Fretwork Step By Step – I learned so much when I got this book back in the 90’s I think. A great basis to start developing and grow in your fret work skills and understanding.