Kerfing Clamps & How To Build Your Best Guitars

What do kerfing clamps and the master key to help you build your best guitar ever have in common? You’ll have to watch the video to find out! 🙂 As I was working with my kerfing/lining clamps the other day I was reminded of the interesting story of how I got them. I instantly knew this was something very important that I needed to share with you. (You can also find the full transcription of the video below for quick reference)

Links I mentioned in the video:

 Kerfing Clamps & How To Build Your Best Guitars

(Text Version Below)

As I was messing around with these clamps today, it just reminded me of the story of how I got these clamps. When I thought about it, I realized that it’s a pretty cool story, I think. I think not only is it just a cool story. I think it’s potentially a life-changing story. I want you to definitely stay tuned to hear a little more about the clamps, but the most important part, I think, is the story of how I got these clamps. I think it will help you get clamps, or any other tool you need, and it might even just help you build the best guitar that you’ve ever made. Stay tuned. We’re going to talk about that in just a second. Hey, my name is Tom Bills. Thank you so much for taking the time to check out this video. Just in case we’re meeting for the first time, I’m a professional luthier. I make handmade guitars. I also have the privilege of being able to train other people to make handmade guitars from all over the world through theartoflutherie.com, and my online training courses called The Luthier’s EDGE. I’ll put the link to that stuff below, in case you want to check it out. Let’s get down to business in this video today. I want to tell you a little about these clamps, but like I had mentioned before, the most important thing is the story of how I got these clamps, because it illustrates a fundamental principle that is really, I could almost say, it’s one of the bedrock principles of how I build my guitars, of how, let’s see, that enabled or empowered me to be able to raise the quality of my guitars exponentially, and really makes life more enjoyable, and it makes the process more creative, too. The life of being a professional luthier, and building guitars in this particular way that I’m going to share with you. It makes it more enjoyable.

What Are Guitar Kerfing & Linings & What’s The Differance?

Okay. What are these clamps, first of all, let’s get a little background to understanding what’s going on here, so the story makes sense. In case you’re new to guitar-making, the inside of the guitar, the sides of guitar, are pieces of wood that are bent into shape. Usually, when I’m building, I have a big heavy mold that goes around the sides that holds that shape in place. I took it off, just so you can see this a little better. Inside, attached to these outer wood parts, is what you see here, these darker colored pieces of wood. Now the clamps are hiding them a little. In my case, these are made out of Spanish cedar. These are called “solid linings.” A lot of guitars have strips of wood with little cuts in it, that makes it easier to bend, and that’s called “kerfing.” Both of those are very commonly used. Both work well in different ways. I like the solid linings, because it creates a more solid, rigid skeletal framework around the sides, which really, when I switched to that, it was a drastic improvement in the quality in the sound of my guitars. The responsiveness, the volume. Just across the board, it was a really big improvement. It really improved some of the building process for me, as well. When I cut my binding channels to inlay the binding, there aren’t little cuts like there would be with kerfing. It’s just a solid, nice, smooth gluing surface to glue that binding in, which is nice. If you’re interested in knowing more about the solid linings, and why they’re important, why they work, why I love them so much, there’s a guide to guitar linings over on theartoflutherie.com. There’s also an even more in-depth version of that guide, it’s really a tutorial, in The Luthier’s EDGE. If you’re a member of The Luthier’s EDGE, you can log in and check that out HERE. It’s really cool. I think you’ll learn a lot of more important fundamentals there, too. Okay, so we put linings in here. What we do is, after we get the sides of the guitar bent, then we clamp these linings in place while the glue dries. There’s a lot of ways you can do that, but the key is to find which clamps best fit your style, and the way that you build.

Types Of Kerfing & Lining Clamps

When I first started building guitars, I couldn’t afford more expensive clamps like this. I started with a combination of these binder clips and also wooden clothespins. Now, one thing you can do that works fairly well, if you’re using kerfing especially, is to use a wooden clothespin, and wrap some rubber bands around it to give it a little added clamping pressure. That got me through quite a few guitars. Then, at Harbor Freight one day, I discovered these little plastic clamps that you can buy a little pack of these. These are pretty handy little clamps, and I still use these for real tight curves, like up here in the cutaway, they work really well. Because these bigger ones are really powerful, and if you clamp them on a tight curve, they could actually break the side. These little type from Harbor Freight. I think there’s probably places on Amazon, too, that you can get little ones like this. They work great for stuff like that. But these clamps right here (the Pony 1″ Spring Clamps) were the ones that I knew were going to help me do my best work, and get the type of clamping pressure that I need for the stiffer and more rigid … This is actually a double-layer, the linings that are in here. It’s actually a double-layer of Spanish cedar, that’s laminated. When I decided I wanted these clamps, so now that we’ve got a little bit of background, let’s talk about this story that I think is so important. I really do think it could change your life, because when I implemented what this story represents, it really did have a massive, and still has a massive impact on my life, every single day, because I still do what I’m about to tell you.

My Story (How I got my kerfing clamps)

I realized that these were the clamps I needed, but this was, I don’t know, 10 or 15 years ago, when I came to that realization. At the time, I mean, these clamps are several dollars apiece and you need quite a few of them. It depends on the price that you find, but they could be $4 or more for each one of these little clamps. At the time, that was just impossible for me. When I first looked at it, I was tempted to say, “I’ll just never have it. There’s no way I can spend that much money on clamps right now, so I guess I’ll just keep using my clothespins and all of that other stuff.” But instead, I took a different approach. This is a key, critical point to understand. That approach is, I took my largest-size guitar, which is a 17″ archtop. I measured the sides, and I calculated how many of these clamps I’m going to need to build my largest guitar. I took a cardboard box, and I wrote the number on the side. I don’t remember it, off the top of my head, what the number was, but let’s say it was 60. I don’t know. “60 one-inch Pony Spring Clamps.” I wrote that on the side of the box. There was nothing in it. It was an empty box. That was part of setting my vision. Setting my goal. When that vision became clear, it had a defined number. I could see it. I knew exactly what it was going to be like when I had all of these clamps. It made this anchor point, that I could then work backwards from, so that I could determine, “Okay, that’s where I’m going. What tiny baby step … I can’t get them all at once, today, or tomorrow, or next week. But what’s the tiniest thing that I can do?” I started by buying one clamp every week. I just kept going. Sometimes, I would miss a week. Sometimes I’d buy two in a week. I just kept going, little by little. There may have even been a month where I only bought one. I don’t know. But I just kept taking those tiny baby steps, doing whatever I could, going forward, and this amazing day came, a lot sooner than I thought it would, where I bought the last clamp. I put it in the box, and now it said “60 one-inch Pony Spring Clamps,” and there were 60 Pony Spring Clamps in that box that was once empty. But the reason it happened was because there was a defined vision and goal.

How to build your best guitars (& enjoy it more too)

To put this in the context of guitar-making, it’s so important, because that’s what we do. Well, that’s what we do in my course. There’s one of the courses in The Luthier’s EDGE is called The Art of Guitar Design. In that course, I hammer on this point that in order to build your best guitar, and have the least amount of problems and the most enjoyable building experience, you’ve got to do a full-scale drawing of the guitar, and work out every single detail on paper. Because that’s what you’re doing. You’re defining the goal. You’re refining, you’re building this in your mind and in your heart. That’s what empowers your hands to create it. Then once you have that vision, that guitar, fully worked out on paper, and built in your mind, that you can see it, then it’s so much easier and so much more likely that you’re going to reach that by working backwards and figuring out, “Okay, that’s where I’m going. What are the first steps I need to take to reach that amazing goal?” Then, eventually, if you don’t stop, and you keep taking those steps, just like me with these clamps, there will come a day where you are holding in your hands that guitar that you once only saw in your mind. That is one of the most amazing, thrilling, gratifying experiences I have ever had in my life. It never gets old to me. I love seeing the look in the eyes of my students when they have that same experience. If I don’t get to see them in person, I love reading the e-mail, or seeing the pictures that they send me, and just feeling that excitement, and that thrill, and that rush that they have, too. I just relate to it. It just resonates with me. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to share with you. Hopefully, you can see why I think it’s so life-changing, and so important, because it can equip you to overcome the obstacles that seem impossible. To set that goal. To keep moving forward, and don’t let all of the little dumb things in life stop you and slow you down. Instead, it will make you stronger, and you’ll find ways to overcome it. Keep taking those baby steps, and you’ll reach that goal, or any goal that you set. All right. Well, I hope you found this video helpful. Thank you so much for watching. I’ll put some links to the stuff we talked about below. If you haven’t subscribed to The Art Of Lutherie channel, I hope you’ll click the button. Hit the bell. That’s it for this video. Again, my name is Tom Bills. Go check out theartoflutherie.com, the Luthier’s EDGE, and thanks again for watching. I’ll see you in the next video.

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