Fairbanks Guitars How Are They Built?

Built by Hand

Each Fairbanks guitar is built by hand in families of four to six with a gestation period of around six weeks, not including spraying and curing time. We use time-honored construction techniques such as tapered dovetails for the neck joint and hot hide glue throughout. The power tools in our shop are the same ones that you would have seen in any early to mid twentieth century woodworking shop. We eschew steam power in favor of the more modern and convenient electricity.

Hot Hide Glue Is Used Throughout the Construction Process

Why do we go through the trouble of building guitars with hot hide glue? Well, HHG is an inherently superior material for transmitting vibrations between two pieces of wood as it dries to a crystalline state, rather than a hard, rubbery state like that of an aliphatic resin such as Titebond. In addition, once an AR glue joint is dry, it cannot be removed and repaired without removing all of the old glue and replacing it with fresh. HHG, on the other hand, will return to its original, sticky state when heated. All guitars will have to be repaired in their lifetimes and one built with HHG is MUCH easier to deal with. Besides, once you get the hang of working with HHG on a daily basis, it's easier and more forgiving than any aliphatic resin wood glue!

Dovetail Neck Joints

All Fairbanks guitars employ a tapered dovetail, the traditional method for attaching the neck to the body. This joint is superior to a bolt-on or tapered pin joint because, after gluing with HHG (see above) it becomes, effectively, one with the body of the guitar. This enables better vibrational transmission from the strings, through the bridge and soundboard, and up the neck, resulting in a louder and more responsive instrument. Alternately, in applications where percussiveness and increased projection is desired, such as a jazz archtop that needs to cut through an orchestra, maple necks with large headstocks help to keep the string energy from dissipating down the neck. This is not desirable in an acoustic flattop guitar, and the dovetail helps to transmit vibrations to the very tip of the headstock, resulting in a guitar that feels amazingly resonant. 

The Magical Combination

I have built guitars at one point or another during my 15 year career with every type of top bracing: scalloped and unscalloped, half scalloped and half straight, tall, thin, short and wide. The combination of bracing properties and top properties that I find gives me the tone that I have in my mind's ear (ear's mind?) is the same, unsurprisingly, that I've seen in the best of the old guitars I've studied. Tall, thin, unscalloped braces, paired with a nice, stiff Red Spruce top that can be thinned to .100" or .110", is the magical combination that gives every hand-voiced Fairbanks guitar the same qualities of tone that you will find in a guitar that has been on this earth for seventy-five years. Granted, there's just no recipe that takes the place of Father Time, but we can come damn close, and a Fairbanks guitar does. 

Nitrocellulose Lacquer

Every Fairbanks guitar is finished with nitrocellulose lacquer, the first choice for guitar makers since the early twentieth century. Its clarity, durability and ease of repair make it an ideal choice for fancy little boxes that get a lot of manhandling and up-close gazing . We use instrument-grade nitrocellulose, which is doubly ideal as it is flexible enough to allow the thin plates of wood that make up an acoustic guitar to expand and contract with humidity changes without the lacquer cracking, or "checking". However, as decades pass and the lacquer continues to harden, it will eventually check. This is inevitable and is considered by most to be desirable, both for aesthetics and tone. Most Fairbanks guitars are shipped with a sunburst finish, and our technique of applying the sunburst with stain on the bare wood allows us to keep the clear coat thickness to a bare minimum. Our top finishes end up between .002"-.003" thick (about the same as a page of cheap printer paper) while the back, side and neck finishes are between .004"-.005". 

Go Light or Go Home

Have you ever been in a guitar shop and picked up a beautiful guitar that weighed as much as that calzone from last week that you're still trying to polish off? Me, too. Excess weight is usually not a positive attribute for an acoustic guitar. Overly large braces and thick plates may make for a good camping companion and, in a pinch, card table, but they just don't make a good sounding guitar. Fairbanks guitars are built lightly but durably, with Spanish Cedar blocks and small, stiff back bracing, and will outlive the most durable owner. 

Small Shop Flexibility

As a small guitar manufacturer building between thirty and forty instruments per year, we are able to work with each and every client individually to nail down every detail she may want. For example, if you have a guitar with an especially comfortable neck, we are able to copy it for you at no extra cost or trouble. Extra fancy inlays or different string spacing? of course (though, we will probably charge for the pearl work). Want to sound like The Boss when he plays his 1950's J-45? We can build the guitar, the rest is up to you! In short, we are not constrained within a corporate environment. You can call or email to discuss your order and visit our shop anytime. A huge part of the pleasure we derive from building guitars is helping players get exactly what they want in both tone and aesthetics.