Early Guitars and Vihuela

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I am planning to use a wedged Spanish heel for the neck/body joint of the baroque guitar I am trying to build (as described in Peter Forrester's 17th Century Guitar Woodwork article), as this is the approach for which I am most confident/least apprehensive.  However before cutting the slots for the sides, I thought I should ask for some advice on the angle for the neck.  The simplest method would be to have the neck in the same plane as the soundboard (a), but presumably this would require a thick wedge-shaped fingerboard to get the right string height.  The other approach would be to build it with a slight forward angle (b) to create the string height and use a thin fingerboard.  I am fairly confident I could implement (b) as this was the scheme used on my lute.  Another luthier mentioned that having a slight backward tilt can give a better tone (c), but I think that might be for modern guitars with a raised fingerboard?

I'd be very grateful for any advice for a first guitar build!

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I've made all my baroque guitars and lutes in one plain, like example A.
The old instruments I've studied all had this setup.

Thanks for the advice Jan, example A certainly seems to be the most straightforward approach.

Not quite an answer to your question, but I'd recommend a wedge-shaped fingerboard, perhaps a couple of mm thicker at the nut than where it meets the soundboard.  I've measured this on a couple of originals - a Voboam, and one of the Italians in Kilmarnock - and suspect that it was at least common practice. 

It also depends on whether you glue the belly or the back on first.  My experience with back first has always found a tendency for the neck to want to lean back.

Thank you for the recommendation Peter; I had planned to glue the back on first, as my lute was made that way (so it would be more familiar) and if I recall correctly the original Stradivarius was made that way as well.  It is reassuring to hear that the tendency would be for the neck to want to lean back rather than forward, as that would seem easier to correct.

Dear Gavin,

I don't generally follow this site on a regular basis so have only just come across you enquiry.

I would not support Peter's observation about wedged fingerboards. In my view, these aren't usually there when the instrument is first made but as a result of adjustments (ie planing to lower the fingerboard towards the nut end) caused because guitars are not the most structurally robust of instruments around the neck/body joint and over time this gives slightly thus leading to the neck coming forwards a little ('lifting').  Thus requiring a reuction in fingerboard height at the nut end.

Indeed, I suggest the contrary course when making a new instrument:  ie by making the fingerboard a mm or two thicker at the nut end this enables a very easy adjustment to be made (ie planing the neck) without taking the instrument apart if and when the neck lifts significantly. But other than this make it all in the one plane. ie top of neck (without fingerboard in the same plane as the top on the instrument (without belly). 


Dear Martyn,

   thanks you for your advice, I think Peter was suggesting the same thing (having the fingerboard a bit thicker at the nut end to allow room for adjustment if the neck pulls forward).  I have cut the slots for the wedged heel at 90 degrees and will be building the guitar with the neck and top in the same plane, so It is reassuring that I had the same advice from everybody!  The work is proceeding at a rather glacial pace, but hopefully I'll post a picture of the finished neck soon (it is almost there, just a bit more shaping on the heel and I will probably veneer the peghead while it is still easily manipulated).

best regards



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