Have you ever considered making your own guitar? Melvyn Hiscock, author of the successful book “Make Your Own Electric Guitar” is an expert in this field, offering insight into the art of essential luthery.
With his new book “Make Your Own Acoustic Guitar” hitting the shelves of our bookshops, it’s seems only right for Guitar Jar to catch up with Melvyn to ask him more about success of his first book and the challenges he faced in exploring acoustic guitar manufacturing methods.
… the book has sold somewhere between 100 and 120,000 copies…
As the lights came down the girls in there screamed and that chord came out. I was instantly hooked and really became a guitarist at that point, the fact I didn’t get a guitar until I was 13 was neither here nor there, I had the mindset from that instant and playing was simply something that was going to happen.
When I started playing it was on an old Czechoslovakian Classical guitar with an action that was measured in light years. I was playing all sorts of stuff very, very badly. I don’t have the patience to practice and I don’t have a natural ear so rather than playing what I wanted to play, I played what I could!
Later I worked in a horrible music shop in Portsmouth and assembled a guitar from bits that were hanging around and eventually saved up enough to get a Shaftesbury Les Paul Copy. Sadly there were not many people in my year at school interested in playing and the years above were far better than me and the years below had their bands so I didn’t play much then. I have been trying to make up for that ever since.
But, there was no one to ask, there were none of the magazines you see now, no Internet, you could not buy parts easily. There was a book about making Classical Guitars but that didn’t help my aspiring rock and roll supergods who wanted to make electrics. It was a case of dive in and make mistakes. I did eventually learn that screws don’t need to be hammered!
This was in about 1984 and there were few computers then so everything was done on typewriters which made editing really difficult. There were a lot of bits of paper around with typed bits and red pen notes that crossed stuff out and had arrows showing where that bit should have been. I still have some of that stuff somewhere.
It came out in May 1986, so 25 years this year and Blandford had it until 1996. I wanted to do a second edition as I knew it could be improved and that sales were beginning to flag, but they would not do it. We had a big falling out and they told me that if I was so clever I should do it myself. That was a red rag to a bull and since I was working in publishing then it was quite possible, so I became the publisher as well and the second edition came out in October 1998.
The sales figure totals were never given to me by Blandford but totting up the reprint numbers and knowing what royalty I was getting provides a figure of about 60-75,000 and I have done almost 45,000 so it is somewhere between 100 and 120,000. I must have got something right!
I had lunch with Dave Carroll from Touchstone Tonewoods a while back; he and I have known each other for thirty years. My Touchstone customer number was in the low teens but I had been buying from the parent company before that so have been a customer of theirs forever. He told me he thought it must be one of the better selling books on guitars as a whole, not just about building. He may be right, I have no idea!
From then I covered some of the specialist bits, like truss rods which back in 1986 were discussed in terms that bordered on folklore, I wanted to explode some of the myths. I covered fretting and fretboards, wood and tools and then went into making three guitars which covered bolt-on, glued-in and straight-through necks, exotic woods, binding, one piece necks, twin truss rods, neck angles, faced bodies and sandwich bodies, carved tops and a few other things and then I had a chapter that showed how to mix those styles if you wanted.
Finishing and electrics were also done as well as trem systems and making guitars from parts.
I also tried to make it as logical and no-nonsense as possible. There is nothing in there on tap tuning for example as it is totally irrelevant on a first guitar as you have no idea what you are expecting to hear. It may well have a relevance when you have made 30 or 40 guitars but not on your first one.
There is, sadly, some real folklore attached to making guitars and sadly some of that is not only irrelevant on a first guitar, it is sometimes of very dubious value if you think about it and look at the science!
I just wanted to produce a logical and helpful book that would give you a good grounding in the subject so that if you want to go off and experiment more then you can.
It was impressive on someone his age, speed was not the essence; care and planning were. He did a very good job too.
For more information about Melvyn Hiscock’s books, please visit: