As we are now 'living in the future' it seems crazy not to at least explore the world of CNC for the home guitar builder
It is a subject I am becoming more interested in as time goes on...with the latest wave of machines from China you can get started for just a few hundred pounds it almost seems crazy not to have one. However I am sure there are many pitfalls and trash tools to waste money on.
Lets see if we can cut through a lot of the BS and find the best available machines and software out there!
If you are a CNC pro or just starting out let us know what you think -
- What is the best machine?
- What is the best software?
Measure twice, cut once...
Now, this is something I know nothing about but I have taken an interest in the concept. Sometimes I think it could be amazing to have a machine that will do all the hard work accurately and automatically. Appealing as it is, I then think that it could take away the skill of doing it by hand, it’s half the fun of making guitars. I feel like we would all become more proficient at using computers instead of building guitars. Having said all of that, there is something very pleasing about watching a guitar being calved out automatically in front of your eyes without lifting a single tool. I am definitely interested in giving it a go in the future but I need to do a lot of research before investing. One thing is for sure, we could all knock out a lot more guitars at a much quicker pace.
Like you said, it would be crazy not to explore it in this day and age with all of this wonderful technology. Count me in.
Carpe Diem and build your dreams
My work place has become electronic, so now all health records are on computer and the whole hospital is madder- and unsafer- than ever. People have lost all their organisation skills and communication between human beings is redundant. Patients feel like they're on a miserable production line.
I can't stand turning my computer on to make music- I can't imagine having to turn it on to work a piece of wood!
I oppose the digitisation of society, however seductively convenient it continues to develop.
Mark, I've seen your skills with a chisel, and especially your amazing ability to estimate any given size of material by touch and sight. What do you look forward to being able to do with CNC?
Relax! I think that we are a very long way from being able to 3D print an acceptable replica of a guitar by pressing a single button so chisels, planes and plasters are going to feature in guitar making for many years to come. It is the last 10% or 20% of the work that has to be done by hand that will always require 100% of the skill of the craftsman. I have no problem at all with someone who wants to work entirely with hand tools if doing so contributes to their own enjoyment of the process and increases their pride and sense of achievement in what they make. However, I do enjoy making jigs, working out how to reduce production times and using the technology available to me so I am very open to using machines whenever they are appropriate and this is all part of the fun for me.
CNC machining of moulds, templates and jigs simply increases the accuracy and reduces the time it takes to make them, especially if you want multiple copies of an item. I used my CNC router to machine my headstocks, rosette recesses, radius my finger boards and produce neck blanks although the latter still required a good deal of hand shaping as I wasn't machining a full 3D modelled neck, only producing the tapered longitudinal radiused section. If you already use a powered hand router I can see no reason to have a philosophical issue with using one controlled by CNC. From a commercial point of view it is very difficult to charge more for something made entirely by hand just because it took you longer and you sweated more doing it if the product is identical to one produced with the aid of CNC machining. This isn't adding value to the product, it's just increasing your costs of production.
Main Software - I produce all of my drawings in Adobe Illustrator and then use various secondary applications to produce the correct type of file to feed to my various CNC machines. Illustrator is fantastically underrated as a CAD package and I find the ability to originate all my drawings in one application and then use the same files to machine parts on my router, laser cutter or hot wire cutter a real time saver and ensures consistency across all machining operations. You can also open commercially bought .pdf plans in Illustrator and then redraw the required outlines and save them to different layers within the file.
The CNC machines that I have available to me are as follows and I must point out that these are used for my main business and I realise that they are not typical of what might be found in even many professional guitar builders workshops:
Pacer 2512 HDS 8'x4' flat bed CNC router - Bought second hand over 10 years ago and worth its weight in gold (slight exaggeration, it is bloody heavy!). I use Vectric VCarve Pro to produce the tool path files (essentially G-code) which actually runs the CNC router. VCarve Pro imports native Illustrator files and allows the various paths to be selected and have a machining operation applied to them whether it be drilled a hole, a machined pocket or a cut out function outside, inside or on the line, as well as many others. The machine has a 6 pod auto tool changer so each cutter is assigned a tool position number and this information is incorporated into the G-Code file so that the router knows when to put one cutter down and pick the next one up. Have a look at their site if you want to see more about this application www.vectric.com
Home built CNC hot wire cutter for shaping polystyrene blocks - 1400mm long wire, 750mm Y axis, 1400mm X axis - My Illustrator files are first converted into .dxf files using either VCarve Pro or another utility called Bezarc. Illustrator can export .dxf files but just not in the correct file type. These files are then imported into GMFC Pro which is software designed specifically to control a hot wire cutter and is written by a French aero modeller and is specifically designed for cutting aircraft wings and fuselage sections but I use it for cutting the moulds I am using in my vacuum press to laminate my guitar sides. The website also has some useful links if you are considering building your own CNC machines http://gm.cnc.free.fr/en/index.html
Apollo 600mm x 400mm 30w Laser cutter - Originally bought for cutting marquetry veneers this machine is also great for cutting acrylic templates for marking guitar outlines and brace positions. The software that drives the cutter (Ethos) also imports native Illustrator files and the paths and objects can then be assigned a cutting, engraving or raster shading operation. Different power levels can be set for each type of material and operation.
I have now started to look at proper 3D modelling software and so far I am being drawn to Rhino 3D. I am at very early stages of going through the tutorials but their evaluation period on the software is 90 days which seems pretty generous compared to most. If anyone else has experience of this application I would love to hear from them.
For me it is not about making guitars faster - but better - or at least more accurately...
Also I think I would use mine mostly for patterns not actual guitars - making templates is fun the first time...
A smaller machine for inlays would be a great starter?
Measure twice, cut once...
If you are only going to use it most for cutting patterns I would think that it is going to be difficult to justify the costs and space it takes to have in house compared with simply subbing this type of work out. Inlays are a different matter however, and I can see that the times savings could be pretty considerable. In the meantime, if you ever want any patterns or templates CNC routed or laser cut I'd be happy to to do this for you. I would just need you to send a .pdf file
Low cost linear parts (glorified drawer runners) are available but for high resolution detailed work like inlays I would think you would really need to use higher quality components which do cost a reasonable amount of money.
When I built my hot wire cutter HobbyCNC told me that their boards weren't designed for commercial use so I bought and soldered 3 identical controllers. Guess what? 10 years later I am still running with the original board.
For myself, working from my shed and garden and making one guitar per year, it seems overkill to invest in a CNC machine. However, if I ran a small business like Mark does, I wouldn't think twice about using CNC. Not only for pattern-making, but for small production series. Producing rough bodies and necks with CNC is time-saving and consistent. The final finishing is always going to be manual. Crikey, even at Fender they do the final sanding by hand....
Mark, wasn't it you who said that a machine can do 80% of the work and the remainder has to be done by hand?
Measure once, cut straight away and maybe you're lucky......