The Five Secrets of Building a Weissenborn Guitar


For over twenty years I had always been very curious about building a guitar. I had played acoustic guitars almost since I could remember. I had a great mate who lived just down the road from and we did everything together so when he announced he was going to learn to play guitar, naturally, I didn’t want to be left out! We bought a couple of new guitars and practised hard together even on cold Winter’s night we went to the local Laundrette to practise when our folks threw us out!……Yes, my enthusiasm has never waned all through my great hippy youth until today where I find myself living on a yacht in Australia with eight wonderful guitars at the dodgy age of fifty eight..I even still do a few gigs!

But I digress! no matter how many guitars I owned over the years…and I have owned a few…I always had a secret desire to build one for myself. I proudly imagined how I would lovingly carve it all out, inlay it with black Coral, turquoise, silver and glowing mother of pearl. But, whenever it came to the crunch I just didn’t have the balls to actually get stuck in and get to grips with it.

What was wrong? I couldn’t work it out. I had achieved many other things I had set out to do along my journey through life. I’d built a 43 foot yacht, for one thing. I had learned that in order to finish a project off was to tell every living soul I knew that I was going to do it…that way, I knew that later,when my enthusiasm flagged, I just had to see it through, if I didn’t I would get the reputation as a bigmouth ‘gonna be, want to be” I secretly thought of it as my ‘insurance policy! It really helped, for sure.

However, as much as I loved playing, my life took a big jolt when I finally went to see a great Aussie guy called Jeff Lang play at a concert in my home town. I sat enthralled, spun out, totally blown away at the rich, vibrant, cool whiny sound that seemed to leap from this amazingly shaped lap steel guitar.

It just did not seem possible that a guitar could sound so full, so haunting, so melodic, to tell you the truth, I was so overcome with it all, I felt tears run down my face I felt such a fool…Well, what a state to get in!It was a big crossroads in my guitar playing!

This incident never left me the same again… I wanted one of those Weissenborns so bad it hurt. I felt I couldn’t face my other guitars again. I sulked, we didn’t speak for some weeks…..but I gave in, had to I’d wanted a Taylor all my life…now I’d got it, wasn’t I ever going to play it again? Something was different though…I wanted to play that bloody thing like I’d never wanted to play before, so I did, you’d better believe it. I dont even want to think about how long and how many hours it took me to start improving but I damn well did.

I’ve taken all this time to get around to the whole point of this article. I had got over the indecision that had haunted me…I couldn’t afford two or three grand to buy a good lap steel. No way.
I luckily have a great friend in Luthier Kim Hancock of Tamborine Mountain in Queensland. Kim, a kind soul along with his two boys ( also fearsome luthiers) Dane and Sean, build guitars that are something else already established as amongst the best in the World market…

Kim was really encouraging and gave me my first secret, unwittingly. If you start it and stuff it up…so what? It’s only a piece of wood, see what you did wrong, chuck it in the garbage and order another piece..simple! Then, do it right the second time!

The second secret came right on the back of the first one.! Dont let the project intimidate you…take control of are the master, it is the subject.
The best secret of all came as I started to build ….I remembered the words during our conversation a few weeks before….Treat every stage of the build as a separate project. The back, the sides, the bridge, the headstock.. a separate project. See, thats a good secret, I reckon. That way you can see the build as lots of small projects instead of one big overwhelming monster……Hey and give yourself a reward every time you complete one of those stages..a beer, a lollypop, go splash out people, dont get cheap on yourselves!
The next secret is this: During the build there is always something that will stop you dead in your tracks. With me it was” How in Hell’s bells am I ever going to get the back join perfect or the front one, come to mention it?”Well, my secret was in the fact that I had a good guitar making book supplied to me by Kim. The answer was in there! Glue some sandpaper to a straight edged spirit level and then sand each section smooth as a baby’s bum…see, simple when you know how!

So, find your way round every problem by thinking about it carefully…there is always a way round each problem you encounter, it may not always be the way you had imagined! Oh, yeah, the name of the book is ” A guitar Maker’s manual by Jim Williams” You can get that from Kim Hancock’s site
[http://www.Australian] Luthiers Let me say though, there are no plans for a Weissenbourn in there, you can get those from StewMac in the U.S. or other suppliers.

The final secret is a real simple one: Make a firm decision to see it through to the end. I actually live on a yacht in a Marina.. I nearly talked myself out of building the guitar time and time again. I have heard so many times” How can I build a guitar when I havn’t got a shed, a bench saw and so on?” BS people, BS with a capital BULL. Make the best of what you have, get your timber supplier to cut up the timber to size, then get it planned so you dont need all that expensive gear, Man,THEY got it all!

There are a few more secrets too….I have written a book “How to build a Weissenborn Guitar”that will give you a few more lights to shine in those dark corners of that mind of yours! to help you do this thing!This guitar is really basic, just like the originals, no purfling ,no truss rods( they dont need ’em) bone simple but the sound! YEE haaa!
It tells you how to build the guitar of your dreams at your own speed right there at home, in the shed garage or flat with the very minimum of tools and experience. I now have a site all about the build called that you can also see in the authors resource box.

There are some pictures of my new weissenborn there, made incidentally, with Australian Maple( a cousin of Koa) and an indian rosewood fretboard which actually does not have any frets on at all and maybe never will!
Finally, I do hope that any of you out there reading this article will want to know how my Weissenborn turned out…..bloody awesome! It is the loudest guitar I have ever heard in thirty years of playing… I can hardly sing over the sound of it!!! and that’s saying something people cause I do have one loud voice.. not a good one folks, but a loud one!! It’s been a levelling but incredible experience, thanks again to my good mate Kim Hancock for all the help and advice he so freely gave to me especially when he didn’t have to!

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