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Unread 11-30-2003, 02:00 AM   #31
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I guess it would be. So should this thread be called "Production vs. Luthier-Made Guitars"?
No. It really gets down to whether the guitar is totally CNC or handmade, or some point in between. That's the big distinction, because that is the main modal operator of whether cost-cutting will start kicking in in a big way.

As mentioned, a Luthier wouldn't dare dream of any cost-cutting practices, because he will not reduce his work load appreciably, and will turn out inferior products. He only has the Quality card to play.

In the guitar world, CNC machines open the door to cost-cutting.

If anything, the thread could/should be titled "The Authenticity of Machine-Made Guitars at Hand-Made Prices".

More later . . . .

Chesh

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Last edited by CheshireCat; 12-03-2003 at 05:52 PM.
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Unread 12-04-2003, 01:45 AM   #32
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nnnnnnnnnnn said:

While I would agree that a product advertised as 'hand made' shouldn't be made on a CNC machine it is kind of hard to draw a really specific line: does 'hand made' exclude the use of power tools of any kind?
No, but there is a major distinction between classic carpentry tools, be them power or hand (with some innovative designs, improvements, and refinements), and mass-production machines.

More later . . .

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CNC machines are just tools.
By who's reckoning? If a CNC can be classified as a tool, then that is a very loose and liberal classification indeed. I can guarantee you, there isn't one Luthier I know of, save maybe one, who would even dare classify a CNC as a tool. And that one exception is a Luthier I greatly respect, only it really pains me to see him try to justify it to his customers on his website the legitimacy of using a CNC since all of his guitars are handmade and run as much as $7K. Trust me, $7K is more than a fair price, and his main line of guitars aren't even as innovative as his specialty ones, and those cost a lot more. In fact, one of the top Jazz Guitarists today plays his guitar, and has a siggy model, only this Luthier actually builds it himself. He goes to great pains to point out on the site that he only uses it for very specific functions on his one cheap line, which is not cheap by any stretch. Try $2K.

And, that CNC of his is homemade (how's that for irony). I.E., he didn't pay $200K for it. I've seen pics. It's a small little number in his basement. And, I can guarantee you, that's the Exception to the Rule that Proves the Rule. Most Luthiers wouldn't mess with that, nor do they have the were with all to do so. I guarantee you, if CNC's were hot with Luthiers, there would be schematics and kits all over the place. As it is, there are not.

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As such they can contribute to the production of quality items, or not, depending on how they are used.
Once again, that's relative, but usually, the CNC marks the opening of Pandora's Cost-Cutting Box. More later . . .

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If the wooden blanks themselves were carefully prepared and selected for direction of grain and all those things then it's not going to make much difference whether it then is cut 'by hand' [Editorial note: comment extracted for further analysis - Chesh] or by the CNC machine.
Define "carefully prepared and selected for direction of grain and all those things". That's usually what a Luthier does. CNC operators don't. They just CNC (to verbize a noun) whatever wood they are told to. Also, specifically define "prepared". In fact, better yet, let's contrast that with another contradictory statement you made.

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Sure, the CNC machine may not sense little variations in different blocks of wood, but how would a human being deal with those difference if they are required to turn out guitars that are all the same shape?
Do you get the dichotomy? How would they deal with those differences? By properly selecting and preparing the wood. A Luthier will know how to do that. A CNC "craftsman" (read: operator . . . oh, those clever marketeers) won't. Sure, they will prep the wood for the CNC machine, i.e. perhaps run it thru a planer to make sure it's the right size for the CNC. They will probably select the right sized wood for the CNC, which may require less prepping. But that's not how a Luthier selects and preps wood.

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If, on the other hand, any old bit of wood is used then the results will obviously be rather variable.
Okay, I'm not exactly sure what you mean by that. Explain.

See, for a Luthier, selecting and preping wood virtually starts at the unfallen tree itself, or darn near close to it. Usually, they have a hardwood supplier that supplies them their wood, and has experience working with Luthiers and supplying instrument makers of all kinds. They also only use the most select pieces, if asked for. Or, they can supply lower grade if requested as well. For instance, Maple can go from no A's to all way up to AAAAA's.

A Luthier just won't walk into a lumber yard and say, "yeah, I want all of that". They will look thru every single piece of wood, checking for quality, looking for the sections they can use, balancing aesthetic concerns with tonal properties, and could easily spend an hour or two fishing for perfect pieces of lumber, tapping here and there, looking for the really, really good stuff. He doesn't care what the manifest says, or how many A's it has. The fact that it has at least AAAAA's is the reason he showed up in the first place, but in no way, shape, or form determines if he goes home with any wood. That all depends on what he likes out of all the AAAAA wood.

One the other hand, most manufacturers won't go thru all that wood (the tons of it they get in) and check each and every piece. They would probably give it a glance and sign off on it without thinking twice, perhaps under the idea that they will catch it later. This happens enough, and one more A after another get's clipped from their quality standards guildlines

I know this from experience in something as simple as picking out building lumber at Home Depot. My Dad and I would go to HD and go thru like 20 or 30 pieces of wood, looking for the 5 or 6 pieces we need. There's usually tons of knots, warps, plus all sorts of poor quality pieces, and imperfections (no, not the kind of stuff that lends character to the piece). Some imperfections you can live with. But not on the order of the stuff we find at HD now-a-days. A lot of their "prime" stuff is total crap. So, we will go thru like 20 or 30 pieces until we find the "lesser of two evils" in terms of quality.

Point being, a Luthier will do this with each and every piece of wood. I wouldn't say that they agonize over it (tho some, no doubt, do), but they invest considerable time in doing that, making sure they have excellent pieces, and especially pieces that excite them as much as they will excite their customer.

Then, when they get to building, they get the piece into the rough shape of what the guitar will looking like, in terms of size of body blank, neck blank, and so on, and then they tap test it for resonance. They want woods with compatible and complementary resonances. So, they test for peak resonances, or, put simply, the way the wood naturally, intrinsically sounds.

See . . .

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if they are required to turn out guitars that are all the same shape?
. . . the ultimate shape of the guitar has little to do with whether the wood is good quality and sonically pleasing to begin with. That can play into it later on, but if we are talking about solid bodies, then the shape doesn't have the same impact that it does in acoustic guitars, but that's another post. Anyway . . . .

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whether it then is cut 'by hand' (whatever that means: do you have to have really sharp fingernails or something?) or by the CNC machine.
Alrighty then . . . .

Well, as witty, erudite, adroit, sardonic, satirical, iconoclastic, irreverant, cunningly-contrarian, and clever as you think that flippant remark is, about every single Luthier, Fine-Wood Carpenter, Cabinet-Maker, Furniture-Maker, Marquetrist, Intarsiast, and Wood-Sculpter in the English Speaking World, not to mention all the woodworking hobbiests, is looking at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears!!

Seriously.

With all due respect, the absolute absurdity of that comment cannot be charted. Walk into any WOODCRAFT retail store http://www.woodcraft.com and ask the sales associate there that same question, and see what reaction you get. Or, better yet, sign up with their WoodCraft University classes on basic woodworking skills, and on the first day of class, ask, "When do we learn how to use CNC Machines? They are carpentry tools, right?" After the guy does a dumbfounded triple-take, and finally figures out, after deciphering the total absurdity of it and get's that, "yep, you mean those big manufacturing machines", will probably respond that you all will not be covering that, and that no self-respecting Carpenter would ever use one.

Assuming that you are not that serious in that question (Ya think?) but are trying to make some sort of salient point, here's the distinction:

Cut by hand, for all practical purposes, means a tool guided by hand, and can be held by hand, or the wood held by hand guided thru the machine in question. Plus, all the machines and power tools are simple and direct in their design and use.

Put even simpler, go into any aforementioned WOODCRAFT retail outfit and look at all the tools they have for sale. You'll find handworked tools like spokeshaves, hand-planners, chisels, and so on, and you'll find some powertools, like hand-held routers, bits for said routers, dremel tools for detail work. You'll find some larger basic machines, like radial saws, table saws, planers, drill presses, lathes (for turning bowls, custom writing pens, post for furniture - not often used for Lutherie), and that sort of machine.

Now, most carpenters and luthiers use various jigs to help guide the tools towards a specific goal, but they are the ones in total control of it. Just like using a ruler to draw a straight line vs. trying to freehand it. But still, it's their hand on the pencil.

To draw a useful if somewhat imperfect analogy, the difference between CNC vs. Handmade in this respect would be the difference between using a CNC to draw the line, vs. getting a ruler out and drawing the line yourself.

Now, the closest thing that comes to a CNC that a Luthier would actively use in terms of doing this kind of work would be a duplicarver.

As mentioned, a duplicarver is an ingenious jig used to follow the contour of a 3D reference plate to render the 3D shape of a piece of wood, in our case, the top of a guitar. Duplicarvers are totally legit in the context of handmade, because it is completely guided by hand, same as a handheld router would be, and it is completely controlled by the Luthier. A duplicarver does all the things that you guys outlined that CNC's are supposed to do, but you have to be a true Luthier, or carpenter, you actually use it.

This was one of the methods that Paul Reed Smith used to make his early handmade guitars.

Now, while duplicarvers are not usually available at most wood working shops, there are plenty of plans floating around that you can use to build them. On one of my other posts, I included a set of plans so you guys could see what one looks like.

Dups are about as big scale, extravagant, and sophisticated as most Luthiers get, but they are still a function of hand-made work because, as mentioned, they are totally guided by hand.

Now, I'm going to make a radical analogy, borrowing from the Art world.

To start with, this may shock you, but did you know that many of the Old Masters, such as Caravaggio, Velázquez, and Van Eyck, actually traced their paintings!?!?! Seriously! For real!

Sounds blasphemous, no doubt, yet it's true. It was discovered by David Hockney, a brilliant painter and scholar. He researched it, using the science of optics, and a considerable dive into Art History, and discovered that Art style of the masters took a radical turn around the time that the early scientists (the daVinci's and Galileo's of the time) discovered optics - the science of lens and mirrors.

He then put his findings in a book he titles Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...glance&s=books

Here's what the book description says on Amazon:

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Recently, David Hockney, often described as the "world's most popular artist," has made headlines not with his own work but with his sensational and controversial theories about how some of Western art's famous masterpieces—paintings by artists such as da Vinci, Caravaggio, Velázquez, and Van Eyck—were actually created. A chance observation of a drawing in London's National Gallery led Hockney to ask, "How was this done?"

His answer led to fascinating insights into the history of art: that many of the world's most revered artists used mirrors and various optical devices—such as the camera obscura—to project images onto their canvasses and then "traced" the scenes. Hockney's radical speculations have prompted both astonishment and outrage from prominent art historians and museum directors worldwide. The debate aside, Secret Knowledge offers readers the exhilarating opportunity to see the Old Masters afresh—through the eyes of a living master.

In Secret Knowledge, hundreds of paintings are reproduced in stunning color plates, and many are discussed in close and accessible detail. Hockney's own drawings and photographs illustrate how artists would have used the technology available to them in rendering their subjects. Extracts from historical and modern documents provide further evidence while correspondence between Hockney and an impressive array of international art historians, curators, and scientists details both the evolution of his theory and the furor that has erupted over it.
I saw him on 60 Minutes. Very compelling stuff! One of the Optics Researchers who worked on this project said, "We could convict O.J. with the evidence we have."

Of course, there are still Art Curators who don't believe it (they are the ones that have purposefully chosen to not look at the evidence) and they come up for all sorts of reasons why it is not true, and try to shot holes in his Postulate, to no avail.

But the biggest criticism is that they say Hockney is suggesting that the early Masters cheated. Hockney, of course, says, "Hogwash!"

He explains that The Old Masters were simply using a readily available technology of their time. And it was only a tracing, traced by their hands no less, of a scene with models that they had set-up before hand, like any other artist would do anyway. But, see, afterwards, you are only left with a tracing. An accurate, true to life, photorealistic tracing, but a tracing nonetheless. It's not the fully rendered painting. The painting itself was done by hand, painted in the classic sense. And that is uniquely the artist's.

IOW, it would be totally absurd to hand someone a tracing of a Vermeer, or a Van Eyck, and suggest that you could be just as good as they are, just because you had that tracing. That's utterly ridiculous, and Hockney is suggesting nothing of the sort.

For instance, to suggest that the Old Masters cheated much the same way that you could be just as good as they were if you started out with the same tracing is totally absurd. The Camera Obscura was merely a means to further their Art.

[BTW, go to your local library and check it out. They may even have a copy of the documentary of it as well!]

So, here's the analogy.

So, the Camera Obscura is like the duplicarver, simply a tool to guide the artist's (read: luthier's) hand. So, what would be like the CNC Machine? Well, here comes the radical (but true) part.

Any of you guys been down to the local mall, video arcade, Amusement Park, or Dave & Buster's recently? Have you guys seen those new photo (camera?) booths that have the "sketch" setting? You can also get a "hand-drawn sketch" rendered from the booth. You and your friends pose for the pics, only instead of "photos", it "draws" a sketch of you and your friend, as if you went to a sketch artist on the Ocean City Boardwalk or something. Apparantly, it measures the light and shadow on your face (read: image it sees) and then translates it into the "sketch" setting, kind of like messing with the different special effects settings in PhotoShop.

Have you seen those? They're a trip. But, as neat as I think those are, here's the point.

Claiming to be Handmade, and using predominantly CNC Machines would be like using a "sketching" Photo Booth and claiming to be a Sketch Artist!!

Or, take it a step further. It's the same as being an Art Major and using a Camera Obscura in the classic sense (you could even use Hockney as your thesis) vs. Having some computer render it for you, and claiming you did it by hand (say a friend majoring in robotics invents a robot that can hold a brush or something. Whatever, you get the point.).

Granted, radical analogy, but very accurate.

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Use of a CNC for high quality work is more than possible if approached with the right attitude . . .
Which pretty much doesn't happen for reasons I'm about to explain . . .

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(which would include discarding flawed pieces the same as you would using any other carving method)
Once again, thinking like a manufacturer, not a Luthier. That rarely happens because of the quality control steps all thru-out.

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If it's O.K. to use a (power) router to, say, make the spaces for the pickups, then why not cut the body with a CNC machine in the first place?
For reasons just explained.

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Now if you happen to feel that no current guitar manufacturers are using CNC machines in a way that produces quality results then fine, but that doesn't mean they can't be used to help make quality guitars. (Just as there are some really bad hand made things around.)
Well, it doesn't work that way in principle. More later . . .

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I don't know where one would draw the distiction of handmade either - To build something like a guitar without the benefit of power tools seems kinda silly. Maybe if the builder made the tools himself
Well, while I am sure that there are high-end carpenters who have made their own tools and what not, this whole line of argument, for reasons already explained, is just patently silly.

As outlined, the line is drawn here:

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Cut by hand, for all practical purposes, means a tool guided by hand, and can be held by hand, or the wood held by hand guided thru the machine in question. Plus, all the machines and power tools are simple and direct in their design and use.
With a CNC, the router is not guided by hand, nor can be held by hand, nor can really be operated by a carpenter. In all truth, a carpenter doesn't need to be a part of the process at all, so to suggest that a CNC is a carpentry tool is, most technically, wantonly misleading, and most loosely, legit only by vague industry association, if even that.

Simply put, and it doesn't get much simpler than this, putting a wood blank into a CNC machine and pressing a button DOES NOT CONSTITUTE HANDMADE. I don't know how I can make it any simpler. To purposefully not get that is to have some sort of agenda, or to just be pointlessly contrary for the sake of being contrary or "right".

And to not get that distinction makes me seriously question whether you were really ever in the world of woodworking and construction. With all due respect, what did you think, looking out at all those CNC's? What? "Wow, I bet every woodworker in America has a mini-CNC in his/her basement"? I mean, seriously, how can you confuse a $200K manufacturing machine with a table mounted router? I mean, yeah, you plug them both in, and they have a routing bit, and they can perform similar tasks if you are talking about running long boards thru an edger for making molding (which I guess is what you mostly did?), but in terms of fine wood-working, oh, not even!!

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Before CNC machines, there were NC machines (numerically controlled), which did not have a computer interface for ease of programming, I think they used punch cards or something for the instruction set and were time consuming to program by hand - does that count?
That has nothing to do with woodworking and everything to do with computer technology, i.e. patch cards vs. microchips. And, no, it doesn't count. We are still talking about programming a CNC, only the first C was run by patch cards (or whatever they were called back then) as opposed to microprocessors. Same difference, only, it's not, because they didn't use CNC's or NC's to make guitars back then. Moot point.

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What if a guitar manufacturer wanted to make "handmade" quality instruments, and also wanted to employ a lot of handicapped people - would it be okay to use a computer controlled machine in the process, as an accomodation for certain employees' disabilities, and still call it a hand-made product?
And the point is? Why are we drifting into the American's w/ Disabilities Act? I hope you are not being facitious, because that would be really insulting to me, especially since I can be loosely categorized as disabled, tho, fortunately, I'm not in any functioning sense (Praise be to God).

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What if a small shop luthier were in some accident and suffered a permanent disability, and the insurance settlement paid for a small CNC machine to perform some of the functions he was no longer able to do?
Okay, that's an utterly absurd (and almost insulting) scenario which to the best of my knowledge has absolutely no grounding in reality and is pure hypothetical conjecture. As way of an answer, all I can say to that is that I have seen the work of many "disabled" artists, which was quite compelling and rather breathtaking, and not one of them had to use a CNC machine to do it. That would include the quadraplegic who paints with a paintbrush in her mouth. Or a friend of mine from Art School who was a quadraplegic with severe brain damage who did beautiful clay scuplture, however slowly and laboriously it was for her.

Then there's one of my great heros and print-mentors, Art Berg (God Rest his Beautiful Soul), a quadraplegic who won a Triathlon, and was a Personal Effectiveness Speaker. I wouldn't call him a motivational speaker, because he did so much more than motivate, as truly motivating and inspiring as he was. (BTW, to answer the naive, yet natural, question, he was a 5th degree quadraplegic, with his spinal column severed at the 5th vertebrae. He had minimal use of his arms, and a little bit in his hands, but he made the absolute most use of it that he could.)

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He's still making the same guitars out of the same woods to the same standards....
Okay, that might spring O. J., but it doesn't really convince me.

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I guess it would be the Marketing Dept.'s call whether to use the term "handmade" or not, since completed guitars can't be spit out of a machine and the process in even the most modern and automated shop requires a lot of human control, and manual operations. I think pretty much any guitar maker could justify (at least to themselves) using the term handmade.
Well, "justify" is a slippery slop.

I'll say it again: There is a major distinction between overseering an automated mass-manufacturing operation, and handbuilding a guitar from scratch using classically used carpentry tools. Why is this so hard to grasp?

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Bottom line is I guess, a guitar either meets your desires, needs, and budget or it doesn't.
That's not the point. That's a gross simplification. See below.

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Why would anyone care what tools were used to make it unless you are Amish?
Well, I can think of a lot of folks, such as Luthiers, Fine-Wood Carpenters, Cabinet-Makers, Furniture-Makers, Marquetrists, Intarsiasts, and Wood-Sculpters who would care a lot, along with lots of customers who value hand-made and think that they are getting that, not to mention all the "Investors" who "invested" in post-04/95 PRS's, who think their guitars were handmade by Paul himself. Why else do you think they where paying such absorbitant prices for those guitars?

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Shredcheddar asks:

Here's the point for me: if you can't point out on a finished, high-end CNC'd guitar vs. a high-end handmade guitar specific differences in quality, looks, and differences in tone, then the practicality of buying a hand-made guitar just isn't there for me.
Well, actually, you can. There will often be many cost-cutting practices employed, and if you know what to look for, they will stick out like a sore thumb. Like, for instance, the PRS Heel From Hell!! Ever wonder why it suddenly grew that huge heel after April '95? Because the CNC machine needs a place to grip the neck blank. It's not for rigidity or structural integrity, because a Quicksilver doesn't have a heal, and it is remarkably solid.

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Shredcheddar said:
Guitars DO NOT sell for what they list!
rainer123 responded:
But they do sell within a certain range of what they list.
Well said. Besides, GC isn't offering the same deals they used to. Remember, all those numbers on the ticket are all made up anyway. My question, why couldn't they make it up that the PRS would cost $600 vs. $1500, even tho they are made just like all the mass-produced $600 gutiars?

Case in point: Schecters vs. PRS.

Go to GC sometime and compare the Schecters Diamond Series to the PRS's. As far as I'm concerned, you get twice the guitar for half the price!!!! A full TOM bridge vs. a wraparound, and a smooth, integrated heel (I think "neck-thru" or "neck-in") vs. that Heel From Hell!!

Seriously.

Now, granted, they pick-up arent' that great. Duncan Designed vs. real Duncans, but so what? Big deal! You can use that savings to get some Duncans and/or EMG's, and you're gold. (Something I would do anyway with a PRS.) Also, you can get a MegaSwitch P-model from StewMac and get the switching of a PRS with a Strat style 5-way blade. But that's for a different post.

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To me, the techniques in which the guitar was made do not matter as long as the guitar does not show any particular disadvantage for being a CNC'd guitar. I choose guitars by criteria other than handmade vs. CNC'd, and if the final handmade product doesn't reflect an advantage over a CNC'd guitar that I may like better, there is absolutely no reason that I should turn down the CNC'd guitar.
Well, all that stuff about advantages and disadvantages get's into all the cost-cutting practices, and poor design, from all the concessions made in cost-cutting.

Case in point: Squier Strats.

They have so much cost-cutting done that they are almost substandard. Now, I know, per previous thread, that they have improved over what they were 10 years ago, but still they use cheap wood, shoddy building/construction techniques, and do not have many features and/or options because they are not easy to spin out without the use of CNC machines.

Now, I would expect that from a Squier Strat. After all, we're paying what? $200? No biggie. But what about the virtually identical top of the line Strats, which are also limited in their features and options, for $1.5K?

I've tried working with different part makers, and if someone isn't set up for it, CNC-wise, they often won't work with you. Warmoth was one such example a few years ago. You didn't get true custom, but rather a "custom combination" of whatever available features you wanted. (They've gotten a tad bit better, but barely.)

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I honestly do not understand why it matters as much as some people make it to be. If it has a genuine effect on the quality of the guitar, great!
It does.

It doesn't get any simpler than this: a Quality Mindset produces a Quality Guitar. A Cost-Cutting Mindset produces a Cost-Cut (read: lacking, inferior, concessioned, mediocre) guitar.

Which brings us to the later I was referring to:

CNC machines aren't bad in and of themselves, but, as mentioned, they mark the opening of Pandora's Cost-Cutting Box. What is cost-cutting? Well, I've mentioned it before, but given the scope of this post, it warrants revisiting.

Cost-cutting is the incredibly lucrative practice of lowering costs by streamlining production, while still maintaining list prices. That would seem like a good thing, and I can assure you that the CEO thinks so, but very often such extreme concessions in quality are made, bit by bit (that the uneducated buying public doesn't know how to spot), that gradually quality is greatly compromised.

Now, I mention that it's very lucrative. How lucrative? Well, I think this piece of an a tech article covers it well and goes into the numbers. It's by Ed Roman. Love him or hate him, this does make for food for thought. For the full article, click here: http://www.edroman.com/rant/costcut.htm

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Cost Cutting: What Does It Really Mean?

Many people wonder why large companies try to shave pennies off their costs. Especially when the product sells in the multi thousand dollar range. Most people don't grasp the reasoning behind it. I mean it's obvious that cost cutting saves money but in the grand scheme of things, most people tend to think it incredulous that a company, any company would be concerned over saving $6.83 on a set of tuners for a $4,500.00 list price guitar.

Let Me Explain It:

Lets say for example, a company shaves a meager $6.83 off the cost of building their guitar. If they can do this in a way that doesn't greatly effect the overall quality, Great! But more often than not this is how quality slips slowly down the toilet.

OK Here We Go!

PBS company has just reduced their cost per guitar by $6.83
PBS company builds 141 guitars a day which equals a daily savings of $963.03
PBS company is open for business 275 days a year
PBS company has saved a whopping $264,833.25

Two hundred sixty four thousand dollars is more than a quarter of a million dollars.

That money goes straight to the bottom line. In other words it's pure profit savings! Pure Profit Savings is the best kind of profit because on most profit you have to pay taxes, Pure Profit Savings is non taxable. [note: there are a variety of tax loopholes and incentives for businesses.]

Now, Imagine the difference between a $64.00 tremolo system and an $11.00 stop tailpiece system [note: remember that?]. If you use the same numbers the saving would be approaching 3 million dollars.

Have I made my point?

Ed Roman, 01/15/99
Here's the deal.

The temptation to cost-cut is a slippery slope indeed. The minute you get a CNC machine, that slope goes vertical.

You can easily employ people for cheap labor to push buttons, and spit out mass produced parts, and do things cheaper, than to hire Luthiers to make these guitars by hand.

And if your uneducated buying public doesn't know any different, all the better. You can even romantize it to sound like it's a plus. For instance, I've heard the strains of that kind of propoganda in all of the posts that I have quoted here. It's called the "innocuation" principle in the marketing world. They give you just the strain of the thought virus, and you run with it, unwittingly making more and propogating the thought virus.

The simple reality, and the scenario that always plays out, is this. [BTW, obligatory disclaimer, the following scenario is fictional and is not based on any real person. That being said, it is uncannily like several horror stories I have heard.]

Let's say that we have an up and coming Luthier who wants to make a splash in the Guitar World with some really wonderful handmade guitars. Let's call him . . . oh, I don't know . . . . how about Patrick Reese Smithers? Cool? Cool.

And Pat is really good at making handmade guitars! Excellent, in fact. And a lot of local boys know this and want him to make guitars for them. So, he does, and his reputation grows. He's known for incredible, uncompromising quality and innovation. And his guitars are truly exceptional. Must be the best guitars ever built! Without a doubt.

And the more these local boys play out, and the more people see those guitars, then the more the demand for them increases. And why not? A totally custom guitar to your spec, handmade by this brilliant luthier, in your own backyard of all places!?! Thank Heavens he's not across state, or across the country for that matter.

Well, Pat carries on for several years, keeping busy, selling these beautiful handmade guitars, one at a time, custom spec. After a while, he figures out what guys want for the most part, and starts offering those features as standard option. This is even a bigger hit!

Well, more and more people tell Pat that he should really go big time!

So, Pat thinks about this over and over, deciding that he should. Well, somehow, he manages to find Investors, and figures, hey, alright, I'm on a role and soon I'll be able to make the best guitar in the world!

Only, it doesn't quite work out that way.

First off, the demand for the guitars goes way up!! After all, after his national magazine marketing blitz/frenzy, everyone is asking about these guitars so all the major chain retailers want to stock a few, and so he needs to keep up with demand. He's not just selling locally to a few pros anymore.

So, he hires on more luthier apprentices, and as many Luthiers and Guitar Techs as he can to make more, but to no avail. The demand is just too great!

So, he hears about, from other companies, just being part of the industry, or from his Investers, that he could get a CNC Machine. Just one, mind you. But it would definitely take out a lot of the "grunt work". Sound familiar?

So, they get one.

Well, production speeds up. They get another one. Production steps up even more. They start turning a profit for selling so many guitars.

The national advertising campaign is really kicking in!

Within a very short period of time, the face and internal workings of the company radically changes.

Almost all of the operations are done on CNC's. Production has gotten so big that they hire more infrastructure in the form of middle-management to run it all.

And that's when the corporate mindset and corporate greed take over.

You could in theory use a CNC to do some gruntwork, and then continue on with wood working by hand. But it doesn't stop there.

For instance, the Heel From Hell. Shaping the neck can be time-consuming, but you can probably do about 80% of the shaping with a CNC, you theorize. So, you go about setting up the CNC, only one problem. The CNC needs a place to grip the wood blank. So, you figure, you'll get the neck mostly done, and then finish the carving by hand.

Here's where the cost-cutting sets in. That final neck carving at the heel still takes time, and can eat into profits. So, why not just leave the neck the way it is, and say that the Heel From Hell is just designed that way to offer greater rigidity. I've seen that argument made so many times it's pathetic, and I've seen too many examples of heelless necks with plenty of rigidity and stability to know otherwise.

Then there's the Tune-O-Matic Bridge and Tailpiece. Some have opined that the wrap around pre-compensated tailpiece is elegant, simple without rough edges, nooks and crannies to accumulate sweaty dirt and sludge, screws to get rusty, etc. and ultimately works great. Not only that, but Gibson and others have used those over the years on LP juniors, etc. [Right, Tom? ]

Well, romantic notion, but the cost-cutting benefits are profound. Understand, the PRS wraparound has no moving parts, apart from two readily available hex screws. So, in essense, the bridge is only one piece of metal, and is no different than a Gibson stop tailpiece. It's also rather simple (simplistic?) in design - basically just a stop tailpiece with the little string channels milled into the top, and two threaded holes for the hex screws tapped into the ends. A T.O.M. bridge, OTOM (new acronym), has 19 pieces. Same with the Tele and Strat bridges. There's a payoff for the more sophisticated design.

With a PRS wraparound, you cannot individually intonate all six strings. You can only intonate the E strings by virtue of the hex screws, and then hope the middle four strings come close. With a TOM, all strings can be individually intonated.

See, guitars are not well tempered. They are even tempered. The difference being that guitars are not in tune with themselves the same way a piano is after it has been professionally tuned. At best, the guitar's tuning is an approximation. So, when PRS uses a lesser bridge design, that is not as nearly conducive to good, proper intonation as the LP, Strat, and Tele bridges, that loss of accuracy get's lost in the malaise of even temperance.

Some might argue that that approximation, and just being a bit off in tuning is actually characteristic of the guitar, makes up part of the guitars sonic signature, and adds a certain quality of authenticity and charm to the guitars sound and presence. These are the same people who think Strats are supposed to have a 60 cycle hum.

So, here you are. Let's say you're Pat, and your R&D guys (if you can call them that) come up to you and say that they have a way of raising yearly revenues $1M!!!! by simply using a bridge other than the classic (and far superior) Tune-O-Matic Bridge and Tailpiece.

Remember the numbers?

Quote:
PBS company has just reduced their cost per guitar by $6.83
PBS company builds 141 guitars a day which equals a daily savings of $963.03
PBS company is open for business 275 days a year
PBS company has saved a whopping $264,833.25

Two hundred sixty four thousand dollars is more than a quarter of a million dollars.

That money goes straight to the bottom line. In other words it's pure profit savings! Pure Profit Savings is the best kind of profit because on most profit you have to pay taxes, Pure Profit Savings is non taxable. [note: there are a variety of tax loopholes and incentives for businesses.]

Now, Imagine the difference between a $64.00 tremolo system and an $11.00 stop tailpiece system [note: remember that?]. If you use the same numbers the saving would be approaching 3 MILLION DOLLARS. [Note: this is referncing a tremolo bridge. However, appling the same numbers, the differential between a TOM and WR bridge can approach 1 MILLION DOLLARS!! That's still a lot of bottom line.]
That's a lot of dough. Just for making a small concession, which the uneducated buying public probably won't pick up on, aside from the High-end, Hand-made, Boutique Guitar Crowd.

So, that's just some of the things that happens when you open Pandora's Cost-Cutting Box.

Every concession takes away quality, bit by bit, and increases the bottom line, $Million by $Million.

To be continued . . .

Chesh
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Unread 12-04-2003, 06:14 AM   #33
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I see your point Chesh.. it'd probably do me good to get to really play some handmade guitars, though I've played a few of the brands of craftsmanship like you mentioned. However, I'm not a craftsman at all, and if I can't tell the difference, even when a craftsman can, it's not going to mean much to me, whether it actually has an effect on my playing or not. Of course, something noticeable like the heel issue is a different story.. I don't really know too well where I'm going with this, but pondering the point of paying for CNC'd guitars at handmade prices, I've started to agree with ya' there. I still don't know just how much a handmade guitar merits its price, so maybe my ignorance has been my foothold in this debate, and if so, I apologize for having a blind perspective.
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Unread 12-04-2003, 10:46 AM   #34
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I see your point Chesh.. it'd probably do me good to get to really play some handmade guitars, though I've played a few of the brands of craftsmanship like you mentioned.
Well, you know, it's all good. Whatever works for you. I just hate see people buying into all this marketing spin, when they are not getting the true value that they are paying for.

Quote:
However, I'm not a craftsman at all, and if I can't tell the difference, even when a craftsman can, it's not going to mean much to me, whether it actually has an effect on my playing or not.

I still don't know just how much a handmade guitar merits its price, so maybe my ignorance has been my foothold in this debate, and if so, I apologize for having a blind perspective.
Well, to be perfectly frank, on both points there, these companies are trading and banking on that "ignorance". I mean, if that lower quality was all under the radar, and they just put out the products they put out without spinning it as quality craftsmanship, yadda yadda yadda, then I really wouldn't care. Then it would just be a matter of taste (not like it isn't now) and just a question of what value you put on the quality of craftsmanship of your guitar.

But those freakers keep playing the quality card and wear that crap on their sleeve, trading on past glories by people that they bought the company from.

That's what I don't abide with, but as we do more posts like this, and the consumer gets more educated, all that will change.

Quote:
Of course, something noticeable like the heel issue is a different story.. I don't really know too well where I'm going with this, but pondering the point of paying for CNC'd guitars at handmade prices, I've started to agree with ya' there.
Well, that's my whole point. I mean, I really don't care about CNC machines for cheap, Machine-Made guitars. To be perfectly frank, I kinda think that's a good thing. Major Tom does make an excellent point. If you are going to crank out cost effective guitars that people with modest means can get and play, great!! All the better.

Then, to add to that, I would say start off with that cheaper guitar, and then start hot-rodding and modifying it to fit your specific needs. Or better yet, go beyond your "needs" or more accurately, what you think your needs are. There's so much great aftermarket stuff, it's unreal.

You get your cheap Strat and I'll get my high-end Strat, and then we go hot-rodding them, and I can almost guarantee you that we will have virtually identical guitars after all of our hot-rodding, even tho we didn't pay the same price for it. You probably got the better deal in that scenario.

Hot-rodding is the Great Equalizer. Hot-Rodding is your Friend!

Chesh
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Unread 12-04-2003, 11:55 AM   #35
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Question

OK, I have a question for you, CC; You have mentioned the "CNC'd guitars at handmade prices" thing quite a few times, especially in reference to PRS guitars. It seems like this is something that you have taken great umbrage about, so you must be familiar with prices of real handmade guitars. I really have no idea what kind of prices luthier made instruments are selling for, since I never see any for sale anywhere.

How much would the equivalent of, say a PRS that I see at GC for around $2500 to $2700, cost from a luthier-made instrument shop? And are there any websites that you could post? How are handmade guitars sold - direct from the shop, or do they work thru brokers, or whatever?
Now, certainly it would have to be a similar instrument to be a good comparison; not a bolt-on neck strat style, but a set-neck instrument with a mahogany body/neck and all the fru-fru aesthetics like binding, flamed maple top, and fancy inlays.


BTW, I was not making any negative reference to handicapped people whatsoever - merely posing the question for the sake of argument, that if a piece of computer controlled equipment were used to perform a task as an accomodation for a handicapped luthier person, would that negate the hand-made status of the instrument? The point was that it's not the tools used, but the people controlling the process... dead horse at this point in the thread.
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Unread 12-04-2003, 12:27 PM   #36
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List forthcoming.

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Unread 12-04-2003, 10:08 PM   #37
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Unread 12-05-2003, 01:35 AM   #38
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[In the meantime, whilst compiling that list . . .]

I am going to compile a pretty comprensive list, because I think this is a very important topic and warrants it.

But the short answer is: virtually identical. Look at almost any guitar that's considered a "quality" guitar, that is CNC'd, and the custom version will usually be the same list price, or often a little less. Sometimes a bit more based on additional options, tho those options aren't often available on CNC'd guitars (at the very least, not without paying a premium).

I'll have some comparisons and what not up here shortly. I think you will be impressed, and rather surprised - in both positive and negative ways, by what you see.

Also, interestingly and coincidentally enough, I am building a new guitar, with nothing more than a router, a table saw, a drillpress, and a bandsaw. Plus curfoils, files, and some basic Luthier tools, specialized for lutherie.

I'll post pics as I go. It will be exciting to say the least! You might even get a pic of me in there.

Chesh
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Unread 12-05-2003, 06:06 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by nnnnnn
If the wooden blanks themselves were carefully prepared and selected for direction of grain and all those things then it's not going to make much difference whether it then is cut 'by hand' or by the CNC machine.
Quote:
Originally Posted by CheshireCat
Define "carefully prepared and selected for direction of grain and all those things". That's usually what a Luthier does. CNC operators don't. They just CNC (to verbize a noun) whatever wood they are told to. Also, specifically define "prepared".

O.K., I'll define 'carefully prepared and selected', since it was my post you were quoting (at that point anyway): I meant a luthier selecting the wood the same way they would if hand carving it, except then feeding it to the CNC machine, then hand joining the neck and body, smoothing various surfaces as appropriate, etc. Note that I didn't say that major guitar manufacturer XYZ does this in today's manufacturing industry, I was saying that if wood were selected appropriately the results could be the same whether then CNC'd or handcarved, because either way that is only one step in the process (and I was making the assumption that the other steps were done correctly and not by cheap labour just off the boat that morning). Don't try and relate that back to PRS or anyone else, just consider the process itself.

I won't bother replying to your lecture on how a luthier selects wood other than to say that you've made some rather big assumptions about what your audience does and doesn't know, and that quite a lot of what you mentioned is what I meant by 'carefully selected' anyway.

To make my original argument another way, let's say I have a luthier select enough wood for two guitars which he or she intends to be identical (in as far as two guitars can be). I'll then have the luthier cut one guitar body with the CNC and the other by hand, then join and finish both guitars by hand. I'll then show you both guitars and leave you to say which is which. Sure they won't be 100% identical because they're made of wood, and perhaps you'll have a strong preference for the way one of them feels (though someone else might prefer the other one) or perhaps you will like them equally. But to say which is the CNC one? I don't think you could.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CheshireCat
CNC machines aren't bad in and of themselves, but, as mentioned, they mark the opening of Pandora's Cost-Cutting Box.
No they don't. Just because a particular cost-cutting measure can potentially lead to more and more doesn't mean that it always will, yet your post is grounded on the 'fact' that any guitar maker who uses a CNC machine will always resort to cranking guitars out as fast and cheaply as they can. That is a description of an attitude that has nothing to do with the tools used. You also continually assert that a CNC machine is practically guaranteed to be used only by an unskilled operator, perhaps a forklift driver who's bored with the loading dock, which again probably happens some places but that doesn't mean it always must happen.

Your whole post seemed to be coming from the point of view of trying to make my statements fit with your perception of the current state guitar making in the world, but that isn't what I was talking about. I can't point to a particular guitar maker who uses a CNC technique in the careful, high-quality manner I described previously, but I really don't care because all I'm trying to say is that it could happen.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChesireCat
And, that CNC of his is homemade (how's that for irony). I.E., he didn't pay $200K for it. I've seen pics. It's a small little number in his basement. And, I can guarantee you, that's the Exception to the Rule that Proves the Rule.
I'm sorry, but I really can't accept an 'exception that proves the rule' defence. Logic says that if there can be one exception there can be more. (And if there are currently no other exceptions that in no way precludes there being more at some point in the future.) The fact that the person you mentioned built his own machine is pretty cool, but not automatically a factor in whether it actually produces better results. If that person retired and sold his workshop the new owner might be able to turn out even higher quality results, or they might start turning out beginner guitars as a sub-contractor for Squire.

Thanks,

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Unread 12-05-2003, 05:21 PM   #40
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So will two virtually identical pieces of wood be identical after they are turned into a guitar body if one was put through a CNC machine, and the other "hand-carved" (term loosely used) by a luthier?
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Unread 12-05-2003, 05:37 PM   #41
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You know, we can discuss this all we want, bit it's only going to go back and forth. I don't know if anyone will outright change their mind.. and what's really to change? Manufacture is only one factor in buying a guitar, anyway. Look at the whole pie.

Oh well.
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Unread 12-05-2003, 05:43 PM   #42
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You know, we can discuss this all we want, bit it's only going to go back and forth. I don't know if anyone will outright change their mind..
Is the point of a discussion to outright change another person's mind about something?

Quote:
and what's really to change? Manufacture is only one factor in buying a guitar, anyway. Look at the whole pie.
But bear in mind that manufacture is a very big part of the pie.
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Unread 12-05-2003, 05:46 PM   #43
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Then what's the discussion for, arguing for the sake of arguing? Please don't tell me that there's not a motive involved.

By manufacture I mean handmade vs. CNC. I don't pick out a guitar because of either of these characteristics, but by a great number of factors. Things like tone and feel, even looks, come way before it's manufacturing technique when I shop for a guitar. That is my point.
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Unread 12-05-2003, 05:53 PM   #44
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In most discussion, most people will ultimately not change their standpoint on a subject. That's what I meant. Of course, it'd be nice if we changed the other person's mind, and they admit they are wrong, and everyone has all the same ideas, but it generally doesn't work that way.

I also think that this discussion is about how the manufacture affects the tone, feel, playability, and looks. So everything is generally affected by the manufacture.
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Unread 12-05-2003, 07:13 PM   #45
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hahaha .... what a string of posts ... & no i didn't read every post either

one question here ... how many folks here owns a totally "hand made" guitar, by a top notch luthier? ... one that was made totally from one end to the other by one man, using primative, time consuming techniques? ... NOT ME!!!!!!

i usta operate a CNC mill with a 21 tool turrent, making aircraft parts (many flight safty parts for bell helicopter) ... simple operation?? ... not by a long shot ... folks that write the programs, buld the tooling & a whole host of other things, have been thru lots of training & have many, many hours of on the job experience ... kinda makes ya wonder what a ignorant hick like myself was doin there

if i can get a top quality guitar, cut out with a CNC mill, for say round 1000 bux or less vs a top quality totally hand built guitar built by one man, using a seemingly primitive, old fashioned method, say for round 5000 bux .... ain't no mystery which one i'll choose

the end result is what matters, who cares how it was accomplished
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