Ross School - Senior Projects 2011


Student: Cian Costello

Mentor: Hugh McGuinness

Domain(s): Visual Arts




Title: A Luthier Experience


For my Senior Project, I constructed a hand made acoustic, steel string guitar. My guitar consists of a solid Sitka Spruce top and Cocobolo back and sides. Through the guitar building process I have learned many new woodworking techniques such as working with chisels and hand sanding. I worked with Josh Borsack a local guitar builder. He taught me step by step the process and skills of building an acoustic guitar. I believe as a musician, building a guitar has given me a better understanding of how the guitar functions and has given me a greater appreciation for the instrument I play.



Photos (1, 2)






            For my senior project, I decided to build an acoustic guitar. Ever since I was young I have enjoyed building things. In the past I have build skateboards, wooden boxes, and a high wheel bicycle for my modernity project in the eleventh grade. When I first decided to build a guitar, I knew it would be an ambition task. I began watching videos and read books on guitar building, and soon realized that I would not be able to learn all the kills necessary to build a guitar on my own. This led me to begin searching for someone who locally builds guitars. I soon came across a local guitar luthier named Joshua Borsack. He kindly agreed to mentor me, and soon after, I began the steps of building a guitar.

            One of the first steps to building an acoustic guitar is choosing materials. The most important materials are the top and back of the guitar. The back wood has to be hard so that the sound waves will bounce off of it. The top wood has to be soft so that the sound waves are able to flow out of the sound hole, without being reflected back into the guitar.

            I received my materials in late September, and began working on the guitar in early October. The first step was to shape the braces. The braces structurally support the guitar, but it is also important that they are shaped in a way that the sound waves can flow around the braces smoothly. Then the braces are glued in a specific pattern to the back and top of the guitar. Once the back and top are dry, they are glued to the sides to make a complete guitar body.  Once the body is complete, you have to then sand it. This is a long, strenuous process that requires a specific technique to make the wood extremely smooth.

            Once the neck of the guitar is shaped to your liking and smoothed out, the body and neck are ready to be sprayed with lacquer. I sprayed 4 coats of lacquer, then sanded both the body and the neck again and then sprayed I final coat of lacquer. After the lacquer is dried, the neck can be joined to the body and the guitar is practically complete. I then added the minor components that are necessary to make the guitar functional, like the bridge, tuners, net and saddle.

            The inlay work on the guitar took an extremely long time to complete and required extreme patience. I had to cut out multiple pieces of shell in order to create one flower. I ended up working on it for about 20 hours in total and used about 40 individual pieces to create the flower.

            By the end of the guitar building process I had created a well build, fully functional acoustic guitar. I had also learned many new woodworking skills and now have a better understanding and appreciation for the way guitars are built. In total, over the course of four months, I worked on the guitar for a total of 119 hours.


Works Consulted


Cumpaino, William R. Guitarmaking Tradition and Technology. Hadley MA: Chronicle, 1993. Print.


Customer, A. " The Luthier's Handbook: A Guide to Building Great Tone in Acoustic Stringed Instruments (0073999894196): Roger H. Siminoff: Books." Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & More. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. <>.


Robinson, Larry. The Art of Inlay: Design & Technique for Fine Woodworking. San Francisco: Backbeat, 2005. Print.


Veneering, Marquetry and Inlay. Newtown, CT: Taunton, 1996. Print.


"YouTube - Custom Guitar Building - Headstock Pearl Inlay Route and Glue plus Headstock Tuning Machine Holes." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. <>.


"YouTube - Guitar Making Tools and Supplies." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. <>.


"YouTube - Luthier Tips Du Jour - Bolt on Mortise and Tenon Neck Joint." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. <>.


YouTube - Luthier Tips Du Jour - Neck Carving - O'Brien Guitars. YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. <>.


Outside Consultant


My outside consultant Joshua Borsack is a guitar luthier, meaning he builds and repairs string instrument. He agreed to work with me and teach me the skills and techniques to build and acoustic guitar. He allowed me to use his shop and tool, ultimately giving me the chance and ability to build and acoustic guitar.