Musical instrument making – classical or steel strung acoustic guitars with David Whiteman

Musical instrument making

Ref: SMI11522

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About this course

Musical instrument making:
You will work in small groups (SMI11519–SMI11522 ) , with an experienced maker as your tutor, selecting an instrument from the range offered according to your interests and woodworking experience. Instrument options include some which are suitable for complete beginners. Instruction is given in the principles of making, assembling and finishing the instrument, allowing you to start a new project or complete one already in progress. The tutor will contact you to discuss your choice and the materials required. Please note many instruments take more than nine days to complete.

Course Description

Learn traditional methods of making classical guitars, steel strung acoustic guitars and ukuleles. You will learn about the design and construction of your chosen instrument.  The course will cover all aspects of guitar making: drawing plans, making moulds and jigs, selection of tone woods, correct use and sharpening of hand tools, working wood to fine tolerances, inlays and decoration, differing construction techniques, finishing and setting up. If you have prior experience of instrument making, you can use this opportunity to develop your skills to a higher level. If starting a new instrument, the model will need to be agreed in advance.

Materials and techniques covered will be tailored to individual requirements. You will work in wood (spruce, maple, ebony and fruit woods). Techniques in making the instruments include: planing wood to fine tolerances, using cabinet scrapers, jointing and clamping, using a bending iron, carving, making and fitting decorative inlays, fret work and finishing.

Teaching is generally on a one-to-one basis catering for individual needs and dictated by previous experience, knowledge and ability. There are group demonstrations where appropriate. As the course takes place in a large workshop, adjacent to the other courses in this series, interaction with fellow students and other tutors also plays a valuable role in the learning process.

Please note that typically the completion of a guitar or ukulele will take more than one nine-day course, although for advanced students with some pre-course preparation it may be possible to finish an instrument, but this cannot be guaranteed.

West Dean College has run musical instrument making courses for more than 40 years. This nine-day and supplementary five-day courses run in the Short Course Programme for amateur makers.  It can provide an insight to those considering applying for full-time study on the College’s Foundation Degree Arts – Musical Instruments.


Arrival day

Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential to arrive by 6.45pm

6.45pm Welcome followed by dinner (included)
8.00-9.00pm First teaching session, attendance is essential

Daily timetable

9.15-5.00pm Classes (lunch included)
From 6.30pm Dinner (included)

Evening working – Students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor’s permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

9.15am-12.30pm Classes (lunch included). Workshops must be cleared by 3.30pm.

Residential students to vacate rooms by10am.

Course Materials

What students need to bring

As soon as you receive confirmation of your place, please tell us which instrument you wish to work on by emailing
If you are new to the course, give details of your past experience in instrument making and woodworking.  We will pass this information to the tutor who will contact you to discuss this and materials required. Alternatively if you are bringing a part-made instrument, bring materials and information relating to this or inform the tutor of what you need.

If you play a musical instrument please bring it with you for informal music making in the evenings

TOOLS: This is not a definitive list so you should bring as many tools as you think you will need. 
Some woodworking tools are provided by the College include a variety of planes, gauges, mallets, face sander, lathes, drills etc. however numbers are limited, so you  should ideally bring your own if you have them, to include the following; but please remember that all personal tools should be clearly marked with your name.

300 or 150mm steel rule*
Marking knife or scalpel*    
Cabinet scrapers*
Engineers small square
Straight edge
Smoothing plane
Low angled block plane
Flat thumb plane
Spoke shave
G clamps (4 if possible 3” 0r 4”)
Sharpening stone
Small glue brush*

*The College Shop, may have a few of these items in stock, but don't rely on it. If you have queries on which tools you need, ask the tutor.

Please remember to bring clothing which is safe and suitable for the workshop, it is also essential that you wear stout covered footwear (not sandals).

Available to buy

Available from tutor:
On this course the tutor can supply most of the materials to you individually and will agree the specific requirements with you before the course starts. The charge should be paid to him before the end of the course by cash or cheque.

The following is a guide price for a set of wood (e.g. Indian rosewood or maple back and sides, spruce or cedar soundboard, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard, fretwire, bridge blank, head veneer, struts, linings, bindings, purflings and rosette):

Classical guitar £265
Acoustic guitar £285
Ukulele £110#

The timber costs listed are approximate, to give a guide only, and final costs will depend on individual choice and grade of timber.  Costs of strings, machine heads and finishing materials are not included.

Instruments marked # are simpler to make and are suitable first instruments, while the aim is to complete these in one nine-day course, please be aware that this is not always possible and you may need to return for a subsequent course.

Please note:
Humidity levels in the workshop are variable to dry; whilst the College has addressed this, some factors are beyond our control, therefore instruments are brought and left in the workshop at your own risk.

Each tutor will take a half-day break, in rotation with the other tutors, to be decided during the week.  They will discuss suitable work for that session with you if you wish to continue working.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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