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

Musical instrument making

Ref: SMI12349

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About this course

Musical instrument making:
You will work in small groups (SMI12346–SMI12349 ) , 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 course and supplementary five-day courses run in the Short Course Programme for amateur makers.  It can provide an insight for those considering applying for full-time study on the College’s Foundation Degree in Arts – Musical Instruments.

TIMETABLE VARIATION: teaching ends at 12.30 on the final day and the workshop is to be cleared by 3.30pm.


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, please 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 the materials required. Alternatively, if you are bringing a part-made instrument, please bring the 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.

Some woodworking tools are provided by the College, including: a variety of planes, chisels, drills, etc. However, numbers are limited, so you should ideally bring your own, if you have them, to include the following:

Please bring as many tools as you think you will need.  The list below is not a definitive one: 
300 or 150mm steel rule
Engineers square
Marking knife or scalpel
Block plane
Half round file and rasp
Glue brush

Finishing materials:
Bench cloth
Cotton rags
Fine flat files
Nut files

Any tools you need in order to continue with basic construction (if in any doubt, please ask the tutor – please mark tools with your name), such as:
Cabinet scrapers
Straight edge
Smoothing plane
Low angled block plane
Flat thumb plane
Spoke shave
G clamps (4 if possible, 3” or 4”)
Sharpening stone

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:
If you are making a new instrument, a basic charge for materials, timber and drawings, if supplied, should be paid to the tutor at the start of the course.

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, cheque or bank transfer.

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):

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.

Classical guitar £285
Acoustic guitar £310
Ukulele# £110

The classical guitar option is a traditional 'Torres' type instrument. The steel string option is a Martin style OM guitar.
These are ideal first instrument projects; it may be possible to build another type of guitar, but this will need to be discussed with the tutor prior to the start of the course.
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 that a guitar takes approximately 100 hours to make and therefore should be regarded as a major project. You may need to participate in more than two 9-day courses to complete your instrument. 

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.

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio. This includes stout covered footwear, i.e. no open-toes or sandals, and safety boots, if specified.


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

Courses of interest

Further study

If your goal is to set-up an instrument making workshop or to work in the trade, our Foundation Degree in Musical Instruments is internationally respected for the high-level craftmanship skills students attain. It encompasses the whole field of stringed musical instruments. Find out more

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