From Side Sanding Through Neck Fit
With the body now bound, we must now "side sand" the guitar, and subsequently "stroke sand" the top and back. We start this process by sanding the sides on a large belt sander with 60 grit, and then 120 grit sand paper. This removes the excess binding material, and any surface level oxidization from the sides. Once we side sand the guitar, the race is on to get it into paint shop to cover the un-oxidized surface with finish - thus maintaining the true natural wood color. From the time the sides are sanded, we try to have the guitar into the paint shop within 3 days.
Sanding of an L-09 Koa Limited Edition, with Sergio sanding mandolins in the background.
With the sides sanded, we now glue in the final part of the rosette. 50 & 60 series instrument have a strip of herringbone glued in, while the -05, 09, -10, and -11 series have abalone inlaid. The 10 series guitars also have abalone inlaid around the perimeter. This process can be painstakingly slow, and requires very high skill.
Robert inlays abalone strips around the perimeter of an LV-10
Now that the rosette and abalone purlfings have been glued in, we can now sand the soundboard and back. The top and back are first sanded on a machine called a "Stroke Sander". This machine uses an extremely large fast-moving belt (Over 22 feet long!) and a large flat "sanding pad" to quickly sand a surface. We then follow up with random-orbit sanders to complete the task. The stroke sander is used because it creates an exceptionally flat surface - Using orbital sanders alone would create dips and valleys in the soundboard.
Robert Sands the Back of an L-09K Special Edition.
We are now ready to begin the process of fitting a neck to the body. The necks for the -05's through to the -11's are made at the Canadian factory and shipped to us here in California. The necks for the -50's and -60's are made here in Oxnard. These necks feature a traditonal appointment called a "Volute". Traditionally, the volute was used as a joint in a 3-piece neck but is purely decorative on a Larrivee. The "Volute" is the most callenging aspect of creating the traditional series; It is extremely labor intensive and requires great skill to shape and sand properly. The Volute & Tuner slots are first rough carved on the CNC, then completed by hand (Usually Jean or Matthews hand).
Cutting the slots on OOO-60 Necks using the CNC machine
Virtually all Larrivee guitars in existence use a dovetail neck joint (The only exception being a small handful of experimental "bolt on"guitar created in the 1980's. The neck join is done in two parts: creating a cavity in the body, and creating a insert side on the neck. The guitar necks are hand-fit to each body and are not interchangable.
The guitar body is loaded into a foam-lined vertical clamp controlled by a quick release air cylinder (For quick loading and unloading). The jig to cut the "female" cavity is placed on the guitar body. We then route the Dovetail cavity into the body using a two-stage process. The area around the dovetail cavity is then flattened with a phenolic sanding block and a straight edge is used to ensure it is completely flat.
Routing the body of a guitar
The dovetail size that we use is custom made and perfectly follows the profile of the heel. This gives us maximum wood-on-wood contact in the dovetail join.
Often times you will hear people argue against the dovetail neck joint using statements such as "Every guitar will someday need a neck reset" That statement is wrong, every guitar will NOT require a reset. A guitar with a properly fit dovetail neck joint, adjustable truss rod, and that is kept properly hydrated will likely never require a reset. The string tension alone will NOT eventually pull the neck forward - an exterior force has to be involved to change the "perceived" neck angle.
In the last 40 years we have done less than two dozen warranty neck resets - and guess what? The neck resets were mostly on newly finished guitars are were not fit right to begin with (Out of 110,000 guitars - 20 guitars needing some warranty neck work is perfectly reasonable in our opinion).
The vast majority of neck angle issues are caused by humidity, and are not actually changes in "neck" angle at all. The perceived change is usually the result of the soundboard or back drying out. One example is as follows: when the soundboard on a guitar dries out, it changes from slightly convex to concave. This has the effect of making the bridge lower on the soundboard. There can over 1/8" of vertical movement of the bridge caused by dehydration. This movement causes the string height on the neck to change by a corresponding ammount! The neck itself has not changed, but because the bridge has moved there is an "apearance" of a change in angle.
With that statement out of the way, we can continue on with the "male" portion of the dovetail - We use a custom made sander and jigs to create the correct foward-and-back, as well as side-to-side neck angles. Two specialty jigs are used in the process. The first jig checks the forward-and-bacl neck angle on the fly (without a bridge attached). The second jig centers the neck to the center line on the body - thus setting the side-to-side angle. The process of fitting the neck is measure-adjust-measure-adjust-etc. We check the angle and if it is not right we adjust the sander accordingly, sand a little more off the bottom of the neck, then measure again - etc.
Setting the angle and tilt of the neck
Once we have the neck sanded to the correct angle, tilt, and length, it is time to route the dovetail onto the neck. The neck is placed into a CNC made JIG, and held in place with an air cylinder. The router then follows a precision cut guide and the "male" dovetail is formed.
Routing the neck to perfectly fit the body
The neck and body are both serial numbered, and the last stages of neck fitting are completed. This involves routing the body for the truss rod, adding a small amount of hollow to the neck, and marking the heel cap location. At this point, the fit of the neck to the body is so tight - it can only be removed with a hammer (Even though there is no glue, or bolts). If you ever take an in-person tour of the factory, ask to see this - It is quite amazing!
Closeup of the dovetail
The fingerboard is then glued into place using indirect clamping to prevent twisting of the fretboard.
Robert gluing the fingerboard on to a neck