CNC Routers for Guitar Making at Galloup Guitars in Big Rapids, MI
By Maryann Valentine
It started with a 6 month masters class in guitar making, and the rest was history. A school degree, a new home, a new hobby led Tom Dalia to his career.
Tom Dalia became a student at the Galloup school in August of 2019. He moved from Seymour, CT to Big Rapids, MI in hopes to complete 6 months of master course over at The Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair. The course teaches students how to craft acoustic and electric guitars by hand, from the ground up. And after completing 4 out of the 6 month total course, Tom found himself pondering about what he would do with his new found (and previously learned) skills and knowledge after completing the course. With a background in CAD/CAM (Computer aided design / computer aided manufacturing) from high school, and the new knowledge of lutherie, Bryan Galloup, owner of Galloup Guitars and The Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair, decided to keep Tom around to stay on the team as an apprentice in the CNC department at Galloup Guitars. And shortly after beginning his apprenticeship, Tom found himself to be the only person running the entire CNC department. After lots of late nights practicing different programming software like RhinoCAM, Tom found his niche and began cutting extremely rare materials, like rare Brazilian Rosewoods, for the Galloup Guitar line. Since then, Tom has kept busy building the CNC department into a vital part of the Galloup Shop. The use and abilities of a CNC router coupled with Bryans Wood Management Software allows for the Galloup shop’s guitar lines to consistently produce world class concert level instruments.
The Galloup Facility is a one stop shop for everything lutherie, from designing parts, to building, to assembling, to the behind-the-scenes education of guitars, to CNC manufacturing and a whole lot more. “Students attend our classes from all over the world and spend two months up to over a year learning our methods of guitar building. As of recently, Bryan has identified that CNC is the future of guitar making, so we have begun implementing CNC training into our curriculum. In the Journeyman course, I give students a broad view into the world of CNC in Guitarmaking”. In the Masters Course, Tom helps to walk students through how to make guitar fretboards for their projects. The students use both of their Techno CNC routers. The first and oldest CNC machine was a Techno Gantry III table top machine with a single tool. Galloup Guitars second and newest model CNC machine is the Titan Series. Their newest Techno CNC router is fully loaded with automatic tool changer, vacuum hold down, and new modernized controller. The Titan Series CNC router model is all steel construction, super accurate, and runs rapid speeds. “In our graduate level courses, students are taken through parts production on more advance instruments such as multi scale acoustic and electric guitars, or our new Nylon String Hybrid guitar. On these instruments, any part that we can CNC we will such as the neck, bridge, fretboard and overlay. I am also tasked with designing new models for students to build in the school. The school went from having five possible build options to eleven in my time here. Over the past year I have been training my apprentice Adam Winarksi, who has since taken on more designing for the school leaving me to work on more of the Galloup Studios Builds”, said Tom.
“On top of teaching and utilizing CNC in the school, I primarily work on making parts for the high end acoustics produced by the Galloup Studios. The Galloup Guitar line is truly a team effort between Bryan Galloup, Tyler Robbins and myself. My job is to design and machine the necks, bridges, fretboards, overlays, jigs and fixturing. Bryan, Tyler and I will work together to design inlays and marquetry, which I then have to make machinable. Since Bryan uses unimaginable Brazilian Rosewood for his instruments, the inlays are typically more simplistic, allowing the beauty of the wood and more importantly the sound of the instrument to take the spotlight”.
“Tyler and I also work together to build his own line of Robbins Acoustics. These guitars are designed solely by Tyler. While I still have to design the three-dimensional parts such as necks and bridges, Tyler draws his own rosettes which I then have to make machinable. Tyler has an incredible eye for detail, and typically pushes the boundaries of what the CNC can be used for when building acoustic guitars, but when it comes to producing a unique and perfect piece for a custom guitar, our newest CNC machine purchased from Techno CNC Systems (their newer CNC router model: the Titan Series) never disappoints”.
“We originally were looking into purchasing a competitor’s brand of CNC, but we knew that Techno was a more luxurious CNC brand. We were given a specific budget for a new CNC router, and we were under the impression that the Techno CNC models would be way out of that budget. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the cost of our 4×8 Titan, and how the salesmen over at Techno worked with us to ensure us the best CNC machine for the best possible price”. Tom explained how the 8-tool automatic tool changer has been an absolute game changer for design and easy/quick changes between tooling. “I also love the 10 horse Becker Vacuum pump coupled with the grid on the machine table itself. Bob was kind enough to provide me with a .3dm file of the grid, so I am able to create vacuum fixtures that locate off of the grid for parts I will be making more than once. All I have to do is put the fixture in place, add my stock, and press go and I get the same part every time. For parts that are one offs, I enjoy the Titan’s capability to create suction through MDF spoil boards without needing to drill holes in the spoil. This is especially useful when cutting polycarbonate plastic templates for my customers without having to use double stick tape. The tape I was using on our Gantry 3 machine cost about $28.00 a roll, so that alone is saving us quite a bit of money”.
“Aside from working on Bryan and Tyler’s instruments, I get to design and machine the parts for the Dan Erlewine Replica Guitars. In the 1970’s, Dan made a guitar for Legendary Blues guitarist Albert King out of boards of Black Walnut. The guitar was a left handed Flying V, Albert’s name inlaid on the fretboard with Abalone and Pearl and “Lucy” on the headstock. Also, Dan made a Stratocaster style guitar for Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia out of the same walnut, featuring an uncommon tune o matic bridge, rosewood pickguard and rosewood numbers inlaid on the fretboard. Dan held on to the boards of Black Walnut all these years later, and now we help him make replicas of the original instruments out of the same Walnut the originals were made from”.
“Currently I am spending a lot of time working on the Jerry Garcia Stratocaster replicas to complete as much of the work on the CNC as possible. There is limited documentation of the instrument, so we have had to pull a lot of specs from Dan’s home videos, and rare photos of Jerry playing the instrument. I have even gone as far as tracking down the current owner of the instrument, who I believe inherited the guitar from his father, who was the one gifted it by Jerry Garcia”. Tom described how the body and neck of this particular guitar were modeled from scans taken from the sister guitar to Jerry Garcia’s. “What has been a great challenge is perfectly machining an imperfect object. Dan made the original Walnut Stratocasters by hand, and my job is to retain as much of the human element of the originals as possible. A great challenge has been getting the round overs on the edge of the body just right, while still retaining the deep belly cut and arm bevel that was done on the original guitar”.
Galloup Guitars has also recently completed a Galloup G.2c for President Jimmy Carter almost entirely out of Paulownia grown by Jimmy himself. “We built this guitar not only as celebration President Carter’s 96th birthday, but to help the World Tree Organization raise awareness of Paulownia wood as a sustainable alternative to a lot of the tonewoods used in guitar building today. We engineered this guitar almost entirely out of Paulownia, which feels very similar to balsa wood, but exhibits incredible strength for its weight”. Through the use of CNC, the team was able to complete all of the parts for this guitar in about 4 days, and finished the guitar in a little under a month.
Beside working on various projects at the Galloup Guitars headquarters, Tom is currently working on making his own line of instruments, as well. “I have been prototyping a Parlor sized acoustic of my own design. As you probably have assumed, I am CNCing as much of the instrument as I can, leaving me more time to work on the fine handwork that the CNC is not capable of. I have two prototypes, one made of Ovangkol and one made of Walnut. The rosette designs were all cut using our Titan CNC, as well as my neck, fretboard and overlay. I still need to set the neck on both of these, and I will be CNCing my bridges for both instruments in the near future. I am hoping to have both guitars finished by the end of the year”.
“I have also been working to offer our CNC Services to the Lutherie Community through our new Luthier’s Connection. There are plenty of companies that make jigs, templates and fixturing for luthiers, but very few of us who make custom tooling for Luthiers looking to build their own designs rather than the typical Dreadnaught or OM style guitars. Customers can come to me with their designs, either on paper or digitally, and I will create tooling for them to make their instruments for years to come. If they so desire, I also could machine their components for them as well, such as necks, bridges and fretboards. I have already been doing freelance work, but never through an established “store front”. Luthier’s Connection will be an online one stop shop for the luthier looking to tool up for their own designs”. The CNC machine over at Galloup Guitars has truly transformed their business. With the newest CNC router purchased from Techno CNC, different avenues and business pathways have been opened up that could not have risen if it weren’t for having CNC technologies available.
“We are certainly all extremely satisfied with both of our Techno CNC machines. Our new Titan Series has been a huge upgrade from our older Techno CNC model. This newer CNC machine has made our production a lot easier. As mentioned before, the tool changer has been an absolute game changer. I am finding myself performing tasks that I would normally just complete by hand using the machine. Before, I used to have to set up the machine to perform a task, such as cutting out a graft for an acoustic guitar top, and then wait for the machine to need me to change a tool. I still was able to complete other things as the machine was running, but I never was able to stray to far from the machine. Now, I can use out Titan to not only cut out a graft, but cut a perfect 45 degree bevel around all edge just by putting the spruce on the spoil board, turning on the vacuum, zeroing the machine and walking away”.
“Anyone considering getting into CNC for guitar building, look no further than Techno. Rather than buying your way up through different models of cheaper brands found at your local woodworking store, buy your last CNC first”.