Wood Drying & Body Construction

Watch Bill Hawthorne of the PRS Body Team build a guitar body.

After hand-selecting wood in the field and cutting it down to spec in our “rough cut” area, the top and back wood is palletized and placed in the body hotroom for three weeks. This hotroom is only used for our bodies so they can dry at a temperature specific to them. Once the wood has reached the appropriate moisture level, it is moved out onto the floor to acclimate to the temperature in the shop. This only takes a few days, and the wood is then ready to be pulled to meet the run schedule. Schedules are built based on customer orders and the necks available. Once the schedule is established, bodies are pulled according to color and grade and labeled to match an order. We use many different types of wood for guitar bodies, including maple, mahogany, alder, ash, spruce, and obeche. Whether building a single piece mahogany body or a more complex maple top / mahogany back body, our first concerns are always the finest materials, the best maintained machinery, and the most capable employees. For demonstrative purposes, we will walk you through a maple top / mahogany body guitar here.

Body construction truly begins when the scheduled top and back are run through the joiner. At this stage, the body is usually in three pieces: one piece for the back and two pieces that will become the bookmatched top. The joiner makes the wood perfectly flat so that it can be planed down to the appropriate thickness. Once the wood is joined flat and planed to our thickness specs, the top is run through a smaller joiner that creates a perfectly flat centerline so the top can be bookmatched. All of the machines in the shop are incredibly well-maintained (blades sharpened, tolerances tested, etc.) to make sure they give us the best results. For example, if the blade on the centerline joiner is not sharp, it will not create a flat edge and the top will not lineup correctly. From here, the curl on the top is aligned and marked so it can be glued in exactly the right spot. Once aligned, a bead of glue is applied to the centerline and the top is placed in a press. We us a radio frequency machine to “zap” the centerline, which significantly shortens the dry time, and the build process.

Once the top is put together, we plane it down a few more times and keep checking the glue joint to make sure it stays nice and tight. A trace line is then drawn onto the top using a model specific template aligned by the center glue line (another reason this must be a perfect fit). A rough perimeter is then cut using a bandsaw, leaving a little excess room to nail the top and body together. After a final pass through the planer to eliminate the rough edge left by the bandsaw, we are ready to glue the top to the back. A nice, even coat of glue is applied to both the top and the back before they are nailed together. The glued top and back are then put in the pneumatic press where they stay overnight before the CNC operator takes the body for machining. We’ve had our current press for about 10 years. Before that, the press was individually hand-tightened in numerous places (picture tightening the lugnuts on your tire), which could apply uneven pressure. The current press is activated by a switch and applies a consistent and even amount of pressure to the bodies. We spent a good deal of time determining the right pressure to yield a strong bond without leaving a glue line.