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Some people have expressed interest in having an acoustic build on the site so here you go.

This guitar is being made for an Illinois musician that is getting ready to record his 1st album. He needs something that will sound good in the studio and on stage as well as just something to practice with and all of those things are taken into account when we decide on a shape, size, sound hole placement, materials... Everything an acoustic makes a difference. From the shape of the headstock to they type of finish.

After many many MANY hrs teaching him how to figure out what he wants from his guitar, we decided the best materials would be:
Cocobolo back and sides
Curly Sitka Spruce top (cutting permit 70203 tree #2)
Honduras Mahogany neck
Mahogany back bracing
Spruce top bracing.
Standard sound hole (only because of looks. Offset would have given him a better sound for his purposes)
Goncalo Alves binding.
Ebony Fret board and bridge.
KTM9 finish

Something to keep in mind as I work through this is that some people take mathematic equations, and science and stuff and apply that to every aspect of guitar building. Other people just go on intuition and do what feels right to them. Both ways work very well for some people and not at all for others. I build by intuition so I do a lot of it by saying "that looks right" and "that feels right"

We decided that for the body size he needed something with a unique body style. When compared to the Martin Dread, he wanted a larger lower bout (for more bass) a smaller waist (for more balance) and more rounded upper bout (easier to hold) so what I did was I measured out how tall I wanted it to be and how wide I wanted the upper and lower bouts to be then I drew half of the guitar freehand. and this is what I ended up with.

Then I folded the paper over it's self and cut it out so that I would have a symmetrical shape.Here is is with all the bracing drawn on. Be aware that I put the back and top bracing on and I also drew a couple different styles of bracing just in case he and I decide we want to do something other than martin style bracing.

edit: It looks like it won't let me post pics from MSN so I'll do the rest from photosbucket instead. Sorry about the links.

edit again: I got the links fixed. If you feel so inclined you can rummage around the rest of my pic site to see a bunch of pictures of the other guitars I'm working on right now too.
Last edited by CorduroyEW at Dec 9, 2004,
This guy want all the "good stuff" you get from a hand made guitar. He wants the enhanced sound and the attention to details but he doesn't want the "hand made look." So that means I had to make some special tools and molds to help keep everything as consistent as possible.

Today I made a mold and bent his sides.

I started with 4 pieces of MDF that I screwed together to make a solid block.

Then I drew the outline of his guitar onto the top piece. Looked at it and made some final adjustments to make sure it was what we need.

THen I cut on the line with my bandsaw, Took all the screws out and started putting together my jigs. The inside portion will be what I use to bend the sides with. The outside will be what I place the sides in when I go to assemble the guitar.

Once my molds are made I get to start bending. When bending cocobolo with molds you soak it for about 5 min, then you wrap it with wet paper towels and tin foil.

Then you slowly heat the wood wrap it around the molds and clamp it down.

This method doesn't use as much heat as bending with a hot pipe so the wood won't just stay where you want it. You have to leave it clamped for a while. So I'll be able to take the sides out and see how they look in a week or so.

On a side note I did deliberately make one side a little bit smaller than the other. This is because when the guitar is perfectly symetrical the sound waves will collide with each other inside the guitar and you will get wave cancellation. Basically this means the guitar won't sound as good.
this looks great. I can't wait to see the progress.
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^ Me too.

Just out of curiosity, how much do the materials cost, and how much will you charge for the finished product?
"You can practice to attain knowledge, but you can't practice to attain wisdom." - Herbie Hancock
This guitar will cost me about $800 to build after you figure in the cost of jigs and tools that I will have to make speacial for this instrument.

I won't tell the price of this particular guitar because I promised the (future) owner I wouldn't tell anybody. I will tell you that the blackwood guitar that I posted in the gallary got me 2k and an all expences week long trip to London. My prices will range from $800 low to $5000 high. My hourly wage comes out to about the same on every guitar and it is less than minimum wage. Some things take much longer to do than others and some materials can cost a LOT of money. Those prices will go up significantly in 2 years (after I complete my apprenticeship in the UK) I probably could raise my prices some now (given the length of my waiting list) but I don't feel it's fair to charge people Top dollar when I have only 2 years building experience.

Edit:I guess I couldl tell you that the blackwood guitar that I posted in the gallery got me 2k (mostly went to materials) and an all expenses paid week long trip to London.
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Last edited by CorduroyEW at Dec 9, 2004,
Finally, a good accoustic building thread. Good job Corduroy. When you finish your apprenticeship will you be making electrics aswell?

Also, is this guitar be an electric/accoustic? Considering this is for the studio?
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Corduroy - What do you heat the wood to bend it with because I would really like to know for when my friend and I begin our acoustic project.

Also, if I were to use a mold that was just the outer part and use a hot pipe and bend it around that would it work?

Finally, would a cutaway prevent the loss of sound (where you need one side smaller) from happening?
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Last edited by Bother at Dec 10, 2004,

Yes, nice one Corduroy.

Finally a "making an acoustic thread"
I will follow this with excitement
Originally posted by xifr
...When you finish your apprenticeship will you be making electrics aswell?

Also, is this guitar be an electric/accoustic? Considering this is for the studio?

I do make electrics. The actual construction posses of an electric is really pretty simple. Unfortunately my knowledge of things like switches, caps, pots, and pickups is all very basic. I'm sure it wouldn't take me long to learn that stuff but I've been really happy playing fender, Gibson, and Gretsch electric guitars so I haven't seen the urgency of trying to improve on there already very good designs.

The guitar I'm building in this tutorial will be fitted with a b-band bridge plate pickup but that won't be done untill after he has recorded the album. It is always best to record your acoustic with a condenser Mic because they give you more depth and color.
Originally posted by Bother
Corduroy - What do you heat the wood to bend it with ...

...If I were to use a mold that was just the outer part and use a hot pipe and bend it around that would it work?

Finally, would a cutaway prevent the loss of sound (where you need one side smaller) from happening?

I'll answer those in order.

1 To heat the wood (when using a mold) most people use a silicone heating blanket. That is the easiest but the blankets cost a LOT of money. $300 for a whole set up (including a power supply or shutoff switch) I can't afford that so I heated the waist (cos you have to bend that 1st) with a blow torch set very low. You have to be careful when you do this because it's easy to scorch the wood. I wouldn't even say I recommend it but I've had a lot of practice and it was a cheap way to go. After I got the waist clamped down I turned on my stove to burner and slowly rolled the upper bout over the burner and clamped it, then I rolled the lower bout and clamped it. So long answer short, I used a blow torch my stove to heat the wood.

2 Yes just the outside will work just fine.. Actually you don't need a mold at all if you are using a hot pipe. Just make a cardboard cutout of half the guitar and use that as a template to bend it too. Perhaps when I have some time I'll add a little section on bending with a pipe to this thread.

3 the cutaway will *help* prevent some of the wave cancellation but it won't eliminate it. This guitar will have a cutaway before it's finished but I still made an effort to make the treble side just a little bit smaller than the bass side and I made the back just a little bit smaller than the top. We are only looking at less than 1/8" total difference and it's not something most people will be able to see even when they are looking for it. The difference (in sound) between symmetrical and asymmetrical guitars is also very small but in this business a lot of very small things is what gets people to buy your guitars over a Martin.. However you don't need to worry about that on your 1st. It won't be symmetrical no matter how hard you try. After you have built 5 or 6 you will start to be able to see how things relate to each other and you will be able to modify for the sound you want. Most builders do make their guitars symmetrical because that works well for them. I am the exception there.
Cutting the neck
Here is the block of wood that I start with

At the moment I'm cutting 4 necks. I cut them 7/8" thick to begin with. The big block on the end will be turned into heelblocks and end blocks.

To do my part to help save the environment (I'm kind of a hippy that way) I do not use 1 peice necks. These ones will be 5 piece but sometimes I will do laminate necks too. Whatever I have material for. The multiple piece necks are stronger and more stable than one piece necks anyway. It takes a lot longer to do it this way but you help save the supply of honduras mahogany (which is endangered)

Here I'm cutting the scarf joint for the headstock

once cut I take the piece I'm using for the headstock and cut it down to 1/2" thick. This will get thinned down more when I smooth it out.

Here I'm prepping the parts for gluing. The joint has to but perfectly otherwise you risk a broken headstock.

Finally I add some tightbond (wood workers glue) let it sit for a min to soak into the wood and I clamp it.

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Last edited by CorduroyEW at Dec 10, 2004,
man, that is amazing...

*runs upstairs to play acoustic guitar*
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is that a grizzley)sp?) bandsaw?
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Nope, It's a 14" P O S harbor freight special. Cost me $250 brand new last year. It's really good for the price and I would recommend it as a good 1st bandsaw for the beginning luthier on a budget, but it is definitely not top of the line. Grizzly saws are a lot nicer than this. It will, however, keep me going for the next 2 or 3 years but eventually I'm gong to get a 18" Delta so that I can resaw a 2pc back. Right now I can only go 6" tall instead of the needed 8
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Originally posted by DarkHorse85
do you have a website to get your name out there?

No website yet. I guess I just haven't needed one. So far I've been fighting people off with a stick because I'm trying to do this and keep a real job and then I through is the whole single father of 3 kids into the mix. I'm sure after I start doing this full time I will need to put up a web site, but on my current work schedule I have people waiting a more than a year to get there guitar and I don't want it to get much longer than that.
I realized today that I didn't really prepare you guys with this thread. I just kind of jumped into it. So I'm going to step back and explain some of the preliminary stuff that I do before I start bending sides.

When I build a guitar I start completely from scratch. To give you an idea of what I'm working with here is a pic of one of my stacks of wood. I have a lot more than this.

After I get an idea of what type of music the person is going to be playing and why they really want to have there guitar do I make some suggestions for types of material. In the end the choice is their's but most of the time people really don't know what they want. In this case the customer had a specific piece of cocobolo in mind before he even approached me about building a guitar for him.

So now I have the back and side ready and it's time to pick the soundboard that will complement it best. I went though my stacks of spruce tapping on each board and listening to it ring. Then I found the 2 that complemented the cocobolo's tone the best. 1 was Master grade Sitka. No color, straight grain, 32 grain lines per inch, no runnout and most importantly it sounded perfect. The other board was what I like to call "character wood" Under normal grading standards it would have been graded very low but this is so different that it becomes a class all it's own. It has curl (like curly maple) wavy grain, tones of color and it came from a world famous tree known for producing the best tonewood in the world today.

He ended up choosing the one with color because of how it matches his back and sites.

After we got the top now it's time to choose things like headplaits,f retboard, bindings... All that stuff. Here is one of the hundreds of pics I took for him so that he could see how his back and sides and top would look with various bells and whistles.

I hope none of this was too boring for any of you. If you have any questions about terminology or what we look at when we grade wood, or the characteristics of certain material or anything like that feel free to ask. I brushed over this pretty fast just because experience tells me that choosing materials doesn't interest too many people.
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^ Actually, I would like to know how to grade woood and what makes good tonewood. Also, can you tell if the wood is good in a guitar with a finsih on it? I've heard that you can knock on it to see if it has any dead spots.
"You can practice to attain knowledge, but you can't practice to attain wisdom." - Herbie Hancock
Originally posted by pooch0072
Isn't cocobolo dust toxic and extremely irritating? How do you adjust to this? amazing guitar, it's one beautiful piece of artwork

I think you use fume extractors and dust masks.

This is truly an amazing thread, I am not really much of an acoustic player myself, but I like projects and stuff like this.

For sale: Early 1985 Ibanez AH10 (Allan Holdsworth signature model) PM for details
Originally posted by pooch0072
Isn't cocobolo dust toxic and extremely irritating? How do you adjust to this? amazing guitar, it's one beautiful piece of artwork


I like to say that there are 2 types of luthiers. The ones that are allergic to cocobolo and the kind that will be. Cocobolo isn't the only wood that can cause sever reactions. They have found that walnut, and mahogany have a tendency to cause cancer with prolonged dust inhalation. The key to being safe when working with any type of wood is to wear a dust mask and then shower after you are done working with the wood.

I don't have a reaction to cocobolo yet but there are other woods that just touching them make my hands swell. I were a ventilator, a tyvek (sp???) suit, and laytex gloves when I work with them.
When grading spruce (and most other top wood) there are several things to look for
Well quartered
Number of grain lines
straight grain
even spacing of grain lines
knots and other defects.

Well quartered. A perfectly quartered board is when you cut the board at a 90 degree angle to the grain. All guitar tops should be well quartered and the closer to 90 degrees the better. Most people think that well quartered spruce looks nicer but the real reason for it's importance is for strength

Stiffness - as a general rule the stiffer the top the better

Number of grain lines - as a general rule the more per inch the better
color - usually you want to avoid color and when it is present you want it to be even

Runnout - This is hard to explain so I took the explanation from the luthier library link that f-3 posted for us.

Wood that is split with a wedge divides along the weakest part of the wood. When wood is cut by a blade, the wood fibers are torn along the path of the blade. Runout usually occurs in wood cut by a saw blade. Wood that is split with a wedge will be stronger than that cut by a sawblade and is preferable for tonewood.The reason is that in split wood, the wood fibers run all the way through the piece. In wood cut by a sawblade, the wood fibers are cut short by the blade and do not run all the way through the piece of wood.Runout can be detected when planing a piece of wood. Planing against the grain will pull the blade into the wood causing gouges. Visual inspection of the edge of a piece can also show runout where the grain of the wood is not parallel to the edge the whole way down the board. A soundboard with runout will also be noticably less stiff on the end of the board where the wood grain terminates before the end.

Having too much runnout will make the wood too weak but it also kills the tone and causes dead spots in the wood.

straight grain - the straighter the better. This is because it's easier to work with and because it is usually more stable.

Compression. This is with you get really wide dark grain lines. This is something that most people think is ugly and therefor it's is avoided

Silk - this usually only happens when a board is very well quartered. It is a crossgrain pattern that makes it so the wood looks more 3 dimensional and kinda silky or shiny. Sorry but that is the best I can explain it without a pic.

Even spacing of grain lines - this is pretty self explanitory

knots and defects - we don't want them so we try to avoid them.

So these are the things that people look at when they grade wood. Notice that sound quality is nowhere to be seen on that list. That means that just because the top cost a lot or is of a master grade doesn't mean that it will sound good. Earlier I said that under normal circumstances the board I'm using for this guitar top would be low grade. That is because it has lots of color, wavy grain and wide uneven grain line. However, this is the nicest sounding board I have ever gotten my hands on (and it cost a lot of money too) so as a luthier I overlook the cosmetic imperfections in order to get a better sounding instrument.
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hm I have another question:
does color have any effects on the tone?
Do the grain lines which are differently colored than the others have a different stability etc resulting in something unwanted, or is this only a cosmetic thing?

I actually think, the "character wood" you have there looks absolutely gorgeous
No the color doesn't affect the tone. Most of the things that wood is graded on doesn't affect the tone. Color has nothing to do with tone neither does silk, compression, number of grain lines, or how evenly they are spaced. Most of the time knots and other defects wont affect the tone either. The only things that have a major influence on toner (that are part of the grading scale) are runnout, stiffness, and well quartered.
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kind of a strange grading system, since tone is what it's all about
where does it come from?
Is there something like a (national?) luthier organisation who set it up one day or something like that?
So I've been working overtime at the metal shop (my day job) so I haven't gotten a lot of time to build but I have joined the top this week. I'm having some problems with my camera right now so some of the pics I show might not be of this guitar that I'm using for the tutorial but they show the same thing as what I'm doing on this guitar.

I find that joining the top and the back is the hardest part of the building process. If you don't get everything exactly right then you have to take it apart and start over, otherwise you end up with a week joint and the top (or back) can split in half.

The 1st thing I do is clean the edge of the boards with a wood plain. I get them relatively stright and make the boards so that they line up "pretty good" Then I stack the 2 boards that will be joined together on top of each other while I sand them smooth with a flat edge. I like to use a level because they tend to be a little more straight than most other "straight" edges.

After I sand a little I hold them together and try to shine a light through them. If I can see light poking through the seem then it is not good enough. Once I have it so that the seem won't show light I look at them from the end to be sure that the edged line up well on both sides (not just the face). Once I'm happy with the way the joint looks (sometimes this can take a really long time) I get them ready to glue.

To glue the boards I clamp them down to a work board so that they overlap just a little bit.

Then I prop them up so that I can get some glue in there. I use Hot hide glue for spruce because it is the easiest to undo, it holds the stronges, it pulls the grain together as it dries, and it dries very hard therefore it is good for tone. I use epoxy for the cocobolo because the oil in cocobolo makes it so that most other glues won't hold.

So after the glue is applied, I (keeping them clamped so that they would overlap just slightly) lift the inside edge of the boards and then press them down toghether. This gives me the pressure I need to keep the seem tight. Then I clamp my straight edge down over the seem to keep it level and I add more clamps to keep everything from slipping.

(this one is acctualy the top I am working on for this guitar.)

Unfortunately even with all of this sometimes the seem doesn't sit right. After careful inspection I decided I didn't like this seem. I thought it looked like the hide glue had cooled too much before I got it clamped (you have to work really fast with hide glue) and I was afraid the seem wasn't good enough so I decided to take it apart and try again. To take it apart you need a lot of water and a lot of heat. An clothes iron is what I usually use for this kind of stuff. It's not the best tool for the job but I have one and I don't iron my clothes so I guess the price is right.

Here I'm ironing the seem to loosen the joint.

So I got the boards apart and set them to the side to dry out again and tragedy struck. Remember what I said about lots of heat and lots of water? Well does anybody know what happens when wood dries too fast? It cracks!!! I live in South Dakota and right now the temp sits around 15 degrees. With my gas heater sucking the mousture out of the air my house has a relative humidity of about 10 percent. That is really low. I keep 1 room in my house at ~40% but I didn't bother to set the top in there and so it dried too fast and now I'm being punished. I was able to cut out the bad portion and still have enough wood to make the guitar (barely) but the seem won't be in the middle. Torres (one of the most famous classical builders of all time) used tops like this all the time. He said that the tonal quality was far more important than the look. Given the character of this top I think that I can get by with the same reasoning but I have to check with the customer 1st. He might decide he wants a different top. In the meantime I went ahead and rejointed the top and the new joint looks good.

Here is the money shot. Sides and top
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Originally posted by F-3
kind of a strange grading system, since tone is what it's all about
where does it come from?
Is there something like a (national?) luthier organisation who set it up one day or something like that?

I don't know exactly where it came from. There is no national organization that sets the guidelines. What 1 person will say is a near master top another might say is an AA (relatively low grade) top. There really isn't much consistency. More than anything they are just trying to give people a general idea of what they are getting.

The reason they don't grade on sound quality is because it's a lot of work to tap each board and rate the sound, Especially when people look for so many different things.

In the end, if you have certain things you look for, then it's best to work with 1 or 2 harvesters a lot so that they can learn what you want and when they find "the good stuff" or what you will think is good they will let you know. Until you get a good relationship with the harvesters it's hard to get exactly what you want.
This has nothing to do with the guitar I'm in this tutorial, but I've been working on some inlay work on another guitar for a few weeks. I accidently cut the cutaway out of the wrong half of the guitar (friggin south paw players) so I fixed the damage and inlayed over the top of the seem. So I figure I'm proud of myself and I'll just post the inlay work here, as the way you do inlay work is pretty universal.

I will apologize ahead of time, but my photo's bucket account is full so some of these pics I have to give links to my MSN account for you to see them.

Here is the shell

Now I have to break off little chunks. I want to have them as big as possible but I do have to grind them flat and that usually means I can't get pieces any bigger than 1" square.

Then I grind them down 1st till I'm sure they are flat and then I take care of making sure they are the right thickness. This part takes a long time. The pieces get really hot and it burns your fingers, and you usually end up sanding off the tips of them as well. Plus it smells band and the dust from the shell is really dangerous so you have to use a dust mast AND as soon as I finish grinding I have to go straight to the shower otherwise I'll break out in hives.

And after about an hr of grinding 3 1" sections of shell are ready.

Now that I have the shell preped I start cutting it and matching it to my pic that I drew

Edit: I think I have the pics working now. I forget that not only will this site not display MSN photo's but they also won't let you link directly to the pic.
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Last edited by CorduroyEW at Dec 18, 2004,
Here is where I cut the shell for the inlay. Just a board with a v notched in it and a jeweler's saw. Nothing fancy.

Once I have everything cut I need to start routing the body. I just draw a line where I want to rout and use a dremel tool to do the touting.
Here I am inlaying the roswood that is supposed to look like a branch.

So after I got the shell for the bird all fit together I traced around it on the back of the guitar, Then I routed out the area for the shell to go. After making it so that everything fit the way I wanted it to, I had to sand a 15' radius into the back of the shell so that it will match the radius in the back.

Then I mix epoxy and start to put the pieces in place.

and I use ebony dust to fill in the cracks

After the epoxy has time to dry I have to work on leveling the shell, however, I'm not just sanding it down so that it is the same hight as the wood for the back. So I have to carve it down leaving some places higher and some lower. This is because the abalone shell has layers of color and I want certain colors in certain places, so I have to try and control that.

Once I have everything close to the way I want it (it isn't going to be exact for a while yet) I sand the whole back down with 120 grit sandpaper, then 180, and then 220. Once the gouges and scratches are sanded out, I mix some system III epoxy and coat the back with it.

This is what it looks like now.

Once the epoxy has had time to dry I'm gong to inlay some leaves on the branch. THey will be made out of maple that I died green. The reason I epoxied over the whole back 1st is because I don't want the die to bleed onto the back when I add the finish.

Edit: Oh yeah... After I have everything inlayed I will still have to go engrave the shell to add details and shading.
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Last edited by CorduroyEW at Dec 18, 2004,
What do yuo do with the finished guitar?
Guitar with six strings playing
Harmonious sounds made
Plucking, playing ans strumming
Guitar with six strings playing
The players hands are moving
My life's music played
Guitar with six strings playing
Harmonious sounds made
The guitar in the pic only has a sealer coat of epoxy on it at the moment. Some people will use this for a finish but I don't like the way it looks.

The finish I use depends on how I want the guitar to look and sound and what the guitar will be used for. My personal favorite finish is shellac because it sounds the best, but it isn't as durable as others. I also use an oil finish quite frequently but if somebody wants a good mirror finish you need lacquer. I'm kind of a hippy so I go the eco friendly rout and use KTM 9 water based lacquer. It's a lot harder to use than regular lacquer but it's better for the environment.

The cocobolo guitar that this thread is supposed to be about will have a KTM9 Lacquer finish.
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Originally posted by [T]ketikra
Woah, so it broke and you made it look like a branch? LOL nice save.

If not you suck.

Yeah... Too bad it took more time and money to salvage this back than it would have taken to just start over. I would have spent about 3 hrs and about $25 (because bubinga is cheap) getting a new back ready. It took me a good 2 days and cost me about $30 to do the inlay, and I'm still not done with it.

The only reason I fixed this one is because the person that is getting this guitar also has me makeing a bass out of the same board and therefore I cant get a new back. It's the whole sentimental value thing.
the inlay looks great so far.

Qould you recommend a dremel for inlay work?
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Originally posted by chrisb0109
the inlay looks great so far.

Qould you recommend a dremel for inlay work?

Do you mean a brand of dremel tool? or just Do I recommend one in general? I use a dremel brand too but only because that is the 1st only I have seen. the bits I use are specialized router bits that I get from work. I ended up having to by a special chuck tip for the dremel so that it could take the bits.

When routing the cavity in the the headstock or back or whatever, it is important to have a uniform depth all the way across. If you get low spots (or high ones) then you will end up with week spots and that can result in a broken guitar. It is possible to get everything just right using chisels but it's really hard and that is why I use a dremmel for that part.

As far as cutting the shell... I don't like the way dremmels and/or lasers cut it. You can tell by looking at the edge of the shell that it was cut with a machine and it doesn't look as good.

Did that answer your question?