Guitars for Vets Build a Success

What a great couple of days! Build A Vet A Guitar, held July 16-17 at The Wild Earth Woodworking School in Hudson, WI, went great. Dozens of volunteers attended and we completed twenty acoustic guitar kits in two days.

This was quite a group effort. The Hudson Masonic Lodge took over party planning and worked on food donations and other logistics that would keep our volunteers happy. From hot dogs to hamburgers to chicken breasts to fresh sweet corn, our volunteers ate well. That left me to set up the woodworking side of things.

Things got rolling on Wednesday. Ten woodworkers came to my shop to get preliminary work done on the instruments. I knew we had to have the necks on before we started Friday, or we’d never get done in two days.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessTen woodworkers spent about five hours getting the guitars ready on Wednesday, before the build event.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessWhew! The necks are on. Time to start figuring out the next steps.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessAfter we had the necks glued on we started trouble shooting for Friday and Saturday by tweaking our approach to making 20 instruments. We didn’t know how many, or how few, volunteers would show up, but we made plans that would allow including as many hands as possible.


Cars were rolling into the driveway by 8:00 Saturday morning. Talk about enthusiasm! The coffee and muffins weren’t even ready yet. Knowledgeable people manned each station, and volunteers looked for spots where they could get in on the work and fun.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessThe kits required finish sanding, but not much. For the most part we could start with 320-grit sandpaper, and work up to 400. We intentionally used very fine paper to avoid the possibility of sanding through the veneer on the body.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessWe threw out the plastic heel caps that came with the kits and made custom caps from exotic woods. They looked great. Gluing on fret boards and bridges was one of the fussiest steps. The bridge is especially important. If it’s not located correctly, the guitar won’t play. I’m happy to report all our bridges were fine.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessWe customized ten head stocks by boring for and gluing in $1 coins.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessOther heads were veneered.

Our goal was to have all the fret boards and bridges glued on by the end of the day on Friday, and we made it. That left lots of little details to work on Saturday morning, with the goal of finishing by about 11:00 am.


Once again, volunteers were rolling in early. We still had to drill and ream for the bridge pins, sand fret boards flush with the neck, and give all guitars a once over. Ken and Wayne were our quality control guys, and gently sent people back to work for small tweaks on the instruments.

It was finally time to start spraying. We weren’t quite on schedule, but we were close. I chose shellac for the finish since it’s so easy to work with, and dries very fast. I wanted to get three coats on the guitars and have some drying time before we started setting them up.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessIt was very cool seeing twenty guitars hanging from the ceiling and ready for finish. Notice the signatures and notes on the instruments. Everyone had the opportunity to sign the guitars.

OK, I was having a bit of a panic attack at this point. Rain moved in about 2:00pm, just as we were getting ready for a third coat. The high humidity was slowing down the drying time on the shellac, and all I could think about was the time it would take to set up twenty guitars.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessAs guitars dried we started removing masking tape and protective paper. I was breathing easier at this point. It was starting to look like we’d be done by 5:00pm.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessTuners on!

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessDavid provides a lesson in guitar set up. It’s finicky, but the group did a great job. OK, we broke two E strings, but that ain’t bad. (We had spares.)

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessSaddles in!

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessNuts and strings are next!

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessHow’s she look?

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessMore importantly, how’s she play? Answer; great! With patience and attention to detail, set up on these guitars went very well, and they all play very nicely.

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessTwenty guitars complete!

Guitars for Vets Build a SuccessWe ended the day by breaking the guitars in with a rousing rendition of This Land Is Your Land. It was one of the best moments I’ve ever experienced. The completed instruments will be turned over to Guitars For Vets.

It’s very important to understand that Build A Vet A Guitar was made possible with the help of many, many people. Everyone who helped out embraced the project, and became deeply invested. This never would have happened without all the extremely enthusiastic help I had in setting the event up and seeing it through. A big THANK YOU to all who participated in and supported Build A Vet A Guitar.

For more information about Guitars For Vets visit their web page.

Photos By Author

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

Make a comment:
500 characters remaining

No Responses to “Guitars for Vets Build a Success”

No Comments