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USA sez CNC is OK in WA
U.S.A. Custom Guitars
© Frank Ford, 7/30/01; Photos by FF, 7/7/01

Click here for a quick explanation of "CNC."

Tacoma's newest guitar factory is located a typical older industrial area of the city, and on the web at Here, a crew of seven have set up shop to make custom and production components for solid body electric guitars and basses.
Some of the guys were kind enough to open the shop for a tour on Saturday, during the G.A.L. Convention.

From left to right, it's Brett Faust, "resident luthier," Tom Rosamond, head of sales and P.R., Jim, "family friend & occasional consultant," and Andy Artz, CNC programmer/operator.

As with many small factories, the office is decorated with "product."
It's basically a one room factory, with lots of space to handle lumber.
The big stuff comes in through the big roll up door, and meets a variety of conventional woodworking machinery. While the business is centered on a single large CNC woodworking mill, regular band saws, table saws, and other equipment are necessary to "rough out" the parts.
There were about a half dozen G.A.L. members visiting the shop when I was there.
Maple is clearly the most popular wood for solid body instruments, and we saw no small number of fancy quilted, flamed, and birdseye examples!
Tom mostly talked business, describing the USA Custom "mission" of provide service "from musicians to musicians."

Here, Brett starts our tour of the shop with a discussion of various neck styles.

A bass neck, freshly machined to receive a truss rod and two stiffening bars.
Rosewood fingerboards are glued to maple neck blanks prior to shaping.
The USA Custom logo, here filled with clear epoxy, is sometimes inlaid in abalone, or simply left off, depending on customer request.
Right off the CNC carving machine, the shape is nearly perfect, and there's relatively little had work needed to achieve a ready-for-finish surface.
The neck shaft shows similar "tool paths" from the shaping operations.
The entire job is done on the CNC machine, which works to incredible tolerances as it cuts fret slots, inlay positions, routs for truss rod, drills tuner holes and shapes the entire neck.
"Old baloney" dots. (I've been waiting years for an opportunity to use that cheap pun in print!)
Most of USA Custom's requests are for unfinished, unfretted necks, but Brett stands at the ready to fret and prep the neck fully.
They're not set up for spray finishing, so the work always stops at the "finish ready" stage.
Andy's the man, and this is the machine they're all talking about. It's a big "Motion Master" CNC woodworking mill, with a four foot wide and eight foot long table. Heavy as it is, this huge table glides forward and back (four feet, of course) while the overhead router moves up and down, right and left, carving away.
So, if the computer is the machine's brain, I suppose this is its face. Andy has full control of the machine at this station.
This is an industrial machine that costs as much as a house, and is built to last. You'll want to check out some of the MPG movies at the bottom of the page to see how smoothly this thing operates.
After one operation is done, the router head is guided over to this rack, where it drops off the tool it was using and picks up the next one for a completely different operation.
Here's a view from underneath the cutter head. It's holding is one of the smallest bits.
Brett cuts out a blank for our CNC demo tour. This chunk of maple will become a USA Custom "S" body.
And places a special vacuum chuck on the CNC table. This chuck has sufficient area for good clamping pressure, and is small enough to allow full tool access all around the body.
On goes the blank, indexed by a pair of holes drilled in the top.
When the vacuum pump is turned on, air pressure holds the wood in place with sufficient strength to handle any kind of machining.
And, now the machine takes over, routing cavities, drilling holes, and contouring the body. First the back is done, then the top.
And, here's the final product. Everything is done with computer precision, so pickups and parts will fit exactly.
The control cavity is complete, including the recess for the cover plate.
The neck cavity is flat and precise so there will be a positive fit between neck and body.
Even the little oblique ground wire hole is cut and recessed.

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