anyone? maybe should i post this in the woodworking forum?
please excuse my poor english (live in france).
We are 2 luthiers and we are planing to begin a new business in guitar making.
The project is to create our custom range of guitar and to propose replacement bodys and necks like wamoth does. Cnc machines seem to be today the only way to propose an affordable standadised range of musical instruments.
None of us have any experience with cnc machines (we just have good knowledge in 3d drawing).We are aware that working with this technologie is an all new work and we dont plan to beging in short terms. But before investing time and money in learning cnc programing we would like to estimate the cost of bigining such an activity(in order to make a draft of a business plan).
we already have all the small tools, the machines such as saws, planers..., and a place large enough for huge cnc wood routers).
Choosing the right machines is really complicated to me, so here is my question should we invest in a cnc router or in a Vertical maching center?
We can in find in europe used routers such as reichenbacher or maka for fairly affordable prices which seem to be perfect tools for guitar making.
But all the american leaders in this market (, gibson, warmoth, rickenbacker, suhr, anderson...) have rather choosed to use VMC like fadal 4020 or Haas vf4. Why?
are the dedicated wood working machines not accurante enough for precision work like fretboard slots and raduis, inlays or neck joint?
is that a matter of floor space?
for example john suhr even changed from a very high tech 5 axis reichenbacher router to a haas vf4....
have those fadal and haas machines some special features?
In europe used Chiron, Axa, or Heckler and Koch VMC can be found pretty cheap. would they be good alternatives?
(but spindels turning speed seems to be too slow for woodworking)
sorry to ask so much questions, thanks in advance.
Last edited by thomasjarry; 02-03-2010 at 05:28 PM.
anyone? maybe should i post this in the woodworking forum?
First of all, your English is excellent. No need to apologize. My French on the other hand...
I have spoken to several people about this very topic, and the general feeling is that the VMC can do everything that a wood router can, and probably do it more accurately, although perhaps not as quickly. It can also machine steel and aluminum, very handy for making fixtures and templates.
The potential downside of a VMC is a smaller work area (generally not a problem with guitar sized parts), and slower default spindle speeds (perhaps 5000-10000K) which is borderline for wooden parts and too slow for cutting pearl inlay at reasonable rates. The solution to this is adding a second high speed spindle, or one of the high speed air tools that can be held in the standard spindle.
I have no VMC experience, so this is just second hand from other luthiers. I personally have a small wood router that I do use to make small production runs of guitar parts and cut inlay. I have no issues whatsoever with fret slotting and cutting inlay to .001". With a quality machine, accuracy should not be an issue.
A mid/high-end wood router can cut/shape wooden parts much faster than a VMC ever could. They're designed for it. You can also purchase dust collection and vacuum holding options that might be difficult on a VMC.
If you follow builders like James Olson and Kevin Ryan, they mainly use their Fadal for making templates and fixtures and then using handheld routers to do a lot of the shaping "by hand". It just ends up being a faster process for them.
If you look at the people making guitar parts for a living, they tend to use big wood routers with powerful vacuum systems where they can lay down 15-20-50 necks and cut all the parts in one shot. The efficiency gain is tremendous. This alone might be enough to sway me towards a wood router if that was the type of work I wanted to do.
I guess in an ideal world, you'd start with one and make enough money to then purchase the other. I wouldn't want to discourage you, but frankly, in the US the custom guitar market is extremely slow and it's not a great time to be thinking about that as a primary source of income. My orders for parts have dropped significantly.
Perhaps it's different in Europe. My friends in Italy seem to be doing ok and are very enthusiastic about their work as compared to many US builders who are nervous about the future.
Just my 2 cents.
Taylor and PRS both use Fadals; the price of a router with the same repeatability in use is higher than getting a used VMC. Having an ATC and the ability to make accurate aluminum fixtures for everything is also a big plus.
I make guitar parts for a living, and have done so for some of the biggest companies out there. There's no router for less than double the cost of my Fadal that could match it's throughput, but that's entirely dependent on the custom fixtures and software I use. When Taylor looked at routers, no router company would back up the accuracy of their machines in production (ie: take the machine back if it didn't perform) unless it was a machine much more expensive than a VMC.
That said: if you don't plan on becoming an expert on your machine and machining, you'll get more throughput more easily from a router. And I don't mean 'learning to use it', I mean making it your primary job.
I would suggest you look into routers. if you plan to produce at any level of volume, a large enough format to produce an array of 4 to six up part production will help. I would further suggest that you choose a machine with ball screws and and servo motors with fairly high resolution. high frequency spindles with tool change are also desirable. a used machine with good bones, (sound bearings screws and frame) can be refitted with new drives and controller if you have more time than money.
good software that can give you good tool paths is is also important if you need to cut 3d surfaces. I suggest, what ever you choose, that you make sure it can import files from your existing software, and that you chose systems with as much open architecture as possible.
With a 40x20" work area, 10K RPM spindle, 65K RPM air spindle, ATC, etc - no doubt you can handle most jobs with ease. I'm still intrigued by the idea of putting down many parts and letting the machine do it's thing.
I guess with 40x20" travel, that still gives you that option with smaller parts and even things as large as multiple guitar necks or fingerboards.
thanks guys for the information.
I'm really sorry not to have answer sooner , i have had some familly issues i had to take care of. Ironically this very sad event will make will make me financialy more confortable to grow this new business...
so i have done some research for used routers and vmc and prices for second hand machinery are very astonishing.Even with transport and maybe some repairs it seems that we can find some huge machinery for affordable prices.
here are some of them:
what do you think of these?
the routers seems to be very attractive, because of the nember of pieces that can be done in one run. But the concern is always about accuracy...
when i see the prices of these used vmc maybe to have both type of machine is the solution...
big work on bodies and necks on the router and fretboards, inlays, fixtures, and (maybe) tailpieces and bridges on the VMC.
But the rotation speed on vmc seems a lot to slow....
what do you think of air spindels? is the tool changer still operational with this? is there any other high speed solution?
to answer to drasssk, i'll plan to make several mouths of cnc learning and i plan to dedicate around 70 to 80% of my work time on machining.
The software I use for carving necks is something I programmed myself. I can't really go into much more detail than that, but it has functionality not included in any retail software.
The benefit of having long, unattended operation with a router is very real and not to be underestimated. That also requires making up some very expensive fixtures (and many copies of each) though.
Air spindles use up a LOT of air. You'll need a 5HP compressor (a real 5HP, with ~18CFM @ 90PSI, not a Porter Cable or something) to supply one. You can change between them in your ATC, but you need to install relays and solenoid valves to turn them on and off.
If using a VMC on wood, you want a 10K spindle, at least.
Used machines older than say 2000 will require you to really know what you're doing to fix any problems. If you don't, then you're SOL when anything happens to them (motors die, encoders freak out, controls and relays quit on you, etc etc etc).
I don't know you, so I can't judge what your learning curve will be on all this. I do recommend getting good at CAD and CAM first, because any CNC machine is about as useful as a car on blocks unless you've got the chops to program it. Why dish out for a machine that'll sit a year while you get up to speed enough to program a guitar neck and then cut it in a reasonable time.
Clearly there are a lot of approaches to solve these problems. If anybody has seen the Taylor video series "Factory Fridays", you'll notice that the CNC machines are not their primary means of shaping necks. Most of it is done with a series of automated shapers and they are FAST. Those necks are rough carved in seconds, not minutes.
The larger tools and extra rigidity gives you some interesting options with the VMC. The big table and surface area of the router gives you other options. Like Drassk said, you've got to get very good at the software and programming end of things to make the most out of either setup.
Even on my small machine, I'm learning new things every day and this is after 3 years of fairly steady use. Jobs that used to take me 50 minutes, I can now cut in 7, because I'm optimizing tool paths, using proper feedrates, better tooling, etc. Now I want to start ganging things up, cut multiples, etc. Another boost to efficiency.
Being able to write your own scripts is helpful for doing custom or repetitive tasks, although you can certainly get a lot done with the standard CAD/CAM packages. Being able to do some parametric modeling is great in terms of fingerboards, necks, etc.
I'm a noobie here, but I'm a 30 year veteran semi-known luthier that has worked in and around the Pro level manufacturering business for the last 20+ years.
and I'm currently in the 3rd year of a brand new venture in Guitar Manufactureing.
I thought that this time I would go with a CNC router based shop .
but that nightmare has now finally ended.
We purchased a Vortech 4X8 CNC router and the best we ever did was 12 body parts in a single pass. and not one usable neck was ever produced after 2 full years of work
With a full tenth of an inch variance over the total 8ft Y axis.. I'm now of the opinion that CNC routers simply are not accurate enough for production guitar work.
I could be wrong.. and I'm sure open to anyone that could show me where i went wrong. but from my expereince, I never got the same part twice out of our machine. and i had experts from all over the country come in and try their hand at it.
the final verdict was always the same. " the machine is not able to be made repeatably accurate"
our machine ranged from .030 to.100 over the Y axis and from .010 to .070 on the X axis.
and we spent over twice the machine original price rebuilding and modifing drives, rack and pinions, gantry geometry, table, new inverter, rebuilt Spindle.
to date I have spent over 75K on a machine that currently sells for 9K ( it was 34K when we purchased it new in 2008)
for the money we spent, i could have purchased a VERY nice used Haas or Fadal and been done with it.
Would it have been worth the time and trouble? Nope.
CNC routers are easy as dirt to make, and small companies aren't worried about getting sued for posting BS specs, so they pop up all over the place. When I hear the specsmanship going on, I point out what Haas offers for a CNC router...Haas are pretty honest so far as CNC manufactuers go (not that the owner is so far as owners go, though!)
Just the facts:
On their lower end model, which sells for 35K, they won't give out an accuracy spec. Haas has laser calibration equipment and the ability to implement it in their control, and they won't commit to an accuracy spec on their sub-$50K router. That's because they can't, not with the way routers in that price range have to be built.
On their higher end model they give out a positioning spec of 0.002". That's double what all the other router manufacturers under $100K spec out. With laser calibration. And it's a 15,000 pound machine with quality ballscrews on it. It weighs 4000lbs MORE than my Fadal!
If I had $110K to spend on machines, I'd buy two 1997 Fadal 4020s (I think that's the first year they had brushless motors), retrofit the controls, and then think about what to do with the $40K I had left over...maybe $30K after shipping costs to Nova Scotia
You're doing some really neat work now, I'm hoping it goes really well for you guys if it hasn't already. Those are some unique designs, and it's nice to see someone bringing some variety to the custom electric business; some days it seems like it's 99% guys making Strat, LP, and Tele knockoffs with the other 1% making PRS clones!