A VISIT TO JIM OLSON'S SHOP
From time to time in this web site I mention Jim Olson, one of the country's premier guitar makers. The incredibly high quality of Jim's guitars plus his association with some very fine guitar players such as James Taylor and Phil Keagy has given Jim a reputation which is as elevated as it is deserved.
Jim started building guitars in 1977 in a shop he shared with a harpsichord maker in St. Paul across the river from my shop. From the beginning Jim and I have visited each other's shops, shared sources of materials, woods and other esoteric information, and shared ideas about tools, jigs and techniques. Tool making has always fascinated me, and apparently it is close to an obsession (a good one) for Jim. Jim's shop is absolutely awe inspiring to visit. Several years ago he gave a slide show about his shop and tooling at the ASIA convention, and rumor has it that the luthiers there couldn't get their collective jaws off the floor for a long time. Just about how I feel every time I visit Jim. So with this in mind, I took a bunch of photos the last time I was at Jim's and will place them here, with appropriate description. Many of these photos show tools Jim has built and/or devised -- my sense of it is that Jim loves to build tools, but even more, he has an obsession with precision. It shows in his guitars which are as immaculate as any guitar I have ever seen.
Note: The photos on these pages are thumbnails. If you click on a photo you will go to the full sized version of the photo.
This is the main workroom in Jim's shop, where all the assembly work is done. This is the second floor of a two floor building. The main floor has most of the "heavy" machinery as well as the spray booth and polishing room.
Many of the parts in a guitar are shaped -- at least in part -- on a spindle shaper. Here are a number of jigs Jim has made for this purpose. To the left in the photo is part of the duct work for the dust collection system, and hanging from the ceiling are belts for the wide belt sander Jim built.
The jig Jim is holding is designed to face off the peghead surface of the neck at the precise angle and location. Simple in concept, precise in operation and the result is complete uniformity from one instrument to the next.
This rather complex looking jig performs a simple function. The side (rib) is mounted and clamped in the jig and a router is run across the aluminum plate on each end and cuts the end of the rib to precise length.
This is a vacuum jig for clamping braces on the top. The top is located in the bottom piece, which has holders to locate the brace ends. The top, which is an aluminum frame holding a thin rubber sheet, is then lowered and the vacuum is turned on. Simple air pressure then clamps the braces firmly and evenly. When the glue is dry the top is lifted and the job is done. Although the photo does not do this tool justice, it is a wonderful device.
This is Jim's newest acquisition. It is a Fadal, a computer controlled machining center. Taylor guitars has several. With proper programming, and appropriate tools and cutters, this tool can make almost anything you can imagine. Jim has a great imagination, and we shall see some of the things he has done with it.
Jim has a very powerful computer which he uses to program the Fadal. Although this photo is a bit hard to read, the screen shows a fingerboard with a very fancy inlay. The Fadal is capable of cutting both the inlay and the cavity in the fingerboard with micrometer level precision -- such that the inlay is a tight press fit in the cavity with no gaps.
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