CEDAR FALLS - File in hand, Jon Simpson carved grooves into the neck of his latest creation - an acoustic guitar fashioned from Tasmanian tiger myrtle, and embellished with native black walnut.
Cutting the string slots to their proper depth is one of the final set-up tasks, explained the Cedar Falls man.
Cut the grooves too shallow: The guitar loses intonation in the lower fretboard registers.
File them too deep: "It goes 'bzz, bzz, bzz,' and you have to start all over again" with a new piece of nut bone material.
So goes the detail-oriented work of guitar making, a craft Simpson practices in his basement workshop. Over the past 2½ years, the 45-year-old has created about a dozen guitars, selling them to musicians across the country. The custom-made instruments start at $2,400.
By paying attention to the minutiae, Simpson ensures his customers get their money's worth.
"The goal I'm after is to make a guitar that has even voicing," he said. "All up and down the neck, (at) every chord position, every string is equally as musical as the adjacent string or the adjacent note."
Simpson, who plays guitar and enjoys woodworking, studied guitar-making on the Internet. After a few trial projects the craftsman began selling his instruments through his Web site, www.jsimpsonguitars.com, and on consignment at Midwestern music stores. Some of his pieces are now hanging at Bob's Guitars in Cedar Falls.
"He's done his research," said customer Al Pearce, of Washburn. "They progress so much. Each one just gets more beautiful."
Pearce, who plays with Simpson in the local band Fatcat, bought a redwood guitar from his friend. He hopes to hand the instrument down to his children one day.
"They see how much I play it and how special it is to me," Pearce said. "Forty years from now, I'm hoping they'll remember that."
Simpson uses tools he created himself, including a thickness sander and side-bender, to make his instruments. The craftsman also designed and sells a jig for making neck joints to other guitar makers. The profits subsidize the cost of the fine exotic and domestic woods Simpson favors in production.
Still, tone is the artisan's first priority, and it's that quality that convinced Bill Shindley to order a Simpson creation.
"I had listened to a couple of his guitars and just really like the sound of them," said the Cedar Falls man, who commissioned his own instrument to be made of Carpathian spruce, African sipo and Australian tiger myrtle. "They play really nice, you don't have to constantly tune them."
Back in Simpson's basement, the guitar-maker had just finished filing his last guitar string groove. He blew sawdust from the neck, pulled up a stool and started strumming.
"To me, the coolest feeling is to put the strings on it for the first time, tune it up and hear it sing," Simpson said. "It's very rewarding."
Contact Mary Stegmeir at (319) 291-1482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.