Talking ‘Shop: Little By Little – B&G Guitars
G&B travels to Israel to find out how boutique guitar builder B&G Guitars made the transition from producing a few instruments a year to 30 per month without losing its handmade charm and character.
Based in a side street in the south of Tel Aviv, B&G Guitars combined the essence of a small-bodied ‘catalogue’ acoustic from the 1930s with 1950s Gibson-inspired aesthetics and contemporary production methods to develop the Little Sister guitar and Big Sister bass.
Admittedly, the sumptuously produced production video, combined with a fantastic Little Sister-driven soundtrack pressed all of our buttons here at G&B, and when we finally got our hands on the guitar last autumn, we weren’t disappointed. It seems we’re not alone, and things have been moving very quickly for B&G.
Co-founder and head luthier Yotam ‘Kiki’ Goldstein with a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard blank
Having started out as a low-volume manufacturer in a cramped backstreet workshop, B&G has moved into much larger premises with dedicated areas for woodworking, spraying, pickup manufacture, and assembly and setup work.
A pin router template for f-holes
Tucked away off the beaten track in the south of Tel Aviv, not far from the port of Old Jaffa, a nondescript metal door opens onto B&G’s bright, busy and well-organised HQ. Stepping inside, out of the mid-morning sunshine, we are greeted by B&G CEO Avi Goldfinger and fellow co-founders Eliran Barashi and Yotam ‘Kiki’ Goldstein, who are B&G’s head luthiers.
A cut body ready for chambering
Our tour starts in the woodworking room, where all of B&G’s heavy-duty machinery is kept, with belt and thickness sanders on the right-hand side and a long padded workbench taking up most of the opposite side. Mounted on a board above the workbench is a selection of hand tools, and on the far wall there are rows of shelves to store B&G’s various jigs and templates. Eliran begins by describing how the bodies are made.
A body contouring template with removable sections for different body styles
“What we do is basically old-school stuff,” he points out. “The body shape is drawn onto the mahogany body then we cut out the body shape on the bandsaw. The router template is attached with two screws, where the neck pocket and pickup cavities will eventually be, and we use the table router to get the outline. A separate template is used for the neck pocket and the chambering jig has removable inserts depending if the body is going to be a cutaway or no cutaway and right- or left-handed.”
The hide glue squeeze-out flakes off once it’s dry
I notice the template seems to have been designed for a stop tailpiece. Eliran confirms that they were considered as an option when the Little Sister template was being made, but it was abandoned because a lot of the guitar’s vibe comes from the trapeze tailpiece that we make, and it gives some overtones you won’t get from a stop tailpiece. Our pickups are so microphonic, you can hear that. We did try a Bigsby once but it was a terrible mistake, a real sound killer, but we are trying to dream up a vibrato design of our own.”
The truss-rod adjuster and brass washer will be concealed beneath a brass plate
A row of completed bodies sit in a rack next to the thickness sander with glue squeeze-out running out of the neck joints. Eliran describes how B&G uses urea formaldehyde glue to join the maple caps onto the bodies and hide glue for neck joints. A lot of these production decisions were inspired by a ’53 Les Paul that Eliran restored a few years earlier.
“I took measurements of the binding, samples of the glue and everything I could get my hands on,” he says. “I was even able to measure how deep they cut the fret slots. The thing I like about hide glue is that you don’t need high-pressure clamping, and it sets like glass. This squeeze-out you can see will just flake off, so it’s easy to clean up.
“Once we have made the body, we move on to the top and use a template with the same screw attachment to cut the f-holes. Before we glue the tops, we cut the control cavity and control-plate recess.
“The maple caps are glued on oversized and we use the table router to clean up the edges. The body is ready for the neck pocket to be routed, then we drill the holes for the switch and pots, and it’s basically ready for sanding and the roundover at the back. We rout the pickup cavities after the neck is attached so we can get a true centre line for the strings to line up exactly with the pole pieces.”
B&G makes its own truss rods. These anchors are for the Big Sister and Little Sister
These days, B&G production is done in batches rather than on a guitar-by-guitar basis, so the workshop will set up for making bodies one week and necks the following week. “We don’t really have a production line as such,” explains Avi, “it’s more of a semi-production line with three stations.
“Right now, customers are ordering equal numbers of cutaways and non-cutaways. We get a lot of repeat orders from players who have one style body and want the other style, too. The non-cuts give you a slightly bigger sound because they’re 5.5mm thicker, and the cutaways are a bit more in your face.”
A row of sprayed bodies awaiting final buffing and assembly
Eliran details the neck-building process: “It starts with marking out the profile from a template onto a block of mahogany. Obviously, you have to pick the right side so the neck ends up quarter-sawn. We rough-cut on a band saw, then get the shape with
Rami Barashi sands the sprayed body edges to achieve a faux binding effect
So will B&G be getting a CNC machine before too long? “Well, if the orders keep increasing, maybe we’ll have to,” Eliran admits. “It doesn’t matter if something is cut on a CNC machine or a bandsaw. It’s about what the neck shape feels like, how everything must be centred and the type of glues you use. What matters is attention to the details. That’s what I consider makes a great guitar, not the machine you use to cut the wood. But right now we don’t need CNC machines to make 30 guitars a month.”
This custom-made fingerboard radius cradle has various levels for different radii
Nevertheless, B&G’s production process has been adapted to meet increased demand, with numerous bespoke jigs and customised tools, as Eliran explains: “You can spend two days making a jig, but with that you can make hundreds of guitars. In this sort of job, where we’re making our own-design guitars, you have to build many of your tools because you can’t buy them.
“Kiki’s dad makes tools for us and we asked him to come up with something so we could go from one fingerboard radius to another without loads of set-up time. His solution is genius and I haven’t seen anybody else do it like this.
The jig used to drill tuner post holes through the side of slotted headstocks
“Leo Fender designed a similar cradle set-up to ours, but the radius was fixed. Here, we can go from one radius to another very quickly. Fingerboards are taped to the underside of the cradle and they are swung across the belt sander to make the radius.
This pin router template is used to cut the slots in the headstock
“Kiki’s dad also made the fret-slotting jig. A thick metal bar has a milled notch for each fret position, which fixes the cutter tool in the exact positions. The cutter is a Dremel in a special mounting with a saw disk attachment. The really clever part is that the cutter follows the radius, so the fret slot has an even depth all the way across.”
These days, B&G presses the frets in with fish glue after the board has been glued to the neck, and the side dot positions are ‘eyeballed’ rather than measured, for a more vintage look. The dots are 3/32-inch wide rather than 2.5mm because B&G prefers its guitars to look and feel American rather than European.
B&G’s spray booth
The company’s luthiers have also had to adapt to the different working conditions in the new premises. “In the old workshop, we were dealing with higher temperatures,” Eliran recalls, “so we used to slightly tighten up the truss rod before gluing the board onto the neck. Once the glue had dried, we’d slacken off the truss rod and we’d have a bit of natural relief and no problems with backbow. Here in the new workshop, we don’t need to do that.”
Time is pressing as our tour of the factory winds towards its conclusion, so we move on to the spraying area. With so many instruments to spray, B&G’s paint guy Rami Barashi now has a spacious booth with proper extraction fans, and nitrocellulose lacquer is used exclusively.
A custom-made B&G tool used to cut fret slots that retain an even depth across the radius
Outside the booth is a drying area, where Little Sisters in every conceivable shade of vintage sunburst are hung up to dry. Avi explains how “an unexpected positive result of moving to the new shop was faster drying time thanks to powerful air conditioning and wooden partitions that reduce humidity.”
Once the finishing process is completed, the guitar bodies are taken to the assembly room, where David Geva makes the pickups and installs the electronics, while Kiki performs the final assembly and set-up work. Once signed off, the guitars are cased, packaged up and labelled for shipping to lucky customers all over the world.