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Godin Factory Tour

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Robert Godin himself led the factory tour. Here he explains bass and treble response in terms of the top wood.
Robert Godin himself led the factory tour.

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Godin guitar factories in Princeville and Richmond, Quebec, Canada.  Godin is the manufacturer of several well respected guitar brands including Seagull, Simon & Patrick, Norman, Art & Lutherie, La Patrie, and of course Godin.

The experience was both educational and inspiring.  I learned that Godin is the largest manufacturer of guitars in North America.  They are one of the only factories in the world that does every step of the building process from harvesting the fallen logs in the backwoods right through to completion of a quality instrument.

The sheer volume of guitars produced by this company is just crazy.  They complete 4000 instruments a week.  4000!  That’s 16,000 a month.  Their guitars are now sold in over 65 countries worldwide.

They have several different factories and employ over 700 people across Quebec.  About 20% of their wages are made from profit sharing and that has clearly encouraged them to take an interest in the quality of what they’re building.  It’s also interesting to note that the factories are run by women making up about 80% of the companies employees.

An employee checks for a perfect seam before the top is glued.
An employee checks for a perfect seam before the top is glued.

The most impressive aspect of this experience was that Robert Godin himself was our tour guide.  He is the man responsible for leading the company to such great heights, and with 45 years of experience in the guitar making business he holds a wealth of information.

I was thrilled to be able to ride shotgun with Robert in his Mercedes SUV.  True to Robert’s character his vehicle had most of the latest luxury vehicle technology.  Corrective steering, around view monitor which creates a virtual bird’s-eye view of the exterior, and of course massage capabilities.  Nothing like a massage during a cruise through the beautiful Quebec countryside on our way to lunch at St. Hubert of course.

We learned that Robert is always researching the best techniques with his team of engineers and even collaborating with McGill University to learn as much as he can about tone!  In the guitar world it’s all about tone.  He’s an enthusiastic man and it was inspiring to see him get so excited about his business after all these years.


For those of you interested in specifics I will share my notes and photos with you.  Enjoy!

Robert explaining how they saw into the logs with some pencil sketch diagrams.
Robert explaining how they saw into the logs with some pencil sketch diagrams.

 

-the wood used needs to have a perfect grain

-spruce is stiff and light

-the straighter the grain, the more stiffness in the top

-Godin gets a lot of their wood from Crown Land about 1000km north of Vancouver

-they go into the bush on 4 wheelers to get fallen logs, then helicopter brings chopped logs to the first road

-they don’t chop down trees

-the investment for the company is huge and Robert said, “No wonder no one is in this business.”

Stacks of wood in the drying room which is kept at 5% humidity.
Stacks of wood in the drying room which is kept at 5% humidity.

Indian rosewood in the drying room.
Indian rosewood in the drying room.

Adirondack spruce in the drying room.
Adirondack spruce in the drying room.

 

-the factory is kept at 45% moisture content

Explaining Godin's 3 ply laminate. It's not particle board.
Explaining Godin’s 3 ply laminate. It’s not particle board.

 

-at Norman they use three layers of the same wood for their back and sides on the lower end models

-lower quality manufacturers might use press board in this situation which is essentially made of saw dust

-in regards to top wood, less stiffness gives more bass, tighter wood gives more highs.

-Robert said, “I want you to leave here and say I learned something today.”

-bracing is refined as you go up in models

-bracing can work like an equalizer allow you to control highs, mids and lows

-entry level guitars can be taken camping etc.

-the nicer the guitars are more fragile

-everything they make is designed to be fixable so they don’t use superglue in the build

Rosewood for bridges.
Rosewood for bridges.

-kitchen cabinet doors and truck floors are made from the extra 50% of the wood they buy that is unusable

Solid Mahogany is used for backs. The majority of the mahogany on their guitars is solid.
Solid Mahogany is used for backs. The majority of the mahogany on their guitars is solid.

 

Solid mahogany blocks before they are cut.
Solid mahogany blocks before they are cut.

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-Godin designs and makes all its own tools, machine presses etc.

-they bend the sides with their own machines using steam to heat the wood and bend at a specific speed

-each wood has to be bent at a different speed

-they studied the speeds for 4-5 years to get it right when designing the machines.

Sides cooling in a mould.
Sides cooling in a mould.

 

Side note: having six factories spreads out the insurance, and makes it possible to be insured. Wood factories are dangerous.

Side note: if you know three departments you can apply to be a manager.  Even you don’t apply to be a manager you get paid more for knowing three.  Learning is encouraged.

The machine that bends the sides.
The machine that bends the sides.

-Robert Godin said, “That’s the secret of the caramel.” Lol.

Gluing cedar tops together.
Gluing cedar tops together.

Sanding the tops to the right thickness.
Sanding the tops to the right thickness.

 

Big sandpaper for the machine that makes the tops a certain thickness.
Big sandpaper for the machine that makes the tops a certain thickness.

Checking tops. Quality assurance at every step.
Checking tops. Quality assurance at every step.

 

A machine that cuts the fretboards.
A machine that cuts the fretboards.

 

They gain 30% stiffness by cutting the fretboards with a radius.
They gain 30% stiffness by cutting the fretboards with a radius.

 

Bracing. There are over 200 different kinds of bracing. Bracing is key to equalization. "It's the best graphic EQ".
Bracing. There are over 200 different kinds of bracing. Bracing is key to equalization. “It’s the best graphic EQ”.

 

Stiff and light bracing. "It's crazy." -Robert Godin
Stiff and light bracing.
“It’s crazy.” -Robert Godin

 

Bracing patterns for different models.
Bracing patterns for different models.

 

 A tray of bracings for ten guitars of the same model. "It's crazy the detail. We need all the little toothpicks." - Robert Godin
A tray of bracings for ten guitars of the same model.
“It’s crazy the detail. We need all the little toothpicks.” – Robert Godin

 

Gluing the braces with the precise amount of glue. Then the press puts 65psi of pressure.
Gluing the braces with the precise amount of glue. Then the press puts 65psi of pressure.

 

Popular is porous so it's used for kerfing. It sucks up the glue best. Engineers really test every aspect for best methods.
Popular is porous so it’s used for kerfing. It sucks up the glue best. Engineers really test every aspect for best methods.

 

Heel block and neck block assembly.
Heel block and neck block assembly.

 

Gluing the top.
Gluing the top.

 

Gluing the binding. He only has 2 minutes before the glue dries.
Gluing the binding. He only has 2 minutes before the glue dries.

 

Talking about neck angle steel string vs nylon. The neck gets sanded perfectly for the specific body so they are a perfect match. The correct neck gets matched with the the correct body for perfect resonance.
Talking about neck angle steel string vs nylon. The neck gets sanded perfectly for the specific body so they are a perfect match. The correct neck gets matched with the the correct body for perfect resonance.

 

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The two way truss rod that extends all the way to the end of the fretboard. Action adjustments can be more precise.
The two way truss rod that extends all the way to the end of the fretboard. Action adjustments can be more precise.

 

Lightly putting the frets in, and then it goes into a machine which sets the frets in.
Lightly putting the frets in, and then it goes into a machine which sets the frets in.

 

Drying the finish.
Drying the finish.

 

Making a burst in the paint booth. The ventilation system was great!
Making a burst in the paint booth. The ventilation system was great!

 

Gloss.
Gloss.

 

Sweet sweet finish. "It's a piece of art."
Sweet sweet finish. “It’s a piece of art.” – Robert Godin

 

Setting the neck.
Setting the neck.

 

Some of the awesome Norman Expeditions!
Some of the awesome Norman Expeditions that we stock at Brikchouse Guitars!

 

The new Seagull logo.
The new Seagull logo.
Strings for days. The room for stringing is sound proof.
Strings for days. The room for stringing is sound proof.

 

After learning all of this, I feel really happy that I am able to promote and sell the Norman brand of acoustic guitars here at Brickhouse.  We always point out that they are made in Canada and the quality speaks for itself.  Foreign built guitars in the same price range $350-$1200 have nothing comparable in terms of build quality and tone.  The tour helped me understand how it’s possible for Godin to not only compete, but succeed in a world where the trend of outsourcing manufacturing is rampant.

2 Responses

  1. Christian C
    | Reply

    Great tour, thank for the post. It makes me appreciate even more my Godin Bass

  2. IAN M MAIR
    | Reply

    I now have a deeper love for my pretty new Simon&Patrick Woodland CW Spruce (A3t). Thank you for this excellent Blog. Really informative.

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