Alphacam software has been instrumental in helping cabinetmaker Neil Haynes turn his passion into a living.

Neil Haynes has been making guitars as a hobby entirely by hand for 25 years, and he established Haynes Guitars around two years ago to combine his love for music with woodworking.

There are two strings to the company’s bow – firstly, making complete custom-built guitars for individual customers, and secondly, producing necks and bodies for other luthiers.

“It’s great making things by hand, but there’s not a lot of money in it. Everything I’ve ever made is a good instrument, but using Alphacam to drive my CNC router means I can produce a lot more guitars, and every one will be to the highest standard,” says Neil.

“When I’m making repeat guitar bodies I need to be able to walk away from the machine knowing each one will be perfect when the cycle finishes. I invested in a Felder Format Profit HO8 router, and have been using it with Alphacam for the last 12 months. It’s the only way I can show a profit.”

He says it has revolutionised the way he works, and given him a business with a future – already exporting to many countries, including New Zealand, USA, Norway, Germany, Italy and Northern Ireland.

Currently selling around 40 bodies and necks a month – which he says makes up around two-thirds of his total output, with the remaining third being complete custom-made guitars – he says each body used to take around two days to produce by hand. Now, the back and front of a guitar body with 2D geometry is done in about 30 minutes using Alphacam, while a 3D carved top takes around 45 minutes. Neil says this will lead to him doubling that output in the coming months.

“And I can create a neck with fingerboard and inlay in about an hour and a quarter. Previously I’d spend well over a day just on the woodwork side of it,” he adds.

As a complete novice for both CAD and CAM, the quick learning curve was music to his ears: “I now enjoy programming with Alphacam just as much as I did doing everything by hand. There’s still some hand finishing, but Alphacam does all the actual woodworking and carving, and gives me full confidence that each guitar will come out exactly as I want it to.”

The components making up the guitar have to be 100% accurate, he says, especially the pockets for attaching the neck to the body: “If it’s not a good joint, the instrument’s tone won’t be right.”

A luthier’s skills also include knowing which timbers work well together, and the finish required. Bodies are made from various woods, including alder for its strong, clear, full-bodied mids and impressive lows; swamp ash, with its twangy, airy sound; and the warm, resonant korina. Maple and walnut are also popular for veneered tops. The fingerboards are mainly padauk, rosewood, or maple.

The biggest challenge to Neil’s manufacturing process is continuity of quality – which Alphacam overcomes with ease: “The fretwork has to be perfect. If a slot for the wire should be 0.6mm wide, that’s what it has to be. And using Alphacam to program the router, that’s never going to waiver – it’ll be the same on every guitar. If the fingerboard needs a 7.5in radius, that’s exactly what it’ll be.” 

Neil says Alphacam’s ability to easily manipulate toolpaths is one of its best features: “If someone requires a neck which is a little deeper in some parts, and thinner in others, it’s so easy to alter it. Or if a customer wants dot inlays to be 4mm instead of the traditional 6mm I simply change the diameter of the circle with a tick of the box, and that updates the toolpath. It takes seconds, but doing it by hand would take hours.”   

Being a one-man band, Alphacam has given Neil a business that turns a profit, and is worth investing his time in: “At first I was nervous about learning and using CAD and CNC machinery, never having done it before. But I needn’t have been. Alphacam means I can draw a product that is easily machineable, maintains consistent quality through perfect toolpaths, and sells.”

All in all, Alphacam has struck just the right note in ensuring Neil Haynes’ dream of turning his passion into his living was not only possible, but enjoyable, too.