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A Successful Case Study on Guitar Making

Volume 2, Number 11

The Santa Cruz Guitar Company is a maker of high-end acoustic guitars. Using time-honored professional luthier techniques to produce a sought after instrument of superb hand-crafted quality, rather than an assembly line approach, their guitars each command up to $13,000 retail. Such techniques mostly require these guitars be built by hand, with a minimum of power tools and equipment as even an option. An ergonomic survey of this operation revealed two potential problem areas at risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)—the Finishing Area and Binding Area jobs.

Finishing Area—the Exposure

The task of spraying each guitar body with a clear nitrocellulose lacquer finish is performed in a ventilated spray booth. Using a metal handle attached to the neck joint of the guitar, the employee holds the guitar in their left hand, while spraying it with their right, resulting in extremely awkward wrist postures combined with forceful gripping. By using the hand to perform a task better suited for clamp or a vise, the employee is basically functioning as a "human jig." Consequently, employees performing this task have developed some level of debility in their left wrist.

The Solution

A small, wooden pedestal with a clamp bolted to a rotating top was constructed in-house and installed at a cost of less than $200, labor included. Employees no longer have to hold the guitar in their left hand while spraying with their right hand as the metal handle holding the guitar is attached to the clamp mounted on the rotating top. The left hand is only used occasionally to rotate the pedestal top to ensure even spraying on all sides of the guitar.

Binding Area—the Exposure

To protect the wood and give it a more decorative appearance, a white, flexible binding material is applied to the edges of most guitar bodies. The flexible binding is glued to the surface of the guitar and held in place by applying overlapping strips of a special tape very tightly all along the perimeter. After two days, the tape must be manually removed, using only the fingernails to scrape it loose. No tools can be used for this task as the guitar might retain a mar-free surface. Workers have complained frequently about the discomfort associated with this task.

The Solution

It was discovered that some guitar makers put a small loop at the end of each strip of tape as it was applied. This technique was immediately implemented and employees quickly developed a technique where the loop could be easily added, with no additional time or effort required. Able to now rapidly remove each strip of tape by grabbing its loop and pulling it right off, it is estimated that one hour of labor per guitar was saved, not to mention far less fatigue to the hands of this worker. Additional savings were realized when the employer began investigating into available tape options and found a type with adhesive properties that will no longer leave an unwanted residue on the guitar body surface, resulting in another hour of labor saved per guitar.

Demonstration of the guitar-making process

This case study demonstrates that, even in the example of a small employer with limited resources, very positive, cost-effective solutions can be successfully developed and implemented.

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The information herein is for reference only and State Fund does not warranty its accuracy or fitness for a particular purpose. Any products, references, or links to Web sites are not an endorsement by State Fund or its employees, but serve only as examples to assist you with your workplace design changes. State Fund cannot be held liable or accountable for content on linked Web sites.

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