Factory Tour June 2013

This is DJ Scully, General Manager for Vigier in the USA. I was lucky enough to spend about a week in the factory in June of this year and I tried to take as many photos as I could (and as Patrice would allow) to give the public a little glimpse into how we do things at Vigier HQ in France. The way we do things is certainly not typical and hopefully this will give you an idea of what separates Vigier from the rest. If there’s something in this post that you would like more detail on, or if you have any questions at all, please comment below, as on our Official Facebook or Twitter or email dj@vigierguitars.com and I’ll do my best to answer you. On with the tour!

Patrice Vigier showing an in-progress Excalibur Ultra

Patrice Vigier showing an in-progress Excalibur Ultra

I think a lot of customers believe their instruments get started when their order is placed. This is a very reasonable assumption, but Vigier guitars and basses start life a little differently than most other manufacturers’ products do. The process of actually building a guitar is started years before an order is placed.

Here's where all the details of each and every body are laid out and scheduled. There's another board just for necks.

Here’s where all the details of each and every body are laid out and scheduled. There’s another board just for necks.

We get our alder and maple from a local French lumber supplier (the wood comes from French forests, too). Then we sit on the wood for a minimum of three years before any work is done with it. That allows the wood to dry to an uncommon degree. Air drying is preferable to kiln drying because we’re not altering any characteristics of the wood beyond just drying it. Exposure to heat or other environmental factors can compromise stability. One thing we simply cannot do is compromise (especially when it comes to the stability of your instrument). Patrice told me we’re stocked with enough wood currently for at least another 5-6 years. So, while the rule of thumb is not to touch anything for three, most of the instruments currently being built are actually dried for almost twice as long.

Some lumber taking its sweet time to dry properly.

Some lumber taking its sweet time to dry properly.

Once the drying period is up, the body blanks are joined together and rough cut. What that means is, two blank pieces of alder will be joined to form the body and if there’s a maple top involved, that will also be glued on. The resulting block of wood is then cut into the basic shape of a guitar. That basic shape will sit untouched for at least another 3 months to let the glue stabilize before we do anything else to it. As you can see below, we’re well ahead of schedule on those as well, with some of these rough bodies sitting for years:

Two GV Rock body blanks. The top one was rough cut Dec. 2012, the bottom, Feb. 2011

Two GV Rock body blanks. The top one was rough cut Dec. 2012, the bottom, Feb. 2010

These two GV Rock body blanks are great examples of exactly how long some of this wood and glue is able to dry for. The guitar on top is dated “Dec. 2011″ which means it was joined and rough cut in, you guessed it, December 2011. That date also tells us that the pieces of wood that make up the body have been drying since at least 2008. You can imagine just how dry (and in turn stable and resonant) these bodies will ultimately be. Plus, check out how thick those maple tops are. Again, these are for GV Rocks, which will most likely receive a solid color finish.

After we are satisfied that the rough blanks have had a enough time to think about exactly how dry they are, we send them into the CNC to get shaped. When they come out, they actually start to look like a guitar. Of course, this is only the beginning. From here they go into our master luthiers’ hands, where they will remain until the build is complete.

A GV Wood fresh out of the CNC machine.

A GV Wood fresh out of the CNC machine.

At the same time, there are neck blanks going through a similar process. First a neck is roughly cut with a channel for carbon fiber strip. Then the strip is inlaid with epoxy and set aside to dry. The neck then goes through our CNC machine for a first round of shaping, and then it’s on to a hand shaping, sanding and finishing from one of our master luthiers.

First three stages of neck shaping.

First three stages of neck shaping.

Now it’s been anywhere from 3.5 - 6.5 years since we received the wood that will make your guitar and we finally have something that resemble a guitar. How exciting is that?

Over the next few months both the body and the neck of the guitar will be sanded by hand numerous times and it will go through our incredibly rigorous finishing process. Just to give you an idea of exactly how detailed and incredible the process is, take a look at this notebook:

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Contained therein is the instructions on how to finish a Vigier guitar or bass to Patrice’s exacting specifications. It’s not quite as simple as spraying it on and waiting for it to cure. We go through as many as seven rounds of spraying, drying and sanding just to get the clear-coat right. It’s a tedious process, but it makes a huge difference in the looks of the final product.

While all this is taking place, the necks are getting their frets and inlays installed. We have a proprietary technique that allows us to get our frets perfectly level (to within .01 mm). As much as I would love to show this off, Patrice would murder me. My mom would be very upset about this. Here’s Eddie installing some inlays into a neck eventually to be installed on a Doublebfoot.

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Also worth mentioning here is the difference between matched and plain headstocks. I’ve received quite a few questions about this process and why the option costs what it does. Until I saw the process first hand, I was honestly pretty unsure myself. Turns out this is where the necks diverge in the build process. The necks with the best looking maple take a slightly different trip through the CNC than the ones that will remain plain. The face of the painted headstock is planed flat, with sharper edges, than a plain headstock.

Can you see the difference in the edges? The headstock nearest the camera will be painted. The farther one will remain plain.

Can you see the difference in the edges? The headstock nearest the camera will be painted. The farther one will remain plain.

I know the picture is a little blurry, but the difference in real life is quite striking. I asked Alexi, one of our luthiers how much extra work goes into a painted headstock vs. a plain one and he estimated that the prep work involved and all of the finishing (which is the same process as any body would go through) takes probably an extra half day of work per headstock. Of course, that is work on top of applying the super comfy matte finish that all necks receive.

The finishing process that I just summed up in a couple paragraphs actually takes months to complete. Here’s a decent shot of guitars in various states of finish. Basically they move down the line from right to left as they get closer to completion.

That's Eddie grabbing a Special 7 body for me to check out.

That’s Eddie grabbing a Supra 7 body for me to check out.

The instruments go back and forth between two rooms while being finished - one for sanding, one for spraying. Here’s a shot of Alexi hard at work prepping  the sides and back of an Ultra for its gloss black finish.

Alexi sanding an Excalibur Ultra.

Alexi sanding an Excalibur Ultra.

The necks go through a similar process. Some are fully finished (GVs, Arpege, Passion and Marilyn), some get our matte finish (Excalibur, Expert, Excess).

Look at all those necks!

Look at all those necks!

Of course, our fretless necks with Imetal fingerboards get their own special process.

By 'special' I mean 'incredibly labor intensive.'

By ‘special’ I mean ‘incredibly labor intensive.’

When all the individual components are finished, the guitar goes in for final assembly. The neck is mounted, the hardware is installed, the pickups are mounted and wired and finally the strings are put on. This checklist marks all those steps (and more) for the ultimate in QC.

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The final checklist!

You’ll notice in the “Remarques” section a list of numbers, one of which is circled. That’s the relief of the individual neck measured in hundredths of millimeters. Relief is necessary, but we like to keep it as low as possible to ensure the lowest action possible. The box marked “Date de sortie” is the most important one. It means “release date.” It doesn’t get a stamp until the boss man puts the instrument through its paces:

Finally after years of preparation and hundreds of hours of work done by hand, and Patrice’s final blessing, the guitar is ready to be cleaned, packed and shipped.

A particularly beautiful Special 7 ready to find a home and get played!

A particularly cool looking Special 7 ready to find a home and get played!

Here are the rest of my photos from my time at the factory:

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