For custom Tone-Gards, the tracing process is the most important part of the collaboration between you the customer and me the fabricator. Since I can't have the instrument in my hands, you'll need to provide me with the necessary information to do an accurate job. Overall dimensions are only one aspect, as there are a lot of curves and radii involved with the shape of the instrument. Measuring across the back at the widest point is a good starting point. But for a custom shape, I need what we call in the trade a “print” of the body. I form the Gard to this print, and, if it's off, the Gard is off.
For most instruments up to the size of a mandola, a manila folder is perfect. It's the right size, the right weight paper, readily available, and folded fits in a 9x12 envelope.
If you try to use regular printer paper or writing paper, you'll have to patch it together because it's too small and too thin. It will bunch and buckle as you try to trace. It's already hard enough, why complicate things more only to end up with something I won't be able to interpret properly?
For guitars, mandocellos, octave mandolins, bouzoukis, and everything larger than a manila folder, use a piece of construction paper. It should be sent in a mailing tube, as folding up any tracing makes it hard to get to lay flat again.
Support Your Instrument
Lay your paper on a good work surface that will help hold it in place. I'm using my cutting mat. Then I take some paper towels or even better some drawer matting, and make a couple of 1/2” bolsters to go on either side of the arch. I have the mat in the middle here with the towel bolsters on either side. This keeps a slippery instrument in place while you are tracing, and the bolsters keep it level. Of course, if you have a flat back instrument, you just need the mat and no bolsters.
The other crucial piece of equipment is the marker. If you use a regular pencil or pen, you'll have to angle it to keep the point in line with the sides. This is VERY tricky as you change directions while trying to trace the body. As you change that angle, you will effectively change the size and curves. Not good. So I suggest the half-pencil. You can either carve out one side of the pencil with a knife or, if you have a grinder like I do, you are in business.
The idea is to have the point directly in line with the side when you trace like this:
Make Your Tracing, Check It, and Measure the Height
When you get done with the tracing, hopefully it's mostly one line. Before you pick up the instrument, mark where the center of the tail-pin is (see "support" photo above), so I can make a center-line.
Then the ALL IMPORTANT DOUBLE-CHECK: Measure across the body at the widest spot, then measure the same place on your tracing. It should be within 1/16.” If not something went wrong, and you should try again on the back side. Just be sure to indicate which is the good tracing!
The last measurement is the height of the arch, if there is one. Make sure that your bolsters are not holding the instrument's back off the table, and that it's level. You should have the same measurement on both sides if it is level. Please write this info, along with make and model, somewhere on the tracing.