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Thread: New solid body electric guitar

  1. #1
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    Sep 2013
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    New solid body electric guitar

    I hope to make periodic posts through this build, the Day designations will, I expect refer to days of posts rather than day of build, perhaps like some people interpret biblical "days" of creation. Too many other projects happening at the same time! I built a bass with my son most of a decade ago, now he'd like a guitar. He's providing all the hardware, the wood bits are up to me.

    Anyway, the first step is to lay up a blank for the neck. Bookmatched hard curly maple with plies of cherry, maple veneer, and a stripe of redheart. The redheart won't retain the bright color, but will still have contrast and look nice as it ages. I know I'm a glutton for punishment with carving and shaping the curly maple, but it looks so nice when it's done!

    IMG_2769.jpg IMG_2768.jpg

    It's going to be built to basic Strat dimensions and scale, with Strat style pickups. It is a through-neck design though, and the peghead will be angled, so definitely not a straight Strat copy. I've got a nice piece of cocobolo for the front and back that is thick enough to allow me to resaw it into two bookmatched sets, so both front and back will be bookmatched from the same piece of wood. Body shape, peghead shape, and inlay designs are still to be designed, that's probably the next order of business before I get too far ahead of myself!

  2. #2
    That's going to look awesome, Roger! Anything built with Curly Maple, Cocobolo, Redheart, etc. has to look good. Looking forward to the next set of photos.

    David
    David
    CurlyWoodShop on Etsy, David Falkner on YouTube, difalkner on Instagram

  3. #3
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    Dang...that's an eye-popping start! This is going to be good....
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  4. #4
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    Some progress, but then things ground to a halt when the tensioner screw on my bandsaw broke . Things had been going along, but then utter failure in trying to resaw some veneers for the body lamination. Fortunately I was cutting some cherry from scrap boards rather than my piece of cocobolo! A replacement screw mechanism is on the way. It's coming from Georgia, my last package from there took over three weeks to arrive. I hope this goes better.

    A body shape has been decided after tweaking things on paper for a while, and router templates cut out. The knot in the cocobolo board will end up in the front left panel of the guitar. I'm letting the body shape percolate for a while, this may not be the final iteration, but I'm pretty happy with the way it looks in general. I wasn't going for anything very radical. Now thinking about peghead shapes. On my last build I got the tuners uncomfortably close together, so want to avoid that. They were done in-line, I'm going to do this one with three on each side. Busy researching peghead angles to figure out what is enough but not too much. Of course I kind of need a working band saw to rough out the shape.

    router templates laid up next to the neck blank
    IMG_2792.jpg

    Noodling on paper about body shape
    IMG_2791.jpg

    The piece of cocobolo that will be resawn to provide the front and back faces. Nice color in it.
    IMG_2785.jpg

  5. #5
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    New solid body electric, post 2

    Well the project ground to a halt almost as soon as it had started when my bandsaw broke for good. Turns out it had been failing for years with multiple problems. I had blithely assumed that I couldn't turn the tensioner any more because it was as tight as it would go. Wrong. After disastrously failing at resawing some veneer that it used to be able to do I noticed the blade had a wicked curve in it while cutting. That led me to look more closely at the tensioner which turned out to have a completely bunged up thread-- it wouldn't turn because there was marginal thread and it was jamming.

    So, I ordered a new tensioner rod (one with a nice big handle on it from Highland Hdw.), after my last Georgia shipping experience which took 19 days I was pleased when it arrived today. Much more robust nut, well machined rod, and, as I said, a nice handwheel. Popped it on, fit perfectly, and cranked the tension up so that the blade barely deflected. Woo-hoo!

    That's when I discovered my blade was dull as a hoe, having run off the wheel and into a support member in a previous chapter of this band saw resuscitation that involved replacing the upper wheel hinge, thanks to Creeker's who identified my problem. Fortunately I was practicing on a piece of cheap cherry at the time that I needed for part of the body lamination. OK, had a brand new "wood slicer" blade hanging on the wall, installed it, adjusted all the guides, and wow, the saw was running quieter and smoother than it has in many years. (Leading me to kick myself for putting up with it in lousy condition for so long.)

    On to the main show, resawing the cocobolo for the back and front faces of the guitar! I almost couldn't believe my eyes after the first cut. I'd completely forgotten how colorful freshly cut cocobolo is! I know it won't last, but wow!

    IMG_2800.jpg IMG_2801.jpg

    These photos really don't do the intense yellows and purples in the wood justice.

    With the bandsaw humming it really wasn't the white-knuckle experience I was dreading. The wood slicer worked as advertised and gave me perfect 7 mm thick slices that needed only a minimal passage through the drum sander to clean them up.

    Tomorrow it will be on to beginning to laminate the body, laying out and making router templates for the wiring cavities, and perhaps rough shaping of the neck. I'm going to try to use the laster cutter to make the electronics access panel in the back in hopes of a close enough fit that I can make it look seamless. We'll see-- tell me if I'm heading for disaster with that!

    We had been thinking about how to lay out the knobs and switches; looking at the re-sawn top we realized that we really have to consider the figure of the wood in deciding how to place them. I'm thinking a clear template is going to be useful for that.

  6. #6
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    New solid body electric, post 3

    Making some progress!

    I wanted the back opening to the electronics compartment to appear pretty much seamless. Attempts to do this in the past with a scroll saw were less than fully satisfactory, so this time I used a laser cutter. Worked like a champ! After I cleaned the char off I have a very uniform ~0.5 mm kerf all the way around.

    63276881098__91698CA2-FE4E-4264-AFA3-ED95C9B57A0C.jpg 63276882451__30AF4EBE-5D4A-4487-8F3F-09B53F082EAB.jpg

    I started cutting the neck to rough shape, always a white-knuckle moment
    IMG_2824.jpg

    To laminate the peghead I cut veneers from cherry, red heart and cocobolo then laid them up using a vacuum veneer bag. I think I will wait to cut the peghead to shape until after the inlays on it are done.

    IMG_2825.jpg IMG_2830.jpg

    Finally, I routed out the electronics compartment, drilled holes for the pickup wiring, and laminated the main body parts. Here they are, bandsawn and sanded to near final shape.

    IMG_2829.jpg

    It's starting to look like a guitar! Next is to round over the body segments, get them glued to the neck, and then begin to sculpt the heel region and make the transitions between the body and the neck. I've been shaping the neck with a spokeshave, I think I might need a curved tool to better get into the transition areas. As expected I'm getting a lot of tearout on the neck with the spokeshave, I'm probably going to have to just get it close by that method and then transition to rasps and sandpaper for final shaping.

  7. #7
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    Looking good so far.

  8. #8
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    Getting on to some of the fun stuff. The rough shaping of the body is done now. I've done the rounding that I can do with a router, the rest will be by hand. I'm still playing with the carving on the heel, trying to get to something that both feels good and looks interesting. The customer (mu son) says he's happy with it, I find it still a bit pokey, so I'll probably round it off a bit more. I've gotten a template made for the pickup cavities and figured out how to mount them. I'll use cocobolo rings that cover the openings and permit typical Strat adjustment of height from above without having to have a gigantic pick guard.

    A lot of time has gone into doing the fretboard inlays. They are ready to glue in now. I'm waiting for some teflon sheet that I can use to fill the fret slots before I slop it up with epoxy. That was an unpleasant lesson learned on the last instrument. They aren't as neat as I would like, but I think we can live with them. I use carbon black in the epoxy and it makes a remarkably good match to the ebony, hiding my poor routing technique. I really need a better way to hold the inlay pieces in place to mark their positions. CA glue holds them great, but it takes a two day soak in acetone to get them off again, I'm not sure how good that is for the ebony. I'd love to find a glue that held tight for marking but easily reversed. I guess some people like Elmers, perhaps next time. I was afraid what heat would do to the Paua

    IMG_2894.jpg 63477320236__CB455BA6-AE3D-4985-B0B8-DE16D7021806.jpg IMG_2893.jpg

  9. #9
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    Wowsa! That's a real work of art. The heel carving is awesome and the inlay even moreso. BTW, you could use black CA to glue in the inlay and fill around it. What little gets in the fret slots can be removed with a quick re-cut using the ends of the slots for guidance.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  10. #10
    Your "poor routing technique" is a humble brag.

    Can you please share how you did this?

  11. #11
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    The key tool is this micro-router sold by Stewart-MacDonald:

    precision-router-base-complete-set.jpg

    Mine is set up to use a Foredom tool, they also make them to use with a dremel. For bits I use carbide end mills that I buy on ebay. There are a bunch of sellers who sell used bits from electronic board fabrication. They typically have lots of life left for use in wood. They range in size from 2-3mm to sizes so small you can barely believe they have enough strength to work. I typically use sizes in the 0.5-1.5 mm range. The way most people do it is to cut the shell first then lay it down on the wood and use a knife or scriber to scratch a line around the outside edge. You then use the mini-router to take out the wood between the lines.

    I discovered that it's all 100 times easier if you do it on a flat surface rather than a pre-radiused fretboard. You need much thicker shell than was available in the Paua for that to work though, lest you sand through the inlay when putting the radius on. I could have done it in MOP, but my son really wanted the abalone.

    I've cheated big time on this one and bought pre-cut shell from DePaule Supply. Of course I rearranged and modified the pattern some and re-shaped some of the pieces since I couldn't just use it as it was. Cutting shell is really tedious and the dust is quite toxic, and the quality from DePaule is super good. It's hard for me to justify the time and work.

    Folks who are good at this leave only hairline gaps around the inlays. Mine got noticeably better as I went, suggesting I should have done a practice fretboard first. Your attention only needs to wander for a microsecond and you've got a divot to fill. If you were making them by the hundred then router templates would make a lot of sense. I thought about and experimented some with laser cutting the cavities, unfortunately generating the computer artwork for all those pieces of shell would have taken me forever at my skill level with Illustrator. Laser cutting the shell was a compete fail; the edges crumbled long before it cut through despite trying many speed and power settings. I think the guy who sells pretty nice, incredibly cheap inlaid fingerboards on Etsy must CNC cut both the shell and the cavities.

  12. #12
    This is looking amazing. The heel is very creative and should have a unique feel and I love the idea of not using the large pickguard. I can imagine during the 50's prototypes somebody said "what do we do about these holes...." and somebody said "here use this plastic..." Kidding aside, with no trem and all the additional wood on top this will wind up being a unique sounding instrument when played through a clean amp. Have you decided which pickups you're going with?

    I've been debating a build, but I don't think with my current skillset (and toolset) I'd be able to get the neck relief and frets correct. I don't see the point in buying a $400 neck so I'll live vicariously through this thread for now.
    Thanks,
    Fred

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by fred everett View Post
    I love the idea of not using the large pickguard. I can imagine during the 50's prototypes somebody said "what do we do about these holes...."

    I've been debating a build, but I don't think with my current skillset (and toolset) I'd be able to get the neck relief and frets correct.
    As I posted in my kid sized thread, you can order a fretboard slotted and radiused to your spec from LMII. Not terribly expensive. And a Fender style guitar is a flat slab. The relief (string action) gets set by the tailpiece and truss rod. Easy-peasy ...

    If I remember correctly, the tailpieces I bought had directions on how much to offset them for proper intonation (or it was on a plan I bought), and they're adjustable. The issue is that 'fretting' the strings bends them and raises the tension, and therefore the pitch, so the tailpiece needs to be moved back so when you're on the 12th fret the resulting string length and added tension comes out to the octave of the open string.

    This is gorgeous. A laminated neck is on my list of someday projects.

    My opinion ... the Fender design is a masterpiece of manufacturing engineering. All the body cuts are made from one side on a pin router. Cover it up with a plastic sheet with all the electronics in place. Done ...

    Not that I don't like Gibsons more ... but there's a lot more work involved with the machining and wiring.

    As a friend of mine always says, 'just do it' ... he dated the daughter of the founder of Nike when he was in college ...

  14. #14
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    Checked Stew-Mac, they've got standard length fretboards off the shelf (I guess), in a variety of woods (maple is dirt cheap) and precut and curved fretwire sets as well. The 2 hardest things right there.

  15. #15
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    Yes, StewMac has pre cut and slotted fretboards available. They are quite reasonable in price. While they do have pre-cut fretwire, the prices for that are much better at Philadelphia. Luther Supply. I buy tuning machines from PLS, too.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

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