Archive for the 'guitar building' Category

P…p…p… picking some pickups…

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Every now and then, despite the best efforts to keep him locked out of the workshop, I’m paid an unwelcome visit by the cockup monster. He’s a tenacious little bugger, and if he’s really determined to visit there’s not much you can do to prevent it.

What you can do, is learn to clean up his footprints so nobody but you knows he was ever there*. With a little bit of creativity it can even work to your advantage.

So, exhibit A:

rosewood_p901.jpg rosewood_p902.jpg

One pair of Rosewood P90 pickup covers, made entirely to satisfy my whim, and not at all inspired by a template shifting slightly and making my routes a tad too big for a regular P90 cover…. honest!

These’ll be going in my LP jnr style, which (fingers crossed) will be getting some finish very soon. I’m still trying to decide which P90s to use - I’ve heard great things about Lollar and Fralin, but I’m also tempted by Vintage Vibe.

Any thoughts?

*Unless, of course, you post it on your blog. That might give the game away.

Taming the buttered ferret

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Or: Scarfed headstocks continued.

In the last post I explained why I like scarfed headstocks - they’re stronger, and less wastefull. So - why are they not used on expensive instuments like Gibson’s and PRS’s? The answer is pretty simple - tradition, and aesthetics.

Tradition I’ll set aside for the time being - it’s a whole can of worms. But aesthetics are easier to address. With a little thought, you can make a scarf jointed head look as good (hell - better!) than a 1 piece, and still keep all the benefits it brings to strength and conservation. Here’s how I do it…

After the scarf joint has been cleaned up with a plane, I mark the headstock thickness, and sand a radius upto this line. There are several ways to do this - with the idle roller of a belt sander, with a spindle sander, or with a drum in the drill press. Once the radius is sanded, I thickness the rest of the headstock. In these pics I have used my router thicknesser to thin it, but I now use a drum sander and fence in the drill press, which thicknesses and sands the radius at the same time.

backstrap1.jpg backstrap2.jpg

Next, I glue ears onto the headstock to make up the width. This is another concession to saving wood, but also hides the sides of the scarf joint. I trim the headstock width before attaching the ears, so that after shaping the ears will taper to practically nothing. That way there’s no evidence of the joint in the end grain near the nut.

(Sorry about the crappy pic - I forgot to take one, and had to blow up a fragment from the back ground of another image)


After attaching the ears, I trim them flush front and back with a plane, scraper and chisels. Then, I prepare a piece of constructional (1.5mm thick) veneer. I prebend it, otherwise it’ll crack when I try to bend it into the curve on the back of the headstock. I spritz it with distilled water, wrap it in foil, then heat it with a heat gun. Once it’s steaming, it bends like butter (What!?), and I clamp it up with a matching caul. I don’t apply glue yet - the dry run holds the veneer whilst it cools, and lets me check everything fits nice and tight. After the dry run it holds the curve nicely:

backstrap5.jpg backstrap4.jpg

The glueup is just like the dry run, except with about 10 times as many clamps… no pics I’m afraid. Here it is after drying over night.

backstrap6.jpg backstrap7.jpg

Once it’s dried, I trim off the excess with a veneer saw, shape the headstock with a template and template bit in the router, then profile the neck and carve the volute. Somewhere along the way I apply a headplate to the front of the head, and in this case, bind it too. With all that done, there is no evidence of the scarf joint left - the ears conceal the sides, and the veneers cover front and back.

IMO, every bit as slick as a 1 piece headstock ,and a good deal stronger and stiffer to boot!

backstrap8.jpg backstrap9.jpg
backstrap11.jpg backstrap12.jpg

Simplifying scarf joints…

Monday, September 4th, 2006

I’ve been scarfing my headstocks as long as I’ve been making guitars, because it’s a stronger and less wastefull than sawing out a 1 piece neck. Because both of the parts being glued in a scarf joint are wedge-shaped, getting the joint glued and clamped can be a bit like wrestling a buttered ferret. There are many ways round this, from pinning the joint in areas which will be cut away, putting some nipped of staples on one of the glueing faces, or making an elaborate clamping jig to hold both pieces. Here’s my solution, which I think is pretty much foolproof (to this fool at least…).

With the pieces cut and planed, I first check fit and alignment:

scarf01.jpg scarf02.jpg

Then, with the pieces arranged properly, I tape one side of the joint with common or garden masking tape, so that joint can be hinged open:

scarf03.jpg scarf04.jpg

I hinge it completely open to expose the glueing faces, apply a generous amount of titebond original, and spread it out:

scarf05.jpg scarf06.jpg
scarf07.jpg scarf08.jpg

Then, I close it and clamp it. 2 small g-cramps apply most of the pressure, and 4 spring clamps hold down the feather edges at each end of the joint.

scarf09.jpg scarf10.jpg

As well as clamping the joint closed, the clamps push down on the masking tape, and prevent it lifting or slipping, which in turn keeps the joint perfectly aligned as you apply the clamps - simple, but it works really well.

The result:

scarf11.jpg scarf12.jpg

Coming soon: Back strapping the headstock.

Sawdust generator

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

I’ve had a few requests to post details of the top carving jig which shows up in some of the progress pics of John’s guitar. It’s a simple project to knock together, and makes roughing out a carved top much faster. It’s also an impressively efficient way off spreading wood chips over a large area…

One of the common techniques for roughing out carved top instruments is using routers to cut a ’step’ pattern into the wood. This technique works well, but is pretty nerve wracking (it’s very easy for the router to tip and cut deeper than you want) so I settled on this solution. The pictures should be pretty self explainitary, but questions and suggestions for improvement are welcomed.

Here a shot of the jig with a roughed out top. This was my first test, so the contours are not at final dimension yet - the edges were later thinned down to .25 inch.


The router is suspended about a little over 2.5 inches above a flat workboard, enough height to carve a top glued onto a body for a Les Paul style instrument. The router is attached to the base with 2 M6 machine screws.

At the moment the jig is attached to the workboard with 2 clamps, and is perfectly stable and solid, but ultimately it will be screwed in place. However it’s done, you must be completely condfident it can’t move *at all* - You really don’t want it getting lose and coming to find your fingers…


The guitar body registers off a wooden guide which runs in the body of the jig. The radius at the end of the guide matches the radius of the cutter in the router; a 1″ dish cutter bit.

This image shows the guide removed from the jig.


This shows the cutter and guide. The guide is adjusted by sliding and clamping with an F-clamp. In time I’ll add thumbscrews and an adjustment slot to the guide piece.


Here’s the body registering off the guide. The depth of cut is adjusted with the router plunge mechanism and depth stop.

With the cutter speed up high, and taking no more than 2mm with each pass there is no tendency for chatter or grabbing, which I think is helped by the rounded edges of the bowl cutter. The steps end up very smooth, though care has to be taken to keep the edge of the body square to the jig, otherwise the width of the rebate created can vary.

The jig is also great for routing binding with a bearing bit.


You can space your contour lines equally, which will create an even stepped surface, but I drew out the curve I wanted to create, and then mapped the steps required to come close to this shape if I removed 2mm each time.

Then, I transferred these measurements to the guide - I line up each mark with the edge of the jig, and drop the cutter 2mm each time.


Here’s the result - hopefully a few minutes with a small carving plane and a spokeshave will get me very close to my final shape. In this shot I’ve planed the neck angle into the top with a jack plane - the jig doesn’t do that bit for you :(


Conan the Librarian…

Friday, June 30th, 2006

…that’s me.

My net connection is down at the moment, and has been for about 10 days, so I’m only able to check email and post here by going to my local library. Sorry if anyone’s commented, emailed, or spammed me (you know who you are…) and I haven’t replied - hopefully I’ll be back on full power soon, and I’ll get back to you all.

Except Jamie. :P

On a side note, Fantomas rocks, and carving guitar tops with 40 grit sanding discs is much easier and faster than you’d think. And much messier too.

What’s on the workbench?

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

At the moment I’m working on my version of a LP special/junior - flat topped mahogany body and neck with 2 P90s, and slated for a trans red finish. The relative simplicity of the design has been a nice change - it’s come together pretty quickly.

I’ve taken the opportunity to try a few new ideas. I’ve put together a new jig for routing neck pockets, which worked a treat once I got the hang of it, and has yielded a wonderfully tight fitting neck - I could hold the guitar out at arms length by the neck without the body working loose. I’ll have to shoot some pics next time I fit a neck.

Anyway - here she is:


That nice tight fitting tenon, and the contoured heel joint. Inspired by the late Sid Poole’s neck joint, it allows better access to the high frets, whilst retaining the traditional appearance from the front of the instrument. It’s very comfy!


Finally, the volute. I really liked the way the veneer on John’s guitar flowed out into the volute, and I’m working on simplifying the process to make it easier, faster, and more consistant. I really like the result, and it’s practical too - the back veneer adds strength, and allows me to use a scarfed headstock (which is stiffer and stronger than a 1 piece) without any aesthetic downside. Once the head is completed it’s impossible to tell it apart from a 1 piece headstock.


Oh - and “hello” to everyone following the link from Project Guitar - I got 533 hits yesterday, more than twice my normal amount - cool!

Guitar of the month

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

The good people at Project Guitar have voted John’s DC ‘Guitar of the Month’ for June. Each month the competition gets tougher, and this month featured some beautiful work by some very talented builders, making the win particularly sweet. This is my third GOTM victory, and proves beyond any doubt that the voters on the Project Guitar Forum have impeccable taste!

Of course, the opinion that really counts is the new owner’s - no problems here…


So very close…

Friday, April 21st, 2006

Barring final setup, John’s guitar is complete.

Covers are all buffed out and installed (including the trussrod cover Pete!), the wiring is complete, and the tuners are installed. Infuriatingly, one of the tuner bushing got damaged during installation, so that’ll have to be replaced in time - it’s a small cosmetic problem, but annoying nonetheless. For reference; when heating tuner bushings with a soldering iron to remove them, ensure all solder is removed from the tip, otherwise it might end up stuck to the bushing. Stuck rather better than the gold plating as it happens…. *nuts*

Excuse the long whippy string ends - the strings get removed a few times during setup and adjustment, so I haven’t gone to the trouble of using a locking wrap and trimming them to length.

Edit - I’ve moved the pictures of John’s guitar into the gallery section Heres.


Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Potatoes RAWK!

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Well, they do.

Installing the tremolo was all new to me, and required at least one specialised tool I didn’t have - a superlong drill bit. I checked a few of my normal tool suppliers, but nobody had anything really long in the right size, so it was time to improvise.

Funnily enough, Easter Sunday at my grandparents yielded a perfect solution. Dad was browsing a 1948 signed edition of ‘The Amateur’s Lathe’ by L.H.Sparey (I know, how rock and roll is that?), which contained a paragraph on making extension drills, by turning down the drill shank, boring a suitably sized hole is a piece of steel rod, and brazing the drill into the hollow centre of the rod. Most importantly:

To prevent the brazing heat from softening the drill it is an old dodge to insert it into a potato during the brazing operation.

-The amateur’s lathe p.85

Duly equipped with a small metal working lathe, and a carefully calibrated potato, we made up a special drill for installing tremolo claw screws. Result!

The 4mm mild steel was originally intended to become a Gibson style compression rod and is pretty soft, but this makes it very easy to use, since it can be flexed slightly to get the best angle into the tremolo cavity. On a similar note, the only way I could get at the screws to adjust them was to daisy chain 3 magnetic screwdriver bits to make a long bendy screwdriver - not elegant, but it works!

With the trem springs in, it was time to string it up. Lots of fiddling to do to get the optimum setup, but even with an unfinished nut, and the neck relief unset, it plays nicely, with no buzzes and very low action. Apart from final levelling and buffing of the lacquer on the headstock and trem cover, all the finishing is complete - leaving the wiring and final setup still to do.

The spiffy case was John’s birthday present from Pete and Sarah. I was really hopefull they’d be able to deliver it to him with the guitar inside, but the finishing trouble I had delayed me too much. It’s a Hiscox case, and I can see why they have a good repuatation - it’s well put together, very sturdy, and (IMO very importantly) not too heavy.