Custom bolt on neck

26/03/05

In mid’ February I was contacted by Simo, a member of project guitar who wanted to commission a neck from me. The neck was originally going to be a maple bolt on, with a Les Paul style headstock, but after a little discussion the Simo settled on a full custom design, based on a sketch he supplied (left). A little refining yielded this design, which was drawn to scale in photoshop (right).

Rough design Refined design

Over the course of a few days, and several emails, the details were all finalised. The final specifications were:

-Bolt on maple neck with 24.75″ scale length.
-Ebony fretboard and head veneer.
-22 jumbo frets, 12″ radius.
-Pearl side dots (no markers on board).
-2omm @ 1st fret 22mm @ 12th. Gibson style fretboard taper to suit TOM bridge.

Neck design

I also offered a laminated construction at no extra charge, since I was keen to try a new idea using tapered laminations. The laminations are to be separated by contrasting black veneers.

I’ve been taking the occasional photo as I progress, so here they are. It’s not going to be as comprehensive as the Les Paul diary but I will add a little explaination to each image before too long…

17/03/05

The wood arrives from craft supplies.

After ripping a 1″ board off the blank and roughly levelling it with a hand plane I marked out the laminations, leaving a little slack space around them. I laid the laminations out to get a perfectly quartersawn centre lamination, with 2 slightly off-quarter laminations for the sides. I then cut these out on my benchtop bandsaw.

Marked out neck blank Laminates cut

21/03/05

The rough cut laminates were carefully levelled using a router levelling jig. The centre lamination was tapered by adding a shim under the intended 1st fret position, so that more depth was removed at the head end than at the heel. When the lamiates were all levelled, I cut the black veneer to be glued bewteen each lamination and checked the fit by dry clamping everything. Once I ensured it all fitted perfectly, I installed small cocktail stick pegs in waste areas to prevent the laminations slipping during glue up. I then applied plenty of titebond to all the gluing surfaces, and clamped it for 24 hours.

Dry clamped Lamination guide pins

23/03/05

Now that the glue has cured fully, I skimmed the face and back of the neck with my router thicknessing jig. I trimmed the sides of the neck parallel to the centre line, and routed for the trussrod. I trued up the headstock face using my belt sander clamped to a work board, and rough thicknessed the head using the router thicknessing jig. Finally, I trimmed the width of the head slightly, and squared up 2 sections of scrap to make up the width of the protruding ‘ears’. I glued these with titebond, and then planed them flush with the headstock face.

headstock ears glued on Headstock ears glued on

25/03/05

I used my router jig to thickness the neck to it’s final dimensions, after removing the excess thickness with my bandsaw. This is easier *before* you glue the ears on, but I got ahead of myself. I thicknessed the ebony headstock veneer to remove machining marks, and used my belt sander to angle the surface which will butt against the nut. I then marked out the head shape on the veneer, and carefully sanded it to shape. I attached the ebony head veneer with titebond, using 2 more cocktail stick pins to prevent slipping. The pins are located in tuner positions, so they will be drilled away when the tuner holes are bored. Once the glue has dried I use a bearing guided bit to shape the head, running the bearing against the the shaped head veneer. I tidy up with the belt sander clamped to a work board.

Head shaped Top of neck
back of neck

26/03/05

I then tapered the fretboard and neck, using a straight edged piece of plywood and a router with a bearing guided template bit. Once the fretboard is tapered, I start installing the mother of pearl side markers. I also drill and shape the trussrod adjustment cavity in the head veneer, using a 3/8″ drill bit and a tiny drumsander to create a tidy ‘teardrop’ shape.

installing side dots installing side dots

28/03/05

With the side dots in place, I carefully align the fretboard on the neck, clamp it, and drill two more cocktail stick pegs to set it’s final position. These are drill over fretslots, so that they will be invisible once the neck is fretted. With the neck pinned, I use the belt sander and a scraper to work the fretboard perfectly flush with the neck. Then, since I can’t do any more work on the fretboard until the frets arrive, I cut, shape and install the trussrod cover.

Trussrod cover installed

The last job for today was to radius the neck corners. I checked what size bit Simo would be using to route the neck pocket, and rounded the accordingly, in this case to 1/2″ radius. In the last (lsightly blurry, sorry) shot you can see the grain orientation of the neck. The centre is perfectly quartered, whilst the two outer lam’s are about 30 degrees off the quarter. Using a quarted middle lamination should make the neck stiffer and more stable than using a solid blank with flatsawn or riftsawn grain.

Heel radiused Fuzzy grain

03/04/05

The jumbo fretwire from craft supplies arrived yesterday, so today I started fretting. I cut the frets to length with modified wirecutters, and clip the tangs with a modified metal nibbler. Then, I tidy them up with a file.

I tape the fretboard to a nice flat piece of counter top, and resand the radius to 12″. Then, I level it with coarse sandpaper glued to a 18″ carpenters level, following the taper of the board, which creates a gentle compound radius. I run up the grits 120/240/400 then follow with 0000 steel wool and buff with a pencil erasor. I relieve the fretslots with a file, taking care not to slip out and gauge the board across the grain, and I’m finally ready to fret. I use a hammer and a maple bar to bed the frets down, checking they are seated by running a feeler gauge against the edges. The fretting went very smoothly and quickly today (all down to carefull prepwork) but I only got half way through before tea, after which it was a bit to late to be hammering, so the rest’ll be done tomorrow morning.

04/04/05

The fretting is completed, and the frets levelled, bevelled, dressed and polished. The ends of the fret slots were filled with ebony veneer, and sealed with CA. The headstock was drilled for the tuners, and the head and heel were all sanded to 240 grit prior to attaching the fretboard. Finally, I installed some Klusons I had in my parts box to see how the neck would look.

Fretting underway Fretting completed

Test fitting tuners Test fitting tuners

It’s getting very close - the last job today will be to glue on the fretboard, then there’s only shaping the back of the neck and finsihing before it’s done.

06/04/05

Neck shaped Neck shaped

The back of the neck has been shaped, and sanded with 240 grit paper then steel-woolled smooth. I have to do a little refining of the of blending around the headstock and heel, but the shaft is done, and feels very smooth and slick.

Oh, and for the curious folks out there, Simo sent me a pic of the body this neck will be used on. That’s some gorgeous crotch walnut!

Simo\'s crotch walnut body - Sweet!

07/04/05

I got the head and heel transitions smoothed out, and finish sanded everything until it was smoother than a babies arse. So far 3 applications of finish and one rub back - it’s feeling very slick. Here’s the headand heel just before the finish went on:

Head transition Heel shaped

13/04/05

The neck has been finished, with a wipe on satin finish on the back and gloss lacquer on the headstock face. The back is lightly rubbed with 0000 steel wool to create a smooth non-stick feel. The first shot shows the head with lacquer sprayed, but unlevelled. In the second shot it’s been levelled and buffed to a high gloss.

Head sprayed, but unlevelled levelled and buffed out

22/04/05

Over the last few days the neck was completed, the peghead relevelled and rebuffed, and my makers decal applied to the heel. Then it recieved a final check over before being packed up.

Rebuffed Maker\'s mark!

Before shipping I thoroughly inspect the neck for any marks or imperfections etc, then photograph is to ensure it leaves my hands in perfect shape. The photographs are important in case the neck is lost or damaged in transit. Once it’s checked over I roll it in bubble wrap, taking particular care that the corners are well protected. It then goes into an oversize box full of foam packing beans.

I can’t protect it from being run over by a tank, but it should come through anything else undamaged!

Getting packed up... Getting packed up...

Ready to go! Ready to go!

25/04/05

The neck arrives!

Hey Setch,
The neck arrived this morning, it’s even better than I expected! and thanks for the routing template! that’ll save me some time. I’m really impressed by the Rustin’s finish, if I can get that amount of gloss on the body I’ll be very happy.

Cheers
Simo

:)

Ready to go!