Introduction: Electric Guitar Project
Yes, this is electric guitar build. I know, so unique, right. So what am I bringing to the table? This is my 10th guitar and I have built them using a variety of methods: purely hand tools, mostly power tools, and a mixture of the two, so maybe I can add some insight on building a guitar on a little bit tighter of a budget than what I normally see, as well as maybe throwing out some ideas on how to accomplish tasks normally assigned to power tools with hand tools.
In addition, I'm not a factory and I'm not interested in making guitars that are perfect carbon copies of each other. I don't use a router for shaping perfect edges or anything like that. Although they are handy for other things.
So let's begin.
Update: I realized the photos were kind of small so I uploaded new versions to see if that helped.
Step 1: Design
First step is the full-size design.
Clever readers will notice that in my design above I drew a left handed guitar. So, you know, be careful not to do that unless that's what you want. Uh, wait, it's a rear view of the guitar... yeah.
If you want instructions on how to do full-size drawings, there are two books I recommend:
Building Electric Guitars: How to Make Solid-Body, Hollow-Body and Semi-Acoustic Electric Guitars and Bass Guitar by Martin Koch
Make Your Own Electric Guitar by Melvyn Hiscock
Both of these detail the exact steps I used. Here are the extra things I did that are unique:
What I started with was wanting to make a neck-through telecaster-style guitar with double humbuckers absent that big ugly pickguard the Fenders have. I like the headstocks to be angled rather that straight so I don't have to use string trees. I have some headstock designs I've done in the past and will likely just use one of those, which is why it is not present in the design.
If you're going to use a manufactured bridge and/or nut, acquire those first to base your measurements around. I'm planning on a custom bridge and nut, so this wasn't critical for me. I based some of the measurements on a template I purchased that has profiles of parts of a fender neck, some on doing some online research.
I'm using a 25" scale length instead of Fender standard 25.5". To mark the nut, 22nd fret and bridge perpendicular lines, I used a compass (procedure below). Fretboard positioned so the 19th fret aligns with the start of the body. I'm using a template I have for the body (instructions below) which I simple traced onto the plan. I'm using a nut width of 1 11/16" because that matched a neck-profile template I purchased that's supposed to match a Fender Stratocaster. I had to make some measurements for the neck and body wings because this is neck-through (below). I used the neck-blank lines as bases to draw boxes around the wing components to give myself minimum measurements for those.
To create a perpendicular line at, say, the nut position point, set your compass to some arbitrary distance (about 2 inches, say), then put the point at the position you marked for your nut on the center line, and mark points on the center line at that radius. Now open your compass a bit more, and set the point on one of the new marks. Mark arcs approximately where you think the perpendicular line will be on either side of nut mark. Set the point on the second new mark and you should be able to scribe a small arc that crosses each of the previous arcs. Now use a straight edge to join those two intersections. This line should be perpendicular to the center line. Note that you can also use a flat square to accomplish this, if that's what you have. I like compasses because they are fun.
This is the second tele-style guitar I've made, and the first time I made myself a plywood template, so at this point I just lined up the centerlines and traced the template. It's easy to make one. Get a 1/4 sheet of 1/2" plywood from the hardware store, download a full-size plan for the body, print it out using the tiling setting on your printer (or use a big print-shop printer). Tape it together and cut out along the outline. Use spray glue to glue the template onto the plywood and then cut it out. I used a bandsaw because I have a small one I got off craigslist for $50. A turning or coping saw would work for 1/2" material very easy. A jig saw will also do the trick. Carefully sand and plane down to your line. If you take your time and make a good template, it saves you work down the road. That said, the template for me is just a guide. I don't use it for routing the edges or anything like that. Still, it's handy. You can also use Adobe Illustrator or it's open source cousin Inkscape to design a full-size body. Protip: if you search "Tele body svg" you can find vector graphics files that Illustrator and Inkscape can handle and start there.
The widest point of the fretboard is the end beyond the 22nd fret. For me this was just under 2 1/4", so I used 2 1/4" as the width of my neck blank (conveniently, this equals three 3/4" pieces of wood sandwiched together). I marked 1 1/8" above and below the center line a few different points and connected those points with lines to mark the neck blank. I then transferred those marks onto my plywood template to serve as a guide for cutting out the body wings. My headstock will be a little wider than this, but I can build that part up with scrap pieces to get it to the final width.
Step 2: Sandwich Body
I based this body design off a project in Hiscock's book because I liked how it looked. His was an 8-string bass, though.
The basic body will be 1 1/4" maple core with 1/4" walnut top and bottom.
Using my design as a guide to determine what dimensions I'd need for the blank, I crosscut 6/4 hard maple to length for each piece, giving myself plenty of leeway for mistakes. I used a hand plane to flatten the face and square an edge to that face, then ripped the pieces to roughly what I need, again with plenty of leeway, which ended up being 6.5" plus. Be sure to mark your flat face and edge and also be sure you check for twist. Then I marked final thickness with a marking gauge referencing the flat surface. I'm lucky enough to have an electric planer. I plane down close to my mark and finish with hand planes. It can also be done purely with hand planes. For bulk removal, a dedicated plane or spare blade with a cambered edge helps a lot. You can go across the grain to speed up the process.
For the walnut, I was only able to obtain 6/4 pieces, so I re-sawed them twice after crosscutting, ripping, and surfacing. Starting with 4/4 would have been easier, but you got what you got. I basically re-sawed them to 4/4, then resawed again in half. My bandsaw is nowhere near big enough for this operation, so I used a frame saw and kerfing plane. For instructions on making and using these tools, see Tom Fidgen's book The Unplugged Woodshop. I use frame saw blade and hardware from Blackburn Tools (he sells it as Roubo Saw hardware), with a frame made from ash arms with cherry ends.
Once resawn, I attached them to a piece of plywood with double sided tape to elevate the piece, then ran them through the surface planer. If there was a high spot in the middle I hand-planed that first so it wouldn't get jammed in the machine. If you hand plane the whole thing be very careful about the high spots. It's easy to plane downhill from a high point in the middle and take off more at the edges than you intend. My pieces cupped quite a bit after resawing, which is pretty typical in my experience. This caused extra sniping problems on the ends. All surface planers snipe somewhat, but usually the rollers will press the piece flat, except at the end a corner sticking up won't be pressed by the roller, and will get sniped off. However it was only one problem corner that I new wouldn't even be involved with the final guitar so no big deal. If it's a concern, I recommend cutting these thinner pieces much bigger than final, then trim them after planing. I planed them to about 5/8" before gluing to give myself plenty of room for error.
Side note: I don't worry about the sandwiches having slightly uneven thickness. It won't affect sound much and certainly not playability. I don't really care if a micrometer would show different readings, as my guitars have a rougher asthetic, by design, than something built by a machine on a factory floor.
You're nearly ready to glue. One thing to check is grain direction. Even if you are primarily a power tool user, go ahead and check this as well. If you resawed the piece, ideally each wing should have a top and bottom from the same piece. What you want is everything to plane nicely. Use a block plane set to take a light shaving and check the direction of each piece of walnut on the face that will be out ward. Mark the direction. Do the same on the edges. Mark the grain direction no the edge of the walnut that will attach to the neck. When this is all glued up, you want it to act like a piece of solid wood, with everything planing nice and smooth. It pays to take some time and effort to make sure this will be the case.
That done, I roughed both faces of the maple and the inside faces of the walnut with a toothing plane (a piece of hacksaw blade attached to a wood block works just as well). I used Titebond III glue because of it's extra long open time. I applied glue to both the maple and walnut, spreading it evenly over both faces, flipped the block and repeated, then clamped the whole thing. I used handscrews in the middle, to press the cupped walnut down against the maple face. If you do get cupping, make sure you glue the concave faces of the walnut to the maple. Trying to clamp edges that are curling up is almost impossible, but if you go that road, use battons of some stiff scrap wood to even out the pressure.
I used clamps and my vise and managed to do both blocks. Give the glue a couple days to set.
Step 3: Neck Pt 1
According to my plan, the neck blank needs to be something like 38" including headstock. I went ahead and made it 42" because I've been caught with too short of a neck before and it's no fun.
I used three pieces of maple for the neck. Two pieces were ripped from one board, and one from another. I ripped them to 2 1/4" wide. 2 1/2" would have been better, but my board wasn't wide enough. Try to find 4/4 hard maple with the grain on the edge running as parallel to the edge as possible. Quartersawn is best, but I can't get that and I've had success with flatsawn so that's what I use. When you laminate them together, you'll be turning them on edge, so if you have a nice straight grain on the edge, you will be maximizing the strength of the neck. Most of the fender necks I've seen are flatsawn and cut from the face. Part of the point of the truss rod is to strengthen the wood, so it's not as critical that you get super expensive quartersawn hard rock maple. Get the best you can get, basically.
I planed the center piece down to 3/4" using hand planes and a surface planer. The other two pieces I left about 1/16" wide to give myself room for error. Set up a dry fit of the three pieces, which you will join face to face to face and make sure that they seem to be making contact over most of the surface. Clamps will correct some gaps, but get it as close as you can prior to gluing. Another thing to check, which I frequently forget, is grain direction. Try to orient the boards so that the edge grain all planes the some direction. This will save you much heartache later. Sometimes woodgrains are wonky and a board will plane fine in one direction most of its length, then you suddenly run into problems, or one edge will plane smooth an the other won't. In this case remember that the most critical face will be the top of the guitar. This is the one you want to get as dead flat as possible, because that will affect playability and intonation. With the underside of the neck, where your hand rests, a little reversing grain won't kill you and you can sand it out.
Liberal amounts of glue and as many clamps as you have to clamp up the neck. Again, you're going to get lots of glue seeping out, so prepare for that.
Two days later, you'll be ready to unclamp and square this up.
Start with what will be the top of the neck, which should be what was the edges of the individual boards, and plane this as absolutely flat and straight as you can get it. This is the most essential part of the guitar. Variations here can really have an effect on playability and sound, so take your time, check what you are doing and really do a good job.
One thing to check, as I have pictured, is twist. Sometimes boards can twist a bit with glue and clamping. You want to make sure it is flat along the grain, across the grain, and corner to corner. Winding sticks can really help here. I use a couple of pieces of angled aluminum for my winding sticks, with one edge colored black with a sharpie. Aluminum is great because it is very flat and stable in a wide range of temperatures. You can see in my picture that clamping introduced a bit of wind. Planing from corner to corner can help. You can also sight down the length. Hold up one end get the top edge as horizontal as you can, then move it up until you get a good view of what the wood is doing along the length. I also will turn the face down on my bench and check it against my flat benchtop. Just keep working, taking light shavings with a nice sharp plane blade, and checking your progress.
Now mark that face and square one edge to that face. Square the other edge to your original face as well. Now you can check the alignment of the center piece of the guitar and make sure the outside pieces are equal thickness and that your the center of the neck laminate is in the middle as well as you can. It might help to draw a center line and parallel lines 1 1/8" from either side of that and plane to these lines, checking for square. Take your time, again, and get this just right. Once you are at your final face width of 2 1/4" and you are satisfied, you can run the final face through the surface planer, taking off just enough that the neck lays flat. Most of that we will saw away, so don't break your back getting it perfect.
Now we can begin marking the neck. Remember you want to orient the neck so that the grain runs toward the headstock on what will be the back (rounded) part of the neck. So use hand plane to check the grain direction. This will make the neck much easier to shape.
The first step is to square off the base end. Mark in from the end at the base of the guitar far enough that you can get a nice square end with a saw. Follow that line down both edges, marking from the face.
What I did was lay my full size plans on the guitar and use a knife to mark out key points, such as the ends and location of the pickups and bridge, then used a pencil to mark lines across the face at these locations. Nothing is set in stone at this point and these marks will all get planed off. I have a plastic template of my scale length, but a ruler works too. This part doesn't have to be perfectly precise. I traced my plan onto my body blanks and lined them up to the neck so that the bases aligned with the baseline I drew. The headstock side of the top wing should line up right at the 17th fret. So I placed my template on the neck, lining it up on the center line and placed the 17th fret right at that location, then marked the 17th and 22nd fret and the nut locations. Then I used a square to pencil in those lines.
Then I measured back 1/4 inch from the nut location and drew another squared line across the face. This is the start of the headstock angle. Your nut probably won't be a full 1/4" thick, but it's better to give yourself a little leeway. I like to make my own nuts, so I can do whatever thickness I like. Either way, give yourself some room for error. At this point, the plan is still completely reversible. Minor adjustments are all part of the process.
This is the most I can do for now until I cut out my body wings, so onto the next step.
Step 4: Cutting the Body
I go ahead and resurface the best looking face of each blank, mark that as the reference face, square the best edge to it, then surface the other face. At this point I was thicker than intended. The goal is 1 3/4" or thereabouts. You can leave them thick without worrying. A little thinner won't ruin it either.. What I did was take the actual thickness, subtract 1 3/4" and divide by 2. I set my gauge to that number and planed it off my reference face, then set my gauge to 1 3/4" and brought the other face to final thickness. This should give you roughly equal thicknesses of the walnut. You don't have to be married to 1 3/4", though, nor to equal thicknesses on the top and bottom. Maybe you want a slightly thicker top. In that case remove more from the bottom. There are no wrong answers since it's your creation.
The edge you planed will become the edge that glues to the neck, so take a little time to check to make sure you have the face you want facing the right way. Check the direction of the grain too with a handplane and mark it. Ideally, the neck and wings should have all the grain going the same direction. I like to have the grain of the neck oriented so that I can plane toward the headstock on the bottom. The reason being I find it easier to shape the neck if I can start at the base and work toward the head. This usually means that on the top surface of the neck you'll be planing from the headstock toward the base.
That done, I set my template on the side opposite the reference face and using the neck blank lines I'd marked earlier, traced the wings onto each blank. We did this in the previous step as a guide, but that all got planed off, so you'll need to do it again. Redrawing your plan in a carved piece like a guitar is all part of the process. I moved the template up maybe 1/8" or less from the guideline on my template to give myself room for error and adjustment, so what you draw is slightly more than you need.
Next, I cut the wings out. I have a bandsaw, but a really good jigsaw with a long blade could work, or a 12"+ turning saw powered by your arms. I used a turning saw for several bodies. It's hard work but you can do it. My turning saw I made using hardware from toolsforworkingwood.com. Try to leave as much as the long parts of waste in tact as possible, as these will serve as clamping jigs when you attach the body to the neck. Work slowly and stay outside of the lines. Once roughed out, I used a drum sander in my drill press to start smoothing the sides out. There are many methods. The sander works okay. One thing to keep in mind is to keep the piece moving and take breaks now and then. The drums can heat up and scorch your guitar, and that's a bit of a pain. I like to use spokeshaves to finish. These leave a nice finish, though it isn't going to be perfect. Like with any planing process, check for square off the reference face and take light shavings until you get where you want to be. I find the drum sander is great for removing the bumps and heavy spots left from the bandsaw, but I still prefer the finish of the spokeshave.
Some people use a long, straight router bit to square the edges. You'll need a big router and a very precise template to do this. I have tried this to some degree, but I dislike how unforgiving routers are. A tiny error, such as tipping the router slightly, going the wrong direction, or lingering in a single place a moment too long, can cause major errors that are difficult to correct. A router table is better, but I like the finish and slightly imperfect look of hand tools, so that's what I stick with.
For tighter curves, like the little lip on the bottom edge where it attaches to the neck, the only tools that will fit are small ones, so I use a small round rasp to rough it in and sandpaper wrapped around a dowel to finish. I used 80 grit then 100 grit. Once the guitar is glued up and shaped, I'll refine with finer grits, but a lof of that part will be cut away during neck shaping, so it's not worth the effort right now. A lot of times sandpaper on a stick is your best tool for curved pieces. The peaks and valleys of the guitar shape simply won't get smooth any other way, and spokeshaves occasionally chatter. I dislike sandpaper and its resultant dust, but when we get there, it's really the best tool to finish something as curvy as a guitar.
Whatever method you use, work down to your lines, or adjust to what looks good to you. I then planed the attaching edges down to their final surface. I also marked the positions of the pickups and bride an each attaching edge with pencil marks. On the lower wing, I routed a groove into the attaching edge. Once evrerything is glued up and I route the holes for my pickups, this groove will become clearance hole for the wiring. I made this 1/4" in diameter, roughly 5/8" deep, set just below the walnut top. It should do the trick, but since this is my first with a neck through in this manner, I'm sure I'll have more thoughts on the placement of this groove in my next build.
Step 5: Neck Pt 2
Now that we have the wings ready to go, it's time to put the final plans on the neck and cut it out. First, I carried the marks on the top of the guitar to each edge, then lined up the wings in turn on the guitar, flush with the top, to mark where they meet and the final thickness. You will want the curve I've pictured above to be ahead of the longer piece, which is the top. That will mean you have a lot to carve away later, but it will ensure the top has a nice smooth transition from body to neck.So mark that line where the curve ends right at where the body join ends (which should also be the 17th fret.
Once you've marked out the body wing locations, set a sliding square to 3/4" and mark a line from the face all the way up to the nut. This is the basic neck thickness. Now you can sketch in that little curve as pictured.
Finally, you want to mark your headstock. The exact angle is up to you. Usually these are between 10 and 15 degrees. I angle it as much as I can and still get the total length I need for the headstock, plus a little for error. In this case I tried 15 degrees but it was too tight, so I backed it off to about 12.5 degrees. Mark from that line forward of the nut. This represents the nut thickness. Measure your headstock length from that mark. If you have a rectangular ruler, you can mark carry your pencil around to get a right angle, or you can mark 1/2" thickness in a couple of places from the first line and use a straight edge to connect the marks to get a parallel line, then eyeball the end. You'll be cutting outside your marks, and your headstock will, if you've done things right, be well within those lines, so precision isn't required. Now I use a long straight edge to connect the intersection of the front edge of the nut and the bottom line of the headstock plan to the intersection of the curved line and the 3/4" mark. This long diagonal has a very small angle, and that will give your neck lots of playbility. You could also leave it thick if you wanted. It's entirely up to you, this is how both Hiscock and Koch recommend cutting the neck and I've found the results to be good.
UPDATE: I was writing this as I worked. 1/2" is actually too thin for the headstock for the tuners I had. Double check your tuners before committing, but 5/8" would have been better.
Before doing any cutting, I take a lot of time in this stage planning how everything will go together. I laid my truss rod on the edge to see what kind of clearance I had with my plan lines. It wasn't much, so I decided to add a volute at the point where the neck and headstock meet (on the bottom. The purpose of the volute is just to add some bulk at that joint. I've also found in playing it provides a little curved surface for your thumb to rest against for certain chords, so I like the feel of it. You can see the roughed volute in the images after I bandsawed the neck. This will get shaped and refined later. Ironically, I've only had one guitar bust from the truss rod, and the break happened at the much thicker heel, not the headstock, so trust that it should be okay. I also double check my nut placement, body placement, and everything else. You can always plane a layer of wood off and redo your plan. Really think through how things will work until you feel confident your plan is as good as you can make it.
Now, it's time to take the neck to the bandsaw and get to work.
Full disclosure, this is the first guitar I've actually been able to use a bandsaw with. It's way easier, but you can do it other ways. No matter which tools you use, I start by cutting what will be the top face of the headstock. Obviously you'll want to make sure your plan is facing up so you can see your lines. Stay within the waste side. You can plane material off later, but adding it is difficult. In the past I have done this and scarf joints with a backsaw. It's best if you can get a nice big backsaw to do this. I have a nice 12" Bad Axe saw that I use. I cut from the edge with my plan and often I'll draw the plan on the other edge as well so I can work from both edges in. This isn't necessary with the bandsaw, but it doesn't hurt either. With a big back saw, the important thing is to remember to work carefully and let the saw do the cutting. The last thing you want is to force the saw , as this makes it much more likely you either bow the saw blade and scoop out some of your headstock, or you introduce a twist in the saw that takes it off course and, again, into the face of your headstock. Follow the guide lines you have drawn. Work carefully. Tip your saw back and focus on sawing just outside the line then level it and saw the length. It takes a lot of practice. If you are bandsawing, you also want to work slowly. Keep that blade moving outside your waste. If you see it drifting toward the line, correct quickly, back off if you have to. Slow and carful is the name of the game here.
That part, done, I move to the underside of the headstock. Best thing here is to start with a relief cut from the non face side up to the neck-headstock joint, or just ahead of the volute if you decided to add one. This will allow you to remove that big triangular piece below the headstock without having to try to go around the corner with your bandsaw. If you are using hand tools then you absolutely need the relief cut. To cut this part with hand tools, extend the bottom line of the headstock to the bottom face of the blank, then mark a line square across the bottom face. Using that big backsaw or a turning saw, cut carefully down to the joint. I won't lie, this part is a beast.
For the underside of the neck, you can either cut up to the angled line or the 3/4" mark and then use rasps and planes later to get it to final thickness. I've done both and they each present their own challenges, but I'm confident enough now that I like to remove as much as I can with a saw before going to planes. If you had a volute, you'll want to come at it at different angles, working up to a final angle that is in the neighborhood. Remove as much as you can to give your saw blade room to get up to your line. For hand tools, you can cut the whole thing with a turning saw, if you want. What I would do is Make a relief cut about 2" down from the headstock, use a turning saw to get that part removed, then switch to a frame saw with a 2" blade to power through the rest. You'll want a relief cut just ahead of that heel curve to give you a stopping point. You then do the curve with a turning saw. For the bandsaw, you just work carefully on the waste side of your line. A relief cut ahead of the curve is helpful. That curve was a tad tighter than my 3/8" blade could handle, so I stayed will within the waste side and it worked out.
For the final thickness of the body section of the neck, I set up a fence on my bandsaw and removed the bulk of that strip. You could also just use a handplane. Leave it a bit thick for now, you'll finish that after joining the body wings. Note that if you planned to have the part of your neck where the fretboard joins elevated to account for a high bride, you will not want to take as much off the back. Martin Koch has some good images for dealing with this situation. As I'm doing a custom bridge, it's not a concern. If you make your own fretboard, another option is to make it thicker than standard to account for a high bridge. You could even plane a taper into the fretboard, so that it's thicker at the heel and thinner at the head, in order to give your neck a slight backwards tilt feel, and to help get the action lower on an elevated bridge. Think it through. You have options. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Once you've cut the neck free, use a plane to smooth the face of the headstock and bring it down to your guideline. Check regularly against the edge for square. You should also check with a straight edge along the face and diagonally to make sure you aren't planing too much off one corner. You can see in one picture above that my bench has a leg vice and a crochet. What I did was lay the headstock on the crochet face up and clamp the neck in my vice. I also have a pattern maker's vise that works great for this operation. For the underside of the headstock it's more tricky. You can use handplanes, sand paper, or a sanding drum. I have a Safe-T-planer from stewmac that does an okay job with this part. Drum sander would be my second choice. Either way, do this part now because the guitar becomes much harder to manage when you attach the wings. You could also use a drum sander to smooth out the bottom of the neck and shape the volute a bit at this point.
The final thing before joining is to rout the truss rod channel. Before you do that, extend your centerline onto the headstock, then mark the width of your nut, centered on that centerline. This width will help determine your headstock shape placement, so do that now while the centerline is still visible. I used a Stewmac hot rod truss rod. They are okay, but a little thick, top to bottom. I prefer the LMI brand ones, but I've also had one of those break on me, so there are trade offs. I've made many truss rods as well. It's not hard. Both Koch and Hiscock have instructions on making a truss rod. I like the double action ones because the work with a flat bottomed groove. Read those two books to learn how to do the truss rod, whatever way you choose.
One final thing, I have done curved bottom truss rod channels and never made one of those router jigs you see in those books and online. What I did was use a router plane. First I routed down to the shallowest depth of the channel. then I measured in 2 " from each end and starting there went a step deeper, then measure in another 2" and went a step deeper, until I reached my final depth. It takes some planning, but the result is actually a pretty smooth bottomed channel and it works perfectly. In fact, I have done this more than I have used an electric router to do truss rod channels.
Step 6: Body Join
Before gluing the wings to the neck, check again that the surfaces mate up properly and that the mating surfaces are flat and square to the top face. Now mark on the join edge of the wings the location of the pickups and bridge.
To aid in the join, I used two locator pins. To make these, I hammered two small nails into the edge in a place where you won't be routing. I used one in between the pickups, one toward the base. Lay the neck face down on a flat surface, such as your benchtop, and orient the wings face down above and below. Remember that you are now looking at the backside of the guitar. BE SURE THE WINGS ARE IN THE PROPER PLACE! Think it through and imagine how it will work when joined. When you are sure you have it correct, line the base of the wings with the base line of the neck. Press everything flat against the benchtop to ensure the wings are flush with the face of the neck. Now you can press or clamp the wings in place. This will push the locator pins into the neck. You could also use dowels, but I find dowels more difficult to a line up, personally.
Disassemble the guitar. Only thing left to do is glue and clamp. I like to lay out two pipe clamps on a flat surface, lay the neck down then the body wings, and finally the cauls from the waste you cut earlier. Apply a layer of glue to the neck edge and body wing for both surfaces, and use the locator pins to mate them together. Don't force anything. The pins should slide home easily, and you don't want to risk misaligning anything. Check that it all looks good, then tighten the two pipe clamps. I added a third to the other side to prevent the clamps from pulling the wings down. Probably unnecessary, but it made me feel better.
Step 7: Polishing Up the Join
The next thing you want to do is to make the top surface of the guitar one level plane, including neck up to the headstock and body. I use a card scraper to get rid of any glue beads before I begin. There are basically three possibilities of how the guitar my look at this point.
1) Top of your body angled forward slightly. You'll see this with a straight edge and a light source behind. You'll have daylight in the middle of the straight edge. If it's extreme, then you may be better off re-doing the body join (glue will fail with moisture and heat, so use a clothes iron with a damp cloth in between guitar and iron to generate both). If there is a step right at the neck but it's flat otherwise, then your wings are slightly proud, which you can plane to correct. If you're just a bit off, then plane the surface flat with hand planes starting at the outer edges of the body and checking your progress with a straight edge. In this case you shouldn't have to take off much from the neck, which is good.
2) Top of the guitar angled back slightly. In this case the straight edge will have daylight toward the ends. If you see a step between the neck and body, then your neck is slightly proud, which is okay. Ideally you want the entire surface to be perfectly in the same plane, but the reality what you need is enough surface to route your pickup holes, which means you need a flat surface as wide as half the base of your router from the end of the pickup slot. In other words, a little bit of drop off at the tips of the wings won't hurt you. Obviously, your neck still needs to be as flat and straight as possible. Plane the entire length of the neck, until you start taking shavings from the body, then you can work your way out until you get a good portion of it in the same plane. I would not recommend using a machine for this step. The machine will snipe, bow the neck, and may even cut it at a weird angle, since the end of the headstock is no longer on the exact same plane as the body part of the neck. Use a long ruler or straight edge to check that your neck remains nice and straight. support the middle part of the neck with a scrap if you need to to prevent the neck from bowing as you plane.
3) One wing is tilted forward, the other back. Basically you want to start on the wing that is higher or tilted forward first, bring it level with the neck, then plane the neck and body until you get flat with the back-tilted piece.
If you were careful in your joins, none of this should be extreme and you should be able to plane it flat in a few minutes. If you have some serious issues where you may be looking at removing more material than you want, you're better off redoing the join. Though bear in mind that thinner than planned wings is less of a problem than needing to take off a lot from the neck face.
Once you have the top surface where it needs to be, flip your guitar over and smooth out the back. You only need to worry about the area of the neck where the body is. Don't worry about the shape of the back of the neck at this point. Perfectly flat on the back isn't required, though you will be doing a little routing for controls, so get it in the neighborhood of flat. If everything went right, you should mainly be removing material from the neck piece, not the wings.
The next thing you'll want to do is add some material at the head stock to make it wide enough. If you have a particular pattern for your headstock you've created, print it out full size. If you don't, you can find tons of patterns online. Just pick one and print out a full size version of it. Bear in mind that if you have already purchase tuning heads they come in either 6 inline or 3x3 patterns. You need to choose a headstock that matches the tuning heads you have purchased.
Line up the bottom edge of the pattern with the nut marks you made before routing. This should allow you to estimate how much material you need to add to widen the headstock sufficiently. You should have plenty of scraps laying around. I simply bandsawed some scraps and planed them to a bit over 1/2". Glue and clamp them to the sides. When the glue is dry, plane the scraps flush on the top and bottom. Now you can trace your headstock pattern onto the face. You should get tuning heads now if you haven't already. Physically place them on the headstock as they will be in the final version as a reality check that what you drew is big enough to accommodate the tuning heads you have chosen.
At this point there are two ways to proceed. You can attach the fretboard first, then shape the neck, or you can shape the neck and fretboard separately, then attach fretboard to neck. Both methods have their quirks. I'm a fan of attaching the fretboard, then shaping the neck on a bolt on or set neck. I feel it's easier this way to get a more seemless look. I didn't do that here. If you want to you'll need to plan for that before you attach the wings. The way to do it is to taper the entire neck at once, then plane the body wing edges at an angle the other way to compensate. Martin Koch demonstrates that method in his book. The problem with that for this design is that Koch was making a headless guitar, so tapering the neck was easy peasy. For a headed guitar, you could do this, but you'll need to add extra width to the headstock as well. If you go this road, draw your taper line carefully and plane toward it carefully. Use the biggest hand plane you have and start at the head, then plane back, taking a bigger bite as you go. Tapering with a handplane is easy with practice. Chris Schwarz has written several books and articles on the process if you're interested. The angled headstock will make this difficult, but feel free to try and see how it goes for you. I'm going the other route of tapering the fretboard before I attach it.
Step 8: Routing the Neck Pickup
Before attaching the fretboard, you'll need to rout the neck pickup. You won't have space to do this after you attach the fretboard. Although you could chop the cavity for the pickup with chisels. I have done this. If you're going to use pickup covers, no one will see the difference. People tend to get caught up on stuff that doesn't matter to the end product.
There are lots of instructions out there on how to route to a template with a template routing bit. I use the kind with the upper bearing, which I got from Stewmac. I like to use forstner bits to remove the bulk, then route to final shape. I've also chopped out the cavity with sharp chisels, and that works fine, if less clean, which is no problem if it's going to be covered.
You don't have to use a neck pickup at all. But I did, so here's how I did it. First, I got the scrap from bandsawing my neck and used that for a support for the guitar. I needed a shim under the body to stabilize the guitar and my body template worked perfectly.
I laid the fretboard on the neck and got it lined up as perfectly as I could, then marked the end of the board in pencil. I also lightly marked where the theoretical 24th fret would be on the guitar. This seemed like a good place to put the pickup, though I have no evidence this is true. I used a humbucker template I got off Stewmac. You can also make one using plywood. Take time to get your template right. The corners of the template can be square, since the internal radii of the cavity will just end up being the radius of your router bit anyway.
Then you just hog out material with a drill down to the depth of your design, then route to the template.
I don't route the bridge pickup yet, I like to get the fretboard attached and precisely work out the bridge placement, then figure out the bridge pickup location from there.
Step 9: Making the Fretboard
Before you do anything else with the fretboard, you're going to want to cut fret slots in it while everything is nice and square. I have done this with jigs, such as the Stewmac fret-cutting system and I've done it with nothing but a square, a knife and a straight edge. Both produced desirable results. That said, my ear is not as sensitive to tiny nuances in pitch as some people's. If you require very precise fret placement I recommend a pre-cut board or rigging up your own fret cutting system using special cnc routed templates, a sled and a special fret cutting blade in your tablesaw. For me, the price of such a system makes it out of the question. Buy a precut board and practice on a bunch of scraps if you are worried about it.
Wood selection. There are as many opinions on this topic as there are guitar makers. My two cents is that people get too hung up on wood selection in an electric guitar. Experiment around, see what you like. It generally just comes down to cost and appearance for me. You do you.
For this guitar I'm going to use maple for the fretboard with a walnut inlay. I try to avoid tropical woods in general, because they've been over-exploited and abused for so long. Maple is the traditional choice for Fender guitars. It's hard, which makes it better for cutting and holding frets than some other species.
I used an offcut from maple I used for the neck, looking for a piece that looked nice. My bandsaw has enough clearance for this resaw. I worked a piece to about 2 3/8" wide, a little over 19" to allow room for error, and left it thick at about 5/8" for now. I used a hand plane and a planing board to get the faces flat and coplanar. Take your time at this stage. Plane one edge square to the face and check with a straight edge. The square edge is necessary for accurate fret slots.
Pick the prettiest face as your up face. Orient the grain so that when you plane you'll be going heal to head. This will help you put a radius on the fretboard. Leave the board wider than final width so you have some room for error when you are tapering.
Both Martin Koch and Melvyn Hiscock give you several methods for cutting fret slots. There are also about a billion forums on the topic. Just do some research, pick a method within your budget and go.
Here's the method I use: I have this laser cut fret slot scale. Draw a centerline down the length. I mark the frets with my template using a knife, then use a sliding square to carry the marks across the face. The proper technique for scoring a line is to start with a light mark, then make multiple passes, deepening the cut each time.
I use the same square to guide my saw and a piece of masking tape on the sawplate to mark the depth. I go a little deeper than the fret tang, because you'll lose some when you radius the board. Make sure your saw makes a sufficiently wide kerf for your fret wire. If you aren't sure make a test cut in some scrap and pound a scrap of fret wire in and check the hold.
At this point I set my marking gauge to the final thickness I wanted for this board, which was just over 1/4" and planed it to thickness using a planing board.
Now to taper the board. Mark your width at the nut and at the heel, centered on the center line. Then connect those to marks. You start at the end that will be narrower, plane the edge about 1/4 of the way, then start at the end again, plane 1/2 way, then 3/4, then the full length. Do this until the taper is parallel to the line you drew. If the board isn't tapering enough you can take smaller bites working up to full length. Keep checking the widths at the nut and end to make sure you don't plane too much. Check the edges with a straight edge. If you have a high spot in the middle , you can plane only there to even it out.
Next I rounded the corners of the end of the fretboard with a gouge and a block plane.
For this board I decided to do add an inlay consisting of a center strip of walnut that tapers at the same angle as the board. I'm also going to radius this board before attaching, since radiusing will be difficult on a neck-through guitar. To that end, I grapped a piece of scrap maple to give me a base and elevate the board, tapered it so that it was a little smaller than the board, and attached the fretboard with double sided tape. I wanted the edges to overhang just a bit, so that the router would register off the board edge, not the scrap edge. Not much, just enough to feel with my fingertips.
I used a Dremel tool with a router base (a regular router would work, too, but it might be a little overpowered) and edge guide, with a 1/4" bit. I decided on a width that looked pleasing and used a sliding square to draw guidelines down each side. I set the router depth to about 1/16" of an inch and took a pass, then flipped the board around and took another pass on that edge. Then I reset the edge guide and took out the wood in the middle. To clean the bottom and even the depth, I used a router plane. It glides easily on the remaining fretboard material. Do this carefully, or you might chip the board, like I did.
I resawed a strip of walnut wide enough to fit, after planing the face and edge of the board square. I fitted the strip into the slot with the planed edge against one side, then marked at each end where the strip would fit. I connected those lines with a straight edge and then planed the taper using the same technique as for the fretboard. For this one though, stop well short of the line, test fit, compare each edge to the board and plane slowly and carefully for a perfect fit. Cutting your strip longer than you need is a good idea so you have some room for error. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I glued the strip into place with a batton and a few clamps.
Once the glue is dried, you unclamp the batton, plane the strip down level with the fretboard, and use the existing fret slots as a guide to cut slots into the strip.
If you want fretboard markers, the best time to do them is now, before radiusing the board. I don't usually do markers on the face, but they are pretty easy. There are plastic and mother of pearl products you can use. I've used contrasting wood dowels and that also works well.
I use a brad point bit to drill into the face of the fretboard, then insert a small length of the dowel with glue. Once the glue is dry, plane those with a block plane taking light shavings until it is flush or nearly so. You want these to be deep enough they don't get planed away during radiusing. Probably 1/8" deep, especially if they are near the edge.
Next onto radiusing: The best method, I think, is to make a compound radius. A couple of gauges will help you get them correct. I have a simple tool I made from plywood with a radius cut and sanded into each edge corresponding to a different radius.
The way you do a compound radius is to plane from heal to head (assuming you oriented your grain in that direction, head to heal also works) along the line of your taper, along the board's width. What this does is remove more material at the neck than the head, because it's not as wide. The effect of this is a more pronounced radius at the neck and a softer radius at the heel. I used a radius of 10" at the nut and 14" at the heel.
Draw the desired radii onto each end of the board to give you a guideline to work to, then begin planing until you are near the guidelines. I like to use a pair of calipers to regularly check edges and make sure I'm not removing more from one side of the board than the other. Along with a straight edge. Basically you just check at a few points along the top and bottom edge to see that the board is of uniform thickness at each edge.
You can start with heavier shavings, then lighten as you home in on your final radius. You can finish with a stiff sanding block sandpaper if you want, or a card scraper (though I find scraping a board with fret slots to be very challenging) After radiusing the board, you will need to recut your fret slots. They'll have all but disappeared toward the edges. Just drop your saw into the slot and slowly work toward first one edge than the other, down to the depth of your fret tang.
A slightly easier option is to make a uniform radius at both ends. You can do this with a plane by planing as though you didn't taper the board and taking more from near the edges than the middle of the face. You can also use a special sanding block at the radius you want. Both Stewmac and LMI sell these. Either way, I start with coarse paper or heavier shavings, and get finer when I get closer to final. With the sanding blocks, the main problem I've had is not falling away to one edge or the other. You have to sand heel to nut in a straight line. Check your work and make adjustments.
You can also do a flat board. Classical guitars and a few metal-style guitars use a flat board (also called infinite radius, which is technically correct but kind of silly). That's the easiest, but you sacrifice some playing comfort to do that.
Finally, check your board with a straight edge from nut to heal to make it as flat as possible along where the strings will be.
There are other methods using elaborate jigs and routers. I've never even tried those. I saw a machine online to sand fretboards to any radius and it cost $950. If you have that kind of money, more power to you. The planing method has been used on violins and other instruments forever and works great.
Step 10: Body Controls
You can route the control cavity at this point (I actually did that earlier, because I had the router out). I have a couple simple rectangular templates and I just select the one that allows for my controls. It's a simple rectangle cut from a piece of plywood. I like to put controls down and slightly behind the bridge. I do a lot of palm muting and don't like them to get in my way. If you intend to put your output jack on the edge like I do, you don't want to go too close to the edge or you'll get a jam with the wiring when you go to plug in your amp. I speak from experience. If you do a jack on the top, strat style, you route that from the top. I am doing mine on the side.
So, I put the template in place on the back, then drill down to just above the walnut top, then route down to that depth. For the plate that covers the back, I do it differently. Most back plates in factory guitars are standard sizes, so they can CNC the cover pattern on and no problem. I've found that for a custom cover it's very difficult to start by routing the pattern then make a cover to fit. I prefer to make the cover first. Make one big enough to cover the cavity and allow room for screws (or magnets if you like getting fancy. Check with the controls you have how much clearance you need. A wood cover works better if its a little thicker than a plastic cover, to prevent breaking at the screw points, but if you make it too thick, it might not fit because of your controls. Let's assume you have 1/4" to work with. I make a cover a little bigger and thicker than I need. I get it to the shape I think looks nice and drill screw holes where I think they should go, along with countersinks, but leave the up side rough for now so I can plane it level. Then I place it over the cavity and trace it with a knife. A low power router, like a dremel tool can work to rough out the recess. Chisels also work. I set the final depth and shape with a router plane, chisels and gouges.
I check the fit of the cover, make adjustments to either the rabbet or the cover, test again, until the fit is tight. If you find your fit is so tight you can't get the cover out, use a screw driver going in from the front through one of the holes you drilled to push it back out. Just loose enough that you can easily pry it out is what I go for.
Finally, I use a forstner bit to drill a clearance hole for the output jack. I determine where I want the jack by holding the guitar in various playing positions and figuring out what might interfere. Once I like the location I clamp the guitar into my vise and use a straight edge to visualize a line from where I want the jack to the control cavity, then drill a 1/8" pilot hole into the control cavity, then follow the pilot hole with a 7/8" forstner bit. I drill down to allow plenty of clearance for the jack and cable connection, then drill through to the control cavity with a 1/4" bit for clearance for the wires.
Now I do a test fit with the output jack and jack plate to make sure that it fits comfortably and that the plate conceals the hole. You can screw it into place just to get the screw holes established, but then remove it for now.
Step 11: Attach the Fretboard to the Body
Both Koch and Hiscock give a method for attaching the fretboard in a way that keeps it from moving. I've used both methods and they both work fine. I've attached without any aid and the problem is that at this point we really need as precise a glue-up as we can get and even with a bunch of clamps, the board may slide before the glue sets, so it helps to use an aid.
For this join, I used Koch's method of drilling holes through the fret slots and hammering small nails in to keep the board in place. These tiny holes won't affect the board's ability to hold the frets, and the fret wire will cover them up once placed. I placed the board, nailed in nails to hold it in place, then snipped the tops off the nails so I could slide the board off.
A batton with clearance slots for the nails helps. I made one with a scrap, I marked the locations of the pins then just sawed about a 1/4" slot and chiseled it out. Quick and easy. A couple of strips of cork on the edges will help the batton press the edges of the board down. I didn't have cork, so I tried foam weather stripping. This did not work, so just go get cork or a thin veneer. But I included the picture so you could see what I was going for and what the batton looks like.
Before gluing, set your truss rod in place with a line of silicon sealant to keep it from rattling. Tape the slot for the truss rod with masking tape, apply glue and spread evenly in a thin layer. Remove the masking tape. Apply a thin layer to the board as well, mainly on the edges. Place the board with locating pins, then add batton, and clamps.
Step 12: Shaping the Neck and Body
While the fretboard was drying, I did some preliminary work on the body. I'm doing a bevel on the front, rounding the back edge. I want clearance for the strumming arm and a belly contour (I know, I need to eat fewer cheeseburgers, but here we are). I did this with a drawknife to start the bevel, then polished it up with a block plane. The front bevel I did with spokeshaves. I'll clean with sandpaper later.
With the fretboard glue dried, it's time to focus on the neck.The first step is to saw relief cuts at the nut to mark the final width of the neck.
Your fretboard will serve as guide for the taper.
Clamp the neck with one edge horizontal. The carvers vise really comes in handy here, but any vise will do. Now you want to crosscut the neck along the line of the nut down to the edge of your fretboard. Stop short of the board so you don't saw into your fretboard or mar it. Turn the guitar over and cut the other shoulder.
I started the taper with a drawknife, but the tricky thing there is you don't want to split your headstock. What I settled on was using a chisel and mallet. The mallet gives you more control over the chisel. I used it bevel down so it wouldn't drive into the neck too deeply. Start with light cuts and watch your grain. You should be all right because you are going downhill, but pay attention to the grain and stop if you notice the wood splitting too much inward. Once I made some space wit the chisel, I went back to the drawknife, I used it bevel down, again to keep from digging too deep into the neck. I worked an shaving the neck down close to the fretboard and trapezoidal. I refined the taper with spokeshaves, but left it a little rough for now.
At this point I like to go ahead and rough cut my head stock. For this you will need a coping saw or turning saw. You can start at the shoulder cut you just made and follow your pattern. Your guitar is simply too heavy to try to prop up at a 15 degree angle and get an accurate cut on a bandsaw, so that option is out. You're just rouging out the pattern at this point, and creating some space for the shaping tools to handle the neck. I used a jigsaw as well for the long, straight part of the headstock, but this is tricky. Give yourself lots of room for error.
Draw guidelines on the guitar with chalk or a grease pencil that will show up. The big advantage with neck-through is the ability to make playing the upper registers extremely comfortable. If you need ideas go to a guitar store and study the backs of a few neck-throughs to get an idea of what will work for you. The best thing about shaping a neck by hand is that you get to shape it to exactly what feels right in your hand. That's another reason we tapered the fretboard first. Clever people, us.
For the neck at the heel, I recommend some quality hand-stitched rasps. You want mainly a half-round for this work, as you'll be carving it concave. Other tools that can help are a big gouge, travisher, adze or surform. There is a lot of material to remove so use whatever tools help you along. I started with rasps, but the heel was taking too long, so I went to a large #7 bent gouge to hog out material, then back to the rasps to polish it up.
I shaped the neck toward the heel by using the rasp laterally across the grain. I shaped this and the heel simultaneously, so I could hold the guitar and test the feel. I kept taking away material until it feels right. I also purchased a template for a Fender neck online that I used as a guide. Neck shape is entirely personal. If you have a neck you really like you can use contour gauges to try to replicate it. Otherwise, just keep paring down and testing it in your hand until you are happy with how it feels. Once the heel and neck feels right, you can turn your attention to the head area.
For the head end, you want to be a little more cautious. On mine, I had very little room for error. Taking off to much of the back of the neck would expose the truss rod. Again, I went laterally across the grain, rounding the neck until it fit right and matched my contour guide.
Once you have the head and heel where you want them, you need only to remove material from the middle to join those surfaces to make a nice rounded neck (or other profile if you're so inclined). I like to start a draw knife and shave it down roughly trapezoidal, then rounding along the length. Peel off wood and get the neck down to shape. When you are close you can use spokeshaves. Check along the length at the angle of the taper to make sure you have an flat neck that doesn't bubble out in the middle (mine always does this to a degree. I eventually used a rasp in the middle to help speed up the process a little.
At this point I'd put about 3 hours total on the neck. Mostly what is left to do is sand and scrape the neck smooth.
When you are happy with the entire length of the neck, you can smooth it out with increasingly finer grits of sandpaper used like a polishing cloth at a shoe shine. Take some time to get this nice and smooth and feeling right in your hands.
Step 13: Refine the Headstock
Using spokeshaves, rasps, and sandpaper, refine the edges of the headstock. Mark out where the tuning machines will go and double check that they will fit as planned. If you have tuning machine holes marked on your plane you can center punch directly onto the face. Again check before drilling that the placement will work with the actual tuners, not just measurements. Check that the thickness of the headstock is correct, not too thin or too thick. If you need more thickness on your headstock, for whatever reason, you can add a veneer to the top or bottom or both. Matching the veneer of the body would look nice. I added kind of a half-veneer just where the tuning machines are because I thought it looked cool.
A drill press works great for boring holes in the headstock, but it is tricky with a neck-through. However, careful hand drilling works well for this. Through 1/2" material very slight variations from hand drilling won't be overly pronounced. Finally, fit the tuners and check that you have the right thickness and everything fits together nicely.
Finally, I added a truss rod cover. I did a simple triangular plate matching the half-veneer. For the holes, double check the diameter of the actual tuning machines. I drilled the holes in the main headstock first, then a slightly smaller diameter on the veneer, since the attaching nuts had a smaller diameter.
Step 14: Bridge and String Holes
I made a custom bridge for this guitar. To do this, I started with a base plate cut from walnut with a saddle made from maple. I will start with a floating bridge, set the intonation, then secure the bridge with 2 screws. In an archtop, the bridge would float, to allow for adjustment, but this isn't a critical aspect for an electric guitar, but having the bridge fall off every time you change strings would get annoying.
I resaw a piece of walnut to 1/4" thick. I cut a groove across the bridge to place the maple saddle in by drilling the ends then grooving out material with a router plane. I went with a straight 1/4" groove for my saddle, and then I plan to skew the entire plate. You can also cut a skewed saddle slot into the bridge plate like you see on acoustics, but you will need to check online somewhere for the proper angle. Then I use a forstner bit to counterbore followed by two clearance holes for my screws.
To make the saddle, I bandsaw a piece from and edge of hard maple, then plane to the rough thickness I need. I plane it until it fits in the slot. Then I rounded over the top of the saddle. My saddle will be skewed slightly, so putting a radius on the saddle is not going to work, because a skew angle will accentuate the curve and counteract what you were trying to do. The easier way to do it is to just cut the saddle slots to the depth of the action you want, then you can plane away a little if you feel it needs it. Leave the saddle a bit higher than you will want it at the end, so you can fine-tune the action.
Now measure the location of the bridge. Place the ruler along the centerline and measure 25" from the nut. Place the bridge there. You'll fine tune the location later. Mark a position a couple inches back from the bride (make the mark at the centerline). This will be where the strings holes will be drilled. Make a perpendicular line to the center wide enough to accommodate the strings.
I used a template to determine hole placement, and decided to skew the string placement a little for fun.
I used a drill press to help ensure the holes were drilled straight. You need a 1/8" bit long enough to go through the guitar. Drill slowly so the bit doesn't deflect (bend) as you push it through. If you have no drill press, you can try to free hand it. If you can, mark the positions on the top and bottom, then drill halfway through the top, and halfway through the bottom. Another option in that case is to do a different sort of string stop. I've used an inset piece of wood to nice effect in past guitars.
I need a mounting plate on the bottom of this guitar because I'm using a wooden bridge, in order to ground the wiring to something that will be in contact with the strings. I made one out of a strip of mild steel. Mark the string positions, draw a centerline, punch where the holes will go and two holes for screws, then drill with a twist bit and use a countersink bit to help everything sit flush. I smoothed the ends and knocked off the corner with a file. That done, I flip the guitar over, line up the plate with the through-holes and trace the plate with a knife. I used my dremel router because it's easier to control for this type of work, the refined the edges with a chisel. You want to route down to the thickness of the plate plus extra for the string ends. I also drilled a hole from the recess to the control cavity and ran a wire to the string plate to provide a ground for the electronics later. I tried to solder the wire to the bottom of the plate, but my soldering iron couldn't heat the plate up enough to get the solder to adhere, so instead I soldered the ends of the wire together and screwed the plate into place. The brass bent a little around the wire, so I used a piece of scrap wood to smash it down. This will help with the contact between wire and plate, so that's fine.
I used Stewmac top ferrules. These keep the strings from cutting into the wood, but they aren't 100% necessary by any means. I would advise not putting them in now either way, since there is still some finishing work to be done on the body.You have to counterbore for these since they need a hole slightly bigger than 1/8".
Step 15: Bridge Pickup
Now that you have the bridge location, you can mark where the bridge pickup will go. Center it on the center line, attach with double sided tape, drill and route the cavity. I also made the controls. For the switches I had to route the control cavity down a little so the switches would poke through and the screws would reach to secure it in place.
Step 16: Nut and Test String-up
I made a nut from hard maple for this guitar. I used a piece from the same bit that I made the saddle with. I cut a rabbet into one edge, then marked the string positions and sawed then filed them. It's easy to chip the wood, so be careful here.
I did a test string-up to make sure everything fit as planned.
I glued the nut in place with hide glue so I could replace it later if it broke. Bone and plastic really are better material for the nut because the wood tends to chip.
Step 17: Pickup Covers
For this guitar, I decided to do custom pickup covers. I used an offcut from the body wings. I cut them to length and width, then I resawed a thin veneer from each side. Then planed the walnut down and resawed the pieces down to a little thicker than final. I drilled the pieces with forstner bits, sawed the shape out with a jigsaw, then opened with files until the pickup fit through. Then I glued the veneer over the top.
Lastly, I drew a curving end onto each end, which I cut with a fret saw (a coping saw with fine teeth might work too), smoothed with sandpaper and scrapers.
Finally, I cut clearance holes for the pickup screws so I could get them as close to the strings as possible. I will adjust final height at the end.
For the screws, I decided on a couple of vintage pan head screws from Lee Valley. With the pickup set in the guitar, I counterbored the screw holes to a shallow depth, to give a flat surface for the pan heads to grip. I removed the rings and bored through a hole big enough for the screw to pass through, then reinstalled the rings and used the screws to mark the pilot hole locations on the body, which I bored with a gimlet (very handy and inexpensive). Finally, I screwed the actual screws in to test the fit and cut the final screw holes. Then I removed everything until final fit. Once they are fit, I'll do some final shaping.
Step 18: Edge Decoration
I used a wood burning iron to add some decoration and life to the edge of the guitar, including using a vine design with leaves to mark the 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc frets. I didn't really plan this out, just made some designs. I put a 10 on the back of the headstock, this being my 10th guitar, and my initials on the control cover. I'll probably expand on this as the guitar gets closer to done. Some may get sanded off and I'll have to redo it.
Step 19: Fretwork
Fretting is my least favorite part of guitar making. I advise masking off the area of the body above the 19th fret while doing this work. It's easy to scratch the body with the files and such.
I'm planning to do my frets slightly differently than I've done in the past. Basically, I'm going to custom fit each fret and round off the ends. I've seen other guitar makers do this and it seemed cool, but I got a Dremel rotary tool for Christmas and now it actually seems possible. I tried it once before by hand filing, but wire bends too easily for all that.
Read up on doing frets. I won't go into detail on parts you can find better elsewhere.
- Bend the wire
- Rough cut 22 frets (23 if you do a zero fret as I have), leaving them a little long
Here's how I custom fit them: for each fret, I trimmed a little bit off one end of the tang with flush cut nippers, then rounded that end with a sanding wheel on the dremel. I then set the tang inside fret slot, rounded end down, without pushing the fret in, just resting it there. Now using flush cut nippers, I cut the fret to length, nip the tang, and round this end too.
Repeat for every fret.
This really didn't work that well, to be honest. I ended up having to file off the stray ends and I'll have to redo the ends. Fretting is my least favorite part.
At the end, once the guitar is finished and ready for final setup:
- set the frets
- level frets
- crown frets
Step 20: Finishing Up the Body
At this point I remove all the strings, the tuners, the bridge, and any metal bits. I started by beveling the top edge of the guitar with spokeshaves and scrapers, then round over the bottom edge. Like I said, I like the look and feel of a guitar made by hand, so I am not looking for perfection that comes from power tools.
I went over the top with planes and scrapes to get rid of any damage done during the previous processes. I don't fill dings or anything like that. I plane them off and don't worry too much if the wood isn't perfectly flat. Your fingers are a good guide. Just keep working until it feels right.
I like to take the edges off the fretboard and headstock. 220 grit sand paper lightly applied works great for this, just enough to break the edges. I take the time to refine all the tool damage done by the previous steps working my from 60 > 100 > 220 > 320 grits.
I test out the guitar again in various playing positions and ensure that it feels good in my hands and fits my body. Make any further adjustments needed.
If you have any dents, sometimes you can get them out by applying heat and moisture. The way I usually do this is get a small piece of rag, get it wet, set it on the area and press my soldering iron onto it. A clothes iron might work. I also have a small press iron I use for wax finishes on furniture that works well for this. A hot poker from the fire would work. You just need a concentrated heat source. This won't help if fibers have been crushed, but it should raise most dents. You can also sometimes scrape them out with a card scraper. Technically, this leaves a divot, but it's less noticeable usually than the dent.
I went over everything carefully, taking the time to get things as smooth as possible. Scrapers leave the best surface. Places where I couldn't get scrapers, finished with sandpaper, mainly where the curves were tightest.
For the finish, I made my own Danish oil. I mixed it a little heavy, with a little over 1/3 varnish, 1/3 boiled linseed oil, a little less than 1/3 mineral spirits (read Bob Flexner for more info on making your own Danish oil). Stir it up with a stick. Applied heavily, then wiped off before it gets tacky.
Since I am ragging it on, I didn't really bother to mask off the fretboard. I just did it real careful like.
Let that sit a day then sand lightly with 320 grit sandpaper, apply a new coat and repeat a few more times. I don't do any type of finish over the oil. I've tried a wax finish on the body, but there are too many cracks and crevices in a guitar that are almost impossible to get the wax out of after application and I don't like the results. I have used a wipe on varnish for the body, which builds up a little better than Danish oil (waterlox is good stuff).
For the covers, I just dunk them in a jar of Danish oil, wait a few minutes, then wipe them down. I do those as many times as I do the body.
When the sheen is built up, I go over the body with imitation steel wool pads, the white kind (woodcraft.com has them, as well as other sites). I like these better than steel wool because they don't leave little bits of metal behind. Take some time to really polish it up. You can do wet sanding and buffing if you like. I prefer a more natural look and feel. Buffing is great if you want it to be really shiny. My concern isn't shine so much.
For the fretboard, I like Stewmacs fretboard oil, because it's a little thinner and doesn't cake up at the frets like danish oil can. It's easy to apply after the rest of the guitar is done. Any kind of light oil will work. You can leave it raw as well, but as you play the raw wood will soak up oils and dirt from your fingers, so putting a layer or two of oil on helps keep that from happening.
For more information on finishing, Koch and Hiscock go over plenty of methods, and Bob Flexner's book is essential.
Step 21: Nut and Bridge Shaping
It is possible to make minor adjustments to the intonation on a custom saddle by checking intonation, then filing the saddle back. If you plan to do this, you can study bridges on an archtop guitar and see how they file the bridge. I don't find this to be completely necessary, but I play styles more like blues and rock, where perfect intonation isn't as big of a deal.
Now you will need to string up the guitar but don't tune it to pitch yet, in order to get the bridge placement.
Acoustic bridges are usually skewed slightly. I found this works great for electrics too. Skew the bridge so the bass side is more toward the back. Now tune the guitar up to pitch space the strings out on the bridge and press down to mark their locations (or use a pencil). Cut shallow slots in the bridge with a triangle file to give the strings a place to rest by detuning one string, cut the slot, then tune it back to pitch. Now check your tuning again.
Now for the low E string, check the intonation by plucking the string, then hit a harmonic at the 12th fret. It should ring out the same note (use a guitar tuner if you aren't sure). Adjust your bridge until it does, retuning each time you make an adjustment. Now check the high E string in the same way, but remembering to keep the low E saddle point at the same place. Once you are happy with both E strings, you can check the rest. I've found at this point they are all within about 3 cents on the electronic tuner, which is below what my ear can detect, so that works for me. You can make a few minor adjustments with a small file, either filling at that string location in the front of the saddle or rear depending on whether you need to increase the pitch or decrease it, to bring it into that range. At this point you can drill pilot holes in the guitar body and secure the bridge with 2 screws.
Now the final step is setting the action. You want to lightly plane the bottom of the saddle until the action is where you want it and you have no fret buzz. For rock and blues, I don't mind if the action is a little high. If you want to shred, you need the action lower, but the nature of doing the frets by hand is that you're bound to run into some fret buzz the lower the action is. If you plane too much off and you get buzz and dead strings, you can either try to make adjustments to the fret, shim the saddle with a thin strip of veneer, or scrap the saddle and start over again. You may well end up doing a second setup once everything is together, but get it as close to done as you can now.
Finally, I set the final height of the pickup covers by sanding them down (set the sandpaper on a level surface and rub the bottom of the cover on the sandpaper, being careful not to press into the delicate veneer on top) and add some carving decoration to soften the ends and give them a bit of texture.
You also want to take the opportunity to try out playing the guitar and make sure the neck feels right in your hands. It's much easier to make adjustments now.
Step 22: Level and Crown the Frets
Check that your neck is basically flat before leveling.
I use a marker to mark the frets and masking tape to protect the board. Ideally, your frets should only need a few light strokes from a file to get level, but when you do them by hand, this is rarely the case. So I grind in even strokes until I remove a bit of black from all, then shape them with a triangle file that has had the sharp edges ground away (purchased from a luthier supply store), and finally finish them with a rounded crowning file. I go over them with 320 grit sandpaper and evenly, then polish with 800 grit sandpaper and a bit of 0000 steel wool.
Step 23: Wiring
Wiring a custom guitar is totally up to you. A site called guitarelectronics.com has just about every configuration you could want. Google search for special mods, as there are tons of forums where things have been written over the years. You can also experiment around yourself if you want to try something different.
I rigged my guitar up with 2 humbucker pickups, each controlled by it's own switch and a master volume knob, all leading to an output jack. It's a very simple setup that I like. I don't do much with tone controls on the guitar side, so that's not as important to me. A tone knob isn't very hard to do if you want one, though. Sometimes I do killswitches on my guitars with some arcade buttons I got awhile back. They are fun to do. Basically do do those you get a momentary switich that breaks the ground going to the output jack, shorting out the circuit.
One thing I do here is place a board covered with a cheap rug on my bench to keep from damaging my nice finished guitar. Vacuum the board before you place your guitar on it. Be very careful of screws, which like to roll under your guitar. If they do and you slide the guitar, you get a nice big gouge on the front. Not fun.
Anyway, I place my pickups, run the wires through, wire up the controls. To test at this stage, I hook the guitar up to an amp and tap the pickups in different configurations with a screw driver. You should hear a click when you tap the magnets. This is at least a baseline indication that things are working. Now I affix the controls and attach the cover plates.
I didn't take any pictures of this step, but did attach my wiring schematic. My original plan was to have the pickups coil tapped via a push-pull pot, but my pickups did not have that capability. They were just a single hot wire wrapped with a ground. So I left off the coil tapping part. Hot wires go to the switches, switch output to the left post on the pot, right post and everything grounded gets soldered to the back of the pot, middle post to the jack output.
Step 24: Final Steps
At this point, the guitar is pretty much done. I go ahead and string it up (I re-use the strings from the bridge testing phase, if they aren't broken). I test that the electronics are working. I test each fret for buzz. I play a bit and see if the action feels right. I inspect it for missing finish, or anything else that looks off. If there is too much buzz, I may adjust the truss rod if needed or go over the frets again, leveling and crowning and polishing. If there is still buzz, you may just need to shim your saddle up a bit. Play the guitar with plenty of bends and check for anything that might interfere with your comfort or the sound. Look for anything you can adjust, if needed. If somehow your bridge is off center or something, it's not too much trouble to unstring it, uscrew the bridge, and reposition. If you need to you can fill the old screw holes by drilling out and filling them with a dowel.
When you have it set up the way you want it, remove the test strings and add a fresh set of strings.
That's it! You're ready to play!
I have added a video. Bare in mind I was sick that day and am out of practice. I just wanted to have a video basically recording it's function. At some point I will try to make a higher quality vid.
UPDATE: I added a slightly better video and actually embedded it, like a normal human person would.