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Alright, how's it going? Decided that the build quality of your last guitar wasn't quite up to scratch? Was it because you followed my instructions? No it wasn't, liar. Either way, here's how to fix all those cock-ups. Or, if you're smart, how to put in decent features as standard!

Covered in this Instructable:
Modifying a neck profile - slimming, rounding, whatever. Making it better suit your hand, basically.
Making a fretboard - from radiusing to inlays. And maybe fretting. And binding. Whatever, just read it.
Raising a fretboard* - can't lower the bridge enough to get the action you want? Raise the fretboard to compensate.
Thickening the head - means you can get away with more tension and your machine heads sit lower (seats the strings in the nut better).
Making checkerboard style binding - that black & white stripey stuff you see on Rickenbackers and some Telecasters occasionally.
Refinishing a burst - y'know, the faded in the middle paint job thingy.


*requires a new fretboard. You need to really screw with the one that's already on there for this method.

I'm doing these steps one at a time, roughly in order as I modify my own. There's a high chance that some of the steps will be reliant on previous ones. Therefore, if you think something seems amiss because you've skipped a bunch of steps instead of reading chronologically like a normal person, it probably is.

Step 1: Modifying a Neck Profile

"Modifying a neck profile - slimming, rounding, whatever. Making it better suit your hand, basically." - Me, like, one step ago.

So: you have yourself a squarish neck. Maybe you don't, you just want it thinner. Well, you've come to the right place either way. Unless it's neither of those things, in which case I'd like to kindly suggest you go away. NOTE: If you're trying this on a Fender or a copy of one, all I can suggest to you is DON'T. They have curved truss rods that get closer to the back of the neck somewhere around the middle. This doesn't bode well for trying to thin it consistently.

You will need:
Vernier calipers or similar to measure the thickness of your neck
A rasp, for the quick, dirty wood removal
A power sander, to clean up after the rasp
Some wet & dry paper, varying grades from "a little bit of rough" to "daaayum fine", or however the hell they grade it.
A couple of bits of 50x100 (2x4 for our American cousins), maybe 300mm (get a calculator, I'm not doing all of it) long.

First off: Hoik off your strings. Not like that, you'll break it. Do it gently. Fine, maybe I shouldn't have said hoik. Lovingly remove your strings, maybe you'll want to put them back on because you can't afford new ones. Cheapskate.
Secondly, cover the topside of your guitar in a blanket or something, and set two parallel rows of something tall(ish) down on a table near the edge so your pickups and bridge don't get all scratched. Lay your guitar on them with the neck hanging over the edge of the table. Wrap the blanket around the back of the guitar and stick something heavy on it. There you go, now you don't have to clamp it down if it's heavy enough.
Take your vernier calipers. If they're not yours, make sure no one's looking when you do. Measure the thickness (top of fretboard to the back of the neck) at the thinnest point. Now measure your fretboard's and the neck's individual thickness at the same place. Do they add up to the previous value? Good, you're doing it right.
Your average truss rod is usually around 10mm deep, sometimes 11 or 12mm. That means there's a gouge running down the middle of the neck under the fretboard that you should absolutely not cut too near to, cos in all likelihood you're going to cock it up, break through and knacker you truss rod with a rasp. You don't want to do that. So let's say 15mm is the absolute minimum neck (minus the fretboard) thickness you can reduce to.
Grab a hold of the rasp. It's really not all that different to a file, except you're taking a lot more wood off and leaving fairly deep pits as well. Same technique, though. Starting at a 30 degree tangent on one side of the neck, start a-rasping. Take it down maybe 2mm, depending on how much room you worked out you have. Do this all the way along the length of the neck, both sides. Now using your woodworker's cunning, blend this 30 degree cut into the rest of the neck. Happy with the rough shape? WHOA. Don't try to play it to see just yet, I tried that and got a fistful of splinters. File it a bit smoother first. Now give it a quick caress in the playing position. Comfier? No? Try again.
Get your power sander and take it to the neck like a madman straight out of the asylum. Get all those pits out. Yes, even the little ones. It'll look shockingly bad when lacquer time comes around if you don't.
Now for the wet + dry bit. Get it smooth. Smoother than that, you want it to feel like your hand's just going to glide straight off it.
Spray it with clear gloss nitrocellulose lacquer (my favourite!) or whatever you want. It's up to you, it's your finish.

Step 2: Raising a Fretboard

*Note: New fretboard required.

You will need:
Plane - not the flying kind, either.
Chisel or iron - apparently you can use the latter to take inlays out unharmed. I used the former. With harm.
New fretboard - I did mention that.
New nut - you might be able to get your old one off unharmed, but chances are you're gonna use a saw.
Small quantity of binding the same colour as your new nut - for raising.

Okay. So, those inlays. Get 'em out. They're just either going to stop your plane or damage the blade. You don't want that, if you hadn't guessed. I used a chisel to get in the little imperfections around them and crack them out. I found out after that you can just heat them up a bit with an iron and they just come right on out. Even if you used araldite which I did, and just presumed indestructible.

Now get your plane. Yes, the bloody flying one if you want but you're going to have more trouble using it than it's worth, okay? And if you can afford a sodding aeroplane, why are you building your own guitar and not just buying a working one outright? Fool. Whatever your method, make that fretboard flat. Don't take it off completely, it's what raises the new one. Leave it at the thickness of whatever height you wanted to raise it by. Clever, eh?

Next step is just to follow any (previous or upcoming) instructions relating to applying a fretboard to a neck in either this instructable or the original build. Maybe, just maybe, you could even look at someone else's work too.

Step 3: Making a Fretboard

Here I'll be making a fretboard. I couldn't find the wood I wanted, so I used some maple (good for fretboards) I had lying around and veneered it with bubinga (the wood I wanted).

You will need:
Wood - maple, rosewood, ebony, something like that.
Frets - whatever thickness you like.
Radius block - a sanding block with a concave underside for giving the fretboard a radius.
Inlays - get dots. Please. For your own sanity.
Binding - use it or not. Up to you. Looks nice but it's not the easiest.

First: Determine the size of fretboard you need. If you're making a guitar from scratch and you're copying an existing design, you'll want to look up the scale length. The width isn't glaringly important at this stage, just so long as it's over 55mm wide for a guitar, or 70mm for a bass. Acquire wood to suit.

Is your guitar Fender or Gibson styled? The reason for this is a difference in the type of nut used. Fender types have their nut set into the fretboard, whereas Gibson types are sat just behind it. I don't know how to set a Fender style nut, I've never done one. Look it up.

Plane your bit of wood nice and flat, and make sure it's perfectly rectangular. You're going to need to put a square up against it. Right: you have your scale length. Calculate the positions of the frets using a free online calculator. Manchester Guitar Tech have one, so do Stewart MacDonald. Spoilt for choice. Mark the positions on your board and draw the lines all the way across the top using a set square (see, told you.). Use the thinnest tenon saw you can find and get it slotted. About halfway through is a good place to aim for.

Now radius your fretboard. Make sure it's level, too. You'll get a horrid buzz and dodgy intonation that you won't be able to get rid of if it isn't level. At this stage, you might want to add a veneer. I know I did. If it's thin enough, you can just glue it straight on (a radius block makes a great clamping surface - no bubbles) otherwise you might have to steam it somehow. Trim the edges off and either do the sides or don't. You might want to bind it instead.

Your fretboard is now radiused, but are the fret slots still deep enough (and have you covered them in veneer like a fool)? Grab your saw and a fret and check. Don't hammer the frets in yet, wait until it's on the neck. They make for a very uneven clamping surface. Now's the time to put your dots in. You can see where they're supposed to go. Just do it. If you've veneered, make sure they're set as close as possible to the surface, even pre radius them if you can. It's incredibly thin stuff, veneer, and in sanding the inlays flat you might accidentally wear through it.

Glue it on the neck and hammer in the frets. Good on you, you're done. Unless you put it in the wrong place. Then you're not done, you're going to have to get it off somehow and do it again you wally.

Step 4: Thickening the Head

Step 5: Making Checkerboard Binding

It's worth noting that the section in the picture is the only length I made, and it took two strips (one black, one cream) each long enough to bind an entire body to make enough to do maybe a third of one. Yes, that's two bodies worth of binding doing only a third. Terrible, I know. Debatable whether it's even worth the effort, since to do a whole guitar you're going to need about 6 strips of binding (maybe a seventh if you're doing white around the outside of the checkerboard as well, Rickenbacker style). After making this strip I gave up and just did a single strip of cream coloured binding on my 'Rick'.

You will need:
White/Cream binding - 3 strips, somewhere around 1.5m long each
Black binding - 3 again, same length
Plastic weld - a solvent that melts plastics together like they're one piece
Bandsaw or something - gotta cut it somehow

Right. Chop all your binding up into strips roughly 5cm long. You're going to need to stack them all together like the box labelled '1', but longer and wider. Sorry, it's the only picture I have. Now you have a stack that's about 6mm high made of blocks around 2mm thick, so you're going to have to cut it into 2mm thick strips so the pattern shows up square when installed, see '2'. These are then all stuck end to end, a la the really long bit you can see in the middle. There, you're done. Careful when installing it, it's really brittle. Use enough heat to make it really flexible before trying to bend it.

Step 6: Refinishing a Burst

Sand your guitar down back as far as you want. It's up to you. You can go to the wood, but if it's an open grained species like ash, remember you're going to have to fill it. See: my Explorer for how not to do it. Mask off everything you don't want painted (obvious, but you might be simple and I'd hate to see you ruin a perfectly good guitar).

Get your centre colour shaken up and ready. Put your guitar down on a flat surface on top of a load of newspaper so you don't go and spray your table like a wally. Give the whole thing a nice even coat. If some areas don't seem too great don't worry about it for now. Wait 15 minutes, turn it over and do the back. Wait another 15 then do the sides. Repeat until it looks proper even. As I said, if the first couple of coats aren't that even, don't just keep spraying trying to get it right. The paint'll just pool up on the surface and it'll look naff. Finish it off with a clear coat or two, then leave to dry in a room free of moisture for a day.

To burst, you'll need good aim and a steady hand, and a lack of wind. Again see: my Explorer for an example of it going wrong. The trick is to aim the centre of the spray 'cone' of paint just past the edge of the guitar. It's a waste of paint, I know, but it's the most effective way of doing it I've come across. Again don't worry about it not being even enough on the first coat, you're going to go over it in a bit. 15 minutes between coats, a day between colours.

Now repeat the first step with a clear coat. Keep on going. Loads. That's it. Now wait a couple of days and lightly sand it with some wet and dry paper graded: damn fine. Wipe the dust off and give it a final couple of coats. Repeat if not shiny enough.


*yes, I know the Rick clone isn't pictured here, but that won't be done for quite a while yet and in the intermediate time I've done two other bursted bodies*

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Bio: Guitars and booze. Pretty much sums up what I make. A booze guitar? Totally already thought of that, stop trying to steal my ideas. You ... More »
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