Introduction: Custom Bass Guitar With Recycled Neck
So, dear reader, here we are again with another homemade stringed instrument build from the house of Tentacles.
It's been 4 years since I built my ukulele, so another big project is long overdue.
I haven't been lazy, no I've been busy with the two young Tentacles, moving house, life in general and I've been playing a lot of music.
This last reason prompted this build as I currently have one working bass and although it's never happened, I need a spare in case of string breaks on stage etc. My other bass is a cheap Encore precision which I got in 1991. It needs refretting, all the machine heads are wobbly and the electrics are shot. I recently rewired it to remove the faulty volume pot and repurposed the tone as volume.
Don't get me wrong, I love that guitar and we've been through a lot together and I would recommend Encore precision basses all day long.
But this old Encore is a total basket case, and it's time to move on.
What I learned from the uke build was that building a neck from scratch can be difficult and very easy to make a right mess of. For this build I'll be recycling an old neck and hardware from donor guitars and building a new body.
This instructable is/was written as I progress through the build. I will/did include all the mistakes I made so we can all learn from them. It's a bit long winded, but we've all read instructions with a simple statement "simply obfuscate the overhead manifold sprocket to thrumble the helicone", and wondered what in the wide world of sports it means. I hope by explaining how I reached a point that anyone will be able to follow what I'm up to.
So, shall we?
Step 1: Donor Guitars
My criteria for a donor was that it had to be reasonably priced so I wouldn't have too many regrets in butchering it; it had to have a good, straight neck; I would prefer not to have a Fender style head but a 2 left 2 right set up; and a decent enough brand that I could be confident in quality. The adverts I was hunting out were for older, entry level Ibanez, Yamaha, Cort etc. Maybe with damaged bodies, probably unused and forgotten fads but not left lying in a barn and getting wet.
After a couple of weeks on ebay and gumtree, I found what I was looking for: a 1997 Ibanez SR300 with a good neck for the right price. I could see from the pictures on Ebay that the bridge was patchy and reviews on line mentioned the electrics in these models were second rate, so I preemptively bought a set of Seymour Duncan quarter pounder 3s, a 0.47uf orange drop cap, new 500k linear pots and a new high mass bridge. I also bought chicken head knobs because I think they are just super cool.
The guitar arrived and other than the paint being carved up (a previous owner had scored a line through the paint all around the middle. Very odd), so instead of butchering it right away I stripped it back, oiled it and used the new Seymour Duncan pickups, new pots and hardware to upgrade it. Man, I like this guitar, so I decided to keep it for a bit as my spare.
So, adapt and survive. The new plan is to find a second donor which I will use to build the new guitar, then swap the electrics from the Ibanez at the last minute. Meaning I get to build and I always have a spare available!
So, back on the Bay and after another couple of weeks I found a second donor: another Ibanez SR for the same price.
Are they always so cheap? It seems a lot of guitar for the money.
The photos are of the Ibanez as bought and then stripped and rebuilt.
Build cost so far: 1 x Ibanez donor £50.00
Step 2: Body Design
I had a rough idea what I wanted the body to look like: the asymmetry of a jazz bass, the curved top horn of a Rickenbacker and the short stubby bottom horn of a Warwick. Frankenbass, you might say.
I took the body of the Ibanez and drew around it on paper as this size and geometry works and I know the hardware will fit with the pre determined 34" scale of the donor.
I then sketched the shape I wanted on the tracing and measured the bridge position.
The guitar will be a passive jazz precision set up with two volumes and one tone. The knob positions were defined by moving three cherry tomatoes around until they looked right. I like the reverse curve and it suits the asymmetry of the body.
Cherry tomatoes, the luthier's favourite tool.
Learning from the uke, simply gluing a paper template to the wood is not good enough and I want this to be a good finish as it could replace my Fender as my main guitar.
So a proper template is in order...
Cost: homegrown tomatoes £0.00
Total so far £50.00
Step 3: Donor Guitars Part 2
Today I picked up the second Ibanez, and it is a Gio SR200 which all Ibanez aficionados know is slightly different to an SR300 made 12 years previously. This model is apparently active, with a Phat II gizmo which on this bass seems to mean it sounds weak and farty unless the Phat is on, when it sounds OK but not a patch on the passive SDS in the other one. The bridge pickup gives an impression of what it could do, if only it could be bothered and the neck pickup is actually pretty decent and not too muddy.
The neck is different, too. The 300 has a three piece maple neck laminated longitudinally and the 200 has a 2 piece maple with a scarf joint at about the 3rd fret. It's 4mm wider at the nut and has a square heel, unlike the 300 which has an angled heel. It also has two fewer frets. Generally the 300 is a superior machine apart from the body, which is agathis whereas the 200 is apparently poplar. It's heavier, for sure.
The history of this 200 is unknown but it's in good condition except for the electrics. The pots seem to have loosened and flop about and the dreadful phat control has to go. The knobs are really plasticky, too.
The bridge is good, the tuners are really good and it came with a ernie ball musicman gig bag.
Unlike its older stablemate it wasn't well set up when I got it. The action was shocking and the neck relief was just terrible. There was also a fair amount of buzzing at the high end. So, I spent a good couple of hours on it making sure I hadn't bought a pup. The strings came off and I levelled the frets as per the method in the electric uke, which showed that fret 17 was a bit high. I then went and fully set it up, adjusted the bridge and truss rod until it was normal. Now it has a 0.8mm relief at the 8th fret and is a joy to play.
So, on balance I think the 200 is the donor. I can't use it to gig due to the electrics and the square neck heel will be an easier build for a novice. Also, I used the 300 at rehearsal and in my opinion it is far superior to my Fender Jazz in tone and playability. I cannot believe the majesty of that cheap old axe! With the expensive pickups.
Step 4: Routing Template
Learning from experience, I have decided to use a template to rout the body. Last time I used a jigsaw and files which took an age. This time I'll rough the shape with the jigsaw and use the template to rout it square. I'll use the router to radius the corners, too.
I cut out the paper template and traced it onto 6mm MDF then broke out the jigsaw and roughly cut the template out. Some of the corners were quite tight, so I steered well outside of the line. This left me a fair amount to trim off by hand, but sometimes hand tools are just the job.
Once it was roughed I used a flat and half round rasp to bring it to the correct shape before taking off any rough spots with a flat and half round file. I gave a sand with 80 grit, then felt around the perimeter for flat spots or bumps. I find this easier to do with my eyes closed. Any spots were rounded off with paper, then I went over the edges with 120 and 240 grit and took off any fluff. A last check to make sure the edges are perpendicular to the face and another fingertip survey and the template is finished.
I laid it out with the neck and a couple of bits of chrome ware to check it will all fit and looks OK in 3D, and I'm pleased with how it looks.
Cost: MDF £4.00 or so
Total cost £54.00
Step 5: Wood
A few years ago, I built an electric ukulele and I still have the spare wood in the garage, so this is my starting point. I have a metre or so of 50mmx60mm black walnut and a big old slab of sapele. I bought some maple strips, 15mm thick and I'll laminate them together for the body.
Laid out in order with the neck in place illustrated a problem, potentially. The walnut and the neck are similar widths, and when I rout the neck pocket, this could result in a tiny skim of walnut around the neck which might be a weak spot.
If I rearrange them and add more walnut and maple, this removes that problem and it also reduces the amount of sapele, thus reducing the finished weight. But, is it too clunky a design? I have three options, I'll sleep on it and evaluate.
So, I laid the options out and I think, on balance that the original alignment is still best. I glued it up and clamped it tight and I'll be back in 24 hours to see how it turned out...
Cost: Sapele and walnut in stock £0.00, maple strip £2.00
Total cost £56.00
Step 6: Hardware
While the glue is drying, let's talk about fixtures and fittings. You will recall that this was going to use the bridge, pickups and electrics currently in the other Ibanez. You may also recall that I cannot stick to a plan, so I've decided I'll keep the SR300 as it is with the SD pickups etc and have this will be a whole new guitar.
So, I already have a Fender Jazz and a Jazz Precision Ibanez. This needs something new.... I know, Music Man bridge pick up and Jazz neck pick up. Passive electrics wired as normal, I think the GSR200 loom is probably up for it and has all linear 500K pots so that will do.
I spent a lot on the SDs, so this will need to be cheaper, so I'm going to try an Ironstone neck pickup and a Wilkinson bridge. They seem to get good reviews and I can always change them when I can justify the expense.
I'll get a new, groovy looking bridge and keep the existing tuners. Just a set of chicken heads to finish it off.
Step 7: Wood Part 2
So the clamps are off, and look at my body blank. Isn't it nice? Oh, wait a second, what's that? It's a MASSIVE gap between the top section of sapele and maple. And it's full depth.
It seems the wood isn't straight as I thought and me setting it all up in a dingy garage meant I didn't spot this when I left it to dry.
I haven't got any more wood, except old reclaimed timbers so I have to try and salvage this.
Now, I can accept many defects and cover or fill many others, but this is too big an issue.
I decided I have enough thickness in the sapele to cut it off, plane everything back and try again. I used the circular saw and cut to within 10mm of the maple. I then planed off the remaining sapele to expose the maple edge.
After planing the sapele back to flat and square, it's all glued up again so we'll see tomorrow. The joint looked good and glue squeezed out along the full length, so I'm hopeful.
This took a long time to fix. I spent ages gradually nibbling at the timber with planes, sandpaper and a flat blade to get the wood as good as it could be.
Before my next build, if I haven't got a jointer I will use the router with the straight edge guide to flatten the joint edges. If only I'd thought of that before!
Step 8: The Wood Saga Continues
OK, so this time it's looking much better. There is still a visible thickness of glue, but I think it will be OK once it's planed to thickness.
To check the design, I traced the template in chalk and I still like it. Which is probably a good thing.
As a side project, I now need to build a workbench I can use for the planing and router work. I've not got around to it since we moved house 9 months ago, so now seems a good time.
I can't start that til I get back from holiday, so I'll pick this up in a couple of weeks...
Step 9: Back From Holidays!
So, I'm back. We had a lovely time on the Isle of Wight, and now back to work.
I rough planed the back face of the guitar with a sharp number 5 plane. I think the joint looks OK on this side, it's visible if you're looking but I can live with it.
To get the body level I used a straight edge across the wood and marked where the dark areas, and therefore the raised areas were. I did this at several points along the length of the body, then joined the dots to create a contour plan which I shaded in pencil to mark it out.
When you're planing a wide board, make sure you keep checking with a straight edge and measure to make sure you don't over plane and end up with a body that is too thin. I always allow a 1-2mm tolerance when planing that I can deal with by paper or file. Your ability with a plane will govern the quality and time taken on this.
Keep your tools sharp and always plane with the grain. Always!
The front face has a long way to go yet...
Step 10: Headstock
The neck and stock on this build are from the black Ibanez donor. The only thing I'm changing is the headstock as this guitar has so little of the original donor left, I can't really call it an Ibanez. So I stripped it and Danish oiled it.
I decided to sand the headstock to avoid damage to the nut. This was an epic task with 60 grit paper - the paint was just so thick!
Following from the 60, once the paint was removed I worked up through 180, 340 and straight to 1500. Then I started on the oil.
It's the same oil as on the uke, natural Colron Danish oil. This time I did way more coats as I want to be able to buff it up after to a semi decent shine. Not gloss, but shine.
The first coat went on to the head was soaked, then I wiped off the excess and left it for about 20 minutes. Then the same again. After the third coat I left it for 4 hours, then reapplied and rubbed in with wet and dry. This helps to seal the grain and you can hear from the paper when you've sanded enough. Trust me, you'll hear the difference!
After applying the decal, I applied another few coats until it seemed more oil stopped making a differerence. This was at about 8 coats. I left it overnight to dry then gave it a buff with a soft cloth. The finish is nice and satiny with a light shine.
Cost: sandpaper and oil, in stock £0.00
Total cost: £56.00
Step 11: Cutting Out the Body
Having learned nothing from last time, I roughly cut out the body from the blank using a jigsaw. It didn't go quite to plan and I over cut the lower waist curve. Luckily not too badly, but it will require redesigning that curve to make it 10mm larger. Not a problem. I took the template and redrew the curve before reshaping with a file and sandpaper.
My advice here is: Do not imagine that a handheld jigsaw can cut tight (or even any kind of) radii without messing everything up. Seriously, don't bother. If you haven't got access to a scroll saw or band saw, then use a jigsaw to cut straight cuts and rout out the rest.
Scared of fouling up the rest of it, that's exactly what I did, all the while reminding myself I need a band saw.
Firstly I screwed the revised template to the blank. Due to the design and the stripes, there is no room for movement so secure fixings are essential. I drilled through what will be the bridge pickup volume and through the neck pocket as these holes won't matter later.
Once the body was securely clamped to the bench, I used a top trimming bit in the router to follow the template. My bit is too shallow to cut all the way through, so after the top trim, I took the template off, flipped the body over and used a bottom trimmer to follow the already routed outline.
Now it's out, the body looks great. There are a few rough patches where the router was cutting against the grain, but I'm sure these can be smoothed out in the next stage.
Step 12: Decals
All guitars need a name and a logo. Currently the neck is sporting its Ibanez livery and as I don't think there's much of the Ibanez left I'll change it.
So how do you do this? There are a few options avsiable; water slide printer paper is one, and professionally printed is another. These aren't DIY enough for me so I'm trying something else.
I found a video on YouTube explaining this method: Instead of water slide paper, the decal is printed on an ink jet printer to normal paper, transferred to clear tape by sticking it over the text and giving a really good rubbing with a spoon until the print sticks to the tape and that becomes the decal.
I had originally decided on a handwritten logo, but that was too well used, so I changed it for a 70s inspired font.
About halfway through the headstock oiling, I applied the decal and finished the oiling process.
The decal is a bit greyer than I'd like, so I won't do it this way again and next time I'll buy some proper decal paper. This will do for now though, it's quite subtle and understated.
Total cost £56.00
Step 13: Truss Rod Cover
The existing plastic truss rod cover also needs to be changed to make it fully mine. The existing one is a plastic affair, stamped Ibanez and with a cool little hinged flap so you don't have to take the whole thing off each time you want to adjust the neck.
Cool as it is, I'm sure I can live with periodic screwdriver work, so I'll be replacing it with a simple cover made from an offcut from the body. It needs to match the body to continue the theme of different woods.There's maple in the body, so a piece of walnut or sapele on the maple head will work well.
I have a nice offcut of sapele which is about 15mm thick at its widest and tapers to about 10mm. To get this to a uniform 5mm, I built a jig from some old shelf brackets I made a couple of years ago which are of equal thickness and have an upstand I can run the sole of the router over. I used the brackets as a cradle for the offcut and by stepping the rout depth, the piece can be worked to a uniform thickness.
I fixed the jig to the bench, then set up the router over the top with a normal 1/2 inch bit. I carefully worked over the length of the wood, reducing the thickness with each pass until a 5mm thick plank came out of the jig. I steered clear of the edges to preserve the brackets, hence the trough shaped result.
Using the existing cover as a guide, I drew out the shape I wanted and cut it out with a fret saw. The rest of the piece I'll leave for another build. I'll also use this method for the cavity cover later on.
Using paper, I shaped the cover to a gentle radius and thinned it to about 4mm maximum thickness. I gave it some coats of Danish oil and drilled the holes to match the existing in the headstock.
Bob's your uncle, a nice new cover!
Total cost: £56.00
Step 14: Finished Neck!
The first part of the guitar is now complete! It's had the frets leveled, the headstock sanded back to wood and oiled, a new truss rod cover fabricated and oiled and had the original serial number rubbed off the back of the head with wire wool.
The final touches were a really good lemon oil treatment to the fretboard and refitting the tuners.
Et voila! as they say in Djibouti, a shiny new guitar neck.
This is a bit of a landmark in any build, so well done for finishing the first whole section!
Now, only the body to flatten, sand, radius, sand again, rout the electrics cavities, sand again, fabricate a cavity cover, drill the bridge earth, drill the strap button fixings, rout the neck pocket, reshape and sand around the neck pocket, locate and drill the neck screws, locate and fit the bridge,sand again, oil, fit the electrics, fit the neck and string and you're there!
Best get cracking then...
Step 15: Smoothing the Body
Now the body is cut out, the next step is one of the most important of the whole build. The body needs to be as flat and smooth as possible, and this can be difficult and time consuming. To get this bit right, spend some time getting used to hand planing as it forms the bulk of the work for the front and back faces.
Choose the flatter side to start with as you use this as a solid base to flatten the front. Using the method set out in step 7, I flattened the back of the body with a number 5 plane, checking with the straight edge until it was flat and smooth. I then went over with 120 grit to take the nibs off and have a good, flat base. I then started on the front.
Using the same method, take the front face as flat as possible with the plane. I won't go into detail on how to plane as there are many websites that explain it far better than I can. What I will say is that a very fine cut setting works best and allows greater control without digging the blade in to the wood or chattering all over it. Also, keep your blades sharp.
Keeping the surface flat is essential, but the thickness needs to be uniform too. I started out by measuring the edge thickness with calipers at 50mm intervals around the body and seeing where I needed to take more off. After the initial flattening I found that the bridge end was about 1mm thicker than the top horn and the control area was about 1.5mm thicker than the top horn, so I set to planing off that area to achieve the correct thickness.
Watch out when doing this and don't rely on the straight edge alone as it doesn't give the thickness.
Eventually, and I mean eventually, I got the top as good as the back and 40mm thick all round. Well, it varies between 40mm and 40.5mm but I thought the risk of losing too much was not worth sorting out the last half mm.
Once it was flat, I went over with 80, 120, 320 and 1500 to get a lovely smooth finish. Mostly. There was a ding up near the bridge I hadn't noticed which I don't think I can sand out. So....
Step 16: Filling Gaps (and Dings)
You will recall the gap between the sapele and maple, and now I have a surface ding to fix. I tried a repair I have used on large gaps before, which is to fill the void with wood glue, then pack in sawdust and sanding waste and leave to dry. The glue dries clear and the wood dust should colour the repair. I've never tried it on anything so fine before, so this is a first.
First I deepened the gap with a stanley blade. Not much, but just to allow the fill to key with it. I then squeezed over the wood glue and worked it into the gap with the flat of the stanley blade. After that I liberally sprinkled over wood dust and worked it into the glue.
I used the same method to fill the surface ding. If I was to paint the guitar I would have just used glue as the repair will not be seen, it just needs to be flat. This will be oiled though, so it needs blending in properly.
I left the repair over night to sand off once it's all dried.
The next day the repair had hardened, so I started to sand it off. It soon became apparent that the glue/dust mix was the hardest thing in the world, so to avoid sanding undulations into the wood I used a new stanley blade to scrape the glue off. There was some discolouration to the wood, and I think I'll leave this for now and it should sort itself out in the final sand after all the body work is done.
Anyway, the repair looks pretty good, I think. There's a bit more repair at the walnut/maple joint, so again I'll deal with that at final sand.
I think the repair is good enough for oiling now.
Step 17: Smoothing the Body Part 2 - the Edges
I'll be using a router to radius the top and bottom edges. I'll use a similar radius to that of my Fender Jazz, which I'll do with a bottom bearing router bit, so the edges MUST be completely flat as any imperfections will be picked up by the guide bearing.
There is a fair bit of work to do on this bit, and it needs to be a perfect finish so it will take some time.
For the most part I was able to smooth off the rough edges with 80 grit paper, although there were a couple of really rough tear outs where the router cut against the grain. To clear these I used a combination of rasps and files before I started on the sand. You might notice a small nick in the body where my jigsawing let me down. Hopefully this will be cleaned up by the radius work.
After about 2 hours total work, the edges were lovely and flat and smooth.
Step 18: Routing the Radii
I had a choice of 1/4" or 5/8" rounding bits. I measured up against the Jazz bass, and the larger radius was the closest fit, so that's what I went with.
I wanted to be super careful about this, so I took a piece of scrap pine of similar thickness to the body and tested the depth of the cutter on both sides and give an impression of how it might look. I was happy with the result, so I tried a radius on a scrap piece of sapele to test how the cutter worked with that wood. Again, it was all good. It's worth mentioning here that I turned the RPM down to the lowest setting for this, I didn't want to risk a really high revving cut in case that contributed to tear outs.
So, this was the scariest job so far. I VERY carefully traced around the edge with the router and it came out pretty well. There was a small bodge on the top horn, but some judicious sanding fixed that. The dark areas in the pictures are friction burns rather than gouges.
In the end, the results were great. I've not sanded them further as I'll do it in the final sanding exercise.
Good work, Tentacles.
Step 19: Hardware Fitting Part 1
While the guitar was on the bench, and I was procrastinating about the neck pocket I decided to drill the pilot holes for the strap buttons, jack plug and controls.
Always use a centre punch, or a wood screw, to tap in a starter hole or your drill will skid all over the show. Choose where you want the bits and measure, mark and drill.
What with all the sanding and fettling of the body, one of the original pot locations was a bit close to the edge. I retained the inverse angle, and moved the outer pots in a shade to suit the revised outline.
I've decided to keep the template on as it is protecting the front of the guitar for the moment.
Cost: Stap buttons £2.99
Total cost: £58.99
Step 20: Neck Pocket Part One
I cannot leave it any longer, I must get on with the neck pocket. This is the most nerve wracking element of the build as it absolutely cannot go wrong. Or not too wrong on a stripey guitar. If the pocket is even slightly rotated, then the angle will be magnified at the bridge and it won't sit centrally in the walnut and will look terrible.
So, how do you do it? Well, this job needs a template. I have the neck, so I started by using a set square and drawing the fret positions down the side of the heel. I then placed the heel on a piece of paper and carefully drew around it as closely as I could. I prefer a mechanical pencil as the point is finer. I also transposed the fret positions from the heel to the paper.
Using calipers I measured the width of the neck at each fret and also measured the distance as drawn. There was a fraction of a mm difference each time, but that's to be expected. Using the paper measures, I halved them and plotted the line of best fit along the centre line.
Going back to the neck, I had previously found and marked the centre line and drew perpendicular spurs to the screw holes. I place the neck back into the paper trace lines and found that the centre lines matched up.
Happy the template was accurate, I used double sided tape and stuck it to a bit of corrugated card. Using a ruler and a craft knife (do not use scissors to cut it out as it will bend and crease) I cut out the template. Keep hold of the mandrell as you'll use this in a bit.
I offered up the template to the neck, and it fits perfectly and the centre lines still match.
So far so good.
Step 21: Locating the Neck Screws
If you have a virgin neck or a body with holes in, this bit is easier. I have a body that matches the neck, but I tested this method for reference and for the purposes of this instructable if you have a reused neck with no body for reference.
I had already marked out the lines to measure the screw hole locations, so I transposed those on to the neck mandrell from the previous step. I punched the pencil through and used thin pickup screws to locate the template on the heel. Again, it matched up. I took it off, clearly marked it "TOP" on the upper face and got on with something else.
Later, I used the body to check my work and confirm this method works suitably accurately. You will remember I marked the template "TOP", but unfortunately I didn't remember and put it in the neck pocket upside down. By screwing the neck screws through the template, this should line up with the marked holes, or, if you do this first, you'll simply punch through the cardboard at the correct locations.
Needless to say, mine didn't work. Once I realised my mistake, I flipped it over and tried again, and my initial holes were bang on.
So, this method works and provided you measure accurately enough, you can locate the screw holes without a body for reference.
The neck pocket gets a step closer...
Step 22: Control Cavity and Cover (or Further Procrastination)
Delaying the inevitable is an honourable pursuit.
Using the cavity from the donor body I measured the rout depth and wood thickness around the edge. I also took note of how the plastic cover fits.
I will be using a wood cover and I need to make a series of templates for this:
1. Cavity template an outy I'll rout inside of
2. Cover template, an inny I'll rout around to form the cover itself
3. Cover slot, an outy to match the cover that will form the step the cover sits upon
Using the MDF body template I sketched out a cavity that should work. You must be careful to make sure you don't clash with where the pickups will go later. I placed some 24mm pots in the correct locations so I could see I have clearance. I transferred that sketch to paper, then traced around that with a 5mm offset for the cover template. I then cut both out of corrugated card as before. This time scissors are fine, and easier as the templates are both eliptical and easier with scissors.
Also make sure you account for the screw mounting positions as they require slight promontories into the cavity. I'm thinking of magnets, but more on that later.
The cover will be sapele to blend in with the body, so I need to select a piece with similar grain patterns and orientation to the guitar body.
Having approximately smoothed the sapele cover to thickness - it's a couple of mm too thick to account for sanding later - I transferred the card template to the wood and cut it out with a fret saw. To smooth it, I used a block plane on its side passed over the edge of the wood resting on a block of scrap wood. This keeps the planed edge off the table and well within the plane's blade width. As the block plane is square bottomed, this gives a nice square edge to the wood which would otherwise be rounded off with sanding.
Step 23: Control Cavity Part 2
Using the cover as my guide, I cut out an MDF outer template to rout the cover void on the body. The plan is to route the full footprint of the cover to 3mm depth, then rout out the inside cavity within the footprint, reserving about 3mm of material all round to sit the cover.
The MDF template was a pain, and at the end I wasn't happy with the quality of the result; the two pieces weren't snug enough and would have looked wonky. So, instead of making another template I opted instead to hand carve the cover void.
Once I sited the cover on the back of the body, I used a stanley knife to trace around the edge as tight as possible. The purpose of this is to cut the wood fibres, so when the chisel gets involved, it reduces breakout. It works a treat. After the outline was cut I went at the edge of the void with a newly sharpened 1/2" blade.
I opted to rout the cover slot, but lacking a decent template, I thought this method would give a nice, crisp edge I could rout up to.
Having hacked out the edge 10mm or so to depth, I got the router with a 1/2" bit and carefully routed in 1mm depths to the full 3mm around the inside of the slot. When finished, I did a bit of high risk tidying up with the router freehand and the result was a perfectly square slot a little bigger than the cover. Hmm. I'll have to see how it turns out, I can always make another cover.
The next stage was carefully routing the cavity to full depth, which I did in 2mm thicknesses until the cavity was deep enough to fit the flush trimmer, when I cleaned up the edges to a nice, straight rout. I free handed the screw locations, which are a bit crap. I may have to make do with fewer locations and trim out the worst of them.
I spent a bit more time tidying up the edges of the cover to give a uniform gap all round. It's larger than I'd have liked, but it might be OK. As before, I can always make another one later. Instead of having the cover completely flush with the body, I'll sand it to a slightly domed shape. If it doesn't work, I'll plane it flat instead.
To hold the cover closed, I opted for tiny magnets instead of screws. I bought a pack of 4mm diameter neodymium magnets of the Bay and mounted 1 into each of 4 holes drilled into the cavity lugs where one would traditionally find screw holes with superglue. To locate the correct corresponding location's on the cover I dabbed red ink onto the body magnets and placed the cover over. Lifting the cover revealed transferred ink in the correct locations. I drilled shallow holes and glued in the cover magnets. To make sure they were the right way round I first stuck them to the body magnets which revealed the correct orientation. Getting this wrong means the cover won't stick.
Cost of magnets: £1.29
Total cost: £60.28
Step 24: Neck Pocket Rout
Taking the cardboard template, I double sided taped it to a piece of MDF, and then cut it out. The card was stiff enough for the flush trimmer, so I used the router to finish the edges. Once complete. I offered it up to the neck to check snugness.
I stuck the template to the body, using the marked centre lines to locate it. Have I mentioned this is the single worst part of the build? There is so much potential to mess it up so you have to be super careful before you start cutting.
To check the alignment, I hammered a nail on the centre line where the bridge will be. I tied a string to it, and pulled it out over the neck which was sat in the template and supported. By stringing along the centre of the body and the fret markers, the neck can be centred. Once happy, I checked the template was secure and got the router out. I used a 10mm flush trimmer and very slowly took it down to depth. I checked alignment all the way through until it was finished, and I could have a beer to celebrate.
Step 25: Fitting the Neck
So, the pocket routed and the beer drunk I moved on to fitting the neck. Using my screw template from earlier I marked out the screw holes and drilled through the pilot holes with a 2mm bit. Drilling from the pocket side while the body is firmly on the bench gives minimal breakout, which will not be a problem once the ferrules are drilled.
Flipping the body over I got ready for the ferrules. These were donated from the black Ibanez and using my trusty calliper I measured them at 14mm diamter and 5mm depth. This was the first chance to use my new forstner drill bit. For those who don't know, a forstner bit gives a wide, flat bottomed hole and is perfect for this job. The first three I drilled with the battery drill, but the battery died and I switched to the mains drill. How I underestimated the torque difference! This resulted in a much deeper cavity than I had planned which was also a bit ragged around the edge, but fear not, dear reader, I used a spare washer as a shim and all four ferrules fit perfectly and the roughness will be sanded good. Using a drill slightly bigger than the thread diameter, I drilled through the pilot holes and offered up the neck. To my relief and joy it fitted perfectly and the screws were in the correct locations.
Cost: neck screws and ferrules donated from black Ibanez £0.00
Total cost: £60.28
Step 26: Locating the Bridge
To position the bridge I installed the E and G strings through the bridge and wound them on to their respective machine heads. I then slid the bridge around the 34 inch line until the strings looked about equal on the fretboard. Holding the bridge in place, I marked the screw holes, checked the location again and got ready to drill.
The bridge screwed in place, I strung the guitar for its first play. To my delight it worked!
Cost: New high mass bridge: £16.00
Total cost: £76.28
Step 27: Locating and Routing the Pickups
To locate the pickups I turned to Google to find the pickup distances from the nut. It turns out to be a multiferous choice, and both pickups cannot be placed at their standard locations together as they clash. I opted to put the MM close to the standard 29 inches and shifted the precision pickup toward the neck by the thickness of one of the coils. The exact distances from the nut to the centreline of the pickups are:
Neck pickup: 695mm
Bridge pickup: 765mm
To orient the pickups under the strings I slacked off the strings and slid the pickups underneath, aligning the pole pieces with the strings and traced around them onto the body. I then stripped the body down ready for routing.
Now it became challenging. This guitar won't have a scratchplate and the pickup cavities must be right. Going back to the caliper I measured up the dimensions of the pickups and the mounting lugs. I don't have a template and for this simple rout I decided that I could achieve the same result by drilling the corners with a 6mm bit for the MM pickup and a 4mm bit for the precision pickup. I used the 14mm forstner bit for the lugs. The MM lugs were centred on the edge of the main body and the for the precision I offset the drill 3mm in from edge. Once the corners and lugs were drilled, the cavities were routed by first hogging out the bulk of the wood with a large forstner bit before routing with a top bearing trimmer against a straight wood batten between the corner holes. I took the pickup cavities to 15mm depth.
This was not the best method of doing this job. I have decided that before my next build I will fabricate a series of templates to avoid this kind of ridiculous shenanigans.
As usual I managed to just about avoid disaster and the edges are a bit ragged, but this should get cleaned up in the final body sanding.
I made the hole for the precision pickup wires though to the MM cavity by drilling from each side to meet in the middle. The size of the drill prevents a horizontal drill, so this will have to do. I used the same technique to drill the cable run between the MM pickup and the control cavity. I found that poking the bundle of cables through was tricky, so I pushed a single wire through and taped the pickup wires to it before dragging the whole lot back through.
During the drilling I was so focused on not missing the alignment and not drilling through the body I forgot to protect the top of the body from the chuck and managed to make a little ding. It's only small so I think I can probably sand it out.
Cost: Wilkinson MM Humbucker £20.50, Neck pickup was donated from black Ibanez £0.00
Total cost £96.78
Step 28: Control Cavity
OK, I'll come clean. This is a new body. Way back in step 25 I located the bridge, and found that somehow the neck when fitted was rotated ever so slightly downwards necessitating the bridge to move clockwise and away from the centreline. Normally this would be acceptable, but not on this stripey beast. I think it can be salvaged by either painting or converting to a 5 string, which will need a larger neck pocket. It's a shame to burn such a lovely looking body so I'll park it for now. The new body is made of ash and I decided for a plain wood pattern in case of another alignment mishap.
Anyway, back on topic.
The original guitar had a rear cavity cover with fancy magnet fittings. Much as I like the idea, the execution was not good enough so I opted to have a traditional front mounted cover mounted on the body. This is much easier to do and even if I properly mess it up I can easily make another cover. This will be made of 3mm wood in a contrasting grain. I really like olive wood, so we'll see later.
I used the same control layout and cavity as was on the original and drilled the bulk of the cavity with a 25mm forstner as this is a larger diameter than the pots and should allow them to sit comfortably. Once the bulk was drilled out I used a router to trim off the edges. Learning from last time I left larger lugs for the cover screws. Again, instead of a template I drew out the cavity outline onto the wood and free handed the router to match. To make it easy I dropped the speed and set the depth to 2mm to save the bit from having to work too hard and risk slipping and burning the wood. I don't know if ash is always like this, but it was a very hard wood to work and there was a lot of router burn I had to scrape off. Very tedious. I found here that a lower speed setting resulted in little or no burn at all.
When I had finished the body routing I put the whole lot together to check the pickups were in the right place, and they are!
Cost of new timber: £24.00
Total cost: £120.78
Step 29: More on the Body
This new body is the same shape as the original and was cut out using the same template. I decided on this version to shape the body a bit more and carved an angle on the top curve and a body recess on the back, like most other guitars. I did this with a block plane on the front angle and a rasp on the body recess as a plane would not fit a concave shape. Once I had shaped them enough I used my new favourite tool, a card scraper to finish them off.
If you haven't used a card scraper, get one, they are amazing. Cheap and simple to prepare they produce a fine wood finish which is often good enough for finishing without sandpaper. They produce fine shavings rather than sawdust so better for your lungs.
On this version of the body I had a bit of router tear out on the external corner of the neck pocket and had to trim back a little further than planned. This meant that the neck screws didn't all fit in the original positions. To get around this I filled the holes in the neck by carving pegs from maple and gluing them in place. When the glue was set I put the neck in place and drilled through the holes in the body into the neck.
It's important that the holes through the body are larger than the screws so that when the screws are tightened, they pull the neck tight to the body. This might not happen as well if the screws are passing through both elements with the same thread.
Step 30: Cavity Cover Plate
So, to move things along a bit I decided to recycle the back plate from the stripey guitar and use it to make the front plate for this one rather than buy a piece of olive. It's sapele, so contrasts with the ash body and it matches the truss rod cover. It screws on so I can always make another if I don't like it.
What I have been doing in the background is building a 3D model of the guitar in autocad so I can make a full set of templates for the next build. As part of this I included the cavity plate. So, I printed it off and cut the plate from the old back plate, being careful to avoid the magnets I superglued in last time. I found that the 3mm wood deformed and the magnets didn't hold it flat against the body, so this time i'll use traditional scratchplate screws.
Once cut out, I formed a 45 degree chamfer all the way round, located and drilled the pot single holes and screw holes which I then countersunk. I had four scratchplate screws kicking about from the uke build, so used these to secure the plate in place.
I completely forgot to take pictures of the unfinished plate, so you'll have to wait for the final reveal...
Cost of screws: £0.00
Total cost: £120.78
Step 31: Final Body Fittings
Before I rounded over the corners, I marked off the locations of the jack plug and strap buttons. I drilled a 2mm guide hole for all three, then used the correct size for the fittings. The strap buttons were as you'd expect, so nothing to say about that, really.
The jack is a barrel jack salvaged from the donor. This has a 12mm threaded shaft which is held in place by a retaining nut in the cavity. I was going to recess the flange of the barrel jack into the body but my ever growing collection of forstner bits doesn't yet have an 18mm, so maybe next time. I used a 12mm spade bit to bore through the side wall into the cavity. The flange sits flush of the side of the body and looks pretty tidy. I had to take the cavity rout down another 2mm at the jack to be able to fit the retaining nut.
While I was routing, I cut a channel across the MM cavity to tuck the precision pickup wires away.
Step 32: Final Body Preparation
I love wood grain, and it's far easier to finish a natural body than paint it. So as usual I went for Danish oil. I applied it in four coats but this time I was much more liberal in my application and poured it over rather than wiped it on. I gave a wire wool rub down over the third wet coat and left it 24 hours after the final layer.
I don't know if it was the application or the cold (I did it in an unheated garage and it's been about 4 degrees C this last week), but the finished work was too glossy and had an almost crystalline finish in places. This is not what I wanted so I went over the whole thing with wire wool and buffed it with paper towel and I think the end result is about right.
We're into the final part now - putting it all together!
Step 33: Electrics and Soldering
The guitar has two pickups which I wired using a standard jazz bass set up. I prefer the variable blend option that two volume controls give rather than a 3 way switch. There are dozens of wiring diagrams online, so I Googled 'jazz bass wiring' and went from there.
The wiring loom is salvaged from the black Ibanez and is all 500k linear pots. I personally prefer the gradual control of a linear pot as opposed to the nothing-nothing-loads variability of a log pot.
It was tricky getting all the wires through the various tunnels I'd drilled as most of them were drill diagonally from two sides and are therfore kind of V shaped. And too narrow so it was a squeeze. I ended up getting a spare thin wire through so it hangs out at both ends, then tape the pickup wires to it in a line, then pull the whole lot back through. I think a bigger drill next time!
Actually mounting the pickups was a chore as the mounting screws are waaaaay too long, so I nipped off the last 10 or 15mm with pliers and in they went. I used springs over the screws for adjustment.
So a bit of soldering, and a quick pug in to the amp confirmed all the electrics had survived! It's getting close...
Step 34: Final Assembly and Setup
So, here we are. This has been an eventful and interesting build and I am very pleased with the result. The last step was to put it all together and plug it in. The ash body is 45mm thick, thicker than the donor or the stripey beast and the old neck screws were too short. I bought longer neck screws and matching chrome ferrules, which are much cleaner looking than the old black ones.
After proper set up, the neck relief is well under 1mm and the action 2.4mm. It plays well and the bridge pickup sounds great. Sadly the donated neck pickup is too low output and cannot compete so the next job is to replace it with a new one.
However, so far so good. I'll give it a proper test at next rehearsal and it may even take over as my main guitar.
So, thanks for reading this far and I hope my various misadventures will give guidance on how to definitely not do things!
Cost of neck screws: £2.00
Cost of ferrules: £4.39
Total cost: £127.17