|Building my 2nd
Acoustic Guitar - Page 7
August 16, 2008
I had only rough-shaped the neck before fitting the mortise and tenon. I suppose I didn't want to risk
damaging the finished neck while working on the tenon. Anyway, now I turned my attention to the rest
of the neck.
I rethought what I said before about when I would glue on the fretboard. There are no real rules about
the order in which you do these main steps of attaching neck to body and fretboard to neck. The main
considerations as I see them are: if the neck is attached to the body before the fretboard is attached to the
neck, then you can align the fretboard to the body and then shape the neck to match; but if the fretboard
is attached to the neck first and the neck shaped, then you don't have the problem of working around the
body when shaping the neck and/or fretting. I chose the second option. That I guess is really why I did
the tenon first, to make sure the neck was aligned properly because once the fretboard is on it's really
difficult to adjust the alignment.
First then I had to prepare the fretboard. I had started out using a nice black ebony fretboard that I
bought at the ASIA conference a couple of years ago (that you saw in earlier photos) but I screwup alert
ruined it by not using a saw guide when I cut the fret slots and they wandered to the right as I cut
downwards. That would have made the slots -- and therefore the frets -- curved when I radiused the
fretboard, so I discarded that fretboard and bought a radiused and slotted board from LMI -- the one in
the 'It's coming together' photo on the last page. Kind of out-there looking with that two tone and the
black streak isn't it? Instantly takes this guitar from 'conservative and traditional' to 'modern and slightly
edgy' I think. Although you may say the homemade lacewood rosette did that already....
So the first job was to profile (taper) the new fretboard. For this task I abandoned the plan and sought a
neck width and string spacing that would be comfortable to me. I measured each of my guitars at the nut
and at the 12th fret and figured out dimensions that I liked. I also figured the net differences between
neck width and string spacing to find a good 'outside the strings' width. The dimensions I used were (in
Nut 12th Bridge
Neck Width 43 52
String Spread 37 44 52
I glued in the marker dots -- use a brad-point drill the same diameter as your dots and just a little dab of
glue -- and I used my tablesaw to taper the board. Once that was done I used double-sided tape to hold
the fretboard to the neck in the right spot and did the final neck shaping with the fretboard in place. That
way I had the best of both worlds... I could get the neck/fretboard fit just right and then install the frets
on a flat surface... and not have to worry about the body getting in the way or how to properly support
the neck during fretting. To support the neck for final shaping and allow good access for filing and
sanding, I taped the fretboard/neck assembly to a couple of narrow scrap pieces (for clearance) and then
clamped the scrap to the moveable jaw of my vise. That gave me plenty of room to work.
This is really the most fun part of the whole busines. The rest of the guitar is somehow 'building' while shaping
the neck is definitely sculpture. The rough work of bandsaw and spokeshave becomes the hand-work of the rasp
which gives way to the subtlety of file and sandpaper. Here's where being a guitar player really helps. Your hand
(if you've played a variety of guitars) can tell you things that measurements and templates can't convey. Sorry,
accidentally getting a little poetic there. Anyway, the white on the heel is a thin bit of maple I put on so that I can
get a nice black/white thing going on the heel cap. I will add the rosewood heel cap last, after fitting and shaping,
so it will cover the filing/sanding marks left from fitting the neck to the body.
Once I finished shaping (and I did a lot of shaping after the above photo), I put in a couple of brads to fix the
location of the fretboard. I cut the head off a wire brad, chucked it in a hand drill, and drilled holes through the
first and tenth fret slots into the neck, which made the marker holes. Then I carefully pried the fretboard off the
neck and removed the tape. I cut two brads in half and tapped them into the neck holes so that about 1/16 inch
protruded, and from then on I was able to relocate the bridge perfectly on the neck at any time. Some luthiers use
thicker and longer nails which they remove after glueup but I wanted to be able to do all the fretting before gluing
on the fretboard. This way I can just leave the brads in place when I glue up -- the 1/16 inch protrusion is well
below the fret tang at the point I put the brad.
Here I am ready to start fretting. I have taped the fretboard (I used double-sided tape a lot while building this
guitar) to a couple of narrow scraps to provide a secure base and keep the fretboard flat. The pieces of tape on
the fretboard surface are how I located the brads... I pressed on the fret slot and used that to guide the brad-bit. I
have rough-cut 20 frets to length using the aviation shears and stashed them in my custom fret-holder. The
end-snips are for trimming the ends of the seated frets prior to filing. The black jobbie with the radiuesed brass
insert is the caul that I mount in the drill press to press in the frets. Much more relaxing and less risky than
hammering. And you got your length of surplus fretwire.
I took this setup over to the drill press and the frets just flowed in. Seriously. This is the way to do it. Then it
was a piece of cake to bevel the fret ends. And it was a piece of cake also to glue the fretboard on. I slipped in the
truss rod and put tape over the truss rod channel while I spread the glue to maintain a buffer zone to keep glue off
the truss rod. Then I eased the fretboard over the pins and clamped it up.... but.... screwup alert I did a couple of
things wrong (quelle surprise!).
Thing one: I made the truss rod channel pretty near perfect so I figured there was no need for the little dab of
silicon caulk against the possibility of the rod rattling at certain frequencies. 'Pretty near perfect' is not the same as
perfect, though. This was the first time I had used this type of truss rod, so live and learn I guess. The other type
('bent rod') has a wooden spline that presses on it so rattle is elimiated by default.
Thing two: I didn't think through how I was going to clamp the thing. The brads prevented the float-away
problems -- which led to the ~~~ problems -- that I had on my first acoustic, but clamping around the finished
neck was problematic, as was keeping cauls firmly seated on top of the radiused frets. So I fiddled with clamping
and the glue set before I could get it 'squeezed out' properly, and the first fret was noticeably lower than the rest,
which meant I would have had to file pretty aggressively to get them leveled.
So I decided to tak the fretboard back off and try again.
Start at the heel end. Wrap the area in the t-shirt (test first to make sure it doesn't bleed into the wood), set the
iron on wool, medium steam, slap it on there, right on the frets, and go play with the dogs for a while, say ten
minutes. Repeat until you can get a sharp spatula in the joint and work the board off. Slowly, take your time.
Heat it again. And just do this up the neck, moving the iron as you go. I was about a third of the way through
when I took this photo. While I was waiting around I made a fretboard clamping caul so that I wouldn't have to
do this again. That's it just below the neck. I tilted the sawblade to cut a 'V' down the center of a piece of pine,
leaving narrow flats at the edges. Then I marked the fret positions from the neck itself and kerfed them with the
table saw. Now I have a caul that I can set right over the frets and which will bear on both sides of the fretboard
so I can clamp it good and tight (and flat!). For the bottom of the neck I bought (years ago) a block made for
just that purpose, scooped and padded with cork.
I took a break halfway through so I wouldn't fall prey to get-it-done-itis, then finished in the afternoon. I was
pleased that though I had simply pressed the frets in with no glue at all, not a single one shifted or was dislodged
during this process. Then it was an easy job to scrape the dried glue from the board and neck (easy with a good
scraper... Sanding might work but it'd be more likely to alter the geometry). Afer that I reglued, putting a couple
of little dabs of caulk at the ends of the truss rod, and putting to use the caul I had made just that morning.
I had to trim an inch or two off the bottom caul, since this is a short ('12 fret') neck. The first time I glued on the
fretboard it was too long and I ended up with dents in the heel and the back of the headstock, but it's a nice fit now.
And that's just about it as far as structural work goes. I have almost decided to join the neck to the body after
fiinishing is complete, so the glue bottle only gets opened again for the bridge and the dovetail joint. The next task,
then, will be determining the string geometry and bridge location (which I can do with the neck dry-fitted). The frets
are beveled, but can't be dressed until the neck is attached and everything is firmly and finally in place. So the bridge,
and after that finishing finishing finishing finishing.
P.S. After I did this glueup I was dismayed to find that the truss rod STILL rattled! I was about at my wit's end
when I tried -- wait for it -- tighening it just a bit. Ta Da! No more rattle. Duh.
January 2, 2009
Yes it has been a long time. I haven't given up on the guitar... in fact I've been sanding spraying sanding spraying
fixing sags etc.
But first, I determined the bridge location. First I marked the center line on the top by pulling a thread from the
center of the nut down the center of the fretboard to the heel of the guitar and marked that line on the top. Then I
carefully measured the distance from the nut to the center of the 12th fret and marked it on a stick. Then I
measured the same distance (using the stick) from the center of the 12th fret to the bridge location on the top and
marked it on the center line. I marked a line perpendicular to the center line at that point. Then I marked the center
of the front edge of my bridge (I had already cut the saddle slot in the bridge) and placed it on the mark. Then I
measured from the front edge of my bridge to the center of the saddle slot (at the treble end). That distance, plus a
a compensation of around 1/16 to 3/32 inch, I marked up (towards the soundhole) from my original scale length
mark on the center line. This point is where the front edge of the bridge will be, and a scored a light knife line there
that will be visible through the finish so I can place the bridge later. Then I used tape to mask the bridge area on the
top, leaving a 3/32 to 1/8 inch allowance for glue spread and for the bridge to overhang the finish (I will very slightly
bevel the bottom edges of the bridge where it overhangs the thickness of the lacquer).
Then I sanded the top (leaving the light bridge placement mark) and filled the pores. On my Les Paul and my first
acoustic I filled the mahogany with a dark brown filler. It looked ok on the LP but for some reason on Acoustic No.
1 the look just didn't -- and doesn't, but nothing to do about it now -- work for me. This time I wanted to use a
clear filler to show off the mahogany to best advantage, so I decided to use 'Z-Poxy.' This is a product sold by LMI
that's basically an epoxy glue that you use like a filler. I have to say, I'm very pleased with it, although I endorse it
with this word of caution: the catalog blurb advises "use as thin a coat as possible, and don't sand through to bare
wood." These are mutually exclusive instructions. If you use a very thin coat it's nearly impossible to avoid sanding
through. But, I found, you really don't want to sand through because once you do it's nearly impossible to make the
color even (on spruce, anyway), since the Z-poxy has a slightly amber tint. I tried sanding down the entire top and
then reapplying but still ended up with some splotchiness. So the moral is, forget the "as thin a coat as possible" and
just go with "thin." I suggest two or three thin coats before sanding. And avoid sanding through. However, it does
look great under lacquer...
Since then it's spray and sand and spray and sand, which isn't all that photogenic. I'm nearing the end of that cycle
though and should have some new pictures before long.
January 8, 2009
This is my status as of this evening. I'm mostly finished spraying laquer... One more good coat on the top and
back and the headstock (maybe two on the headstock) and I think I'll be ready to finish sand and polish. So
here's what we're looking at in this picture: before I started spraying I used tape to mask off all the the
surfaces of the neck joint. You can see the dovetail, the inside of the heel, and underside of the fretboard
masked on the neck, and the fretboard area and the mortise on the body (I know you can't really see the tape in
the mortise... jsut trust me). The sticks are my spraying grips that I attached with L brackets so that I can
hold on to them while spraying and hang the parts from them to dry. You can also see that I've masked the
sides... They are in good shape and don't really need another coat, so I'm leaving well enough alone.
I took this photo with my phone, so it's not the clearest.
February 7, 2009
This has been going on a long time -- building this guitar, I mean. It's been over a year now. A far cry from
the Les Paul I knocked out in about four months. But that was five years ago, and I was a driven man. This
one I have sort of floated along with. Anyway, it came home today from the spray shop (Paul Lloret's
shop). I have deemed the spraying complete... now come a lot of elbow grease. Many of the surfaces look
almost good enough to leave as-is, but I'll have to do one more thorough sanding of the entire instrument to
bring the lacquer thickness down a bit. There are several little depressions on the front and back, about the
size of the point of a fairly sharp crayon, and I want to cut down to their depth. I considered trying to fill
them with drops of lacquer, but it seems to me I tried that on my first acoustic and ended up with an even
bigger depression, as if the new lacquer had melted the old and sunk into it. And at this point, the laquer is
pretty thick on top. I can hardly feel the edges of the tape masking the bridge and the fretboard area, and
that's pretty hefty tape. So I won't mind taking some off.
I have yet to figure out how to take digital photos that are really sharp, so I apologize... this picture below
doesn't come close to conveying how nice the top looks. The color is deeper than this too. But it shows the
lacewood rosette pretty well.
I will do the rest of the sanding and polishing with it still in two pieces. Then I'll cut away the tape and glue the
neck on. And then will come the arduous and exacting task of setting it up. I'll find out if the neck angle is ok,
and whether the bridge that I made so carefully is the right height. I'll level and dress the frets, make the nut,
all that good stuff.
As you can see in the photo above, when I glued in the label with my signature I was pretty certain I'd be
finished in 2008. Now I'm hoping for sometime in the spring of this year. But I am psyched now. Today I
removed the newspaper and cloth I had stuffed in the soundhole to block the interior from the lacquer. It was
the first time in months that the body's been empty and I could feel its true weight and hear its tap tone. I gotta
tell ya, it sounds pretty good to me.
February 13, 2009
*Sigh* Sanded through the lacquer again. Evidently I didn't get the memo about puttting on lots of coats. Put
on lots of coats, campers.
March 7, 2009
This is the first dry and reasonable calm weekend in a month at least. Got two good coats sprayed today.
One or two more tomorrow and I'll try to finish sand again.
March 9, 2009
OK, got a good coat sprayed on yesterday and I'm about ready to bring it home (from Paul's shop, where the
spray equipment is) and start sanding/polishing again. I'm really going to try not to sand through again.
Here's the state of play:
I didn't need to respray the top. It has plenty of laquer on it and I hadn't started sanding it anyway. And I
forgot to take a photo of the bridge, which I also sprayed... c'est la vie.
So now it's polish polish polish, glue neck to body, dress the frets, attach the bridge, hack out a nut and
saddle, and set the thing up for playing.