Building an ARCHTOP Guitar - Page 6
October 7, 2012
Now I feel as though I have some momentum I'm moving right along. Last night I laminated up some curly
maple to make my neck block and today I cut the body mortise and the dovetail and got a good ways along
towards getting the neck block fitted.
To do the mortise, first I carefully laid it out in pencil and knife scores on the body. Then I placed the body
between the clamping cauls and clamped the assembly in my shoulder vise so I could attack it from the
proper angle. I trimmed the top caul back so to give me good access to the mortise area. Then I used a
handsaw to start out/define the sides of the mortise, and I carefully used my router to hog out most of the
waste. From there it was chisel work.
Meanwhile, I laminated up a block of maple to serve as the heel and used the table saw to cut the
dovetail. Then it was trial and error fitting it to the mortise:
Eventually I'll cut the proper angle into the top of the neck block and glue it to the neck, but there's lots
of neck-work before I'm ready for that...
October 30, 2012
My apologies... I have been working and making progress, but not keeping up with documentation here.
To summarize: after I scarf-jointed the headstock, I ...
- Cut the slot for the truss rod. I used my table saw, using the Cut & Bump method until the fit
was perfect, then I epoxied the truss rod in per instructions. I'm using a "Martin style" rod,
which is a big sturdy thing.
- Glued 'ears' to the headstock to achieve sufficient width.
- Used a Safe-T-Plane in my drill press to thin down the headstock from the back.
- Created a fingerboard stop so the headstock binding will meet the neck binding properly.
- Laminated walnut burl to a pau ferro headplate and then laminated this assembly to the headstock.
- Laid out the fret scale on my fretboard and inlaid the MOP blocks.
- Worked on creating the tailpiece.
Now, some detail on these and other jobs:
Here's the neck at the moment. Recall that I'm going to glue on the heel later, after binding, fretting,
etc. This is the same walnut burl veneer that I used on the pickguard -- and that I will use on the
tailpiece. I removed the truss rod nut temporarily for gluing on the headplate/veneer.
Here's a detail of the fingerboard stop. This is covered in Benedetto's book, and allows the headstock
binding to end at the nut level with the fingerboard binding.
It took me a long time to visualize this from Benedetto's explanation but then I happened to see some
inexpensive guitars that had fretboard and headstock binding and it became crystal clear to me. Here's a crude
diagram, side view of headstocks bound with (top) and without fingerboard stops...
Here's the back of the headstock after Saf-T-planing... I was concerned to leave enough wood for a
graceful transition between neck and headstock so I played it safe here. You can easily see the ears; the
transverse line intersecting the 'point' is the scarf joint line.
And here is the tailpiece in process. I have planned from the start to use walnut, to match the pickguard
and headstock, but I became a bit concerned about whether walnut has sufficient hardness for the job --
after all, Benedetto uses solid ebony. So I compromised and inlaid leftover fretboard ebony (from my
Les Paul!) into the top and bottom where the strings will bear and also where the cable nuts will bear.
The little circular holes are just test cuts to get the drilling depth right for hogging out the inlay.
And here's what the other side looks like. I applied the burl veneer after inlaying the ebony on the top.
I purchased a bridge with a bone saddle from Stewart-McDonald...
...but the built in arch is far too shallow... I made the top very arched indeed, apparently. What I plan to
try is increasing the arch in the center so as to make two feet, which I can then sand to conform to my
arch. Something like this (only the base is shown):
In the photo of the bridge you can see that I have begun working on the center arch... I put my belt
sander in my vise and carefully hollowed the center of the arch. We'll see how that goes. I may have
to end up fashioning my own base or even an entire bridge. In the meantime, I'll regale you with
another tale of screwup and anguish. This is The Tale of the Original Fretboard.
My original plan was to use an ebony fretboard with block MOP inlays, exactly like on my Les Paul
build from ten years ago. I learned then that blocks must be inlaid into an unslotted, un-radiused
board. So I proceeded by printing out scale measurements for 25.5", laying out my slots, and then
inlaying the blocks. What could go wrong? As usual, the answer is 'a good bit'. The critically bad
decision was to lay out the slots a) using the existing square end of the fingerboard blank as the nut
position, and b) measuring with my six-inch caliper. A caliper of that length of course only gets me to
the fourth or fifth fret. So after that, instead of measuring from the nut to the slot, I was forced to
measure slot to slot, which means that miniscule measuring errors are compounded. The bad part is
that I was fully aware of this, and rationalized it away with "I'll be real careful".
My layout shortcomings weren't immediately apparent though, so after scribing the slot locations I
proceeded to lay out AND INSTALL the inlays with epoxy.
After sanding them flush I decided to go ahead and cut the slots. I'm not sure why I decided on that,
because I should have radiused the board first. Cutting slots in ebony is HARD, and a radiused board
would have lots less material to remove. The five slots that I did cut took forever. But actually that
turned out to be fortunate, because it revealed just how bad my slot (and inlay) layout was.
I was using Pauls fret-slotting tool, which is like a sturdy miter box, and uses a plexiglass template and a
pin to lay out slots with great accuracy. When I began cutting the slots it quickly became apparent that
they were not going to end up where I thought, and that my inlays were not going to be centered nicely
between the frets at all. Further, it appeared that the template's 25.5" scale was not exactly the same as
the 25.5" scale I had used to lay out the board. ALSO, I had made a mistake in using the preexisting end
of the board as the nut position because that made it very difficult to register the board on the template in
the first place. So.... I decided to punt. I have now reimagined the fretboard, not as black but as a
color closer to the walnut of the accessories. And I have decided that the fanciness of the walnut burl is
all the bling this guitar will need. So the fretboard will be a medium/dark brown pau ferro, with no
ornamentation save for a small indicator at the twelfth fret. To that end I've ordered another board from
LMI, along with their slotting and radiusing service. Truly, unless you're doing block inlays, that service
is the best $18 you can spend on your project.
So the takeaway is this: when you're working on your fretboard,
- If you're not doing big inlays, buy a pre-slotted and radiused fingerboard!
- If you're using a template to cut your slots, lay them out WITH THE TEMPLATE.
- If you're not using a template, use a longer caliper (18" would be great).
- CUT the nut; don't just use the end of the fretboard blank.
- Radius the fretboard BEFORE cutting the slots.
October 31, 2012
Well, I received the new fretboard, and I don't like the color a bit. It's too light for my taste, and it's a
totally different brown than the walnut. So.... I'm now thinking I can salvage the ebony neck by filling the
slots and flipping it over. So the MOP blocks will be included in the guitar after all! I'll stick to the
only-twelfth-fret decoration though. So now I'll get to work on that, and I'll remember all the lessons I just
December 1, 2012
When I flipped over the inlaid fretboard and radiused it with sandpaper on a caul. Then I began once again
to saw the slots, but the saw was cutting VERY slowly and would have taken hours (literally) to cut a
single slot. So I spent a while pondering options (get the saw sharpened, buy another saw, try to return the
pau ferro board) and eventually bit the bullet and ordered another ebony board radiused and slotted).
Getting the fretboard out of the way will uncork the bottleneck and allow me to regain the momentum that
I've lost in the last month... I hope!
December 30, 2012
OK, I have regained some momentum. Received the new ebony fretboard, radiused and slotted. Not quite the
beautiful solid black of the first one, but perfectly ok. While I was waiting I worked on the headstock shape
and piddled about. I toyed with the idea of making a cupid's bow on the end of the fretboard and went so far
as to make a pattern to use to rout the shape. I really liked the idea but in the end it seemed like more of a pain
than the trouble was worth. Eventually I got down to cases though, and tapered the fretboard on the
tablesaw*, allowing 6mm for the binding (which will be 3mm wide). Annoyingly, in one direction the grain
obviously ran out quickly because I got a chip at nearly every fret:
To fix this I mixed up a little batch of epoxy & ebony sawdust soup and put a little dab at each chip. When
it dried I sanded and planed it flush and cleared the slots where a bit of epoxy ran in. Then I glued the
fretboard to the neck, being very careful to center it properly, to not get glue on the truss rod, and to keep
the edges of the fretboard clear of glue. I drilled through the first and 19th slots and put in nails to maintain
alignment (learned my lesson on that a couple of guitars back!) and with the neck still square clamp-up was
a breeze (except for having to do it twice because the first time I forgot to take off the masking tape
covering the truss rod!!)
Sharp-eyed readers might notice the funkiness on the edge of the headstock. What's going on there is that I
used a faceplate under the veneer; the standard-size pao ferro faceplate I bought was a bit too small for my
design, so I used maple for the bit of additional width. So that's the pao ferro you're seeing at the bottom of
the curve. Not to worry, that'll all be covered by binding. Once that had dried, I dry-placed the binding
alongside the board and marked the outer boundary in pencil. Then I carefully bandsawed the edges of the
neck to just outside that line. That'll leave nice ledges to glue the binding to.
After that was done I was able to semi-finish the headstock contours. I wanted a nice big headstock for this
This looks pretty plain as is, but I'll add a
'keyhole' like on my last two guitars. That's
kind of my trademark now I guess, so the top
edge will end up looking more like this:
I'll be binding this one, though, so I may not
use the little pearl dots. Continued...