Building an ARCHTOP Guitar - Page 7
December 30, 2012 continued...
So today I'm able to mock up a decent idea of what this thing's gonna look like:
The neck and headstock will be bound w/b/w like the pickguard and f-holes. I plan to use a suspended
humbucker and Grover Imperial type tuners. But now I have to go order some binding cement! All that
binding and re-binding of the body used up my stash...
January 28, 2013
I've spent this month working on the neck and headstock, and I've made good progress. The neck and
headstock are now fully bound and ready to receive tuner holes and frets.
Final working-out of the neck geometry will have to wait until it arrives. Until then I suppose I'll fret
and work out some irregularities in the body profile.
The neck is still rectangular in cross section, and the heel is still a square block like on page 6. But I'm
going to leave them like that until I've finished fretting. At that point I'll work out the geometry of bridge
height/neck angle/height of heel/thickness of neck extension. Once that's done I'll cut the angle in the top
of the heel, simultaneously trimming it to the height it needs to be to get the right neck extension thickness
for the suspended humbucker. Then I'll glue the neck to the heel and start profiling the neck.
I made sure that my proposed neck/heel joint will result in proper neck alignment by attaching neck to heel
with doublesided tape and fitting the heel into the body dovetail. Then I stretched a string from the center
of the keyhole down the center of the neck to see if it aligned with the center seam of the top. And it did!
I'm stoked. That was NOT a given, considering all that has gone on with this guitar.
I did make another change in plans after I realized just how poorly the bridge I had purchased fits on its
adjusting posts (very wobbly!): I ordered a high-quality ebony bridge from Ultima Guitar. Here's the
example photo from their website:
Tuner holes are drilled and frets are in (but not dressed of course). Bridge shipped yesterday so I
should be cooking again in a couple of days.
Feburary 6, 2013
The bridge arrived yesterday, looking very much like the one above (not as shiny maybe) and was
immediately more satisfying due to the very tight and unwobbly fit of the saddle on the posts. So last night
I fit it to my top. The base was plenty thick enough to adjust to the steep curve of my top, so all is well.
So today I finally got to the point where I could determine more or less for certain the neck angle I require.
Benedetto's book (and the Les Paul plans I used way back) specify a neck angle of 4 1/2 degrees, but I
really wanted to check that for myself with the actual bridge since the geometry is affected by bridge height
(minimum and maximum) and by the required clearance at the end of the fingerboard for the pickup. In
this case, the pickup I have my eye on requires at least 5/8" between the top of the last fret and the guitar
top. So I set it up. I put the bridge approximately in place (the exact placement won't be known until it's
finished and strung up) and adjusted it up a little (to give me some wiggle room on the downside). I placed
a 5/8" tall scrap at the point where the fretboard ends. Then I placed a straight edge across them...
Feburary 9, 2013
Using a miter gauge on my tablesaw I cut a couple of wedges of different angles: 4 degrees and 41/2
degrees. These I laid on the heel block -- whose top is 90 degrees from the edge of the body and thus
nominal 0 degrees -- to see which one matched the angle of the straight edge. And the one that matched
was, you guessed it, 4 1/2 degrees. So that's half the battle done. I'll angle the top of the heel block to 4
The other half of the battle is how tall should the fingerboard be relative to the guitar top? I've said that
I want the top of the last fret to be at least 5/8" above the guitar top, but how do I achieve that? My
heel-less neck is way more than 5/8" thick...
In fact it's just at 1 1/16" or 25mm (give or take a 32nd or 1/2 mm). What I need to do is, referring to my
straight edge above, determine how tall the fretboard needs to be at the body join, that is, at the heel, to
arrive at a height of 5/8" at the last fret.
And I can find that out by measuring the
distance from the top of the heel block to
the straightedge at the point it joins the
body. It's just about 21mm. So, to get the
overall height of heel + neck (from bottom
of the dovetail mortise to the top of the
frets) correct, I'll remove 5mm from the
top of the heel block (measured at the
shoulder) when I angle its top surface 4
1/2 degrees. That should give me (I hope)
a shade over 5/8" at the fretboard end.
That means I will have to extend the 'heel'
up into the 'neck' after it's glued up. That
will go along with relieving/profiling the
neck extension to fit the contour of the
top. I'll have to feel that out as I go. But
Paul of course has experience with this and
he can give me some tips.
Once that's done I can glue heel to neck
and then I can get down to some serious
February 12, 2013
Making some forward progress. I got held up because I needed to make a new zero-clearance insert for my
tablesaw to cut the 4 1/2 degree angle in the heel. So I did that and carefully cut down to the mark I had made on
the shoulder, removing about 5mm from the top of the heel at the shoulder.
The brown on the dovetail is veneer. Hey, everybody does it.
Now, building the neck this way (neck and heel separate up to this point), you have to be VERY careful
when you glue them together that they stay exactly aligned like you want them when you glue them up and
clamp them together, because gluey wood tends to slide, don't you know. So what I planned to do was
follow a suggestion of Paul's, to wit: firmly tape the heel and neck together just like they need to be. Drill
two nail-sized holes (through a fret slot) through the neck and into the heel. That way I could use nails to
lock them in place while gluing/clamping, then pull the nails when the glue was set. The fret would then go
in and cover the holes, and Bob's your uncle. Well of course, this didn't work out the way I had planned. I
made two mistakes. First, I taped everything up and drilled my holes through the fret slot before I had
angled the top of the heel. So when I cut 5 to 7mm off the top of the heel, the holes were likely to
disappear. I could have just redrilled through the neck into the heel except for mistake number two: I went
ahead and blithely put the fret in over the holes. So I had holes on the bottom of the neck but no way to
get nails in them from the top.
I was worried about that, and thought about pulling that fret out, but I didn't. Everything worked out OK
because first, angling the heel didn't completely obliterate the nail holes and I was able to enhance them with
an awl, and second, I had the idea of epoxying nail points into the holes in the neck. I cut off just 3/8" or
so of the nail point and stuck them backwards into the holes using epoxy to hold them and tapped them
down until just the points were showing:
After the epoxy set it was a snap to glue up the heel to the neck. This felt really good, real progress
being made tonight! A little wedge to make the clamp square...
(I clumsily dimmed the busy background.) The fretboard is resting on a v-shaped cradle that I made of
MDF and relieved for the frets. This way I can safely clamp down the neck and work on it. Once I
made the cradle I made a holder for it that allows me to clamp the headstock down securely and really
go to town with neck profiling:
I covered the headstock block with naugahyde to reduce marking, and I put a bar on the bottom that
goes in the clamp, so this whole assembly will stand proud, giving me plenty of room for neck carving.
The MDF cradle slides out, so this jig is theoretically usable with multiple scale lengths... all I'd need to
do is make another cradle. (As long as the headstock angle is the same!)
So now, essentially all that's left is neck carving and fret dressing. Then of course will come finish prep
and finishing, and then electronics and setup. But I can almost see the end of the road from here... at
least I can hear the crowds at the finish line!
April 2, 2013
Another sad tale of woe, and another demonstration of how hard it is to do good work when you try to just
snatch a few minutes here and there to run out to the shop. I decided, since I had a bit of spare time, that I
would go ahead and trim the heel flush with the edges of the neck. No prob right? It needs to be flush
with the sides anyway, right? Of course it does. So I set my neck on the holder above and used the
tablesaw to do just that. Only... I completely neglected, in that moment, to check or mark where the heel
meets the cutaway. My neck-holding arrangement strayed a bit from square, and, well, just look:
The left side of the image is the inside of the cutaway. The right side is the heel block and of
course that's the neck/neck extension along the top. The vertical seam in the middle should be
nice and flush between the side and the heel.
So now I'm going to have to a) make and fit a new heel, which means making a new dovetail
tenon to fit the neck mortise, b) cut the existing heel off the neck (through the nail points)
hopefully nice and flushly and flatly so that I can c) reattach the new heel to the neck and try,
May 27, 2013
So it looks like that mistake cost me about fourteen weeks. Not that it took that long, really, to cut
off the heel and make a new one, but as usual after a grievous error it took a while for me to
recover my psychic energy! I'm now back at the point I was at on February 12, getting ready to
cut the 4 1/2 degree slope on the top of my new heel block. I made this block a bit longer
(front-to-back), so I can't cut the angle this time by tilting my tablesaw blade, so I made up this
quick jig. The brace is glued 85.5 degrees from the edge. I'll use double-sided tape (and maybe a
screw) to secure the heel when I make the cut.
...later: That worked really well. I put a screw in from the bottom of the sled to eliminate the
possibility of it sliding around and it went fine.
Sorry, no pictures of cutting the old heel off the neck. I
used the table saw with my neck-shaping jig holding the
back of the neck square to the blade. It worked ok, but
required some cleanup with hand planes & scrapers. So
after cutting the angle in this new heel I attached it to the
neck with doublesided tape and then fit the assembly to
the body to check that everything lined up ok. There are
three 'lining up' dimensions: pitch, roll, and yaw. Pitch
is the neck angle, which is what all this (right) was about.
Yaw is side to side, making sure that the neck points straight down the center seam of the body. I I can
easily adjust for that when gluing the heel to the neck. Roll, however, is where I was off. Evidently
when I cleaned up the neck after cutting off the old heel, I got it a bit out of square, so when I dry
assembled the neck I got this alignment of frets and bridge:
That's exaggerated, but basically accurate. It's within the tolerance of the bridge adjustment, but I don't
like it. So now I'm going to angle the top of the heel in the other direction to correct it. This time it can
be done by angling the table saw blade but now I need to figure out a jig to account for the 4.5 degree