Well it’s been an interesting winter and spring – in the proverbial ‘Chinese’ sense! A wet winter followed by a wet spring has left me bailing out the workshop more often that I’ve actually making anything in it. Added to that, the wet weather has driven the rats away from the the local water courses and, yes you guessed it – into my workshop. Yet another inconvenience that I might have been happier to avoid. Unfortunately for me, there is a ready food source nearby, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
But back to the future.
Because the workshop has been partially shut down across the winter I haven’t been taking commissions (and I’ve been turning away repair work, something that I won’t be doing in future I hope). I needed to get the workshop relaunched.
To do that, I have decided to move even more into the ‘by hand’ process and even further away from the machines that cause me so much grief. And to perfect new techniques and raise the quality of the finished product further, I needed a test bed: A new guitar. So with chisels and planes sharpened, and a new drawing made, off I went!
I jointed two halves of Honduran Mahogany. They were run through the thincknesser, but jointed by hand with a 1930’s bailey plane. I’m going to need a longer one and a bigger shooting board! The top which was one I had already jointed, was cut and the edges sanded as a template for the body shape. I opened up the necessary channels inside the mahogany for wires, removed much of the excess wood and then glued the top in place.
The next step was to sand and shape the body. A close cut was made on the band saw, then a quick spin with the bobbin sander took the worst of the saw marks out. Next the entire body was hand sanded to smooth any imperfections in the shape.
That process took a couple of hours alone, and holds a strange degree of satisfaction. Whereas before I would have used the bobbin sander with finer grades, now only the roughest work is done by the machine. This is definitely the way to go for me, however technically inefficient!
Then it was onto the fretboard. I have some Indian Rosewood, which I used the trusty old Bailey plane to shape to about 12″. Next it was slotted and cut to shape. For this project I wanted the luxury of a Les Paul, without the conformity of the design. I also wanted a different neck pickup tone s I often found my own LP just a bit lacking at the neck for me – I want something slightly brighter. So I designed around 25.5″ – a telecaster length, to get a little more string tension. That won’t make a lot of difference to the tone at the Bridge Pickup, but hopefully will lift a little more bell like quality to the neck.
The fretboard was then ready for the inlays. I haven’t done a lot of inlay work to be honest, because a lot of my designs haven’t had them- the idea to create a look which has been more stark and a little different. But this time I wanted something more traditional.
The inlays were bought (mostly) pre shaped. But the shaping was rather poor and they needed quite a bit of finishing. Then they were cut into the neck using nothing more than a scalpel blade and two very sharp chisels. That took me over 8 hours! In previous inlay work I have used a small router to remove some of the material, but this time I wanted to see if I could do the entire process by hand. I’m not sure that there’s any real point to that, but just the satisfaction!
To this, flamed sycamore binding was added, and the edges cleaned up with the finger plane.
The final step for now is to prepare the neck block and insert the truss rod and head angle. Normally, I would run the biflex truss rod so that the flat steel of the rod would rest against the fretboard. This means that it is necessary to add two small ‘steps’, one at either end of the truss rod channel allow the stays to sit. This maximises the depth of wood from the back of the truss rod channel to the back of the neck. Because this is for me, and I like a deeper neck, I went for the more traditional method normally used with single way truss rods, a capped channel. This means with the biflex that the bottom of the channel is flat, but about 1/8″ deeper. It will also put a little more pressure into the middle of the flat rod, generally inducing the rod to have more back pull if needed (though reducing the ability to push the neck forwards – which for a mahogany neck, heavier strings and a long scale length I am never likely to need).
Then the finger plane is used to remove any excess maple in the channel and bring the neck block back to level.
So that’s as far as I have got since the end of last week. I’ll post more of this one as I get further through the building process. And just as a final teaser, here’s one more picture which I took after making a final check on the string path by laying out the parts with the bridge.
See you next week, hopefully with a finished neck shape and a carved body top!