It’s been a while since I reported the relaunch of the workshop for building – other tasks have rather overtaken the run of play. This week though, I have been back to the new prototype to make some progress.
The first port of call this week is the neck. The headstock angle was marked in the block before gluing on the fretboard and then cut and planed with the No.5 Bailey plane. Then the fretboard was glued on to the block and the basic shape cut and the headstock ‘wings’ glued.
Why use wings? Partly it’s about not using routers for neck edge shapes. I don’t like rotating blades – they quite simply scare me. In the table, the router blade is exposed. In the hand held router, the potential to slip is great. So the router gets used only as a last resort for any job. I like to cut close to the edge of the fretboard, and then plane the entire edge with the longest plane body I have. This gives a great straight edge.
That’s where I am here. It’s then a matter of gluing on the edges of the headstock which will be hidden by the headstock veneer.
With that complete, I turned to the body. The router is used to make a channel for binding with a stepped bit and follower. This is then reset to cut in at the top of the binding channel to create a 1/4″ step around most of the body which then marks the level of the edge for the carve process.
The carve is mostly achieved by hand again, as is the point of this whole process.The instrument here is a small gouge, which is largely pushed through the wood without the use of a mallet. Most of the work is across the grain, but at times I have to almost ‘feel’ which way the wood wants to work and just go with it to get the cleanest cut.
The last part of the carve was then to work in the angle towards the neck, so that the fall off at the horn is not too steep. This is similar to the construction of the Les Paul, where the maple is thickest at the bridge and runs down to the neck joint at a gentle angle, facilitating the slightly back angled joint. This is another job for the hand plane. Once the general angle is set, I can put in the neck pocket route. The final act is to sand and smooth the entire shape.
Here it is with the neck laid in as a test of the angle and depth of the cut. I used this layout to set the bridge position and route a valley for the the underside of the bridge to sit. Unlike a Les Paul, I prefer the strings to sit quite close to the body – so the neck angle and the body angle are the same, and the lie of the strings is much more Fender like in comparison to the top of the body. This then requires a little space to be made for the tunomatic bridge.
Back to the neck, it’s time for the shaping process. This is also a totally unmechanised procedure now (whereas many luthiers use sanding wheels on a grinder to remove excess material). I have done this in the past, but I don’t like wearing the necessary protective equipment!
The main part of the process is performed with the surform, a ‘cheese grater’for wood. Then the heel is cut with a straight chisel and sanded to shape. The heel will be over depth at this stage, and then planed to make an edge to the correct level.
As you can just see on the picture, the excess material for the volute is only in the central area – it isn’t wide enough for a Gibson style volute. The volute is absolutely vital on a guitar like this. Although the head angle isn’t as sharp as a Gibson (about 10° for mine as opposed to 17° for the Gibson), it is still the case that the truss rod at the headstock removes a significant amount of wood from under the fretboard, just as it transitions into the headstock. It’s an exposed weakness. So the volute is about replacing that mass, so that there is a good structure as the angle changes and the end grain is beginning to be exposed. So it doesn’t have to carry to the wings, and in this case I have carved a diamond volute with chisels. This is part finished here, It still needs sanding. Even though it’s quite large, it’s situated well behind the first fret – and unlike some 70’s Gibsons, you won’t feel it when you’re playing the guitar.
For this guitar, I have decided to go with stainless steel fretwire. It’s not particularly large, a fairly old fashioned 50’s Les Paul size. I won’t square it off though, no need to do that. Each fret is cut so that the tang is recessed from the binding and filed flush. Hopefully, with such hard fretwire it will never require a refret. And this Jascar fretwire was damned hard, filing the fret ends took an age even with the big dress file.
A mother of Pearl headstock decal was cut into the rosewood veneer with a chisel and a scalpel. This is then backfilled with a little hide glue and rosewood dust to make the job smooth.
Finishing touches now need to be made to the body – pickup and wiring routes need to be exposed and the binding fitted. As I’m not colouring this guitar at all, I opted to use a CA glue to fit a plastic binding. Although I experimented with a rosewood binding, in the end I stripped it off and changed to cream plastic as I just didn’t like the look of it. I also made rosewood pickup surrounds but I’m not sure about those either now and may just opt for cream plastic. Had I wanted to dye the top, I would have used a ‘fake’ binding edge exposing the un-dyed maple – but part of my inspiration for this guitar was a ‘Peter Frampton’ 3 pickup LP Custom that one of my customers brought in a long time ago. It’s a real rarity from the 70’s, and it had a very light flame simply coated in Nitro with no dyes or tinted lacquers. It was rather understated but incredibly classy, so I wanted to replicate that feel.
So binding on, holes drilled, pickups routed, wiring cavities and switch routes complete – it was time to glue in the neck. And this is where we are now:
Double checking the joint angle reveals a perfect lie for the strings to the bridge. A quick lay out gives a feel for the final look of the guitar.
See you next time…