Prototype build – Pt 3

Delayed post (from early August 2016). I forgot to press ‘publish!’ I should stick to wood and leave computers alone I guess….

When I left you last I had just joined neck and body and started in on the hardware. Now the guitar is almost complete, it’s time to round off on the woodwork side of the job.

Because this is a total prototype, I strung the guitar up without worrying about a proper fret dress and finish – mainly because I wasn’t sure how I would react to the balance of it in the hand and I wanted to be sure that my design parameters had been correct.

The first thing I noticed was that despite the curvature of the body, the 22nd fret was still a bit of a reach – it was still to much a Les Paul type of feel. So I took a chisel to the body and the heel and blended them together. While it’s something I had considered before, it’s had never really been necessary with my other designs – especially the 24 fret Mk1 design, because I had such good access. But the problem here was the desire to get that almost ‘strat’ like weight distribution and balance which brought in the upper bout.

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It wasn’t long before I had a completely different feel above the 17th fret, and much closer to the feel I had envisaged for the design.

Now it was a case of smoothing the joint out and making the transition work properly.

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This is with the chisel alone. Then the convex scraper came into play, and a lot of sandpaper. The end result was much more pleasing. Sometimes you have to be prepared to almost ‘make a mess’ and be confident that you can make a smooth end to the job. When you’re this close to the end then it can feel that you’re taking your life in your hands a bit!

Here’s the finished joint before the fine sanding

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This felt totally different now, so I strung it up (sans electronics) and had a good play. The dimensions of the neck are on the large side – as this is a prototype I’ll probably end up keeping it as I have with many of the others.  So I have gone with the neck dimensions of my original guitar (a bit of a club really), wide at the nut (1 13/16th”) and an inch deep.

Somehow though, it just didn’t feel the same. The old girl has this real easy feel , despite it’s size, but this wasn’t quite right. So I cut into the shoulder of the neck shape again, removing more material without removing any real depth, That made a  lot of difference, but she still felt a bit of a handful, even though the dimensions were now technically smaller than the original from which it was derived. A quick look at the fretboard edges showed much of the problem – with the binding edge they were just a little too square. So I took the fret file to the edges and rounded the fretboard edges quite heavily. Again, it was making a massive difference. The guitar suddenly had a more natural feel.

The last step was to cut the the cavity covers from some of the left over Mahogany from the body. The pot cover is made by using the template for the router hole. The totally round switch cover is turned on the lathe using a body depth off cut, then sliced off with a mixture of a parting tool on the lathe and a handsaw. the final finish depth is made with a bench sander.

So here it is in it’s almost finished state

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And the front. Here’s how it looks with a little white spirit to clean out the dust from the grain.

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So now I’m sending this out to be spray finished. It’s something I have never done before, but I think it will pay dividends in the end. I have access to guys in the custom motorcycle trade who have been friends for years and have often helped me along the way when it comes to spraying guitars. They are also experts in dealing with vintage finishes like Nitro. In all honesty, my thing is the woodwork and although I can achieve a good finish on a guitar, these guys are top pros and will do a great job in half the time – and then I can move on to the next job knowing that the finishing process is in the best hands. It’s a massive de stress for me.

So, now to order the pickups….

Touring – It’s Tough (on your guitar)

Touring can be a tough experience. Travelling from town to town, eating in fast food joints, sleeping in grotty hotels, driving all day. Then there’s your gig –  most of which will be support shows with almost no time to get on and off the stage, instruments have to be in cases almost as soon as the last note has stopped ringing to avoid them being stepped on or flight cases rolled over them.

Yes, touring can be hard on the soul, but it’s really tough on your instruments.

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Toured and then stored – an extreme example of what can go wrong!

This week I had a great Rickenbacker bass come into the workshop, but it was showing real signs of tour fatigue. Moving parts were no longer moving – rusted totally hard. The neck was so out of adjustment that Eddie the Eagle could have made use of it, the bridge pickup was held in one piece by some camouflage gaffer tape. One pickup showed no output at all. The customer brought it in with the request to just give the wiring the once over, because it’s ‘got one loose’ somewhere.

This is entirely common. Instruments deteriorate over a long period of time, and with bassists who generally only tend to play the one instrument for long periods of time, they often don’t notice as the instrument gets tired and out of shape. Playing simply adapts to the instrument, in the shape it’s in.

In this particular case, once I opened it up I found that the pickup itself was broken, and needed to be taken apart and fixed. When the player came to pick it up, I talked him into a proper service- and the result have been dramatic. I’d take this bass on the road now. It’s a stunning player.

So how do you avoid some of the problems?

First priority is to make sure your instrument is clean and dry when it goes in the case. When you get off a hot sweaty stage and by necessity throw the guitar straight into a case, you are trapping in heat and moisture. That then attacks metallic parts, and anything with a thread gets rusted. If you have to do this, get the bulk of the gear out of the venue and just find somewhere to open up the case again and clean up the instrument, a hotel room if you have one – backstage after breaking down if you can.

That alone will remove half the problems I tend to see. Secondly, take Vaseline on tour with you. If you feel comfortable setting up a guitar, look at the moving parts such as bridge saddles. Put a little Vaseline in the threads – it will help to keep moisture out, and therefore rust. You can do it during a string change, and it doesn’t take long. Even if you don’t want to take screws out for fear of upsetting the setup, you can put a little into the hex head to stop it getting rotten and decaying, and in the visible thread which will stop moisture working its way in. You don’t need a lot.

Servisol 10 (or an equivalent). Switch cleaner will get you our of jail quick when it comes to crackly jack sockets, pots or switches. Spray a little in and work the item to clean the surface. It’s usually just smoke, sweat and dust. It’s rarely a permanent repair once the surface of a switch or socket starts to decay, but as a temporary measure it will probably get you out of a fix.

NEVER USE WD40 anywhere on a guitar or amp!!!

Tour repairs – we know they have to be made, and we know that it’s often difficult to find a local luthier to do them. So if you have to make a temporary repair, especially to a moving part, be careful. So for example, avoid using copious amounts of superglue, because you’ll have to remove it later and it’s pain in the arse. If you have to use more than a dab of superglue, then it’s the wrong tool. Double sided sticky tape is ok, but use sparingly. These usually get used to repair pickups, and especially loose covers which cause feedback.

Strap pins pull out regularly. How many guitars do I see with a strap duct taped to the the body. Don’t do it, ever. Get a box of matches and shove several of them into the hole and screw the strap pin back in. Your Luthier will then remove those and put a hardwood plug back in the space later for a permanent repair.

Post tour servicing.

Post tour servicing is actually more useful than pre tour servicing, if you’re on a tight budget. When you first tour, you want your instrument to absolutely in top condition when you first go out, and that’s cool. But then it comes back off the tour or a long run of gigs and sits until the next tour, when the process starts again.

That’s a bad move. It’s taken a battering, which it doesn’t take in the studio or in rehearsal. Get the guitar stripped down, cleaned and set up again as soon as the tour ends, and you stop the rot there. The chances are that you will avoid worse decay by getting things sorted quickly at the end of a tour, and actually save yourself time and probably money too.

Happy Touring folks.