Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Four Holes in the Neck

Drilling the holes for the neck was surprisingly easy. I'll walk you through it but I won't hold your hand.

I put some double stick tape on a thick piece of paper and stuck it to the base of the neck. I cut it to the shape of the neck heel and punch holes in it where the screws go w/ a ballpoint pen:

Then I stuck it in the neck pocket and used that same pen to mark where the holes needed to be drilled:

It looks really sloppy because of all the scribbles but those were just to help me find where the holes were. It's actually square. I double checked before I drilled the holes w/ my drill press, which I've been keeping in the kitchen for maximum humorous effect:

Ha! Funniest drill press you've ever seen, I bet. It didn't come out half bad:

Not half bad at all:

The neck pocket isn't perfect though so I'm going to have either re-level the pocket or add some shims, neither of which will be too hard:

See? There's some space in there, which sucks. Big time. Feels sturdy but I'm not gonna risk leaving it like that.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Routing--Stage Four

It's perfect guitar-making weather here in Chicago and I took the opportunity to get some real work done and rout the pickup and control cavities. I was also hoping that I'd annoy the neighbors enough that they'd leave their backyard barbecues to come yell an me to knock it off, thusly giving me an excuse to rip their faces off w/ a router, but no such luck. I don't have anything against them but I just have a thing w/ routing faces. What can I say?

For the pickups, I taped the template to the mahogany and cleaned out the spots for the rout w/ a Forstner bit. Unfortunately, my drill press isn't big enough to do this sort of thing so I did it really carefully w/ a hand drill. I wrapped a bit of tape around the bit to use as a depth guide:

This trick works well enough for drilling ordinary holes but not so great w/ the Forstner bit unless you want to spend all day wrapping tape around the bit until its actually thicker than the head. I ended up pretty much just eyeballing it. It worked fine but it did make me nervous. For whatever reason, I decided to do this part inside and I have a feeling that I'm going to wallowing the strange sawdust a Forstner bit produces which looks for all the world like a big pile of pencil shavings:

There was quite a bit of cleanup to do w/ the router once I was done. As I've mentioned, the holes in the templates are jut barely big enough to squeeze the pickups in so I set up my router w/ a bit that was slightly larger diameter than the bearing that follows the template:

This actually ended up taking out a little bit of the underside of the template too, which isn't a big deal aside from the fact that MDF is hard as a rock and you really gotta hang on to keep the router from flying out of your hands:

The pickups fit in there really well. I didn't get it absolutely perfect but you really gotta look at it to see anything wrong:

The pickup in the picture is a tilted because it's sitting on top of its lead wire, which brings us to the next step: drilling the hole to connect the pickup cavities. I did this using a drill bit so long it's almost comical:

Seriously, it's about a foot longer than I need but my local mega mall of mega home supplies only has normal length bits and super long ones so I was forced to go w/ this. Drilling the hole was easy, you just start at the neck pocket and drill right on through. I forgot to take a picture while I was doing this but this should give you the idea:

The end result looked pretty good. I didn't get the hole quite straight so a bit of the bottom of the bridge pickup cavity was gouged out by the drill bit. I'm not gonna worry about it but next time I think I will try to drill a guide hole first:

W/ that taken care of, it was time to get onto the more difficult task of routing the control cavity. You would think this would be less critical--and maybe it is--but I wanted to set it up so that the control cavity cover would be recessed to be flush w/ the back of the guitar, which added a lot more work. First, in order to get the router so that it didn't cut too much away, I had to shim it up w/ scrap pieces of MDF. I'm gladI bought those extra clamps now:

I took off about an eight or sixteenth of an inch of wood for the area that's gonna be the rim of the control cavity:

I had started to remove the wood in the middle but realized that it was just gonna be removed anyway when I drilled out the excess wood w/ a Forstner bit. Thankfully, this time I could use my drill press and it came out much nicer:

I should note that I drilled the holes for the controls before hand so I could test the thickness of the top by putting the knobs in there. I also figured I could use them to get the template centered well, which didn't really work but whatever. So that I didn't rout out the wood that was to be the rim, I use the reverse of what I did for the pickups and made the template bearing larger than the bit so it left a little bit of wood untouched . In the end, I didn't do that bad of a job of it:

It's really close but even though that one hole is so close to the edge the pot still fits in there, albeit just barely. It's good luck rather than good planning but I'll take it. I ended up having to repeat the first step to get it so the plastic cavity cover to fit but I got it in the end:

The one last thing I wanted to do was drill a hole from the pickup cavities to the control cavity. This is where my lack of planning came back and bit me in the ass. Basically, my plan was to use a hand drill and just drill right in:

This would have worked great but the relative locations of the pickup cavity and the control cavity were such that it was pretty well impossible to get the angle right. I said a Hail Mary and just went for it. The drill bit came out of the rim of the control cavity:

It will be covered up by the plate so no big deal but I'm still sort of cheesed at myself for not seeing it coming. I drilled it out a bit and will clean it up w/ a Dremel or something at a later time.

And here is my little lady so far (looks nicer here than in person):

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Finishing the Templates (Finally)

Well, I figure it's a bout time I get it over w/ and finish up these templates, given that there's not much else to do until I'm done w/ them. All I have left is to make the holes to rout out the pickup and control cavities. The process is super simple. Do the rough cut w/ a jigsaw (drilling holes first so you can get started and turn the blade at corners) and file away until you are really, really, really bored of filing/

Cut w/ the jigsaw (notice the corner holes):

And you wind up w/ something like this and a lot of filing to do:

These files are actually pretty cool. They used to be my grandfather's so I guess you can call them heirlooms. Either way, they work rather well but slowly especially on my thick sheet of MDF:

It took me a hell of a long time to get them reasonably square. It sucked but it beats the hell out of not building your own guitars so there you go. Here's how it ended up:

The pickup slots are about exactly the size of the pickups. Of course, they need to be a bit wider than that so I'm going to set up my router in such a way that it adds an extra sixteenth or an eighth of an inch around the edges. Hopefully, that will do the trick. I will be damned if I do any more filing on this template.

Routing--Stage Three

I turns out I should have been more careful drilling the holes for the screws to attach the template to the body; they were two small and one of the screws broke off when I tried to extract it. I had to bend the thing and unscrew it w/ a pair of pliers:

For the rest of this project I'm sticking the template to the body w/ carpet tape. It's almost too strong for the job. I was worried the tape would pull chunks of mahogany out of the body when I pulled the template off of it.

I finished up the neck pocket today. The first thing I did clear away as much wood as I could using a Forstner bit in my drill press to save wear and tear on my router and bits. I don't have a proper table built yet so I ended up clamping the template I wasn't using to it and supporting the body w/ that as I worked on it. It turns out that there is indeed a very fine line before clever and stupid:

Worked like a charm (somewhat to my surprise). A Forstner bit, by the way, is sort of an improved version of spade bit. It drills wide holes w/ a relatively flat bottom. It looks almost like a router bit:

I set the depth and drilled away until I had most of the wood cleared. The depth gauge on my drill press isn't too accurate so I did a few practice holes on scrap and double checked w/ a small ruler to make sure I didn't drill too much. When I was done, it ended up like this:

From here it was a simple job to clean it out w/ a three-eighth inch straight router bit and the template following guide. I worked very slowly and carefully and only ended up w/ a few minor mistakes that are (hopefully) mostly cosmetic and will covered up when the neck is attached anyway:

Ultimately, the neck fit in a little less tightly than I'd hoped but it does take a nice picture. Not too shabby for a first go at it, I say:

I realized another mistake I made which was not making sure the edges of the template were completely square w/ its top. There was a bulge along the in the middle of the template's edge that held the neck tightly but the template follower followed the top of the template rather than the middle so I routed out more than expected. It's close enough for rock and roll though. I'd imagine it's only marginally less stable than a standard tele neck pocket (which doesn't have support on both sides) and once I get some finish on there, it should fit in even better. If worse comest to worse, I will just insert shims on either side of the neck to keep it from going back and forth. The depth of the pocket and the very end of the heel are right on so there's no reason it shouldn't be stable in the direction the strings pull on it, provided I get the holes drilled properly.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Routing--Stage Two

Here is a better picture to illustrate how I'm using the router:

You can see the cutting bit and how there's a little metal ring at the top that rests up against the template so that it follows it rather than just cutting all get-out out of everything, which it will do when given a chance. If the router was a member of the animal kingdom, it would most likely be part of the weasel family. Safety first:

Seriously, this thing spits out sawdust and wood chips like nobody's business--somewhat near the bottom of the list of things you'd want to get in your lungs and eyes. I really need to get some safety gear that looks more bad-assed. I just look like another geek in a flannel shirt in that picture.

At this point, it is just more of the same from the last time I routed. You take multiple passes around the template shaving off more and more each time. I did a little too much this time and it cased some problems, not the least of which was that it made the router harder to control. Next time, I will stick to taking of a quarter of an inch at once, maybe even less until I get a better hang of it. My router bit wasn't long enough to get the whole thing, so eventually I had to take the template off to get the last quarter inch or so. (I used the part of the body I'd already cut out as a template for the rest of it.) It made me a bit nervous not to have the template on but I came through OK. Once I had the whole thing shaped I used a roundover bit in my router to smooth the harsh edges:

As you can see, there's a curved cutting edge and then a little bearing on the end. The bearing guides it along the edge of the wood. I just got it lined up and let it rip around the edges. It wanted to jump around but through strength and vigilance I kept it under control. This part was significantly easier than the rest of the routing, let me tell you.

Ultimately, I don't think I did half bad:

Definitely some tear-outs but nothing that bad. Next time, I will leave an extra sixteenth of any inch to work w/ like someone who's not a dumbass. This time, unfortunately, I'm gonna have to use some wood filler to fix the tear-outs. I'll probably darken the stain I'm using to hide it a bit. Besides, I think I'll kinda like it that way.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Cost of Building

When I tell people I'm trying to build guitars, the first thing they ask is how; then they want to know how much it costs. I will tell you this: don't get into building guitars to save money. Over time, yes, I suppose I will but the initial investment has proven substantial and quite frustrating at times. I think that even a well-stocked hobbyist carpenter or even a professional would find himself needing to make a pretty a substantial investment in tools. I'd estimate that I've spent about six hundred dollars in tools so far and that is pretty conservative. Of course, I have bought some things that have proven unnecessary but at the same time not a day of work goes by where I didn't wish I had something else to make the job go by more smoothly. It's very expensive to say the least.

Beyond even the initial costs of buying the tools, there's the expense of the consumable parts. A good router bit will cost you between ten and thirty dollars and you need several of them. Quality sandpaper costs more than you would think and you need lots of that. I've bought at least two drill bits that have cost me over ten dollars thus far and will have to buy more still. Then there's things like dusk masks, tape (I spent fifteen dollars on tape today), paint brushes and the gloves I've been wearing to test out finishes and so forth. Around every corner there's another dollar to spend--and he's hanging out w/ ninety-nine of his good buddies.

Of course, there's the price of the actual material of the guitar. The slab of mahogany only cost me fifty bucks--rather cheap for what it is mind you--but that's not the half of it. Even the cheapest pickups cost thirty-five bucks for the set (and that's bottom end) and high-end ones are going to cost you around seventy to a hundred-fifty and more a piece. You have to buy a couple or four knobs at three to ten bucks a pop. Then there's the wire, output jacks, strap buttons, the bridge, control cavity covers, the screws for the bridge, the screws for the control cavity covers, shielding for the control cavity, the pickup selector and more than I can even think of. These things cost money and it adds up pretty quick. My neck cost me around three hundred on top of that but if you were to make that yourself there'd be the cost of the wood, the nut mater, frets and the tuners--not to mention the additional tools you would need to make it. Again, this stuff is not cheap.

And then the labor! If I made minimum wage for the research and actual build time I put into this, I could feed all of the many starving people0 of French Indochina and have enough money left over to buy a Mexican Fender and a new Champion 600 which I could rock to kingdom come. You think about the time you spend actually doing the work but you don't realize the time you spend doing design, scouring eBay for deals or doing Google searches to figure out if the difference in spacing between a telecaster bridge and a p90 pickup will cause problems. (I would like to thank the fellows at Guitar Fetish for clearing this up for me. It's fine. Don't worry.) This might not be something you want to get into if you have a newborn baby or or one of the girlfriends who's constantly bitching, bitching, bitching that you don't spend enough time w/ her (mine does not, otherwise she could not stand to be around me).

So... W/ all this said you might think I'd want to discourage you from building--and I do, if you are in it to try to get guitars on the cheap. I firmly believe that any clown w/ half an idea of what they want to sound like can go out and find a guitar that's absolutely perfect for them for under five-hundred bucks--and if that's all you want, do that. However, if you love guitars, love doing things w/ you hands and love not relying on someone else's craftsmanship, then go buy some damn wood and get building already!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Routing--Stage One

Even though I don't have all the bits to finish the job, I figured I'd get a head start on routing out the shape of the baritone body. I had to do a few things first before I got started though. First, I used my jigsaw to modify the rough-cut body to compensate for the design changes I made in this post (the little block of wood is what I cut off):

I know, real exciting, right? Well--it only gets better. The next thing I did was take my hand drill to drill holes through both templates and the body so that I could attach the template to the body w/ wood screws to keep it from moving around while I used the router (the screws go where the pickups will be so there won't be any screw holes in the top of my guitar):

Woooo! And w/ that done, I am ready to rout.

I will take a second here to discuss routers since, honestly, I didn't know what one was before I started researching guitar building. Basically, it's a powerful electrical motor which spins a cutting bit at an incredible rate of speed. Mine is probably almost as sweet as a Buick Grand National--and I don't say that about a lot of things. What makes it so sweet? Have you ever found yourself w/ a block of wood that you knew would be a great guitar if it weren't for the fact that there's just way too much extra wood? Well--a router takes that wood and turns it sawdust:

Most people who make guitars use a template following bit, which has a little bearing on it so that it follows a template and only cuts the wood you intend to cut. My router came w/ a little template following kit that that allows you to use a regular straight cutting bit for the same purpose. I think this picture best illustrates what it does:

The light wood on top is the template and the reddish stuff below is the future guitar. The template following kit basically serves as a guard so that the cutting bit doesn't cut the template. The cutting bit itself cuts a narrow bottomed groove around the edge. (You can see that there is a little bit of mahogany sticking up in the middle that I missed.) You can only cut a little bit of the entire depth at a time or you run a greater risk of tear-outs and other woodworking screw-ups.

As I mentioned, the router bit spins really fast and can severely fuck shit up if you're not careful:

That took about one tenth of one second to happen. These really are one of the most dangerous tools you'll come across and utmost caution should be used w/ them at all times. Seriously, you can slack w/ some things but a router is really a beast to be reckoned w/. Fortunately, that slip up and a little tear-out were the only problems I had and it all came out pretty well:

As you can see, I'm only a third of the way though. I need some longer bits to finish up. Hopefully, I will get to that in not too long. For now, I am just pleased that I finally got to have at the mahogany after working on the template for so long.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Further Neck Pocketing

It rained here today so I figure I'd get some work done on my templates w/ a coping saw. I had intended to cut the neck pocket part of the template that way anyway, figuring I'd get greater accuracy w/ that than I did w/ the jigsaw. Turns out I was buck nuts. Behold! the inaccuracy of my coping saw cut:

I drilled holes of the same radius as the corners of a telecaster neck pocket so that I could get those pretty exact. I also needed them so I could turn the saw. The cut ended up pretty rough to say the least. Still, it only took an hour or so w/ a file to get it just about perfect. I continually used the butt of the neck to check its size. You can see here when it's pretty close:

It took quite a while but I'm pretty confident everything is correctly shaped. Once I was done, I clamped the templates together and, using the file again, shaped the template for the overall shape of the guitar to match the neck perfectly. It's at the point where it's not quite force fit but in there good and snug, which I understand is what you want. It's tight enough that the neck will stay in there w/ no support (not that I would want to set a pint of beer on it or anything):

The file was really awesome to work w/. In hindsight, it would have been the right tool for shaping the MDF rather than the power sanders I used. It worked both faster and more accurately. I used it a bit more on the template to iron out some of the asymmetries and have a feeling it will see heavy use fine tuning the actual body as well once I get it routed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Pickups

I chose Mighty Mite p90's for the baritone:

I'll admit it, the reason I went w/ p90s is because I like the way they look as much as anything. I think the nice cream color will go well w/ the dark stain I am planning on putting on the mahogany. And, yeah, I really do like the way they sound. Some people say they sound halfway between humbuckers and sigle-coils but, frankly, I just think that's on account of how they look. To me, they sound most definitely like single-coils, albeit a though a bit fatter and warmer than standard strat and tele pickus. My hope is that they will keep definition well in the lower baritone tunings. They seem to be notorious for noisiness so I'm going to have to take special care shielding my guitar. I decided on Mighty Mite because they were some of the cheapest available and they have a good reputation. Frankly, I just didn't want to pay for high-end pickups in the event that the guitar doesn't work out. However, I think if this does end up being as nice as I hope, I will reward myself by buying a nice set of Fralins to put in there.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Neck Pocketing

One last picture of the baritone before I take it apart:

I figured I might as well pull the trigger now since I had to do it anyway. I wanted the neck so I could use it to help get the neck pocket just so. More importantly, I want to sell the body on eBay so I can use the money to buy more tools. It provides me an opportunity for a glimpse into the future of this guitar and how it will look w/ the neck on anyway:

Not too exciting but hopefully that will change. The body came out a little asymmetrical but rather than mess it up any more, I said what any good great guitar maker says when he makes a mistake, "I dunno... I kinda like it that way." Ultimately, I decided it looked better to have it reversed from how it is in the picture. The slight asymmetry and the fact that all my sanding narrowed the waist a little makes it looks a little more strat-like that I had planned. I dunno... I kinda like it that way.

Since I was doing some work anyway, I drew the outline of the neck pocket by using my carpenters square to draw some lines on there as a guide to keep it true and tracing the heel of the neck on there where it seemed like it should go:

Of course, I measured when I was done to make sure it was the proper dimensions. It just so happens I was dead on. I guess you do get lucky every now and again. When I get a chance I will take it out back use my jigsaw to cut it out. Probably at that point I will have the bridge placement and pickup routs figured out too but for now I'm still waiting for all of that too be delivered. I really don't need them to line it all up on the template since I have it all worked out on paper already but it gives me a little more confidence to be able to trace some things and to be working w/ them and the template correctly.

I should mention that I finished up shaping w/ a drum sander on my hand drill. Worked like a charm and hogged out the wood surprisingly fast. I didn't take any pictures because that part of the process is a secret.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Some Sanding

We had some nice weather today and the best way to celebrate such good fortune is to go out in the back yard w/ a hunk of medium density fiberboard and a random orbital sander. I can always find some work to do on my fiddles when I have a little time and the opportunity.

I ran into my landlord while I was working and was pleased to find he was totally cool w/ me using powerful implements of electric destruction in the back yard. I didn't ask before I started because I was afraid he might say no and then I wouldn't be able to build guitars. (Besides, nobody tells me what to do.) His wife hates me for some reason though, probably on account of my hair being so much more stylish.

My task for today was to shape the two templates a bit so they matched better. In hindsight, I should have just shaped one template how I wanted it and then used that template to make the other but that really makes too much sense for me to figure it out the first time around. Instead, I just cut them as close as I could w/ a jigsaw and now I'm going to have to spend a couple hours making them match.

One thing that's cool about the Workmate is that you can flip up part of the surface so you can clamp stuff to it sideways (this thing is really proving quite versatile):

You can see from the picture that I had quite a lot of work to do though it went surprisingly fast w/ the power sander. I just had at it for a couple minutes at a time until I had the edges reasonably well matched:

I realize now that I made some mistakes when I was cutting out the templates w/ the jigsaw, the worst one being I tried on one to line up the pattern really close to the edge of the board so I wouldn't have to cut out quite as much. This lead to one of the templates having some flat spots around the edges that made it a real bitch to match to the other one. Ultimately, they ended up slightly smaller than I had originally intended.

I also could have saved some time had I had the forethought to get another sanding disk for my sander. By the end, it was really too worn out to do much of anything:

I should have replaced it before it was half this bad. Had it been the actual body I was working on, I would have stopped but since this was just the template and I didn't mind if it got a little scratched up, I pressed on, figuring the time saved by replacing it w/ a fresh one would be less than the time it would take to walk to get another.

Now, all I have left is around the neck pocket and inside the horns, which are still looking pretty gnarly:

For this, I need to take a trip to the my local home garden warehouse to get a drum sander, unless I want to do it by hand (and I don't want to do it by hand, I assure you). It should take all of fifteen minutes and then I will be able to do a little more work on the body. I do still need to get the control cavity, pickup routs and neck pocket done on the templates as well. It will all be done in time one way or the other.