Monday, June 25, 2007

I'd Be Finished If I Didn't Screw Everything Up

Well--it's about time I start wrapping this up. I've had a good half dozen layers of poly finish on there for over a week and it seems to have been about as hard and dry as it can get for a good couple of days so it's time I start putting the thing together. At this point in the process, I'm so excited that every minor set back sends me off on screaming rampages throughout my apartment and the surrounding neighborhood. However, it is all working out slowly but surely despite various troubles.

The first thing I had to take care of was the strap buttons. It just slipped my mind entirely to drill them before I started finishing. It was an easy enough situation to rectify. I just put some green masking tape over where I wanted to be (to minimize chipping of the finish) and drilled the holes w/ my hand drill like so:

I did get a tiny amount of tear-out but it was easily covered by the strap buttons and hardly noticeable anyway. I also had to redrill some of the holes for mounting the bridge and mounting the neck as they'd gotten a little gunked up w/ finish--no big deal.

The controls in this were rather close together and it really caused me a hell of a lot of trouble trying to stuff it all into the control cavity. I had to resolder a couple things here in there to fit it all in. The end result works but it's ugly. I'm almost embarrassed to post a picture of it but I will because it's funny:

OK. Not that funny but you have to admit that's about as ugly as it gets as far as guitar wiring goes. Anyway, once I had that taken care of, it was a snap to put the rest of it put together, aside from a few things I noticed that I'll get to in a second.

She looks real nice though:

Once I finish fixing the problems I describe below, I will take her outside and take some pictures in the yard where the sunlight is nice. Then me an my homemade guitar will sit together drinking beer and grilling burgers all afternoon--heaven on earth if you ask me.

The first and most agrivating problem is I lost the screws to install the p90s. This is what made me have a fit. I know they're around somewhere but whether that's in my toolbox or some landfill I will never know. I gave up after an hour of looking and went to my local super depot of orange colored home tools and duct tape to buy something to stand in. Not to my surprise, they didn't have p90 mounting screws. The closed thing I could get were some number four screws but they were only an inch long and need to be more like an inch and a half. This left me w/ not much room for adjustment. Indeed, practically none. Here are the pickups at their maximum height:

There's also a nice shot of the goods for those who are interested what my crotch looks like. It's only a little bit too low but I really spend a lot of time adjusting pickup height and getting it just so (doing this makes a bigger difference in your overall tone than buying more expensive pickups, in my opinion) so it's a bummer not to be able to adjust them, especially since the volumes between the two aren't really well balanced at all. Plus, it just looks funny and I can't have that.

Worse than that but somehow less aggravating is I didn't get the bridge on there quite straight. If you'll notice, there's a lot more room between the edge of the fretboard and the string on the bass side of the fretboard (left in this picture) than the treble. It disgusts me to the very core of my being (you can also see the brass Phillips head screws I used instead of the p90 screws):

Actually, it plays just fine aside from the highest string feeling a little weird but it really irritates me to look at it so I'm going to remount the bridge so it's all straight. The setup right now is somewhat cursory but it really does sound pretty darn good--especially the neck pickup--and feels nice to play overall. In fact, I like it so much that I've changed my mind and decided to keep the baritone neck on this one and build a new body once I've finished my neck (or more likely right along side it).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Three Piece Neck

Edit: This project is no more. It has morphed into a five piece neck and put on hold until I know what in the hell I'm doing.

W/ my first body almost finished, I decided to embark upon a new project. While the first body looks pretty nice, it is definitely a first effort and really about ten or fifteen steps below the Warmoth baritone neck I'm putting on it so I decided to make a new neck to put on it. This was my first, messed up body will find a good companion w/ my first messed up neck. It's almost poetic in a way. I'm going to build a new body for the baritone neck later.

This is gonna be a little ambitious for a first go but hopefully that just means I will learn a lot more and not that I will make a ton of mistakes and ruin perfectly good wood. I'm going for a three piece neck w/ an angled headstock. It's extra work but it will be fun. The fingerboard will probably be ebony and I think I'm gonna end up buying one pre-made for this one. It might be more interesting to try to do it myself but I'm on a budget here and I'd rather not splurge for the new tools all at once.

So far, all of I've done is the easy part, which is spend money on wood. I went w/ padoauk and maple. The contrast between the reddish brown of the padoauk and the near white color of the maple is quite striking and I think it will make for a very handsome neck in the end. Here it is:

From here, I don't know what the hell I'm gonna do. I figure I gotta glue it together and then do some other stuff and more stuff after that until the thing is a guitar neck.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Harnessing Up - Part Two

The multimeter is more powerful than the very hand of God when it comes to trying to figure out what in the hell is wrong w/ the wiring harness for your baritone guitar. In all other things, the very hand of God is more powerful but in this one isolated case, the multimeter wins out. Here is mine in action (or right before or right after action, I forget):

Basically, all I use it for is a continuity tester to figure out what circuits are being formed when the switches are in various places and for this it works quite well (I also use it to double check that I haven't burned out any pots or switches by overheating them w/ the soldering iron). It turns out the mistakes I made were pretty minor and one mistake was actually the right thing to do in disguise. I temporarily soldered some the pickups on there so I could plug it into an amp and test it. Actually plugging the thing into an amp can be a big help. Sometimes, the multimeter will just pick it up as a break in the circuit but when you have it plugged in, you will hear the sound cutting in an out so you know it's just a cold solder joint or an otherwise weak connection. I ended up fixing some of the grounding and moving some stuff around to avoid short circuits and crossed wires. It is not the prettiest wiring job I've ever done but it works and it should be small enough to fit right in:

I think this is the first time I've ever wired up a guitar w/o getting at least one burn that blisters, which is pretty amazing as absent minded as I can be when I'm frustrated. The only thing that I'm not pleased w/ is that I couldn't get the solder to stick well to the back of the pot I'm grounding everything to so I ended up just grounding all the wires together and then grounding the back of the pot to that. The rest of the stuff will hopefully be grounded by the foil shielding in the control cavity. If not, I've got some more work to do later but I will worry about that when the time comes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Force Shields

Oh man, it was funny as hell when I went to RadioShack to see if they had copper shielding tape. The guy was like, "Uhhhhh... Here's some electrical tape. We have copper wire." Brilliant!

I just went to the great orange land of home supplies and got some aluminum foil tape like you might use for taping together duct work. The way I see it, it's metal and therefor it must be good. I doubt I will be able to solder anything to it so we'll have to wait and see if it actually works in the end.

The tape on the front is just regular:

But the back glows like an orb due to the radiation treatment I gave it in my secret lab:

I used the cheapest stuff they had which was really thin so there's a couple layers. I'm probably gonna try to finagle some sort of way to attach wires to them so the stuff in the pickup cavities especially might actually do something other than look pretty. I'm also gonna poke some holes in it so I can, you know, assemble the guitar and stuff.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Harnessing Up - Part One

The wait in between coats gets me a good chance to wire up the harness for all the electronics in there. I'm not sure what everything does but I can tell you I've figured out one or two effective ways of directing small electrical pulses from the guitar pickup, through some controls and into a cable which I've hopefully managed to connect to an amplifier (not always the case though). Of course, this time I decided to do something strange to ensure I'd have a host of problems w/ this simple task. For starters, I'm making this a stereo guitar, which means that you can send each pickup to a separate amp. Some people do this using a stereo jack but I, being a crazy fellow, decided to put to go w/ two mono-jacks so I wouldn't have to worry about having stereo cables and a way to split the signal from them. Stereo mode is switchable so I can run it like a normal guitar and flip a switch to split the pickups between the two outputs. Also, instead of having an ordinary pickup selector, I'm making this so I can turn either pickup on or off w/ a switch. Each pickup has it's own volume and tone control and the switching is all done by push/pull pots, keeping the control layout clean and simple despite the advanced and amazing technology behind it all.

The first step of wiring all this stuff up is labeling all the pieces and laying it out in something like the order it's gonna be in when I'm done:

This is one of those things that people tell you to do and but you don't at first because you think it's a load of crap but it really does make things go a bit smoother. I label all the pots w/ a marker so I know what does what and put a little piece of tape on the back of the control cavity cover that tells me what color of wire is for what so I can remember if I ever have to open the guitar up to fix it or change the pickups (and I will). I also try to strip enough pieces of wire so I don't have to stop soldering every four seconds to strip another piece of wire. Of course, even if I spent several hours beforehand stripping wires, I'd still be about ten pieces short as the need for more wires tends to increase as you strip more of them. (This is actually explained by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle but I don't have time to be getting into Schroedinger's Cat and so forth and it doesn't make any sense anyway.) It's also a good idea to clean all contacts w/ some steel wool even though steel wool feels really weird on the fingers and you hate it.

While I was doing all this, I found time to make some pizza, which I then ate:

Fully delicious. There's nothing that gets me more in the soldering mindset than pizza so I got ready and had at it. Remember folks, hot solder can splatter and cause severe bodily harm, especially to the eyeballs so, as always, safety first!

W/o eye protection it would have been really stupid to be waving the soldering iron like this and there's no way I would have lost less than one eyeball. Instead, I survived to solder for a half hour or so before I realized I messed up my design big time. And I think the reason why is obvious from this picture:

OK. Well--I doubt you can tell a single thing from that mess. Basically, I wired it in such a way that if I had both pickups turned off, the amp would hum as if the cable's not plugged into anything, which is no good in high-volume situations. Anyway, I've had enough for now. I'm gonna have at this son of a bitch w/ a multi-meter and a keen sense of logic in the next couple days. Until then, I will just have to be satisfied w/ nothing since it doesn't work.

Stained, Not Cleared.

I have finally reached the combination of sick and tired of applying more coats of stain and pleased enough w/ how it looks finally that I'm going to start clear coating this sorry son of a bitch. As it is now, it needs a little work w/ some fine steel wool and maybe some sandpaper but it's good enough for me. The pictures look a little more purple here than in real life but I think this gives you a pretty good feel for the final color.

The front:

The back:

And that's all there is too it. I'm gonna put three or a half dozen coats of clear on it to get it nice and shiny, let it cure for a while and slap the thing together as soon as I can. The clear is mostly just to protect to wood but there's been enough scratches and other errors produced by my poor handling of the finishing process that it's really more to practice applying it than anything. It makes it look nice and shiny too, which makes my food taste better when I eat off of it.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Staining Update

It's all been coming along quite well but there's really no new pictures or techniques being used to merit a full post. I've just been repeating the sand, clean and stain process and it's gradually getting to the point where I can live w/ it. The color is quite nice but I think getting it completely even is a pipe dream. I'm not worried. I kinda like it that way.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Less Painful Stain

I cleaned up the streaky mess I made on my guitar a couple days ago using 100 grit sandpaper and then worked my way back up to sanding it w/ 400 grit. I wiped off the dust w/ mineral spirits and it's looking quite a lot better now:

The hanging thing obviously wasn't working for me so I'm just setting it down and doing one side at a time. Oddly enough, the back looks better this time around:

The front doesn't look half bad though:

My strategy at this point is to keep adding layers until most of my mistakes aren't too noticable. For now, in between layers, I am evening things out w/ 4oo grit sandpaper on a block but I'm going to switch to 0000 steel wool once I get things a little better. Once that's done w/, I'm gonna give it a couple or a half-dozen coats of the wipe on poly to get it nice and shiny and then I'm thinking I might go w/ a wax coat on top of it.

Next time, I am going to use a regular stain and then just finish it w/ the wipe on poly if I don't spray it. The combination stain/finish has really proven to be a pain. Regular stain and the wipe on finish are both easy to get on in thin and even coats but the combination seems to like to glop up a little. If I were finishing a railing, I wouldn't worry about it but hopefully, this will be a bit more musical in the end. Oh well--I suppose that's how you learn.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Stained and Confused

Finishing guitars is an artform in and of itself and a task to master on its own w/o having to worry about all the other aspects of guitar building. As w/ the rest of this project thus far, I'm pretty much jumping in head first and seeing what happens. In an uncharacteristic burst of forethought though, I did test several finishes out on scrap before hand to see what looked best:

The one I went w/ is in the very upper right. It is a MinwaxPolyshade finish coated w/ another couple of coats of a Minwax wipe-on gloss poly finish. The color is called Bombay mahogany and it really does look fantastic. It's not a perfectly smooth, mirror-like finish like you normally see on guitars because I did nothing to fill the grain but it has a beautiful hand-rubbed luster that gives it a real quality but still homemade kind of look.

The rig I'm using here (which is at the home of one of the most famous artists in Chicago) is just a bunch of coat hangers through the neck holes on a wooden bar I put across a couple odds and ends:

I had it hanging because every picture I've seen of people finishing guitars has it hanging. Unfortunately, the difference between when they did and what I'm trying to do is they're spraying and I'm brushing. Consequently, the body kind of swung around as I tried to put the finish on and I'd have to steady it as best I could by holding onto the coat hangers up top w/ my free hand (which didn't work very well):

This stuff is a combo stain/finish and before I applied it, I sanded it down to 400 grit, cleaned it w/ mineral spirits to get all the dust off and applied some pre-stain conditioner which is supposed to help the stain absorb more evenly. It worked OK on the front (and I do still really like the color):

But the back is streaky as a all get out:

I ended up deciding to sand it down and I'm going to have to redo it:

I think that ultimately, I'm just gonna end up making the back and the sides somewhat darker than the front. I think it will look pretty good regardless. I'm going to try to blend it into sort of a ghetto sunburst w/ the front. I'm sure there will be worse looking guitars in the world.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Hall of Shame

Yeah. The rumors are true. This is the first guitar body I've built and the first real woodworking I've done in my life so I fucked a thing or two up. Nobody's perfect. What can you do? Well--I'm gonna outline the mistakes I've made in the hopes that doing so will pound them into my head to such an extent that I do not make them again.

The thing that pisses me off the most is I did a round over along the edges of the little nub that sticks out for the neck pocket. I wish I had taken a picture but what happens is that the edges of the metal plate that goes on the back stuck over the edges of the round over just a little bit. I suppose the issue is mostly cosmetic since the joint still seemed sturdy but irritates me just because it wasn't caused by my lack of skill but simply from lack of thought. I probably didn't need to do anything but just for the sake of learning how, I filled it in w/ putty. The stuff I used is called Plastic Wood and fit the bill nicely in my case because it's both drillable and stainable (though it's pretty much impossible to get any kind of filler to match the wood). First I had to build it up w/ a putty knife (in layers so it dried right):

Then I sanded and shaped it with my random orbital sander and just sanding by hand (you can also see another little fill in the lower right):

I redrilled the hole in the upper left after this picture was taken. There were also some minor tear outs from the router that I filled in while I was at it. In the picture below, you can also see the filled-in gouge I made by carelessly lifting the router off the template before the bit stopped spinning. A moment of distraction can really cause a lot of grief in the end.

I didn't get the control cavity quite right so I ended up having to build up some little nubs w/ the Plastic Wood so I could drill little holes for the screws that hold the cover on. I'm not really worried abut these being too strong. Basically, I just want them to hold the screws in for the sake of appearance. I figure the two screws that can go into the actual wood will be plenty to hold the cover on.

These ones are small but they still tick me off because they were caused by carelessness. You can barely see them in the picture but there are a couple small fills there. One is by the pickup cavity and was cause by me marring it w/ the chuck of the drill when I was drilling the hole to the control cavity (which reminds me, I still haven't drilled a hole for the bridge ground). There are also two little crescent shaped ones on the bottom of the guitar which were caused by me not putting anything in between the guitar body and a clamp at some point in the building process.

There's also a couple tearouts just caused by my inexperience w/ the router. I'm not too mad about these--you gotta learn somehow--but they are still ugly no matter how you count it:

I'm using a dark stain on this and so far it looks like the fills are going to be fairly well covered up (though the finishing processes is proving to be problematical in its own right--more on that soon). Still, I have a lot of work to do if I want to start doing more natural finishes and I don't want it to look like crap.

Neck Holes, Bridge Holes and Jack Holes Too

I wanted to try one more thing w/ the neck pocket before going out back and re-leveling it w/ a router. The neck holes, as I originally drilled them, were a bit too small. I drilled them so that the screws bit into them a little bit, thinking this would add some stability to the neck joint. What it really did was make it so that the screws couldn't draw the neck to a snug fit because they couldn't turn freely. I redrilled them w/ a bit one size larger and now I'm satisfied w/ how snug the neck screw in:

W/ that taken care of, it was time to install the bridge--a task which I had been feeling considerable anxiety over. None of my pictures of the process of lining up the bridge didn't come out (the pencil lines I drew didn't stand out enough to make them worth posting) but basically, I measured and remeasured, squared and resquared until I was satisfied I had the sucker in the right place. Then I drilled the holes carefully w/ my hand drill. As far as I can tell, it is nice and straight:

The bridge is a top-loading strat-style fixed bridge. I went w/ it for a few reasons, not the least of which was I wasn't confident in my ability to drill the string-through ferrules (now I realize that it would be no problem). I also just plain think it's a pain in the ass to have to thread strings through the back of the guitar. (So I took the easy rout? Sue me.) I bought the cheapest one I could find off eBay and later found out the reason it's so cheap is it didn't come w/ the mounting screws. I went ahead and got some good wood screws from my local but not locally owned mega warehouse of supplies for the home and garden. I put some strings on it and it all lines up and seems sturdy so I will leave it at that for now.

For the jacks, I followed a pretty straightforward process. First, I found where I wanted them to go and drilled a pilot hole for each:

Then I used a wood boring bit to drill the holes.The bit is either an improved version of a spade bit or a half-ass auger bit depending on how you count. One way or the other, it's a rather vicious looking implement:

Of course, my crappy little drill did not like pushing that three-quarter inch bit through an inch of mahogany and it bound up:

Eventually, I managed to yank it out and drill the holes the rest of the way through. Naturally, there was no possible way they could've ended up straight and they didn't:

So I put a drum sander into my cheesy Dremel knock-off:

I had at it for about five minutes and eventually got things looking pretty straight (unfortunately, they are not so straight now that I've screwed them in):

Since I had the Dremel out anyway, I also cleaned up that ugly mistake I made in the control cavity:

Compared to the third picture in this post, it's much, much better even if it's not perfect. I think I've gotten it to where I can live w/ it--not that I have much of a choice. Anyway, that's pretty much it except for the body aside from cleaning up some mistakes, sanding and finishing.