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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Okay, you finished high school, now the learning starts...

One of Charlene's friends from a college years ago has two kids who've recently graduated from high school. The elder dived into travelling around Europe and heading off to college on the other coast and generally diving into life. The younger, Daniel, is an Eagle Scout, but post high-school has been casting around trying to figure out what he wants to do. He's been feeling stuck in a small town up in the Sierra foothills, and we've dragged him down to closer to the cosmopolitan big city. He's been noodling around with a guitar, so we introduced him to some musicians, and talked about other things that might happen around guitars.

He came to visit just as we were finishing up building our workshop, helped out a bit on that, and I made some noises about how if he wanted a really cool guitar he should come down and hang out for a couple of weeks and build one.

A week ago he called my bluff. So he arrived, and he spent a few days searching the web for templates and hardware, and after a while we settled on some drawings we found of a 1950s Les Paul as a starting place. He marked up those a bit, drew a different peg board headstock, changed the shape of the horn on the bottom. We then dug through my wood stash, and ended up deciding to go with a through neck laminated of Walnut and Maple, with a body composed of quilted Maple over a center of Mahogany, with a Pao Ferro fingerboard that I'd snagged out of the seconds pile at Luthier's Mercantile last time the local woodworking group had a meeting there. With a little bit of Purpleheart I had lying around for trim.

Taking a deep breath, I pulled out my credit card and clicked "Buy" on the brass hardware he wanted, and we went out to the shop and started to get to work. First up, using the jig saw to make a template:

2012-12-06DanielWithFirstTemplateAttempt.jpg 2012-12-06DanielPlaysAirGuitarTemplate.jpg 2012-12-06DanielCutting2ndGuitarTemplate.jpg

The second template came out better, though we had a lesson in router bit management that meant that as we were testing that template we dinged the crap out of it. Fixed it with putty. Daniel started to see possibilities. Then we drew out the neck on a piece of wood, and I went off to work while he cut the neck. Mostly. He got the Walnut right, but because of various issues in wood management it took three tries to get the maple blank. Measure once, cut twice.

Neck clamped and glued, we used a couple of bearing bits on the router to machine the top flat, and clean things up.

2012-12-07DanielCuttingGuitarNeck.jpg 2012-12-07GuitarNeckGlueUp.jpg 2012-12-07DanielRoutingGuitarNeckFlat.jpg

Then he had enough router experience to go off and do the body cavities:

2012-12-08GuitarRoutedPotentiometerCavity.jpg 2012-12-08DanielDrillingGuitarTemplateForSwitchCavity.jpg

While he was distracted with that, it was time for me to do some learning. I got to work gluing up a Maple and Purpleheart assembly for the neck pips and experimenting with building an inlay system, so that he could route the neck inlays and we could then work on sanding and fitting the inlaid pips. And carefully, ever so gingerly, cut the fret notches

2012-12-07GuitarNeckPipInlayGlueUp.jpg 2012-12-09GuitarFretboardPipTestFitted.jpg 2012-12-09GuitarCuttingFretNotches.jpg

Then he went inside for lunch, and I snuck over to the planer and smoothed and sanded the whole thing, wandered into the kitchen and surprised him with it. I think this was the moment where we went from "we're building a guitar" to "we're building a freakin' awesome guitar, dude!". And with that we went back out into the shop and drilled out some switch cavities, and did the first glue-up on the lower body part.

2012-12-09DanielHoldingPlanedGuitarFretboard.jpg 2012-12-09DanielDrillingGuitarSwitchCavities.jpg <a href="http://www.flutterby.net/Image:2012-12-09GuitarLowerBodyGlueUp.jpg">2012-12-09GuitarLowerBodyGlueUp.jpg

Today hopefully when I get home he'll have cut out the pegboard headstock and we can start with the neck shaping!

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Physical manifestations of thinking things through

This project has a huge mix of frustration and reward because I'm trying to be a facilitator and enable Daniel to build the guitar. It's way too ambitious a project to simply be a teacher for, to walk him through the steps of every tool set-up and every element of design (especially when I'm learning much of this myself), and yet it's not my guitar. So I try to encourage him to set up and do a design or a cut by himself, and then take a deep breath and accept the outcome. Exhibit #1: The peghead.

2012-12-1oGuitarPegheadMistake.jpg <a href="http://www.flutterby.net/Image:2012-12-10GuitarPegheadGlueUp.jpg">2012-12-10GuitarPegheadGlueUp.jpg <a href="http://www.flutterby.net/Image:2012-12-11GuitarPegBoardGlueUp.jpg">2012-12-11GuitarPegBoardGlueUp.jpg

I asked him to head out to the shop, double-check the measurements on our first peghead, and cut it out. Through a variety of mess-ups (my casualness in drawing out the cut lines, his casualness in following them, neither of us double-checking that layout) we ended up with a peghead that had the neck portion cut too narrow.

We drew up and clamped up a new peghead, which had geometry different from the old one because of transcription error. And actually, that was just fine because yesterday the next package of hardware arrived, and the tuning machine spacing we'd laid out wasn't going to work anyway.

It all worked out okay, but it took a while to get there.

2012-12-10GuitarTrussRodGroove.jpg 2012-12-11DanielAligningDominoForGuitarBodyGlueUp.jpg

We did manage to get the truss rod groove routed on the router table, and finish the rest of the body glue-ups, using Dominos for alignment.

Next up: Rout the peghead junction flat, finish the truss rod groove through that, and, with a little clean-up of glue and drilling the electronics channel through the neck, assemble the thing!

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Just got real



On the router table, cleaned up the face of the peghead and finished the rest of the truss rod routing, and drilled the hole through the neck for the electronics (totally stoked, I drilled the diagonal by hand and managed to hit with my ¼" pilot hole dead on, then worked up to ½" total).

Then with a deep breath and a few carefully placed Dominos, glued the sucker up. Daniel is way stoked.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Just got real



On the router table, cleaned up the face of the peghead and finished the rest of the truss rod routing, and drilled the hole through the neck for the electronics (totally stoked, I drilled the diagonal by hand and managed to hit with my ¼" pilot hole dead on, then worked up to ½" total).

Then with a deep breath and a few carefully placed Dominos, glued the sucker up. Daniel is way stoked.
Thanks! I was kinda worried that the wood was too plain 'til we used a wet paper towel to clean up the squeeze out and that quilting popped back out. All of a sudden it was "whoah, that's gonna be sexy!"

A few bonus pix: The peg head milled down and the rest of the truss rod channel cut, drilling out the neck electronics channel, and Daniel setting up the Dominos on the body.

 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Wishful thinking and home stretches

I totally screwed up the fret board, so we had to make a new one. This time we figured out how to do the diamond shaped inlays that Daniel wanted.

Since the last time, we un-clamped the body from the glue-up, flipped it over, routed the back of the through-neck flat, and then cut out the body

2012-12-13DanielMachiningGuitarNeckBackFlat.jpg 2012-12-13DanielCuttingGuitarSide.jpg 2012-12-13GuitarCutOutWithTrussRod.jpg
There's the guitar cut-out with the truss rod set in place.

The new fret board was cut with the Festool MFS jig and a 1/8" bit, after which we took the corners out of the diamonds with a chisel:

2012-12-14GuitarNewFretboardInlays.jpg 2012-12-15GuitarFretboardCutAndFirstFinish.jpg

Then this morning I cut the fret slots and put a coat of finish on the fretboard. I was amazed at how much the hard and oily Comatillo we used for this pass sucked up the polyurethane. And then we laid it out to see what it looked like, and after an afternoon of cutting out cavities and holes in all the right places, glued the fretboard to the neck.

2012-12-15RoughGuitarBodyWithCutFretboard.jpg 2012-12-15GuitarBlankWithHardware.jpg 2012-12-15GuitarFretboardGlueUp.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Wishful thinking and home stretches

I totally screwed up the fret board, so we had to make a new one. This time we figured out how to do the diamond shaped inlays that Daniel wanted.

Since the last time, we un-clamped the body from the glue-up, flipped it over, routed the back of the through-neck flat, and then cut out the body

2012-12-13DanielMachiningGuitarNeckBackFlat.jpg 2012-12-13DanielCuttingGuitarSide.jpg 2012-12-13GuitarCutOutWithTrussRod.jpg
There's the guitar cut-out with the truss rod set in place.

The new fret board was cut with the Festool MFS jig and a 1/8" bit, after which we took the corners out of the diamonds with a chisel:

2012-12-14GuitarNewFretboardInlays.jpg 2012-12-15GuitarFretboardCutAndFirstFinish.jpg

Then this morning I cut the fret slots and put a coat of finish on the fretboard. I was amazed at how much the hard and oily Comatillo we used for this pass sucked up the polyurethane. And then we laid it out to see what it looked like, and after an afternoon of cutting out cavities and holes in all the right places, glued the fretboard to the neck.

2012-12-15RoughGuitarBodyWithCutFretboard.jpg 2012-12-15GuitarBlankWithHardware.jpg 2012-12-15GuitarFretboardGlueUp.jpg
Thanks, guys! Yeah, Daniel wanted something with a Les Paul-ish body, but more generally "metal" body styling, so the Les Paul hook is extended further and is sharper, and we went with the all-on-one-side peghead, angled back.

That latter feature is causing problems: Charlene and I went down to the guitar shop today to surprise him with a case and strap, and had a heck of a time finding one that fit…
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
The first 90% of the project...

...takes 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of the project takes an additional 90% of the time. So it feels like we're closing in, but finishing and hardware installation are still going to take a little while.

2012-12-16GuitarBodyMostlyShaped.jpg 2012-12-16ShapedGuitarBodyInCase.jpg

Sunday morning Daniel was off partying with friends in San Francisco. I went out to the shop and did a bunch of shaping, and then Charlene and I went over to Tall Toad Music and, with the help of the very friendly staff there, dug through the basement 'til we found a case that looked like it'd handle the long neck and angled peghead fairly well.

Yesterday, I dropped by Friedman's on the way home and picked up a couple of different stains that we thought would make the quilting in the maple pop just a little bit. We laid out a couple of samples on all 5 of the woods we were going to be playing with, chose the best compromise, and with a deep breath we applied it:

2012-12-17GuitarStainTest.jpg 2012-12-17DanielStainingGuitar.jpg 2012-12-17DanielWaitsForGuitarStainToDry.jpg

Probably should have double-checked his sanding, but I think it'll all work out okay in the end…

Next up: Many coats of rub-on polyurethane. We're going with poly rather than varnish because it's a finish that we can do a reasonable job with at home, and because I like rubbed finishes.

similar content at my own site.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
The first 90% of the project...

...takes 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of the project takes an additional 90% of the time. So it feels like we're closing in, but finishing and hardware installation are still going to take a little while.

2012-12-16GuitarBodyMostlyShaped.jpg 2012-12-16ShapedGuitarBodyInCase.jpg

Sunday morning Daniel was off partying with friends in San Francisco. I went out to the shop and did a bunch of shaping, and then Charlene and I went over to Tall Toad Music and, with the help of the very friendly staff there, dug through the basement 'til we found a case that looked like it'd handle the long neck and angled peghead fairly well.

Yesterday, I dropped by Friedman's on the way home and picked up a couple of different stains that we thought would make the quilting in the maple pop just a little bit. We laid out a couple of samples on all 5 of the woods we were going to be playing with, chose the best compromise, and with a deep breath we applied it:

2012-12-17GuitarStainTest.jpg 2012-12-17DanielStainingGuitar.jpg 2012-12-17DanielWaitsForGuitarStainToDry.jpg

Probably should have double-checked his sanding, but I think it'll all work out okay in the end…

Next up: Many coats of rub-on polyurethane. We're going with poly rather than varnish because it's a finish that we can do a reasonable job with at home, and because I like rubbed finishes.

similar content at my own site.
I think he appreciates it. I'm dreading that his sister, who's away at college on the other coast and following along via Facebook, is going to ask for a similar experience (though her boyfriend is an accomplished woodworker, and if this were just "use my shop and raid my wood stash" this'd be a lot easier.)...

But as much as he's learning, I'm learning too! There are now a whole bunch of projects I'm going to be much more willing to tackle, from inlay to finishing. And, of course, I'm also learning how to lay things out so that the next kid who says "I want to build…" has a greater chance of success.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Trying to not rush

Daniel's missing his friends and wants to head home, so while I'm trying to get him to slow down and take his time on the finishing, I'm aware that he wants to ditch us and head for the hills.



The finish is still a bit soft, and if it were up to me we'd spend another week adding a layer, sanding it off, adding a layer, and so forth, but we're not there. So last night we installed the frets, the nuts for the bridge hardware, and the tuning machines.

Hopefully tonight we'll carve another nut (I made one already, we lost it in my shop), finish the adjustments for the pickups, put the final screws in the tuning machines, and string this sucker up!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Playable!



Daniel wanted to get back to his friends pretty badly, so last night we got the electronics installed (with some pain), and broke a string stringing it up, and there's a lot of tweaking left to be done, but it was playable:


Need to lower the bridge, file the edges of the frets a little better, verify that we've got the electronics properly installed because the volume knob was doing less than we expected, and spend some time tuning, tweaking the bridge head position and possibly even filing the sides of the frets, but it's mostly there.

And at 6:40 this morning, in the rain, he caught the bus back home.

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Discussion Starter · #21 ·
Playable!



Daniel wanted to get back to his friends pretty badly, so last night we got the electronics installed (with some pain), and broke a string stringing it up, and there's a lot of tweaking left to be done, but it was playable:


Need to lower the bridge, file the edges of the frets a little better, verify that we've got the electronics properly installed because the volume knob was doing less than we expected, and spend some time tuning, tweaking the bridge head position and possibly even filing the sides of the frets, but it's mostly there.

And at 6:40 this morning, in the rain, he caught the bus back home.

Similar content at my personal web site.
Yeah, I think you're right. He's gonna come back down in a week and do some tuning on it, and we'll see how he feels about the size of the peghead then!

One possibility would be to cut off the straight side and move it in about an inch or so. He's kinda stuck on the axe/halberd feel of the peghead, I'm not so sure that goes well with the Les Paul-ish body style, but… Teenagers, whatcha gonna do, hey?
 

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Discussion Starter · #22 ·
Playable!



Daniel wanted to get back to his friends pretty badly, so last night we got the electronics installed (with some pain), and broke a string stringing it up, and there's a lot of tweaking left to be done, but it was playable:


Need to lower the bridge, file the edges of the frets a little better, verify that we've got the electronics properly installed because the volume knob was doing less than we expected, and spend some time tuning, tweaking the bridge head position and possibly even filing the sides of the frets, but it's mostly there.

And at 6:40 this morning, in the rain, he caught the bus back home.

Similar content at my personal web site.
I do like your scroll saw suggestion, though I don't have one. I'll have to play with inlay some more. All the stuff we did for this was with a fully-constrained router, maybe we could do some marquetry that fit in a square or a rectangle, or maybe I need to learn how to do the unconstrained router inlay!
 

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Discussion Starter · #24 ·
Done. For now.

2012-12-27GuitarWithNewBridge.jpg

Daniel came back for another visit and said "yeah, it sounds really off at the 12th fret". With visions of "oh, crap, we have to mill off that fret and move it" we started playing with things, and discovered that the bridge was in the wrong place. The bridge had individually adjustable string positions, so we moved them, and got a sound that was okay, but the bridge was also really too high.

So I chucked it up in the milling machine, milled it down a bit, then tried to clamp it at an angle to put a bevel back in some of the pieces, and of course that caused the whole thing to flip out of the clamps and be munged by the bit and… yeah, it was ugly.

With no place to buy a replacement bridge open yet on a Sunday morning, we decided to make our own, out of purpleheart and some strip brass I had around, and lo and behold it let us put it in exactly the right place, and sounded awesome! What's better, there's enough room in the frets and vibrato in Daniel's playing style that the micro-adjustment didn't matter, he was playing with the sound all the time anyway.


Then we went out and built another bridge, being a little more careful with the brass filing this time, and did a few other tweaks, and declared it done!

2012-12-27Guitar1.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar2.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar4.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar5.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar6.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar7.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar8.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar9.jpg 2012-12-27Guitar10.jpg

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