Saturday, February 15, 2014
Thursday, February 6, 2014
My typical approach to, um, just about everything, is to figure out what, “Acceptable,” is and then go a level or three beyond that. Especially when it comes to anything that’s manufactured, there is more junk than ever in the marketplace. At least in America, people seem to be willing to trade cheap-in-price for poor workmanship and product longevity. Yes, that widget was only $9.37 at Wal*Mart, but the $18.99 one you put down probably would have lasted until you died, but you’ll be back at Wal*Mart in another 2-4 years to replace that cheap widget (after griping for those 2-4 years about how lousy it was). There are few things in this world that don’t abide by the saying, “You get what you pay for,” at least at the middle-class level. There is an obvious leveling of the QPR (Quality:Price Ratio) as you approach Luxury items, but as a general rule for the 99% who are reading this, buying up a level (or three) of quality is a wise, long-term investment.
Having said that, one of my challenges for this project was to keep the budget minimal. As much as I would love to drop 18:1 Gold Grover Rotomatic tuners ($160ish), Vintage Fralin pickups ($200ish), an acoustic-enabled bridge (another easy $200), and any number of other high-end parts, I don’t have remotely close to the budget to bleed $800 toward one instrument, let alone whatever the costs would be for the 3-4 I intend to have either built or participated in the build of at the end of this year. So what to do?
I have been using a combination of Stewart-MacDonald and Allparts as my baseline source for parts to get an idea of what the common luthier has access to get a ballpark idea for brands, styles, and prices. Predictably, eBay has been an extremely good source of (so far) quality parts at excellent prices. In several cases, I’ve been able to purchase directly from an American small business and have correspondence with the proprietor about my project and get some sage advice for incorporating their product into my design.
Another somewhat unlikely source for parts comes from Craigslist and Freecycle. I have acquired two acoustic guitars from Freecycle.
- One is a Jasmine (Takamine’s entry-level) ¾ sized Classical Style guitar that had a snapped headstock (which I easily, if crudely, glued back together to make a perfectly playable instrument). This gives the girls something they can play with as they graduate from the awful kids guitar I bought them a few years ago. Cost to me: $0.00
- The other is so poorly made (or refurbished) that there are no identifying marks on it. The value point here is potentially some tuners for the Ukulele project and a truss rod for a guitar neck later on. There may be some use for the back as the top of a Ukulele, but everything else is so bottom-drawer that the value with this guitar will be solely tearing it apart to see how an Acoustic is put together. Cost to me: $0.00
|A very unusual adjustable|
|Likely will cut one tuner off each|
side and use the tuners on a Uke.
|Quality abounds! Laminate top and a gorgeous ebony paint job on a clearly-not-ebony fretboard. |
No markings inside the guitar either. Must be the company that made it didn't want to be identified!\
|...and why not a painted saddle, too? Lifting off the soundboard, too.|
I don't think there's enough adjustment in the screws to compensate for that!
My best find to date has been a Craigslist purchase on my last Anaheim trip. I found someone offering a pretty thoroughly thrashed Ibanez electric guitar for $50. The neck was broken, the electronics were compromised, and the body was pretty well beaten up. I offered $20, he countered with $30. When we met to swap cash for product, we started chatting and it turned out he had a project idea for the body (which was essentially useless to me) and my main want was the tuners. So we took the neck off, I gave him $15, and walked away with 6 tuners, a fretted Rosewood fretboard, a truss rod, and a template for the neck pocket & heel (somewhere in the neighborhood of $80- $100 in project materials). The extra bonus of getting a broken neck is that the whole thing easily came apart and fit in the suitcase for the trip home!
|Yeah, that's going to affect the playability.|
|The fretboard was clearly glued down, but I'm pretty sure |
the headstock-to-neck joint was simply a pressure-fit.
|Another view of the break.|
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Note: There will be a handful of posts coming to catch up on the project. Rather than blurt them all out at once, I'll post one every few days until the blog is caught up with the project (at which point I'll go back to neglecting my readers).
The PROPER way to cut a body from a block of wood is to use a band-saw. I don’t have one of those, so Plan A was, “Use a coping saw to cut the perimeter of the Telecaster.” Plan A was stupid and lasted about 2” into the process.
Not only would it have taken an insane amount of time, a coping saw (at least the one I have) is not intended to cut through and inch and half of hardwood and was making wandering cuts as the blade flexed trying to get through the block. After sawing in to the outline, I realized I need to make about a 45 degree turn to start cutting the perimeter. The problem was that the saw/blade really did NOT want to make that turn, so I decided I’d drill a hole that would allow me to easily turn the blade and get on the right line. What started as a way to make the turn from cutting in to the guitar to cutting the perimeter became the primary “cutting” process for the perimeter. The drill press not only ensured I stayed on track around the perimeter, but it also kept the sides perfectly vertical, something that was NOT going to happen with the coping saw.
|Starting to cut the perimeter.|
|Most of the way cut out!|
|One of the first cast-off pieces.|
|Coping saw work complete.|
|Very rough edge to start with.|
From the VERY rough outline, I used a rough wood rasp to get down close to the final dimension and then used a home-made drum sander in the drill press to give most the guitar its final smoothed shape. A little bit of work remains in the tighter spaces that I couldn't reach with the larger-radius drum sander, but those can be hit either with a dremel, hand-sanded, or sanded with a smaller drum.
|Glue & clamp some 60-grit on and VOILA! A sanding drum!|
|Homemade sanding drum using disks cut with a hole saw, a length of threaded rod, and a few washers & bolts (all things just lying around in the workshop).|
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
With the idea that this guitar build is a "learning project," my primary "build a guitar" goal (other than to learn so that the next project is better) is to keep the expense as low as possible. A lot can be learned without spending a mint. The secondary goal is having a playable instrument. I know I have the ability to make a great sounding, great playing electric guitar using parts someone else made (I've made two so far), but I really don't know what goes in to the whole process of making/routing the body or winding the pickups. The more you can do/make yourself, the more the final product is your own and the more you learn about how it's really made.
I got my first glimpse at reality when I took the rough hunk of Poplar into the cellar and started working with it. I haven't done a lot of wood working, but I've done enough to know that working with power tools is a lot like approaching a strange dog. As much as you might be a little bit afraid, you need to be bold, confident and decisive, yet fluid in your actions. Being jumpy and tentative typically doesn't end well in either case.
The workup on the hunk of Poplar went down like this:
- cut the 36" length into two 18" lengths.
- With the crown up, trim about 1/4" off one side to get a flat edge.
- Flip the board around and cut the other length to get a total board width of 7" (finished width needs to be 6 3/8")
- Now that I have [what should be] two parallel surfaces, I stood the board on its edge, cranked the table saw up to its 3" max height and ripped the length of the board, flipped it, and ran it again leaving about a 1" piece in the middle to saw by hand. This was the potential dog-bite moment. The table saw I have really isn't powerful enough for what I was asking of it (I tripped its internal breaker twice and had to shut the saw down mid-cut on each pass as the blade started binding), so there was an element of unpredictability as the wood was being fed into the blade. It definitely didn't go perfectly, but it did what it needed to do!
The finished product was definitely rough and I wasted a good 1/4" of material with my method vs. the preferred "take it the luthiers' shop and run it through the band saw" approach. The table saw work took a while, but it worked. The hand sawing of the remaining wood strip in the middle took a while as well, but probably no more than 10-15 minutes per piece.
The next step for the body was a trip to the Ennis & Lubold workshop in Randolph to make the rough-cut, crowned pieces into perfect rectangles in profile so that they could be glued into a solid guitar-sized block. The first step was to run the boards through a wide surface planer. This removed all of the junk left over from the division of the board and stripped away the crowning of the wood. A similar process was done on the edges to ensure that the edges were perfectly straight for a flush glue joint. After some hemming and hawing about how to put the pieces together, the sides were matched glued. Once they had set, they were then glued together to each other resulting in a pretty striking (for a $13 chunk of Poplar) bookmatched pattern.
|Planing the rough boards.|
|Applying the glue.|
Thursday, January 2, 2014
For 2014, I really didn't feel compelled to tackle any new major fitness challenges. I'm getting a little burned out from having my foot on the gas for the past 4 years. Health and fitness won't go away, but I'm not planning to TRAIN for anything major in 2014.
So, much like I used this space to record my path to my first (and so far, only) marathon, I'm going to shift gears in the TOPIC of this blog, but still attempt to maintain the "Push the Envelope. Watch it Bend." philosophy. I have decided to build, from the ground up, a Telecaster (electric guitar). Some portions, such as building and fretting the neck, will require assistance of friends & family (namely Ennis & Lubold Luthiers), but as much as possible I'm going to use tools I have on-hand to turn some raw hunks of wood into a playable instrument at least equal to the tonal quality and playablity level of a mid-level, factory-made Fender. I will do all the wiring myself to the extent that I intend to build and wind my own pick-ups (including building my own pick-up winder).
There will certainly be mistakes made along the way. I have limited experience working with wood, so there will be a lot of learning happening in a short period of time. I have built from off-the-shelf parts, wired, and lacquered two electric guitars, and learned a LOT in the process of doing that. There will be another partnership-project with Ennis & Lubold that I'll announce soon that will allow my to cut my teeth on an acoustic-instrument project in parallel with the Telecaster.
The Tele project started this afternoon with the $13.80 purchase of a 2" x 8" x 36" block of Poplar that will be cut into two 18" pieces, then cut along the long edge to have a bookmatched top & back. The Poplar isn't beautifully figured and the easy way out would be to just join the 18" blocks, but where's the fun in that? Even though I fully expect to finish the guitar in paint (vs. stained/natural), a large part of this project is LEARNING, so right outta the gate I'm going to learn how to (or how NOT to) bookmatch a solid-body guitar.