This is my fitness related blog. I created this on the day I start training for my first marathon, just a few weeks short of a year after I found myself in the worst shape of my life. Something had to change. Me. So I did. And I am. I want to see what this 1974 vintage body is capable of. Hence, my Mantra (courtesy of Tool): Push the envelope. Watch it Bend.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Pining Away (or Sticking Your Neck Out)
One of the challenges of building a guitar from the
ground up is that there are many, many opportunities to make one small mistake
that turns many hour s of work on an instrument into many hours of work on firewood. Building and shaping the outline of the body
has been an exciting and enjoyable process, but it’s also the one part with a
HUGE margin of error. I could cut one of the horns off and bore a 2” hole n
the tail and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference in how it sounds through the
amp when it’s done. But if the neck pocket is too big, the neck joint will be
sloppy. If I carve too much of the neck, it may not hold up to the tension of
being strung. There are some things like
this where there is literally one shot to get it right and I really don’t want
my first time doing some of these things to be with the wood that SHOULD be the
This project started out on a recommendation from
one of my mentors to NOT use top-quality lumber for the first pass, but to take
my first run using a cheaper hardwood, such as Poplar (which I did). Taking
that to the next step, even though my $13 Poplar body isn’t made from Walnut or
Mahogany or something ridiculously expensive, I have quite a few hours into
taking it from a slab to a guitar body and I’d rather play it around a bonfire
this summer than fuel the bonfire with it.
So I made a decision to hack together some pine boards and make an
initial pass as constructing the neck and machining the pockets for the
pickups, control cavity, and neck pocket.
Gluing and Clamping the pine neck.
Starting with the neck was relatively easy. I had
a length of 2x2 in the garage that, with a little bit of effort, was cut in
half and joined together to make a neck-width and neck-length hunk of
wood. Cutting the outline without a
bandsaw was a pain, even using the same drill-press/coping-saw method I used on
the body, but it was relatively uneventful.
The board wasn’t really wide enough to support doing the headstock I
wanted (either Reverse Firebird or a Reversed Telecaster), but I got enough for
a reasonable look. Since I’m shooting
for a 50s vintage Telecaster, I figured I’d shoot for a neck that would be from
that era. I found this awesome picture
online of a 52’ Telecaster “Boatneck” that seemed like a good place to start
and a pretty simple shape. Here’s the
problem. I have a “1st Fret” profile and, with a little manipulation
in Photoshop, a 12th Fret profile (the neck gets wider as it moves
from the nut/tuners toward the bridge/pickups).
1st fret and 24th fret profiles (green arc) for the prototype neck.
Rough outline, half-shaped.
But what do I actually DO with this? I can’t chop
the headstock and heel off to trace the profile and I can’t make a sanding jig
since the profile changes as you move down the neck. About all you can do is mark the depth of the
vertical from the fretboard (basically the bottom of word “Reissue” in the
images, above), cut the neck to a its depth (taking into account the fretboard
thickness), and just start hacking away at the edges with rough wood working
tools to get down to the point where finer & finer tools can be used to
smooth the neck to a general profile.
The nice thing about working with pine is that this went very
quickly. The lousy thing about working
with pine is that it’s SO soft that it rips and tears easily, but it does offer
a lesson in taking the time to do the work at the pace the wood wants to work
at and not try to force the pace.
Drawn outlines of cavities.
The next step was to do some test work with a set
of Forstner bits to see if I could reasonably do the body “routing” with a
drill press. (Ed. note: How is it that no one has ever told me that I need a
set of Forstner bits? I CLEARLY do, but for this project I am content to borrow
the set my father lent me. Next I expect you people will be telling me that I
need a plunge router…). The most direct
work was the Control Cavity. 1” Forstner
+ Chisel made short work of getting the pocket done (to a somewhat random
depth). Lesson #2 learned is that my
small drill press is NOT going to be deep enough to do this project on my
equipment. I was able to complete the body
work with my 18v Ryobi hand drill, but it was definitely not clean. The Bridge pickup was connected via a 12”
long x ¼” drill bit, angled from the pickup to the control cavity. The neck pickup will either be drilled from
the neck pocket down to the bridge or routed under the pickguard and drilled
into the control cavity. The jack will
be Fortner-drilled and covered with a cover plate.
"Finished" Pine guitar (or the most work ever put into a piece of firewood).
definitely went into the Pine Neck project with a lot of questions and came out
with a quite a few answers, or at least directions. The Pine Body project was
more straight-forward and there was less figuring out to do. Coming out of this exercise, the key pieces
of learning is that the neck is likely going to be the part of the project
where I can’t realistically get a quality product with the tools at my
disposal, so I’ll be spending time down with my mentors making the neck. I’ll also need to do the bulk of the body
routing/drilling work there as well.
Although I could easily do the cavity drilling with the Ryobi, getting
the neck pocket right is going to be a critical part of the construction and
something that would be unwise to attempt myself.