Eric came by the shop to personally choose the wood for his guitar. He decided on a beautiful set of Madagascar rosewood for his Michigan. The top will be old growth red spruce.
Oct 7: I have had a chance to play Eric’s guitar a fair amount yesterday evening and today. I am a bit biased, but this is a sweet guitar. The sound still needs to open up, which will take several months. Despite being only a few days old, the guitar sounds remarkably good. If I had a few more days with it, I’d get a recording. However, Eric swung by a few moments ago and left with it ;). I asked him to send me a clip in a few months when the guitar has found its voice. Hopefully, he does. I’ll have some glamour shots up on the website soon over the weekend. Another successful build!
Oct 6: I took a bit off the bottom of the bridge to get the saddle to a good height. I then adjusted each of the slots in the nut to get a good action there. Once I was happy with the overall action, I removed the strings. I glued my label inside the body, and I installed a K&K Pure Mini pickup with volume control. Then it was time for a fresh set of strings, and this guitar is done!
Oct 3: Yesterday, I leveled and dressed the frets. Today, I installed the Waverly tuning machines, made a nut and saddle, and strung up Eric’s guitar. I will leave the action as it is for several days to allow the guitar to settle in a bit. I have a ToneRite that I will drop on the strings this evening, and I’ll let it shake away for three or four days prior to doing a final setup.
Sep 28: I cut fret wire this morning. The fret slots were cut just shy of the two fingerboard edges to keep nice, finished edges. To fit the fret wire in the slots, a small section of the tang at each end of the frets was removed. I ran a bit of hide glue down the fret slots and pressed in the frets. I’ll dress the frets another day. While the hide glue was heated, I also glued on the bridge.
Sep 27: Eric’s guitar has a bolt on neck. Many guitars with bolt on necks have the fingerboard extension glued to the top. To me, this defeats the purpose of having a bolt on neck. I have a pair of bolts that run through the body into the neck tenon to attach the neck, and I have a pair of smaller bolts that run through the neck block and top of the guitar into the fingerboard to pull the fingerboard extension down firmly to the top. With this setup, the neck can be removed in just a few minutes. I made a small block with threaded inserts and glued it to the bottom of the fingerboard extension. I used my laminate trimmer to route a matching pocket in the top and into the neck block.
Sep 26: A few weeks have passed since my last update. I got the last coats of lacquer on Eric’s guitar a couple of weeks ago. The back, sides, and neck all got 16 coats, and the top got 12. I like to give the lacquer a good couple of weeks to cure. Saturday, I level sanded the neck to 1200 grit and yesterday buffed the lacquer to a piano type gloss. This morning, I level sanded the body, also to 1200 grit, and buffed it to a high gloss. Always nice to have the lacquer glossed up. I don’t have much time to get these guitars finished, and I didn’t want to sand or buff through the finish. Fortunately, all went well.
Sep 2: I buttoned up the last few things on Eric’s guitar today. Not much left other than rounding over the binding and some final sanding. I used some sanding blocks to put a nice radius on the edge of the binding. I like a very comfortable guitar, so I put a larger radius on the binding than almost any other luthier. The radius is shaped by hand and takes some effort but really is the finishing touch on a nice custom guitar. The large radius provides a bit less protection from dings, but more than makes up for it in comfort. Once I had the radius on the binding, I used the random orbital to final sand the back and the top. I then gave the guitar a final swab with mineral spirits to check all the surfaces for sanding scratches and removed all those found.
I also drilled the holes in the headstock for the tuning machines and drilled drilled holes a touch larger in the face for the Waverly bushings. With that, the guitar is built! Yeah!
Next week, I’ll fill the wood pores and start shooting lacquer.
Sep 1: I finished the neck of Eric’s guitar today. Eric wants a Madagascar rosewood heelcap bound in ebony. This a tricky little guys to make. I don’t really bind a piece of mad rose. Rather I cut an ebony heel cap to the shape needed and inlay the mad rose. The tricky part is ensuring the ebony edge is a consistent thickness all the way around. I rough sanded the neck heel to get it close to finished dimensions, then cut the ebony cap and milled a pocket for the inlay. I often lower the heel cap a bit below the level of the back of the guitar, but I thought this one would look good level with the back. I spent a fair amount of time shaping the cap so it fit tightly against the heel as well as the back. A lot of effort went into this little cap, but it looks very nice so worth the effort.
The CNC does a good job getting the neck close, but I still need to do a lot of shaping and sanding by hand. A lot of the work is around the volute and transition area. I also blended in the edge where the fingerboard meets the mahogany neck and shaped the neck profile to get it a nice comfortable feel.
While shaping the neck, I put a piece of ebony on the CNC and put it to work milling a bridge. When I Had finished shaping and sanding the neck, I shaped and sanded the bridge. I finished up with some 0000 steel wool to polish it to a nice satin look.
Aug 31: Eric and I did some back and forth the previous week regarding inlays for the fingerboard and headstock. Eric decided on a diamond pattern for the fingerboard and a sunset for the headstock. I cut the inlays for the fingerboard from abalone and mother of pearl, then it was time to make the fingerboard. I pulled an ebony board and ran it through my thickness sander to clean it up. I mounted the ebony on the CNC table. The first step was to put a 14″ radius on the fingerboard. This was done using a 1/2″ ball mill cutter. I then used a small .0177″ end mill to cut pockets for the inlays. A .024″ cutter was then used to mill the slots for the frets. We are not binding the fingerboard, so I held the fret slots just sort of the fingerboard edge for a faux binding look. The last step was to cut the fingerboad profile. I measured the distance from the neck joint to the top edge of the sound hole and cut the bottom radius of the fingerboard to just kiss the sound hole. All that was left was to install the inlays, wick in some CA glue, then level sand.
I used Rhino3D to lay out the inlay for the headstock. I used dyed tulipier veneer for the sky and sun. The larger rays of the sun are tulipwood with the grain running outward. The water is abalone, and the land is Petoskey stone. For the thinner veneers, I glued them to a mahogany backing to provide more stability. I cut all the pieces on my CNC. The only other inlay on the face of the headstock is my logo. I put a piece of ebony on the CNC and milled the pockets for the inlay and my logo. The CNC also cut the profile on the laminate. I glued in the inlays, level sanded, and the face laminate was done.
Eric wants some text inlaid on the back of the headstock. He suggested the font he wanted, and I laid out the text in Rhino. The text had a lot of tight angles. The smallest cutter I would use is .0177″, so I needed to update the curves on all the letters to ensure the smallest diameter curve was greater than my cutter. I then cut out the letters from mother of pearl. I also wanted to inlay an abalone representation of Lake Michigan. I cut the needed pockets on the CNC as well as a thin slot around the perimeter for a single blue purflng. As with the face laminate, I cut the headstock profile on the back laminate. I glued in the inlays and level sanded.
With the fingerboard and headstock laminates done, I could glue them to the neck. I marked the location of the headstock laminates, then I used a pattern and a pattern bit in my router to cut the headstock profile on the neck. I glued on the two headstock laminates then just before calling it quits for the day, I glued on the fingerboard.
Aug 16: I got booted out of my shop for a few days while the HVAC guys installed a new furnace and A/C unit. They wrapped up this morning, so after getting the shop back in order, I worked on getting the neck on Eric’s guitar. I had milled the neck a few weeks ago, but I needed to cut the tenon. I pulled out my jig and router and cut the tenon. I bolt the neck to the body, which requires installing a couple of barrel nuts in the tenon. I used a separate jig to dill a pair of holes for the barrel nuts and holes for the bolts to pass through into the nuts. I then routed a matching mortise in the body and drilled a couple of holes through the neck block for the bolts.
Because the top of the upper bout has a slight radius and my router cuts flat shoulders on the neck, I need to fit the neck to the body. I used a chisel, file, and sandpaper to work on each shoulder until the neck fit tightly and was centered up the middle of the guitar. Nice to see the neck on the body. Looks like a real guitar now!
Aug 12: This morning, I scraped the back binding level with the body then sanded the whole guitar to 220g. I still need to round over the binding, but other than that the body is largely done. I’ll cut the mortise for the neck once I have the tenon cut on the neck.
Aug 11: I installed the back binding today. The process was pretty much the same as installing the top yesterday. I have abalone inlays in the back, so I needed to miter the purfling from the back inlays and purfling that would run around the back next to the ebony. Once the joints looked good, I glued and taped the binding and purfling in place, then wrapped the body in twill tape once again.
After the glue had cured for most of the day, I removed the twill tape and used a scraper to level the binding and purfling with the body.
Aug 10: I bent ebony for the binding the other day, and today I got to work binding Eric’s guitar. First up was to route channels for the binding and purfling. I used my laminate trimmer to cut these. I then used a laminate trimmer and a jig to cut a slot for an ebony tail graft inlay. I install the tail graft prior to gluing in the bindings as I find I get better joints and miters. I cut an ebony wedge to size, mitered the ends of two purfling strips that would band the ebony, and I glued them in.
I like to install the top binding first as I wrap the binding tightly with twill tape after it is installed, and the twill tape can dent the soft spruce if I do the back first and the top has no binding to protect the spruce. Binding is bit tricky as I glue in all binding and purfling along one edge at the same time. Managing a piece of binding and three runs of purfling can be challenging. I mitered the side purfling to match the miter at the tail graft. The top runs from one side are simply butted into the other side. I squared up all the ends, and starting at the tail, glued and taped 6 to 8″ at a time, working my way around the rim. Once one side was done, I repeated the process on the other side of the top. I then tightly wrapped the body in twill tape to pull the binding and purfling in tight against the body.
Aug 4: Glued up some mahogany and black dyed tulipier laminations for the neck the other day. This morning, I milled the neck on my CNC. I first cleaned up the fingerboard surface by running it over my jointer to get it dead flat. Next was to mill a slot for the truss rod. I then turned over the neck blank and mounted it to a spoilboard, which was clamped to my CNC table. I first ran a routine with a half inch end mill to rough out the neck. I followed up with a half inch ball mill to clean up the neck. Some shaping and sanding by hand will need to be done once the fingerboard is glued on. The headstock face will be cut later on the bandsaw, and the headstock profile cut with my router and a template. The tenon will be cut using my router and another jig. I’ll do that once I have the matching mortise in the body.
Aug 1: Yesterday, I carved the back braces and gave the inside of the guitar a good sanding. Then, I glued the back to the rims. Today, I used my laminate trimmer to trim the back flush with the rims, and it was time to close the box. I put the body back into the mold, set it in my go bar deck, and glued on the top. Once the glue had cured, I removed the body from the mold and trimmed the top flush with the sides.
Prior to binding, the rims need to be leveled to remove any large undulations. If I bind the guitar and remove the undulations later, the bindings will get thin spots. I do have a small drum sander I use in my drill to help with leveling, but a good chunk of the sanding was done using a sanding bar and 150 grit paper. The body is now ready for binding. I need to confirm with Eric what he wants to use for trim on the top, and I can get started.
Jul 29: I’ve made good progress om Eric’s Michigan over the last couple of days. A couple of days ago, I inlayed abalone strips down two inches from the top of the upper bout and up six inches from the bottom of the lower bout. I then ran the back through the thickness sander to clean up the inlays and get the back to final thickness. A little cleanup with the random orbital sander and the back was ready to be braced.
Yesterday, I glued red spruce bracing to the top. I used hot hide glue to attach bracing. I think it does a better job transferring sound than common wood glues. All the braces below the upper transverse brace are glued in with the top sitting in a 40′ radius dish. The braces were cut with a matching 40′ radius. This leaves the top with a slight radius to help protect it from a slight drop in humidity.
Today, I pulled out my nice handmade Japanese chisels and voiced the top. To voice the top, I tap the soundboard, measure the deflection under a fixed amount of weight, and remove wood from the braces with the chisel. I repeat the process until the top taps and deflects the way I want. Once I was happy with the top, l cleaned up the braces with sandpaper. The top is now ready to glue to the rims.
I heated up the hide glue and glued on the mahogany back braces. The first step was to glue down a cedar strip to reinforce the joint where the two back panels are joined. The back braces run through the reinforcement strip, so I grabbed a small saw and chisel and removed a small section of the reinforcement strip where each of the braces pass through. I worked on this slowly as I wanted the joints to be nice and tight. I then glued in the braces.
Jul 26: To add a bit of reinforcement and stiffness to the rims, I glued in some mahogany reinforcement strips along the rims. These strips were shaped by hand using a small thumb plane.
I wanted to start bracing the top, but the RH in my shop was running close to 60%. A bit too high for my liking.
The purfling laminations I had glued up yesterday were ready to be resawn into strips. I did this on my table saw using a thin kerf saw blade. I now have enough purfling for Eric’s guitar.
Jul 25: I used a flat sanding bar to level the linings along the top edge. To get a good action, the neck is tilted back from the top at a 2 degree angle. The rims need to have a matching 2 degree slope where the fingerboard extension will be; otherwise, the fingerboard extension will not lay on the same plane as the rest of the fingerboard. I used a small block plane and the same flat sanding bar to put this 2 degree slope on the top of the rims.
The back will be built with a 15′ radius. This is significant enough that the rims need to have a matching radius. The 15′ radius runs side to side and neck to tail. I used a sanding bar with a 15′ radius to sand the top of the linings. I stopped periodically and used a 15′ radius gauge to check the radius and make sure the radius was perfect over the neck and tail blocks and also from tip to tail over the waist.
I used the CNC to cut out red spruce bracing for the top and mahogany bracing for the back. These braces are cut a bit oversize and will be hand shaped with a chisel later. The top bracing is cut with 40′ radius. The back bracing is cut with a 15′ radius.
I was running low on black/blue/black purfling, so I needed to make some more. I laminated some blue wood veneer between black fiber and clamped it up for the night.
Jul 22: I haven’t posted any updates to Eric’s build as progress was stalled as I ran into some difficulty bending the cutaway side for the guitar. The original side cracked. A replacement side developed a kink at the cutaway horn. I made a few changes to my bending form and metal slats to hopefully elimate the kinking issue. I chased down a replacement side and finally had success. Yesterday, I made neck block and glued it to the cutaway side. This morning, I glued the other side to the neck block, glued in the tail block, and glued in linings along each edge of the rims. These linings will provide a gluing surface for attaching the top and back to the rims.
Jun 27: Eric’s guitar was set aside while he noodled designs for the rosette. He sent me a drawing a week ago that his son had drawn and asked if I could design a rosette around it. Over the weekend, I used Rhino3D to work up a design. Eric signed off, so I finalized the GCode and yesterday, used the CNC to cut out inlay pieces from rosewood, abalone, and mother of pearl.
Today I inlaid the rosette. The first step was to cut a pocket in the spruce top for the rosewood and inlay the rosewood pieces. I cut small pieces for the rosette rather than a single ring as I want the grain to run radially outwards from the rosette. Once the rosewood was in, I cut the pocket for the shell pieces and inlaid those. Last up was cutting a pocket for the blue purfling and gluing in those two runs. After the glue had dried, I ran the top through my thickness sander to clean up the rosette and get the top to final thickness. I then cut the sound hole and gave the top a thorough sanding with my random orbital.
May 23: I jointed the two bookmatched Madagascar rosewood panels we are using for Eric’s Michigan. Once I was happy with the joint, I glued up the edges and put them in my clamping jig. Once the glue had cured, I ran the back through my thickness sander to clean up the glue and get the back close to final thickness. I still need to remove the sanding scratches with my random orbital sander, but I’ll do that once I have the back inlays in.
May 24: I repeated the glue up process with the two red spruce panels for the top. Again, I cleaned up the glue by running the top through the thickness sander. I left the top a touch on the thick side. Once I have the rosette in, I’ll clean up the top and take it down to the proper thickness. More on that at a later date.