Click here for photos of this build

Patrick has some creative ideas regarding this guitar. The woods will be Crelicam ebony back and sides with Adirondack Spruce top. The fun is going to come with the inlays 🙂


Oct 5: Time to get strings on Patrick’s guitar. Today, I drilled the holes for the bridge pins and used a 5 degree reamer to adjust the size until the bridge pins fit perfectly. I don’t like to use slotted bridge pins, rather I slot the bridge for the strings and use unslotted bridge pins. I cut the slots just deep enough for the string to fit. The advantage of this is the ball end of the strings sits very firmly on the bridge plate. After cutting the slots, I used a small file to clean up and slightly ramp the slots towards the saddle.

I made a nut from a bleached bone blank. I cut the slots a bit on the shallow side. I’ll come back later after the top has settled in under string tension and lower the nut slots to get the proper action. With the saddle and nut done, I installed strings and brought them up to tension. I used old strings as I will be tension and detensioning the strings a number of times when I dial in the final action. Once I have the guitar setup, I’ll install a fresh set of strings.

I put my ToneRite on the strings and leave it vibrating for a week or so prior to dialing in the action.

Oct 1: This morning, I wrapped up the fretwork. I nipped the ends of the frets flush with the edge of the fingerboard, then used a sanding block to sand the ends of the frets back to the edge of the fingerboard, sanding in a slight bevel. I ran a sharpie down the length of each fret and ran a flat sanding block over the top of the frets until the slightest amount of sharpie was removed from each fret. This ensured the frets were level. I ran a gauge down the fingerboard checking each fret along the full length of the frets to make sure the frets were indeed level. Once I was sure the frets were level, I ran the sharpie along the frets again then recrowned the frets, using the sharpie line as a guide to tell when the frets were properly crowned. I sanded the frets with 320 grit sandpaper to remove sanding and file marks, then I polished with 0000 steel wool. The last step was to dress the fret ends so they ends won’t snag the fingers when playing.

I installed a set of nickel butterbean Waverly tuning machines and made a nut. The neck is now down.

The body needed buffed with my fine buffing compound, so I ran the body over the buffer until all scratches were removed and the finish on the body was a high gloss.

Last stop today was gluing on the bridge. I removed the mask and used a razor blade to scrape the wood and remove any residue from the tape. I heated up the hide glue and glued and clamped the bridge. All that is left is setting up the bridge pins and making a saddle, and this guitar will be ready for strings.

Sep 30: Patrick wants the Evo fretwire, so I cut lengths for each fret. As the fret slots are not cut through the edges of the fingerboard, the tangs at the fret ends were removed. To prep the fingerboard for fretting, I installed the neck on the body and bolted down the fingerboard extension. I adjusted the truss rod, so the fingerboard was as flat as possible. Grabbing a flat sanding block, I sanded the fingerboard, removing any high spots. I heated up my hide glue, injected a bead down a fret slot, and pressed in a fret. I repeated this until all the frets were in.

Sep 29: Time to get some shine on Patrick’s guitar. Yesterday, I level sanded the body and the neck with 600 grit paper until there was no gloss anywhere. I then followed up with 800 to 1200 grit sandpaper. Today, I put the body to the buffer to bring out the gloss. I use three different buffing compounds and worked the guitar through the first two compounds.

Sep 3: The last step for the neck was to install a cap on the heel. I rummaged through my wood and found a nice piece ziricote that had some good inking as well as a bit of white. I roughed out the cap on the bandsaw, shaped the edge that sits next to the binding so I had a nice tight fit, glued, and clamped it to the heel. Once dry, I used a file and sanding blocks to final shape the neck and the heel. I’ll still need to drill the holes for the tuning machines, and I’ll fret after the neck has been lacquered.

With that, the guitar is built. I’ll fill the pores early next week and should be shooting lacquer by mid week…wooowhooo!!

Sep 2: Today was the day to get the headstock laminates and fingerboard on the neck. Prior to gluing on the headstock laminates, I cut the headstock profile using a pattern and my router. I then positioned the back laminate and glued and clamped it. While the glue was curing, I cut a 15 degree angle at the base of the top laminate. The headstock slopes back from the neck by 15 degrees, and the end of the laminate needed to be cut at a comparable angle so the end sits flush with the nut. I removed the clamps that were holding on the back laminate and glued on the face laminate. Before gluing on the fingerboard, I inlaid some mother of pearl dots along the side of the fingerboard to mark key fret locations. To keep the fingerboard in the proper position while gluing and clamping, I located the fingerboard and pinned it. I mixed up a batch of long cure epoxy and glued the fingerboard to the neck.

I mounted a piece of ebony to my CNC and milled the bridge. To keep with the nautical theme of this guitar, I inlaid a small abalone anchor in each wing of the bridge. The CNC does a pretty good job milling the bridge. However, it does require some sanding. I sanded the bridge with 150 and 220G sandpaper then followed up with 0000 steel wool to polish. I’ll work in some wax prior to gluing the bridge to the body later.

The body was mostly finished a couple of weeks ago. But, I needed to round over the bindings. I take a pretty aggressive approach to rounding over the binding, taking the radius all the way to the purfling edge. This maximizes the radius so the guitar is more comfortable to hold. I created the radius using a couple of sanding blocks and sandpaper. This is much more work than using a radius bit in a laminate trimmer, but I didn’t want to risk tear out or damage, especially with the body basically done.

Sep 1: I’ve been making progress despite not updating this build blog. We had a power outage shortly after I made the fingerboard and headstock laminates, and we were without power and internet for several days. Power came up today, so I am finally updating progress on this build.

Patrick and I shared drawings months ago regarding inlays for the fingerboard. Patrick was looking for an octopus inlay on the fingerboard and tall ship on the headstock. Patrick shared a few drawings, and we settled on some that I thought I could make work. During some travel I had a couple of months ago, I worked on the designs and largely got them dialed in. However, I still needed to tweak the drawings for use with my CNC and generate the GCode needed to mill the inlays and cut the inlay pockets. I finished that process a bit over a week ago.

We decided to use paua abalone for the upper parts of the octopus, Japanese Awabi for the underside of the tentacles, and pink abalone for the suction cups. Unfortunately, the three shells each is a different thickness. Because the fingerboard has a 16″ radius, and the inlay at points covers the fingerboard edge to edge, I had to be very careful to keep enough shell at the fingerboard edge. This made cutting the pockets very challenging as the depth had to vary depending on the shell and the location in the fingerboard. Fortunately, everything worked as planned, and the inlay went in beautifully. Once in, I cut the fingerboard profile, level sanded the inlay, then bound the fingerboard with Goncalo Alves.

Last up were the headstock laminates. Patrick had a pretty good drawing of a tall ship. I simplified it a bit and adjusted it so I could inlay it. I cut the sails from white mother of pearl, the hull and masts from Goncalo Alves, the flags from gold mother of pearl, and the sea from paua abalone. Some of the pieces were pretty small, and I needed a good set of tweezers to place them in position. Once inlaid, I wicked in CA to set the inlay, and cut the headstock profile and bound it with Goncalo Alves. The laminate was then run through the thickness sander to clean up the inlay.

The laminate for the back of the headstock was made from Ziricote. I made some thin bloodwood pins and inlaid those around the perimeter. Bloodwood can be a bit brittle and doesn’t bend without splintering or breaking, so I used my bender to shape the pins prior to inlaying. I cut a representation of Lake Huron from paua abalone and inlaid it into the back plate. I locked everything in place with CA. Once the glue had cured, I ran the back plate through the thickness sander to clean up the inlays and get the laminate down to the desired thickness. The back of the headstock has a slight curvature at the volute. While the bender was heated up, I used it to prebend the laminate to match the bend at the volute.

Aug 13: Time to start binding. The first step was to level sand the rims. This needs to be done first, otherwise, waiting until after the bindings are on can leave the bindings thin in some areas. Bending the binding is pretty straight forward. However, as the rim purfling is not attached to the binding, it must be supported on both sides to bend. I do this by sandwiching the four side purfling runs between the four pieces of binding and wrapping very tightly with tape. A spritz of water then off to the bending. The binding and purfling bent with no issues.

I used my laminate trimmer in a jig to cut the channels for the binding and purfling. The spruce tends to fuzz up at the end grain, so I used a couple of small sanding blocks to clean up the wood fibers along all the channels. I used a separate jig to cut the pocket for the tail graft.

I installed the tail graft prior to installing the binding. I cut a piece of Goncalo Alves and mitered the bloodwood purfling that bands each side. Once I had the pieces positioned, I wicked in some CA. I used a chisel to cut matching miters in the rim purfling. Installing the top binding is tricky as the binding, side purfling, two top purfling runs, and abalone all need to be glued in and installed at the same time. I ran purfling and binding around one half of the top, gluing and taping in place as I worked my way around. I then repeated the process along the other half of the top. After completing the second half, I tightly wrapped the guitar in twill tape to pull the binding and purfling snug against the body.

Jul 28: Today, I closed the box on Patrick’s guitar. The process is pretty much the same as gluing on the back. But I was a bit more careful with the glue to minimize squeeze out. Lastly, I used the laminate trimmer to cut off the overhang.

Jul 27: The back does not get voiced the same as the top. However, I used a small thumb plane to remove wood from the braces to lighten them. I then sanded the braces and the back. I like to glue on the back before the top as the glue joints are visible from the sound hole, and the glue can be cleaned up easily while the box is still open. I applied a bead of Titebond along the linings, lined up the back, then clamped the back to the rims. After about 20 mins, I removed the clamps, and cleaned up the glue squeeze out.

Jul 24: My wife and I slipped away for a three week vacation, so the shop sat idle. Back in shop now and time to get some braces on the back. The first step was to glue down a cedar strip to reinforce the center joint. The back braces were previously cut from mahogany on the CNC. I used a small saw and chisel to open up the cedar reinforcement strip for the braces to pass through. I then glued on the braces using hot hide glue.

Jun 23: Today, I voiced the top of Patrick’s guitar. The bracing I glued on was cut oversize on the CNC. I pulled my nice Japanese chisel and removed wood from the braces, stopping periodically to tap and measure deflection. Once the top was responding the way I wanted, I put down the chisel and grabbed some sandpaper to give the top a thorough sanding.

Jun 17: To provide a gluing surface for the top and back, I glued kerfed linings to the inner edges of the rims. The top linings were sanded flat, level with the rims. Additionally, I sanded a slight slope from the waist to the neck joint. The fingerboard plane is about 2 degrees from level, tilting the neck and fingerboard slightly away from the top. This puts the strings closer to the frets, allowing for a good action.

The back when braced will have a 15′ radius. The linings and end blocks need to have a matching radius. I used a small block plane to rough out the radius on the neck block, tail block, and linings then followed up with a radiused sanding bar, using a 15′ gauge to check progress.

The last step was to glue in small reinforcements around the rims. I located these where the back braces will eventually pass through rims. The general consensus is these reinforcements help prevent the rims from cracking or limit cracks if the guitar gets dropped. I’m not totally convinced. But I do think the reinforcements help stiffen the rims, which is a good thing.

Jun 16: Goal today was to get the rims bent and in the mold. I ran the rims through the thickness sander to take them down just a bit above 0.080″. I then used the random orbital sander to final sand the rims, taking them down a few thousandths more. I had never bent Crelicam Ebony before, but my experience with ebony had me a little worried about the rims cracking, so I sanded the rims a bit thinner at the waist and upper bout. Last step prior to bending was to cut the rim profile.

I spritzed a rim with water, wrapped it in foil, sandwiched it between some steel slats, added a heat blanket, then put it in the bender. Once the wood reached 250 degrees and started steaming, I turned the screw to set the caul at the waist, then bent the ends of the rim around the mold. Once bent, I cooked the rims for 30 minutes at 250 to set the bends. After the rim had cooled, I removed it from the bender, clamped it in the building mold, and repeated the process with the other rim.

I made a tail block and neck block and glued those to the rims. To provide a gluing surface for the back, I glued linings to the back edge of the rims. I’ll do the same to the top side of the rims another day.

Jun 15: Today, I started bracing the top of Patrick’s guitar. I had previously cut the braces on my CNC. The braces were cut oversized and will be carved with a chisel later when I voice the top. The X brace is the main structural brace. I glued these together first by notching the individual braces, making sure there were no gaps in the joint. I dry clamped the X brace in place, which helped me locate the bridge and hold it in place while the glue cured. I then removed the X brace, glued and clamped in place and followed up gluing on the tone bars and finger braces. I won’t glue on the upper transverse brace or sound hole reinforcements until the rims are done and I can fit the top to the rims.

Jun 9: I used my CNC to route a pocket in the spruce top for the abalone pieces I had cut yesterday for the rosette. After those were inlaid, I had the CNC cut four more channels for the bloodwood purfling and inlaid those.

Yesterday, I used my very thin curf blade on my table saw to rip the bloodwood laminate I had previously glued up into purfling strips. I also fired up the CNC and cut some abalone shell for the rosette. Once the glue has cured, I’ll run the top through the thickness sander to clean up the rosette and cut the soundhole.

Jun 7: Though Patrick and I have been trading emails regarding this build for some time, I officially kicked off the build today by joining the top and back plates. The back required a bit of finesse to join. The ink blots don’t maintain the same size and shape down through the thickness of the wood. The faces that I wanted out had previously been adjoining faces prior to the board being resawn. Therefore, I needed to remove only the minimum necessary from the outer faces. I first cleaned up the outer faces on my thickness sander. Then, looked at the edge grain to see how the ink blot was changing as it progressed through the wood. I shifted the plates just a touch to allow me to remove a bit more wood from the outer face when sanding after glue up. I marked the locations and glued the two plates together. After the glue had cured, I carefully sanded the outer face to clean up that side. Then, I flipped over the back, and removed wood from the inside face of the back until I got the back to the proper thickness for the guitar body. Some final sanding with the random orbital, and the back was done.

We are using bloodwood purfling for Patrick’s guitar. I made these by laminating a .02″ strip of bloodwood between two black fiber sheets and clamping using cauls. Once cured, I’ll rip the lamination into individual purfling strips. I need these strips before I can inlay the rosette.