I was definitely overly optimistic. I thought today I could finish shaping the neck, put in the nut and heel cap, and set the neck angle without breaking a sweat. But although I did plenty of sweating, I didn’t really finish any of those things. Yet it was still a pretty positive experience – I’m in no rush anyway.
The neck in my kit was roughly formed already – to the extent you might think there isn’t much to do to shape it into it’s final form. Today I learned that it’s not quite so easy. I also now have a better appreciation for how difficult it must be to create the neck completely from scratch – and also how rewarding it must be.
I’ve played enough guitars that I know what I like in a neck, and what I don’t like so much. My very favorite neck ever is on my Larrivee – it’s pretty shallow in depth and kinda flat on the back – very easy to get your hand around. By way of contrast, a Martin style neck tends to be pretty thick, with a rounder cross section. I took measurements from the Larrivee so I had something to shoot for.
I don’t own many of the tools usually employed for shaping a neck – for example a spokeshave would be pretty handy. I thought awhile about how sand down to a nice curve – and decided to make a custom sanding block. I used my drill press with a sanding attachment to cut a curve into a piece of poplar, and then used carpet tape to attach some 80 grit sandpaper. This little thing turned out to be a fantastic tool!
I also had in my head to form the bottom of the headstock to be narrower and tapered – a blend between the approaches taken by Larrivee and Taylor. I had already made templates for the headstock, so I knew exactly the shape I was shooting for on the front. The back of the headstock and the head of the neck was much more challenging – and it took a while for me to gain the confidence to remove significant amounts of mahogany. At first I was very paranoid of making a mistake – after removing wood you can’t put it back. I used rasps, chisels, scrapers, sandpaper, and The Force – and after hours of fiddling, I got close to the shape I wanted. I don’t know how well it comes across in pictures, but there’s a world of difference between the first and last shot of this sequence:
To shape the neck contour, I heavily used my sanding block. It was the perfect tool for the job as far as I could tell. I was able to taper the edges just the way I wanted, and I can tell by feel that the neck is close to the right shape when I wrap my hand around it. After taking some measurements, I can see I still have about 0.1″ more to take off, but that will have to wait until my arms recover.
Forming the heel was a similar exercise – by no means quick or easy. Using all my implements of torture, I forced the heel to succumb to my wishes and look nice to my eyes.
After I got comfortable, I found that shaping mahogany has real appeal. It works differently than other woods I’m used to, and really takes to shaping. That’s probably a major reason why its used for guitar necks.
Then I went nuts. By that I mean I put in the nut – which in this kit is already shaped. I did have to cut a channel for it – I used my very accurate micro-saw and a fence cut at the correct angle. This turned out to be surprisingly tricky – and honestly I didn’t do that great of a job fitting the nut, although I’m pretty sure nobody but me will notice.
That’s where I stopped. I never got around to making a heel cap or setting the neck angle. I didn’t even really finish shaping the neck. And I found that some of the frets are a bit loose. And – well, there’s more – but those are all problems to solve another day. That’s OK, I’m glad that there’s another day. Another day building a guitar will be another good day.