Heavy Necking

The electric guitar project really got off the block today. I had ordered a Strat style neck, and it looked pretty good. I would have be happy to have a guitar with that neck on it. It’s a rock maple neck with a compound radius – really no complaints. But somehow it just didn’t feel right to just put on a neck someone else made without somehow making it mine. I mocked up a few ideas in photoshop, and in the end decided on modifying the headstock to be unique.

Here’s the neck before I started playing with it:_MG_1010-2The main idea was to inlay a veneer of rosewood. After some obsessing about how to do it without screwing up the neck, I spent some time making a jig to support the neck for routing:


Using the precision routing attachment for the Dremel I carefully made a channel for some veneer to sit in;

_MG_1032 _MG_1033

So far so good! Then I glued a piece of rosewood headstock veneer and used a flush cut bit on the laminate trimmer to trim it.

_MG_1038  _MG_1041

As cool as that looked, it’s still wasn’t unique enough for me. So I altered the shape of the headstock with the sander. And for good measure, I routed out an area for my headstock logo, using an mother of pearl inlay I originally made for the acoustic when I was practicing cutting shell.


Amazing what kind of confidence surviving an acoustic guitar build will give you! I had no problems doing this at all. Every step of this process came pretty naturally to me, and I would have never guessed I would have gotten all this done in one day.

Here’s the final result, I’m pretty happy with this! _MG_1053

I’ll do some fine tuning when it’s time to apply the finish.

Im leaving on a business trip tomorrow, when I get back I should have the wood for the body. Then things will really get interesting!

New Project – A totally electric decision!

It’s time for a new project! After much internal debate I’ve decided to build an electric guitar. That decision was reached in part due to several factors converging at the right time, namely:

  1. I’ve started taking jazz guitar lessons, and acoustic guitars simply won’t do
  2. My beautiful Parker Fly has a serious problem which turns out will be difficult to fix AND our 3 other electrics (a Hohner Steinberger copy, Lucas’ Ibanez, and my old Fender Duo-Sonic) each have a story that makes them problematic. That’s FOUR electric guitars and barely a drop to drink.
  3. I’ve recently re-discovered my old hobby of electronics tinkering, and electric guitars have a bit of electronics tinkering built right in.
  4. Robbie O’Brien just released an online course in electric guitar building – which is truly awesome. As with his acoustic guitar courses, there is so much information that you almost think you know what you’re doing!

In my typical over-obsessive style, I’ve spent many hours researching what I might do. I’ll spare you the whole long story and cut to the chase. I’ve decided to build a Strat like guitar featuring a body of my own design. And because I need to use the guitar fairly soon – I’ve decided to use a pre-built neck to save time. I’d really like to build my own neck, but that will just have to wait.

Before I decided to go with a pre-made neck, I did make my own fret ruler for a 25.5″ scale as is typical on Strats. I did this by cutting a piece of acrylic, scoring the fret positions with a razor, and then marking the lines with a sharpie. After rubbing off the excess ink, I got nice crisp fret lines. Even though marking off the measurements was pretty tedious, the result is a very useful tool.


The first step in building an electric is to design the body. I sketched out a bunch of templates and then cut them out of MDF so I could better visualize my options. The MDF templates will also serve as eventual routing guides. Here’s some scenes from that effort:


_MG_0991 _MG_0993

I began by making a template based off of Strat blueprints. Then I kept making templates thinking about the pro and cons of each design, correcting what I didn’t like about the previous one. In the end this is the design I came up with:


I like that it’s a bit asymmetrical, and doesn’t have overly pronounced “horns”.  I also made sure my hand could reach up the entire fretboard. Another non-obvious concern was trying to come up with a design that I could cut using my “toy” 9″ bandsaw. It was good to get in some practice making the templates to evaluate how it might go when cutting the actual body blank.  By reducing the size of the horns my saw could almost clear most of the body if I’m very careful.  We’ll see how that goes, but I won’t know unless I try. 

I’m planning to use Swamp Ash for the body, because that way I can leave it natural and won’t have to use paint or lacquer to finish it. I’m hoping to finish the body using the french polish technique much like I did with the acoustic.

I also have done some research on pickups, which turns out to be a large and complicated (and very opinionated) subject. I’m going to make this easy on myself by going with single coils (like a traditional Strat) but I’m going to use modern low noise pickups because traditional single coils are notorious for hum (the usual solution is to play very loud like Hendrix).  More on this later.


Two Thousand Fourteen!

Happy New Year! It’s great to be starting a new year. Not that 2013 was that bad. In fact, a year ago I set myself a goal of doing something new – to learn or accomplish something I’d never done before. I can definitely say I did that – some of the stuff I did last year:

  • Built a new room in the basement – a.k.a. The Microshop
  • Learned basic woodworking skills
  • Built an acoustic guitar (from a kit)
  • Learned to cut shell and do basic inlay
  • Learned to mix shellac and apply a “French Polish”
  • Learned jQuery, getting pretty good at it too
  • (re) Learned basic electronics, and wired up some cool contraptions
  • Started jazz guitar lessons

I’m pretty happy with that list. But it’s so last year. This year, I’d like to keep moving forward and surprise myself . It’s going to be an interesting year regardless of what I do – with Hannah studying in London and Lucas entering his college years. My hope is to accomplish the following in 2014:

  • Build another guitar, this time from scratch. Or maybe build an electric guitar.
  • Make a prototype of a new gizmo – I’ve got something in mind, but who knows what that might morph into
  • Make enough progress with jazz guitar lessons to apply it in my playing
  • Stick to a healthier diet / exercise program and loose the damn weight again
  • Something unexpected that I can’t visualize yet

But you know how these things go…

Anyway, here’s to 2014! Let’s get this thing started! First order of business – make the traditional New Years Day piroshki.