Mopus chapter 6: The End is Near! (Part 1)

My last Mopus update was way back in November, and so much has happened since that it almost seems like last year. Wait…

Mopus is getting close to being done. By “close” I probably still mean 3 or more weeks, but it’s clearly almost a thing at this point.  Here’s a story of how a couple pieces of nondescript wood became a guitar neck.

I started innocently enough with a nice but boring bit of mahogany.

The neck blank I’m using is not thick enough to carve out a headstock and a heel, so the idea is to build up those areas by cutting off pieces and gluing them back where needed. To begin with, to make the headstock I made an angled cut to glue back as a “scarf joint”.

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Here you can see how this already suggests a guitar headstock.

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Sure I could glue this up right now, but on this project I’m not really ever looking for the easy way out. So to make a more interesting neck, I sliced the board right down the center and laminated in three wood strips (maple flanked by purple heart) to create a center stripe.

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After gluing on the bit I previously cut off, and spending some quality time with some planes and other tools, I wound up with with this, which I think already looks pretty cool:

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But the headstock is way too thick for actual guitar tuners, so that part had to get a lot thinner:

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At this point I decided to take a detour and take care of something that has been bothering me for a while – the workbench I’d been using was small and wobbly. So, I made myself a heavy, sturdy and much larger workbench. Now we’re talking!

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I also made myself a router table at the same time, which I would need to finish the neck.  Yep, still another side project. In my guitar making experience so far, these kind of side trips seem to be the norm.  It’s a pretty true statement that guitar making (and likely wood working in general) is mostly about making things which enable you to make things.

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Armed with the router table, I could now cut channels in the neck for the truss rod. While I was at it, I also routed out channels for two carbon fiber rods which should make for a pretty stable neck. It was a bit of a mini project finding a source for carbon fiber!

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Next up was to glue the heel block on, and while I was at it, I figured I’d also glue on the headplate at the same time. Previously I had found and prepared some bookmatched striped Macassar ebony into a headplate, which I had all ready to go for this moment.

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And after a little cutting, trimming, rasping, and filing, this is what the neck looked like:

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Now to address attaching the neck to the body. This is not the easiest thing to do. I decided to use a mortise and tenon design with bolts (as opposed to the traditional dovetail joint).  These days, this is considered a better design, because it is much easier to adjust the neck angle should it become necessary.  The challenge is to cut a precise mortise in the guitar body (without destroying it), and to cut a precise tenon in the guitar neck. The angle between the neck and body is also tricky, as for various reasons the neck has to be at a calculated angle of about 1.5 degrees. Even a tenth of a degree makes a huge difference in playability, so this is not something one does freehand. A custom made jig is really a must, so I spent weeks designing and building such a jig.

I came up with a design that would work for both the mortise and tenon, using templates made from acrylic.  I had all sorts of problems and false starts making this jig, but in the end I was ready to do the cuts. Here I’m ready to cut the mortise into the guitar.

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And this is what the body mortise looks like.  Maybe you can appreciate how terrifying this cut could be. Not a lot of margin for error here.

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And here’s the tenon freshly cut into the neck heel:

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The holes in the heel are for barrel bolts which I’ll eventually use to screw the neck on.  Finding a source for these was a project into itself!

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This takes us to the middle of February.  At this point Mopus has a rough neck, a pretty complete body, and a way to connect one to the other.  That’s really great and all (and believe me I was thrilled), but there’s still a lot left to do and tell.  Mopus still needs a fretboard, some frets, and oh yeah, a bridge before we’re even in the ballpark. As I write this, all those things are now done! Stay tuned for part two!

 

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