Mopus chapter 8: The End is Near! (Part 3)

Whew, writing this update makes it seem like I’ve been working 24-7 on this guitar. Not exactly – it’s been almost exclusively weekends, and even then just during the day. It also may sound like I know what I’m doing, which is not exactly accurate. I’m just persistent in the face of failures. I confess to doing a lot of research, I tend to want to know every way to do something before I pick the way I’m going to do it. And I have to give huge credit to the over 50 hours of online courses I took from Robbie O’Brian. Those courses were worth every penny many times over. There is absolutely no way I could do this if that material was not available.

And now for he thrilling conclusion of the penultimate chapter of The Great Mopus Caper…

Before moving on to the frets, I first buttoned up a few loose ends, including permanently installing the carbon fiber rods with epoxy. I also worked on the truss rod and made adjustments to the neck to body joint. Eventually I ran out of pre-fretting things to do.

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Now for the frets. Fret wire comes in one continuous length which will be cut as needed to fit the fret slots. In this case I using gold EVO wire, which is made from a copper alloy rather than the usual nickel. It’s more durable, but I really chose it because it looks cool.

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One complication here is that I bound the fretboard with maple, which means that the slot doesn’t go all the way from edge to edge, it stops at the binding. So the fret tangs need to be removed short of the edge of the fretboard. I used a tool called a “fret nipper” to do this.

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I used a cut off section of my 16″ radius sanding block as a caul to protect the frets when hammering them in. It’s that block of wood with the 16 on it. Last time I just banged the frets in, causing dents in the wire which needed to be leveled out. Using the radius block caul worked much better.

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Once all the frets were in, I did an initial filing of the fret ends and then glued the fretboard to the neck. I used a 2×4 to apply slight upward pressure on the heel of the neck while the glue dried, this is to counteract the tenancy of the neck to bow slightly from the fret wire tension.

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Once the glue was set, I attached the neck temporarily so I could take a critical look at where Mopus was at.  I can almost visualize playing it now.

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Even though it looked good and all, a few measurements showed that there was still a way to go. The neck was much too thick, the heel block and headstock were not completed, and worst of all the neck angle was not quite right. But there is no doubt that this project has now shifted from basic construction to one of mostly finishing up. Almost every task from here on out is a final step.

The neck needed a lot of work. It turned out that I had to remove quite a bit of wood, much more than I originally thought. This took me days of futzing, as the neck is kinda important. And although you have to remove a lot of wood, it turns out you can’t put it back if you remove too much.  There is a very artistic and almost zen like feel to carving a neck, I suppose it similar to sculpting. You squint as you work, trying to visualize the curves you’re carving. You also have to be keenly aware of symmetry.

Here’s the neck close to it’s final shape:

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In the above picture you can see one detail I didn’t mention before. The back of the headstock has a walnut burl veneer. I actually researched veneers quite a bit, found a supplier that sent me an awesome and kinda large sheet of walnut burl. It first needed to be flattened with a special softener and weights.  I really like this material and will definitely use it again.

Now for the bridge. With the final words of Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge” stuck in my head, I got to work.

…..Where is that confounded bridge?….

I started with a block of ebony…

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…and played with some ideas on paper.

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After changing my mind 2 or 3 hundred times, I cut out my final design on the bandsaw, and then roughed in the basic shape.

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Now comes the hard part, cutting the groove for the saddle bone. This is another area where a well thought out jig is essential. But to be honest, I’m starting to get a bit impatient, so I skimped a bit here and made a makeshift contraption, which was a borderline disaster. The key word here is borderline, and in the end I was able to get a usable groove cut. But just barely. I will definitely be over thinking this operation next time!

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Now for the peg holes. Pretty standard stuff here, they just have to be in the right place.

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After a bunch more shaping with frequent weighing to ensure the bridge had the right amount of mass, I finally found my confounded bridge.

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It’s the look I was going for, no hard edges, and sort of organic. Definitely doesn’t look factory made.

Before attaching the bridge to the body, it was time to address any remaining neck alignment problems and triple check everything. I made an alignment tool out of acrylic to help me visualize things. After more effort than I care to admit, I believe everything is aligned and positioned properly.

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And now for that terrifying moment when you just take a drill to the top of your guitar. I did this once before, but it still doesn’t feel right somehow.

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The holes allow me to use a special clamp for gluing on the bridge. After applying the glue and screwing down the clamp, I’ve reached the point of no return. Everything better be in the right place now!

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And that, my friends, brings us to the end of this Mopus update, which required a trilogy to tell.  The remaining tasks are to make a nut and saddle, install the tuners, do the fretwork, and string it up. That all by itself is maybe a day of work, so in theory I could play Mopus tomorrow. But what’s missing from that utopian thought is the finish. I am going to use the French polish technique on Mopus, and although I have some experience with it, I’m going to try to bump the technique up a notch this time. So this will take a little while, and I will have to try to be patient, which is extremely important for this type of finish. Wish me luck. I hope to be playing Mopus for the next update!

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