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Posts tagged “Mark Morton

The Neck Rout

With the basic body shape complete it became time to do the neck rout. Neither me or Dad had ever used a router before so we had to teach our selves. With a bit of experimentation and testing on a scrap piece of wood we made a replica of the rout that turned out well. Normally a router will use a jig, a replica of the shape to be routed. We didn’t make one of these but instead used dimensions of the router, such as the distance between the edge of the machine and the start of the rout, it was quite effective and produced the shape we want.

We practiced on a piece of scrap first.

Let’s talk about why the neck routing in particular is so important. The short verion is that it’s all about geometry. The angle between the nut at the top of the neck and the bridge (the two points between which tension will be created) has to suit the type of guitar that you are building. This picture from the Tundra Workshop website demonstrates quite well what I mean.

This image shows the importance of neck angle.

My guitar has a flat top, but the bridge doesn’t sit flat to the body, it’s an adjustable height type that sits a little way off the body at a minimum and so a flat neck angle would produce an uncomfortable action height, the height of the stings away from the fret board. Playing a guitar like that would not be easy, or fun. So I need an angled neck, luckily the neck I scavenged from the cheap Les Paul copy is angled at the end, but when we tested it on the practice neck rout it wasn’t quite enough, so that means the neck rout would also have to be angled. This isn’t an easy task.

This images shows our off the cuff jig method.

It turns out that when we adjusted the router to do the proper neck pocket, it was a bit too deep, making the neck sit too close to the body. Obviously once you make a cut too big there is no going back. So what we have done is to use thin pieces of wood to prop up the neck, this doesn’t produce as stable a neck joint as a solid piece of wood, I have plans to use a small piece of the left over pine and then sculpt it to the correct neck angle to add a more stable permenant height and angle corection. For now we used thin pieces of fiber board.

The fibreboard used to pack the neck is a temporary replacement.

Those pieces you see either side of the neck pocket will be cut to create a completely flat extension for the neck to bolt on to. If they were left there the neck joint would be a little bit more stable, but it is harder to play with extra wood in the way of the fret board, so it has to go. Attaching the neck to the body was a bit of a drama. The neck having already been bolted on to a previous guitar already had holes where it attached. Trying to line up with these hole on the back on the neck pocket proved almost impossible, so we packed the previous holes with wood and created new screw holes using the screw plate as a template from the back of the neck. With the neck attached it’s really starting to look like a guitar.

With the neck attached it’s starting to look quite good!

At this point I have to wait for my order to arrive from Guitar Fetish as that’s where I ordered my bridge from. I can’t drill the hole for the bridge or decide on the placement of the pickups untill I have those things in hand, so I will talk more about bridge placement, pickup placement, and pickup choice in later installments.

Laminating The Wood

The wood is all finally cut down to size which means it is time to laminate the wood. This is arguably one of the most important tasks in creating the guitar because the stuctural integrity of my body blank is the single most important thing in making sure the guitar will not fall appart at some point. I chose the best glue I could find, a polyurethane based glue which will not only be strong, but being ployurethane based shouldn’t interfere with any subsequent finishing materials that I use.

In order to make life easier on ourselves me and dad glued all pieces together at the same time. Firstly we glued the two halves of pine together, next the glue was applied to the top of the pine, glue was applied to one half of the ash and then the two halves were placed on top of the pine. During the whole process the two joins were placed as far apart as possible which you can observe in subsequent pictures.

Applying glue to the one half of the wood

Glue applied to the top of the pine ready for the ash to be placed on top.

The wood was all joined flat together onto plained surfaces, this is very important because an uneven surface would have resulted in dead spots where the two surfaces being glued were not in contact with each other, which structurally would not have been as strong.

I clamped in two planes horizontal and vertical which means you need a lot of clamps, you need large clamps for the horizontal plane that can span the width of the wood (I used 45cm clamps).  I had originally intended to use 3 clamps for this part but one broke becasue it was cheap… so a lesson for you there, invest in good equipment, you’ll save in the long run with how much longer it will last. Smaller clamps were used to apply preasure to the vertical plane, I used 6 clamps for this part.

The wood with all the clamps

It’s easier to see the horizontal clamps in this picture.

Something to note when glueing is that there will be nothing you can do about quite a lot of glue coming over the sides and making a large mess. If this happens you know that you have applied enough glue because the glue has covered all the surfaces and has run out of space and therefore escapes throught the cracks.

Here you can see the mess that is made by glueing and how the two horizontal joins in the ash and the pine do not line up on top of each other.

I’m leaving the glue to dry for a week, this amount of time isn’t really necessary but basically Sundays are the only days I have to work on this. Next week I will be sanding off all the excess glue and cutting out the shape of the body, and depending on how much time I have I may even rout the neck joint so I can plan where to place the routing holes for the pickups and the bridge, but more on the importance of these things when I get to that part of the build.

The Timber Yard

Timber choice is a pretty hotly debated topic amonst guitarists and luthiers with claims about the different tonal properties of different woods. Certainly if you are building an acoustic guitar the wood will make a big difference to the tone and resonance of the sound, as it is the resonance of the wood wich amplifies the vibrations of the strings. Electric guitars are different though, the strings are amplified electronically from signals generated by magnetic pickups. Although many a forum discussion has heated arguments about the different kinds of timbre (i.e characteristics) of the sound different woods make, for instance alder and ash are said to be brighter with mahogany producing a darker sound, the concensus among most luthiers seems to be that it really doesn’t make too much difference at all, excpect for maybe sustain, as the bulk of the sound is generated from the pickups and the amplifier. It is for this reason that in solid body guitar building, the visual characteristic of the wood are the most prized.

So with this and the dimensions in mind I went to a local fine timber yard to see what wood they had in stock. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money with this being my first ever guitar build, so I bought Kauri Pine, which I had planed down from 4cm to 2.5cm depth, and to put on top Victorian Ash which was 2cm thick. Neither are wide enough to cover the entire width of the design so I will have to laminate (glue) two pieces together, I will also have to of course glue the ash onto the pine. Below you can see a picture of the pine before and after cutting.

This is the pine marked out before cutting.
The pine in two pieces after being cut down to size.

Something which I hadn’t considered was where to join the pieces of wood. Being a bit more practical and possesing a considerable amount more common sense than myself, my dad reccomended that I join the top piece of wood with equal size halves and the bottom piece with unequal size halves, or offset if you like.
The reason for this is because of structural integrity. Doing it this way avoids the two vertical joins from my different pieces lining up on top of each other when I glue them horizontally, as in one on top of the other. This way the guitar body will be stronger because it will be less likely to simply snap into two pieces down the middle because the two layers of wood will support each other. The last thing you want is your guitar falling apart!

A complete novice attempts to build a guitar.

Hi there guys! My name is Ross Balch, I’ve been playing guitar for arround ten years now and like many guitarists before me I have felt the need for quite some time now to build my own guitar. As a novice I’m not expecting it to be as great as a PRS private stock model, or even as good as say an Epiphone (although if I can achieve that then brilliant) but hopefully at the end of it I will have a playable instrument and the satisfaction of knowing that I built it myself. Up front I should say that I will not be building the neck. This is probably the most difficult part requiring precision work to make sure the scale length and the frets are in the correct place. Instead I purchased a cheap guitar, in my case an Onyx Les Paul copy and I will use the neck, which is suprisingly good, as well as a lot of other hardware from that which you can see below. I do have a lot of experience with setting up my own guitars so I am hoping that will help with the build.

The neck as well as the bridge pieces and control nobs have been taken from the cheap onyx guitar.

Preparation is the most important thing for any project, and as I’ve wanted to do this for a fair few years now I have done quite a bit of reading on the internet and I also purchased myself some very helpful books, Make Your Own Electric Gutiar by Melvyn Hiscock and Guitar Finishing Step-by-Step by Dan Erlewine and Don MacRostie, those two have also produced some excellent videos which I reccomend. I have admired the Mark Morton Dominion signature model from Jackson lately so I decided to plan my guitar to have this basic shape.

This is the Mark Morton Dominion by Jackson from which I will be basing my guitar design.

I will be making a few changes to this design. For starters I won’t be using the same wood for the body, the original is made of mahogany and maple with a quilted maple veneer. I didn’t want to spend too much on the build so I choose other timber that was available to me (see later post). On my model I will be colouring the back black and leaving the front with a natural look with just shellac and laqeur. I’m going to move the selector switch in line with the rest of the controls to avoid having to create too many cavities and I’m also going to go with only one volume and one tone shared between the two humbuckers. I am tempted to get a set of Mark Morton Dominion pickups from DiMarzio, but they are $119 each so I think I will go with the Power Rails from Guitar Fetish to begin with and make the upgrade if my guitar will get regular use when it’s complete.

The basic plan of my guitar showing the position of the controls and other bits.

Unfortunately I have never seen this guitar in real life and I could not find the real dimensions online so using the picture I worked out from the scale length (which is 24.75″) that the body is roughly 42.4cm high and 31.7cm wide, the average depth of my guitars is around 4.5cm so I went with that. To make sure the measurements were corect, or at least produced a decent size guitar I made a 3D cardboard representation and compared it to my other guitars, especially my PRS SE Custom 22 which is the highest quality guitar I own. It looks good so I will stick with those dimensions.

Apart from the depth which is a little large, this will be a representation of how the body shape will look when it is finished.

So that’s my plan. As I go along I will update the blog with more indepth discussions about the actual building process, decisions I made and other general guitar nerdery. This first of which will be choice of timber and the joinery options which (like most things I guess) is quite a contreversial topic among guitar players and luthiers.