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Posts tagged “Victorian Ash

Preparing the finish.

Guitar builds are typically split into two stages, the first stage is called the manufacturing phase, this is essentially the woodworking phase, timber is planed, glued, shaped and routed. The second phase is known as finishing, this involves meticulously prepping the wood with progressive sanding, and spraying lacquers or applying stains and oils to protect the wood. After finshing the manufacturing stage earlier this week I moved onto the home straight and began the finishing process.

The first step is to sand the wood, I had a few dings and scratches so I started off with a coarse grit, 60. This is pretty agressive on the wood, it takes out a big layer and creates fairly deep scratch marks, though less deep than the dings I had introduced. I used the 60 grit to create a back contour also, this is for comfort while playing, the contour lines up with the players abdomen and makes the guitar nicer to play, especially whilst playing standing up. The next step is to use the 120 grit paper. The 60 grit took care of all but the deepest marks that I had accidentally created during drilling the bridge holes, the 120 smothed off the wood and removed the rest of the holes that were amenable to sanding. At 120 the wood is still too rough to achieve a nice base coat so 240 grit is needed. Before sanding with the 240 grit I made the wood slightly wet with a damp cloth in order to raise the grain fibers of the wood, this produces a smoother finish and makes sanding easier. I also rounded off all the edges front and back to create a less sterile feel to the guitar, the straight edges weren’t looking too great. To save myself time and effort I used the orbital sander for this task, I also think the orbital sander produces a more consistent and smoother finish, for the wood stage it removes a fair amount of wood which is good. I intentionally started out with a thick guitar so any dirt that ended up on the surface during manufacturing could be removed with a bit of generous sanding.

The fully sanded finish with the contour showing.

There are many ways to finish a guitar, some people like to use brushes and rags to apply finish materials, others use products in an aerosol spray can. Most people agree that for professional looking results you need an air compressor and a spray gun. This method allows you the most flexibility in finishing materials because you can mix your own and add it to the spray gun at what ever consistency you like. I decided to invest in the spray equipment, I’m glad I did, not only has it poduced good results so far, but the air is handy to have to blow away dust that is hard to remove with a cloth.

There is no one true way to finish a guitar, the neccesary steps can be applied in different orders depending on what kind of look you are after. I have used the book “Guitar Finishing Step-By-Step” along with the accompanying video and I must say it has been esential. I knew nothing about the finishing process and by reading the book and watching the video tutorial I became much more confident and have learned enough to develop my own method for how I want to finish the guitar.

Although in an earlier post I said I was going to use polyuretane lacqeur, after more research I decided that a nitrocellulose type laqceur would be best, it’s easier to sand, buffs to a shinier gloss and can be applied thinner which affects the tone slightly. It wasn’t easy to find, in Australia you cannot simply purchase it from your local hardware store, however thanks to an internet forum search and a discussion with a local luthier I found Mirotone and purchased a 4L tin of laqceur and the reccomended thinner.

Ash is a very porous wood, this means that if you were to simply spray your finish straight over it you would end up with a pitted uneven finish somewhat like a golf ball. In order to counteract this a grainfiller is needed. Based on the internet research that I have done I decided that it would be best to start off by spraying the whole finish in a wash coat. This is a very thin coat, 3 parts thinner to 1 part lacqeur (3:1), sprayed over the whole body to seal off the wood and protect it from whatever you do afterwards. I sprayed 2 washcoats over the entire guitar, even after these two thin coats the guitar already began to look better.

This is the guitar after 2 wash coats

The wash coats covered the pine nicely and did fill some of the pores, grainfiller was still needed though to fill the rest of the pore holes. Originally I was going to use Feast and Watson sanding sealer but after testing it on an old guitar I have decided to refinish I found I didn’t like the way it looks or the way it sands. Timbermate waterbased grain filler seemed like a popular choice in Australia and was available at Bunnings in a variety of tints, I decided to be adventurous and went with black. I thought that this would really make the pores pop being such a darker colour than the surrounding wood, not to mention I am planning on tinting a layer or two of the top coats with a stain so the dark will be even more helpful to make the pores stand out.

You mix the grainfiller with water to the desired consistency.

The grain filling is achived by basically dolloping the grain filler onto the guitar and then spreading it across the grain with a plastic applicator and wiping off the excess. It dries very quickly but does wipe off for the most part with water, I found however I was also wiping the filler out of the pores so I filled the grain a second time with a thick mixture, filling the holes with the applicator and wiping the excess down the sides to fill the pores that are on the side of the body that the applicator cannot reach, I let it dry thick and then sanded it off leaving only the wash coats below and the filled pores.

The grain filler left quite a lot of residue which needed to be sanded off.

 

With the residue removed it’s starting to look quite striking.

In order to seal in the grain filler and to fill the remaining depth from the pores that the grain filler was unable to fill I applied another two wash coats to the guitar. With the wash coats the guitar is looking more like the final product. The next step will be to apply more wash coats and then a layer or two of the tinted laqceur on the front and transparent black pidmented laqceur on the back. After that it’s just the clear top coats and the buffing, more on that next time…

The guitar is really on the way to looking how I want it with the latest wash coat.

 

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Routing Continued

My stuff finally arrived from Guitar Fetish, what this means is that I can move on with drilling the holes for mounting the bridge and the pickups. The most important part of the instrument is the bridge in relation to the neck. My neck has a scale length of 24.75″. The scale length is the distance between the nut at the top of the neck and the bridge on the body. Tension is created between these two points and it is the vibration of this particular section of the strings that makes the musical notes. Now the distance of the bridge could be any distance from the nut and you could tune the guitar to the open string tunings, say EADGBE. However in order for the notes on the frets to also be the corect pitch (this is known as intonation), the bridge must be placed at the correct distance from the neck nut, 24.75″. The pitch a string makes is a function of the distance of the vibrating portion of the string and the tension of that part of the string. There is a specific mathmatical formular which determines where the frets must go, spaced in decreasing intervals in order to make the correct notes. If the bridge is the wrong distance, each fret will get progressively further away from the correct pitch making the guitar essentially useless unless you are into some form of microtone jazz. So no pressure to get this part right then…

The bridge is attached to make sure it is in the right position.

I attached some of the tuning machines to the neck to string the outer strings to the neck and through the bridge, this way I could line up the bridge with the measured scale length, I also could see where the outer strings would lie. It wouldn’t be much good if one of them was to lie off of the fretboard. After all the testing I marked the spots where drilling was required and attached the bridge with the strings on to test it out. This was the biggest moment so far in the entire build. And find out how I went after these commercials… no just kidding, it worked great, the string action was good and the intonation was as close as you could hope for without fine tuning it later with the adjustable parts of the bridge. Success!

With that sorted it was time to move on to routing the holes for the pickups. The location of these mounting parts aren’t random either. The importance here though is in the overall sound of the guitar, not it’s playability. It’s generally accepted that the best place to place pickups is where there would be a fret divisible by 12, or to put it another way on an octave. This is because the octave represents a point where there are the most harmonics. A vibrating strings doesn’t just create a single frequency but a multitude of related overtones along side the dominant frequency and the octave points have the most overtones. Placing your pickups under these points therefore produces the most harmonically rich sound. Another consideration is the distance to the nut, the closer to the nut the pickup is located the “warmer” or bassier the sound is, further away from the nut the sound becomes “crisper” or treblier.

Neck pickups are nearly always placed under the place where the 24th fret would be, unless there are 24 frets on the fretboard in which case the pickup is placed as close as possible to the 24th fret point. The bridge pickup however is not always placed directly under the 36th fret and may be placed a little closer or further away from the bridge nut depending on your preference for a warmer or crisper sound. I used my other 24.75″ guitars as a reference point for the bridge pickup because I like the sound they produce so I just copied thier positioning. I won’t know what the guitar sounds like through the pickups untill the guitar is finished because wiring up the pickups is the last step before actually stringing up the guitar.

The guitar after pickup routing.

In routing the pickup holes I wasn’t as meticulous as I had to be for the neck pocket, the reason for this is that the holes will be covered by plastic pickup mounts which will cover the hole. It doesn’t need to look great, and functionally I needed a minimum hole size, so I drew an inner and outer line on the guitar and routed between these two lines, the results don’t look amazing but they got the done in a timely manner. What isn’t shown here is the rout for the guitar controlls. My router couldn’t rout deep enough to allow the controls to be threaded trough the body so I routed all the way through. What this means is that I will have to create a front control plate for the controls to thread through which secures them to the top of the body. Something like this… but using a black 3-ply plastic.

An example of the front control plate.

I also made my permenant neck rout fix today and glued it to the neck pocket. I used a piece of the left over pine, cut it to a smaller depth and then used my orbital sander to sculpt it into the shape that I want. I feel much better about a solid piece of wood supporting the neck angle, it will look better too.

Here you can see the results of the neck fix.

The next step in the process is probably the main reason you build your own guitar, the individual look and this is called the finishing process. It involves sanding the bare wood, filling in the pores, applying stain, colour and finally clear coats on top to protect the whole thing. I must say, preparing for this stage has caused me the most stress because sourcing the materials I need hasn’t been easy, but hopefully by sharing my findings it may be less stressful for people reading this who may want to do a build of their own.

 

 


Cutting out the body shape.

So it turns out that I found some free time today and don’t have to wait until Sunday to cut out the body. With the laminating phase over it’s time to sand away all the extras that got stuck to the wood as a reult of the clamping. I used my trusty random orbital sander for this on an 80 grit paper, there was quite a thick layer of glue and thin mdf board that I had to remove so the lower grit was ideal, the higher the grit the finer the sanding, rough and brutal was what I was after here. I only bothered with sanding the top and the bottom because the sides would be cut away, saving on work.

You can see all the extra stuff here that will need to be removed before cutting out the body shape.

The Ash top after sanding off all the residual glue and mdf board.

With all the sanding finished it’s time to cut out the body, I used some black corrugated plastic I had lying arround to make a new template and then traced it round a few times with a pencil. The plastic didn’t cut too smoothly, but the cutting and subsequent sanding of the body will make a smooth shape at the end. To cut the body my Dad used a jig saw, appart from a few tight turns where it left a few burn marks the jig saw did an excellent and pretty smoot job. Of course more sanding will be needed in order to make the sides suitable for painting.

The sanded body blank ready for cutting.

 

My Dad cutting out the body using a Jig saw.

The body came out looking great after cutting, we purposely left the neck section a little wide and a little long. The next steps will be to rout the hole for the neck, once we know the neck fits snuggly the extra wood to the sides and underneath will be cut down to size. Then the routing of the pickups and the bridge can be done followed by the rear rout for all the controls which will be together to avoid extra routing which is a change from the original model.

Something else that I did today was to sand away the finish on the headstock of the neck. Originally you may recall it was finished black with the logo Onxy on the headstock. Luckilly it wasn’t a proper inlay but just a 2D sticker or transfer so the whole thing sanded right off. I plan to make my own watertransfer decal for the headstock which I will talk about in more detail later.

The Fully cut body ready for routing the neck cavity.

 

The headstock after sanding away the previous finish.

An edited image to highlight how the joints between the wood have been stagered for extra stability.

Next post I will talk about the routing process as well as the importance of the neck and the bridge being correctly aligned. I will also discuss the choices for where to rout the pickups as this will have a dramatic effect on your sound.


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.