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The Headstock and Neck

You may remember that I did not want to build the neck for this guitar considering the precision work that is involved and so I bought a cheap guitar to use for parts. Having previously striped the headstock of the black top coat I was now left with the bare wood. Unlike the body the neck will be finished with a satin lacqeur, this time polyurethane because it was readily available from bunning in the small quantity that is required. Satin lacqeur is like clear lacqeur except that it has chemicals in it that make it less glossy and smoother to the touch after light sanding, being satin the sanding doesn’t show up much either which negates the need for buffing. Satin is my prefered finish for a neck because it creates a less sticky, smooth finish which is much nicer to play on.

Having sanded the headstock with 240 and then 360 grit paper I sprayed on the satin lacqeur to a wet consistency, unlike the nitrocellulose the polyurethane takes a bit longer to dry and also dries harder. I had to wait about 5 hours before applying a second coat. After applying the second coat I let the finish dry over night before sanding with 360 grit paper to smooth over the finish in preparation of recieving the water transfer decal. I located water transfer decal paper online. The water transfer is a lot cheaper than the vinyl transfer paper and is more easily concealed by the subsequent top coats, and besides, if water transfer is good enough for leo fender, it’s certainly good enough for me!

The 2nd layer of satin freshly applied to a wet consistency.

I tried various different font and sizings before I eventually decided on this;

Headstock design using the font “Cybertooth”

Broken Wizard is an online alias I have been using for over 10 years, my music prodcution and other creative enterprises also bear the Broken Wizard moniker so I decided to give my guitars the same name. The cybertooth font stood out to me, it’s not like a lot of other guitar fonts which have resembled the Fender logo or more 20s and 30s style fonts like Gibson and Gretsch. It’s a bold, solid modern looking font which should be visable form a decent distance, even if not legible. Sticking with the Broken Wizard theme I decided to name all my custom guitars after types of wizard. In this case I went for soothsayer, a soothsayer is a fortune teller and magician from the roman era, the name seemed to fit the curvey edgey design of my guitar. To contrast the manufacture font and create a sort of mystical feel I used the Algerian font for the guitar name.

I used my printer to print the decal, cut it out and then soaked it in water for thirty seconds or so. The transparent top part of the paper slides off easily and located fairly easlily when applied to the sanded surface. I used a small soft brush to smooth out the decal and then used dry kitchen towel to remove the excess water. The manufacturer reccomends that you let the decal dry for three hour so I will leave it over night, this way it will be as dry as possible before I spray another two coats of satin lacqeur over the top of it to seal it in.

The headstock decal after being applied to the headstock.

Once the 2nd layer of lacqeur has dried for 5 hours or so I will sand it lightly with 360 grit, and then wet sand it with a higher grit paper, maybe 400 or 800 to properly smooth out the finish, this step will be especially important on the neck for the other project guitar I am finishing because this will be the playing surface on the back of the neck so I need it to be smooth for a good playing experience.

Applying Colour

This week I applied the colour to my guitar build, I also started the finishing process on a kit that I purchsed from as well as continued to work on my Squire strat, the first guitar I ever owned, the finish was in a sorry state so it was a good practice model.

The colour has been the single most stressful part of this whole experience, Mirotone make pigmented lacqeurs, but at $40 for a 4L tin it seemed foolish to buy 4L in several different colours when I only need about 300ml for each guitar. You can also buy acrylic lacqeur in a range of colours from a spray can, but again I already had the nitrocellulose and the spray can finish isn’t quite as good as that of the spray gun. Also for one of the kits I have comming I wanted to make a custom colour, so I set about trying to find pigments to that were compatible with my nitrocellulose finish to mix in to make the colours I wanted. Australia is not a great place to do this at all! In the USA places like Stewart Macdonald have all the colours you could want however the only guitar laqceur specific dyes I could find were analine dyes, these are transparent and wouldn’t have worked.

So eventually I had to threw caution to the wind, I found a hobby site, Dalchem, they had both transparent and opaque pigments for addition to polyurethane resin, given that my guitar finish is basically a thin version of resin, (nitrocellulose in my case not polyureathane) I purchased some opaque white and black as a base and some transparent colours to add to these. Luckily for me they were perfectly compatible! The white especially required quite a lot of pigment to be completely opaque but I wasn’t worried, the pigments were only $15 each so I saved myself a lot of money and also gained the ability to make custom colours, I’ll talk more about applying those later on though.

At the end of last week I had done all the sanding, washcoating, grain filling and barrier coating which meant it was time to apply colour to the guitars. As you may recall I decided to keep the top of my guitar a natural finish so you can see the wood underneath, the back grainfiller did a great job of accentuating the pores but I still wanted to spruce the appearance up a bit. For this I used a transparent stain from feast and watson which was available from bunning, I used elm as the colour as it wasn’t too intense but had a nice golden colour to it. Rather than staining the bare wood (which looked terrible on my test on scrap) I added some of the stain to lacqeur in a fairly thick mix and applied two coats. If you compare last weeks wash coat only with the new colour you can see the diference it has made.

With the two layers of stain the top colour is complete.

With the most important part of the guitar (visually speaking) taken care of it was time to colour the back, although originally I was going to make the back transparent black I decided it would be easier to make it opaque. When laying down a colour coat I decided it would be best to first lay down a primer. This is a pigmented coat that is sanded to a smooth finish using the 360 grit sanding paper. For lighter colour coats a white primer is common, and for dark backgrouns a grey primer is prefered. Because I was using black, I decided to make the grey quite dark so I added one mL of white and 2mL of black pigment to my lacqeur which was a 2:1 lacqeur:thinner mix. I laid it on wet, this means it’s a bit thicker and shines when still wet, the wash coats being thinner were laid on in a drier more sparse spray pattern to avoid runs. Before spraying the primer I masked off the top of the instrument as well as a little of the sides in order to make a binding like effect using painters tape and plastic liner.

My girlfriend Nat helped me apply the masking.

I sprayed the first coat a little too thick in some places which caused runs, build ups of lacqeur, which needed to be sanded out after an appropriated period of drying to let the finish harden, I sanded the whole primer to a really smooth finish using the 360 grit sand paper which meant that a more even smooth colour coat could be applied. You don’t want to have to modify a colour coat because the sanding and imperfections will show through once the top coats are added. Having learnt from the previous experience with coating I made the black lacqeur and sprayed it on being careful not to spray it too thick and managed to avoid runs.

The primer coat before sanding.

The primer coat after sanding.

Freshly sprayed black lacqeur.

After the colour is applied I left it overnight to dry and harden. I then began the process of applying the top coats, these are thick (2:1) coats of clear lacqeur. You apply 4 -8 coats spread over a few days in order to build up a protective layer of finish that is thick enough to accept the buffing compounds without burning through, I’m currently on the 7th coat, tomorrow I will add one final coat and then let the finish harden for 7 days before beginning the final sanding and buffing process.

The guitar has a real shine already with the build coats.

In between coats there was a 1 – 2 hour gap, this meant that I also had time to work on the headstock of the guitar, I will talk about that in a different post though. I am really close to the end of the process now with only the buffing, components and the electronics left, as well as the creation of the top and back control plates. It feels good after weeks of work to finally be getting closer to that finish line, I can’t wait to post a video of the guitar in action!


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.


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!