Build Your Own Guitar – Day 14

This is the entry for Day 14 of a three week intensive guitar building course I’m doing through the Australian Guitar Making School.

There’s a new button for this series on the menu at the top of this (or any) page. Simply click on the “Guitar” button. Or for now, click here.

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We got SO much done today. It really was a big one.

A the end of Day 13, the binding was on and the guitar was covered in tape, Which held the binding in place.

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The first job today was to remove this tape but as always, there’s a special way to do that. The tape is quite sticky and the spruce is quite weak, so you have to make sure you pull off the tape with the grain rather than against it. Best to do it slowly, too.

Scraping

The binding sits a little proud of the front and the back edges of the guitar so in various spare moments throughout the day (waiting to be assigned a job, or waiting for some assistance), there was some scraping to be done.

Scraping involves a piece of metal with a sharp, burred edge. You scrape the metal along the bit of binding that’s poking out from the face of the instrument – whether it be the top or the back that you’re working on – and scrape off some of the excess height. Think of it as a faster, more targeted but slightly riskier form of sanding.

The technique in action…..

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In the following photos you’ll see some edges, before and after being scraped. The raised edges are before scraping, of course. It’s a time consuming and laborious process, but it’s still faster than sanding on it’s own (I’ll do plenty of that tomorrow).

The Fingerboard

The next job was to prepare the fingerboard, or fretboard.

The dimensions of the fingerboard are quite specific and my first fingerboard task today involved trimming and planing the edges. The fingerboard is 46mm wide at the nut (the end furthest away from the body of the guitar) and 58mm wide at the 12th fret (where the neck joins the body). Dimensions were drawn on to my rectangular piece of timber and cut accordingly.

Next it was time to make the first cuts for the frets. We used a specially designed jig for this task. The saw has a bar on the top that runs against the bearings on the jig, meaning that you can only saw so deep. It keeps you sawing in a straight line, too.

The next task is to apply a radius to the fingerboard. I’m building a steel-string guitar so having a slight curve in the fingerboard makes it much more comfortable to play, especially when playing bar chords, etc.

The radius is made using sandpaper and a sanding block with a special profile. You sand from side to side for a very, very long time. Care has to be take to ensure you keep things even, with the same amount of timber taken off each side.

Inserting The Truss Rod

The truss rod sits in the neck of the guitar. It comprises two thin steel rods, threaded into a small block at each end. The rods twist against each other when under pressure, helping to maintain the strength of the neck. The rod can be tightened using a hex key via a hole inside the guitar.

Installing the truss rod involved routing a trench in the neck for the truss rod to sit in. The trench is routed to a precise depth so that the top of the truss rod sits flush with the top surface of the neck. The truss rod is not attached directly to anything. It just sits in this trench and does its thing. The fingerboard is glued over this trench later on.

Final Cuts For The Fingerboard

The first cuts were made into the fingerboard before it was profiled. Now that the radius has been applied, the cuts aren’t as deep as they were at first. Therefore, you have to cut again using another saw with a special guard on it. Some wax is applied to the blade before each cut. It’s important to get a uniform depth of cut along the whole fingerboard and you can check the depth of each cut by look at the side of the fingerboard.

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A Final Flourish

Before gluing the fingerboard on to the neck, you need to decide how you want the fingerboard to end. Some people have a straight end, or a slightly rounded end. Some people curve the end to mimic the diameter of the sound hole.

I took my inspiration from this guitar and went for an extra fret on the high strings:

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The cut is made on a bandsaw but you’ve got to have a reliable pattern to cut to. Thankfully, the bridge I’m using had a perfect edge to use as a stencil. A quick cut on the bandsaw and some sandpaper and it’s looking fantastic!

Given that my guitar isn’t a cutaway, it’s highly unlikely that this extra fret will ever be used. But it looks cool 🙂

Gluing The Fingerboard And Bridge

The bridge – which is where the string ends after the sound hole – is one of the few bits of the guitar that we’re not making from scratch. Apparently it’s a very technical process and we just don’t have that much time. Consequently, we’re using a pre-formed bridge.

In preparation for gluing the bridge, you have to apply a very slight curve to the bottom. This is done via a very slightly curved sanding jig. After that, you have to get all the oils out of the surface you’ll be be gluing by rubbing the bottom of the bridge piece with acetone for a long, long, long time.

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There’s a whole lot of measurement that goes on before the fingerboard and bridge are glued on. The string length is 644mm from the nut to the bridge, plus 2mm allowance for string variation. Things are measured, checked and measured again….

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Once all the measurements are confirmed, the glue is applied to the back of the bridge and the fingerboard, and some mighty big clamping takes place.

This is how things looked when I left the workshop tonight.

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Tomorrow’s work will include either some or all of the following:

  • Insert the fretwire,
  • Finish scraping the front and the sides,
  • Sand all surfaces,
  • Drill holes for the machine heads (tuners),
  • Install machine heads,
  • Glue in the nut (made of bone),
  • Trim and then shape the neck,
  • Apply some sort of protective coating.

I think that’ll take more than a day……

Thanks for reading!

Remember, you can see all the posts related to my guitar build here, or using the “Guitar” button on the menu at the top of every page of this site.

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