Build Your Own Guitar – Day 15

This is the entry for Day 15 of a three week intensive guitar building course I’m doing through the Australian Guitar Making School.

Click here to read all entries in this series.

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Trimming The Neck

Today was (almost) all about the neck of the guitar.

When we first started building the guitar – and right up until today, actually – the neck was simply a solid flat piece of mahogany. Here it is yesterday with the truss rod installed.

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The first big job today was cutting down the excess timber to the size of the fingerboard. I used a block plane first and then got myself acquainted with a tool called a spoke shave. It’s the one that looks like an airplane propeller. It was difficult to use until I got accustomed to it, after which it powered through the job. Very nice. When the mahogany got down to a millimetre or so from the fingerboard, we got out a 25mm chisel to do the fine work.

The neck after its first trim…..

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Scraping and Sanding

In between big jobs, I did some more scraping and sanding.

The scraping today focussed mainly on the sides of the guitar. Before we bent the sides last week, we had to soak the timber in water for an hour or so. This made the timber go a little bit dull and grey. Scraping it bought back quite a lot of colour, which will only be enhanced when it’s sanded and coated.

I also did some preliminary sanding of the spruce top to get some of the glue off. There’s plenty more sanding to go.

Fretting the Fingerboard

There are a lot of watershed moments along the way when you do something like this. Some jobs are fine detail work that go mainly towards the presentation of the instrument. Others are fundamental to its function and today’s big-ticket job was one of those.

Today we installed the frets into the slots we cut into the fingerboard yesterday. The first job is to do a final sanding of the fingerboard using a big sanding block with a curved profile.

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You don’t get given a bunch of frets in a bag. It arrives as a big coil of fretwire and each guitar will use around a meter or so. You get your meter length and then cut each fret as you need it.

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The process goes as follows:

  • Clear out all the slots in the fingerboard to make sure there’s no dust there.
  • Smear some glue over the slot
  • Work the glue into the slot
  • Wipe off the excess with a damp rag and dry the fingerboard with a dry rag.
  • Tap each edge of the fret in
  • Tap the middle of the fret in
  • Check that it’s in all the way across the fingerboard.

Cue the photos…..

You have to keep eyeballing the frets as you go to make sure both sides are going in OK. When you’ve done three, you get out a straight edge and balance it across all three frets. If you can rock the straight edge, it means the middle fret is too high and you have to tap it down a little further. You repeat this test for every new fret that you add after #3

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Some time later, your frets are all in!

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The next step is to trim the fretwire down to the fingerboard. The key here is to apply downward pressure as you cut the fretwire so as to not lift it out of the slot or disturb the fingerboard.

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And finally, you file the edges of the frets…..

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Shaping the Neck

I trimmed the neck down to fingerboard width earlier in the day. The last job for today was to begin shaping the neck.

I used the spoke shave for this job once again. The target depth was around 23mm at the nut end of the neck and around 24-25mm at the body end. I went a little under this at the nut end (22.6mm) but it’ll be OK.

After you get your depth sorted, you start to shape the neck into that rounded shape needed for playing. The spoke shave was used for this, too.

The neck had a rough but rounded profile when I finally left the workshop today. Sandpaper will complete the process when I get in tomorrow.

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First Instrument Played!

One of my fellow guitar makers in the course finished her classical guitar to a point of it being played today. It was a very exciting moment for Christiana as the instrument was tuned and then finally played for the first time. She’s making the instrument for her son, who is one very, very lucky man.

Christiana hard at work on her masterpiece…..

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Strato giving the instrument it’s first real play…..

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The guitar sounded AMAZING. The volume and tone were outstanding and it was a significant moment to hear a guitar that you’ve seen under construction for three weeks finally come to life. To see and hear Christiana’s reaction to the instrument in the hands of an expert was wonderful, too. I’m pretty sure that she knew she was making something special but to see, hear and understand just how special was something else all together.

It was a privilege to hear our first instrument played. On Friday, we hope to play them all together. That’ll be special indeed.

I’ve got some video of today’s impromptu performance, which I’ll try to post in the next few days.

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We did a little work preparing the saddle and the nut today, both of which are made of bone. They’ll go in tomorrow. There’ll be plenty of sanding and other finishing work going on, too. If everything goes super-well, we might even install the tuning pegs and string the guitar!

Thanks for reading.

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2 Comments

  1. This is a superb series Swade. My biggest passion in life is music and particularly guitars, having been playing since the age of 11. I am currently building an electric with my son (not having the tools or the guts to start with an acoustic) but one day I dream of playing an acoustic made by my own hands.

    Thanks for sharing your progress, so looking forward to hearing the result.

  2. You’re welcome, DRM.

    It’s been the most wonderful experience. I’m hoping to upload video of Christiana’s guitar being played tomorrow. It sounds amazing!

    My guitar will probably be played for the first time on Friday.

    Have fun building the electric. I’ll do one of those as soon as we build our workshop here at home. If you want to do the acoustic, I can highly recommend the school I’m doing it through. Can’t say enough good things about it. The people are great, the instrument you build is top shelf and the skills you pick up make the asking price an absolute bargain.