Build Your Own Guitar – Finish

This is the final entry about a three week intensive guitar building course I did through the Australian Guitar Making School.

Click here to read all entries in this series.

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At the end of the previous entry, I’d just started shaping the neck of the guitar using a tool called a spoke shave.

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The final days were all about getting the last few big items out of the way so that we could concentrate on the finer details of finishing the guitar and making it ready to play.

Finishing the Neck

The process started with finishing work on the neck. When work with the spoke shave was complete, it was time for sanding.

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I also had to build a heel step to finish off the heel, at the body end of the neck. I made this from a leftover piece of gidgee, which was the timber used on my fretboard. I even left the fret groove showing and was tempted to insert a piece of fretwire in it, but didn’t. I might go back and do that yet.

The gidgee was cut to shape, glued and taped down. When the glue had set, it was shaped with a chisel to flow seamlessly with the heel (which is a very scary and painstaking process).

Tuners

The next task called for measuring and drilling to install the tuners on the head of the guitar. I chose gold and black tuners made by Schaller, from Germany.

We measured 10mm in from the edge of the head and then marked points at 40mm gaps where the holes were drilled. The tuners are very easy to install from there. The string provides enough tension to hold them in place with just one small screw to secure them in the back of the guitar head.

The Nut and Saddle

The nut and saddle are the pieces that form the beginning and the end of the active string area. The nut is a small rectangular piece at the head-end of the neck. The saddle is a thin piece at the other end of the string, a part of what’s called the bridge.

Both the nut and the saddle are made from bone and have to be shaped before fitting to the guitar.

The saddle begins life as a long, thin piece of bone with sharp corners. This piece has to be shaped using a flat file so that it has a slight curve to match the radius of the guitar neck. The top edge of the saddle has to be rounded, too.

Sadly, I don’t seem to have photos of any of this šŸ™ I must have been slacking off with the photos as things got busy towards the end of the build!

The nut is also made of bone, starting life as a shorter, stubbier piece.

  • Step 1 – Cut the bone with a fine saw blade so that the piece matches the width of the neck at the head.
  • Step 2 – Measurements are taken to form the profile of the nut. It has to be slightly curved at the top and the height is measured relative to the height of the first fret. Use a flat file to radius the top of the nut according to the measurements made.
  • Step 3 – Measure where the strings will cross over the nut so that you can cut grooves for them. There is a special tool for this, but I don’t have a photo of it (again, slack!)
  • Step 4 – Using a set of files made specially for this job, cut the string groove into the nut using the marks you made at step 3.

String Holes

We drilled string holes into the top of the guitar very early in the build…..

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Now, with the bridge having been glued in place earlier in the week, it was time to widen these string holes. A reaming tool was used to do this. Care has to be taken as the pins that hold the strings in place rely on the hole being just the right width to hold the peg in place.

Filing the Frets

Most of the fret edges were filed earlier in the week when the frets were installed. The final few frets hadn’t been filed, however. These are the frets positioned on the section of the neck that has the body underneath so a special guard with a metal edge was used to protect the spruce.

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Ready!….Almost

With all of these little finishing jobs done, the guitar was ready to be strung and tested out!! A little group photo was in order, too.

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Cary Lewincamp was kind enough to give my guitar a try. As you’ll hear, it’s not quite ready for the big time yet, but the fundamentals are there. It has a good sound and tone. But it needs a little setting up to get the ‘action’ right. That’s the gap between the strings and the frets.

As mentioned at the end of the video, the action will be adjusted to lower the string height. The grooves where the strings pass through the nut need to be lowered and the saddle can be lowered a little as well.

There are resources online that show you how to lower the action, however I’m going to send the instrument out to a local specialist and have him set it up. I’ve invested a lot of money and time into this instrument. May as well finish it off right.

Speaking of which….

Final Bits

A coat of sealer was applied to the guitar. This was a light coat only as there are elements of the timber that can do with a more complete sanding. A fuller coat will be applied early in the new year.

The before shot…..

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Spraying outside…..

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The after shots…..

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One final detail…..

I still have one more thing to finish off: the tailpiece.

I had a little inspiration from the past šŸ™‚

The first version worked well in terms of geometry but I’m going to do a second version soon. I cut this one a little too small. A revised version is on its way.

The gap to be filled:

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What I intend to fill it with:

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Celebration

We had a celebration dinner on Friday night to mark the completion of our three-week build. All the guitars were there and all five of them were played. It was a great night.

I’m going to do an overview post in the next few days. This has been a long series and there are a few summary thoughts I’d like to put together for the benefit of anyone who might be thinking of taking on a similar project.

Suffice to say it’s been an amazing experience and a very rewarding one. Now I just have to learn to play again!

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10 Comments

  1. Well done Swade, I’m very impressed and inspired by your guitar project…. Especially the Viggen tailpiece, of course.

  2. Congratulations! You have a beautiful instrument there that I am sure will enjoy for many years to come. (Perhaps you will cover this in your summary post, but did you take a three week holiday for this intensive class? I can’t remember if you mentioned that earlier or not.)

    1. Also, just listening to the video clip, it does have a great tone! Not quite as deep as rosewood, but a very clear and warm tone. Nice!

  3. Must agree with Mike. Well done Swade, something to treasure and an heirloom for the future.

  4. Great stuff Swade. I feel you made the right choice in starting with an OM style guitar. My OM is my favorite guitar. Not as impressive sounding as a dreadnought or super jumbo, but much more delicate. It also is not as loud and very comfi for couch playing. It is not by accident that this style of guitar is Eric Clapton’s favorite! Enjoy!

  5. Fantastic Swade. What a great way to spend three weeks. A beautiful guitar and the Viggen badge is a superb touch, particularly given the role Saab has played in your life over the past decade. A fitting Special Edition.

  6. Excellent excellent work. Great to see the colors of the wood come out nice and strong after lacquering. The tone will improve over time too, and the more you play it. The worst thing is to let it get hot, by leaving it in the car or near a heater. Not good. Get a guitar stand and let it stay out on display all the time. Then you will play it, just walking past and pick the thing up and give it a go. And go and have some lessons! From Carey!! Lucky you…

  7. Steve, that Viggen bit made my day. Seeing Tim over at SU selling off his once-cherished 2010 9-5 in favour of a 4-series didn’t make for happy reading. But that Viggen space was like magic!!

  8. Congratulations Swade. Truly a thing of beauty. As Keats wrote; “A thing of beauty is a joy forever:”. Bathe in the joy. I have delighted in reading your posts, thank you for taking us on a wonderful journey. All the best.