Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Routing the Guitar Body and Beginning Finish

Routing - so where should I begin?  Probably with a little lesson of "don't do it like I did"; that's as good a place as any!  So the last entry showed that I cut the guitar body out of a block of wood, and sanded close to my body outline.  The next step in this process was to use the MDF template I created to rout the outside of the body to a more precise shape, as well as rout the neck cavity and pickup / control cavities.  Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, I've never used a router before (let's get that out of the way), and the idea of a little metal bit spinning at 10,000 rpm absolutely terrifies me, so I was sure to read LOTS of information on how to rout before actually trying it.  From what I've read, the most important things to remember are the following:

  1. Keep your fingers away from any and all tiny, powerful, spinning blades.  Just do it!  Don't get your shit cut off!
  2. Eye protection is a must.  If you don't understand why this is, then read rule number 1 and the mention of the tiny spinning blade.
  3. Keep a firm grip on the wood at all times.  You don't want a piece of wood being flung around the workshop, potentially breaking bones or causing major lacerations.  See rule number 1, regarding the tiny, powerful, spinning blade.
  4. When routing the body, be sure to take very light and shallow passes.  This will minimize tear-out and potential body damage.

I followed steps 1 through 3 very well, but shit the bed on #4.  Let's take a look.

Looks good so far, right?  This is the body after routing the outline.

Looks pretty good from this angle as well, right?  Well too bad this angle is hiding some major tear out that I experienced from routing too much material at once.

 Ahh, here's the screw-up!  Some major tear out right on the bottom edge of the guitar.  This will be mostly addressed by rounding the edges, but some will still need to be filled before finish.  Maybe I can still go for a translucent finish on the back, right?

Wrong!  Here's the MAJOR tear-out on the bottom end grain.  Apparently the end grain is a very touchy spot, and I was routing WAY too much material.  

Here's a better shot of the damage.  Not only was there tear-out, but a chunk of my rounded bottom was ripped off of the body.  Luckily, I was able to find it, glue everything back together and clamp it up tight.  Some dings were still apparent, so I used wood filler putty to patch them up, and sand smooth.  The body is back to shape, but there is NO way I can possibly use a translucent finish on the back.  Black opaque it is!

So here's my template for routing the control cavities, pickup cavities and neck pocket.   

While the neck pocket outline is PRECISE and has been measured many times, the pickup cavities and control switch aren't perfect.  But that's okay, as they will be covered by the pickguard and control switch plate. 

Here are the traced outlines on the body.  Note - I've already drilled the bridge screw holes.  My first step was to drill out most of the cavity material using a Forstner bit.  This will require me to have to rout as little as possible.  Lesson learned, right?  

So what the hell happened here!?  Like I said, the template outline wasn't pretty, but it wasn't nearly THIS ugly.  I was sure I did everything as I should, and here's what I found... 

The ball bearing guide on my flush trim template router bit slipped.  WTF!?  Nowhere had I read of a ball bearing guide slipping on a template router!  This is just my luck - On my first time around, everything that could go wrong, is going wrong.  In the above picture, take note of the silver ring below the red cutting surface.  That's the rolling guide that is supposed to stop the bit from cutting beyond the template.  The black ring (from what I've learned) is the retaining ring.  This holds the guide in place, while allowing the guide to freely spin when running over the template surface.

Here's what the router bit SHOULD look like.  I moved everything back in place, and tightened the retaining ring with an Allen key.  On the positive side, I'm glad this happened here, where the control plate will cover the mistake, and not on the neck pocket where precision is absolutely necessary. 

So I neglected to take pictures of my using the round over bit to produce the rounded edges, but everything (finally) went well.  You can see the rounded edges in the above shot.  Here, I've already applied four coats of tinted nitrocellulose lacquer over the body.  This will serve several purposes.  Previous to this step, I used three good coats of grain sealer. 

Another angle of the black nitro base color. 

The goal for this guitar, is to finish it with a gold top, similar to those beautiful Gibson Les Paul Gold Tops.  I will be using a special gold finish, that was formulated specifically to emulate the Gibson color.  This product is sold by Guitar Reranch, and I would highly recommend them.   Above, I've begun sanding the guitar face using 330 grit sandpaper.  The surface should be as flat, and perfect, as possible.  The gold paint will reveal many imperfections, so you want to minimize this possibility.

 It doesn't have to be pretty, just smooth.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cutting Out the Guitar Body from a Block of Wood

Let me say this up front - this post should have been titled, "Cut the Guitar Body, Don't Cut Corners".  More on that later.  Today, I'll be moving on to my "scratch" build guitar full time.  That doesn't mean I'll be spending 40 hours a week on it, rather it means I'm not concurrently working on another guitar at the same time.  With the 7-String LED Guitar completed, I can now devote my full attention to my first guitar built completely from nothing from a block of wood.

Previously, I posted some discussion on my building MDF templates for this new project.  As a brief recap, I printed full-size blueprints for a telecaster, and cut them out on 1/4 inch thick MDF.  There are a few reasons to do this:  1. MDF is cheap, and if you make a mistake, hey - it's only MDF! 2. Once you have a body template that makes you feel awesome, then you can make as many actual guitars from it and to the exact specs of the template.  Above is a shot of both the neck template, and the control cavity template in place.

Here's a long shot of the two templates. 

Note - it is important to make sure that not only does the neck fit, but that the center line of the neck and guitar body, match perfectly.  After all, you don't want your neck to shoot out at a ridiculous angle, do you?  It would be nice if this thing actually intonated properly, once completed.  In the shot above, I am using a long ruler to observe the center line.  This is after some slight hand sanding, in order to adjust the neck angle. 

This is wood.  Take a good look, as you may not have seen this "wood" before. Wood comes from things called "trees".  In this case, I purchased my "wood" from a place called "eBay".  I don't have a thickness planer, so it made my life easy to buy a block of wood large enough to fit my template, and that was already sanded to 1 and 3/4 inches thickness.  Oh, this is Poplar...

The first step is to use a pencil to outline the body shape on the Poplar. 

This is a top-down shot of the alignment.  I was careful to make sure there were minimal imperfections in the portion that would eventually fall inside of the guitar body line.

The pencil line.  Note - The neck pocket may look a little crooked in this shot, and it is.  I was quick with my pencil outline, as this is just for rough cut purposes.  We will do a fine cut later with the templates, and a table router. 

I bought this Band Saw off of Craigslist for only $120.  The reason I got this so cheap, is because the guy selling it told me it worked perfectly, but when I got it home, found that the blades would not stay on the unit.  The jackass thought he pulled a fast one, but little did he know it would only take the installation of a new $5 urethane bandsaw "tire" to get this back in tip-top shape.  For those of you reading from outside of the United States who are unfamiliar with the term "Jackass", you could describe this person as one who has minimal intelligence and little to no friends.  Because after all, no one wants to be friends with a "Jackass".

Here's a shot of the body rough cut.  Note, I didn't cut out the actual neck pocket.  Don't forget, this design has a heel (area where the neck attaches to the body), and so that portion will be routed to thickness later. 

Here's a shot of the body after a quick spin on my belt sander.  It has somewhat of a more refined appearance, but is still well outside of the actual body lines. 

Here's the body sanded much closer to the body lines.  The goal is to sand the body as close to the body lines as possible.  At that point, I will use the MDF templates, and a table router, to cut the body exactly to spec.  It is necessary to sand the body close to the line, as it isn't advisable to use a router to remove large amounts of wood.   

And another angle of the rough sanded body. 

DISASTER!  Here's why you shouldn't cut corners!  I began cutting out the body on my table router, and all went exceptionally well.  The only problem is that my pattern router bit was only long enough to cut about half of the thickness of the guitar body.  So rather than waiting, and ordering a new router bit, I decided to use a different bit in a handheld router.  Now if you haven't used one before, let me tell you that handheld routers are great tools, but have nowhere near the stability of a table router.  From the shot above, you can see that I started towards the top right of the body (moving counter clockwise), and made it all the way to the bottom of the guitar, and then experienced a sizable tear-out.  Shaken a little, and for some unknown reason, I thought I would continue, and got some additional minor marking towards the right side.  At that point, I actually became smart enough to tell myself to just stop.  

Here's a closeup of the tear out.  I'm going to have to glue this piece back on, sand it flat, and then glue another block of wood in place.  Once that is dry, I'll have to cut the glued wood back to the template specifications, re-sand, and then re-rout. 

 As I mentioned, the bottom half of the guitar went perfectly, as you can see in the picture above.  While I'm waiting for the glued scrap to dry, I ordered this longer router bit.  It should be here in a few days, thanks to quick Amazon Prime shipping.  

Here's the minor marking, at the bottom of the guitar.  Luckily this is small enough that it should be mostly removed when I round the edge over.  If any marks are left afterward, I will use either a grail filler, or epoxy, to fill the rest.  Now, I'm waiting for glue to dry, and Amazon to deliver...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Final Assembly of the 7-String LED Guitar

After six months, and lots of work, the day has come for final assembly.  Thank God!  This is the point in the project that you just want to be done, play the thing, and move on to the next project.  That being said, I think I may be able to complete my next guitar in much less time (hopefully four months or less).  Oh, and the next guitar will be a "scratch build" from nothing but a block of wood.  But enough of that now, we're here to talk 7-String LED awesomeness!

So without further ado, here's the final product.

LED Lights are off. 

The LED Lighting is illuminated, along with the power button and momentary killswitch button LED lights. 

Note the 7-String recessed Floyd Rose tremolo setup.  It took a solid hour to tune this for the first time, and adjust the bridge height / intonation.

As I mentioned earlier, it took quite some time getting the string action perfectly set.  In the end, though, it was well worth it.  This plays like a dream. 

And last but not least, the vanity!  My signature logo, and model LD-1.  LD-1 stands for LED Guitar 1.  I hope you enjoyed this build, and check out my future projects.

Next up, I'll be building a Telecaster Style guitar, starting with nothing but a block of wood.  I'm thinking goldtop finish, and chrome hardware; perhaps some electronics or lighting will find its way in there too!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Final Wiring of the 7-String LED Guitar

Now I'm not going to get into the complete step-by-step of how to wire this guitar's pickups, as that can be found just about anywhere on the Internet.  As a reference, I used this schematic, as found on the Seymour Duncan website.  Note - I could have saved myself a LOT of time, if I understood one small difference between Dimarzio and Seymour Duncan pickups - Seymour Duncan uses a red wire for the "hot output" from the pickup, and Dimarzio uses black.  What I didn't realize was that while this is a truly excellent schematic, I need to swap red for black to make this work for Dimarzio.  That could have been two hours saved...

Here are the two pickup wires, in their untouched state.  These need to be trimmed and stripped. 

I ordered two 500K control pots for this project, due to the high-output of the humbuckers.  250K might have worked, but I erred on the side of caution.   What I didn't realize here, was that the volume and tone pots are the same thing.  It's all in how you wire them that determines their function.

This is a stripped pickup wire.  The bare wire is the ground, and the colored wires are various things that I won't pretend to understand.  I just used the "paint by numbers" strategy when wiring the guitars controls. 

This is a bit of a cheat shot, so just pretend you aren't seeing the neck installed.  I wanted to show this picture as this is pretty much what my work bench looked like during the wiring phase of this project.  my iPad with the wiring schematic was never far away. 

Here's another time when my solder buddy came in handy.  This is a shot of the neck pickup wiring, after beginning to follow the schematic.

The solder buddy was great for holding the tone and volume pots as well.  In this picture, you can see the glob of solder on top of the pot.  This is a "ground point".  Maintaining proper ground is necessary to reduce the amount of hum and interference your guitar produces.

Lastly, here's a shot of both the volume and tone pots installed, and the input jack in the final wiring process. Once this is completed, it's time for final assembly!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Installing the Floyd Rose 7-String Tremolo Bridge

The home stretch continues.  Today, we'll install the 7-String Floyd Rose tremolo bridge.  You may recall from a previous post, we discussed installing the 7-string locking nut in the guitar's neck.  This isn't quite as straightforward, but wasn't that large of a task.

Here's the tremolo cavity.  After finishing this guitar body with layer, upon layer of lacquer, things tend to get a bit gunked up.  The pre-drilled post holes for this tremolo system are no exception.  Without properly cleaning these holes, it would be very easy to crack the guitar body and cause MAJOR headaches.

Using a dremel, with a fluted routing bit, I very carefully cleaned up the excess nitrocellulose lacquer buildup from each of the post holes.  You want to be extremely careful not to actually enlarge the post holes, as the Floyd studs need to fit very tightly.  Also, you want to make sure not to change the shape of the hole.  Very light passes, and constant checking is definitely the way to go.

I learned a trick from those crazy Interwebs, that said to stick the metal post holes in the freezer for 24 hours.  This would cause the metal to contract slightly, and make installation easier.  So I figure "what the heck", and popped those things in the freezer next to the frozen peas.  The next day, I put each of the bridge mounting pegs in place, and using a wooden block as a buffer (between the hammer and peg) tapped them gently into place.  Now I'm not sure if the freezer thing helped, but I didn't have any issues so let's just say it did.  I used the wooden block so that I didn't damage the mounting studs by hitting them with a hammer.

Here are both Floyd Rose bridge mounting pegs, fully installed.

And another shot with the actual bridge in place.  As a side note - This hunk of metal is HEAVY.  I didn't realize a 7-String Floyd bridge would be so substantial, but I guess it would have to be.

Flipping the guitar body over, I installed the bridge tension spring mounting claw.  This not only holds the tension springs in place (as many as five springs) but provides the ability to fine tune the angle at which the tremolo unit sits in reference to the body.

I put the bridge back in place, and attached two tension springs to hold it.  After final assembly, it will be necessary to not only add springs, once the tension of guitar strings pull on the bridge, but to fine tune the spring claw to correct the bridge angle.  More on that in later posts.

And it's coming along!  The lighting and pickups are done and the bridge is installed.  The only things left to do is to complete the wiring, slap on the neck and get some strings on this thing.  See you soon!