When we last left off
I had just wrapped up 3 of the 15 classes in the guitar building series and had a fairly complete body put together. In the weeks since (day 10 was just completed this past weekend) a lot has progressed and my guitar is rapidly approaching a completed state. Since I don’t have a lot of space here I’m going to dive right in and summarize weeks 4-10 and illustrate what has happened in the past couple of months.
Day 4 – End Graft and Purfling/Binding
The first step today was to cut and prepare an end graft to cosmetically pretty-up the end seam where the sides meet at the back of the guitar. George routed out the slot while I prepared a scrap piece of rosewood to fit into place. Using a small amount of glue I slid the rosewood piece into place for a nice tight fit, allowed it to dry and later rough cut the ends off. With some basic sanding it’s amazing how beautiful that piece made the guitar. Ah, details.
End graft complete and reading for purfling and binding
Next up was the task of installing the purfling and binding on the top and back of the guitar. This step would take the rest of the day—and then some—due to a few setbacks in the way the shoulder route was cut. Using a router with the specific bit, I made the required routes for the purfling on the back and top. Because the wrong, slightly smaller bit was used on the shoulders, I would later need to use a chisel to bring it to the correct depth. With the purfling cuts made, we moved onto the binding cuts, which are cut based on the shelf created by the purfling cuts. Once all of the appropriate cuts were made, Diana came over and helped glue and tape the purfling/binding into place—definitely a two-person job, and quite messy.
While the body was in the drying stages I moved on to putting the ebony binding on the fingerboard. This was my first experience with the neck and it too didn’t go quite as planned. When clamping down the binding to the fingerboard, one end raised up slightly in the drying process and needed to be removed to start over. Easier said than done. George brought out a heating pad and tool to soften the glue (which had only been drying for 30 minutes) and began to pry it off. The glue proved to be surprisingly tough, and it took a good amount of time to get it off.
After removing the tape from the binding I found out the hard way that it was sticking out slightly and the sandpaper hit it and pulled away some of the material. Because this is an area that can easily be seen at the seam of the guitar, we decided to cut a small portion out and splice in a new piece. With that taken care of we packed it in for the day.
Day 5 – More Binding Issues
Thinking it would be an easy day to move forward, I expected to get right on to sanding the body again. Sadly, the binding had lifted up and we needed to glue it back down and fix that small spliced-in piece. After completing that, I did more sanding to smooth out the top and back while carefully making sure not to remove too much of the binding. Excessive sanding would make the black-white-black binding look uneven. Did I mention that sanding took the majority of the day? It did. Scraping and sanding, scraping and sanding.
Day 6 – The Neck!
With the body ready to rock we moved onto the neck and preparing the body to accept it. Because dovetail joints are apparently not made for novices, George and Diana have opted for a mortise and tenon and the use of a bolt-on neck (hey, Taylor does it). George fired up the router and made a beautiful body mortise to allow for the neck tenon. With the neck blank in hand, I made the designated marks for the hanger bolt and drilled a 5/16” hole.
Completely unfinished neck
To ensure a solid connection with the appropriate angle of neck-to-body I carved out a chunk of wood from both sides of the neck where they meet the body. This involved chiseling out a channel on either side of the tenon about 1/8 of an inch away from the heel. This leaves an open area in the middle of the neck with the edges touching the shoulders of the body. The next step was to fit the truss rod into a slot on the neck before putting the fingerboard on. I glued a small, ¼” wide piece of mahogany over the top of the neck to cover the truss rod up.
Up next was gluing the fingerboard to the neck blank. A fairly simple process, it involved drilling several pilot holes in the fret slots to provide a place to hold the fingerboard in place while gluing (it can swim around a bit and you don’t want it to move). After the holes were drilled we used Gorilla glue to hold down the fingerboard and placed several pins through the holes on the fret slots to align it for drying. The fingerboard was held in place with over a dozen clamps and set aside to dry.
Fingerboard clamped to the neck
Day 7 – The Neck…Part 2
Day 7 will forever go down in history for me (and my co-student Rob as well!) as the day you hope to forget but never will. The seemingly simple concept of the neck going on straight is anything but simple. Because the neck must be straight when attaching to the body, you are required to “pull” sandpaper across the neck where each side meets the shoulders of the body. This ensures that the alignment is correct for the nut-to-bridge angle and the strings don’t fall one way or the other to the side of the fingerboard.
Rob pulling sandpaper...again
Using many pieces of sandpaper throughout the day we pulled 10-30 times on each side, then re-checked the angle with a template for straightness. It wouldn’t be so difficult if the seam didn’t have to perfectly hit flush with the sides, but alas…it does. Each pull takes a little skin off your fingers until you figure out it’s a good idea to wear gloves (which I did the following week). If you accidentally (and I did) pull up instead of along the slope of the shoulder it leaves a gap that requires you to repeat the pulling many, many times to smooth out again. Suffice it to say that Day 7 was all about “pulling,” and by the time I left, the neck was close but my fingertips were sanded right off. So much for calluses!