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No Router? Relax—You Can Still Be a MIDI Maniac
Now, we know not everyone has a router lying around their flat. Theoretically, it is possible to create the necessary cavities for this project using a combination of drill bits and chisels. But if you think about the combined price of the MIDIpad and your guitar, it probably makes sense to purchase a cheap router and bearing cutter to assure that you do justice to the job and don’t risk damaging your instrument with more primitive methods and tools. You’ll end up with perfectly clean lines and uniformly deep cavities for both your recessed screen and the main pile of electronics. And if you think you might get even more into modding and building guitars, a router will quickly become invaluable.
Still want to go old-school on the project? Here’s how: Follow the prescribed instructions, but in place of the router, use the Forstner bits to pre-drill the deeper cavity. Then, cut the outlines into the top with a scalpel blade or X-Acto precision knife and very carefully use a flat chisel to remove wood down to the required depth. Take extreme care to make sure the chisel and knife cuts meet up so that your parts fit without cramping or cramming. The depth of the lip where the screen will sit is of prime importance and has to be perfectly flat to avoid having the screen crack as you install it. Got it? Okay, now on to the preferred method.
Creating Screen Templates
Now that you’ve determined optimum MIDIpad orientation and you’re certain you’re ready to put a large hole in your guitar, it’s time for templates. I’ve installed a MIDI screen without them before, but it was unpredictable—and scary. The screen’s surround can hide a bit of roughness from your router passes, but without a template to guide your hand you’re bound to go completely off piste and wish you’d taken the time to make or buy a set of templates.
You’re going to need two templates: The first should match the inner rectangle of the surround. This is for the deeper rout that the controls will sit in. The second, larger, template needs to match the outline of the glass screen itself. You can then do a shallow rout around the edge of the deeper cavity, forming a ledge for the screen to sit on. (Note: If you want your surround to sit flush with your guitar’s top, you can make a third template to create another ledge matching the external dimensions of your chosen surround. However, with this approach, even a small mistake will be visible on the guitar. You’ll also need to devise a separate way of securing the third template to the guitar top, perhaps using clamps or double-sided tape.)
To create your templates:
1. Take a piece of 20 mm-thick plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) that’s big enough to accommodate the dimensions of your chosen MIDI screen. (Make sure the surface that will be against your guitar is smooth and won’t scratch, dent, or otherwise damage the finish.) This is thick enough to allow your router to hover over your bridge should you choose to leave it on through the installation.
2. Place the plastic surround from the XY MIDIpad (or Mini) on the template material and use a sharp tool or pencil to mark the positions of the four holes. Then, trace the inner edge of the surround onto the first template’s blank.
3. Drill the four holes in your template material using a 4 mm drill bit. (Note: After drilling the four corresponding holes in your guitar, you will use them to secure the template to the surface of the instrument. Just remember to use screws of the same width for securing the template and the surround.)
4. Cut out your template using your router and 1/2" bearing cutter. Remove excess wood from the center either with the Forstner bits, or with a jigsaw and then a file, rasp, or chisel cut down to your lines. Use this hand-made template to rout, with the bearing cutter, your actual master template.
5 If you’re not removing your guitar’s strings and hardware—or if you’ve got bridge-mounting studs to work around—cut out a notch big enough to accommodate your particular bridge from one side of the template (see photo above) to make room for them. The trick is to leave enough template for your router base to remain stable while you use it.
6 Repeat steps 1–5 for your second, larger template, but this time use the dimensions of the glass screen itself on the second piece of template material. You will have to cut out the corners of the final rout with a sharp chisel to seat the glass properly.
If time is of the essence, you don’t actually need to disassemble your guitar for this project. Leave the strings on, save yourself a few hours of setup work, and maybe even play your guitar instead! Even if the MIDIpad’s cavity is right up against the tremolo or bridge, the templates we’ve made should hold the router above your bridge and let you get on unhindered. However, this is a very dusty process, so clean freaks will probably want to take their instrument wholly or partially apart. Either way, we advise at least taping over your pickups. I often enclose all but the installation areas in a handy plastic bag—just don’t leave your guitar in there to sweat for too long!
Despite what we’ve just said, you’ll notice that the T-style guitar shown here (bought during prototyping for kits soon to be handmade by Crimson Guitars) is dismantled. This is because we’ve been using the guitar for other projects in our shop, including adding the nice, book-matched figured ash top.