Telecaster Style Guitar - Maybe 80% by hand?

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D_W

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My second guitar. It's difficult to make a contemporary instrument look contemporary without using any power tools I've routed the cavities in this guitar, the roundover on the back and the binding channel, as well as cleaning up the curves initially with an OSS. One would normally rout the outside of the body, but with spruce, it's a risk, so most of the bulk work was done by hand with a spokeshave, rasps or scrapers, then OSS right to the line, then back to hand finishing to remove any unevenness.

Everything else (the entire neck, fingerboard, etc, sizing the lumber, all cuts) is entirely by hand.

I did attempt two guitar bodies without power tools, and they end up looking too rustic (not in proportion or curves, but the lack of refinement at the binding channel, especially. An archtop guitar would be far more doable without power tools - especially if you didn't bind the body (think violin) but installed stringing away from the sides.

Sitka spruce body, cherry neck, birdseye maple fingerboard. Waiting for the finishing bits (on the fence for the top coat - shellac or varnish that I cooked from pine and damar resin. The latter is more permanent, but it needs sunlight to cure quickly - three weeks for each coat without it vs. one good day in the sun ). The rest to go on/in the guitar at this point after finish is just hardware.

My routing template for the cavity doesn't ever seem to line up with the pickguard (the round control plate needs to fit neatly in the cutout on the pickguard), thus the two gouge cuts to make room for pots under a control plate. All of that is covered in the finished guitar, so it's meaningless. I usually cut that cavity last to try to line it up, but it's never quite right - the template is further off than that.

https://i.imgur.com/JNniIzu.jpg
https://i.imgur.com/vBugUyY.jpg
https://i.imgur.com/KVBeps4.jpg

I briefly joined a guitar forum late last year to start making guitars, but didn't find people doing much by hand. Some of the attempts to build jigging to do precise work without hand tools were mind numbing, and the attempt to use sandpaper and power tools to do finish work led to some ugly surfaces and nasty proportions.

Planemaking tools come in really handy cleaning up the curves and fitting the neck pocket (which would be tedious to get perfect with a router - the details to do all of that right are not what I'm looking to do when I go in the shop). Much faster and easier to cut a rough pocket short of final size and then finish by hand and fit the neck to it.
 
Sitka spruce. The neck is about 88 hundredths at the nut and 94 hundredths at the 12th fret - closer to vintage than modern, but just a little in between. It's sort of an in-between profile (like oval C on fender's chart). I don't use a gauge (profile template) on necks - this is my second scratch guitar, but fourth neck. I draw a center line and then drawknife the neck to basic proportion, then spokeshave, file/float, scrape and finally sand. The sanding is unnecessary, but that's the aesthetic on modern guitars. It sounds like more work than it is - total time to profile from a flat blank is probably a little over an hour, and you check it maybe a dozen times along the way with your hand to get exactly what you want.

I'm not quite up on what's most popular now, but I see people talking about baseball bat (fender U), modern U (flattened, thinner version with fat edges), V and deep C. On gibson's side it's 60s, 59, 58 and prior. It can get dizzying, but I don't have a big enough hand to contend with the full U shaped necks. Maybe the biggest gain on building your own guitar (other than making sure that it's tight and set up properly) is being able to make the neck profile to exactly what fills your hand, but no more. It's kind of like a plane handle - there's too big, there's too small, and then there's the territory between those two where you don't think about the handle at all while you're planing.

I've probably had 50 guitars. The little bits like that (exactness of the neck, etc) are the things that I see people going to the fender custom shop for. Fender's custom shop is a good way to get a $1400 guitar for $3500. If you don't like it, you're stuck, because it's not custom for the next guy and he's going to think that a production guitar might be safer unless you have special names on your pickups (and then it's $4500 instead of $3500).

Leo fender would be turning in his grave. The original fenders were to be made with the intention of throwing parts out rather than refurbishing them. Need fretwork? Throw it out and buy another neck. Like cars...where Leo came from. He was the genius to guitars that Leonard Bailey was to planes. Less elegant than Gibsons but far less trouble in maintaining or fixing.

Total material costs for this guitar with a high quality pot and switch set, hand wound pickups and good vintage tuners is about $400. Not cheap, but much less than fender custom.
 
Looks nice and like the peg head lines. Interested in why spruce for the body (being so soft and prone to dings)? Does the wood choice have any impact on the sound of an electric?

Cheers
Richard
 
If it has any impact, it's little. I play a lot upstairs where my amps are not present, or after the kids go to bed. I'm chasing resonance more than plugged-in sound, as I've had a couple of dandy guitars that were really resonant (one made by collings, the other a cherry telecaster).

I've heard older les pauls that sound much more open than newer ones, and they sound bigger acoustically, too, but I think it's just a coincidence that the two appear on the same guitar (the acoustic resonance vs. electric sound both being bigger).

This is, again, a custom shop order thing that people do (and fender apparently is aware of it and will entertain trying to make more resonant guitars for extra bucks). I didn't know that when I was chasing it, but it's what other folks do when they get something they wouldn't have thought of (in my case, the collings that seemed to be alive from end to end without being heavy or light) and they have the money to buy. If I buy production guitars, I often shuffle them around, so no custom guitars for me - all used.

I want the terminus of this guitar adventure to be an arch top guitar - that'd be a much smarter way to get more volume and resonance, but I like to ponder my hobbies.

Do you have any thoughts on where you're going next with the guitars. Carve a spruce top arch top?

If that's manageable, I want to make some orchestra stringed instruments (voilins, and maybe a cello) - that's years down the road, but those are also accessible to make for someone who likes to use mostly hand tools.
 
Ooh, I like that grain. The black binding sets it off nicely.

richarddownunder":iwsjoim5 said:
... Does the wood choice have any impact on the sound of an electric.
The body wood can have a small impact, but not as much as the neck wood and neck construction.
 
Looks amazing D_W. Awesome work sir! Luthiery must be one of the hardest woodworking disciplines to master.
 
D_W":3vjmpmid said:
I briefly joined a guitar forum late last year to start making guitars, but didn't find people doing much by hand. Some of the attempts to build jigging to do precise work without hand tools were mind numbing, and the attempt to use sandpaper and power tools to do finish work led to some ugly surfaces and nasty proportions.

There are some nice acoustics on this site http://www.anzlf.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=6343 take a look at the finish of some of these. Rather humbling in my case. I have found this site very helpful when it came to problems I couldn't figure out.

Cheers
Richard
 
D_W":32zpgubp said:
Do you have any thoughts on where you're going next with the guitars. Carve a spruce top arch top?

If that is to me, then I don't really have a plan to do anything too fancy. I thought I'd make a guitar for my Daughter, that is where it started a while back. Recently, my son has shown some interest in guitars - he never does things the easy way, so I think a classical may be the next on the list. Not really wanting to tackle an arch top (or violin) - walking before I can run! I suppose for me, its just a challenge to try to learn a new area to a point where I can churn out something reasonably acceptable. I did that with knife making and reached a standard I was happy enough with and since I really don't need any more knives, I stopped. However, knives are rather a shorter build time per item!! Here is one (changing the subject entirely :lol: ).
IMG_3889a.jpg
I think the blend of various materials and woods and their properties in these projects is what makes them so interesting to me. As well as the by-hand aspect. The knives are all ground freehand on a linisher then polished by hand using emery boards and a bit of sweat!

Cheers
Richard
 

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richarddownunder":3nt14ibn said:
Does the wood choice have any impact on the sound of an electric?

Cheers
Richard

Ha.. you stepped in the volatile world of the "tonewood" debate. This is the guitar players version of the woodwork sharpening subject.

Step into a group of guitarists and tell them tonewood doesn't matter, step back and watch the sparks fly :wink:

I personally think it does have an effect but it's a small one, so small that it'll be rendered insignificant once you bring in far more dominant factors like what you play, pickup choice, FX pedals, amp settings and volume, PA settings, position of audience, how drunk audience is!
 
D_W":2yjigi5n said:
My second guitar. It's difficult to make a contemporary instrument look contemporary without using any power tools I've routed the cavities in this guitar, the roundover on the back and the binding channel, as well as cleaning up the curves initially with an OSS. One would normally rout the outside of the body, but with spruce, it's a risk, so most of the bulk work was done by hand with a spokeshave, rasps or scrapers, then OSS right to the line, then back to hand finishing to remove any unevenness.

Everything else (the entire neck, fingerboard, etc, sizing the lumber, all cuts) is entirely by hand.

I did attempt two guitar bodies without power tools, and they end up looking too rustic (not in proportion or curves, but the lack of refinement at the binding channel, especially. An archtop guitar would be far more doable without power tools - especially if you didn't bind the body (think violin) but installed stringing away from the sides.

Sitka spruce body, cherry neck, birdseye maple fingerboard. Waiting for the finishing bits (on the fence for the top coat - shellac or varnish that I cooked from pine and damar resin. The latter is more permanent, but it needs sunlight to cure quickly - three weeks for each coat without it vs. one good day in the sun ). The rest to go on/in the guitar at this point after finish is just hardware.

My routing template for the cavity doesn't ever seem to line up with the pickguard (the round control plate needs to fit neatly in the cutout on the pickguard), thus the two gouge cuts to make room for pots under a control plate. All of that is covered in the finished guitar, so it's meaningless. I usually cut that cavity last to try to line it up, but it's never quite right - the template is further off than that.

https://i.imgur.com/JNniIzu.jpg
https://i.imgur.com/vBugUyY.jpg
https://i.imgur.com/KVBeps4.jpg

I briefly joined a guitar forum late last year to start making guitars, but didn't find people doing much by hand. Some of the attempts to build jigging to do precise work without hand tools were mind numbing, and the attempt to use sandpaper and power tools to do finish work led to some ugly surfaces and nasty proportions.

Planemaking tools come in really handy cleaning up the curves and fitting the neck pocket (which would be tedious to get perfect with a router - the details to do all of that right are not what I'm looking to do when I go in the shop). Much faster and easier to cut a rough pocket short of final size and then finish by hand and fit the neck to it.

Lovely looking guitar, real nice job!
 
richarddownunder":6mh5x1r0 said:
D_W":6mh5x1r0 said:
Do you have any thoughts on where you're going next with the guitars. Carve a spruce top arch top?

If that is to me, then I don't really have a plan to do anything too fancy. I thought I'd make a guitar for my Daughter, that is where it started a while back. Recently, my son has shown some interest in guitars - he never does things the easy way, so I think a classical may be the next on the list. Not really wanting to tackle an arch top (or violin) - walking before I can run! I suppose for me, its just a challenge to try to learn a new area to a point where I can churn out something reasonably acceptable. I did that with knife making and reached a standard I was happy enough with and since I really don't need any more knives, I stopped. However, knives are rather a shorter build time per item!! Here is one (changing the subject entirely :lol: ). I think the blend of various materials and woods and their properties in these projects is what makes them so interesting to me. As well as the by-hand aspect. The knives are all ground freehand on a linisher then polished by hand using emery boards and a bit of sweat!

Cheers
Richard

Richard, really exceptional work! Really, from end to end, not an ill mark or bad line on any part of it. Great proportions and finish, as nice of a knife as I've seen anywhere.
 
richarddownunder":ffkswwam said:
D_W":ffkswwam said:
I briefly joined a guitar forum late last year to start making guitars, but didn't find people doing much by hand. Some of the attempts to build jigging to do precise work without hand tools were mind numbing, and the attempt to use sandpaper and power tools to do finish work led to some ugly surfaces and nasty proportions.

There are some nice acoustics on this site http://www.anzlf.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=6343 take a look at the finish of some of these. Rather humbling in my case. I have found this site very helpful when it came to problems I couldn't figure out.

Cheers
Richard

Exceptional finish work. In my experience, it does, unfortunately, take a little bit of the punch out of a guitar, but those guitars are like mirrors, as are a lot of the top shelf guitars that are in the $20K range for flat tops. I'd imagine the builders spend at least as much time on the finish work and prep for it as they do building the rest of the guitar.

Some of the boutique builders here will do work that good on more traditional guitars - even the bourgeois acoustic guitar that I'd bought a little over a decade ago (which is about a $4500 guitar now), the perfection in the finish work is something I doubt I could match. Not just clear and gloss, but every line under the finish was perfect, and looking across the surface of the guitar at every angle showed no distortion from the overall lines at all. Those makers are starting to focus on harder and thinner finishes due to customer demand, too (even the electric guitar makers are).

My experience with acoustics is that the chance that one holds up perfectly over several decades is about zero, so that finish work needs to be protected more or less by keeping the guitar in a controlled environment and not under tension. I prefer the finish work that you did on an actual guitar that I'm going to have and play. The sound is undistorted and if you have to make a repair later (which is inevitable on an acoustic), it won't require agonizing planning for repairing the finish.

I really think your guitar is a marvel - for it to be your second guitar shows what standard you work to.
 
OscarG":8jsxjlbz said:
Lovely looking guitar, real nice job!

Thanks, Oscar!

memzey said:
Looks amazing D_W. Awesome work sir! Luthiery must be one of the hardest woodworking disciplines to master.

Could be at a much higher level than I'll ever get to. Electrics like this are pretty easy, relatively, and there's a lot of information and plans for them - and a nice array of hardware that goes on them.

Guitars like arch tops made to a high standard require a lot more work (and skill and time) to do well, but there's a lot of published help on them, too. I guess a lot of it is in what you want to do (if anything, some people I've met here like just having a nice neat shop and not doing much - I like having a smaller filthy shop and working at the bench). If you're willing to build 10 of anything, you can get pretty good at it. I learned that making planes - it's nicer to build the 8th than it is the 2nd (I give myself a bye on building the first of anything so that I don't get tempted to take 10 times as long as a skilled worker would on steps that just don't require that level of care).

There's a huge quasi builder market for guitars, too - buying components and assembling them and doing minimal work. I like that less, but you can do it really cheaply if you want as the components out of china are cheaper than the materials are here. There are some compromises sometimes, but nothing that prevents a "normal" woodworker from cleaning them up and making a good playing guitar. My favorite beat-around stratocaster is the result of a $105 kit.
 
D_W":1y7spopd said:
some people I've met here like just having a nice neat shop and not doing much - I like having a smaller filthy shop and working at the bench
David you are now officially my brother from across the pond.

PS - Call mom. She’s complaining she hasn’t heard from you lately :D
 
D_W":1eo8w1vt said:
richarddownunder":1eo8w1vt said:
D_W":1eo8w1vt said:
Do you have any thoughts on where you're going next with the guitars. Carve a spruce top arch top?

If that is to me, then I don't really have a plan to do anything too fancy. I thought I'd make a guitar for my Daughter, that is where it started a while back. Recently, my son has shown some interest in guitars - he never does things the easy way, so I think a classical may be the next on the list. Not really wanting to tackle an arch top (or violin) - walking before I can run! I suppose for me, its just a challenge to try to learn a new area to a point where I can churn out something reasonably acceptable. I did that with knife making and reached a standard I was happy enough with and since I really don't need any more knives, I stopped. However, knives are rather a shorter build time per item!! Here is one (changing the subject entirely :lol: ). I think the blend of various materials and woods and their properties in these projects is what makes them so interesting to me. As well as the by-hand aspect. The knives are all ground freehand on a linisher then polished by hand using emery boards and a bit of sweat!

Cheers
Richard

Richard, really exceptional work! Really, from end to end, not an ill mark or bad line on any part of it. Great proportions and finish, as nice of a knife as I've seen anywhere.

Thanks :D
 
D_W":cx0e8t0z said:
richarddownunder":cx0e8t0z said:
D_W":cx0e8t0z said:
I briefly joined a guitar forum late last year to start making guitars, but didn't find people doing much by hand. Some of the attempts to build jigging to do precise work without hand tools were mind numbing, and the attempt to use sandpaper and power tools to do finish work led to some ugly surfaces and nasty proportions.

There are some nice acoustics on this site http://www.anzlf.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=6343 take a look at the finish of some of these. Rather humbling in my case. I have found this site very helpful when it came to problems I couldn't figure out.

Cheers
Richard

Exceptional finish work. In my experience, it does, unfortunately, take a little bit of the punch out of a guitar, but those guitars are like mirrors, as are a lot of the top shelf guitars that are in the $20K range for flat tops. I'd imagine the builders spend at least as much time on the finish work and prep for it as they do building the rest of the guitar.

Some of the boutique builders here will do work that good on more traditional guitars - even the bourgeois acoustic guitar that I'd bought a little over a decade ago (which is about a $4500 guitar now), the perfection in the finish work is something I doubt I could match. Not just clear and gloss, but every line under the finish was perfect, and looking across the surface of the guitar at every angle showed no distortion from the overall lines at all. Those makers are starting to focus on harder and thinner finishes due to customer demand, too (even the electric guitar makers are).

My experience with acoustics is that the chance that one holds up perfectly over several decades is about zero, so that finish work needs to be protected more or less by keeping the guitar in a controlled environment and not under tension. I prefer the finish work that you did on an actual guitar that I'm going to have and play. The sound is undistorted and if you have to make a repair later (which is inevitable on an acoustic), it won't require agonizing planning for repairing the finish.

I really think your guitar is a marvel - for it to be your second guitar shows what standard you work to.

Hi David...Thanks again for the kind words. I noticed a scratch in the shellac finish already, but as you rightly say, it s a simple job to fix. I understand that shellac hardens over a period of weeks so maybe it hasn't fully hardened yet. I used the Bulls eye product which I thought formed a fairly hard surface, maybe I was wrong. I get what you are saying about the finish of these works of art. I'd be scared to touch them and would want to put them in a glass case to display. Hadn't thought about the effect on the tone of the thicker mirror nitro finish.

Cheers
Richard
 
Nitrocellulose might be harder or softer than shellac, I'm not sure. None of the finishes are scratch resistant. I think one of the draws of the later thicker finishes on electric guitars is that they were easy to buff at the factory (harder to burn through all of the finish) and you can buff them a few more times as a repair guy to get the light scratches out without doing much.

Nitro does harden more over time, to the point that most makers will wait at least a week before buffing so as to have a nice hard easy to buff base. I'd defer to other folks on shellac, but have always had good experience with zinsser shellac to the point that I don't mix shellac from flake now unless I need a certain color or am using raw flakes with a burn in knife to do finish repairs on older guitars.

I've got a few guitars in the 10-15 year old range that were purchased and coddled, nitro lacquer (the absolute standard), and all of them still have small scratches on them. Picks, fingernails, etc, unless the guitar is put in a display case, it's going to happen. Shellac is a great finish to have (as is nitro) if you're going to come back at the guitar down the road and refresh the finish to get it looking brand new again.

At some point, some part of the guitar will move enough to create some finish crack somewhere, anyway. They're alive and impossible to keep in perfect shape. Even if you do a perfect job on the buff, as the wood moves with seasonal changes, parts of the wood will telegraph on to the surface. The best way to mitigate the trouble of trying to keep them perfect is just to play the rubbish out of the good ones and enjoy them.
 
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