Building a Steel String Guitar

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#221  Postby John Platko » Jan 23, 2016 1:48 pm

Cutting the neck to length and angle.

Before I cut the dovetail tenon on the neck I establish the length of the neck (more or less) and the neck angle (more or less).

I covered the importance of neck angle earlier in the thread, for a review of that go here. The neck angle is important because it establishes how high the strings are at the saddle when the action of the strings is set. Too high, and the strings put too much torque on the bridge, too low and not enough torque and/or picking room.

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It's traditional to have either the 12th fret (classical guitars and early Martins) or the 14th fret (most other acoustics) at the neck/body interface. I'll be using the 14th fret. There's nothing important about this for the intonation of the guitar, the intonation is set by the fret positions and the bridge location. I like having the actual fretboard available for this step, that explains why the neck joint is being done now.

Mark where the 14th fret goes and the end of the dovetail tenon. There should be a bit of a gap between the end of the tenon and the back of the body mortise.

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Mark the neck angle. I'm using 3.5 degrees but this will be fine tuned later.

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Cut the neck at the end of the tenon. The cut doesn't need to be perfect but it doesn't hurt. The important neck surface will be prepared by the end of the router bit and later hand fitted.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#222  Postby John Platko » Jan 25, 2016 2:05 pm

Cutting the neck tenon

I have another jig with the negative of the heel dovetail mortise.

Here's the neck mounted in the jig. (I flip the jig around if I want to make a straight mortise tenon which is good for a bolt ons.) Notice there's a "safe" slot on the left to start the router in. You don't want the router touching the neck when it's spinning up.

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The jig has a “key” that fits into the truss rod route of the neck for alignment.

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Here's the neck clamped in.

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The router ready to go.

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It's a very good idea to make a test cut in scrap wood to make sure everything is set up just right. “Just right” doesn't mean a perfect fit at this time but a bit tight where the dovetail doesn't quite seat is good. Later, you can make final adjustments by hand.

Here's my test run. You can see the neck angle.

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Now the real deal. Be patient and make sure the router comes to a complete stop before removing it, this is no time for ADD. Then make sure you removed what needs to be removed before taking down the setup.

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Another look.

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Cutting of some excess wood so we can see how I did. (It helps to have the neck heel bigger than the final heel will be so it can seat against the router template.)

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A bit of a whack to seat the neck on the guitar with a block and mallet.

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And the result. (Notice the small gap between the end of the tenon and the mortice, you want that.)

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A side view.

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Another side view where I think you can see the neck angle.

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Small errors in various tilts and skews of the neck can be adjusted later. That looks good and I'm glad it's over with.
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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#223  Postby John Platko » Jan 27, 2016 1:30 pm

Gluing on the headstock veneers



Next I'll glue on the headstock veneers that I prepared awhile ago. (see here.) I'm using a sheet of rosewood, then maple, finally a book matched cutoff from the back.

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It's easier and generally better to just use a single piece of wood for the top headstock overlay but from time to time a certain piece of wood makes me want to go this route. The additional issue is that the seam of the overlay needs to be centered on the guitar.

I extend the center-line of the neck which is the center of the truss rod route. I still have a straight edge on the neck which is parallel to the truss rod route.

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I use a square and make a few measurements and draw the line

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I double check by putting a straight edge on the line at the headstock and then further down the neck put a square on the neck and make sure is falls in the middle of the truss rod. Stewmac probably sells a tool for this.

This is a good time to place the fingerboard on the neck and make sure the nut will have a width you're happy with. A bit of fine tuning can be done later but if it's off by much and you have a thick enough neck and headstock to allow for it you can adjust now by taking wood off the neck or headstock as needed.

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Since I have to glue the headstock overlay in an exact position I'll use a few positioning pins to hold the alignment during glue-up.

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Dry fit and clamp the veneers in place. Drill some holes in the waste areas. Insert the pins. I'm using wood pins so I don't have to worry about removing them or cutting/routing through them later. You might like brads better. Make sure the pins are bellow the veneer surface or provide holes in your cawl for them to fit through. If using wood pins, let the drill oversize the hole a tad so that the pins don't crack the wood when they swell from the water in the glue.

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Scrape a fresh surface on everything.

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Add glue.

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The bottom veneer.

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More glue and the middle veneer.

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More glue and the top veneer. At this point I had to hurry up and get to clamping. I used a cawl on the top but since I have a lot of headstock thinning to do later I didn't need one on the back.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#224  Postby John Platko » Jan 30, 2016 2:35 pm

Excavating the truss rod nut cavity.

I'll start installing the truss rod by excavating the truss rod nut cavity. (An alternative approach that I sometimes use with headstock veneers that don't have a seam is to simply put the headstock veneer on before I route the truss rod cavity. Then much of the truss rod nut cavity is routed along with the slot for the truss rod.)

You can make a router template and go that route or simply use a router table and make a straight slot.

I'm going a bit more primitive and hogging out some wood with a forstner bit and cleaning up with hand tools.

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Mark the boundary of the hole.

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And carve away. (I don't have a picture of it but I use a gouge to carve the end of the hole.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#225  Postby John Platko » Feb 01, 2016 2:57 pm

Making a slot for the truss rod anchor

I also need to enlarge the truss rod route on the heel end so that the truss rod anchor has a place to go. You can just make a spot big enough for the anchor but I'm enlarging the channel all the way through the dove tail. This way if the truss rod ever needs to be replaced it can be removed by simply removing the neck from the guitar without having to remove the fingerboard. (On electric guitars I do this in a way that you don't have to remove the neck to replace the truss rod and that can also be done on acoustic guitars too.)

Mark where the anchor goes.

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Score the cut lines.

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Chisel away.

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The anchor ledge needs to be a bit deeper than the truss rod route.

And it's done.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#226  Postby John Platko » Feb 04, 2016 1:18 pm

Test fitting the truss rod.

I test fit the rod as I go, but here's the final test fit before it's in.

I add a small washer which I hand fit for the slot. The nut presses against this.

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The nut end. (Run a straight edge over the headstock veneer to make sure the nut is below the surface.)

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The anchor end.

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Next I make strip of wood (skunk stripe) that fits over the truss rod. It should fit nicely and not need to be forced into the slot, it will expand a bit when the glue hits it. I put a bit of a notch in it so it fits over the truss rod. This wood could be made out of the same material as the neck or another hardwood. It looks like I used some left over spruce bracing material, which isn't a bad choice either.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#227  Postby John Platko » Feb 06, 2016 3:00 pm

Gluing the skunk stripe

Now I'm ready to glue in the strip of wood that goes on top of the truss rod.

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A bit of glue - you don't need very much, the fingerboard will make sure the strip isn't going anywhere and you don't want a lot of glue ending up around the rod. (It's a good idea to put straw over the end of the truss rod to protect the threads from getting glue in them but I didn't have one handy.)

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Some clamps and there you have it.

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For a final touch I'll seal up the end of the dovetail truss rod slot. Since this is a glue on neck I'll need steam to remove it and this will help keep the steam out of the neck. It will be easy to drill out if the truss rod needs replacement.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#228  Postby John Platko » Feb 08, 2016 1:51 pm

Trimming the skunk stripe.

After the glue dries reverse a chisel and then remove the bulk of the skunk stripe excess.

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Using the chisel right side up pare the skunk stripe to the surface of the neck.

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A light scraping to make sure everything is flush and remove any glue.

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The same basic procedure can be used for any type of adjustable truss rod.
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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#229  Postby John Platko » Feb 10, 2016 3:13 pm

Thinning the headstock and neck height

At this point I thin the headstock to something pretty close to its final thickness. Generally I like to make the final adjustment later. I mark the side of the headstock so I can keep my mind on what I'm doing. Pay particular attention to where the neck meets the headstock because there is not a sharp transition there so you need a bit of extra meat on the bone at that point.

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I use a drill press safety planer to remove excess wood.

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And this is good for now. the transition from the neck to headstock is best done with hand tools if you don't have a cnc machine.

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Next I set the final thickness of the neck. The body of the neck can be flat or at an angle, it's your choice. I like a small angle.

I have a board planned to the angle I want. It has about a .05” height difference over 12 frets. You may like more, you may like less.
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I double side sticky tape it to the neck.

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Then I use the drill press planer to plane the bottom of the neck to height. The angled board makes the bottom of the neck stand taller at the nut end and more wood is lopped off there.

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And there you have it.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#230  Postby John Platko » Feb 12, 2016 4:15 pm

Preparing to glue on the fingerboard


I don't fit the dovetail to the body at this point but you may find that to be a good thing to do now.

I put the neck on the guitar as far as it will go and put the fretboard on top. It's traditional for the the 14th (or 12th) fret to be at the body joint- or close. Also make sure that the space for the nut is what you want.

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It's important that the center of the fingerboard lines up with the center of the neck at the nut and the center seam of the guitar top.

Mark the center of the fingerboard at the nut and line it up with the center of the neck. The truss rod if installed well is a good guide.

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Check that the center of the fingerboard is aligned with the center seam of the top.

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As a double check I like to make sure that both sides of the fingerboard are evenly spaced from the center seam at the bridge.

Put a rule at the bridge location.

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And use a straight edge as a guide to check the fingerboard edge distance from the center seam.

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Clamp in place tightly when everything is right.

I use alignment pins to locate the fingerboard during gluing.

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Drill a few holes through fret slots.

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And insert a pin. I use about five small pins.

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Now I have alignment guides that will hold the fingerboard in the right spot as I glue it in place.
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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#231  Postby felltoearth » Feb 13, 2016 2:38 am

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#232  Postby John Platko » Feb 15, 2016 3:09 pm

Gluing on the fingerboard

Have some cawls ready for under the neck and over the fingerboard. Don't forget holes in the fingerboard cawl for the pins.

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It's a good idea to freshen up the glue surfaces with a fresh scrape.

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Some glue.

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The alignment pins in place.

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And some clamps.

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Clean up what glue you can and let dry.

And the fingerboard is on the neck.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#233  Postby RNeto » Feb 17, 2016 11:28 am

Awesome thread, i wish i could just buy some wood boards and build myself a new guitar.

Some silly questions, not sure of being slightly OT, but curiosity is killing myself:
1) Do you do it professionally or as a hobby? Because its completelly PRO stuff.
2) Do you sell these? For how much?

:clap:
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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#234  Postby Alan B » Feb 17, 2016 12:25 pm

Still following this. Didn't realise there was so much work involved. Excellent detail.

Looking forward to seeing the finished article.
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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#235  Postby John Platko » Feb 17, 2016 3:58 pm

RNeto wrote:Awesome thread, i wish i could just buy some wood boards and build myself a new guitar.

Some silly questions, not sure of being slightly OT, but curiosity is killing myself:
1) Do you do it professionally or as a hobby? Because its completelly PRO stuff.
2) Do you sell these? For how much?

:clap:


I think it's best to describe it as a hobby but I studied with a professional, Alan Carruth, one day a week for about 6 years and then a month full time so I took this pretty seriously.

How much- well I bet if you ask my wife that question she'll give you a very good deal ;) .
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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#236  Postby John Platko » Feb 17, 2016 4:04 pm

Shaping the neck to the shape of the fingerboard.

I use a table router to shape the neck to the fingerboard width. You can do this with hand tools if you prefer but a router makes quick work of it.

First I remove the bulk of the extra wood on the side of the neck with a bandsaw.

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The router table ready to go. A bearing at the base of the router bit guides the cuter along the edge of the fingerboard.

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The neck flush with the fingerboard.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#237  Postby John Platko » Feb 20, 2016 2:18 pm

Shaping the headstock

Next I use double stick tape to attach the headstock template in place. Make sure it's aligned on the center line.

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Rough cut the headstock shape on a bandsaw.

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On the router table route to the template.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#238  Postby John Platko » Feb 22, 2016 3:36 pm

Rough carving the neck - 1

I iterate the carving of the neck a couple of times. I start by doing a complete rough carve of the entire neck and then I do a more refined finish carving. There are other approaches but I find this works best for me. I'll use a lot of different tools to show you a variety of ways that carving can be done. You don't need all these tools but it's important to find the ones that work best for you.

I start by smoothing out the area between the headstock and fingerboard where the router can't safely reach. I like to use a gouge for this but a rasp works well too.

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That's good for now

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Next I work on the transition between the neck and the headstock. There are lots of ways that this area can be carved. I like a simple smooth curve easing the neck into the slope of the headstock.

You can use a carvers chisel, which has a bevel on both sides. Image

A carpenters chisel works well for this too. (Used upside down)


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If you have a finger plane you can give that a go and see if you like it.

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A rasp works really well for this too.

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That's good for now. I'll straighten out the scarf joint line later.

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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#239  Postby Alan B » Feb 22, 2016 5:01 pm

A 'Finger Plane'! Wow! That's dinky.
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Re: Building a Steel String Guitar

#240  Postby John Platko » Feb 22, 2016 5:17 pm

Alan B wrote:A 'Finger Plane'! Wow! That's dinky.


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