Building a Guitar Part 5: Finishing the Lady in Red

I’ve been slacking with with my updates on this build because it’s been done for a few weeks now, but here are the final steps in completing this build.

Final assembly on each of my guitars starts with bolting on the neck and re-attaching the bridge which was pre-positioned. Before I can secure the bridge, though, I have to attach the piezo pickups and run the wires through the body to the control cavity. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of this process, but it is fairly straight forward. I use double sided tape to adhere the pickups to a 3-d printed housing I designed, and then use more tape to hold the housing to the bridge. The housing helps align the pickups and protects them from being crushed when sandwiched between the bridge and body, but because it’s only 0.050″ thick, it’s almost invisible.

With this guitar I used two pickups, each with their own volume pot. Because one pickup is on the base side and one is on the treble, I can use the pots to blend the highs and lows to customize the sound I want. I don’t have the schematic for how I wired these, or even a great picture, but basically I wired the piezos in parallel, adding the volume pots between them and the jack based on this diagram from https://www.cigarboxguitar.com/knowledge-base/cigar-box-guitar-piezo-wiring-diagrams/ :

Piezo Diagram with Volume Pot and Jack

I’m not the best with wiring or soldering, so it wasn’t the prettiest job (and I accidentally touched the soldering iron the the body, leaving a coupe small burn marks), but it worked.

All in all, I’m very happy with this guitar. It’s a solid body with electric strings so it has a completely different sound then my semi-hollow build which is strung with acoustic strings. The semi-hollow has a fuller sound, more in line with the stuff I usually play but this one has a more driven, piercing sound that will go really well with the new rock/metal songs I’m working on learning.

Every project I take on turns out to be a great learning experience, and this one was no exception. I love the control the two pickup-two pot setup gives me, but I have a slight modification I’m going to try in the build. I’ve also already modified the neck design slightly. This one plays fine, but I want to get it a little thinner and a little more aggressive on the side angles to help facilitate some faster playing. And with these changes in mind, I’ve already started on my next one; a budget build. Because it’s a budget build, it won’t require a lot of the extra tools and steps of my previous builds so I’ll do the write-up in one post as soon as it is complete. In the meantime, here’s a preview:

Building a Guitar Part 4: Finishing the Body and Neck

With the neck built, it was time to finish the body. This included routing all the body edges, routing the control cavity cover recess, and drilling the neck bolt holes.

Then, with the neck fitted into the neckpocket of the body, I measured out the 25.5″scale and positioned the bridge, drilling the holes for the mounting screws and for routing the pickup wiring.

With all the routing and drilling done, it was on to the most nerve-racking part of the build for me, finishing. Sanding all the parts took a lot of time, especially the inner parts of the cutouts, and I still didn’t do a great job but the results are good enough for me.

After sanding, it was time to add some color and protection to the wood. I found an awesome red paint (duplicolor metalcast) that I used for my brother’s guitar and decided to use it. It’s a translucent automotive paint that is meant to go over bare/bright metal, so it is extremely durable while still allowing the natural woodgrain to show through. I did 6 coats of the red, wet sanding after every-other coat.

When the paint had time to cure, it was time to apply top coat. My go-to for guitar building has been Rust-oleum’s Triple Thick Glaze. It’s a non-yellowing coating that goes on well and provides an awesome high gloss finish. I applied 4 coats of the topcoat, wet-sanding after every-other coat. I then allow the topcoat to sit for a while (about a week in this case) before polishing. During this time, I also applied boiled linseed oil to the entire neck. I had thought about using the same Triple Thick Glaze, but ultimately decided that the linseed oil would give it a more natural feel

So, with all the painting and polishing done, all that is left is the final assembly and wiring.

“Good” Is No Longer Good Enough

Today I had an early appointment at the car dealership to have my wife’s car worked on. The car only has 50K miles, so I wasn’t happy about it, but it was covered under the warranty and the wait gave me a chance to do a little writing. I haven’t worked on Zero Sum for a while, and it’s been sitting at about 90-95% done, so I really wanted to make some progress on it. Unfortunately, as I read the last bit I’d written, I realized that it really needed some work. The story is good, but I’ve decided that “good” is no longer good enough for me.

When I first started writing it was strictly for myself. I had characters and stories floating around my head and I wanted to write a novel to entertain myself, so I wrote Dark Genesis of Daniel James. By the time I wrote The Consciousness Puzzle, I had already published Dark Genesis and it had been downloaded a couple thousand times, so I knew people might actually read my stories, but I continued to write TCP for myself. I figured The Daniel James Saga would give me the best chance for commercial success so I didn’t really take the Mike Locke books seriously; they were just fun genre stories so “good” was my quality target. But as I said, good is no longer good enough.

As I sat in the dealership waiting room, I thought about the the various scenes and plot points in Zero Sum. About half of them are great and I can’t wait for people to read them; about half are average. While I think the book would be a fun read for just about anyone, I also think that the book overall would be completely forgettable. So I started dissecting those week plot points to determine how to make them stronger; how to use them to keep the story (and subsequently the reader) moving forward. In a very short time I came up with a number a changes that would make Zero Sum a much better story. Unfortunately, that means rewriting; a lot of rewriting.

Normally I try to stick with Robert Heinlein’s rule# 3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand but I also keep in mind Dean Wesley Smith’s thoughts on the matter. Dean believes in a distinction between rewriting and redrafting. What I have planned for Zero Sum is more of a redraft than a rewrite. I’m tossing out large parts of the story and rewriting from the creative side of my brain now that I know where the story is going. I really don’t like the idea of “loosing” 25,000 words but it will definitely strengthen the story and take it from “good to “great” so it will be worth it.

Traditional or Indie?

The writing is going very well, and I can’t wait to share “My Life As Death” with everyone. I didn’t know what to expect when I started writing it, but it has turned into something I never could have planned; probably because I didn’t plan it at all. I just started with an idea about a teenage Grim Reaper and I let the story lead the way. But early on in the writing of it, I knew this would be my best shot at going the traditional publishing route.

I knew absolutely nothing about publishing when I began writing; I just had a story to write. But as I continued writing, I began looking into the various publishing options. This was around 2011-2012 when the Amazon Kindle and independent publishing was just starting to get big. Writers like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey were becoming some of the first “Kindle Millionaires”, and even traditionally published authors like Joe Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith were sharing their advice on forgoing the traditional route. I read everything I could on the subject, and when The Dark Genesis of Daniel James was ready, I went the indie route.

Going the indie route was the right decision with Dark Genesis. As my first book, I was very unsure of myself and I very much wanted to have complete control over the entire thing; it was my baby. I don’t think I would have done well with the submission process, let alone the editorial / revision process if it had actually been accepted by an agent or publisher. Most likely, that book would have been my last.

23 Hours, at around 20,000 words was an awkward length to try to get published anywhere, so traditional publishing it wasn’t really an option. Trad publishing might have been worth considering for The Consciousness Puzzle, but as much as I enjoy the book, and especially the main character, there really is nothing that makes it stand out from the sea of action/adventure fiction already available out there; I just wrote what I wanted to read. Having TCP as my debut (trad published) novel would have probably been the end of my trad publishing career.

So that brings us back to My Life As Death. After 8 years of writing I’ve definitely matured as an author, and I like to think I’ve gotten quite a bit better. I also think that story and the characters in MLAD are the best I’ve written. They’re a bit unique, a little deep, and extremely entertaining (at least to me). I think it’s the perfect book for me to be able to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal, so that’s been the plan, until I read this article by Dean Wesley Smith.

The monetary breakdown wasn’t anything new to me. I’ve read this sort of math before, but seeing it again made me question if I still wanted to pursue the traditional route. It wasn’t just the money aspect though, it also reminded me what sort of time frame I’m looking at from the traditional path.

Yesterday I started writing the first draft of my query letter. I’m sure I’ll write several more versions before I’m content with it. Then I have to write a synopsis of the book. Then I have to research probably 100+ agents so I can identify a couple dozen I will query. Then, as far as this book goes, all I can do is wait. And even if by some chance I get an agent to agree to represent me, we have to try to get a publishing company interested. That alone is a huge battle, but even if it’s one we eventually win, there will be rounds of edits followed by production concerns, etc… to further push out the actual publishing. This means it could be (and most likely would be) years before the final book is available. This is what really has me reconsidering the Traditional vs Indie route.

I want to get this book in front of people. I want to share it with readers everywhere, as quickly as possible, and I know publishing through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Draft 2 Digital, etc… would allow me to get it out there the quickest. I also know that I suck at advertising and marketing my books. A traditional publishing deal doesn’t guarantee my book would be marketed any better, but it gives it a better chance to be marketed by someone who knows what they’re doing.

So that’s my dilemma, “Traditional or Indie?” What are your thought?

Writing Again!

There’s been a lot going on lately that has taken my focus off of writing, either my books or this blog, not the least of which was my youngest son moving and getting married. Both of these events required a good bit of my time, both for the actual event and for the projects he requested to got with them. I got to enjoy making various items I probably would not have attempted otherwise (a headboard, folding ladder-shelf, decorative wooden crates, hatchet display boxes and a cake topper to name a few). I appreciated the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone with these projects but I really missed writing. Then two days ago my wife had surgery. Surgery is not usually a great thing, but it did force me to spend several hours in the waiting room with nothing much to do, so I decided to crack open my little travel 2-in-1 laptop and give writing a shot.

I’m probably about 90-95% done with Zero Sum, and Mike Locke is such an easy character for me to slip into, so I thought it would be the best place to get me feet wet after a little time off. I opened up the file, read the last couple chapters I’d written and tried to continue. After ten minutes I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. I don’t know why, but sometimes the story just flows, other times I see way to many options and I hop all over the place, and sometimes my brain just freezes. That day, it was the latter. I just couldn’t see what happened next. I thought abut just shutting down my laptop but decided to try again with a different book.

My Life As Death is totally different from Zero Sum, and apparently that was exactly what I needed. I re-read a little of what I’d already written, and just continued from there. I wrote pretty much the entire time I was in that waiting room, and even though it’d been over a month since I’d last written, it was like I’d never stopped. That never happens when I take time off, so for that I was very grateful. Then the nurse called my name and the writing came to an end so I could go back and see my wife. Everything went well but by the time we got home both of us were exhausted so I didn’t get any more writing done.

I also didn’t get any writing done yesterday, choosing to focus on design work and caring for my wife, but most of the big projects around the house are now complete, and there shouldn’t be any more major events in the near future, so once again I can make writing a priority. And when I talk about making writing a priority, I mean both my books and keeping up on this blog. The guitar build continued, even though I haven’t given any updates on it, so you will be seeing the rest of the build soon.

Building a Guitar Part 3 – The Fretboard

The most critical part of a guitar is the fretboard. To make sure every fret is exactly where it belongs, I created yet another jig. I don’t remember exactly where I first saw this jig online, but there are many sites, books and videos showing how to make this. The jig is basically a very precise miter box.

A lot of people prefer to use expensive fret saws but I don’t have that kind of money to through around on something I’ll only use a couple times a year, so I went with a cheap plastic saw that cost me $8. It seems to cut perfectly straight and the replacement blades are extremely cheap.

With the fretboard slotted, I used the same neck template to cut and rout the fretboard to match the neck, then glued the two pieces together, once again using way too many clamps.

With the fretboard attached, I did a little more sanding and one more test fit.

To finish assembling the neck, I just needed to radius the fretboard and install the frets. To radius the fretboard, I 3D printed a sanding block with a 9.5″ radius and attached the sandpaper with doublesided tape. Eventually I’ll probably add some Velcro instead of the tape, but for now the tape worked.

Unfortunately I don’t have one of the fancy (and expensive) fretpresses, so I decided to make my own using a $5 clamp from menards and 3D printing the other pieces I need. I tried just using a hammer to install a couple of the frets, and it worked fine, but I definitely felt like I had more control with the clamp.

My process for inserting the frets was pretty simple; I would lay the fret wire on the slot and cut it, leaving a little overhang on both ends. I would then remove the wire, add some superglue to the slot, position the wire by hand, then use the clamp the press it into final position. I then had to repeat the process 20 more times. It was tedious, but it wasn’t awful. I then trimmed the ends of the wire and ran both sides of the neck across a belt sander to quickly remove any burrs. I still have to level and polish the frets and finish sand the rest of the neck, but for all practical purposes, the neck is ready to play, minus the nut. For this neck I’m using a bone nut and will install it last, when I’m ready to do the final guitar setup.

Building a Guitar: Part 2 – The Neck

I know that I said in my last post that I was going to use one of the pre-built necks for this guitar, but then I remembered that this guitar is going to use nylon strings. The necks I bought already have truss rods installed, which is really a good thing, but truss rods are most beneficial for steel stringed guitars and not necessary for guitars with nylon strings so I decided to make a neck for this build. But before I started on the neck, I needed to cut the neck pocket in the body.

Because of the way I designed this guitar, I was able to use a scroll saw to cut out the neck pocket close to the lines, then attach the template I 3D printed to get the final shape.

With the neck pocket routed, it was time to begin making the neck. I started the process by grabbing a piece of maple and marking a center line before aligning my template. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a picture of the process this time, so here’s a few pictures of a neck I did out of poplar.

Like the body, I cut out the neck close to the template lines, then used the router with a pattern bit to get an exact match. I make several passes with the router, taking just a little off with each pass so I don’t risk tearing the wood. I then use a drill press to add the tuner holes based on the same template.

With the basic neck shape done, I proceeded to test fit the piece into the neck pocket on the body. The body was still in very rough shape, but the neck fit perfectly, so I was ready to continue shaping the neck.

There are many different guitar neck designs, and even more ways to shape them, so of course I chose to ignore all of the conventional ways and design my own neck shaping jig.

This jig allows me to use either a rounded or 45 degree angle router bit to shape the rear sides of the neck depending on how aggressive I want the angle to be. For this one, I went with the 45 degree bit. Then, by just flipping the entire jig over, I was able to use a router with the pattern bit set to the proper depth to remove some stock from the head.

So with the neck ready to move on to sanding and assembly, I decided to cut the control cavity into the back of the guitar, then glue the front and back pieces together using every clamp I have.

Then, when the body had adequate time to cure, I did one more test fit before beginning the neck assembly and sanding.