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.

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.

Building a Guitar: Part 1

A couple posts back I talked about how I got into guitar building, and in that same post I said that I would be building another guitar and documenting the process including the neck build. That was only halfway true. I had planned on the next guitar build to include a hand made neck, and I even have the neck started, but then I got an awesome deal on a couple of mostly finished necks so I decided to expedite this next build by using one of them.

This build is the first for the RG5-SC model. The RG5 indicated the overall body style and the SC stands for “Special Cut”. While the overall body shape is the same as the initial RG5 model, this one will be a solid body design instead of the standard semi-hollow design and it will have large weight-saving cutouts.

To begin building the guitar I needed a template. Our local UPS store can print full scale copies, so I saved the file to a flash drive and had them print it out. I could have tiled the file, printed it from my home printer and pieced it together as I’ve done in the past, but the $1.50 cost of having them print it was worth it to save me a little time and effort.

I glued the full size print to 1/2″ MDF board and cut it out with my scroll-saw. Since the outside edge is identical to the standard RG5 design, I cut that edge a little wider, then attached my existing RG5 template to it and used a router with a template bit to give me an exact match. Then, with the template done, I started gluing up my body blanks.

A lot of purists hate the idea of using lumber from the “big-box” stores for building guitars. I understand exactly why the are against it, but our local Menards has select grade Mastercraft lumber that has been surfaced on four sides. By using this, and inspecting it before I buy, I’ve not had any problems. I chose a nice piece of 1″x8″x6′ Poplar, cut it into four 18″ pieces and then glued two sets of two pieces, making sure to use more clamps than necessary:

I like to let the body blanks setup for at least 24 hours, then I use the template to mark the cut lines and use a combination of scroll saw and band saw to rough cut the body shape, making sure to cut just outside the lines. When the rough cuts are done, I then screw the template to the body blanks and use the router with template bit to finish getting the final shape. The template will be right-side-up for the bottom piece and up-side-down for the top to keep the screw holes from being visible after final assembly.

Now that the body is taking shape, the next step will be cutting the neck pocket.

My Team

The Savage Race is coming up very soon and this will be our 5th year participating. Every year I say I’m going to start training earlier, and every year I fail to start as early as I would like. Even though I didn’t get an early start, I’ve been training for a few weeks and so far I’ve been focusing mainly on my running. When it comes to the obstacles, my upper body strength isn’t usually an issue; my only real concern is my grip strength and my running stamina. 6+ miles and 30 obstacles takes it’s toll on you.

But regardless of how well I am prepared or how well I perform, the best part about doing the race is my team. It started out with my brother, sister, and son, and now has grown to include my nieces, nephew and family friends. The camaraderie of not just the team, but every participant is amazing. Throughout the race you are guaranteed to have complete strangers cheering you on, encouraging you and even helping you on obstacles if you need it.

And every year there are tons of teams dressed for the event and they will wear everything from cowboy hats, boots and daisy dukes (usually guys) to face paint and tutus. It’s great to see all the team outfits, but my team has never dressed as a team… until now. While we’re not quite ready to wear short-shorts or make-up (yet), we will all be sporting the same logo:

I probably won’t make this design available for sale in my shop, because even though it is my original design, it is based on the video game of the same name and I don’t want to step on the toes of the creators (Team 17). But if you are interested in any of my other designs, you can check them out in my shop at: https://www.etsy.com/shop/krileydesignshop

Fusion 360

In addition to being a writer, I’m also a designer. Most of my career has been spent around screen and digital printing so most of my design skills have developed around graphic design and color and material design. These skills have served me well, and I have successfully translated these skills into woodworking and other design applications but when it came to true 3D design, my skills and tools were sadly lacking.

In a previous position I designed and 3D printed some sample display assets, and last year my wife and son decided I needed a 3D printer of my own, so I have some CAD experience, but everything I’d done was with the free TinkerCAD software, which is extremely limited. But by designing some of the complex shapes in Illustrator and exporting as an svg file to be imported into TinkerCAD, I was able to get around a lot of the limitations. Eventually, though, those limitations became too much so I finally listened to the advice of others and signed up for the free Fusion 360 “startup” license.

For anyone interested in learning CAD, CAM & CAE software, I cannot recommend this highly enough. A design engineer I used to work with recommended it to me and I can only kick myself for waiting so long to download it.

Like most professional CAD/CAM software, there is a steep learning curve, but there are tons of tutorials online, through autodesk themselves as well as from other design professionals. It also really helps having a son who is somewhat experienced with solidworks to give me pointers, but there is plenty of information and helpful forums on line for those of you without engineering students to rely on.

My first Fusion 360 project from scratch was a speedloader/thumbsaver for a 9mm. It went through a couple iterations to get where I wanted it, but it turned out great and was an awesome learning experience. Now I just have to come up with my next project.