One of the great things about building guitars is experimenting and changing things as the mood strikes me. The Lady in Red build looked great, but a solid body guitar with piezo pickups just didn’t provide the sound I was looking for, so I decided to make some changes. I’ve got several guitars with humbuckers, but I don’t have any with single coil pickups so I swapped out the double piezos with a single coil pickup from MGB (https://mgbguitars.com/collections/pickups/products/guitar-parts-pickups-seven-fitty). I didn’t take any pictures of the process, but it was pretty straight forward. I routed a cavity in the body and drilled a hole connecting it to control cavity, then ran the wiring.
MGB sells a pickup cover for the seven-fitty but due to my setup it didn’t get the pickup as close to the strings as I wanted, so I 3D printed a new cover. I also 3D printed a logo for the head while I was at it. I can’t say I’m completely done with this one, but I love the way she sounds…for now.
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/ :
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few years back, I was involved in a little accident with a shear at the design studio in which I was working. It wasn’t anything too bad, but I lost the very tip of an index finger. It was very sensitive as it was healing up, and I quickly realized that it would be a while before I could play my acoustic guitar again. I was poor, but had a good amount of woodworking tools, so I started looking into what it would take to build myself an electric guitar. ( For those non-guitarists out there, electric guitar strings don’t require nearly the same force to play, so I thought this might be a solution.)
I also started looking into using nylon strings, because they are a bit softer then the metal strings that electric guitars use. I then started looking into what it would take to make an electric guitar with nylon strings. Now for those who don’t know, electric guitars use magnetic pickups to “pickup” the vibrations of the metal strings, so nylon strings won’t work with standard electric guitar pickups. That’s when I discovered piezo pickups.
I spent a couple years in R&D working with inkjet printheads that use piezo technology to I understand a bit about them, but print heads work completely opposite of piezo pickups, so I had a bit to learn, but I decided to give it a try anyways. I’m glad I did.
My first guitar design (RG1) turned out a little smaller, lighter, and not as unique as I was hoping for, but it was playable. As I was working on it, I got the chance to build a couple other guitars as display pieces, so I got a couple other chances to “practice” building guitars that would probably never be played. And with the first couple out of the way, I refined my design, applied the lessons I’d learned from them, and came out with my next design.
The first RG5 was my 4th complete build, and it turned out exactly as I hoped. The guitar looks great, feels great, plays great, and sounds great. I was so happy with it, in fact, that I built one for my dad with a different sound hole design, and helped my brother build one with yet another sound hole design (you can see all three below).
I used pre-built necks for each of the models I’ve previously built, and have all the supplies I need to build another guitar, so over the summer I will be building another one, including the neck, and documenting the process on this blog. And who knows, I might even look into what it would take to do a giveaway when it’s all done.