An Ideal Day – Almost

For some reason I woke up early yesterday, even after going to bed much later than usual. Based on this, I really didn’t have high expectations for the day but I was pleasantly surprised. After finishing my coffee, I headed to my laptop and got some writing done. The sequel to The Consciousness Puzzle has been almost done for quite a while, but I wasn’t completed happy with a couple parts, though I didn’t know why. Listening to the Writing Excuses podcast has helped me identify what I need to do to help the story, so I decided to work on it and I made some nice progress.

When I got to a good stopping point on the writing, I moved in to my school work and managed to get that done. Afterwards, I wanted to do some guitar work, but the weather here in my part of Ohio made standing out in an uninsulated shed sound less appealing, so instead I stayed on the laptop, but switched over worked on a couple new guitar designs.

After working on the guitar designs, I actually got a great workout. I used to workout routinely, but the past year and a half has conspired against me and my workouts, so I was really happy with how well I did and how my body responded. Work, school and all my extracurricular activities will still make it difficult to get back into it as much as I would like, but I’ll be happy if I can get this type of workout twice a week.

Even with shoveling, showering and cooking dinner, I still had plenty of time to actual read for fun. I don’t spend nearly enough time reading, so it has taken way to long to get through even the second book of the Maze Runner series, but I’m enjoying it, even at this slow pace.

So all-in-all, Sunday was just about an ideal day for me. The only way it could have been better was if it was 70-75 degrees and I could have gotten on the motorcycle and out in my shed. I hope your Sunday was as good as mine.

Looking for an Agent

Today I received my second rejection letter. It was once again a courteous one, but it was also quite evidently a form letter so I didn’t get any direct feedback. One thing I was able to gather from it is that I might need to tweak my description. It’s a little hard to say for sure, though, because the only explanation was “Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time.” Maybe I’m not describing it well enough to catch their attention or maybe they just aren’t looking for a YA novel about a teen protagonist who has to kill people. It’s really hard say. One thing I do know, is that with each subsequent submission I have continued to make slight adjustments to my pitch, which I hope has improved it.

This rejection came from a submission I made two weeks ago, so I am cautiously optimistic that this two week turn around might be the norm, rather than the exception, though most of the places I’ve submitted to have stated turn around times of six weeks to six months, so maybe it is just rejections that have the quicker turn around. All I really know, is that I will continue submitting to agents and publishing houses and eventually, My Life As Death will be picked up. In the mean-time, I’ll keep writing and building guitars like this one I just finished today:

I’ve got a little more setup to do (mainly intonation and adding the serial number tag and strap buttons) but even though a customer said one of my previous builds “almost plays itself”, from a playability standpoint, this is probably the best guitar I’ve made. It plays so easily but I’m not 100% sure why. I do have a few ideas though, so hopefully I can keep that going with all my future builds.

A Productive Holiday Break

It’s the last day of the holiday break which means tomorrow I have to return to my day job. I really don’t mind it going to work but I know I’m not going to have as much time as I want to continue working on all the projects I’ve got going. Thankfully, even though it started off with me not feeling well, I did end up having a pretty productive break. I’ve managed to complete some guitars and even sold this RG9 (serial number 0006) minutes after it went up online:

I also managed to query a few literary agents, which was a huge project on my to-do list. I think My Life As Death has a great shot at commercial success, so I decided long ago that it would be the one I use to get an agent. So far I’ve only received one rejection, and it was a very nice one, so I’m not discouraged yet. I also plan on continuing to query more agents, especially as others start to open up to submissions now that the New Year has started.

And probably just as important to my the well-being of my writing career, I’ve finally been able to get more writing done. School will be starting back up soon, so I know my time will become even more limited, but the writing is flowing nicely, so I expect to continue making progress on a couple of the books I have in the works. I don’t know if I will be sharing any of them on this site, but I will definitely keep you up-to-date with how they’re coming. And I’ll do the same with the guitars as well.

An Overdue Update

Hello! There’s been so much going on but I want to keep this kind of brief, so I won’t go into too much detail over each project in this post.

First off, the guitar I shared in my last post was RG13-0002. I love how it turned out with a split humbucker, but I didn’t get to enjoy it too long because I had a customer waiting for it before it was even done. Here’s the finished product:

I also finished a 3-string license plate guitar but I haven’t got it put up online yet:

Additionally, I’ve got 6 other guitars I’m currently working on, so that’s where most of my free time has gone lately, not that I have a lot of free time between work and school.

Speaking of work, I’m now 3 months into my new job, and I still love it. The company I work for, and the people I work with are great. And while I probably won’t stay in the same position once I complete my schooling, I’m very happy doing it now and I have plenty of opportunities with this company once I get my engineering degree.

As for writing, I’ve been doing some, but not nearly as much as I want to. When I do take the time to write, I have been continuing to work on the sequel to My Life As Death. It feels like it’s starting off a little darker this time, but I’m also so early into it that I can’t say that for sure.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time getting my packet ready to submit to an agent. I found the agent I plan on submitting to first so I’m working on making sure I have everything to meet her requirements. Thankfully what she is asking for is pretty standard for the industry, so a week or two after I submit to her I will start researching other agents and I can pretty much use the same submission package for them as well. I know a lot of people suggest submitting to multiple agents at once, but she is the one I really want to go with, so I figure I’ll give her a week or two headstart.

So that’s a quick recap of all the projects keeping me from updating this blog as often as I should. I plan on updating a little more often, but now that MLAD is done, I will probably start sharing more posts on my guitar making processes. Every guitar is a little different but the various processes are generally similar for each.

What to do now

Now that My Life As Death is done and the last chapter has been posted, I had to decide what’s next. Last week I tried moving on to several other books that I’d been working on. A couple of them are really close to being finished, and I made a little progress on each, but none of them really took off. So eventually I gave in and listened to what my creative mind was telling me. That means, I started working on the sequel to MLAD.

Unfortunately, the fall semester starts tomorrow, and between working full time and going to school full time, I don’t think I’ll be getting as much writing done as I like, so I won’t be serializing this one on my blog. Sorry, to those of you looking forward to the next chapter in Nate’s adventure.

I’ve also been selling more guitars, and having to build new ones to replace them, so I have no idea how long it will take for me to finish the next book, but I will be posting updates on this blog, and on facebook.

For now, though, here’s a picture of my latest guitar build:

Electric 3-string guitar

3 String Guitar Build Part 1: The Neck

In messaging with a customer, I realized that I have not posted a full 3-string build, so now is the time. I’m starting with the RG-10, solid body design and then I’ll walk through the RG-9 acoustic/electric body style, but they both start with the same neck/head:

To build the neck, with a 15 degree scarf joint, I use a compound miter saw and a simple angled jig:

Using this jig, I cut two two smaller (~8″) pieces 1″x2″ maple that have been thinned down to 0.60″ thick. These will be glued together to make the head. I also use this jig to cut a 15 degree angle on the end of the neck. I tend to work on multiple guitars at once, hence the 4 pieces:

This process can be sped up a little, but starting with a single piece of 1″x4″ but I tend to have more 1″x2″ laying around.

Once the head pieces are glued up, I then sand and place them until they are perfectly smooth. Then I glue them to the neck

The neck and head joint usually requires just a little more sanding/planing before the piece is ready fot the head shape to be cut.

I usually draw the head shape on, using my template, then start with the band saw to get the rough shape:

An oscillating drum sander helps dial in the final shape, before I drill the tuner holes:

Once the holes are drilled, I start to shape the neck. A 45 degree router bit gets me a good shape to start with:

From there, I use rasps, files, a belt sanded and a mouse sander to get the shape I want:

I don’t spend too much time on getting it perfect just yet, because there will still be a lot more work to do once we add the body.
This is the basic neck I use for both the RG9 and RG10 guitars. From here the processes take drastically different paths.

June Update – Writing and Guitars

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve provided an update, so this one is long overdue. The main reason for my lack of updates is because I’ve been exhausted. Like a lot of people, my life was drastically changed when Covid hit. Not because of the actual virus, thankfully no one I know has been hit by it, but because of the reaction to it. Turns out, no one needs a designer during a pandemic, so I lost 90% of my freelance income. Thankfully my wife still had her job, and we had a little money saved back, but without knowing what to expect of the future, I immediately started applying for any and every job I could find. After 3 weeks of almost no income, I got a call about a job at a local factory. I had no idea what the job was, what shift I’d be working or even how much I would be paid; all I knew was that orientation was the next day. I immediately accepted.

Some how I lucked out and got a first shift position. And even though the pay is at the low end of the spectrum, there’s a whole lot of mandatory over time, it’s hot, dirty and physically exhausting, it’s a job. One positive aspect of it is that I lost over 20 lbs in the first month, and over 30 lbs so far. I’m almost down to the weight I was at 28, before I quit smoking and got a desk job.

Another positive about the job is that it really doesn’t require much brain power, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about my books. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted during the first month and a half to do anything with those thoughts once I got home. But my body has gotten a little more accustomed to averaging 25,000 steps a day while lifting 100’s of parts, so I’ve finally been writing again. My Life As Death is really coming along. I am even more positive now than ever, that this will be my best shot at a traditional publishing deal.

I’ve also given a lot of thought to my other books, though I haven’t been working on actually writing them right now. MLAD is my primary focus, and the writing is going so smoothly that I don’t want to disrupt it by trying to work on anything else. Once it’s done ( or God-forbid, I get writer’s block with it) I think I’ll be able to easily switch gears and finish up Zero Sum, and possibly even After the End.

In addition to writing, I’m also continuing to build guitars. Thankfully I’ve sold a few and I have a few orders to finish so I’m keeping busy with them. I also have a few builds started to add some much needed inventory to my online store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/RileyCustomGuitars). Right now I’ve only got one guitar left for sale, so I’ve got to get these done soon.

So my writing and guitar building are slowing coming back to normal, and hopefully my design career will be close behind them.

Fun with Fire

I started this next guitar with the idea of doing a budget build. I wanted to design a guitar that could be built with limited tools and for very little money. While the design changed a little over time, the basic concept remained the same.

To keep the cost down, I decided to use edge glued pine for the body, instead of my usual poplar.

I cut the two pieces, flipping the template over to cut and route the top piece. This helps hide the screw holes inside the finished body.

I also cut out the control cavity and neck cavity and routed a wiring channel in the top piece before gluing the two halves together. I used a dremel tool to route the wiring cavity so it wasn’t very pretty, but it worked. And once the guitar was assembled, no one would see it.

A lot of glue and clamps, and the body was ready for shaping and finishing.

At this point the body could be completed with just a little sanding and maybe a little rounding of the edges, but I decided to break out my files and give it some contours.

If you have a router, it makes this step a lot easier, but filing edge glued pine by hand isn’t that difficult, and getting the shape I wanted was actually pretty intuitive and enjoyable.

So with the body shape done, I needed some way to finish it. I’d learned about shou sugi ban years ago, and had always wanted to try it, so this seemed like to perfect opportunity. It fits well with the “budget” theme, and nothing screams rock-n-roll more than setting a guitar on fire.

Supposedly the flame treatment is enough to seal and protect the wood, but I ended up throwing on a clear topcoat, just for good measure.

As a “budget” build, especially for someone without a lot of tools, I had planned on using a bolt on neck from Guitar Fetish. I love these GF Basic necks, and for $33 you can’t beat the price, unless you happen to find one of the clearance necks. I’ve managed to pick up a couple of the “blemished” necks for $15-25 dollars, but that’s not typical.

I just happened to have a neck I’d already built, so I decided to use it instead of buying another one from Guitar Fetish, so I bolted it on.

Unfortunately, I forgot about taking pictures as I finished assembling the guitar. I used a standard hardtail bridge, a single volume pot, tuners and a magnetic pickup, all from mgbguitars.com.

This is where I deviated from my initial concept a little. I had planned on making the pickup and control cavity covers from wood, but then I changed my mind and 3D printed them. It still cost me next to nothing (~$0.50 for both), but I know most people don’t have 3D printers. And for anyone without a printer, the parts could still be made from wood.

So here’s the final product:

This was a really fun build, and a great way to use some of the parts I had laying around. Calculating the cost of everything I used, even though I already had most of it, this guitar cost me about $75. Having to buy the Guitar Fetish neck would probably take the cost closer to $100, but I still think that’s a great price for a custom, one-of-a-kind, guitar.

3 Strings – Something a little different

I’ve played guitar (not necessarily well) most of my life. It’s something I enjoy for myself but I don’t take it very seriously. I’ve also been a builder/creative type to some degree, so it makes perfect sense to me that I would eventually start building guitars. The one thing I could not have expected was that I would end up building a 3 string guitar.

The general term used for 3 and 4 string guitars is “cigar box guitars”, because most of them are actually made from cigar boxes. I came across a lot of these while researching guitar building, and there are a ton of really cool ones but I was only interested in “real” (in my mind) guitars, so I never really looked into them. But then something funny happened.

One of the companies I bought my supplies from (https://mgbguitars.com/) caters to the cigar box market. Several of the pieces on the “Lady in Red” build came from them, so I shared a couple pictures of the final build with them. The owner liked it and invited me to join a facebook group for cigar box builders. I was intrigued, so I accepted the invitation, and let me tell you; these guys are amazing.

The guys in the facebook group are some of the most genuine, and genuinely nice, people I’ve never met in person. And they share a passion for building amazing and creative guitars out of anything and everything they can find. Their passion is contagious, so I decided to build a CBG, even though I didn’t have a cigar box. But that’s okay, because these guys had shown me that a “cigar box” guitar can be built from anything.

I really like building guitar bodies, so I took the opportunity to design a new body style. This is what I came up with:

Building this 3 string was similar to building other guitars, but somehow felt easier. I made a few mistakes during the build, but all-in-all, I’m really happy with how it turned out. But even more importantly, I’m really happy with how it plays.

I’ve always played a traditional 6-string guitar in standard tuning, so I figured it would be weird to play a 3-string in open G tuning. It was a little weird at first, but also amazing. Playing this thing is just so easy and freeing. after a couple days I found myself able to jump in and play along with many songs as they streamed on spotify. I immediately fell in love; so much so, that I’ve already started building several more of them. I also ordered way too many cigar boxes to try my hand at a few traditional CBG builds use as well.

I had been told a couple weeks ago that due to the Covid-19 issues disrupting the aerospace industry I was going to be furloughed for two weeks starting next week. I planned on using this time to finishing building several of these guitars and putting them for sale. Then yesterday, I was informed that my contract had been cancelled. So while I will still be building several guitars, I’ll also have to use this time to try to find a new contract or permanent position. I don’t know if this will result in me having more or less time to build, but I will definitely post an update as soon as I have some guitars ready for purchase. In the mean-time you can check out my other goodies at https://www.etsy.com/shop/keyboardmonkeydesign

Lady in Red Update

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.