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.

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.