Tag Archives: lutherie

Sharp Fret Ends

I live in Phoenix, AZ. It’s extremely dry here and if you live in a dry climate you have most certainly picked up a guitar with an unbound fretboard and found the frets sharp and uncomfortable due to the neck shrinking. This is such a common problem, especially on Fender guitars,  that I’ve done nearly 20 of these jobs in the last 2 months. I figured I’d share my method because it’s extremely easy. I would not use this exact method on a very valuable guitar, for those I will tape off the fretboard and generally be far more careful with finish and even the final shape of the fret ends, but since most guitars are “players”, this is the most common method I use…This example is a MIM Strat with really sharp frets…

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The frets are protruding and the bottom corners are very sharp…The first step is to tape off the side of the neck with blue masking tape right below the bottom of the fret tang…

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This not only protects the finish, but it will provide a “stop” when you begin sanding. The tape will keep you from taking off more than just the protruding frets. You’ll hit the finish just a tad, but we’ll remedy that later…Once the neck is taped off, get a hard, flat sanding block. I use a small piece of maple, sanded flat.  Attach 400grit paper to the flat side and sand the edge of the neck (the fret ends) with the block, perpendicular to the board…

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Do this until you can no longer feel the frets underneath the block…in other words, once the block glides smoothly along the edge of the neck STOP and move on to the other side. It will usually take 2 pieces of sandpaper. Once the tangs are sanded smooth, tilt the block in to match the bevel of the fret ends and sand lightly…

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Now the frets should be more comfortable BUT you’re gonna need to take care of the bottom of the fret ends. Use a 3-corner file to lightly file the bottom corners. 2 quick, light swipes on both sides will be sufficient…

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Now you’ll want to clean up the file marks and the sanding you’ve done. The best option is Micro Mesh.

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Go thru each grit, concentrating on the fret ends but also hitting the edge of the neck above the tape…this will polish up any sanding marks on the finish. One cool side effect of this method is that the fretboard edges will get just slightly rolled like an old vintage guitar. Before moving on to the next grits it’s a good idea to gently hit the top of the frets, and even the board, just a tad to clean them up. This is a few quick swipes up and down the board with each grit…

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Once you’re thru all the grits the fret ends should be nice and polished. Clean and oil the board, and it’s all done…

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Cheers!

 

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Fender Roadworn Tele

A friend recently brought me two of his Teles, one was a stock Fender Roadworn and the other was a parts tele…Warmoth neck on an American Tele body. Neither of them was “useful” to him anymore so we discussed what to do. We decided to mod the Roadworn body, adding an offset vibrato, a B-5 conversion plate with a Mastery Bridge (by far the best offset bridge available…if you have a Jazzmaster or Jaguar, etc, and you don’t have a Mastery on it, GET ONE!), and use the Warmoth neck which was a beautiful flame maple neck w/ rosewood board. The neck however had been finished years before by another builder and was not up to par…thick finish with a badly applied decal…so we decided we’d refin the front of the headstock, black it out, and add my company logo in metallic green. I also modded the electronics just a bit, replacing the stock capacitor with an Emerson PIO cap (available from Stew Mac and a very good cap. I prefer NOS Cornell-Dubilier, Sprague Vitatmin-Q’s, or Russian military caps on my custom builds, but the Emerson works fantastic as an upgrade to stock electronics). In the end we arrived at a whole new guitar, here’s the end result…

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Model PT

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Curly maple back and sides, Sitka spruce top, ebony binding w/flamed sycamore lines, and maple burl end graft.

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Scoop cutaway.

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This model is my answer to the current resurgence of the Parlor guitar. It has a small, asymmetrical body (though it doesn’t look like it at first glance), a 24.9″ scale and a 13th fret joint so that there are a full 12 frets above the body joint. It is a small guitar, but it has huge sound. The next one will be under construction shortly.

Cheers

Making a Carved Top Electric Guitar…Without Any Carving (Part 3)

In Part 2 the carve began to take it’s final form. The recurve was added with the aid of a curved scraper, so we are ready to go back to the random orbit sander. I will burn thru a few more discs of 80 grit, often times using the front edge of the sander to hog off a lot of material where needed. I try to blend from a generally flat surface under the bridge/tailpiece to a smooth sweeping curve down to the recurve and back up to the edge (binding). Here’s what it looks like after nearly all the “carving” is done…

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The next step is to finish off the neck end. I will fit the neck blank in, without the fingerboard, and check the centerline and the pitch. When this is all correct I simply trace along the fingerboard surface inside the neck pocket and sand down to that line…

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Now when the neck is attached the fingerboard will follow the carve right up to the correct pitch. The last step for me, besides the eventual rear control cavity routs, drilling, and finish sanding is to make sure the recurve and transition areas are all smooth. I do this with a round rubber sanding block and 80 grit, knocking off any peaks and valleys, especially in the recurve area. You can see here how I try to shape things, like the recurve, based on the tools I have available or the tools I prefer to use. It is no accident that my favorite sanding block and the recurve on the guitar are nearly identical.

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This entire body was taken from a shaped blank to it’s final form in one morning before lunch. Of course there is a lot of other work to do, but this method allows you to quickly produce a pretty killer carved top body. Here is the finished product…

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I hope this has been informative. Cheers!

Making a carved top electric guitar with natural binding…without any carving. (Part 1)

For anyone with some wood working skills and the correct numbers, building a flat top electric guitar is really pretty simple. But a carved top seems like more of a daunting task. Well, it isn’t. With the right tools and a little finesse (and confidence) it can be accomplished quite easily. No CNC, no gouges, no planes. All you really need is a router and router table, a panel cove router bit, a router speed control, a random orbit sander and discs, and a cheap curved scraper. This is a bit of “guerrilla luthiery” for ya’ll…

Start by designing your instrument. Make a full size drawing, measuring carefully along the way. This method will not work well on a guitar shaped like Norway, so rein in the craziness. Just about any “guitar” shaped guitar can be made with this method so if it’s your first time, think Les Paul or PRS, not F5 mandolin! Once you’ve arrived at a shape, cut it out and glue it to a piece of 1/2″ MDF. Then cut and sand to the lines, and there’s your body template. That can then be double stick taped to a body blank and you can cut and sand to the edge of the template. Remember you generally want the edge of the guitar to be in the neighborhood of 1 3/4″ AFTER carving, though it’s possible to make the guitar thinner at the edge, so make sure you plan, draw, and double check your design…numbers are important in this business. Once your body is shaped, you’ll end up with something like this…

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 Once the sides are nice and smooth, you are ready to set up your router table. Everything I used for this project I purchased at Rockler, and all in all, it was not that expensive. First, the router bit…a panel cove bit…
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As you can see, this bit is big. Too big for the table insert. So it’s chucked into the Porter Cable 690 router OVER the insert. Then you can make a simple table surface from a piece of 3/4″ MDF. Just cut out a hole that is larger than the bit diameter and attach some small blocks to the bottom that will fit into the track on the table.
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This surface will allow you to adjust the bit height correctly without it grinding on your table insert. Secure it with a clamp or two to keep it from moving into the bit while you’re cutting. Then you can adjust your bit height. This guitar has a 5/8″ quilted maple top. I want to leave 1/4″ of natural binding around the edge, so I simply take a piece of scrap, flatten one edge, and cut out a crude depth gauge for 3/8″.
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So, now you’ve got your router table set up. BUT, if you turn on the router right now it will sound and feel like the whole thing is going to take off like a helicopter and fly around the room. This might be unlikely, but anything that detracts from your sense of security while building is dangerous. Confidence is important. So I always use a router speed control.
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With this I can dial up the speed to a level I’m comfortable with. The extra advantage to this is that the speed can be set to a point where you are forced to take small, short, sweeping cuts into the body. If you try to just hog it all out in one pass, the decreased power to the router causes the bit to slow and you will hear it and know to back off. If the sound of the router stays constant, you’ll know you’re cutting the right amount. So, turn on your router at a slow speed and dial it up until it is nearly to take off speed. Then, using some scrap wood, make some test cuts. ALWAYS cut into/against the spin of the router!! NEVER let the bit climb or it will throw your yet unborn guitar thru the wall, or worse!! Now, you’re ready to cut. 
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Lay the body face down, turn on your router, and begin making small sweeping cuts INTO/AGAINST THE SPIN OF THE BIT. Hold the body tight against the table, keeping your hands away from the bit. I generally stop at the tip of the cutaway(s) and just short of the neck pocket on a single cut guitar. These areas I will just do by hand later. So, make small sweeping cuts until you’re able to run the guitar all the way around with the bearing touching the body edge.
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When you’re done, it will look like this…
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As you can see, you have a nice even bit of natural binding and a very uniform slope up to the top surface…and the hardest part is done. Look for the rest of the “carving” process in Part 2. Cheers!