Guitar Neck Support Caul

August 17, 2016 Leave a comment

Welcome back everyone! Of course I’m the one that has been away a while; to France actually for wedding. Now that I’m home I’m desperately trying to find shop time between all the built-up house chores. This project is straight from Project Electric Guitar and there will be many small and large projects from this from this community in the future. To ease myself back into the shop I started with this simple but useful Neck Support Caul build.

Steps in the Build

  1. Mill up some 3/4″ thick scrap pieces at least 12″ in length
  2. Laminate the pieces into a block
  3. Square up the blank using methods at your disposal. I took a short cut and used the jointer on top and bottom surfaces. Should have actually used the planer but they were visibly true enough for my purposes
  4. Set up a cove cut jig at the table saw. This was the trickiest part and the new skill builder for me. I referred to Matthias Wandel’sCove cutting table calculator and pretty much winged it.
    1. Most difficult part was locating the exact center of my table saw blade. I suggest running a test piece through to see how close you are to center.
    2. If you don’t nail this and your cove is slightly off-center, you can cut the cove then run the wider edge through the table saw to even up the sides.
  5. Used PVA glue and cork “shelf lining” to line the cove. Applied clamping pressure to the cork with a piece of foam pool noodle.
  6. Trued up and smoothed edges on the oscillating belt sander.
  7. Applied a coat of Teak Oil Finish.


Basic Dimensions

Length: 12″  (or longer for bass neck, etc.)
Thickness: 3/4″ (or thicker if you mill your own stock)
Width: 2 3/4″ (wide enough for the cove with room for an edge)

While I had the cove jig setup I went ahead and ran some 2″x 4″ material through it for future use in jig building/neck clamping.

Neck Support Caul

I could have used these when I was fretting my neck, at least I’ll have them ready for my next build!

You’ve been getting back into the shop with the Turtlecove Builder

Categories: Lutherie Tags:

Telecaster Style Neck – Part II

July 18, 2016 1 comment

The neck building saga continued this past weekend. Out of clamps and with the finger board secured, it was time  to make a pass on with the template bit to flush up the finger board to the neck and figure out how to add side fret markers. There was a problem with the latter, I didn’t have any 1/8″ maple dowels to use for dots so I was going to have to make some.

Side Fret Markers

I did have a 1/8″ poplar dowel but I wanted to keep it consistent and use maple. After some minor experimentation I realized it was going to be just a tad tricky making them.

I started by finding a small sheet of mild steel from my junk bin and drilled a 1/8″ hole in it. One would normally facet the blank then pound it through to size it only at 1/8″ faceting wasn’t an option. I ended up riving several narrow strips from off cuts from the maple neck. They were way too big and irregularly shaped so I chucked them up in my hand drill and took them over to the edge sander. With the drill powered, I brought the edge of the piece close to the belt and sanded to slightly over-sized with a narrow taper on the end. I realized that using calipers to gauge the diameter would save me time in the long run. Still hammering such a delicate piece through an 1/8″ hole was a dicey proposition. Fortunately the end that had been held in the drill chuck was beefier allowing a hammering surface and the dowels didn’t need to be very long, I was making fret marker dots so 1/4″ to 1/2″ was plenty long enough as long as they were somewhat round!

Using my best brad point 1/8″ bit I drilled a hole in a test piece to make sure I was going to have a proper fit and was pleased to see that it was perfect. I was ready to set the fence on my drill press table and using the still flat neck back as the reference surface set-up where to drill. I ran a piece of masking tape down the top side of the neck and marked the fret marker locations and made a best guess at setting the drilling depth stop. I wanted them deep enough so as to not sand through them on accident.

Maple side fret markers Markers flushed up

Carving the Neck

In a long line of “firsts” this one had me concerned. I had a plan but until I started, I was never going to know what to expect. I must say doing it once has been a great learning experience and will definitely help me a lot on the next one. I started by marking cut lines as a surgeon might do before an operation.

Neck carving layout

I followed instructions as detailed  by David Fletcher during his Stratocaster Build on his YouTube channel. My notes read something like this:

Draw Center-Line (CL) down back of neck
Measure 5 mm either side of CL at the 1st fret
Measure 10 mm either side of CL at the 12th fret
Connect the lines

Draw a line down both sides of the neck measured 2/3 of the way up from the bottom

Draw a line across 85 mm up from the heal (this will fit in the neck pocket of course)
From there draw a point 35 mm up on the CL. Connect lines to from a V

To from the volute, extend the curve of the head-stock back toward the CL
Complete the volute by connecting that end point the lower side of the head-stock forming a similar angle

Begin taking facets leaving plenty of room at head and heal of neck which should be blended in later.
The very back of the neck should be left mostly intact if you want a beefy neck.

You'll have to figure out the side of heal which angles from the end of the heal line side back towards the head. Middle of the 13th fret (check example)

These instructions along with the Fender authorized replacement neck I purchase as a model/template were invaluable in this learning process. And a learning process it was to be sure.

I began with my StewMac course dragon rasp and began hogging away the first large facet. I was tentative and it was pretty slow going. Later in the process, I pulled out my block plane and spoke shave which I think I use more of in my next build. The first facet on both sides requires quite a bit of material be removed and was slow going even using a course rasp.

I worried a little about the transition areas at the head-stock and heal but actually these areas are fairly straightforward to blend especially given that I had two example Telecaster necks on-hand as a reference. With these area there can be a fair amount of creativity they are predominately cosmetic.

Headstock transition blended=

It would also seem that I was not “brutal” enough taking facets for after three “sessions” my neck was and remains very beefy. I finally decided to go with it as it seemed comfortable enough although time will tell if I really like playing a baseball bat or not!?!

Neck carved enough?

Fret Wire

So ever onward I figured I would try my hand at adding frets. This is where things got a little wonky. This is my first build and I either don’t have the specialized equipment or I’ve made it myself for the occasion. Such was the case with the fret wire radius bending machine that I made ages ago. This was my first opportunity to use it and I found problems with it. First off the groove is too wide for the fret wire tang which allowed the wire to twist during the bend. Secondly I haven’t calibrated the adjustment so the first time through it was on the most gentle bend which I thought was enough and started cutting frets to length. Only later did I realize that the needed a tighter bend but at that point it was too late to use the machine. Instead I pressed the wire in a vise pulling the wire to arc in the correct direction. This mostly worked but sometimes the wire twisted on me.

I also didn’t have a special fretting hammer so I used a regular medium weight hammer and a block of wood. Results were mixed but it mostly worked. The most difficult frets were due to a) not enough radius b) twist. I did take the advice of one YouTube luthier and ran a triangular modelers’ file through the fret slot to add a slight bevel to both sides of the fret slot opening. This worked well although care must be taken every time a file, saw or rasp is engaged on or near the finger board. I’ll learn.

After installing the 22 frets I cut the excess wire off using a rotary tool with a cutting wheel being careful not to nick my neck. The last bit was to bring the frets flush using my fret bevel 90 then after to 35 degrees. I was like a bull in a china shop and managed to mar the top of some of the frets in the doing. I’ll learn (see above).

Don't fret he says?

I’m finally ready to fit the neck to the body and route for pickups and control cavity.

Are we having fun yet!

Categories: Lutherie Tags: ,

Telecaster Style Fingerboard

July 11, 2016 Leave a comment

This weekend I was focused on the fingerboard. I began on Saturday morning by slotting the Ziricote fingerboard blank on the slotting gear which I had successfully tested late last weekend. The question at hand was how deep to make the fret slots knowing that when I sand the radius into the board, the slots would end up much shallower. I made my best conservative guess and carefully slotted the board without incident. I was careful to lift the sled above the blade and return it “home” before advancing to the next slot pin. Each slot was passed through the blade only once.

I have given great thought to fret markers and inlay in general and have found many alternatives. For this build (my first) I wanted to keep it simple and classy so I used my 1/4″ plug cutter to cut maple dowels from the neck off cuts. I began by running a strip a masking tape down the center of my fingerboard and marking a center-line. Remember it’s always a good practice to measure from your jointed edge. Fret markers for all but the 12th fret could be located by centering between slots. For this I used vernier calipers measuring the span of the slot, dividing by two then resetting my calipers to the half mark. As a check I made a dimple on my center-line from both directions and tapped a small divot with my awl to mark the location. A similar technique was used to find the center of the 12th fret span with each marker being offset equidistant from the center line. The offset I simply took off my purchased Fender neck. Although it isn’t a critical measurement, you must remember that your finger board blank is much, much wider than you neck with ultimately be so you need to keep it somewhat “centered” and on your final work.

Maple fret markers being glued in place.

Maple fret markers being glued in place.

For future reference, I transferred the center-line mark to both ends of the finger board blank using a tiny piece of masking tape and pencil.

After an hour or two of curing I taped off the rest of the top surface of the fingerboard (so as not to mar it) and used my flush cut saw to cut the maple dowels reasonably flush to the surface.

Maple fret markers are in place and the finger board is ready for a radius sanding.

Maple fret markers are in place and the finger board is ready for a radius sanding.

Using my 9.5″ radius sanding block and sticky backed sandpaper I began leveling the fret board. To keep my sanding block centered I attached guides on either side of the fret board all of which have been secured to my table saw bed with double-sided tape. The mistake I made was beginning the work with 150 grit paper and after sanding what seemed to be an hour or so, I broke down and switched to 80 grit which quickly did the job. At that point sanding up the grits from 120, 150, 220 and 320 went quickly.

Radius sanding the fret board.

Putting a 9.5″ radius on the finger board.

I was making progress on the neck and almost ready to glue on the finger board. Before doing so I need to route access to the end of the truss rod which will lie under the fingerboard just below the nut. I hadn’t done this yet because I uncertain about how I was going to do it but in the end I chucked up a 3/8″ straight bit and routed towards the head stock. I made several passes lowering the router bit time until I was level with the bottom of the truss rod adjustment nut. I also limited travel on the deeper passes leaving a stair stepped effect which I turned into a ramp with my 1/4″ chisel. Using sandpaper around a dowel I smoothed out my work and called it good.

I took this opportunity to sand out the imperfections from where I frightfully thinned the head-stock to 1/2″ leaving all sorts of divots and problems. Sandpaper and a card scraper along wasn’t getting it so I pulled out my StewMac Dragon rasp and went to work removing material. When I was happy with it I used the card scraper and sandpaper to get it right. One of the spots that needed additional work was the transition area just past the nut. This is where the rasp shined. I will need to revisit this area once the finger board is in place.

With the center-line marked on both the neck and the edge of the finger board, I placed a brad on either side of the truss rod one towards the nut and towards the heal for registering the fret board on the neck for glue-up. I didn’t actually have any small brads so I snipped off the legs of some small steel staples I had on hand. Using reasonable wisdom, I tried them on some scraps first. They were tiny and worked perfectly.

Staple substituted for a small brad

Staple legs substituted for small brads

Before tapping the pin into the neck I drilled a very shallow 1/8″ pilot hole. My greatest fear was allowing the drill bit to run away and drill all the way through my finger board. That would have been disastrous! I took it very slowly, deepening the recess on the underside of the finger board every so slowly until it would seat onto the face of the neck. It would have been best to not even use a powered drill but I was careful and it worked out this time. Just to bring this point home I did drill right through a test piece before I even knew what happened.

I placed two strips of masking tape on the underside of the fret board so that I could trace the outline of the neck on to the tape making sure the finger board was properly registered using the pins. I then carefully cut just outside the line using my band saw so routing the flush would be straight forward after the glue-up. Before glue-up I applied a strip of blue painter’s tape to either edge of the neck to minimize the impact glue squeeze-out.

Nervous but ready at last I applied two dollops of silicone caulking into the truss rod channel at each end of the truss rod. I inserted the truss rod and wiped away any caulk squeeze out. I then applied blue tape over the truss rod and coated the neck surface with glue, removed the tape and registered the finger board on the pins. Applied cauls and clamps and called it a weekend.


Thanks for following the build.

Although I don’t have a Master to teach me in my shop I sometimes feel like I have learned from Masters through the magic of YouTube. Many (most)  of the tricks I employed this weekend were learned from David Fletcher of Fletcher Handcrafted Guitars. His guitars are amazing and if you really want to learn a thing or two about how they are made you absolutely must subscribe to his YouTube channel. Cheers to you David!


Categories: Lutherie Tags: ,

Telecaster Style Neck

The July 4th three-day weekend allowed me some most-excellent quality time in the shop. At long last I am working on my first build and seeing that the previous three years of preparation haven’t been in vain. You saw from last post that I have roughed out the solid body blank and before moving in to any routing I needed to see if I could build my first neck. No doubt there will be some missteps but as with any project, “you don’t know if you don’t go”.  Sorry we used to say that when planning exploration in my cave diving days, but it is true in the shop as well. You can read about all you want (a good think I might add) but you are never going to produce any work unless you get into your shop.


Unless you are a martyr for punishment (as I apparently am) I highly recommend you buy a set of high quality templates for your builds. I will very likely do this for future builds but for my first, I’m using multiple drawings which I have collected from around the web. After doing so, and gathering information from my own guitar and Internet forums it becomes obvious that a Tele, is decidedly not a Tele, is a Tele. There are many variations on a theme historically and even among models currently produced by Fender. This is one reason a laser-cut/CNC  template is a great starting point. I on the other hand had to build a template based on what I’ve read and what I can deduce by asking questions like, what are the dimensions of the neck pocket, how long is the neck, how many frets “typically”, etc.. Some things won’t matter for example, the exact thickness of the body, the exact shape, to belly-cut or not to belly-cut, etc. Some things do matter for example, a properly fitting truss rod, straight neck and to a degree, it’s shape. Of course the finger board has to be right and for this I broke down and purchased the Stew-Mac steel slotting template and table saw blade. I couldn’t see spending more money their precision hand slotting jig when I already own a table saw. And before you ask, I did spend a couple of shop sessions deciding on whether or not I could make my own slotting template and came to the conclusion that, a) it’s definitely possible but extremely problematic and b) who wants to scrimp on the thing that matters the most about an instrument, how it plays!

Template Making

If you are planning on making a template, I have found it quite useful to have a working example of the object you wish to model. I do have a MIJ Telecaster which I used to trace the body shape and I found the resulting template adequate for this build. A paper template would have been just as good a starting point but at the time I made the body template I didn’t have one handy. It was before I built my light box. I wanted to make my own neck (you have to start somewhere) but as a back-up plan and a working model, I went ahead and purchased a neck from Stew-Mac. I can use it for study and if I have a total fail on mine, will use it on this build (or the next…)

  1. Get a functional model if possible
  2. Take your time. A template can be traced and roughed out in little time but it is the attention to detail that ultimately matters. If you plan on using the template more than once, the fewer the flaws the more it will payoff in the long run. I spent a lot of time with the rasp, scrapers and sandpaper to get the edges faired.
  3. Make as many as you need until you get it right. It took me three times to get the neck template the way I wanted it. The first attempt was a crude trace of my Tele neck. The second was from a detailed drawing which I printed out. Number two was pretty good until I slipped on the belt sander and made the neck at the nut too small.
  4. Don’t throw out the rejects as you can always use the parts you like as templates for the one your building. I used both my rejects and the purchased neck to make my third and final template the way I wanted it. I used the finished neck and a center punch to get the tuning machine holes “perfectly” aligned. You have to start over but you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch.
  5. At first I was perplexed how to joint the neck edges which slope toward each other towards the headstock. Can’t use the jointer and really can’t even use a handplane at least near the headstock. One approach would mean separating the headstock and using the jointer but I wanted a one piece template if possible. Then it occurred to me (duh) that I simply line up a jointed stick and use that to route that edge straight. Just be careful to stop as you get close to the headstock. I used this trick and the other two “failed” templates to route the successful third.

Some tricks you can learn from others and some you just have to learn along the way.

Neck Template Making

Protoypes one and two. On Sunday I made a third that I actually used.

Roughing the Neck

After lots of template cutting, measuring and truing I was ready to make my neck. My blank is birds eye maple which I’ve had in the shop for several years now and I was elated and nervous to be at this point. The template was sound, I re-measured all the important locations, including width at the heal and the nut. I was armed with some lovely Whiteside template bits but even so, the routing is a beast. It scares me and makes me worry every time I get even close to the end grain on the headstock and heal of the neck. In general it all went well. I always have to use the right-hand rule to identify which way the bit will spin and which way I need to feed the stock but I got it done and the neck looked great so far. Only one noticeable flaw (a bump you can feel but can’t see) which I carefully worked with my rasp and scraper until it went away (closed my eyes as I ran along the edge with my finger).

Third neck template was "the charm"

Third neck template was “the charm”

The routed maple neck takes it shape.

The maple neck takes shape.

 Truss Rod Route

In an attempt to simplify the truss rod installation, I went with the Stew-Mac low-profile dual action truss rod. Here is my reasoning.

  1. The traditional single action truss rod must be installed in an arc. Looks complicated, and a bit dated and if you get it wrong your neck is ruined.
  2. I wanted a dual action (modern) truss rod. The Stew-Mac hot rod versions were my first choices but after reading some of the reviews I wasn’t in such a hurry to purchase. Some say that they came with corrosion on them and they’re larger requiring a fair amount of wood be removed from the neck.
  3. I didn’t want to have to remove the neck to adjust the truss rod. Although this is traditional it doesn’t seem desirable to me. I could go with the spoke nut hot rod that adjusts through a route at the end of the neck but that also requires some additional installation steps. This was my second choice.
  4. The low profile 2 way truss rod requires a standard 1/4″ route 3/8″ deep which I can do with my new Whiteside 1/4″ spiral bit. It can be installed in either direction and it was less expensive than the alternatives. I didn’t buy the piloted reamer that is used to route the round hole for the end of the truss rod. At this point I was thinking about winging it without it but the jury is out.

I rigged up a work board using plywood and screwing scraps to secure the neck for routing. I then secured a jointed fence parallel to the neck center line. I had recently made an auxiliary base for my Bosch Colt trim router which gave me a stable footprint and suitable edge to follow the fence. Would be nice to have the plunge base but I made the route in two passes and controlling the “plunge” was fairly straightforward because the base had a small amount of flex.

Routing the truss rod groove.

Makeshift jig for routing the truss rod channel.

Well, I said two passes but in reality it was several because I didn’t want to make the channel too deep. I wanted just flush so it wouldn’t rattle with the fingerboard installed. Also, there is a hump just behind the round nut end which is taller and wider than the rest of the rod. I routed deeper in this area but used a chisel to slightly widen the area. It wasn’t perfect but it was clean and functional with a good fit. Once I got close I used a piece of blue tape around the end to give me a way to remove the truss rod while fitting the groove.

It fits!

It fits! Notice the blue tape as a handle to remove the truss rod while fitting.

Headstock and Tuners

On to drilling the tuner holes. I decided the best way to approach this was to get as absolutely close to perfect as possible. Previously when marking holes from paper templates I noticed that I couldn’t get them a perfect as I though they should be when lining them up. This time I had the purchased neck to use as a guide. I aligned the neck over my template and used a 3/8″ transfer punch to mark the center of the holes on my template. I then chucked up an 1/8″ drill bit in my drill press and precisely drilled 1/8″ holes through the dimpled marks. I then took my template over to my neck and used an 1/8″ (actually was one size smaller) transfer punch to mark the locations on my actual neck. Next I chucked up my 3/8″ Forstner bit and set the depth so that only the tip will break through on the back of the neck. I also took the time to put in a clean backer so the neck would lie flat and I used a couple of clamps to control the neck making sure it didn’t move during drilling. When all the holes had been drilled I flipped the neck over and once again took the small 1/8″ transfer punch to ever so slightly enlarge and identify the pilot holes on the back. I then carefully lowered the Forstner bit spur into this tiny hole, started the press and gently lowered the bit to finish the hole. I was pleased everything worked out well.

Turner holes completed.

Turner holes completed.

Things had been going well and so it was at this point that I got ahead of myself. I reasoned it was time to plane the headstock down to 1/2″. I took the neck back to my work board and using scrapes, formed a U to hold the neck heal and two straight pieces to along the length of the neck. I would free-hand the route but the depth of cut would be uniform so all I had to do was watch and not cut into the nut area. I made some marks, set the depth of cut and went for it. It went but it didn’t exactly go well. The groovy 1/4″ bit was better on the channel than on creating a uniform surface. Also my work holding jig wasn’t perfectly suited for the task which resulted in an uneven surface. I reasoned that I could clean it up OK on the belt sander and to some degree I was able to do so. The next time I do this I’m going to do a better job at it giving it more thought up front. I’m also thinking this step should have waited until the finger board had been glued on so that the transition between neck and headstock would involve both the maple neck and the fingerboard material. Build and learn, overall most things have gone surprisingly well so far.

Fret Slotting Gear

After two full and successful days in the workshop I had to pause to do some major house keeping. My shop was so cluttered, I could barely walk around in it. I had been putting things off for too long. I spent the majority of July 4th sweeping, rearranging machines, fixing my dust collection, throwing away scrap, etc. It had to be done, I just couldn’t function without taking some time to clean. Up until yesterday it had been “Death by a thousand cuts!” The great news is that I must have fixed a hundred things that had been nagging me. I won’t bore you with details but how refreshing it was to be able to function again!

Towards the late afternoon I had been satisfied with the day’s clean-up efforts, enough so that I pulled out the fret slotting gear. The concept is simple enough, use double-sided tape to attach the steel fret template to the back side of your fretboard. The notches in the steel template exactly fit the 1/16″ diameter pin which is supplied. The pin is to be inserted into your cross-cut sled fence 3/64″ above the “top of the fretboard”. Two problems that I can see, first I had to build a cross-cut sled for slotting. Yes, I already have a sled and gave consideration to using it but from what I could gather looking at the product, the sled bottom has to be made of very thin material or you won’t be able to extend the saw blade through it. I made mine from 1/4″ plywood which wasn’t as flat as I would have liked. Dan Erlewine suggested using masonite (hard board) which is even flimsier than my ply. I ended up making it 36″ wide but only 7″ narrow to reduce the warp and add some stability.  This will end up being a pretty specialized appliance. I really got lucky truing up the fence to 90 degrees so I cut a test piece out of big box store poplar. I did (do) have questions about at what depth to cut the fret slots. Conventional wisdom would dictate, cut them to the depth of your fret wire tang of course. But once the fretboard is radiused, the slots won’t be deep enough toward the edges. Maybe I worry too much but I have no experience yet on which to base the depth. Should I go with the exact depth and if so, how would I deepen the slots later? I suppose I’ll just run my Zona or X-acto saw through the slot as required and call it “good”.

First test slotting for frets. This was piece of poplar from the home center.

First test slotting for frets. This was piece of poplar from the home center.

Next Steps

Well it is definitely a process with many steps ahead. Next I need to slot my actual fretboard, then apply the radius. Of course then there are the fret markers, truss rod installation (silicone sealer to secure and stave off rattle), all before gluing the fretboard to the neck. I learned patience years ago so it takes, as long as it takes and I’m loving every minute of the build. Well…. almost every minute…..

You are making “functional art” with the Turtlecovebrewer”

Categories: Lutherie Tags: ,

Telecaster Style Body

June 30, 2016 Leave a comment

Last weekend I put my light box to use piecing together a Telecaster style guitar body drawing. Instead of having a reproduction service print the full-sized PDF drawing, I zoomed in on just the body and printed the view as a poster which printed on 4 pages. I enabled the cut marks to make lining up the pieces easier.

Templates on light box

My new light box’s first service .

I used a hobby knife to cut out the body and then taped up both the positive and the negative bits. Moving the negative around on my body blank helped me decide where to cut.

By moving the outline I was able to select the best place to cut.

Although not strictly necessary, I wanted to keep the glue line of the book matched pieces the center-line of the guitar. After tracing the outline on to my blank, I took it over  to the band saw for rough cutting.

A week or so ago I had actually made a telecaster body template out of 1/2″ MDF, not from this drawing but by actually tracing my made in Japan Telecaster we shall just call “Rose”.

Made in Japan Telecaster - "Rose"

Made in Japan Telecaster – “Rose”

Prepping the template was the process I used to prep the body, trace the outline, rough cut at the band saw and fair the lines by mechanical and hand sanding until perfect. Your fingers are extremely sensitive and by running them along a surface it is quite easy to detect imperfections. I kept working until I couldn’t find any.


Template traced from”Rose”.

I was ready to attach the template to the roughed out body and attempted to do so with some thing double-sided tape. I attempted twice and it didn’t hold at all. I decided to hold the template on with screws so I overlaid the drawing to locate a safe place to drive screws into the body. I selected areas that would become the two pickup and control cavities. I pre-drilled for 4 screws and everything seemed very secure.

Using my new Whiteside pattern routing bit on the router table I carefully routed the body edge. My bit has a depth of cut of 1″ so I had to route the first pass with the pattern attached, then I removed the template and used the newly routed edge as the guide for the second pass. This bit was awesome but I now want one that is 2″ long so I can do this in one pass.

Needless to say, there was a lot of hand work that was needed even after routing. The area that will become the neck pocket was too tight and I didn’t feel comfortable routing all the way around so handwork was necessary. I used rasps, chisels and my oscillating spindle sander to fair the lines.

Once I was happy with the body, I loaded up my 1/8″ round-over bit at the router table and rounded over the edges top and bottom. Once again those areas that were difficult to reach with the router bit were worked by hand. The body looks great and I’m now ready to begin work on the neck.


Black limba T-style blank is ready for the next step.

I’ll wait until the neck is constructed to route the neck pocket. Once I get a good fit on the neck I can determine where the bridge should be located, then pickups and control cavities. It’s a process.

I’m so excited to be working on my first instrument projects. This is the reason I have spent the last 3 years learning to woodwork and setting up a shop and it feels great to actually be here!

Categories: Lutherie Tags: ,

Drawing Light Box

June 22, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve been running into a challenge with printing the over sized templates for guitar bodies and neck profiles. One can always ship drawings to a print shop and I have done this on a number of occasions with generally good success. The fee isn’t  bad at $3.00 a print and as long as you only need an occasional copy, the trip to store isn’t that much of a burden. In the old days we used to print things out and tape them together with aid from a light table which made it possible to see through several layers of paper and thus accurately line up the “cut marks”. I decided I wanted one but it needed to be a bit larger than the ones I found on Amazon. So….. I built my own.

As any sane person would do these days, I consulted the Internet for inspiration before drawing up my own design. Essential elements included an (inexpensive) glass top so that I could use a hobby knife to cut paper, LED ribbon lights for bright, compact, low power lighting and a wooden frame. For fun, I decided to add a light switch but it really isn’t necessary.

Parts List

SketchUp Model

DIY Drawing Light Box

DIY Drawing Light Box. (Cick on image to download the SketchUp drawing.)

I took much of this project from epicfantasy’s YouTube video How to make a light box including the exact parts for the LED lights and adapter, and a clever trick for diffusing light. I watched several other videos but the single-most inspiration came from Glass Impressions, How to build a light box.

Box Build

I decided to join my frame with dovetails so I cut the front and back pieces to 37″ and the side pieces to 25″. My glass top and bottom plywood pieces were both 24″ x 36″ so this would leave a 1/2″ of wood around the perimeter. A 1/4″ rebate was cut on both the top and bottom edges of all boards making sure to use a stopped cut on the tail board so I didn’t have any exposed hole. The ends of the rebates had to be finished by hand using chisel and mallet to make complete recesses for the top and bottom pieces. The base was easier as I could cut the plywood to size should my measurements be off  but the glass had to fit just right. Unfortunately I didn’t cut the rebates deep enough for the top and other than dry assembling the box and test fitting, there was no way to know this until after I glued up the box. To get the glass to fit, I marked and whittled until at last the glass would drop in. With all the tools I now have, I couldn’t think of an elegant way to widen the recess other than with marking knife, chisel and shoulder plane. Eventually I got a good fit but it would have been much easier to get it right at the router table.

Before gluing up the box however, I measured and cut a through mortise for the rocker switch on the right side. Rearward of the switch I drilled a 3/8″ hole and press fit the female 12 V jack (LED end) into it. Just to make sure it stayed I applied some hot glue with a glue gun. I was ready to glue-up the frame and attach the bottom.

Light Box Switch

I cut the plywood bottom to size and after a few passes with the block plane had a good fit. I attached the bottom using screws only (4×13 mm) making sure to pre-drill holes at a slight angle (towards the frame) so as to make sure I didn’t miss the rebate wall. I didn’t use glue just in case I have to remove the bottom for some future repair.

Box bottom.

Frame bottom panel.

Using 3M spray adhesive, I lined the box interior with heavy-duty aluminum foil to provide good light reflectance. I could have used aluminum tape but this was a cheaper option although more cumbersome to install.


I unraveled the spool of LED lights to get an idea of how many strips and how close together I could make the rows. Epicfantasy didn’t cut his light strip opting to loop the ribbon back and forth along the bottom. I considered this but figured I would do it the harder but potentially “better” way by cutting the LED into individual strips and reconnecting them with hookup wire. This wasn’t difficult but I can give you a couple of tips that might help with your learning curve.

Tip #1 – The strip has marked cut lines with solder pads on either side. Cut the LEDs only in these areas and take your time as the solder pads are very close together. The pads are tiny to begin with and if you cut half of one away you are asking for trouble. Don’t ask me how I know this….

LED light strip

Safe to cut between the solder pads on the line indicated but cut accurately.

Tip #2 – Make sure you hook  + to + (Positive)  and – to  – (Negative) (see image above). I was using black and red hookup and for some odd reason kept trying to use the black wire for Positive connections. Not sure what that was about but of course, Positive is traditionally red and Negative is traditionally black. Using different colored wire isn’t necessary but it can help to prevent wiring mistakes and adds a bit of professionalism to your work. I used hot glue to tack the wires to the bottom.

Tip #3 – Leave very little of each end of the hookup wire exposed, about 1-2 mm. Tin the wire but more importantly, tin the solder pad before attempting the connection. Initially I tinned the wire but not the pad and this doesn’t work, flux goes everywhere. When done properly there will be a beautiful round dollop of solder mounded perfectly on the solder pad. Heating for connection is very fast but you must hold the wire in place for good while for the solder to harden (10-15 secs); otherwise the wire just springs back dragging solder with it and making a mess of it. Blow on it if you want, this helps cool the joint and blows the fumes out of your face so it can’t hurt.

Tip #4 – Test your connections as you go. I started my connections at the powered end and tested each strip as I went just to give me confidence as I progressed along the chain. If you don’t do this troubleshooting after will still be very straightforward with lights working up to the failure.

Tip #5 – Switches are installed in-line on the power side of a circuit. The light strip came with a DC jack and ready to go but there was no provision for a switch as such so I ended up peeling back insulation to expose wires which were stranded and very delicate. I didn’t have a lot of extra wire length to work with but I was able to get everything connected, soldered and covered with heat shrink tubing. If I were to do this over, I would come up with a cleaner approach to hooking in the switch or just left it out altogether.

The Top

Why Glass

I choose to use glass for the working surface of this light box for two reasons, cost ($13)  and resistance to scratches when cutting with a hobby knife. That said I can not emphasize enough the potential danger of working with a 2’x3′ pane of non-tempered glass. As a home-brewer, I myself have experienced a glass carboy explode when it fell off a stand on to the floor. My foot was cut in several places and I carried a large shard of glass in my toe for months before it was expelled. A co-worker of mine almost died carrying a glass vase and stepped in hole waking to her house. One of the pieces sliced her wrist area and had she and her husband not kept cool heads getting her to the hospital she would have been in real trouble. Glass is dangerous, and working with this piece concerned me. I reasoned the glass top would be “relatively protected” once I got it safely mounted into the frame. As luck would have it, I almost made it but on the second day, somehow the wrapped glass, standing against the wall shifted and a piece of it broke. Darn! I used super glue to reattach it and placed packing tape inside and out along the break to reinforce it. In hindsight, plastic is just an all around better choice for your top, even given the inevitable scratches that will come.


I sprayed the underside of the glass top with spray paint, glass frosting. Can’t say it was a bad result, I just wanted something a bit more diffuse. I decided to attach a layer of that thin white foam they wrap electronics in to further soften the light. If you are using translucent plastic none of this is necessary of course. Glue Impressions sprayed a couple thin coats of white paint on his top. Epicfantasy used some white, plastic poster board as an inexpensive light diffuser. It’s your call but I probably wouldn’t spend the $5 on frosting paint if I was to do it again, I’d either use white or go with the attached plastic or foam.

Hot Glue Gun

I used a lot of hot melt glue on this project because I didn’t want anything coming loose on me. Hot glue was used to secure the press-fit DC jack into the wooden frame and also to secure wires, LED lights and wire hook-ups. Of course I tested and retested before entombing connections in glue.

Reluctantly I used hot glue to secure the glass top into the rebate making this a rather permanent mount. This means any repairs will need to made by removing the bottom which isn’t ideal but is feasible. I was terrified the glass top might fall out on accident. I considered using wooden strips to secure it but end the end opted to hot glue it in place.

Finished Light Box

Finished DIY Tracing Light Box

Closing Thoughts

I’m happy with the build although I hate that my glass pane has a break in it. If you are considering a similar build keep in mind that the frame could have been simply screwed or nailed together without need of dovetail or box joints. I gave serious consideration to simply using pocket screws but as a learning woodworker, I didn’t mind practicing the joinery. You might also give additional thought to the size of your light box. I looked over the available sizes of replacement glass panes and landed on 2’x3′ which would be long enough to join guitar neck templates and wide enough for body templates. But it’s big and I’m not sure where I’m going to store it/ protect it when not in use. I’m thinking about making a table out of it and possibly making a wooden top to cover it but time will tell if I get it done.

Thanks for hanging with the Turtlecovebrewer

Les Paul Special – Guitar Build from Parts

No doubt you’ve heard of a “Parts-caster” meaning a Stratocaster style guitar pieced together from individually purchased parts. Well I’m attempting a Les Paul Special Doublecut style build that I’m calling a “Les Parts Special”. I’ve been accumulating luthier tools and parts for a couple of years now but for some reason (fear, paralysis, etc.) haven’t really done much. Last weekend I began work on a parts electric guitar of intermediate difficulty. Basically I purchased a factory second body and neck which weren’t designed to work together along with other parts I ordered from Guitar Fetish and Stewart-MacDonald.

Build Challenges

There are quite of few details to attend to with the build but the main challenge was and remains fitting the neck. The body was purchased as part of a factory closure and was routed for a bolt-on neck and what appears to be at least one routing mistake. Lots of modifications to the body were going to be necessary to fit all the components which I had purchased for the project. Fortunately much of this work was somewhat straightforward. Fitting the neck to the body was not as you can see by these pictures.


I got started by plugging a hole drilled in the body through the neck pocket. Not sure if this was part of the original design (perhaps for adjusting the neck?) or simply a mistake. I didn’t happen to have a nice piece of mahogany lying around and even it I did I wasn’t sure my plug cutter would be the right size. I opted for a low tech fix which was to temporarily plug the hole with a piece of dowel, then use a larger Forstner bit to make a new clean hole which matched the diameter of another dowel I had on hand. Not exactly elegant but functional non-the-less.

Hole in neck pocket plugged with a dowel

Hole in neck pocket plugged with a dowel

The dog ear style P-90 pickup I purchased was just a bit too big to fit in the factory routed pickup cavity and rather than routing the body, I decided it would be easier (and safer) to round the corners of the pickup mount with my bench grinder. This was surprisingly easy requiring removal of a minuscule amount of metal on all four corners.

Had to round the metal pickup mount corners just a tad to get this pickup to fit in the factory routed pocket.

Had to round the metal pickup mount corners just a tad to get this pickup to fit in the factory routed pocket.

Before I jumped off the cliff with the neck issues, I tried fitting my groovy Stew-Mac LP Jr. premium wiring kit pots into the control cavity. To no surprise the high quality CTS brand potentiometers would not fit through the pre-drilled holes in the body. Rather than hunt and hope I had a drill bit of the diameter I needed, I pulled out my tapered reamer and finessed the opening so the pot threads would just push through leaving it snug.

Other modifications. Fitting the pots.

Other modifications. Fitting the pots.

I then noticed that when I attempted to test mount the pots the cavity was too small for the tone pot (volume was OK). I pulled out my trim router and my brand new 1/4″ Whiteside upcut spiral bit and freehand finessed the cavity walls until the tone pot had room.

Gibson-esque moustach headstock.

Gibson-esque mustache headstock.

Another rather straight-forward (and non-critical) activity was to add a little Gibson-esque mustache to top of the headstock. I wasn’t particularly worried about this detail but I happened to look in my tool cabinet and there was  a Les Paul Jr. neck template that I had made years before. I looked upon this as a sign. After tracing the design on to my work piece, I rough cut it on the band-saw and cleaned it up with rasps and the oscillating spindle sander. The small nick in the middle was problematic and I used a variety of files (both size and shape) until it looked OK. Of course a real LPJR neck would be mahogany but this one is made from hard maple so files aren’t super efficient however the rasps worked well.

I also spent some time cleaning up the rosewood fretboard. I can’t put my finger on it but there was definitely a very thick clear topcoat sprayed on the edges of the fingerboard. This might have been OK if the enter board was sprayed but I didn’t like it and spent a good amount of time scraping it off and exposing the rosewood. It was tedious but I thick it’s going to look great once I get it oiled up. I used a razor blade with scotch tape covering all but a small portion of the cutting edge as demonstrated by Dan Earlewine.

Pain in the Neck

So here is where things went South. The factory neck pocket was designed for a bolt-on neck and I wanted to convert it to a set neck. Unfortunately as previously mention, the neck tenon of the neck I purchased (on the cheap) was not designed with my guitar in mind. I suppose the proper way to do this work would be to first make a router template. There problem here (besides the fact that this is my first build) is that I have to modify both the tenon and the neck pocket to make a workable solution. I decided to start with the pocket and then fit the tenon to the pocket. The plan was to leave the pocket shape intact and at this point just deepen the pocket to within 1/4″ of the back. I was going to freehand route again but this time I needed to support the router so I made an offset base from 1/4″ Lexan before starting.

In order to deepen the neck pocket I first made an offset router base for my trim router.

In order to deepen the neck pocket I first made an offset router base for my trim router.

Rather than nick the edges of the pocket I stayed well clear of the walls and cleaned the edges up with chisels.

The neck tenon was quite long and much taller than my body blank would accept. The pocket corners were round, the tenon was square so I chose to square off the neck mortise with chisels. So far, so good.

It's mahogany but will require some work to make a guitar with it.

Three-piece body but at least its solid mahogany at a good price.

But wait, there’s more! The neck heal was still way too tall so I had to remove about 3/8″ from the bottom to level the fingerboard to the body. Now it should be noted that I had previously painstakingly reduced the width of the neck using rasps until I had an absolutely perfect fit. Now, I had to chop and angle the bottom of the heal. DISASTER!

So what I did was fit the neck, and measured how much material would need to be removed and rough cut it on the band-saw. It was messy but I left enough material to clean it up on the oscillating belt sander. It also occurred to me, and I worry that I need a 3 deg neck angle as well as getting everything to fit. The bottom line is that I have attempted a neck angle but the tenon is now very loose in the neck pocket. I’m pretty much flying blind at this point. I know that I’m going to shore up neck and glue that mother but I’m not sure how yet.

To be continued….

I’ve definitely got some work ahead of me but it sure is fun diving in and getting my feet wet. Getting the neck fit with a workable neck angle is going to be “fun”. Then locating the one piece bridge is also going to be interesting. I’m going to need to set up a temporary tailpiece or at least that is what I imagine should be done. I also have to shape and fit a nut but before I can do that I have to somehow scrape off all the black paint they put in the nut slot at the factory. WTF?!? Tuners are the least of my problem but the bushings I have for them are loose in the factory drilled tuner peg holes. Sigh…… as I said, this is the least of my challenges.

Having fun making stuff with the Turtlecovebrewer…..

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