Posts Tagged ‘S-style Build’

Custom Strat Style Build – Part 4 Assembly


The traditional finish for solid body electric guitars has always been nitrocellulose lacquer. Although there are advantages to applying lacquer there are also many disadvantages for hobby and small shop builders. Lacquer is highly flammable and toxic to breath. It also requires a rather toxic lacquer thinner for clean-up. With so many modern finishes available today I have side-stepped the problem and opted to use a water-based poly. Much less toxic to breath and clean-up is easy with tap water. Like lacquer, water-based poly dries extremely quickly so you can get “build” relatively quickly. For the neck I used, Tru-Oil with the exception of the headstock where I also applied water-based poly. I did this to add a bit more protection for the headstock veneer.

   Headstock Veneer


Although the heavy lifting had been completed on this build there were still a few details that needed my attention. The pickup and control cavities were lined with conductive copper tape in the manner of my last build, the Telecaster style guitar. It is almost guaranteed that you will slice your finger at least once during this process as the tape is made of metal and the edges can be like a razor. This usually happens as you attempt to smooth out the bubbles. With care, cuts can be minimized.

Using my cavity routing template I began by tracing and cutting out pieces for the bottom of the cavities. Next I lined the walls. I cut a length of tape slight wider than the cavity depth so that I had a bit of overlap with the bottom piece and small lip on the top. The latter would provide connectivity with the shielded pickguard providing full isolation. It is desirable to a) make it neat with b) using as little tape as necessary but it is really hard to do it wrong. The main consideration is make sure all the shielding is overlapped so that it is all electrically connected. I used my meter to measure conductivity throughout the process.

There are also two additional isolated areas for consideration, the jack cavity and the bridge.

The foil in the jack cavity will be grounded when the jack/jack plate are contacting the lip of the cavity shielding.

Connecting the isolated metal bridge is another story. First, a connecting tunnel had to be “blindly” drilled between the bridge area and the control cavity. I purchased an extended-length (~18″) 1/8″ drill bit for this purpose. You can’t exactly drill horizontally between cavities but the extra long bit allows you to lay the bit down closure to the body without the drill getting in the way. To protect the body I cut a 4″ length of 1/4″ pvc pipe and inserted the bit through it to help control the bit angle an provide a barrier between the spinning bit and the body. Once I had finalized the location, I selected an area underneath the bridge where a wire could make good contact when screwed to the body. I drilled from this location toward the control cavity in as horizontal a path as possible and I still came through towards the bottom of the cavity. This part of the build really frightens me. On the Tele build, I drilled through the back of the body and I wasn’t happy about that.

With the hole drilled, I ran a piece of braided wire (any wire would do) through the 1/8″ tunnel and tacked it on both ends with solder to the copper shielding.  I tried to make sure the braid was affixed in an out-of-the-way location so it didn’t interfere with the pickguard and jack wiring.

Fretting & Nut Shaping

Before I could play my new instrument I had some things to sort out. I had to fabricate a nut. I started with a pre-shaped nut and sanded the sides to fit. String notches had been started and I used my slotting files to deepen them.

Something's Missing

People routinely tell you that you can make many of your own luthier tools and jigs and this is absolutely true…. but….. You might sometimes find that the tool you have fabricated isn’t quite right. If you couple this with inexperience you can sometimes run in to trouble. This happened to me fretting my instrument. I’m not experienced to begin with and I have had a number of problems getting it right. First off my fret slotting table saw sled wasn’t allowing me to get my fret slots deep enough which meant they were too shallow after I had put the radius on the fretboard. Deepening them by hand turned out to be time-consuming and potentially dangerous if the saw slipped out of the kerf. I have now addressed this for future builds but this neck was already assembled.

My next goof was using the fret leveling beam where I was too aggressive in my attempt to get everything level. I did my best and even polished up all the frets but at the end of the I wasn’t happy with the job. Reluctantly, I decided to pull the frets and start over. I purchased a fret puller and guard and this definitely helped but ultimately I did have some chip out. Would have been better to not have to have done this but at the same time, it allowed me to learn something new. If you have never experienced it, you can’t really learn about it.

Drill Press w/ Fret Press Caul

My re-fret was more successful than the first and I also did a better job crowning the frets with a new tool, the Z-file. I have been polishing frets to a nice shine using a Dremel with a buffing wheel and green polishing compound.

Refret Complete


Until you actually undertake a project like this, you really can’t appreciate the immense number of details that have to be overcome. Along the way I have had to repair a chunk in the body, make a headstock veneer to fix the headstock being planed too thin, then repair the veneer which I subsequently damaged, snug up a loose tuning machine hole, deepen fret slots by hand, re-fret the fingerboard, repair the tear out from removing the first frets,  level a high fret, fix a couple poor solder joints and the list goes on. Thank goodness, everything went WELL!

In the end, I love the process. I’ve learned a great deal, my skills have improved and I look forward to making fewer and hopefully different mistakes on my future builds!

Custom Strat


Custom Strat Style Build – Part 3 The Pickups

March 1, 2017 Leave a comment

DIY Pickup Winder

One of the limitations which I have learned of myself is that I have limited mechanical skills. My dilemma, I want to try my hand at hand winding my own pickups but I don’t want to spend $300 for what I would consider to be a so-so winder. I was tempted to purchase the $500 winder which looks to be quite nice but I couldn’t quite convince myself that I should spend that much money on it. What to do? I’ve actually spent a couple of years now looking at the plethora of DIY winders but couldn’t quite come up with my own plan….. until now. As is the case with many problems, Harbor Freight is the answer! lol.

I came across this image on Google and that was it, this was the “plan” I was going to attempt.


Of course I would make this idea “my own” by using parts I had on hand. Although I purchased the Harbor Freight router speed controller, I found it to be useless for this and any other application I could imagine. The controller goes from off to full on with almost no change in the dial. I used a dimmer switch which, although not perfect, worked much, much better. I had already built this module long ago to control the speed of my 1/2″ drill when I hook it to my grain mill for home-brewing. You can see this part below in the upper left of the photo. Now that I have tested this concept, I am considering wiring the motor directly to a dedicated dimmer which (you guessed it) I happen to have on-hand.

DIY winder rudiments.

In lieu of an optical sensor, I choose to use a hall effect (magnetic) sensor for the counter module. I purchased this digital counter on Amazon and I tell you, it rocks! Best $11 I’ve spent recently.


The motor began life as a Harbor Freight 5″ bench grinder which set me back $35. I’m not sure if I had a coupon but 20% off coupons are ubiquitous for HF. I stripped off the grinding wheels and covers exposing the 1/2″ threaded drive shaft on both sides. The left side is reverse threaded so don’t lose the supplied bolt.

For the winding guides, I again used what I had on hand, a Harbor Freight magnetic mount. The stop collars where also purchased (you guessed it) at Harbor Freight. I purchased two packs to get two of size I needed but the other collars will be used on other project. Clearly you don’t need the magnetic mount to make a guide but I already had it and  I liked the idea that I didn’t have to a) build a support and b) it would be completely adjustable. The latter was a big plus because I was making up the plans as I went and having never wound a pickup before, I had no experience telling me how far away or how tall the guides should be. With this design, it didn’t matter I can move it anywhere I put the steel plate. To wind on the left side, I unlock the magnet mount and rotate it 180°. The trickiest part is re-adjusting the stop collar guides which would be necessary anyway depending on the type of pickup bobbin currently being wound.

To assemble the platen, I used 1/2″ plywood and the arbor plates that came with grinder. It worked out that I could use one piece (inward) as a shim. The mating piece would be reversed and held in place with the arbor nut. In this configuration very little of the drive shaft was left exposed beyond the nut. I carefully carved out a recess in the platen for the nut which would be used to drive the platen. The platen is held in place with four small neodymium magnets embedded and epoxied in place. The same setup was made for left and right posts however the left side also houses larger magnet along the rim to activate the counter each revolution. The opposing nut was an attempt to balance the weight. I was unable to weigh them but I’m guessing the magnet weighs more than the nut. Use of magnets to hold the plates on makes it simple to remove them when loading bobbins. I ended up with a 1/2″ hole in the center of each plate (don’t have to but I used a 1/2″ dowel to hold the roughed out disk and trued it up by rotating it against a sanding disc.) Instead of approximating the center of the platen each time I mount a bobbin, I made a bobbin mount out of 1/8″ ply and glued a very then piece of 1/2″ dowel to the bottom. To attach it I put double-sided tape on the bottom and align the dowel into the center hole. It isn’t “machine tight” but it does take most of the guess-work out of finding the center.

Platen detail

I used a squarish scrap board and decided to cover it with 1/8″ white board for better visibility of the magnet wire.

Click image below to watch the first test of the newly assembled device.

DIY pickup winder

Watch a short video, it spins

Three Single Coil Pickups

My first single coil bobbins

After watching as many pickup winding videos as I could stand,  I started by following the Stewmac directions for assembling the bobbins. These kits come with staggered height  pole pieces so I had to be very careful during insertion. I also had to whip together spacers and pole piece insertion/hammering tool both of which were extremely simple to make. Of course, never having used the tools, I had to remake each of them once I knew their exact purpose. Again this was easy and I took my time with the first steps.

On D-Day Saturday I spent a fair amount of time figuring out where I was going to place the spool of wire. I reasoned that most wire breaks would be caused by poor placement and consequent unnecessary tension on the wire feed. The directions pointed out that the wire should spool off the top of the spool from about 24-36″ from the winder. I found a location to clamp a length of 3/4″ dowel angled (pointed) directly at the winder/bobbin. I took my time with this and my greatest fear was stupidly walking through the wire while mounting the bobbin. Because of this I didn’t load the spool onto the dowel until the wire had been thread on to the bobbin and bobbin had been mount and I was ready to wind. Only then did I “arm” the spool.

One down and two to go.

Given these are my first pickups, I had to rely on the recommendations of other with respect on specifications. I used Alinco 5 pole pieces for the neck and Alnico 2 in the middle and bridge pickups. This solely based on the Stewmac pickup kit product pages. The Stewmac document that comes with the Schatten pickup winder provides stats on vintage and modern numbers of turns on Strat pickups all of which were south of 8,000. I decided on 7,700 for the neck, 7,800 for the middle and 7,900 for the bridge. None of these would be considered “hot” pickups but then again, I have no reason to wind hot pickups for my guitar. I play in my bedroom on a Mustang I amp. No stadium metal for me.

The neck and bridge pickups would be wound clockwise with South polarity and the middle would be wound counterclockwise with North polarity for hum canceling in the 2 and 4 switch positions. I was very fortunate to wind all three pickups with the correct number of winds (for my target) without any breaks. I was quite pleased with this first run at it!


No special equipment here. I heated water on the stove and suspended a quart canning jar of  paraffin wax in it. Once the water was close to boiling and the wax started melting, I turned the burner down. Further on I turned the stove off once all the wax was liquefied. The three pickups were submerged for 15 minutes and then one by one retrieved and the outside carefully wiped free of melting wax.

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I was a little concerned the pickups were crowded but I couldn’t think of any ill effects that resulted. If concerned the pickups could have been potted one at a time or a larger jar and more wax thrown at the problem.

Wiring the Pickguard

I love this part. Actually I loved the wiring and soldering of connections part but before I did that I decided to shield the entire pickguard with copper shielding tape. I’m not absolutely convinced that this was necessary or even wise but I just couldn’t make myself proceed without doing it. So I did and I sliced my thumb in the process. But that is typical for any day I spend in the shop!

Pickguard shielded

I found several examples of a tidy job using Google images and then used the Stewmac supplied document as the actually guide to connections. Once I was satisfied that I had done a really professional job, I attempted to fit it to my body only to discover that I had to rearrange the wires to get them to seat/fit properly. Tip: I used the cavity routing template to visualize the space and see which wires needed to be rerouted. I like my first plan but that had to be modified to work in “the real world”.

Loaded pickguard

All that is left to do is to wire in the jack and test.

Can you feel the excitement growing?

Custom Strat Style Build – Part 2 The Body

March 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Templates Arrive

As previously mentioned, I was going to afford myself the benefit of accurate, laser-cut templates for this project. When they finally arrived I couldn’t have been happier. Step one was to make copies of the originals out of 1/2″ MDF which I would then use for the build. This gave me the opportunity to improve my routing skills on a forgiving material, MDF. MDF is soft and has no grain direction. I began by tracing out the template outer (body) shape on to a piece of MDF. This was cut close to the line on the bandsaw then taking to the router table to be cut flush. So far so good. The original was stacked upon the blank and the pickup/control cavities were trace upon the blank. Waste material was hogged out with the largest Forstner bit that would safely fit the area.


Making a template copy from the original.

After further refining the wasted areas with a chisel, the stack was then ready to be carefully routed flush at router table.


The Router

Leading up to and including part of this build, I have had a love-hate relationship with my router. Being honest, it has mostly been a fear-hate relationship. It’s not that I haven’t used the router or had any successes with it, more like I’m never really sure how the cut is going to react. I have tried to systematically improve. I use the “right-hand rule” to determine which way the bit will be spinning, purchase quality bits and use the router table whenever practical. Two important concepts have plagued me. First taking too much off in a pass i.e. cutting too deeply. You might get away with a heavy cut is the grain direction and The Force is with you but Woe Unto You when you end a bit of end grain! Which leads directly in to my second biggest problem, end grain tear out. For this, one trick works quite well when dealing with a rectangular piece and that is to route the end grain ends first. Following up with the long grain routes will effectively remove any small bits of tear out from the end grain pass. This works well but it won’t cover up tear out from a botched heavy first cut. So why all the discussion about router usage? Well because one of the first things to happened to me on this build was to blow out a 1/2″ chunk of black limba while routing the upper bout just before the upper horn. Bummer dude…..

The Fix

The fix was to debride the wound and to find a grain match from the original off cut. Glue it in, sand it flush and hope you did an OK job.  Had it been a small tear-out I would have simple altered the shape of the body and called it good. This mistake required a repair.

Routing blowout repair on strat body.

Other than this terrible mistake, the body route came out satisfactory. I left the area between the horns and the neck which I cleaned up on the oscillating spindle sander.


Routing Cavities

I was determined to do a better job routing the cavities than I had managed on my previous build. The templates were going to really make the difference this time. Using double-stick tape and a hand-held router, I made shallow passes until reaching the proper depth as indicated on my plans. The control area is routed more deeply so I fabricated a “plug” to isolate the pickup area and proceeded.

Cavity and neck pocket routes.

I was pleased with the result! Small victories and knowledge gained.

Edge Roundover, Arm Bevel and Tummy Cut

Next I used my largest round0ver bit on the front and back faces of the body. I stopped the roundover on both sides of the neck pocket and this was blended together using the spindle and by hand sanding.

Mostly completed body.

The tummy cut and the arm bevel areas where penciled in based on information I took off my MIM Strat. I mostly used the oscillating spindle sander to make the cuts.

Testing the Neck Fit

The neck pocket was snug but with minimal sanding on the sides of the neck I was able to get a tight fit. I haven’t yet drilled the holes for the neck plate screws and before I do I’ll want to make sure the neck is straight and the neck angle is going to be workable. After I’m happy with the neck fit, I’ll be able to lay out and drill for the Hipshot Hardtail bridge placement.

Test fitting the neck.

It’s starting to look like a guitar.

Next, I’ll need to fret the fingerboard, “There be monsters there…”.


Custom Strat Style Build – Part 1 The Neck

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

This project is my second electric guitar build and I decided to build upon what I learned in the first. Having made a Tele Style neck gave me a lot of insight toward making a very similar Strat neck. The only thing I planned to do differently from the start was to make the neck much thinner less baseball bat and more like a modern neck. Radius would remain the same at 9.5″ and use the same truss rod but I would eliminate the overhang required for the 22 fret and limit frets to 21. I also decided to purchase a template set instead of making my own. Making your own templates is a good thing in general but for a new builder it adds one additional level of complexity that isn’t absolutely required. I learned I could make them but for build #2, I wanted it to be “more precise”. That said, my template maker is very slow, much slower even than his website and business statement would indicate. I like the product but you can’t be in a hurry.

Starting with the Neck

While waiting for templates to be made, I decided to go ahead and work on building the neck. It would have been easier if I had waited, but I didn’t. I started with the template that I had made for the last Tele build and made a new one from it with the Strat headstock. I used this to cut out two maple necks from one board.

Strat Neck Template Enough for two Strat Necks Two Neck Blanks

Shaping the Headstock

Nominal size for the Fender style bolt-on neck is 3/4″ for the maple and 1/4″ for the fingerboard material yielding 1″ total thickness. The headstock is nominally 1/2″ thick with a sloping and/or rounded sloping beginning about 1/2″ past the nut and ending about 1/2″ into the maple. This is place where I screwed up on the last build and I repeated again for this one.

My mistake was to use a router and a straight bit to level the headstock area, leaving the transition to be shaped by hand. My setup was not precise and instead of a clean flat route, I ended up with uneven spots, swirls and gouges. By the time I could level this section it was too thin. The problem with the headstock being too thin is that the tuning machines wouldn’t now fit. Dang it!

On the last build I found some thick washers to use as spacers on the tuning machines. This time I thought I’d “fix it” but making a applying a headstock veneer. In theory this was a reasonable, perhaps even a good idea. In practice I only got it partially right. I should have cut the veneer about 1/2″ thick so that I would have material for the transition (sloped part). I also ended up tearing out a piece when drilling out the tuner holes. It wasn’t that I didn’t know better but I botched it, none the less.

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After successfully resawing and prepping the veneer, I made a mistake drilling out one of the tuner holes and ended up with blowout. Here are a couple of shots of the blowout repair. I stated with a rubbing to visualize the area then cut a piece to “fit”. Well almost…..

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And with the transition area worked.


Not perfect but decided to move on.

Finger Board

I prepped the finger board as I had previously done with the Tele build. I used my Stewmac fretting saw blade on the table saw and a specially made crosscut sled. In both cases the slots ended up too shallow once I had radiused the surface and once again I deepened them one by one using a thin kerf handsaw. This was a time consuming step that should be unnecessary now that I have modifed my sled to allow the slotting blade to raise higher. For the next build I just need to come up with a magic number of how deeply to cut these slots so they are deep enough after the radius has been sanded into it.

Two 25.5" Finger boards

The board on the left above is Macassar ebony and will be used in this build. The board on the left is cocobolo and will be used on a future, yet to be determined project.

Fret Markers

I repeated the process of making fret dots with my plug cutter. On the last build I made maple plugs but this time I went with black limba, the same as the body and headstock. The difference isn’t striking but I know it’s there.

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Neck Shaping

The neck was shaped by hand primarily using coarse and fine rasps. I’m pretty sure I outlined the general method of marking and cutting facets until the neck shape is rounded and proper thickness in the Tele build. I’ll have to check that. This time I was determined to keep going until the neck was quite a bit thinner than my previous attempt. At this point, I’m pretty happy with it although I’ll give it another check prior to prepping and applying finish.

Strat Neck Shaped


So I have reached another screw up point in my build, inserting frets. Last time I didn’t like having to hammer them in so I purchased the fret bit thingy from Stewmac and pressed them in using my drill press. This worked OK actually but I did have a lot of problems due to my POS fret wire bender. I had wire that wasn’t bent enough so it wanted to pop out OR the wire had a twist in it so the fret wasn’t straight and didn’t line up with the slot. Lots of trouble followed by lots of wasted fret wire. I wasn’t happy and ended up having to apply thin super glue to several of them just to keep them down.

Inserting Frets using the Drill Press

I had so much trouble in fact, I may end up removing them all and starting over. Now that they are superglued in place, that would add another level of unnecessary complexity. This neck seems a bit snake bit but it is all part of the overall learning experience. If everyone could do it, it wouldn’t be very interesting to write about now would it.

Stay tune the build continues in Custom Strat Style Build – Part 2 The Body