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10-step electric guitar neck
A classic tutorial from the old ProjectGuitar.com website describes the basic steps in producing an electric guitar's neck from scratch, including an angled (scarfed) headstock.
First you need a nice piece of wood, wide enough to fit the widest part of your neck. The thickness can vary but I usually take a piece of 20mm thick. I usually use fretboard woods of 6mm.
Step 1: The most important thing to begin with is shaving the surfaces of the piece of wood to get perfectly flat surfaces. Now shave the sides of the wood to get perfect 90° degree edge. This is important if you’re going to use the sides as a guide for a router.
Step 2: Draw a line on the sides of the wood under the angle you want for your headstock I usually take 13° like a Gibson. Now cut the wood in two pieces on this line and do this as straight as possible.
Step 3: Align the two pieces like the picture below so you can shave the tilted surface of both pieces. If you do it like this you can save time by shaving both pieces at the same time. Shave downward with the grain!
Step 4: If both surfaces are perfectly flat, then glue the pieces together like the pictures below. The more you move the little piece, the thicker or thinner your headstock gets. I like my headstocks pretty thick for the stiffness, so I make them 16 to 17mm. Shave the excess wood off the headstock.
Step 5: Now you can saw or rasp the shape of your neck out of the big piece. You can only make a neck volute if you used a thick piece of wood!
Step 6: I like to use the truss rods with the small ends, unlike the big bullet truss rod like a 70’s Fender. Because of the small end you can keep more wood, and that is important if you want to use a top lock with screws which go through the neck. The more wood you have, the more stable the screws. In case of a top lock, I move the truss rod a bit back from the lock. From there I route a narrower channel for the truss rod adjustment tool or Allen-wrench. So just measure your rod, and route the channel out of the wood with the exact dimensions.
Step 7: Place the fretboard wood over the neck wood. I always like to use a longer piece of fret board than the neck, because I’m never sure if it’s going to be a 22 or 24 fret neck. (as shown below)
Drill a hole through the fret board into the neck on the exact places where the 1st and 15th fret will come. Not in the middle of course, otherwise you’ll drill into the truss rod .
Make sure you have two drill bits of the same diameter as the hole you just drilled. Now glue the fretboard to the neck (don’t forget the truss rod), and keep the fretboard in place by putting the drill bits into the drilled holes. After gluing you can take them out again. I use the inner tube of a bicycle tire to wrap around the neck tightly to press the fretboard to the neck while drying, but you could use wood clamps.
Step 8: Now cut out the neck and head stock shape you want. Just use a bandsaw or other shaping saw. If you want you can already drill the holes for the tuners.
Step 9: Onto the slots for the frets and fretboard radius. There are lots of fret calculators on the Internet to calculate any fret distance for any neck scale. Calculate the scale you want, and draw lines on the fret board where the frets must come, and use a fret slotting saw to saw the slots. Be very careful and saw straight, or intonation will be a problem! A fret slotting saw automatically saws the right depth, so don’t worry to cut your fretboard in half.
Now you can radius the top of the fret board Just choose a radius you like, for instance a fender radius is smaller than a Gibson radius. Take a piece of cardboard or plastic and draw the radius on it. Cut out the radius so you get a shape like the picture below. Now sand the fret board to match the radius on the template you just made. With different templates you can create a compound radius neck.
Step 10: Last but not least, the back of the neck. Start rasping the neck on different angles from outside to centre of the neck. Look at the pictures below. For this job you can also create a template to check the radius.
After rasping all the angles out of the neck, you have to smooth the edges with a metal scraper. After that use some sanding paper to finish the neck.
Now the neck is ready for inlays and frets....
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