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kpcrash

The Plywood Discussion

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Welcome to the forum Nuge. Stay tuned on the plywood neck topic. Things are kind of busy here right now getting a few guitars out the door, and my paying job, but in the next few weeks - things will be happening at the shop.

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Hey I dont know if any one has brought this up but I havent really read this thread, 4 pages of rather long posts about plywood doesnt exactly get my pants wet you know? lol

Whether you can build a guitar out of it and come out with something thats good to your ears asside (although I think kpcrash has proved its possible?) The problem with plywood guitars is not that they're plywood and automatically means they sound ****, its that generally they are the bottom of the range guitars, rolled off the production lines in China as many and as quickly as possible, with really crappy parts and no care and attention given to making them, resulting in a poorly playing guitar and in turn badly sounding one, being why its quite easy to associate plywood with being a rubbish guitar.

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Welcome to the forum Nuge. Stay tuned on the plywood neck topic. Things are kind of busy here right now getting a few guitars out the door, and my paying job, but in the next few weeks - things will be happening at the shop.

Thanks Kp. I am always one to do not only the unconventional, but to try things just because I'm told it won't work. I agree that a ply neck should be done in the shop, not from store bought ply. Winter tends to be guitar building time for me.

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4 pages of rather long posts about plywood doesnt exactly get my pants wet you know? lol

Ya know, they make pills for that :D I agree with you though. Plywood is going to had a bad connotation no matter what because it has been used/abused and is often associated with "low-end" materials. Funny how in terms of guitars, we would think that, while at the same time, someone is paying over $200 sq. ft. for some kind of mahogany veneer to be glued onto their $5000 dining table made from ???? Now I digress...

I agree that a ply neck should be done in the shop, not from store bought ply.

Don't want to spoil things too much, but there's enough material here for me to do "plywood" and "laminate" construction of a neck. The hard part right now is rigging a press. I'm contemplating borrowing a friend's engine lift so that I can use this enormous piece of iron I've got. I remeasured it today and it's right at 1.5" thick x 28" x 28" which is plenty of surface area to make a ply or lam for a body. It easily weighs over 200 lbs. After some additional discussions with furniture makers, the hard part is having even pressure, but not so much pressure that the fibers break and it basically becomes glorified MDF. If my damn paying job and health would cooperate, I could get this stuff done a lot faster :D

I looked into vacuum bags - and might be looking at the wrong thing, but it seemed rather expensive.

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press1.jpg

This a DIY press I made for bookbinding. It uses a hydraulic car jack...but you could use any car jack...this is also a bit fancy, it has springs to automatically lift the top plate...otherwise it is just threaded bolts with some hardwood between to plates with reinforcement to stop flexing and provide even pressure. It would not be difficult to make something similar but any bigger and you would probably require more jacks.

When I first made it...I didn't realize how much pressure it would put on it...the jack is rated to 5 tons...it exploded! You are right KP, moderate even pressure is all that is required...use some plastic in there to avoid gluing the plywood into the thing!

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Unfortunately...no money in clever...let that be a lesson to the younger members...it also does not make you more attractive either...

oh...thanks...I have my moments...not all talk...occasional action...

The beam is just two pieces of stout hardwood...so about an inch and a half thick and about three inches deep...there is some threaded rod about 3/4" with bolts and washes...thick layered chipboard supported by scraps of hardwood.

Of course...and because of the book binding thing...you only want a quick press often...so the inner yellow things enclose springs that lift it up when the jack is let off. The white stuff is PVC tubing to make it slide better and avoid potential damage with the work I was doing...but it is only really the rods that are structural to holding the beam up. For a press, a lot of it is not required...the springs, the tubing, even a hydraulic jack is overkill unless it was going to be used a lot. I dare say you could make something out of wood even and a normal scissor jack will lift a car (and you already have one in the car) so more than enough pressure could be put on it.

When I say I exploded it...That heavy cross beam just disintegrated in a kind of delayed action...but then there is no sane reason ever to try and do such a thing...sometimes one can be too clever!

Not bad though, eh! I dare say if you were going to make plywood...this is the kind of thing you would want to have about...and here I was wondering if it was something that needed to be gotten rid of!

pete

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press1.jpg

This a DIY press I made for bookbinding. It uses a hydraulic car jack...but you could use any car jack...this is also a bit fancy, it has springs to automatically lift the top plate...otherwise it is just threaded bolts with some hardwood between to plates with reinforcement to stop flexing and provide even pressure. It would not be difficult to make something similar but any bigger and you would probably require more jacks.

When I first made it...I didn't realize how much pressure it would put on it...the jack is rated to 5 tons...it exploded! You are right KP, moderate even pressure is all that is required...use some plastic in there to avoid gluing the plywood into the thing!

yes something along those lines will work. I have a book called creating modern furniture. There is a guy named Al Lockwood who built really cool laminated furniture by pressing together blocks of wood with a huge version of that press, then rough formed it with a chainsaw, and gradually worked it down with sanders then to 400 grit by hand. His was huge and had a few jacks if I remember correctly. I need to dig out the book again.

I was also thinking, if I were to laminate a neck, I would run the laminations 90 degrees to the way the neck pictured earlier in the thread were. I feel it would be even stronger that way. I would also look really cool when shaped.

I was also thinking today (I was a a kids b day party, too much time to think) and thought how cool a laminated fret board would look. Glue up thin strips of maple, rosewood, whatever. Various hardwoods of various colors. It would be very cool.

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I'm pretty sure that's how my partner in shop crime is making his fingerboard right now. He just made the 'hippy sandwich' neck thicker and sliced off the front section for reinstallation as a FB after the truss rod is in. Should look cool with laminations running right through.

I think that in most aspects of instrument building, structural considerations are more important than material choices. Not always, but most of the time. We tend to blur our thinking about structures. Take these three examples; a string, a soundboard, a guitar neck. They all vibrate, they all flex, but they have very different functions when it comes to making sound. A string has very little pneumatic resistance, but a soundboard has a lot. Without flex, a string could not be heard at all, but the stiffer a neck is the better it supports string sustain. Then there's the issue of mass. Clamp a C clamp onto the headstock of your axe and hear the sustain increase. Does that mean mass increases sustain? Yes, but only because it reduces flexing. If the neck were ultimately stiff, no difference would be heard. The body and neck of an electric guitar are mostly structural. They should be as stiff and unflexing as possible to bring out the most string and pickup character of that particular structure. Mass interacts by reducing highs (violin bridge shaping is a good study for learning this concept), so if stiffness is equal, a lighter structure will be more lively and bright.

'Plywood', or laminated wood, is more stable and more structurally homogenous than solid wood. In most structural considerations is is just plain better than solid wood. I think the bad reputation of plywood comes from people who, knowing little about guitars, try to judge the value of a guitar based on how much it costs. Obviously, big pieces of wood are more expensive than little ones, so this one that's built with a single piece body must be better because it costs more. I'm presently building my fourth body and second neck out of laminated poplar. I made the bodies 'butcher block' style with 3/4" poplar slab cut boards arranged with quarter sawn edge up. I have a solid alder body S-style guitar hanging around and the poplar block bodies are MUCH more resonant and 'ringy'. Last year, I made a poplar butcher block body 'big apple' strat with a CF reinforced mortised poplar neck. The owner swears it's the most acoustically live, most sustain-ey guitar he's ever played. Oh yeah, it weighs about half of what his Les Paul does.

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I'm pretty sure that's how my partner in shop crime is making his fingerboard right now. He just made the 'hippy sandwich' neck thicker and sliced off the front section for reinstallation as a FB after the truss rod is in. Should look cool with laminations running right through.

I think that in most aspects of instrument building, structural considerations are more important than material choices. Not always, but most of the time. We tend to blur our thinking about structures. Take these three examples; a string, a soundboard, a guitar neck. They all vibrate, they all flex, but they have very different functions when it comes to making sound. A string has very little pneumatic resistance, but a soundboard has a lot. Without flex, a string could not be heard at all, but the stiffer a neck is the better it supports string sustain. Then there's the issue of mass. Clamp a C clamp onto the headstock of your axe and hear the sustain increase. Does that mean mass increases sustain? Yes, but only because it reduces flexing. If the neck were ultimately stiff, no difference would be heard. The body and neck of an electric guitar are mostly structural. They should be as stiff and unflexing as possible to bring out the most string and pickup character of that particular structure. Mass interacts by reducing highs (violin bridge shaping is a good study for learning this concept), so if stiffness is equal, a lighter structure will be more lively and bright.

'Plywood', or laminated wood, is more stable and more structurally homogenous than solid wood. In most structural considerations is is just plain better than solid wood. I think the bad reputation of plywood comes from people who, knowing little about guitars, try to judge the value of a guitar based on how much it costs. Obviously, big pieces of wood are more expensive than little ones, so this one that's built with a single piece body must be better because it costs more. I'm presently building my fourth body and second neck out of laminated poplar. I made the bodies 'butcher block' style with 3/4" poplar slab cut boards arranged with quarter sawn edge up. I have a solid alder body S-style guitar hanging around and the poplar block bodies are MUCH more resonant and 'ringy'. Last year, I made a poplar butcher block body 'big apple' strat with a CF reinforced mortised poplar neck. The owner swears it's the most acoustically live, most sustain-ey guitar he's ever played. Oh yeah, it weighs about half of what his Les Paul does.

thats very interesting, the butcher block style for a body. I actually thought of that shortly after reading this thread, but dismissed it as it is a lot of work. After hearing of your success I will just have to give it a try. It won't be all one wood type, but misc scraps of hardwood from the shop that are too small for anything else, but too good to burn in the wood furnace.

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So.... long story short, I'm still waiting for some of my laminate material to arrive. Who knew Canada was so far away from the US??? In the meantime, I started plywood bass #2. For those that read other threads - this project was almost over before it started thanks to a startled/stoned/stupid cat. I might christen this one the PSW1 as its' final shape will in no doubt be influenced by pete's statements on carving ply (well, that and the body has a little.... nick near one of the horns thanks to the cat). And yes, this is ply - not only are is the grain in different direction - each layer alternates ring orientation as well.

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Well...unfortunately I no longer have a cat...but if i did, i would be attempting to save myself effort and possible injury :D if the cat had to be involved by rough cutting the blank to a guitar shape and setting it up as a scratching post...that way the cat can do the work!

...

While I support the notion of laminated wood (effectively plywood) I don't wish to be seen to supporting it as a direct replacement or in anyway superior to conventional timber use and choices.

Conventional plywood, grains alternating across each other, sacrifices longitudinal strength for all over stability...on a neck say, what is required is longitudinal strength. You can get both longitudinal strength and superior stability by laminating timber into a neck blank as is commonly done. I suspect you will have just as much strength and stability if you used many laminations (of like timber) or possibly more if they were all going in the same direction. With cross grained ply, you are sacrificing half of the longitudinal strength for no structural gain in a neck. However, if the neck were reinforced enough (say with CF) to provide for longitudinal strength, then it could be used...whether it should over any other filler material is another matter.

...

There are inconsistencies and false conclusions in the last posts that are important to understanding material use.

The body and neck of an electric guitar are mostly structural. They should be as stiff and unflexing as possible to bring out the most string and pickup character of that particular structure.

So...the ultimate guitar would be extremely stiff and structurally strong...say an all carbon fibre steinberger for instance, or a moses neck. For many it is, but for most the criticisms are that they sound "sterile" and lacking in character.

Last year, I made a poplar butcher block body 'big apple' strat with a CF reinforced mortised poplar neck. The owner swears it's the most acoustically live, most sustain-ey guitar he's ever played.

so...this quote from the same post seems to be inconsistent with this POV. Here very light and resonant timber is used (the opposite of most plywood) and the result is more "acoustically live" and "ringy". To me it is because the structure is strong and light and made of materials that allow more vibration. The CF neck is transferring most of the vibration into the body instead of loosing it in neck flex and dampening. Similar effect can be had with hollowing out guitars reducing body mass, increasing neck stiffness, etc. Plywood and to a lesser extent butchers block style obviously can work structurally and have a lot of visual and aesthetic appeal (hence my enthusiasim) but I don't think a poplar body made conventionally (longitudinal) over butchers block is necessarily better, more than likely slightly worse, but possibly "better" than a big heavy mahogany slab as far as being resonant.

Plywood with alternating grain direction has a lot of inherent dampening in its make up. It's real strengths in terms of stability and unidirectional strength can not be taken full advantage of in the guitar application. Not to say that it shouldn't be considered, but there should be some care to use the material in ways that capitalize on it's strengths (ie radically carved or very thin bodies) or compensate for it's weaknesses (hollowing out to lessen cross grain dampening and enhance it's resonant qualities).

...

The idea of strict conventional plywood is cooling for me a little, except as a cool experimentation...but the idea of laminating and extreme laminating at that (very thin veneers and butcher block style for instance) still holds a fair amount of appeal both aesthetically (if used tastefully...it would be cool to see some picks of these guitars) and as far as conserving and making better use of materials than firewood!

Experimenting with the advantages of laminating timbers and composites (over conventional plywood) opens up a few doors. Poplar is known to be a good guitar wood, very resonant, but prone to some stability problems some times...what dugg has shown I think, its that in the creative use of this material you can overcome some of these traditional problems (stability) with CF reinforcement in necks (so the timber is really a shaped filler structurally) and lamination strategies in bodies to good effect.

There are some interesting alternative wood choices that might be interesting...western red cedar is a very resonant timber, as is spruce (both soft) even poplar and pine and then there are materials such as bamboo and a host of manufactured (though rare) material that does have some grain...and also non-wood potentials in metals and plastics that might be of use in a broader scheme in combination with these kinds of things.

...

I am really warming to the idea of ultra light but structurally very stiff structures and this seems to be where dugg has found some success with poplar and composite techniques...again love to see some pics.

Realistically, if the thing is painted (I know we all want to see the wood if it is made of wood!) and it is ding resistant and sounds good...it should not really matter what it is made of.

pete

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While I support the notion of laminated wood (effectively plywood) I don't wish to be seen to supporting it as a direct replacement or in anyway superior to conventional timber use and choices.

And in no way would you be?? I'm pointing merely at aesthetics at the moment as my materials to use for testing STILL haven't arrived. I would hope that I have in no way implied that ply/lam would be superior - merely acceptable at this point. I just want some scientific information to back that up. Until then... I had some leftover ply and started playing with the router and that's when the cat jumped in....

Realistically, if the thing is painted (I know we all want to see the wood if it is made of wood!) and it is ding resistant and sounds good...it should not really matter what it is made of.

Exactly! :D

Another thought I've recently had is that, using ply for beginners to guitar construction (based on a reliable method) could be a very economically feasible way for those interested to give it a go with minimal investment. I know when I first got interested in building electrics, $200 for a slab of mahogany that I was probably going to butcher was not appealing.

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So... I had this piece of 3/4" cherry plywood lying around. Figured - what the hell, while I wait to get the materials I need to make my own lam/ply, I'll make a prototype to see how the cuts/curves might work out to make the ply really show - without doing the obvious arm/belly cuts. I'm not sure we should consider this "In Progress" work yet as it's more just fiddling with the idea of making plywood beautiful - or at least trying.

plybass2-1.jpg

plybass2-2.jpg

plybass2-3.jpg

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Nice void...only kidding...consider it chambered!~

...

looking good...do a bit of a belly carve in the back and assess the result...if you like it...maybe you would consider an even more radical carve into the top...of maybe a more strat like forearm carve as well (although it may not be that applicable to a bass, the resulting pattern might be cool)...ooops...you already suggested that...well, look at the back of a parker...or maybe a carved top like the A paula or others that have a more radical curve in the carve. You could scoup in on the cutaways like a PRS or more...obviously for the effect over any real function. I even had a plan to rout a curved channel line on the design I put on paper badly from the idea in my head.

May want to mark the area that you need to keep flat for the bridge and pickups...there is no real need that the top be flat, although, each layer and especially with the cross grain thing, makes it's own kind of shape that needs to be considered...looking good though.

Great idea to do a proto type of it to get the effect...any effects that are over done or go too far, you will know for the real thing...so if this really is a trial...you may as well keep working it till you go to far over being timid...hahahha

If you take so much out that the bass gets neck heavy...consider putting a weight in the control cavity or somewhere... :D

btw...what's going on there in the top...dings already? Is this from the cat...the router, or when you threw the body at the cat?

pete

ps...ohhhh...I just remembered...I have a really bad but complete (actually a couple that I was going to part out) full depth plywood strats. Unfortunately a massive bathtub rout and control cavity so the pickguard is like to have to stay (although, it's tempting to try and take off some of the body and laminate a 3mm ply to the top and rear rout the pickups and everything right through the back!)...anyway...all ply, all the way through...any ideas for carving it given that so much is covered by a pickkguard?

Edited by psw

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If the ply body is going to be painted fill the voids with plain old automotive body filler. When I worked in a furniture repair and refinish shop we refered to it as "2 part epoxy". :D . Even if it to be stained you can use the bondo and paint in the bondo area to match the color of the stain. Bondo seems to move at the rate wood does. Makes for a laasting repair. Of cours you could always fit little pieces of wood in every void you come accrossed.

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Thank you for the comments. It's not visible in the pic, but I have a 4" strip measured off down the middle to serve as my "flat area". I've also drawn lines near the bottom that would make the carving more resemble a PRS/LP - but stopped short on this first round just to get a sanity check. I'm just working on doing it "tastefully" :D. I friend stopped by right after I had finished and was shocked, he couldn't believe that plywood looked like that. The void is of course an inevitable pitfall. I figure since right now I'm planning on a translucent finish, I would just shoot a little zpoxy in there and be done with it.

True, if I were going to paint it - I would probably use bondo. Have before/will again. It's just so damn easy to use.

Oh yeah - about the cat.... you can't really see it in these pics, but where the bass horn meets the neck pocket, there's about a 1/32" divot (was larger) and the two noticeable spots on the top. As I was rounding the horn with the router the cat hits, I jerk go about 1/8" too deep at a rather critical juncture and proceed to turn off power and look to see what the hell is going on. In that split second of time between getting hit, jerking, turning, powering down, I had let the router hit the top on the way down - as I was more looking at other events (targets).

I know a Marine that, while in Texas bought a candy dish made from a bull's scrotum. Perhaps I have found the material in this cat(and his mate that lives in there as well) to make some interesting knob covers.

Someone once told me the difference between production work and art were the mistakes. If I take it too far - it's a wall clock.

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better the cat be running between your legs than a running router between the legs :D

I friend stopped by right after I had finished and was shocked, he couldn't believe that plywood looked like that.

Exactly...once it is taken as an aesthetic thing...regardless of other debates...it can have some appealing qualities besides cost, size and stability.

One thing I noticed in my carving experiments, it can look better if the predominant grain is going in the same direction, avoiding too much cross grain on the surface. This can mean that you have to carve shallow or deep to achieve this. If you find a carve has a little too much cross grain, it might actually end up looking better if you go deeper!

Gluing in a wedge of like timber into the edge where a void like that appears is probably the better approach, but likely towards the end of the carving.

So...anyone got any strat tips...I am starting to think taking the entire top off (not quite sure how I would do this) and adding a layer of 3 ply to the top might actually work out quite well. I was thinking of routing right through the trem cavity in order to mount the pickups from behind with an enlarged trem cover plate to provide access.

pete

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Assuming that like me you don't have a nice fancy planer lying around :D...

It wouldn't be that bad with a random orbit and some 80 grit to take a couple of mms off the top of a body (depending on material). Of course, if you have a router, you could just put a 1/2" template bit on and shave it all down leaving a nice flat surface to work from. Figure, a strat body, might take a good 1/2-1 hour max to completely "de-top".

I can tell you pete that I think a carve similar to what I did on the prototype - maybe less angle but wider - would look good on a strat. Know that somewhere in my house is a 13 year old girl playing a mahogany ply Hondo that might have a carve as described, but in her room, you can barely find the human in there - much less a guitar that I got when I was 16 and has been through a few "iterations" of refinishing. It was my learning toy.

My materials showed up today!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I now have an excellent blend of cherry, mahogany, oak, walnut, birch and cypress to use to make my own ply... now I just gotta make the press. Maybe I should have been doing that instead of the prototype, but my curiosity got the better of me I guess.

One thing learned from the prototype is that it's not really "that" important to have the whole 2" body made from 1/42" layers as there's a core in the middle that could be made from thicker slices - such as 1/16" basswood or something. That might also help reduce some body weight to even out how heavy the ply neck will be.

As for pickup layouts, I was considering a strat type install with 3 sc pups or possibly PJP just to shake things up on the plybass.

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or a bass sustainer...only kidding...

yes...i don't have a proper planer (I do have an electric plane, but it would probably not end up flat or accurate...but perhaps I could do something simple to plane it off with a router.

Unfortunately these strats have really bad necks...potentially I could grind off all the frets and make a fretless...often considered trying to rig up a sitar buzz bridge...a bad neck would be fine for such an instrument built only for an "effect".

I think continuing with the prototype is a good idea...

With your real wood version, is all the grain going to go the same way?

pete

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Ok, played with dyeing wood a bit. Specifically, birch and maple veneers. I tried the regular "wood dyes" and through a stroke of "redneck brilliance" as my wife calls it - started researching the chemical formulas of wood dye vs. food dye vs. tattoo ink (stay with me on this one). Aside from the availability of toxic ingredients as colors for wood dye, the key difference was pretty much how ground the color was before adding to the solvent/base to create a liquid coloring medium. By far tattoo ink had the tightest threshold, followed by food color, then wood dye. There were numerous parallels in the ingredients, weights of ingredients and mixing mechanisms as well (since being raised in bakeries, I have plenty of tools for this stuff around). So I found an alternative means of dyeing veneer that is fairly non-toxic and once dry - quite permanent. I'll publish more once I finish soaking in alcohol to test colorfastness.

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Er, wow. I'm so used to being shot down for my unpoplar :D opinions! You guys are actually considering the possibility that my verbage is based in reason, a rare compliment indeed. I was trying to point out part of the relationship between mass and stiffness. As stiffness is decreased, mass interacts more. Less physical energy is needed to flex a piece of wood at higher frequencies than at lower ones, mainly because of excursion. Excursion (distance of movement from a 'still' position) is frequency dependent, lower frequencies flex the wood more and require more energy. So, at a given amount of stiffness, high frequency transmission reduces with added mass. Violin bridge shaping is a study in this aspect of sound producing structures, but the principals apply equally to solid body guitars, or even steel piano strings.

I guess the summary of what I meant to say is, I'm fairly certain that, the stiffer and lighter you make a solid body guitar, the less you will 'hear' any materials used in the structure. And, that structural considerations trump material choices. Again, I'm flattered that you guys included me instead of ridiculing my ideas, which I agree, are left field. It's a subject I'm vitally interested in, but usually stay away from public discussions of like the plague.

Oh, I was just having a look for links to my Flamed Redwood front, poplar body and CF reinforced neck Big Apple style strat. My GF is much more savvy with photosites and myspace and all that, I'll just have to ask her when she gets home. I finished it just a day or two before I delivered it to NYC last year, so I only have a couple of candid photos and no well lit detailed ones. I'll post a link soon as I find out where they are.

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Thanks dugg! I hope we've presented this as cleanly as possible by avoiding the subjective matter and sticking with solid facts, or efforts related to trying to prove or disprove scientific fact.

Following up from earlier, it would appear that airbrush food color has amazing dyeing capabilities in wood. This should have been obvious given it's makeup of alcohol and glycerin with a bit of color (quite a bit) added. I mixed 1 part color to 20 parts 91% alcohol and rubbed on the veneer with the grain. A little of this goes a LONG way. 2 drops color + 3 TBSP of alcohol (early test) produced enough red color for just over 2 sheets of birch veneer that measure 5.5" x 24" both sides. Not that the second side was really needing much as this blend soaked right through.

Having allowed various mixes to dry for 24-72 hours, it would appear that alcohol will not "redisolve" the colors. Shellac does not cause color melt. Lacquer appears to be fine. KTM-9 sticks to it. So.... from a practical testing standpoint, I would call this an economical, environmentally friendly way to "color" veneer for purposes described previously. I won't have time to break down exactly how and why the color meshes with the wood fibres just yet. Anyway, enough rambling, my press is built, and I'm off to start making some laminate for a body.

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