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Prostheta

Project: "some Red Specials"

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My plate is well and truly being filled this Autumn. In addition to the other projects on the boil I am fulfilling a long-standing wish to make my own "Red Special". Unfortunately since I am putting my energies into advancing my skills in manufacturing repeatability I am making two or three of them! The underlying basics are common however each one will be expressed in a unique manner.

- "Back To The Light" relic

More-or-less authentic Red Special aged and distressed to resemble the three decades of wear visible at this stage. Slave labour utilised, getting my son to mill a the tremolo unit.

- Black Special

Non-tremolo version with multi-ply binding and gold hardware similar to a '72 "Black Beauty" Les Paul with corresponding adjustments to neck tape and scale length.

- unknown

I'm open to suggestion on this one, including the name and finishing. Perhaps veneering the top and back with some spalty Karelian Birch?

Mystery top

IMG_20130828_153300_zps61544e6d.jpg

Fret slotting. I still do mine by hand and have become inured to the difficulties.

Start by running the saw over the corner from the outside in to prevent tearing and blowout. Mark both sides.

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Lengthen the marks to meet each other. Practice makes this a lot easier.

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Five mins and one slotted board. Might have been ten minutes? Currently the slots are only 1-2mm deep but will be cut to full depth after the board has been radiused. That way the depth stop can create radiused slots for minimal gap under the tangs.

IMG_20130828_143020_zpsb3c3f50c.jpg

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In the other thread you have what looks like a giant CNC... and now you're fret slotting by hand!?

Also, I have templates for a red special I shall one day get around to. Gunna do it up with camphor burl top and back caps!

Making the bridge... I'm intrigued. Those are expensive to buy replicas of! And it's a simple design (they built it in his garage as a father son project!)

Chris

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No idea what that mystery top is, I have four pieces here that look similar which are sassafras, but I very seriously doubt you have sassafras over there, but it may be some type of relative

EDIT: I just did a google and it appears North America has its own native variation of sassafras as well but its a complete different bio name to the Australian native. So I'm sure there's other relatives over there also

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Trick question. That's my Birch! I've decided to make two "genuine" RS's, one the reliced '93 and another pristine. Easier on the finishing and other work. I'd better start saving pennies for the pickups and tuners.

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I'm on the computer now as opposed to my iphone - looks like a complete different bit of timber with the pic bigger than an inch or so wide! Even the colors are different on the PC.

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In the other thread you have what looks like a giant CNC... and now you're fret slotting by hand!?

Also, I have templates for a red special I shall one day get around to. Gunna do it up with camphor burl top and back caps!

Making the bridge... I'm intrigued. Those are expensive to buy replicas of! And it's a simple design (they built it in his garage as a father son project!)

Chris

I posted a photo of the CNC? I can't remember where I put the photo....

Yes, it is fitting that this is also father-son work! Francis is studying machining so it will be good experience of making a mechanism. No Antikythera machine but good nonetheless.

I just pre-ordered the book Brian May has been writing on the Red Special. Amazon say it will be released next month, the publishers say next year. Hmm. Not sure whether I should hold off on this to confirm specs. Probably not. It might be very useful if it has more photography of the old girl prior to restoration. I'd like to get the wear and tear relatively accurate, even if I am not using the same finish.

Slotting on the CNC is possible but it isn't practical in terms of time. I might do one as an exercise but for low yield work, doing them manually is faster plus the accuracy is fine. I'm pretty good at slotting now I've done hundreds of them!

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I've sen time calculations for CNC cutting of fret slots and as the bit that is needed is so damn thin you need to go really slow not to break it. If you are doing a "regular" fretboard you are much better off with a miter box like the one from SM.

BTW and OT, I got the new version from them as the old one was starting to irritate me (several reasons, most of all the bronze "bearings" holding the saw to tight or to loose) and I must really say that it was worth it. The new version with the ball bearing guides are so much better. Slotting a board in like two three minutes with perfect repeatability. Great stuff. As is your method Carl. I'm impressed of you guys that do the slotting by hand. I have recently only done it for multi scale fretboards and I think I spend like over an hour on one board.

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Wow a Red Special build! Brian May was my first major guitar influence. I even managed to be performing a modified "Bohemian Rhapsody" at the Montreux Jazz Festival this year one day before he was playing but attempts to get him to come failed. (as did attempts to get him to come to CERN and have me show him around).

I'll be watching this one closely, it also on my list of "to do sometime in the future". I wonder how closely are you planning to try to replicate the hardware, that's the tricky bit I guess..

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Good work there, shame it didn't come off! Ah well. Maybe next time.

I'm replicating it as well as my research can turn up. In some instances I am making sensible substitutions but only in areas that are not super-critical to the nature and character of the instrument. With regards to the hardware, the roller bridge and tremolo are musts. Their exact dimensions are debatable with no truly defensible values decided on. In that regard I am aiming to make what is most practical for the build whilst perhaps making minor decisions based on those that might have been made by Brian and his dad, Harold. I do feel that the community of Red Special enthusiasts out there can be somewhat overenthusiastic when it comes to fiddling around with dimensions and instead seem to miss the importance of other more crucial aspects. Simple things like substituting an Ebony board in place of the painted Oak board - this will without a doubt alter far more than misplacing a knob by a couple of mm for example. Still, you can't preach logic to the preachers.

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I suppose I better write a quick bit covering the design of the instrument for people unfamiliar with the Red Special. Without a doubt it has quite a history and it could be argued that its value outstrips that of say, a 1959 Les Paul or even other iconic instruments such as "Jimi's burnt up Strat", etc. It is important to bear in mind that this was never a production instrument or a copy of an existing design and hence its uniqueness puts it into the "priceless" bracket despite the overwhelming irony of its origins....

Brian and his father, Harold May started to build the guitar at their home 1963 whilst Brian was still at school. This took about a couple of years to complete. The absence in availability of "traditional" building materials meant that the guitar was contrived from whatever was around at the time, ultimately a combination of Oak salvaged from a dining table, Mahogany from a centuries-old fire surround and blockboard which is essentially "plywood-faced softwood glueboard".

The build resembles a bolt-on guitar with a deep neck tenon extending almost to the bridge. The body is highly chambered and constructed primarily from blockboard with central Oak blocks providing strength where it is needed most. The back and front were laminated with "Mahogany veneer". It is uncertain as to whether this was a thin facing over ply or thicker constructional veneer. The Mahogany neck would give a baseball bat a run for its money. We're talking assault-grade vintage Fender. Over thirty years after the guitar was built, it was noticed that the truss rod had never been engaged or tightened. Scary stable old wood. The fingerboard was also made from Oak and painted black. The lacquer used was the venerable Rustin's Plastic Coating which is probably more familiar to the English contigent of PG.

Many other builders have made Red Special replicas, plus a number of builders dedicate their time to making and selling copies. There is some wrangling over the ethics of this given that the "Brian May Guitars" company exists plus Guyton Guitars make an authorised copy. Some of the copies are very good. Some are not. Ultimately it is uncertain as to how "good" the original is anyway, and it is very likely that the best copies out there probably exceed the quality of certain aspects of the genuine item. Not important though!

Brian is hopefully going to be releasing a hardback book next month which examines every aspect of the Red Special from fifty years ago to the present day. I've already pre-ordered mine however the publisher - Hal Leonard - gives a released day of October 2014. Hmph. We'll see.

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One aspect of many amateur and even the "professional" Red Special builds is the approach used for the body. The inner core is made from two seperate layers which were glued and screwed together. The lower half possesses a central Oak reinforcement block from the heel back to behind the tremolo mounting locations. This provides anchoring for the neck and primary structural integrity. On top of this is a second layer of blockboard with a smaller Oak insert from the rear pickup back to the tremolo cavity. This provides strong mounting points for the tremolo spring bolt block, tremolo knife-edge and bridge unit.

In my opinion the approach used by many builders - to rout holes and infill them with Oak - is inadequate for several reasons such as accuracy and fit, etc. I guess this is fine if you want to buy laminated softwood board or actual blockboard, however it is a better option to make your own. In that respect you have complete control over the lamination and can add dowels to the endgrain joints to provide security. Whilst this is likely not what the Mays did - since they probably started with sheet product - there is no reason to make the work less practical for the sake of piddling "authenticity".

Two pieces of Oak cut oversize (>120mm width) and thicknessed to over 20mm.

URL=http://s13.photobucket.com/user/Prostheta/media/Some%20Red%20Specials/IMG_20130829_142218_zps43d71616.jpg.html]IMG_20130829_142218_zps43d71616.jpg

Some nice lightweight Spruce laminated up and marked out for the outer "wings" either side of the central block.

IMG_20130829_143418_zpsa3e0bc64.jpg

Two pieces of >120mm square laminated Spruce with 4x 8mm dowels spaced at 32mm mated with the end of the Oak and glued up with the amber nectar that is Titebond I. Note that I elected to use super-rubbish material where I popped in a disc infill to remove a knot. Super!

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....and out of the thicknesser....

IMG_20130829_150808_zps7c843e5c.jpg

IMG_20130829_150815_zpsd84c0b91.jpg

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Today's work update:

Dowelling is cheating. Beautifully efficient and appropriate cheating.

IMG_20130902_094642_zpsaa008930.jpg

Laminate those suckers.

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Partially eased 2° headstock angle.

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Awesome.

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Simple headstock template.

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Enough for the bearing to bear off.

IMG_20130902_131421_zps64f2fad5.jpg

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Wild stuff man. Strange seeing such professional level work on theses types of guitars xD Cracks me up a little. Should be exciting builds when you are finished!

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I was a little unsatisfied with the lower blockboard as there is some quite pitchy wood in there. I elected to start them from scratch by ripping up a board of Spruce and re-laminating it up. Generally the only advantage in this context of using laminated Spruce as opposed to solid is that you can control the seasonal movement better. Radial movement will cup a board so my approach is to alternate the direction of the heartwood in the endgrain of each piece, rotating it each corner for each piece. Additionally, the width of the top and bottom laminates are staggered to avoid coincidental gluelines.

6mm steel rod threaded at both ends. 10mm barrel nut peened over. Neck bolt head area shaped.
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Brass rod nut and half-moon washer fitted at the head end. The nut was re-tapped out to M6.
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Birch fillet added.
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Never too many clamps.
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New lower section central laminates dowelled and glued up.
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Trimmed and thicknessed to 120mm wide.
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Rough neck profile shaped on the spindle sander.
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Transferring the neck-to-headstock transition.
IMG_20130903_125626_zps29061776.jpg

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Cutting the lower half's trem body and bolt clearance channels today. Like most straight-edged template patterns, this was printed to A4, pasted to 10mm plywood (MDF is better but I hate the dust). Corner radii were drilled out at 10mm, majority of waste removed with a 15mm Forstner bit and the dot-to-dot bit done by screwing on a straight piece of wood for an 8mm bearing-guided flush-cut router bit to follow.

Since the boards are still square, the templates were screwed outside of the body outline. Stock removal was carried out using a crappy hand router fitted with a 17mm guide bushing and something like a 14mm cutter. I say crappy because there is observable play in the mechanism. This can result in heavier machining marks in the base of the cut as the chassis flexes.
IMG_20130904_124752_zps4a8c0163.jpg


Cavity cut to 15mm depth, checked with calipers. As you can see, I did not spend much time finessing the templates since these are functional hidden routs. If I were making these to order, I would have my templates cut on the CNC in MDF instead.
IMG_20130904_125518_zps3d80dff1.jpg


Template flipped and the same operation carried out for the second trem bolt clearance channel, reading the depth of cut from the existing rout. Once this is done the whole rout is followed up with a 19mm diameter flush cut router bit, flip, repeat.
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One finished board....
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....and the second....
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I also veneered the rear faces of these boards with 1,0mm of Sapele, centrally bookmatched. No reasonable supply of alternative true Mahogany veneer is locally available so Sapele has to do I guess. As is traditional, if I catch anybody calling Sapele "Mahogany", slapping will be forthcoming.

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I'm getting my son to make it since he is studying in a machine shop. I'll be guiding him through the specifics so I hope to get photos. I might use the opportunity - whilst we have the equipment set up for each of the processes - to make a few more than the two. I might even put a trem in the "Black Special" if I can get the painters to powdercoat it if we get lucky.

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