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First guitar!- Olivewood, Leadwood and african Mahogany

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Hey everyone.

So I have decided to start a little project I have had in the back of my mind for some time.

I want to build a guitar entirely from woods that are local to Southern africa (and preferably trees that have been sustainably harvested)

So here it goes.

Specs: 24 fret, 25.5' scale, Gotoh hardtail bridge, gotoh tuners and one single fat humbucker (type to be determined) and a volume and tone knob.

I first went on a mission sourcing a local wood I liked the look of. I eventally settled on African Wild Olive. I bought two planks, each of which measured about 35mm thick. this wood was collected from a tree that was removed during the development of an office park.

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I then settled on the right hand side plank and cut it in half and used a borrowed planer to get the faces relatively flat. There is going to be a piece of African leadwood sandwiched in between these two peices. I still need to get all the faces straight and true.

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I then spent some time doodling on guitar designs and decided on the following design for the body.

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This design is going to be mostly flat with the exception of the outside area which will have a slight bevel.

I then designed the fretboard and headstock and made up the master templates. I am unsure as to if I should keep the headstock fender style or go with an angled headstock. will decide on that when I start making the neck I guess. The neck is going to be a 3 peice laminate consisting of african mahogany and leadwood with a leadwood fretboard. I was lucky enough to get a massive slab of leadwood from a tree that was removed during the development of the Tokwe Mukorsi Dam in Zimbabwe. will post picks of that later.

Pics of the Templates

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My next step is going to consist of cutting up the leadwood into useful bits, get the body blank trued and glued up and then work on getting the body ready while I wait for the shipment from stew mac to arrive.

I have a couple of questions for the experts here. This olive wood has grain that is all over the place and is quite brittle. How do you prevent tear out from happening when using a plane on this? I have even tried using my freshly sharpened hand plane set as finely as I can and it still happens.

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Secondly. With regards to the angle on the neck of the guitar. I am planning on using a gotoh hardtail bridge. is it okay if the neck is parallel to the body of the guitar or does there need to be a slight angle to the neck to ensure that the action is okay?

Finally, for fretting I was planning on using the stewmac fretwire which has a 0.58mm tang width. Could I get away with using a Saw blade with a 0.4mm kerf width? or do I have to buy a fretsaw from stewmac?

Cheers!

Hayden

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Very cool timbers....I had to look leadwood. I'm looking forward to seeing that and to seeing progress on this build!

As far as planing goes, there are some figured woods with interlocking grain that you just cannot plain without chipout. In a perfect world you'd use a thickness sander instead. Those are pricy though, so if you're like me you have to resort to sanding. Your hand plane will make a great sanding block for this kind of work.

StewMac actually says its fretwire is sized for 0.58mm fret slots. The tang will be narrower than that and the barb will be wider. As hard as leadwood is, I doubt you'll be able to get the fret into a slot 0.4mm wide. It will be a couple mm wider from the sawing action but I doubt if it's enough. So what will end up happening is the slot will spread a bit and you'll be introducing a backbow to your fretboard and neck. If you have the time make some test cuts in some scrap leadwood and test the theory with a few frets. If it works you are golden, if not buy the saw or one with the proper width kerf. If you go with the StewMac version be sure to get the Japanese pull saw model. It cuts way better than the gentleman's saw looking version.

It is fine to have zero neck angle. You must insure the fretboard sits proud enough of the body to accomodate your bridge. As a general rule of thumb, when a straight edge laid across your fretted board lines up with the bottom of the groove in your bridge saddles whilst they are set to the lowest level of adjustment, you should have enough adjustment left to raise the strings to a playable action. Various makes of bridges have different levels of adjustment so bear that in mind when making your calculations.

Cheers!

SR

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If you can get the olive wood thicknessed to an approximate size, a card scraper should be able to handle that wild grain without tearout.

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The problem with tearout is long cutting edges and/or large cuts. A plane, planer knife or the side of a router cutter is a large contact area that can easily lift unsupported short grain rather than slicing through the fibres efficiently. Wild and figured woods have grain whizzing everywhere so tearout is just part of the territory.

Short of a helical cutter head in a thickness planer (expensive, uncommon for amateurs/enthusiasts) or a thickness sander, you can make a router thicknessing sled. Lots of people have examples of them around the web and on here also. They consist of a flat board which the blank is mounted on top of. The blank has two long and flat pieces of wood or other squared-up material either side. The router is mounted onto a sled which runs over those two pieces.

This is a particularly good video describing the technique:

You just want to ensure that the sled is sufficiently stiff so that it doesn't bow in the middle under the weight of the router!

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Thanks for the advice everyone!I think what i will do is glue up everything and trim the body blank more or less to shape and then spend some time using either the router technique or use a sanding table To get it all flat. Fortunately the tear out is happening in an area which is going to be bevelled for an arm curve anyway so I dont think its too much of a disaster. The main thing is to get the neck pocket to bridge area totally flat.

the worry that I now have is that all of these woids seem to have an oily feel and I am not too sure how that is going to affect the glue bonding. I be wiping the glueing surfaces with a slovent of some sort before applying the glue?

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Wiping the gluing surfaces with acetone can help when joining oily woods. Do it just before glue up but make sure all the acetone has evaporated first. Also a fresh sanding just before glue can help a lot too. Some say that is all that is really needed. Doing a test glue up on scrap would be a good idea.

SR

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Indeed. I would ensure that you have blown ALL of the dust out before glueing though. Dust and oxidation are enemies of good joints.

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Thanks for the good advice!

I have finally got all the glueing surfaces ready for gluing and I am busy with getting the neck wood preparedn the problem with using these local timbers is that they are typically big rough cut wood slabs that need a lot of tlc before you have something usable.

I had a scary experience while using the router to prepare the glueing surfaces on the olive. The router bit hit an extremely hard peice of wood (sounded like I hit a nail) and the router ripped a giant chip off the wood despite my only removing less than 2mm using the bit. I am terrified of this happening agaib when I am shaping the body to the template! Hopefully the wood grain will be better supported as it will be a glued laminate.

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Right! Finally got these surfaces straight and are ready to be glued.

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And the leadwood fretboard blank is looking pretty good.

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The leadwood is really, really hard. It actually chipped parts of the planers blades.

It also has small airspaces in the grain which I am going to have to fill before finishing. Any suggestions as to what I should use? I do not want to stain the awesome pale part of the wood.

Finally, what glues do people use? I knoW a lot of luthiers use titebond 1 but thats hard to get here, i have only seen titebond 3, would that still be suitable? The other available options are pva glue, aliphatic glue or a polyurethane glue. I am not too keen on epoxy.

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Great timber, looking forward to seeing how this goes.

I use Selleys Aquadhere, haven't had a guitar fall to pieces yet. Any clear grain filler should do the trick, or use a nice viscous two pack finish, good luck with it.

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All glues are not created equally. Aliphatic ("yellow glue") is more or less what Titebond I is. High initial tack and quick to cure. Have your clamps set up and ready after a dry test fit, especially for laminates. Titebond III is designed for waterproof outdoor use but still works on instruments. The glue line may be darker thsn simple aliphatic, Titebond I or PVA. PVA ("white glue") works fine, but is slower than aliphatic and is just as not-waterproof. Aliphatic glues are in general more heat resistant than PVAs.

PVA and Titebond III will give you more opening working time for laminates, which can be surprisingly slow to apply glue and set up in clamps. Aliphatics/Titebond I are less prone to parts moving around under clamping pressure.

All of these are subject to glue creep under tension when dry. In practice, guitars are rarely under enough load for this to be an issue. Not all of the glues out there conform to these generalisations, however these are almost always correct. The aliphatic should be looked into, failing that, Titebond III. Your woods are sufficiently dark that glue lines are no issue. Just ensure everything mates perfectly with no gaps.

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Thanks for the glueing advice! I wound up using a PVA. it worked quite well!

I have had a very productive weekend. Got the body glued up and routed to shape. I am quite pleased with the results! If I quit now at least I will have an interesting cheese board. XD

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I have also glued up the neck blank and got it nice and flat. This woodworking hobby is fun!

I have a question regarding the fretboard. My piece of leadwood has twisted a bit. Should I be trying to sand it straight before cutting the fret slots and sanding a radius to it? Or is the fact that it is going to be glued to a dead flat neck blank sufficient to keep it flat? Secondly is it better to glue the fretboard to the neck blank and then route it to shape and sand the radius? Or should I rather sand the radius, route both the neck and the fretboard to shape and then glue them together?

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So making some progress with the carve. I have been working with a rasp and sandpaper got it up to 800 grit. I am quite pleased with the results and the grain is looking stunning!

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Only problem i have encountered so far is that as the dry season sets in up here on the highveld the wood is drying out further. This has resulted in partial delamination of the body. Its less tha. 2mm wide but still a big problem

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As far as I can tell, my options are to either fill it with something or to try and seperate the laminations. Flatten and reglue. I am not keen on the second option as i think getting it all to align afterwards is going to be quite difficult.

Any suggestions folks?

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The only correct answer is the one that involves chopping it up and starting again. Any attempt to repair does not address the root cause of this kind of fault. It looks like the Olivewood might be bending slightly lengthwise because of how the grain bends. Straightening it up now might only produce the opposite effect in the wet season. It might be that you need to look at how your work is timed in terms of localised humidity and temperature.

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I have been speaking to a local luthier and he says that its a big problem working during this transition period between seasons.

By chop it up and start again do you mean start from scratch? or split the laminate, reflatten and then reglue?

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Consult your local luthier. He'll know your local climate issues quite well!

I would cut through the gluelines, or at least the one(s) that has/have opened up. Clean them up and rejoint/glue them when the climate is more favourable. No need to start from scratch.

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I've had issues like that in the past that wound up dragging me far further backwards trying to repair it than I would have preferred.

I would probably wait until you're about ready to apply your finish, then just fill it with whatever you prefer as a spot filler (many options), then start your finishing soon thereafter.

I think that would be the best way to keep your forward momentum going to the finish line of being done and playable.

Applying your finish will seal the wood from further moisture enhanced expansion or contraction issues, help stabilize it and hopefully stop any further movement.

Olivewood is a really really tough, hard and dense wood, it reminds me of Zebrawood in it's toughness.

I don't know how you're going to finish it but sometimes little fubars like that can be hidden or masked by a little inventive spray pattern or airbrushing, so it winds up being muted just enough that the eye doesn't really catch it.

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PS, Prosthetas' answer is an excellent choice and is the thorough one.

I find with unexpected repairs it leads me to a crossroads of how deep do I want to get into it.

Sometimes the thorough path is best, sometimes a spot patch, dust yourself off and be on your way works best.

Sometimes, sometimes, the Hammer of Death shows it's brutal face and I just obliterate the project from all memory :lol: , but it's gotta be a pretty intensive repair that I really don't want to do for that.

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Oh please not that. Anything but that.

Even capitalising the name of...that...doesn't quite describe the Exquisite Horrors you've perpetrated on unsuspecting fractious guitars over the years....

**notices own avatar**

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Funny idiot Drak story.

The one Olivewood topped guitar I built (a long time ago)...

...Suffered from The Agony of the Hammer, oh yessir it did.

It was done, completed, we were both happy and quite in love.

I was installing a Floyd on it, finishing it up.

I seem to remember I underdrilled the first bridge pivot female insert opening by one size.

I figured one size wasn't all that much and a hammer would get 'er done.

I started hammering it but it didn't really 'take' the way I thought it would, the hole really was too small and I really had to hammer her hard.

Driving it in actually resulted in a small fracture of the body wood surrounding it, the hole was really too small for the insert.

I figured I would just fill the small splits with runny CYA glue which I did.

I finish everything else up and go to insert the male into the bushing.

Well, I didn't know that I hit the female bushing so hard I actually cracked it and when I was filling the small splits, the CYA wicked into the bushing and dried there.

The insert was hammered in, CYA glue was applied around it, there was no getting it back out w/o major surgery that would show.

I was quite despondant and so it took it's rightful place on the WOD.

...I still dream about Olive some days... :lol:

In hindsight, I bet the reason it was so hard to get the bushing in was because Olive wood is just so damn hard and unforgiving, there was just no forgiveness in that wood.

And, alas, there was no forgiveness in the hammer that day either.

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19:39 here so it's okay to mention the WOD. I'd match that with one of many flying wood stories, however I'm sure that it wouldn't even scratch the surface. Pun intended.

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Thanks for the advice guys!

After a lot if deliberation and letting the woid finish moving I went with draks advice.

I filled the crack with a thick CA glue, waited for it to harden and then sanded it flat. I actually think it worked out okay.

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I think I will cover the areas with the obvious glue line with an inlay of some sort.

So, now for the next question. In order to prevent the wood from moving while i work on the neck (i want to make the neck before I route the neck pocket and pickup cavities) do you think sealing it with something as an interim measure would be okay?

I want to try and highlight the ripples in the wood so I thought about applying an amber shellac which would stain the end grain then lightly sand it and apply something like danish oil or tru-oil.

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Sealing as an interim measure is nearly always ok and often a geat idea. Shellac is a great sealant but will lock the tru-oil or danish oilfrom doing what they do best. Either of of those two oils will do nicely as an interim sealant on their own though.

SR

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