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curtisa

Operation Shoestring

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Probably the wrong time of year to be commencing a new build and thread being so close to Christmas, but what the hey - it's high time I get back into a build thread.

Perhaps something a little different this time around, inspired by the Home Depot Challenge over at Sevenstring.org. This will be a build involving some budget componentry, hardware store timber and various eBay finds to see exactly what I can end up with by building using cheaper parts, off-the-shelf wood and a modest budget. It could be a pile of kaka. It could end up as a giant killer. Either way it shall be interesting to see what happens. I'm keeping all receipts too, so I'm curious to see what it all adds up to.

Note that I'm not deliberately going out of my way to find the cheapest, nastiest stuff money (or lack of) can buy. It's more a about redirecting the focus away from exotic woods, premium hardware and expensive pickups to see what can be done within these limitations.

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So, first things first, I have some baseline specs roughed out:

  • Hardware store timber here in Australia pretty much limits me to Tasmanian Oak, aka Victorian Ash. Tas Oak is actually a trade name covering several different species of Eucalyptus, so it tends to be a bit of pot luck as to which variety you end up getting. But by and large Tas Oak tends to be fairly straight grained, hard, heavy, open pored and prone to being a bit splintery when worked. It can however look quite nice when finished, and it's not unheard of to find highly figured stuff in the racks. It also has the advantage of being frequently cut on the quarter. Body (with generous  chambering) and neck will be this stuff.
  • Fretboard timber is again very limited by options as an off-the-shelf product. At the hardware store I can get Jarrah or Merbau decking, both of which are hard as nails. Having successfully used Jarrah before (admittedly the premium stuff rather than decking timber), I'm going to give Merbau a go.
  • For pickups I've gone for a pair of Irongear humbuckers. Heard good things, not super expensive, but also not the absolute bargain end of the spectrum when compared with the $15 Amazon specials.
  • For extra difficulty factor this will be a headless sixer. Budget options here are pretty much limited to Chinese eBay hardware. The ones that seem to crop up a lot are the Steinberger R-trem knock-offs, branded as "Overlord of Music". From my reading, it appears that the R-trem was the bottom-of-the-line Steinberger headless trem on the Spirit line or instruments which in itself had a number of quality issues, so a Chinese copy for under $50 is likely to be an order of magnitude worse. However, of late a new headless fixed Chinese bridge has appeared on eBay that got my attention, in that it doesn't appear to be a cheap copy of any commerically available unit:

PC080200.JPG

So, the so-so qualities are the slightly rough casting (note the mildly pitted baseplate near the low E and A saddles and the "LIC" of "LICENSED" stamped in the top), there's some brass milling shrapnel here and there, and the D-string saddle erroneously uses a bigger diameter roller than the other five, but by and large it actually isnt too bad, It could be better no doubt, but for $60 I can't complain. Everything locks down properly, screws are threaded without stripping, the black powdercoating is fairly even without being too heavy, the moving parts are lubricated and freely moving.

The tuning mechanism itself is interesting. It's essentially a standard self-contained worm gear tuner with a built in thumbwheel permitting the use of standard single ballend strings.

PC080198.JPG

PC080199.JPG

The slightly annoying thing is that it comes with a mini wrench that snaps into the base plate to crank the tuners, perhaps indicating that the gearing on these is too coarse to tune by finger pressure alone. Hopefully it's just provided to speed up restringing:

PC080204.JPGPC080205.JPG

 

Each saddle height is adjusted by a rotating cam that can be set and locked in place with a grubscrew, actually a pretty neat idea. Each saddle has about 10mm of intonation adjustment range too. Note that the saddle "roller" is fixed to the brass cam and does not rotate:

PC100212.JPG

PC100213.JPGPC100214.JPG

 

The headpiece is a fairly simple affair, but does include a pre-cut height adjustable brass nut. The ball end of each string is simply fed through the holes. The string retainer bar provides a basic way to ensure there is enough downward pressure behind the nut. Not entirely siure what the point of the little drawer is; seems too small for any real pratical purpose:

PC080208.JPGPC080207.JPGPC080209.JPG

 

And no, I have no idea what "Licensed by KD Patents" even refers to.

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Time to start working with timber. I had trouble finding a board wide and thick enough to make a body with, so this will be a 3-piece body blank made from 110 x 32mm Tas Oak. There'll be a cap of some sort added to make up the body thickness to circa 40mm, and to cover up the weight-relief cavities.

20161210_160121.jpg

 

Truing up the edges ready for jointing:

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Rough cut. I've had to adjust the back end slightly to accommodate the sqaure bridge base plate. In hindsight, because the tuning mechanisms are actuated from the top of the bridge rather than the back edge, there actually isn't any real need to provide that massive cutaway on the body. It is what it is:

20161211_162600.jpg

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19 hours ago, meatloaf said:

This looks very interesting and I'll be following this build for sure, I'm hoping that this turns out to be a killer.

Thanks. Me too, although I'm willing to accept that the sum of its components may result in a lower quality instrument. In any case it will be an interesting experiment.

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17 hours ago, Andyjr1515 said:

I'll be watching this one with great interest @curtisa

Cheers, Andy. I'll buy you a pint if this thing plays OK at the end of it all :thumb:

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3 hours ago, KnightroExpress said:

This is gonna be a fun one! That bridge is really interesting, I hope it works well

Fingers crossed, Mr Knight. I can already see a couple of foibles with the bridge at the moment which may need some careful planning to get around. Watch this space.

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Ohh another curtisa build, nice!!

ive always loved the Home Depot challenges, ima be following this for sure!

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7 hours ago, 2.5itim said:

Ohh another curtisa build, nice!!

ive always loved the Home Depot challenges, ima be following this for sure!

Cheers Tim, hope this turns out somewhere near as good as some of the builds over there.

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2 hours ago, ScottR said:

Andrew, I'm putting this bridge on my build: http://www.fullcontacthardware.com/fch-fixed-6-hardtail-original.htm

It has the same saddle design. Wonder which one came first?

SR

Looks similar in principle. Looks like the Babicz cam assembly has the axle supported through both halves of the saddle, whereas this headless one has the axle offset to one side. Could be a weak spot in the design of my bridge. Won't know till I try it under string tension.

I'm willing to bet that this bridge has been inspired (ripped off?) by something else first, but I've never seen it before.

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Wow thanks curtisa, that Means a lot seeing your builds! 

I really need to give a headless a shot I think. 

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29 minutes ago, curtisa said:

Looks similar in principle. Looks like the Babicz cam assembly has the axle supported through both halves of the saddle, whereas this headless one has the axle offset to one side. Could be a weak spot in the design of my bridge. Won't know till I try it under string tension.

I'm willing to bet that this bridge has been inspired (ripped off?) by something else first, but I've never seen it before.

I never had either. I was searching around for a new bridge to try and ran across it. It looked clever and intriguing enough to give a try.

SR

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First foible with this bridge: the lack of downward break angle of the tuners behind each saddle:

20161215_200157.jpg

The centre axle on the tuner is roughly the diameter of the spool that the string has to wrap around when strung up. So it's nearly a straight line from the break point of the saddle to the tangent of the tuner spool, meaning there's nearly zero downward deflection of the string as it passes over the saddle. My only recourse is to under-sling the string and wind it from the bottom of the tuner. This unfortunately means that to tune the string up to pitch I have to turn the tuner in an anticlockwise direction, which is counterintuitive to what you'd think would be the correct way to tune up (lefty-loosey, righty-tighty).

In this video it looks like the same bridge has been installed on the guitar, and if you look closely (may need to go full screen and 1080p to see it) it appears that the strings have indeed been wound on so that they spool from the underside of the tuner.

Back to making woodchips. Starting to get the chambers and cavities underway. I've left some meat under the approximate location of the belly carve so that as much weight can be removed from the body while (hopefully) preventing the belly carve from punching through the back:

20161215_200113.jpg20161215_200127.jpg

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Still not sure how the string is attached to the pulley, but it certainly looks right that the string would emerge from the bottom of it and then up to the saddle, @curtisa  .  Interesting that the tightening / loosening is then back to front...as you say, a bit counter-intuitive.

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The string passes through a small hole drilled in the centre of the shaft and then gets wrapped around the pulley as it tunes up. Exactly the same as a regular tuner, just on a smaller scale.

If it had been fitted with a worm gear cut with a reverse thread the tuner would turn the correct way in order to increase pitch with the string spooling from the underside.

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Edges routed:

20161217_141409.jpg

 

Time to make a start on the neck. Kick things off with a 90x32 plank of Tas Oak, then rip 'n flip to get three laminations with the middle grain direction running reverse to the outside:

20161218_105103.jpg20161218_105848.jpg20161218_110857.jpg

 

A bit of Jarrah veneer in between the lams to break things up a little and get a bit of contrasting colours going:

20161218_113707.jpg20161218_113954.jpg

 

To prevent everything sliding around too much while gluing I'm borrowing a technique I saw Allan Searls use. The neck is made over-long and pins are driven through all the various pieces at the extreme ends of the blank so that they don't slip. Once everything is clamped and the glue starts to tack up the pins can be removed, and when it dries properly the ends of the blank where the pins were are cut off and thrown away:

20161218_115352.jpg20161218_120518.jpg20161218_120256.jpg

 

 

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Slotting begins, 25" scale for this one. Merbau fretboard has an interesting orangey-tan colour:

20161220_104403.jpg20161220_105149.jpg20161220_152255.jpg

 

In keeping with the budget-ness of this build I've taken the plunge and bought a bunch of Chinese truss rods off eBay. Now, before you stick the boot in and tell me that no good will come of cheaping out on the truss rod, I am stress-testing these before using them. I'm aware that I could spend $30+ for an Allied Lutherie rod and have the Rolls Royce standard in truss rods for this build, but even they recommend you stress test their rods before installing, and there are plenty of documented failures of the more expensive rods out there. The middle-range Allparts rods I used to use appear no different to the Chinese ones in construction and quality, and are likely also made in China with a western mark-up on price.

Three full cranks in each direction to see if they'll hold - all good. That's far more tension than they'll ever see in service:

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The tricky bit with this kind of construction is making a neat access for the truss rod adjuster. With a bit of careful drilling, routing and measuring (not necessarily in that order) it's possible to get the adjuster nut to sit into the headstock hole like sticking your foot into a sock:

20161220_162753.jpg20161220_162957.jpg20161220_164217.jpg20161220_164225.jpg

 

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Following this build.  looking great...

Did you stress test the trussrod you actually plan on using or did you test another rod?  I would expect at least some deviation in quality from rod to rod from china....  but I'm a bit of a pessimist sometimes.  that being said, you don't want to cause a failure down the road by overstressing the rod during testing...  tough call...

 

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The rod under test is the rod that ended up in the neck. I bought a batch of eight and they'll all get the tension test before they get used. I did consider just doing some type-tests on a couple of rods from the batch and then setting them aside, but then a failure could still occur in the untested rod.

I'd also expect quality issues from these Chinese-made rods, but they appear to be perfectly serviceable. The welds (that are visible) are clean, no spatter or welding dags, no rust, rod is straight and returns straight when the tension is let off, shrink wrapping isn't damaged or torn, the adjusters move freely. I've bought worse looking rods from Allparts for three times the price.

The only thing I'm not keen on is the adjuster nut sits inside a stainless steel cylinder, which makes the business end of the rod about 9mm in diameter. Ideally for necks where the adjuster is up at the nut you'd want as much wood there as possible, but the large nut means more wood needs to be removed from the neck. I guess time will tell whether they hold up to the task.

In all honesty, where do you think the budget to midrange guitar models from the likes of ESP, Fender, Ibanez, Jackson etc get their rods from? They certainly won't be paying a premium from Allied or LMII...

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On ‎20‎/‎12‎/‎2016 at 6:49 AM, curtisa said:

 

Time to make a start on the neck. Kick things off with a 90x32 plank of Tas Oak, then rip 'n flip to get three laminations with the middle grain direction running reverse to the outside:

20161218_105848.jpg

 

I hope you don't mind a bit of a newbie asking a question, how important is the rip and flip, I have a piece of maple for the neck of my next project but I haven't a table saw to rip it and was thinking of using as one piece, I understand the reason behind this process but is it necessary to make a stable neck?

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It's not always necessary, but I just get myself into the habit of doing it automatically. For woods of unknown origin, heavily figured stuff or ludicrously skinny necks it makes sense to give the neck as much help as possible to ensure it is stable and remains stable. Rip and flip is just an easy way to achieve this if you don't want to add lots of different timbers and colours into the laminations.

One piece maple will be perfectly adequate for a neck. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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