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Body And Headstock Shape Critique

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Hey, sorry if this is in the wrong forum.

Anyways, I am in the design stages of my first project that is not simply shaving some parts down to shape and slapping them together.

Here's the body and headstock shape I'm looking at:


I have a few questions:

-First of all, how does it look? I must say the upper horn has grown on me, and I tend to like my Explorers unmolested, so that's surprising.

-Secondly, does it appear to be entirely too large? It's nearly four feet long from tip to tip!

-The 6+1 headstock shape allows me to use a standard 6-in-line lefty set and an odd tuner I have lying around, or in the case I choose to go with a really heavy 7th string it gives me the option of using a miniature bass tuner for more leverage and to allow the string to fit into the post more easily. Thoughts on the shape and idea?

-Scale length would be 26.5," but I can't find dimensions for generic seven-string nut widths anywhere. Right now it's drawn with 1 7/8" nut width.

-I know the TOM bridge is usually angled; what's the standard angling for a seven-string bridge?

-Other notes, comments, and your own questions are welcome.

Oh, and I do own Dan Erlewine's Make Your Own Electric Guitar book, so no need to refer me! :D


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Looking cool!

You don't need an extended scale length on a 7-string, unless you really want it.

I can't say I'm a huge fan of the upper horn. I built an explorer-style (relatively) unmolested. It looks like you were going to make the horns symmetrical and than just gave up.

I'd put the angle back for the bass side of a 7-string TOM at a little over 1/8". maybe 3/16ths.

Just aesthetically speaking (and not because I did this on my own build :D) you might want to have the ferrules follow the back wing of the guitar, the horseshoe/arch shape really fights with the angular body, for me.

Doesn't look oddly proportioned, so long as you got the body dimensions from a real-life guitar (i don't trust scaling up a picture...) you should be set.

Those look like P90 pickups, any particular model you had in mind? No EMGs, plz, I've kinda fallen out of love with the set on my Explorer.

I'd move the knobs around, maybe to a more "traditional" layout, unless you like having them so close to the bridge/strings *shudder*

I gotta say, though, that the headstock and tuner layout/reasons for the layout, is @(*$^& genius. The ability to use a larger/different tuner if you're going for a B string is just awesome, and the shape of the headstock looks great. Very innovative work, I like it.

Watch strap placement (the only real reason for an upper horn, as bad as it looks), because not only the explorer shape, but the 7-ness of it will make for a neck-heavy guitar. Also, consider a string tree unless you're angling the headstock.

Sorry if this is just a bullet-point essay, but it's 3 AM and I've got classes tomorrow :D just wrapping things up fast, ya know?

Keep it up! It's looking real sharp.

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I'll dissent. :D I think there are certain elements that could be tweaked. IMO right now there ARE a few inconsistent elements in style that could be at least worth considering:

- the waist is a little bit "close in" on the top. Too close to the bridge humbucker, I mean

- only the upper horn has a "chisel" point (an extra angle), whereas all other points are one angle, barely rounded off at the tips

- unlike the Explorer (which DOES look good... I don't think Gibson erred on this point), you could consider echoing the gentle curve of the butt-end of the guitar in one of a few different places

- the headstock and body shape also don't complement each other much. Which is not really the end of the world-- many guitars have headstocks that aren't remeniscent of the bodies (though, I generally prefer it when guitars like Explorers and Parker Flys -do- recall the body shape in the headstock).

The actual size looks fine. It might look a bit off because the narrow waist makes it look more elongated. You COULD make a compact explorer-type if you wanted to, but there's nothing wrong with just copying the dimensions of an existing proven design, either.


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Thanks for all the comments so far, guys!

sb_guitars - I've played with a set of those Steinbergers, and while they look cool, I'm not a big fan of the feel in operation. Plus, they're a little expensive for what I'm looking at... $150 for a gold set and $100 for chrome? Ouch! Thanks for the suggestion though!

Xanthus - So far, my favorite seven string I have ever played was a Schecter C7 Blackjack with the extended 26.5" scale, although the neck was a little slim for me. I prefer heavy strings and I started on cello and moved to bass, so I actually prefer the extra length and tension, especially if I decide to drop to A at some point.

The knob placement is a holdover from when I was plotting out the body; I like having the volume close for pinky swells and I'm adding a killswitch for some staccato effects (oddly I'm not a Morello or Buckethead fan) that I would like close to the playing area as well, although not THAT close... they need to be much further back and a bit lower down!

The pickups will most likely be a SD Jazz-7 and JB-7 for versatility, as despite the shape I'm looking for more than just a metal axe. The EMG-shaped pickups on there now were the only ones I could find concrete dimensions for online and I wanted to see how the whole shape worked with the offset waist and extra-wide pickups.

Also, my original plan was to run the ferrules parallel to the back end, but it looked strange to me for some reason. The soft V shape of the ferrules now echoes the back line and a bit of the front "V" caused by the upper horn, at least the way I see it.

GregP - I see what you mean about the close waist, I may shift the whole neck down a little to compensate for the extra-wide neck and pickups. As a starting point I basically stuck the centerline of a widened neck onto the centerline of the standard Explorer neck, which is fairly close to the top of the body anyways... so that might get tweaked.

The 'chisel' point on the upper horn is a necessity visually I've found. The Explorer is primarily made up of down-angled lines, and having a straight or up-angled point on the upper horn just looks funky to me.

Also, the rear bout curve is really difficult to duplicate elsewhere on the instrument beyond the end of the fretboard and the ferrules, and I've already covered the ferrules.

erikbojerik - Cool, thanks for the insight. I read on one of the other members' builds that he had problems fitting the 7th string into a locking tuner hole, so I figured I'd leave the option open to play it safe.

Does anyone know the dimensions of the Hipshot D-Tuner? Instantly dropping from B to A would be handy, and it wouldn't be too hard to play with the shape a bit to cover the tuner if it was bigger than the current "thumbish" area is right now...

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I see what you mean about the downward angle and do agree with your accessment there. I think if you used rounded corners instead of sharp corners though, it would fit better with the body. I alos agree with the narrow waist. I would fix the waist issue and see what that does to the ablge of the upper horn and adjust until it looks right. Then repost and see what you have. There is something about the angle of the upper horn that I don't like, but once you thicken up the waist, you will need to change that angle anyway, so we'll wait to see what happens there.

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Alright, I had some free time to play with the drawing after class, and here's the result:


Note the more centered neck, subtly wider waist, and more normal control placement. The control placement may change to follow the angle of the bottom point; however, I like it this way right now and it gives me room to use a long-style stereo jack (so that when I do the body contouring I can go slimmer on the edges due to the 1/2" diameter hole.)

Also, I added the strap buttons. Note that the rear strap button is a bit higher than normal; this will help with balance by placing more of the guitar's mass below the hanging points.

I'm gonna take the killswitch off the design until I can decide whether or not a pushbutton or lever-action switch is right for me... I am also considering the idea of a DPDT mute switch that uses a pushbutton as a kind of a reverse killswitch (turning on when pressed), or even a reasonably sized rocker switch to help me get the "push -> on" type of killswitch feel I'm looking for.

Speaking of contouring, I'm also considering carving this thing like a Jackson SLSMG Soloist (one of my favorite guitars, I'd love it more if it was 22 frets and had a beefier neck though!) which ranges from 1/2" to 3/4" at the edges to a full 1.5" to 2" at the body.

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Looking better! Somehow, the subtle changes are making even the 'chisel point' look like less of an issue for me.

I like the idea of switching into "push -> on" mode instead of kill mode. It might be fiddly to flick a switch and THEN press a button, but you should be able to work out the transition fairly smoothly. To me, it's more intuitive to press a button according to when I want there to be audio (we do this already when we strum and pick) than when I want the audio to cancel. I don't know if it's possible, but a 3-way switch might be an idea-- you have a momentary push-switch for your "audio stutter", and then your 3-way would be 1. kill mode 2. bypass 3. push->on mode


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As far as angling the TOM goes - when I built my first guitar, (haphazardly at best - I hadn't realized the wealth of info available online and in Hiscock's wonderful book) I didn't know quite how to angle the bridge.

What I did was lower my tailpiece a bit, and then before drilling for the bridge studs, I made a little piece of wood with two dowels to mount the TOM bridge on - started a little thick, then sanded it down until I the action was about right. (If the action is off, you'll think you've got things set, but you can be ridiculously off)

Then I experimented with tuning the guitar up and sliding bridge around until it was in tune, and angling it until I could get the intonation decently without moving the saddles to their extreme.

The whole contraption worked sort of like a shorter version of many archtop bridges, where the bridge assembly is not physically attached to the bridge, just held down by string pressure. After I got it spot on, I took some measurements and mounted my bridge.

Now seven-strings are common enough now that I'm sure you can find the info for angling the bridge out there somewhere online, (and heck, if you've got a 7-string with individual intonating saddles, some measurements from where you've got those saddles set could give you all the info you need) but lacking that, I just thought I'd mention this method, which, while a bit much work for something that should be a known measurement, that has worked for me in practice.

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Also - I'm liking the design. Not something I'd play, but I can see past my own personal preferences. I'm with Greg - the subtle differences make a big change. I'd be interested in seeing a mockup of the bevel/carve - assuming the "extra" line you've got on the headstock is hinting at something akin to this as well, I'm liking the idea, and it could be an opportunity to pull the design together so to speak - working against the difficulty of echoing some of those lines across the whole piece. I wonder if a differently shaped upper horn with a carve shaped to follow the angles on the rest of the body might work.

All in all, this is really well executed - if you built it as the plan lays now, I'm positive I'd love the results. I'm curious to see what it looks like if a little more tweaking occurs.

Also - I notice your images are hosted at uvm.edu. You are also in Burlington, then I assume? Small world. There seems to be quite a few more tinkerers/instrument builders/amp makers/pedal builders/etc. in town in the last few years.

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Here's a bit of an experimental drawing. The lower cutaway shaping (kind of like an extended PRS 'scoop') echoes the scoop on the headstock, a design element that I know I want on there to facilitate reaches and 'bring the whole thing together' somewhat.

However, once I put the scoop on, I decided I'd see how the thing looked if I was going to put a bevel on it instead of carving it like a SLSMG or Ibanez 'S' body.

Here's the result:


What do you think? Bevels or no bevels? Again, if I don't bevel the thing, I will be shaving down the back and front in a gentle radius to slim down the body edges to add a more streamlined feel and reduce weight. The bevels create much more of a "metal" feel, while leaving them off and arching the body seems a bit more "high-class-feeling" to me.

With a body shape like that, I'm leaning more towards the high-class feel of the arching to balance out the fact that this will not be 'just' a metal guitar (imagine lugging this thing to a jazz gig... if wood selection, scale length, and pickup choice is any indication, it will perform fairly well in that regard too!)

Here's what it looks like without the bevels but with the lower bout scoop:


j. pierce - Yep, I'm a college student in Burlington. I was unaware that there was any sort of interest in instrument building at all around here... when I brought my Kramer/Jackson superstrat I built from parts to Advance Music (the largest local music store around), they seemed to find the idea of someone building their own guitar unique. Where are you based out of?

Anyways, what do people think? Bevels or arching?

Edited by TemjinStrife
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I personally have never been a carved-top fan, save on guitar shapes that are already rounded. I'd go with the bevels, it looks pretty good! Reminds me of the Jackson Warrior a bit. The changes you made are definitely an improvement, but I'd move the rear strap button to the centerline for better balance. I disagree with your reasoning behind it :D None of my "normal" shaped guitars have ever had balance issues, and your design has an upper horn to improve balance anyways, not to mention more weight on the rear of the guitar, that would pull the rear end down. Good luck with the killswitch situation, I've not enough electrical knowledge to offer my advice. I'm planning on just grabbing a momentary switch from Radio Shack when I get the chance, haha.

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Hrm - I guess it depends on who you talk to at Advance. I know some of the guys there have done just that.

Burlington guitar and amp carries a handful of custom stuff. I think a lot of the DIY guys fly under the radar - we tend to run into each other enough to know we exist, but I think the general musician population doesn't realize the amount of stuff going on in their town in this aspect. Although it seems like the majority of the DIY guys I know are more amp/pedal related. It seems a lot of the guitar builders are acoustic guys (some that make really great stuff - the folks at Northend Hardwoods showed me the site of a local guy who's stuff just blows me away) that sort of keep the themselves. Creston (plays for James Kochalka and the Cave Bees) has got himself a nice business going making Fender-style instruments.

But yeah, I'm Burlington, right around the Radio Bean.

I'm thinking I agree with you on the carve - I think it could be a nice change on this style of guitar. I'm feeling like a slightly assymetrical carve, (which is really all you can do with that body shape, I guess ) sort of following along the lines you mocked up for the bevels would look the coolest. Looking at the mockup of the bevels - the ones on the top end I'm liking, it's something about the ones on the bottom that I'm not a huge fan of. If I was going the beveled route, I'd soften the corner of the bevel on the upper horn (but not the upper horn itself), and pull the bevel inward on the lower horn, and quite possibly the lower bout as well.

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j. pierce - Now that you mention it, my old cello teacher bought a VERY high-end Brazilian rosewood classical guitar from Val who (IIRC) used to work at the Burlington Violin Shop. I have seen some local marques at Burlington Guitar and Amp too, but as you noted mostly acoustic stuff or electric mandolins/fiddles, no electrics.

Xanthus - Standard two-point physics... placing more mass below the line created by the two suspension points increases the stability of the entire structure. With a straight-pull 6-in-line headstock, longer scale, and a wider/deeper neck than a standard Explorer, I'm gonna need all the help I can get. My Epi Explorer headstock dives like it's it's job, and if it wasn't for that nice back point to rest my arm on it would be very fatiguing to play.

Also, keep in mind that a momentary switch will cut the signal when it's pressed, which is a tad unintuitive as you have to time the "let gos" to the beats instead of the presses. I'm actually considering going with a two-position rocker switch and using two fingers to get the effect, as pushing with one finger mutes and another unmutes the signal. Even cooler if I get a lightup one, cause the switch will flash as I hit the killswitch (assuming I can find one that can be powered with a 9v battery. If I do that and have some spare power left over, I may even toss some matching LEDs in the pickup cavities so that they give a muted glow around the pickups (that flashes when I use the killswitch... hmm... :D

While I can't find any decent pictures of the back carve or side view of the SLSMG, this is the kind of carve I'd be going for: a gentle "dressing away" of the area around the bridge/pickups in a smooth line on both sides.


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I like the changes that you are done to it. but I would still bring the low side cut away higher and the high side a little lower. To get a better access to the 22 fret.


I would bring the high cutaway to where the green line is (the one you have as a carve line) and then set the carve close to the pup edge, like PRS do.

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I'd like to see nmore than just a "dressing away" on the carve, (which I interpet as just a convex curve) and include a recarve as well - I could almost see something with a slightly larger than traditional flat area along the edges before the recarve rises up - perhaps even simply the area you've marked off in green before the bevel. Along the lower side, you could have the carve a little tighter andmore pronounced - almost the "German Carve" of the Mosrite.

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Xanthus - Standard two-point physics... placing more mass below the line created by the two suspension points increases the stability of the entire structure. With a straight-pull 6-in-line headstock, longer scale, and a wider/deeper neck than a standard Explorer, I'm gonna need all the help I can get. My Epi Explorer headstock dives like it's it's job, and if it wasn't for that nice back point to rest my arm on it would be very fatiguing to play.

that stability is about the guitar being balanced in a way so it wont want to twist (ie the bass side spinning around to where the treble side should be) when people look for stability in a guitar they look for a guitar that is balanced so that the headsock doent drop when you let go of the neck. the main issue being that supporting a drooping neck while playing can be quite tiring.

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Ahh... thanks for the clarification, black_labb. I knew about the different angles of stability (and the prevention of headstock dive) but I was under the impression that raising the rear strap button would help headstock dive as well...

j. pierce - Hmm... I guess this is where our individual aesthetic tastes diverge. I'm not a big fan of dramatically recurved tops or the sort of curved raised central sections on Mosrites... I like a cleaner line from center to edge. The aesthetics of this design, as I see it, are all in the profile, and I kind of want to emphasize that.

Maiden69 - I'm playing with your cutaway ideas and I can't quite get them to work without dramatically altering the lines of the design. However, I did notice that when designing the guitar, I kept the nut location at the same place as a 25.5" scale Explorer design when increasing the scale to 26.5", so I moved the entire neck/bridge/pickup assembly out a bit to compensate. Now, the neck-body join is once again at the 19th fret and full access shouldn't be a problem, especially since I've enlarged the cutaway scoop. Once I get orthographic views going to show body shaping I'll post an update... I'm curious what people think of the carve I've got going.

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