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First Build: Wood Choice & Difficulty Question


Dave I
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My basic plan is to buy and read Make Your Own Electric Guitar by Melvyn Hiscock before I ever pick up a tool, and then take a woodworking class or two (one is a one-day class at a woodworking shop, another is a five-or-ten week class, depending on how much time you want to invest, run at an area school one day a week, so I might take both).

So my first question is, what kind of wood should I use? Should I stick with a standard, like Mahogany, or is something slightly more exotic like Limba or Rosewood going to be o.k. with my projected level of experience/education in woodworking? I am thinking either mahogany neck & body with maple cap, all-mahogany neck & w/ figured body, Korina neck & body (possibly adding figured maple cap here) for something a bit more exotic, or something truly exotic but not unheard of like a rosewood neck in any of these combinations.

Second question is, what level of difficulty should I aspire to? Will I be biting off more than I can chew by adding a carved top to the mix? Is adding a maple cap and hand-carving it going to be o.k. for a first build with a teacher there to help and answer any questions I have? Is something like chambering going to present major headaches, or should I be alright with that if I take my time? I ask because there are a few guitars I am interested in building and I am not really opposed to making something more challenging unless there is strong urging to stick with a simpler design for the first build or two.

-Cheers

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My basic plan is to buy and read Make Your Own Electric Guitar by Melvyn Hiscock before I ever pick up a tool, and then take a woodworking class or two (one is a one-day class at a woodworking shop, another is a five-or-ten week class, depending on how much time you want to invest, run at an area school one day a week, so I might take both).

So my first question is, what kind of wood should I use? Should I stick with a standard, like Mahogany, or is something slightly more exotic like Limba or Rosewood going to be o.k. with my projected level of experience/education in woodworking? I am thinking either mahogany neck & body with maple cap, all-mahogany neck & w/ figured body, Korina neck & body (possibly adding figured maple cap here) for something a bit more exotic, or something truly exotic but not unheard of like a rosewood neck in any of these combinations.

Second question is, what level of difficulty should I aspire to? Will I be biting off more than I can chew by adding a carved top to the mix? Is adding a maple cap and hand-carving it going to be o.k. for a first build with a teacher there to help and answer any questions I have? Is something like chambering going to present major headaches, or should I be alright with that if I take my time? I ask because there are a few guitars I am interested in building and I am not really opposed to making something more challenging unless there is strong urging to stick with a simpler design for the first build or two.

-Cheers

the good thing about mahogany is that not only is it easy to work with, but it sounds great too! I think that you have a great attitude to building a guitar, and that you should choose the one design that makes you truely happy. a teacher being there is going to be very usefull, so use it! this is your chance to build what dreams are made of! and make sure that you take step by step pictures.

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Use woods that are commonly used. There are good reasons, beyond the "tonal" properties of these woods such as availability, cost, workability, stability. Mahogany is a great wood in all respects, Alder is a great body wood, Hard Maple is a great neck wood (although a tad harder on tools), Cherry is also a great wood all the way around, Limba is a joy to work with and wonderful all the way around, there are more examples but try to stick with woods like these. Woods to avoid for a first neck- Rosewoods(harder to carve and work with), ebonies(same as rosewoods), super high figure as they are more prone to tear out). Body woods to avoid- Heavy woods that are harder on tools or have wild grain or figure prone to tear out. As for tops, use what you like the look of, Spalted or burly woods can be a bit tricky to handle, highly figured woods require a bit of practice to finish (if you don't go natural), veneer as opposed to 1/8" or thicker sets requires a bit of learning to do well. Carving takes a little practice, and can be a little tricky on harder woods or highly figured woods. Nothing wrong with carved for a first, but it adds a bit to the complexity. First and formost use wood that it dry and stable. It is wise to allow a good bit of time for the wood to settle in your shop (if you are in a hurry, buy very well seasoned wood and allow about a couple weeks for it to adjust in your shop (stickered and weighted of course).

As far as your woodworking class. I am not sure if your instructor is an instrument maker, if not you will need to keep in mind woodworking is only part of instrument building and methods and level of accuracy will be a little forien to most woodworkers. Read your book very well, and try to get a solid understanding of the "instrument" side of your project.

Peace,Rich

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Use woods that are commonly used. There are good reasons, beyond the "tonal" properties of these woods such as availability, cost, workability, stability. Mahogany is a great wood in all respects, Alder is a great body wood, Hard Maple is a great neck wood (although a tad harder on tools), Cherry is also a great wood all the way around, Limba is a joy to work with and wonderful all the way around, there are more examples but try to stick with woods like these.

I envision myself working with the warmer woods. So Mahogany, Limba, maybe Alder or Swamp Ash. I could see using maple if I go for a nice looking cap or to make the guitar have a bit more clarity, but otherwise Mahogany a/o Limba seem more like what I would generally look for, tonally speaking.

Woods to avoid for a first neck- Rosewoods(harder to carve and work with), ebonies(same as rosewoods), super high figure as they are more prone to tear out).

Good to know. I got the idea of a Rosewood neck due to the PRS Rosewood 513. It looks intriguing. But I can slum it with Mahogany or Limba. :D

As far as your woodworking class. I am not sure if your instructor is an instrument maker, if not you will need to keep in mind woodworking is only part of instrument building and methods and level of accuracy will be a little forien to most woodworkers. Read your book very well, and try to get a solid understanding of the "instrument" side of your project.

Thanks for the advice! I do not think the instructor in either case is an instrument maker. I am pretty **** and plan on reading up a lot before I actually try to build anything so I will be very meticulous. Not that it will keep me from making mistakes and learning from them, like everybody else, but I will be going in at least moderately informed.

-Cheers

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I think Rich's advice is spot on, and you have a great attitude toward the subject. When you get Melvyn's book, that will answer a lot of your questions. As far as what difficulty you should aspire for, that's up to you. If you got the patience, anything is possible really. If you're on a tight budget, it might be a good idea not to try and do to much at once as it will cost a little more, especially if you screw something up.

Can't wait to see some progress!

CMA

Edited by CrazyManAndy
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Good to know. I got the idea of a Rosewood neck due to the PRS Rosewood 513. It looks intriguing. But I can slum it with Mahogany or Limba.

I know you are just joking, but if I had my choice (and believe me I do) I would reach for rosewood dead last 99% of the time. It would have to be an odd project theat I would want a RW neck for. Actually the neck materials of choice for me are actually some of the cheapest(maple, sapele,Cherry), to med. low end woods(Genuine Mahog, Black Limba). Just good cuts that are nice and dry.

Peace,Rich

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I know you are just joking, but if I had my choice (and believe me I do) I would reach for rosewood dead last 99% of the time. It would have to be an odd project theat I would want a RW neck for. Actually the neck materials of choice for me are actually some of the cheapest(maple, sapele,Cherry), to med. low end woods(Genuine Mahog, Black Limba). Just good cuts that are nice and dry.

Yeah, it was meant in jest. I like plain old Mahogany just fine.

Quick question (I hope this is an appropriate thread to ask) . . . What would be your choice (Rich or anbody's) between Mahogany or Limba in a chambered body or semi-hollow vs. a pure solid-body? Does it change your opinion as to which one works/sounds better, and if so, why?

-Cheers

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Lots of good advice so far. I'd echo going with something not too complicated for the first one.

Maybe a LP Jr or something strait forward and fun like that.

Save the exotics and the "perfect" build for your next one, yes there will be a next one.

Once you start building, there is no turning back :D

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There is a saying: 'keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars'.

I read a lot in your post about reaching for the stars, but not so much about keeping your feet on the ground.

Both hold 50% importance.

You seem to have your future plan laid out, which is good, but I think you need a bit more concentration on keeping your feet on the ground first.

If you're not grounded, your foundation will be far too weak to support your stretch to the stars, and the whole structure will crash and burn when tested.

Concentrate more on your foundation, on keeping your feet on the ground, on the basics first. :D

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There is a saying: 'keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars'.

I read a lot in your post about reaching for the stars, but not so much about keeping your feet on the ground.

Fair enough. But I DID kill the idea of a rosewood neck. :D

Concentrate more on your foundation, on keeping your feet on the ground, on the basics first. :D

Yeah, I see what you are saying. But does that mean that I should stick with a bolt-on Tele-shape for my first build, or do I reach and go for a tone-chambered mahogany or Limba-bodied guitar, with Mahogany or Limba set-neck, and a figured flamed or quilted Maple, Mahogany, or Limba top hand-carved, all based on Gibson Les Paul dimensions with a PRS-inspired double-cut design?

-Cheers

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I'll answer that as fairly as I can without actually giving you a specific answer.

More often than not, when a new guy buys expensive materials for a first build, they typically will shoot themselves in the foot with a shotgun (unknowingly, of course), and this is what happens (sometimes):

The more you have invested in a thing, the more it means to you, the more you care about it, ...the more cautious you become, the more careful you become, the more wary you become, ...the less you're prone to being experimental, the less prone you'll be to take chances, the less prone you'll be to taking a risk and learning something new, the less relaxed you'll be during the process.

Now, there obviously is a place for learning cautiousness, wariness, and being careful.

But sometimes, to the inexperienced, you're trading in a relaxed learning environment on a maybe, on a dream that may or may not come to fruition, because you WANT IT SO BAD. There is a price to be paid for the sheer act of wanting a thing so bad, it doesn't come free.

You will become risk aversive, which I consider the death knell to the learning experience.

When you're learning, I think it's important to have an attitude of it's OK to blow it, to screw up, the chuck it, to learn from your screwups and be perfectly happy to start over again on a new project using what you just learned to your advantage.

Buying fancy expensive woods shuts you down, shuts down your openness to taking risks, shuts down your creativity, for one reason: FEAR.

Why in the world would you want to induce fear into your own learning experience when it was never necessary, when the other option opened you up to experimenting, opened you up to learning, opened you up to relaxing and enjoying the whole experience.

Now, this may not happen to everyone, may not happen everytime, but it is something to consider based on the questions you're asking here, only you can answer the questions, but at least you have more information now in which to make a good decision.

Added note: it also depends on your personality type. Some people (like myself) look forward to taking risks and are willing to pay the price if the risk doesn't come off because on other occasions, the risk was all worth it, every bit of it, sometimes with spectacular results. But there is a price to be paid for that attitude, because sometimes it doesn't come off.

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time kind of thing...

I call that shooting from the hip, some people are comfortable operating like that, others are not.

A lot of that attitude comes from years and years of experimenting, so after awhile, you're not experimenting so much, you have those years of built-up experience to guide you along. When you're first starting out, I think the emphasis should be placed on allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the learning process...

Like repairmen for example. They don't have the luxury of shooting from the hip very often because everything they work on is someone elses' property. Whole different world.

So you also need to factor in what your personality type is and where that fits into your plans.

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Dark's right on, but I'd add the caveat that while you shouldn't necessarily use top dollar woods the first time around, decent, perfectly great sounding and looking wood can be had for a not-too-crazy price, and you want at least something to keep you on your toes. You need to care enough about the outcome, and that's less likely with a board of half-wet knotty pine than with even a decent alder, ash or african mahogany body blank. If you screw up, you screw up, but you gotta commit yourself to doing the best you can do, IMO, and realize there's a learning curve.

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