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Preparing For First Build


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Hi all,

A few weeks ago I stumbled across this site while searching for some mods for my cheap RG. After browsing the site and the forums, I have decided that it should be within my abilities to build a guitar. I realize that this is a large undertaking and is not something I should jump into without a lot of preparation. I will be purchasing Make Your Own Electric Guitar in the next week or so and have assembled a tentative parts list (I'm away at school now and will hopefully make some mdf templates over my spring break next week). I am currently planning on making a 7-string neck-through guitar with a cherry body and a laminate neck (which I think will be maple with strips of some yet unchosen wood). I know that I shouldn't rush the build process, but I will only be home for the summer for around 4 months, so I was wondering if it should be at all expected to finish a first build within this time frame if I invest a lot of time in it or if I should plan on finishing it over another break.

Currently the plan appears to be:

Neck:

laminate with maple and maybe bloodwood

Body:

cherry

Pickups:

EMG 81-7 and EMG 707

Bridge:

either Warmoth 7 string fixed or tonepros bridge to string thru (I'd like a kahler, but I can't afford the added $150 this year)

Tuners:

undecided, but certainly locking

Hardware:

assorted gold

Body shape:

most likely superstrat (hopefully carved top)

Fretboard:

ebony (pre-slotted and pre-radiused from LMI)

Finish:

hopefully it will go well enough that I can do a nice natural finish with some sort of gloss over it (I'm still looking into finish options since that will be the last thing I do)

I hope I'm not biting off more than I can chew. My only other question is related to the acquisition of wood. I don't have access to any decent lumber yards (Home Depot only). Would ordering my wood from the lumber section (instead of the guitar woods section) of a site like Exotic Woods translate into lower quality wood than getting it through the instrument making section? While I will have the money to build the guitar, I am trying to keep costs down where possible and it seems cheaper to order just the right amount of each wood than to order a huge block that I won't use all of. Hopefully I'll be able to move this to the current builds section in a month or so.

Thank you for any advice and/or comments you have,

Andrew

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Welcome to the forum Andrew :D

Don't worry too much about the different grades of wood for your first build, the main thing you want to make sure of is that it has been dried to the proper moisture content (6-8%) so that it won't deform after the build. You've made a good choice of woods thus far, all of them are very close-grained without large pores so you won't need to grain-fill. You can just seal the wood and apply your clear finish....makes the whole finishing process one step easier.

The only thing to watch out for wood-wise is to be careful with any kind of dark wood against maple, you want to avoid getting dark-colored dust worked into the light-colored maple grain. That can be helped (when you get to that stage) either by using scrapers, or by taping off the dark woods and sealing the maple with shellac during fine-sanding stages.

Go to woodfinder.com and enter your ZIP and the type of wood you're looking for, and you'll be provided with a list of all the local hardwood dealers in your area (you may be surprised how many there are). Hint: if you do a search for an exotic species like ebony or cocobolo, you're more likely to find dealers with a large selection of both exotics and domestics. Look for pieces that are perfectly straight without bowing-cupping-twisting and you should be in good shape. Compare prices per board foot, but also be aware that milling to a desired size/thickness will also add to the cost (depending on your tool situation).

You can certainly finish an instrument in 4 months if you're working on it every day, especially if you're getting a head start on templates (a smart move). But while planning this out, be aware that when you finish the woodwork you're maybe halfway done....a lot of guys think they're almost done at that stage, but in reality the fretwork and (especially) the finishing can take even more time than the woodworking, especially for a first build.

Looks like you're starting off in the right way....best of luck! :D

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Andrew,

You seem to be on the right path.

If I could advise you on one thing for your first guitar, it would be to go with a bolt on neck.

Thru-necks present a whole set of their own problems, which take a good bit of woodworking experience to get right.

Bolt on necks are far more forgiving, and in the worst case, you can simply make or buy another neck.

I understand your frustration about wood.

There isn't much of a selection at the Lowes or Home Depot for what we do.

Personally I don't like to buy wood off of the internet, because you don't get the benefit of seeing the cuts before they ship.

A resource I use for FREE wood is the scrap bin at my local cabinet builders shop.

They are always working with cherry, maple, sweet gum and all sorts of other hardwoods.

And if you make nice, they may let you use the planers and band saws when the boss isn't around.

Best of luck with your build(s).

You will find this to be an expensive and fulfilling hobby.

Be sure to post pics.

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I would agree with erik and john. I think you're heading the right way. As for wood acquisition, I'm sure there is a lumber yard in your area. Even if it's an hour drive away, take the time to go there and select the pieces of wood you like. I wouldn't suggest buying wood online. First, you can't have a look at the board, second, it can warped due to weather shock, third it can be badly handled during shipping.

As for building a neck-thru, I don't think it is that more difficult than a bolt-on. My first build was a neck-thru. It came out pretty good. But I did some mistakes; bridge location was not centered, I messed up the pickup cavity, tuners holes were out of alignment. But that can happen with any type of builds.

Is it harder to route a clean and centered neck pocket than glueing some wings to a neck blank? I messed up a lot of neck pockets when I started. Anyway, I don't want to start a debate about that. It's just my opinion.

Using bloodwood can be tricky if you never worked with hardwood before. It's very hard and dense. Just make sure to use sharp tools. Carbide cutters would be a must.

Another advice; Don't order your fretboard pre-radiused. You will have a hard time glueing it since it is not a flat surface. Buy it slotted only, and buy a radius block from Stewmac. Radiusing a board is very easy. Unless you want a compound radius.

I think 4 months would be enough to complete a basic first build. But don't rush things up! You have all the time in the world to do this. You don't have customers waiting and calling every week, asking for pictures of the actual build process :D

Good luck!

Edited by MescaBug
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Thank you all for your advice. I'm amazed by how helpful and friendly everyone here has been already.

Erik, woodfinder.com helped a lot. I found a lumber store about an hour away that seems like it should have good quality lumber. Their prices seemed reasonable ($7.44 per board foot of 2 inch thick cherry for the body, $4.58 per board foot of 1 inch maple for the neck laminate, and they don't have bloodwood, so I'll need to pick a different wood for the center strip unless I find it elsewhere).

John, thanks for the cabinet maker tip. I'll check that out over break. If my tax return check comes in the next few days, (and out cabinet maker doesn't have any scraps I can use), I may buy the wood over spring break to allow it to dry for a month or so until I'm back for the summer. I'll consider doing a bolt-on, but I really prefer the look and feel of a neck-through.

Mescabug, thanks for the bloodwood tips. Since it looks like I might not have local access to it anyway, I'll probably try to find another wood for the neck laminate. Thanks for the fretboard advice. I didn't even think about the problem that would pose. I will definately just go pre-slotted and radius it myself.

What sort of radius would be common on a 7 string fretboard? I'm not planning on messing with a compound radius just yet (although that might be a nice challenge for next summer). I'll have my hands full getting the neck fretted as it is (to be honest, that part of the process worries me). Since this is turning out to be a rather expensive project (currently in excess of $500 without specialty tools), what sort of quality is to be expected on a first build? Currently my only guitar is a $200 RG, so the bar is set pretty low.

If money comes through, I'll post pictures of my templates and wood blanks next week. Thanks again for all the help.

-Andrew

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I would go with a 12" radius, which is pretty much standard on production series guitars. It's a personal matter I would say.

I don't like a flat board on a 7 strings. The board is large, and your wrist will hurt more rapidly. You don't want too much radius either. Again, the board is large, so the radius will be more 'pronounce' on the edges, than a 6 string guitar.

As for your question on quality, it might be better than entry-level production guitars, it might be a higher than average quality guitar, it can be a masterpiece and it can be a total disaster... From experience, the latest being the most plausible result :D

Just kiddin'. One advice; don't take your first built too seriously. But don't be sloppy either. Keep in mind that you have no experience at all. It's impossible to achieve the same level of quality you will find on high end guitars. But you can be very surprised, if you take your time, and don't put the mark too high.

I remember taking my first build, which was a neck-thru, to my guitar tech. He told he wouldn't pay more than 300-400$ for that guitar. But it would be a very good instrument for an average guitarist with 2-5 years of experience. You never know...

The advantage of building guitars for yourself, is that you can achieve a good quality guitar for less money than what you would pay in a shop. And as a bonus, you have the options you want, that are often not avaiable on production guitars.

Things start to change when you get customers. Now that's another story. You need to ask yourself why somebody would come to you to buy a guitar instead of going in a shop? Because people have 100% confidence in music shops. A lot of people don't know **** about guitars, but they know and thrust the big names; Fender, Jackson, Gibson etc..

It's possible to compete against those big names, but it takes time. You have to offer your customers something they won't find in the shop-around-the-corner.

Edited by MescaBug
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Just kiddin'. One advice; don't take your first built too seriously. But don't be sloppy either. Keep in mind that you have no experience at all. It's impossible to achieve the same level of quality you will find on high end guitars. But you can be very surprised, if you take your time, and don't put the mark too high.

Priceless advice.

It's hard to explain to someone that NOBODY makes the perfect guitar the first time out.

We all get the romantic idea in our head about how great it's gonna be, and start spending tons of money on gold hardware, and hipshot tuners etc.

It's easy to loose sight of the fundimentals of the woodwork.

Honestly my first build was a POS.

It was not playable at all, but I learned a whole lot of what not to do, what materials not to use.

It took me about a year and about 10 builds to really come to grasp the whole picture.

And there is still TONS I don't know about...especially in finishes.

But I honestly think thats what makes it such a wonderful hobby for most people.

The fact that you have to put tons of effort into it, before you get much of anything out.

Andrew, just keep in mind that guitar making is not something you will master in one shot.

Experiment, and make your common on cheap wood.

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Thank you all for your advice. I'm amazed by how helpful and friendly everyone here has been already.

This is a fantastic site filled with talented and knowledgable builders that are willing to bend over backwards for folks who share this great hobby! There are also alot of beginners (myself included) that will throw out ideas using logic, but without experience. You know who to listen to... :D

I'll consider doing a bolt-on, but I really prefer the look and feel of a neck-through.

Now considering the above regarding my experience, I will say that I think a set neck may be a good compromise for you in terms of look and feel, while also giving you many of the tonal and ease-of-build "advantages" (differences) of a bolt on. This way you can make sure you have a neck you are happy with before you attach it to the guitar, but you will also have a smooth heel and permanent, solid connection to the body. B)

Edit: OH. and you may want to see if there are any mill shops in your area if you haven't already. I went to one locally here once and found a nice piece of quartersawn african mahogany big enough to make 3 2X16X22 one piece body blanks for $100! I HATED the fact that I didn't have much cash at the time, so there it sat till some other lucky soul got it. :D:D

Edited by Bassisgreat
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I realize that my first build has a decent chance of turning out relatively poorly, but would still like to set fairly high standards so that I have something to aspire to. Obviously I'm hoping that it won't be a complete waste of wood, but, honestly, since it's the hardware (especially those dang emg's) that will make it cost so much, I can always build a new neck and body for relatively cheap (under $100) and just swap out the hardware when it is done (although it would be rather wastefull to do this). At this point I'm just excited about the thought of having a hopefully better than mediocre guitar that I can say I made. With regards to the neck attachment, it seems like set-neck might be the way to go. As much as I'd like the neck-thru, having the ability to scrap the neck or body individually if something goes wrong could really save me a lot of time and effort in the long run. Since I don't have access to any 7-strings to try to get a feel for various radii, I'll just plan on the 12 inch fretboard radius. Currently I'm not planning on trying to try to sell any guitars I make, but that may change after I finish college (ironically, a college would be a great place to start selling guitars, but I have no space to work or large tools to use here since I don't have access to the school's materials lab). Any advice on what to look for in a piece of wood for instrument making before I head to the lumber yard (I don't think we have an actual mill in our area because it is pretty much flat and treeless). Is it basically just straight wood with an even grain pattern and no knots? Thanks for the help.

-Andrew

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The radius may be determined by the type of bridge you use...check to make sure. Some do not allow you do adjust the radius without shimming or deepening slots in the saddles.

Very true.

You may also want to look into using individual string bridges.

Ibanez and Peavey use them, you can also get them from HipShot.

I think they are called MonoRail bridges.

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Any advice on what to look for in a piece of wood for instrument making before I head to the lumber yard

There are a few basic things to check when buying wood. Some of these things are relative to the lumber yard itself; is the wood stored inside/outside? Do they wax the lumber ends so it doesn't crack to bad? Was it dried and stored, or simply rought cut in boards? Is it already planed? Jointed?

Then, you can select a specific piece, and analyze it's properties;

1. Is it quartersawn? Flatsawn?

2. Moisture content

3. Grain pattern

4. Ring tone

Seriously, some of these parameters are little bit too much for a first build. You wouldn't be able to tell anyway. Example; the ring tone. I'm pretty sure you would not tell the difference between a good ring tone and a bad. Some experienced builders can approximate the moisture content just by 'ringing' the wood.

For now, just make sure you have the right dimensions, and that the wood looks clean on all sides; no knots, no cracks.

Edited by MescaBug
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Any advice on what to look for in a piece of wood for instrument making before I head to the lumber yard

There are a few basic things to check when buying wood. Some of these things are relative to the lumber yard itself; is the wood stored inside/outside? Do they wax the lumber ends so it doesn't crack to bad? Was it dried and stored, or simply rought cut in boards? Is it already planed? Jointed?

Then, you can select a specific piece, and analyze it's properties;

1. Is it quartersawn? Flatsawn?

2. Moisture content

3. Grain pattern

4. Ring tone

Seriously, some of these parameters are little bit too much for a first build. You wouldn't be able to tell anyway. Example; the ring tone. I'm pretty sure you would not tell the difference between a good ring tone and a bad. Some experienced builders can approximate the moisture content just by 'ringing' the wood.

For now, just make sure you have the right dimensions, and that the wood looks clean on all sides; no knots, no cracks.

Everyone is giving great advise from what I read.

On the subject of some things to consider when selecting wood.

Tapping or ringing(never heard that before, but sounds good to me)- Moisture in wood really dampens the ability of it to ring when tapped. This is very notable, and if you ever have a chance to listen to a piece as it goes through the drying process you will note a huge difference in the sound. Weight is another good indicator of moisture(at least fairly high moisture vs reasonably dry). Water is much heavier than most woods, and a high moisture content will really make it feel notably heavy( a clue for you if you order wood from someone and the shipping weight is very high for the type of wood :D , be prepaired for a long drying process). Often time the smell, as well as feel of the wood is a clue. Most lumber yard sell kiln dried lumber, and you have a good chance of finding wood that is at least 12% moisture content or less. If the wood is air dried, pay closer attension to the moisture level, and ask if they know how long it has been drying. A moisture meter can be a great tool, to ensure you know basically what you have (even an inexpensive meter will give you a fairlly accurate picture of where it is at). Time is always your biggest ally when trying to be sure the wood you use is well dried. If you can, it is best to stock up a bit for future projects, and let the wood for a fair amount of time before use. I would really suggest everyone do this with a couple neck blanks worth of their favorite neck wood ( a piece of Maple large enough for a bolt on neck for instance is only about 1 bd. ft.. $5-7 dollars tops). Stable neck wood is extreamly important :D .

As for grain- For a solid body, you have a lot of latitude as long as the wood is dry. You do want to be sure the grain runs with the neck basically, not perpendicular. The neck wood should be clear of defects (knots, pockets and such), you want the grain straight to the neck, it is best to either choose well quartered or well flatsawn wood if at all possible.

Good luck,

Rich

Edited by fryovanni
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Rich - any suggestions on a cheap-ish moisture meter?

This is one Rockler has - link

No bells and wistles, but accurate enough to get a good sense of the moisture level. Note that on thicker wood you have to have a fresh cut, and these meters will only give you a sense of where the wood is at. By that I mean you can tell if the wood is generally higher than 12%, or if wood is giving you a similar reading to all the other dried wood in your shop, you know it is stabalized. That is about all you need from a meter. 6% or 9%(accuracy +/- 3% in the low range) is not really that useful.

Peace,Rich

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well, i was reading this thread and thought i would put in my two cents

im a guitarist of 6 years, and decided to start building guitars about...1.5 years ago. ive build 1 1/2 guitars (an acoustic referb) and in the process of my third

my first guitar was not half bad (except the fretboard, which was bad) i reccomend getting all the resources you can on fretting, get a bunch of fretwire, unradiused boards (maybe 2 or 3) and do a few fret jobs before your first real one. this is by far the most difficult and most crucial part of building a guitar. back to my first one. from a woodworking standpoint (i had no experiance) it was beautiful, near flawless. from a guitarists standpoint. it needed a lot of help, and it was all in the fretboard area

as far as woods go,make sure the wood you get is dried, and after that have fun, take your time. and FOR GODS SAKE DO A PRACTICE FRETBOARD OR 2 :D building guitars for me looks like it will be a life long passion, partially because it is so difficult, but so gratifying to see somethign you build plug in and play

hope this helps

Kenny

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I see that you want to use bloodwood...

This is my favorite wood. It is SO beautiful. I say go for it. It will be difficult to work, very hard and it has a tendency to splinter if you drill it. But the reward is great... and it smells really good too. :D

I'm playing a guitar with bloodwood fingerboard right now... well, I could go on about it all day. :D

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Ok, I made my big lumber store adventure today. After about 45 minutes in there, I can see where economies of scale come into play in this (I could have saved a ton of money if I'd had money to spare to buy the wood for two bodies). I ended up getting a large 1 3/4 inch thick cherry board with a small knot in the center, but the knot will be cut out and I'll just use the ends of the board for the body. I also got a 1 inch thick piece of cherry for the strip down the center of the neck laminate and a piece of maple for the rest of the neck. I would have gotten better cuts, but they wouldn't allow me to cut down existing boards (except the larger cherry because the price tag had fallen off and they needed to make a new label anyway). There weren't any small, thin bloodwood boards, so I couldn't use that for the neck laminate. Here are the pics of the wood I ended up with.

CIMG0732.jpg

And here's the other side.

CIMG0731.jpg

Given more money, I think I would have gotten better wood, but for a first project, I don't think it will make too much difference in the long run. I don't have a moisture meter and will be heading off to school before one could get here, but the wood has a good 6 weeks to continue drying (it seems really dry already) in the house before I start working it, so it should be fine. I decided to hold off on the template until summer break because I want to read Hiscock's book and make a few more design decisions. Currently I think I'm gonna drop the long scale length down to 25.5 inches because my current guitar is 25.5 and I can't imagine playing anything longer (unless it is a bass). I think the shorter scale will be fine as long as I don't tune it too low (I'd like to get an A on the low string, which hopefully won't buzz on this scale length). I've also decided to go with a tele style body instead of a superstrat/rg style. I'd still really like to do a neck through, but will wait to decide on that until I see the details on how to do it. I don't think I need a neck angle because I'll be using a hipshot fixed bridge and those are pretty low profile (feel free to correct me if I am wrong). I guess that'll be it for a while since I won't have access to wood or wood working tools until the beginning of May. Thanks for all the help so far.

-Andrew

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I see that you want to use bloodwood...

This is my favorite wood. It is SO beautiful. I say go for it. It will be difficult to work, very hard and it has a tendency to splinter if you drill it. But the reward is great... and it smells really good too. :D

I'm playing a guitar with bloodwood fingerboard right now... well, I could go on about it all day. :D

Theres a huge list of shop tips on Frank Ford's site Frets.com. One of them is a great way to prevent tear-out when drilling, start drilling with the drill set to reverse to create a shallow dimple in the wood the size of the bit, then drill as usual. -Vinny

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