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Re-top new guitar, thoughts?

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Hi all,
  (new to the forum!)

I am thinking about buying a new MusicMan Axis, removing the (ghastly) top and putting a new one on (spalted maple if i can find a nice looking piece, hopefully with a slight drop-top "armrest" to make it a little extra special to me). My question to you: is this too crazy? ;-)

I love my MM Axis and wouldn't mind to have a second one. EBMM once made a few with spalted maple tops for the Japanese market. I very much would like to "build" my own, something like this: (everything with natural finish)



I found a nice Axis with a great figured neck, and luckily the top is extremely ugly (imho) so I don't feel bad at all about destroying the top and putting something new on.

I think it will be relatively easy to do the woodwork.
I have no experience with building guitars, but I do think I can do a re-top. Copying the guitar from scratch however will be a tough challenge (design, skills, time).

I am a bit worried about doing the finishing. I have no feel for how hard that is.

In case you are wondering: No! Taking the Axis that I already have and putting a new top on that one is not something I'm emotionally capable of :)!

Thanks for all your thoughts!


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You could always make another body (back included) and transfer the neck & hardware over. You could then put the original guitar back as it was if you ever needed to. It won't take much more effort to make the back as well - a lot less effort than trying to remove a top and fit a new one.

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Hey Johan and welcome onboard!

As Norris mentioned, it is likely a better idea to make a new body from scratch. The kind of operations you would need to do to an existing body would be more or less the same amount of work, plus there would be a high risk of failure. At least you'd have that fallback.

We'll ignore the finishing aspect for the moment and look at the most difficult issues facing you here.

Firstly, there's how to fit the top. If you're not binding around the edges, then you really need to have a 100% perfect join between the top and the body wood. At the very least, this needs a hell of a lot of clamps. If you're binding it, then a truly invisible seam is not completely necessary. Just a join that is mechanically sound.

The inclusion of a slight drop top for the forearm contour complicates this a little. Not as much as you'd think, however if you're binding, there's the issue of cutting a channel around that contour.

What experience do you have in terms of guitar-making or woodworking in general? Do you have access to jointers, planers, thickness sanders, etc? These can make much of the work simple. If you're using hand tools, you really need to be on top of your game with those to make everything perfect.

What about a hand/table router, bandsaw and pillar drill? If you have access to those three, then you can easily make template copies of the original and transfer those to a new workpiece. Far easier than retrofitting an existing body.

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Have you thought about other spalted lumbers?  Spalted maple just is a tad ordinary these days.  Spalted camphor is pretty intense looking.  There is a tree here in Texas called mesquite that will usually have some really beautiful spalted section and it is far less expensive than spalted maple.  IT has a greater variation of colors appearing in the spalted mesquite.  It is your guitar though  use what you like.

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Thanks for your comments!

Hmm, somehow I thought making the whole body would be much more work. But perhaps the only extra work would be machining the neck pocket to the correct height (I have to check, but these usually have a flat bottom right? No angle needed?) and the back pockets. Plus I'd be able to move the selector switch to the original EVH position or wherever. :)
So basically I'd be buying an expensive neck then :O  (it's not easy to find a nicely figured axis neck...)
Of course I can start copying the Axis that I have, and see how far I get.

I was thinking about going to a hobby workshop for woodworking to have access to equipment like a bandsaw and a table router. Perhaps I'll have to buy my own bearing guided router bit. I have only basic woodworking experience, and using handtools for precision work will need a lot of practice.

I like the sidelook of an unbound top, so that's what I'd be going for.

What's the order of things?
1. Measure Axis body, rout templates (plywood?) with bearing-guided bit, make sure not to kill my dearest guitar
2. Cut new body to roughly the correct shape (planarizer, bandsaw)
3. Cut top to roughly correct shape (probably bookmatched, so first planarize and glue that together)
4. Make armrest on body (sanding?)
5. Bend top to fit with armrest (do I drill holes in body+top for alignment?)
6. Glue body and top (clamping armrest is tricky?)
7. Machine to final shape (rout with template, sanding?)
8. Use templates to rout the neck, pickup, trem pockets, drill holes for switch and volume knob.
9. Finishing

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I think that more than anything, it is a matter of perspective. Anybody that has built an instrument before will find that making a body is easier than retrofitting one. Partially because they'll have the tools to hand. It all depends on how you're tooled up and what level of experience you're at. In general though, modifying an existing body has the difficulties of working with challenges that you don't need. Things like paint removal. That's always one that causes more problems than it solves! Good idea about the hobby workshop. You'll get a lot of good advice from other people there, sharing ideas and knowledge.

Okay, so if you're wanting to work on an unbound look then getting invisible glue lines is a high priority. Going for the forearm contour is a complication here, since applying a top to a flat body is infinitely easier than getting the right amount of clamping pressure over a curved surface. I'll leave that one for you to decide. At the very least, you will need a lot of clamps. When I say "a lot", I mean, "more than you think is a lot"!

I'll take each point through.

Point 1. Yes. The only problem you might find is that the bearing will spin up to several thousand RPM before you even touch it to your body. For paint finishes, that ends up scarring the body you're copying as the body has to "stop" the bearing spinning first. Applying a single layer of masking tape around the body prevents this, and doesn't alter the outline any more than you'd notice.

Points 2 and 3. Not sure what a planarizer is, but I want one. It sounds great! I guess that you're meaing a jointer or thickness planer? :wOOt
Sounds like a good plan. Bear in mind that planers can cause tearout, so ensure that the blades are super sharp (newly sharpened) and you're taking as little as possible each pass and at the slowest feed speed near the finished sizes. A thickness sander is immensely useful if one is handy.

Point 4. We'll discuss that when we figure out your clamping gear.

Point 5. Drilling holes and driving screws in (tremolo area, pickup cavities, neck pocket) is a common way of aligning everything. Definitely. Just don't screw anything deeper than it needs to be, and pre-drill the holes so you don't split the top or back. This is when you want to ensure that the centreline is perfect.

Point 6. Yes, and yes it can be.

Point 7. A router will get you close, a sander will get you closer without any drama.

Point 8. Yes. Most of the work in copying an instrument is in making the templates. Once you've mastered that, you can make as many guitars as you have time and money for. Collection of Axis guitars? I think so.

Point 9 is a totally different story.


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