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Step-by-step instructions?


JayT
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I'm currently building my first guitar (electric solid) and it seems like every builder has their own process in regards to the order they do things. I realize there are many variables here depending on materials, finish, neck construction, personal preference....but are there any step-by-step, start-to-finish instructions for reference? Like, something generally agreed on by the majority experienced builders? Just as a failsafe checklist, not something I'd strictly adhere to.

My biggest fear is that I'm going to skip an important step and create more work for myself, or worse have to start over.

Example, I've finished carving the neck, and fretted it...but didn't do any finish to the wood yet. Was I supposed to? I guess the neck isn't an issue but the fingerboard...I didn't do anything to before pressing in fretwire.

Such a newbie question I know...but if I were to watch 20 YouTube videos (or 20 series of videos more likely) it'd take days and there'd be 20 different ways of doing things.

As I finish typing this I'm thinking that "something generally agreed on by the majority experienced builders" is probably as common as a two-headed unicorn

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You're right about every builder having their own order. And since they all create guitars, each one is right!

The neck can and usually is finished after fretting. As the name "finish" says, it's one of the final tasks. So that's perfectly fine at this stage.

Building the neck is a common way to start. Routing the truss rod channel at an early stage may be advisable as fastening a square blank is easier. Yet there's variations on the subject. You can use a fence to guide the router, you can use a template. Handheld or table router... Not to mention the three ways to make a channel for a single action rod! Anyhow, the channel is important to be carved quite early. After that, cut the neck to a rough shape to remove the bulk of the wood and let it rest for some time to let it move if it wants to. Then put the truss rod in and glue the fretboard on. You can cut the fret slots before or after gluing, both ways work. Same goes for fretting, you can shape the neck first and fret when you know your neck hasn't moved with the last shavings or you can trust the wood to be dead and hammer the frets in before the final shaping, using the offcut as support. The neck can be built fully built before even planning the body, although finishing the entire instrument at one go may be advisable.

Now that you've got your neck done it's time to move to the body. If you have a separate top, route the wiring channels on the body. After gluing the top (if you have one) carve the neck pocket. Try to pay attention to the center line especially if you have a bookmatched top. When you've got the neck snugly seated, mark the place for the bridge and pickups and route them. At this stage you may want to cut the outlines of the body. Route the control cavity. If you're building a carved top like an LP, start carving. Drill the wiring channels if that has to be done through the neck pocket. When the body is all finished, attach the neck. Double check the location of your bridge and drill the necessary holes - don't forget the ground wire from the bridge to the control cavity!

Fine sand, moist to raise the grain and make scratches visible, fine sand again, moist again, fine sand again... Let your hands rest a day in between to revive their sensitivity as your hands can feel any imperfections your eyes can't see.

Apply the finish of your choice.

Install the hardware and electrickery.

Play.

Fix issues and play again.

Edited by Bizman62
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I spend a lot of time thinking my next moves through... not in any sort of organized way... just trying to anticipate issues.  For instance, On my radius top builds... I generally put a belly cut in... but if you make that too extreme and don't leave enough material... there won't be anything to ride a bearing on to do binding.  However, if I ever make that mistake... I could simply cut a piece the right dimension and sticky tape it back on... so for every 'mistake' there is a workaround... and I'd say learning these workarounds probably does more to make you a good builder than actually not making any mistakes. 

that said... all of that info is specific to the type of guitar I build... and how I accomplish the binding.  The things I think we'd all agree on are so obvious they aren't worth mentioning but here goes:

def have to cut the truss channel and put in the truss rod before putting on the fretboard (this rule can be broken... even with a dual action truss... I've seen a thread where a guy installed one in a back channel like a 1 piece strat neck). 

for me... I have to have a fretboard on a neck before I place my bridge.  You can draw it out based on the centerline... but if you make small mistakes like glueing the fretboard scale on a little different... it can change the intonnation line.  also if your neck ends up a little 'off' center, your strings can end up too close to the edge on one side.  So I always get the neck almost done, then use the sides of the fretboard to draw lines going back to the bridge, then find the midpoint between those two lines... THATs my centerline (usually the actual centerline). 

you shouldn't do finish before you do binding... but I recently did a guitar where it had a roundover edge, and binding sitting below that.  I didn't want to have to wet sand right up to the binding as I recognized that that would be hard to do well.  So I finished the guitar and then put binding on. 

my point is... try to think ahead, try to avoid pitfalls, certainly make use of the many fantastic and talented builders here who have experience - ask them specific questions... but know that any mistake you make can be overcome - if you are willing to do what it takes.

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hehe, just realized I cut my tele jack hole on a guitar I'm going to do binding on... doh.  will have to get a 1" dowel and stick it in there... or cut up to it and just make the necc transition by hand.  Scrambling to find work to do while awaiting parts has thrown my whole thing off... so don't do THAT!

 

edit: perhaps the best advice would be - just don't listen to me or do anything i would do!

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What type of guitar are you building as a first?  Most fit into the Les Paul style or a Strat style.  As the others have already said, each guy has their own way of working.  Whilst you’ve already said you didn’t want to look at videos, As a beginner I would say a good place to look is at the Fletcher Handcrafted Guitar Stratocaster build series on YouTube.  It covers order of work pretty well in my opinion.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYoHfJxRJ1TgNPY5d3g1dlbtTQkhff24Z
 

Order of work may differ depending on your options e.g one piece neck or separate fretboard.  Whether you use a top, carved or flat etc.  All of your choices at the design stage will affect your decision making on the order of work.

 

I tend to do the following:

1. Start with neck, make up the neck blank woods, plane and glue scarf joints if using.

2. rout truss rod

3. cut outline of neck

4. attach and rout outline of fretboard

5. Install inlays

6. carve neck shape

7. Cut fretboard slots

8. create fretboard radius

9. install frets

10. Final sand neck and apply finish

11. Glue up body wood to make a blank 

12. routing wiring channels if using a top

13. Shape arm contour and glue on top 

14. Rout the body shape

15. rout neck pocket, drill holes for attaching neck

16. Rout all other cavities

17. Shape the remaining body contours 

18. final sand and finish

19. Final assembly which also includes final setup of fretwork etc.

 

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5 hours ago, willliam_q said:

5. Install inlays

6. carve neck shape

7. Cut fretboard slots

8. create fretboard radius

9. install frets

I got into the habit of putting step 6 after step 9. Steps 5, 7 8 and 9 are much easier to do if the back of the neck stays flat for as long as possible during construction.

As soon as you create the rear contour it becomes much more difficult to hold the neck against flat surfaces (installing frets then requires a shaped cradle to support the back of the neck), or inadvertently flex it if applying pressure to the fret board (can accidentally put an uneven radius on the fret board because you can no longer apply any weight to the middle of the neck).

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7 hours ago, curtisa said:

As soon as you create the rear contour it becomes much more difficult to hold the neck against flat surfaces (installing frets then requires a shaped cradle to support the back of the neck), or inadvertently flex it if applying pressure to the fret board (can accidentally put an uneven radius on the fret board because you can no longer apply any weight to the middle of the neck).

Yes, I found this out the hard way...the last step I did in neck construction was press in frets. I used rolled-up cloth as cradle and this neck profile is fairly fat so it worked out. Next time will do as you suggest for sure.

I saw on builder on YouTube suggest to treat neck and fretboard as separate pieces and only glue together when both are 100% done themselves His logic being mistakes or start-overs are mire avoidable/less work to fix and problems.

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Very little is stone carved in guitar building.

One of the rules that can't be broken is to radius the fingerboard before fretting. Same goes for cavities and channels before installing wires/pots/studs/pickups.

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