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Getting overwhelmed on what I need to build a neck


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I just found out you need yet ANOTHER jig for cutting fret slots. I don't even have a bandsaw yet! I ran a planer over my wood to plane it but it seems un even in a place or two. I don't have a big old electric planer. I think my neighbor might have one. I am getting very overwhelmed when it comes to what is essential to crafting a guitar neck. Could someone please guide me on what tools I would need?

I already have: 

  • Hand planer (windsor number 33)
  • Going to get a shinto saw rasp
  • router
  • neck template
  • neck curve shaping  template
  • truss rod
  • fretboard (honduran rosewood)
  • neck (white limba)
  • Drills beyond belief
  • Hand chisel (for shaving off material in certain places)

I just need to get a bandsaw and a shinto saw rasp. I am just really worried about all this not being equal or something like that and then end up wasting all this material. This is my first time and I don't know where to go for guidance. 

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Here's my suggestions:

  • Pre-slotted, pre-radiused fretboard (plus additional requirements if you're also going to be fretting it yourself - read below)
  • Your neck blank
  • Router with cutting bits sized appropriately to match your truss rod (typically 1/4" diameter for the rod section, and 3/8" diameter or so for the truss rod access point to insert the allen wrench, but measure your trussrod to see what you need), plus a template-following router bit if you're going to shape the neck edges to match your template (1/2" diameter with ball bearing is typical)
  • Some way of creating the truss rod channel in a straight line. This can be a simple as a spare bit of straight scrap wood for the router to run up against or a fence attachment for the router
  • Some method of rough-cutting the outline of the neck shape prior to trimming with the neck outline template (bandsaw, jigsaw, handsaw etc)
  • Your neck shape template
  • Truss rod
  • Clamps, the more the merrier. Seriously, if you think you have enough you probably don't.
  • Saw rasp for neck shaping
  • Sandpaper of various grits from about 120G up to 600G or so
  • Drills (for tuner holes, position markers, side dots etc)
  • Side dot raw material, position marker raw materials (can buy pre-cut)
  • PVA glue, superglue, spray-on adhesive, some kind of finish (varnish etc)
  • A pack of pre-cut, pre-radiused fret wire of your choice
  • Heavy duty flush-cutting wire cutters for snipping fretwire and trimming fret ends
  • Soft faced hammer for hammering in frets (brass or nylon faces)
  • Some kind of method for cradling/clamping/holding/supporting the neck while you hammer the frets in
  • Fine cut flat file without handle for flush filing and bevelling the fret ends once installed
  • Permanent marker for marking the fret tops to highlight where your levelling needs to be performed
  • Some kind of flat sanding beam to level the fret tops once installed
  • Wet and dry paper from 400G up to about 2000G
  • Masking tape
  • Fret crowning file
  • Fret end dressing file (or something similar to get you the same effect)
  • Steel ruler (600mm for the long stuff, 150mm for the smaller stuff)
  • Pacer pencil or something similar that you can keep sharp and mark fine lines with
  • A clean, flat, stable work area.

I would consider this the absolute minimum for making a neck and does assume you're using a pre-slotted fret board. If you're also going to be starting a fretboard from scratch you'll also need to add:

  • Radius block to apply appropriate radius profile (and sandpaper of course)
  • Fret slotting hand saw with depth stop
  • Fret slotting mitre box and template
  • Double-sided sticky tape

This is very much a personal preference thing though. You may find that other people will recommend you a different list if asked the same question. If it were me I'd not bother with the neck contour template as you learn more about what feels right by manually shaping the neck contour by hand. 

Personally I have bought a lot of the above items and gradually over the years dropped using them in favour for other methods and tools as my technique evolved (since switching to the CNC I never use the fret slotting mitre box and templates, for example). It is an expensive hobby, and can easily lead to purchases that you thought would be perfect at the time that later on become redundant to you. I don't think it is practical to lay down a one-size-fits-all list that is completely infallible and suitable for everyone's needs and abilities.

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As @curtisa said

13 hours ago, curtisa said:

other people will recommend you a different list if asked the same question

Like for cutting fret slots: A template and a mitre box are nice, so is a CNC, or a laser cutter, or a circular saw with a jig. What's essential is a tool for cutting the slots (=a thin  hand saw) and a set of tools for measuring and marking, i.e. a pencil and a ruler and a protractor. And a chart telling the locations.

I've said it before and I repeat: Find a woodworking workshop with tools you can use for a nominal fee and a person to guide you, preferably someone who has built a guitar or three and knows the basics. Otherwise you'll end up having tools you don't know how to use or maintain and in the worst scenario you've lost some fingers, hearing and eyesight.

Adding to the list: @Melvyn Hiscock's book Make Your Own Electric Guitar

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2 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

and a set of tools for measuring and marking, i.e. a pencil and a ruler and a protractor. And a chart telling the locations.

At the age of 15 with limited workshop experience as the OP has mentioned previously, I never would have attempted to free hand fret slots using only a chart, markings I laid down myself and my eye. The level of precision and repeatability required would have been beyond my abilities at that time and would have been a disillusioning experience to put me off guitar building. I'm not sure I'd trust myself to execute it cleanly even now!

I was also thinking of what tools and equipment would be required to help guarantee the OPs success at his first scratch-built neck, hence the suggestion of the mitre box and slotting template, among other things. They were certainly things that helped me do my first neck.

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Tru dat as well.

My point was that spending thousands to tools with very little experience and knowledge might be a big waste of money.

Without knowing why getting all the tools and templates doesn't improve one's guitar building skills.

At one point the OP was asking if he should get a CNC. Having read @mistermikev's thread about learning to use one clearly shows that even if you have some background and basic knowledge getting the tool to do the right things is far from easy and straightforward. Same goes for jigs and templates and dedicated tools. They can make things easy if you have the basic idea of what you should achieve. Without that idea there's no telling of the result.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to put anyone down and the eagerness of the OP is admirable. I'm just trying to tell that getting the best home workshop with every tool imaginable doesn't improve his woodworking skills without studying and practicing. And in his numerous threads under various topics the only time we've discussed studying was about Roberto-Venn seeming to be too expensive.


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It's a bit like the conflicting arguments about first starting out playing guitar. Some people will recommend you start playing on a nylon-strung classical in order for you to develop strength in your fretting hand before migrating to steel-strung acoustic or electric. Others will insist you go straight to electric as they feel that starting out on a more difficult instrument is more likely to be disenchanting and lead to you bailing out early.

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My line of thought for comparison went along this line: I have had my driver's license for several decades and have some 1.5 million kilometres/1 million miles behind my back. Yet if they gave me a fireproof jump suit and a helmet and seated me into the best rally car I couldn't survive a single round on an empty track.

I have a young friend who had a dream of becoming a luthier, just like the OP. And just like him, he didn't have much woodworking experience either, not even at school. So he signed into a guitar building course and to make sure there would be enough participants he invited me to join as well. During the winter he managed to carve three LP style necks from scratch beyond repair. Then he moved to another town and tried to get into the Ikata Luthiery School and didn't pass. So the next winter he joined another similar course and managed to build a nice Tele. The teacher was so happy with my friend's passion that he allowed my him to use his workshop to finish the guitar. So on the second attempt he passed the examination. During the second year he managed to get an internship at a guitar factory and did so well that they offered him a fixed-term job there. It only took him four years from inexperienced teenager to a trained luthier with a job in a guitar factory.

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I suppose my list may look pretty big and intimidating, but a lot of it is probably obvious stuff (tape, glue, rulers, clamps etc). Even some of the 'boutique' items can be done cheaply - a fret end dressing file could be a square needle file with two cutting edges ground smooth, a leveling beam could be an aluminium spirit level. Even some things like the mitre box can be made by yourself, as @PRSpoggers has done elsewhere in another thread.

Whichever way you split it, making a neck from scratch is a pretty high bar to set yourself, even more so with limited workshop and/or hands-on experience. The tools help, but the experience matters just as much.

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Good points @curtisa. The tools lists can be long and getting each and every boutique item can cost a fortune. Not to mention that there's a dozen variations of each dedicated tools! Just think about fret crowning files: Google Image Search for "fret crowning file" revealed models I've never seen and the price range was from less than a tenner to almost $200! And having used even the cheapest ones I'm sure each of them would do the job but none of them is fool proof easy to use.

AFA self made boutique tools I guess a separate thread would be appropriate and helpful for low budget builders. Maybe after work...

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