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The Zenith - A semi hollow electric based on my mandola design


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After finally finishing my mandola build I decided I needed to build something simple, as a means of stress release, to take my mind of of some big projects I'm working on. Compared to a carved acoustic instrument most things are simple, really...

I decided since I liked the design of the mandola and I hadn't actually built a full sized electric guitar in a long time, this would be the direction I would head. Other parameters were to use as much wood and as many components as I already had on hand. I had a couple of pretty excellent flamed maple tops that had been sitting in my shop for a decade, as well as a bunch of walnut I'd gotten from a family member and some maple I'd been given by a cabinet maker friend. The tuners are also a nice set of Planet Waves auto trim locking tuners that I'd gotten a good deal on years ago, and the baby grand bridge is a splurge, as I'd been wanting to build with one ever since I first saw it years ago.

The body shape is almost exactly a scaled up version of the mandola, with modifications made to the size of the horn and the way it intersected the body to accommodate the fact that it's now part of the cutaway and not a mandolin scroll. The headstock is highly inspired by the mandola as well:

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The top, which is a pretty great looking piece of maple:

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The neck blank, which is a 5 piece laminate of walnut and maple (and which is sitting on the maple body core in this pic):

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Here's the body core all cut out. A walnut/maple/walnut laminate, which will have the previously pictured maple top, as well as a matching maple back, once it's all said and done. I fudged the inside cutouts a bit, as their accuracy isn't super important. The scroll/cutaway area needs a little attention too, and it will get it once the top and back are on:

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The top is now glued on as well, but I haven't had a chance to trim it down flush with the body. That and then cutting the F holes will be my tasks for this weekend. Once that's done it will be time for some neck fun!

The plan for the finish is to sand this sucker to a super high grit, hit it with some medium walnut danish oil to pop the grain, and do a couple of coats of Tried & True oil to get a nice smooth, warm, 'in the wood' finish. Here's a preview of the coloration. The piece of the top has been sanded to 800 grit, the body off cut hasn't been sanded at all, it's as it came straight off the bandsaw:

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This should be a fun, and simple, little project!

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2 hours ago, mattharris75 said:

the fact that it's now part of the cutaway and not a mandolin scroll.

I had to get my head around that concept, as it kept pushing towards "Matt is making a left handed guitar".

Man, you always have the tastiest timbers and wood combinations. This will be a pleasure to watch.

Take your time.:killinme

SR

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4 minutes ago, ScottR said:

I had to get my head around that concept, as it kept pushing towards "Matt is making a left handed guitar".

Man, you always have the tastiest timbers and wood combinations. This will be a pleasure to watch.

Take your time.:killinme

SR

Scott, believe it or not I started planing/thicknessing/gluing all the wood for this last Wednesday, so this is only a week of work! :)

I am bound to be sidetracked at some point with other projects I've got going on, but at least this one is relatively straightforward! There won't be lots of pondering and research involved, mostly just hacking on wood! So maybe this one will finish up slightly quicker than my usual multi-year timeline!

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7 minutes ago, mattharris75 said:

Scott, believe it or not I started planing/thicknessing/gluing all the wood for this last Wednesday, so this is only a week of work! :)

I am bound to be sidetracked at some point with other projects I've got going on, but at least this one is relatively straightforward! There won't be lots of pondering and research involved, mostly just hacking on wood! So maybe this one will finish up slightly quicker than my usual multi-year timeline!

Actually I was impressed the amount of work you've done so far. I was expecting to just see the plan and the tasty timbers.

I enjoy poking you now and then for your extended timelines, but you've never really been a slow builder. You have a highly developed ability to prioritize  what is important and set the side projects aside to fully concentrate on those said important items in life. Is your oldest a teenager yet? (Stuff like that).

I have a hard time completely letting go of a project when something more important gets in the way....er.... needs my full attention.

I am looking forward to watching this come to life. That body looks like an ice cream sandwich!

SR

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Thanks Muzz! 

Scott, I'm not sure it's really a highly developed ability, I just always viewed it as, 'Well, that's life'. Sometimes the priorities are optional, and sometimes you just do them because that's your responsibility.  And my oldest is 11, and the tallest kid in her class (wish I'd had that problem growing up), and already having early TAS (teen angst syndrome)... She's too much like me.

Anyway, more progress. The top is trimmed about 95% to the sides, I'll wait to complete that until the back is on and I can smooth and 'massage' it all together. The holes for the pots and switch are drilled, and the F holes are roughed out. I also spent a little time cleaning up the cutaway area. It's not quite there yet, but it's a lot closer. Everything will change a lot once it's all carved anyway.

 

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Thanks Andy!

Today's progress. I cut and glued the scarf joint and glued the headstock wings. I'll clean up the surface tomorrow and will then be waiting on parts. I want to get the truss rod and jack in hand before I start cutting for those. Got shipments coming from StewMac and LMI this week. 

I hadn't mentioned (as I wasn't 100% sure until yesterday) that I'll be going with wenge for the fingerboard and headplate/backstrap. I think it will play well with the walnut and maple.

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Also, after seeing the headstock printed out I think I'm going to make a few tweaks to it...

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On 3/28/2021 at 1:22 AM, mattharris75 said:

Got shipments coming from StewMac and LMI this week.

I'll bet the StewMac orders shows up first. Say what you want about them, they get stuff out fast!

SR

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Yep! The StewMac order got here yesterday, and I don't think the LMI has even shipped yet! Unfortunately now I'm waiting on Amazon, as the version of the Hot Rod truss rod that I got uses a different sized router bit than the old ones... Got to get that channel cut before I can crank out the rest of this neck!

I was able to go ahead and fit the jack into the side and test fit the controls so I could finalize the shape and position of the control cavity cutout, so that was good. Also, seeing the zebra pickups next to the finish color, I'm pretty excited about how that's going to look.

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So the fretboard and headplate/backstrap still haven't shipped from LMI, which is putting a damper on working on the neck.

I got the truss rod installed, flattened the back of the headstock, and started to very roughly work on the thickness of the neck. But without the fretboard and whatnot in hand, I'm not going any further. The paper headstock cutout in the picture is something like the 6th or 7th iteration. It probably doesn't look any different without any context, but it has been repeatedly tweaked! And maybe, possibly, hopefully that's the final shape...

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Since I got the jack installed (which required cutting out an area and creating a flat spot in the inner cavity for the nut to have a place to tighten down on) I was ready to go ahead and attach the back. It's not completely flush with the sides yet, but it's close. I've got a lot of massaging and carving to do on the body anyway, but other things need to happen before it's time for that. The back is nice match, and just about as gorgeous as the front!

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I started working on the templates for the control cavity access tonight. This weekend I'll get those routed and probably do a little more sanding on the body.  Then I'll be at a stand still until I get my LMI order...

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Comfort food makes you feel good with the cost of extra calories.

Comfort builds like this make me feel good without having to worry about healthy nourishment.

Me likey!

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Thanks guys!

More sanding... I think the 'ice cream sandwich', as Scott called it, is looking pretty good. 

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And the control cavity access has been cut. It's about as small as I could practically make it and still have reasonable access to solder in there.

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The cavity cover will be wenge to match the fretboard and headstock overlay/backstrap. That is if LMI ever ships my stuff...

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My LMI order will finally be here tomorrow, and I'll be working on the neck for the next little while. In the meantime I cleaned up the general profile around the scroll/cutaway and have been thinking about how I want that to look.

I glued up an offcut and did a quick carving test. My thought was to kind of do a gentle carve on most of the top, stopping at the walnut, using it as almost a faux binding. But at the scroll/cutaway area, to be more aggressive. To basically carve the whole thing down to a point as I work my way around the scroll. How's that going to look with the 'ice cream sandwich'? I don't know.  Might give me sort of a 'Carl Thomson' vibe... Thoughts?

PXL_20210407_034104394.thumb.jpg.e9f8610121f5ceb8a279735cc5b7b695.jpg

 

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12 hours ago, mattharris75 said:

I glued up an offcut and did a quick carving test. My thought was to kind of do a gentle carve on most of the top, stopping at the walnut, using it as almost a faux binding. But at the scroll/cutaway area, to be more aggressive. To basically carve the whole thing down to a point as I work my way around the scroll. How's that going to look with the 'ice cream sandwich'? I don't know.  Might give me sort of a 'Carl Thomson' vibe... Thoughts?

I think that will look great, especially if you do the same thing to the back of the scroll.

SR

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Charlie, you're right. This calls for a better mock up...

So I glued up and rough carved it out tonight.

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For the most part I like it. It needs a little more massaging, but conceptually I think it works. The bottom side is uncarved in the mockup, so the whole thing would feel a little more rounded and organic when it's all said and done.

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2 hours ago, mattharris75 said:

more rounded and organic when it's all said and done

Makes me think of a knitting hook with all that smoothness! Not a bad thing, on the contrary. The main thing with that is how it blends in with the rest of the top.

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The fretboard and other wenge pieces finally showed up today. 

Got the neck thicknessed with the safe-t-planer. Used it to get the back of the headstock close as well, then the belt sander and a little work with the card scraper to get everything flat. Just about ready to get the headplate and backstrap glued on. 

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Here's the fretboard and headplate. Really happy with the look of the fretboard. Very wide stripes, really cool. Wish the headplate matched it better. The grain on it is much tighter, which is fine, it's going to look different since it will have finish on it anyway...

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I'm going to try to get quite a bit of work done on the neck this weekend!

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I disagree Scott, but thanks. :) I guess the pictures look better than real life!

Friday night and Saturday progress...

The wenge plates came in at 3.4 mm, and there's no way I was going to be able to bend wenge at that thickness, so I took them down to 1.7 mm. I used a bending iron to bend the volute area and then got it glued up. I used one of my sanding drums from my oscillating spindle sander as a clamping caul, which worked quite well.

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I then did all the time consuming measuring to get the headplate square and went ahead and cut out the truss rod access, which isn't visible here because I'd already replaced the cutout of the headstock, as it had gotten a little garfed up in the gluing process.

A couple of notes. You can see that I glue my templates on top of tape, as that makes them a lot easier to remove, and I don't have to pull out the mineral spirits to get the Super 77  gunk out of the wood grain.  I cut out around the template after gluing it down, just because I'm going to be sanding up to the template.  You can also see that I use bamboo skewers, normally used for cooking, as my alignment pins. I like the size of them and how easy they are to sand flush when you're done with them. 

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And then the easy part, cutting out the headstock. Also you can see in the previous picture that I went ahead and cut out the circular area in the top of the headstock first.

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It's just rough cut right now, but all the glue joints are good. Tomorrow I'll get it to more or less final shape using the spindle sander and then cut the tuner holes. If I have enough time I'll get to the next steps of getting the neck taper done and gluing on the fretboard....

 

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3 hours ago, mattharris75 said:

I used one of my sanding drums from my oscillating spindle sander as a clamping caul, which worked quite well.

That's the kind of creativity I like! Do with what you have instead of spending time and money for a tool you only need once. 👍

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