“The Grey”

I mentioned in a previous post that I ended up buying an old, beat up telecaster for £40, just for the neck. Here it is as I bought it:

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The neck is fine, it feels good actually. I initially had it on my homemade guitar (on my previous entries) as a replacement for the first neck I had on it which was warped. I ended up then replacing it on that guitar too (as mentioned in my previous post) and now I have it lying around my room spare, calling at me to use it for another project 😉 one day I will put it to good use!

For now, I’m going to add a brief couple entries about “The Grey”, my first telecaster. The first of many! I am now hooked on telecasters and I have this £40 beat up guitar to thank 😀 Unfortunately this project was not documented too well, so it is up to my writing to fill in the gaps of what happened.

The body needed a lot of work. It was in no where near as good a condition as the neck. But the fix was quite simple. This was early on in my guitar project days, I had finished the first look of my homemade guitar, so I new a thing or two about putting guitars together, but not about repairs. I worked with my godfather on this one and have learnt a lot which I’ve applied to other builds/projects.

Firstly, I needed to sand off the clear finish and get to the wood. Some serious scrubbing but I got there in the end.

The thin piece of wood between the neck pickup and the neck was loose. I initially thought it wasn’t important and felt like just scrapping it an leaving it without it. The pickguard would have hidden it anyway. We decided to keep it in though, as it is important that the neck wedges in the pocket tight, with good surface connection to the parameters of the pocket. So, we glued it in place. Pretty simple, and not much hassle either.

I didn’t want a natural finish, which is good because a lot of areas needed some filler to patch up the dents. I started with a grey primer, purely because that was the colour my Godfather had on him.

SAM_4704  SAM_4706

You can see my spooky reflection in the second picture there!

Anyway, the grey colour looked awesome. We decided just to keep it! It has a cool greyish-blueish colour, like a shark.

We just gave it a few coats. It really did not need too many as the baseline colour from the primer was awesome enough.

I’ll upload the assembly a little later, but I actually need to come back to this guitar and to some adjustments. I’ll explain more in my next post.

Step by Step Guitar Build 10 – Replacing the Neck and Humbucker

I’ve mentioned in my previous posts that the neck I used initially was warped when I bought it and therefore it just could not intonate. I ended buying a telecaster from a local guitar shop for £40 – the guitar was in terrible condition, here’s a picture of it:

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I initially used this neck for this current build and used the body for another project, so it was win-win buying this thing.

However, I didn’t like the feel of the neck. It wasn’t bad, and I still have it spare for something else. I therefore replaced the neck again, and went for a maple neck I from eBay that cost me roughly £20-30.

I also took the opportunity to use the router and make a pickup socket large enough for a full sized humbucker. The Hot Rails just didn’t fit in the sound of the neck pickup – it is obviously not a bad pickup, but in the context of this guitar I wasn’t satisfied.

Here’s what it looked like at this point:

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You can also see that I replaced the bridge. Initially I had a les-paul style bridge, but it was loose and therefore not useable as the bridge needed to sit tight.

This bridge fixed that problem nicely, as I simply had to drill screw-holes into the body and screw the bridge in. The problem is that you can see the previous bridge’s holes coming out the sides. As you can see here:

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You can also see from this picture, that I had to move the whammy bar back a little, as the new bridge did not fit in place with the whammy bar in it’s old position. You’ll notice I no longer have the strings going through the whammy bar. This is simply because I wanted a more robust and reliable tuning system. I can also re-string it with the whammy bar, the way I see it is I have a choice.

I installed an Irongear Hot Slag bridge pickup – It sounds great. Really cool pickup and inexpensive.

Thing is, I was having wiring problems. I’m still developing my wiring and sodlreing skills, but decided to make this guitar as simple as possible. I disconnected the middle pickup (which I never used anyway) but left it in to complete the look of the guitar (otherwise there would be another big hole in the guitar body!). Therefore, the guitar only has two working pickups, bridge and neck (and they sound great together). I replaced the 5-way switch with a 3-way, and disconnected one of the tone knobs. This guitar is basically a H-S pickup configuration, with one tone and one volume knob. Just like a telecaster, nice and simple. The benefit of this new bridge is that it is easy to earth the guitar with it, I just have a cable going from top of volume knob to underneath the bridge.

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There you have it, my homemade guitar.

I am undecided if I actually want to finish it off. I actually love that it is full of scratches, holes and disconnected electronics, and it sounds great as it is. Very easy to play, intonates well, has cool cleans and great tones with gain.

If I did want to finish it I would fill in the holes from the old bridge so that they are not visible. Maybe smoothen out the edges, though I actually like the rough-homemade look this has so I probably wouldn’t do that on this build.

I’ve learned so much from this build. It is a constant project as the better I get at putting guitars together, the more I go back to this one to update and upgrade it! I hope it never stops 🙂

There is a lot that I could have done differently, but this has been trial and error and sometimes learning the hard way is best!

Since this guitar (and also while it as going through its many upgrades) I have been working on others projects, and I have plans to make more guitars with the same body shape as this guitar to make a series of them. Watch this space.

Step by Step Guitar Build 9 – Assembly

After several coats of wood stain, and some light Satin Poly finish sprayed on, I was ready for the assembly.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos documenting the assembly and wiring process. You wouldn’t want to see what my wiring looked like anyway – it was my first time doing it and I couldn’t earth it properly. The earth cable from the bridge to the volume pot was just not connecting well.

This problem got fixed a few months after by wrapping it around one of the whammy bar/tailpiece screws. This worked much better.

Anyway, here is the guitar’s first look:

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Close up of the body:

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Very happy with how it turned out. The colour turned out nice and the grain comes through pretty well considering it was my first time doing this. The only problem was that the bridge pickup didn’t work, and that’s because some of the coils ripped. This was no big deal for me though (other than financial) because at that time I never really used the bridge pickup, I only used the neck pickup.

This guitar’s journey did not end here though.

I took this to an audition for a band which went really well. The tone was cool and I had fun playing it. But the intonation was off so I took it to the guitar store and they pointed out that the neck has warped beyond repair. The man that sold it to me said there was nothing wrong with it (I’ve mentioned this in a few posts now, I’m still bitter about it :p), but it was only £20 so I should have been more suspicious. I also had to think about that bridge pickup that didn’t work. Even though I preferred (And still do, really) the neck pickup, I still wanted a working bridge just for some diversity in the sound so I installed this:

A Seymour Duncan Hot Rails

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I actually was not satisfied with this pickup. It didn’t fit the neck well at all. It needed different amp settings to the neck to get the tone I wanted which is just not practical during a live show or even just jamming/rehearsing. It had to go. That is for another blog post though.

Step by Step Guitar Build 8 – staining

I’m not sure how many coats I put overall, I stopped documenting it unfortunately, possibly because this was the most frustrating part of the build. It’s so awesome to see the guitar come to life with colour, but the staining process (including sanding previous coat down) is really quick, and then you’ve got to wait. In my case it meant wait until the next evening after work. It was really testing my patience!

Here’s a gradient of the first few coats. It was my first attempt with it so it was quite blotchy.

1st and 2nd coats

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4th coat

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1st coat and 2nd coats (Still wet)

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Step by Step Guitar Build 7 – First Stain

So the body is pretty much done. All the holes drilled, routed and ready for staining!

I initially bought two different wood stain colours – red mahogany and a lighter, more yellowy one. I was planning on doing a sunburst, but decided against it and stuck with just the red Mahogany.

I didn’t apply any grain filler or anything onto the wood first, I just sanded it down. Standard procedure here: start with something like 240, then 320 grit. Don’t be in a hurry, take your time sanding out all the little scratches.

Another thing: always wear gloves! Try and avoid finger prints and oily stains where your fingers have touched the wood. They will show up later

Once you’re done sanding and happy with it, depending on the wood your are ready for stain. Some, more porous woods, require some grain filler first. I didn’t know what wood I was using, how porous it was, and even if I did I didn’t even know I would have had to use some filler. So I just went straight in with the stain.

First coat on the back and front:

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Apply the stain using a cloth and go along the grain.

The difference is colour is just because of the lighting. I did the back and sides first, then once that dried flipped it over and did the front. It is a bit blotchy and nowhere near the colour I wanted, but it is only coat 1…. still needs more sanding and staining and sanding and standing and so on.

Step by Step Guitar Build 6 – input socket and drilling tunnels for wires

I knew from the start that I didn’t want a pickguard on this guitar. This meant that I couldn’t just route out tunnels using the router on the surface of the guitar and the cover it with a pickguard, like some Teles, SGs and Strats do.

What I wanted was to have the wires pass through tunnels from between the pickup cavities and into the electronics pocket.

I picked up a great tip online to do this:

  • Using an electric/handheld drill, find a long drill piece, not too wide though, and drill from the neck pocket going the direction of the pickups. This should great a tunnel connected each of the pickup cavities for the wires to pass through, and the hole in the neck pocket will be covered by the neck.
  • Then drill a hole from the electrics cavity at the back going towards the bridge pickup. This requires a bit of skill to accurately get the angle you need to drill in. Just take your time with it until you are confident you have mapped out exactly where to drill.

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You can see how scruffy the electronics cavity is! One day I’ll come back to it to even it all out.

For the input/jack socket, I also used the drill. This time I used a different bit, one which is designed just drill a hole with a specific radius. It looks a bit like a long pole with a pointed spade at the top (worst description ever, I know).

Anyway, here’s the result:

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The four screw holes were simply marked with a pencil and then drilled. This was pretty easy. This also needs connected to the electrics socket, so from the electric socket find the right angle and drill a tunnel across.

Step by Step Guitar Build 5 – Attaching the Neck

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You can see just how impractical the neck joint was in the first picture. When I was first designing this, it completely slipped my mind that I wouldn’t be able to access the higher frets because of how bulky it was.

For this step I had to decide how far up the neck the outer walls of the neck socket would go. I ended up shortening it until only the 17th fret on the top and 19th fret on the lower bit so I can reach those high notes.

To do this, I first shortened the length of the whole pocket with a jigsaw.

I then got rid of the sides of the neck pocket and narrowed the base of the neck pocket in one go by using the jigsaw to cut in along the neck pocket (you can see that the base of the neck pocket is only as wide as the neck is. I had marked how far up I wanted the sides to go, and then used the jigsaw to shape the ends. You can see that the sides of the neck pocket curve in and are rounded off.

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I was then ready to bolt on the neck. Now, the neck I bought from the guitar luthier in Denmark Street (who sold me a faulty neck and lied to me, saying there was nothing wrong with it) had the holes pre-drilled into the neck for where the screw go, but they weren’t lined up. I now know that this can easily be fixed – just fill the holes with toothpicks covered in wood glue, let it dry, then sand off to flatten the surface. This way the holes get filled and you can drill in new ones.

I didn’t know that at the time, so I just left it and this was the result:

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I was happy with it though. It did the job and I like the look of the individual screws rather than having a neck-plate. The neck lined up perfectly too, as you can see in the photo below.

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Step by Step Guitar Build 4 – Tailpiece / whammy bar and electronics socket

So, after the failure of the Les Paul style bridge piece I decided to improvise and found a cheap whammy bar that just screws into the body to use as a tailpiece. Much easier option and looks pretty badass too.

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And there you have it. Really taking shape at this point! Not much to say about the process really. Just make sure it lines up. Use a piece of thread to guide through the holes, over the bridge and lined up with the neck.

So, next I tackled the electronics pocket.

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You can see that I carved out an electronics pocket similar to that of a Les Paul with a strat-esque wiring system. I simply used a router for this, and for the outer bit, where the cover slots into, just adjust the depth of the router and go over it. I did it in reverse. It is probably a better idea to route the whole area just the depth of the pickup cover, and then go deeper for the actual cavity.

This was quite a hard step. Not the routing ,that wasn’t too bad though my job is really scruffy. The capacitors for the volume and tone controls were to go through the guitar, and the switch as well. The potentiometers was a simple job, just using an electric drill. The switch required some craftsmanship which I confess was above my abilities at the time. So I got some help from my brother-in-law who knew a thing or two about DIY projects. In the photo above you can see the straight hole for the switch to go through. My bro-in-law had a great idea how to get this done:

  1. drill two small holes (the width you want the selector-switch-hole to be) to mark the start and finish of the hole, and then another in the middle.
  2. Using a wood chisel, gently carve out the space between the small drill-holes made.

I owe that step to him!

I’d love to hear if anyone has any other suggestions for this job.

Step by Step Guitar Build 3 – routing and pickup selection

This entry is where I ran into my first problem with the guitar. So I hope this is helpful to show people what to avoid doing.

I was going to go for a les paul style bridge and tailpiece. For those that don’t know, both of these bits of hardware need to have a piece hammered into a hole in the guitar (once the hole for it has been drilled out) for the bridge/tailpiece to then mount on. The piece was roughly 1cm wide, same as my router, so that’s what was used.

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The problem was that these were now too wide for the bridge mounting pieces to sit into. Therefore the bridge would be loose. Now, the pressure of the strings does hold it down, but it means inaccurate intonation and therefore not playable guitar.

Solutions:

  1. First, with the suggestion from my Godfather, the mounting pieces were wrapped in masking tape to widen them, and covered in some glue, then placed in. That solved the looseness problem, but they were then practically cemented slightly out of place which added another problem for intonation.
  2. Second solution….find another bridge. That’s what I went for in the end and this is what I advise anyone else to do if this is their first build. Find a bridge that is just screwed into the guitar. This way, you only need to drill in a few screw-holes which is much easier a task.

Pickup selection:

I went with a Strat style pickup configuration. This was because all my other working guitars at the time were humbuckers, and I was (and still am) a huge fan of Robin Trower who is famously loyal to Strats.

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In this photo you can see how much planning I did for lining up the pickups. Use a ruler, draw out lines to guide the placement of the pickups as above. This massively helped the routing as well.

You can also see that the surface of the guitar gets really scratched in the process. Don’t worry, the sanding will come later!

Step by Step Guitar Building 2 – routing out the neck pocket

This step tested my routing skills. Having never routed anything before, this had to be done accurately so the neck slots in snug so I took my sweet time with it.

I placed the neck on my guitar body, lined it up where I wanted it and drew the outline as a guide for my routing.

Unfortunately there aren’t any photos of the actual process but just remember to take your time so you don’t rush around the parameter of the neck socket. Remember, it has to be a snug fit and the neck should be touching the body on all sides of the neck pocket.

Consider how deep you want the neck pocket to be i.e. how high the strings are going to be above the body and adjust the router accordingly so it doesn’t go any deeper.

Here’s the end result:

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I was pretty chuffed at this stage. First time routing and got it looking ok. You can actually see in the bottom left photo that the neck isn’t lined up perfectly. It is at a very slight angle, but this does not affect it all, it is just aesthetic and I think I got away with it this time as it is pretty close!

You can see that the neck pocket goes up quite long and goes high up the neck. I later corrected this and you’ll see an update on that in a later blog entry.