Ramping down

The guitar is in the finishing room! I attended to the final details, in preparation for finishing, after the binding was done. The most important of these was setting the neck angle. The neck is not completely parallel to the body sides, there is a 3° angle, or thereabouts, that allows the strings to angle up towards the bridge’s saddle, while staying close to the fingerboard. Cheaper guitars don’t adjust for this and end with horrendously high action (the height of the strings over the fingerboard), making them a nightmare to play. Unfortunately, since this is more common in the cheaper instruments that beginning players usually have, it turns off a lot of them to playing. If they were able to start on a better quality instrument that they didn’t have to fight with, it would make learning a more positive experience, and they would stick with it. Setting the angle involves a lot of test fittings, sanding a little, maybe paring some, putting the neck back on, taking it off, sanding some more, putting it back on, and on and on and on.

Once that is done, it’s time to add the ramps in the headstock to allow the strings smooth access to the closest tuners.


Then, everything, neck and body, gets a final sanding to 320 grit. After that, the neck gets attached once more so that the bridge position can be finalized. In order for the guitar to play in tune, the bridge has to be positioned to the exact scale length (21 1/4 in this case), while allowing for the expansion of the string when it is pressed down behind a fret. That position then is masked off, so that there will be a clean glue surface after finishing. (On classical guitars, the bridges is finished along with the guitar, but on steel strings, the bridge is unfinished, and attached after finishing.) I use some cardstock attached to green painter’s tape with double sided turner’s tape, a little undersized.  Also, the area where the fingerboard will be glued down needs masking.


(Note the replacement neck. I thought I’d simplify and go with an oak board. Just kidding. That’s so I have something to hold during finishing.)

The fingerboard also needs masking. Cocobolo, and the other oily exotics usually used for fingerboards, (ebony, rosewood, etc.) never have a finish, just some fingerboard oil. A maple fingerboard, on the other hand, usually does get a finish. Otherwise, it get very visibly grimy, very quickly.


I am using a wiping varnish for my finish. Since I don’t have spray equipment, I decided against lacquer. The other choice is a French polish, although that is more traditional for classical guitars. Varnish is also a traditional finish; nowadays, lacquer is the most common commercial finish. due to its quick drying time, the guitar “factories” can do it on a production line basis, rather than the more labor intensive, hand rubbed varnish.

The key to any guitar finish is not which finish is used, but how it’s applied, and, most importantly, how much is left. You want just enough finish to protect the instrument, but not so much that it loses its resonance. So, as many layers as are put on, a good part of that is sanded off.

With the guitar in the finish room, I did a quick one day project. Less than 24 hours form conception to completed assembly. (Finishing will, of course, take longer.) After replacing a DVD player, which had a different footprint, I couldn’t stack my components on top of each other; so I needed some type of shelf, or cabinet. I decided on an open type shelf unit, to allow for maximum air flow. Grabbed a board of sycamore, worked out some curves, made a form, cut some dadoes, cut and routed the legs, sanded glued, clamped and pegged. Voila!


Now I just have to decide on a finish. I think I will go with an early American maple dye and shellac and oil. Any other suggestions?


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