Building an electric guitar definitely requires pre-planning. The first decision is what style of guitar to build. The two main types of design derive from the two big builders: Gibson and Fender. With a few exceptions, most other designs are variations of these two companies’ offerings. The biggest difference is the type of bridge used; Fender favors a lower design, whether tremolo or hardtail, while Gibson typically uses tune-o-matic type bridges. What this means for the builder is how to handle the neck. The lower the bridge, the less (or even no) neck angle is required for the strings to be at the proper distance from the neck and hardware. Tune-o-matic style bridges, being taller, require some degree of neck angle, at least 2°, more typically 3° (+). So, it is vital that you choose your design and gather all of the pickups and hardware before even beginning to touch the wood.

I will be building a Gibson derived guitar using a through-neck design. This means that the wood used for the neck will continue down to become part of the body. This allows me to build in more access to the higher strings with deep double cutaways without compromising the strength of the neck join (since there won’t be any!). It does make it a little more challenging to build, since the required neck angle has to be there from the beginning, rather than fine tuned when attaching the neck to the body.

After hearing the resonance of Butternut, and feeling how light it is, I had decided to use it for the neck and body, reinforcing the neck with strips of maple for added strength. However, when I went to rip the butternut for the neck glueup, it warped terribly, indicating a lot of inner tension in the wood. Not what you look for in a guitar neck, where the goal is to end up with a stable and, above all, straight, finished product. So, I decided to use the curly maple for the neck, alternating with thin mahogany  strips to get the required width.

After this first neck glueup, I did a careful layout, using the exact dimensions of the bridge in hand, to figure out the exact angle for the neck (and double checking everything. There is NO second chance, here!) An angle cutting jig at the table saw, with a little hand tool cleanup produced the basic neck roughout. My angle turned out to be 2.5°.

Next, a scarf joint creates the angled headstock (another key difference between Gibson and Fender designs). This is the same technique used for the parlor guitars, except the headstock is thinner, since it solid rather than slotted. Again, one of the best benefits of the scarf joint, aside from conserving wood, is that you have long grain the length of the headstock, rather than shorter angled end grain if you had cut the angle from bigger stock.

In order to reinforce it and allow a thin, comfortable, neck, truss rods are required to counteract the force of the strings. A channel is routed into the neck. Since the truss rod I had purchased (again, get the parts BEFOREHAND) is 3/16″ wide, I used a 1/8″ spiral bit and an edge guide on the laminate trimmer, routing form both edges of the neck. This has the added benefit of guaranteeing that the channel is perfectly centered. After the basic channel is routed to the proper depth (don’t go too deep. or you will break through when you start to shape the neck contours), some hand work is needed to provide room for the adjustment nut , leaving just enough room for the nut, but not taking away too much wood to weaken the neck joint.

The final part of the initial neck work is to add wings to the headstock to widen the headstock to desired size. This, along with the headstock top veneers which will be added later, has the added benefit of reinforcing the scarf joint. Guitar building, acoustic or electric, is all about removing wood, then reinforcing the resultant weaknesses.

Well, that’s enough shooting angles for today.


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