Gives you wings!

With the inlay work done, now is the time to shape the neck. Since it is a through neck design, I want to get the neck shaped as much as possible before I attach the rest of the body. Less bulky this way. I used a router with a roundover bit first to break the edges and hog away some of the material. Then a spokeshave roughed in the basic shape, then a rasp, then a file, finally some sandpaper. I was worried that the curly maple would make it harder to work on than the mahogany necks I made on the parlors, but it turned out to be not that bad. There are some standard shapes in the guitar world — v, u, oval, etc. — but one of the benefits of building a custom guitar is that you can shape to fit your hand, including some asymmetric shaping. After all, the human hand is not symmetrical, so why shouldn’t guitar necks accommodate that. (Although you wouldn’t want to go too crazy making it wildly asymmetric. That’s just asking for some twisting.) So I shaped and smoothed; tried the fit and feel; refined and smoothed; tried it again; slept on it (the feel, not the neck.  …  sickoes.); and did some more refinements the next day. After all, until the finish goes on, there’s no problem making further refinements.

So, after I had the neck to where I was satisfied, I got the body ‘wings’, which I had previously bandsawed and routed to a pattern, jointed and ready for glueing to the neck. I used butternut for the wings, again, for lightness and resonance. Even though it proved a little dodgy for the neck, it should be perfectly fine for the wings. I also routed a channel for the pickup wires in the side of the bottom wing. If you are making a through neck guitar, the number one tip is: MAKE SURE YOU SAVE YOUR CUTOFFS! Unless you are making a rectilinear guitar (the late Bo Diddley’s “cigar box” guitar comes to mind), there are no flat surfaces with which to clamp. Using the body cutoffs as cauls makes a world of difference.

After letting the glue cure overnight, I smoothed and surfaced the top and bottom and tackled the neck’s heel transition, which had to wait until after the wings were attached since they become part of the transition. Again, the goal is hand comfort and playability, so shape, try and finesse until it feels right. Even though my double cutaway design means I will have plenty of room on the top frets, you still need it to flow. So lots of rasping, filing and sanding.

Then comes the top. I am using a bookmatched spalted sycamore top, matching the headstock. Before glueing the two pieces of the top together, I used the table saw to cut the notch for the fingerboard projection. Then, while carefully aligning the notch, join the two halves of the top together. After the glue dries, the drum sander maker quick work of cleaning up any squeeze out and preparing the top to glue to the body. While fitting the top, making any last minute parings to the notch, I traced the body shape onto it and cut as close as I dared at the band saw. This will make routing it flush much easier. Lots of clamps, plenty of glue, 24 hours, a flush trim pattern router bit, a trip to the spindle sander for final smoothing, a roundover bit for the bottom, some hand refining near the neck and, voila!, it’s a guitar!

Well, nearly. After drilling the mounting holes for the bridge and tailpiece and routing out the pickup cavities, I can do some more contouring to the top. Then get the control cavity and output jack drilled and routed; finish, hardware, wire, setup… Not done, but I can see the finish line in the distance.

Glad I got my wings!

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