Gibson, watch out!

Before hitting the finishing room, I carefully taped off the fingerboard. It had already had a couple of coats of fingerboard oil rubbed in, so it was done. (Fender and Rickenbacker use a heavy coating on their fingerboards, Gibson and most others don’t. I prefer the faster “natural” feel.) I stopped the tape just shy of the transition from neck to fingerboard. I will smooth that out after the fact.

Since I don’t use any spray equipment, I can’t use the traditional modern lacquer finish. But, that’s okay. There’s nothing like a good oil/varnish to bring out the best in the wood, and I can get the feel equally silky. Plus, I like a more satin finish, instead of the ultra-glossy look of lacquer. So, I rubbed in 8 or 9 coats of oil/varnish (after that many, its easy to lose count), using 600 grit sandpaper and/or 0000 steel wool after each coat. The result, a durable, smooth, finish. After the last coat had cured for a couple of days, I broke out the micro-mesh finishing pads and “sanded” to 12,000 grit. (Really, by the time you get to 8,000, “grit” doesn’t even apply!) The final step in the finishing process, was to apply a coat of wax to the top. The back and sides don’t really need it, and the neck would be pointless, since it will get constant wear.

Then, it was time to start getting the hardware attached. I used a reamer to fit the tuners in their holes (the finish had closed them up, a bit, any way. The post bushings for the bridge and tailpiece get carefully hammered in. On the posts closest to the control cavity, I drilled holes to them and passed grounding wires through. While hammering in those posts, the ground wire gets captured by the tight fit.

Before finishing the hardware and wiring the guitar up, the frets need dressing. No matter how carefully you hammer ( or press) frets in, no matter how straight your neck is, there are bound to be slight height differences from fret to fret. And ANY difference will result in a fret buzz. (This is SOP for any builder, big or small.) Using a long, jointed, straightedge with 220 grit attached, the frets are brought down to a common level, following the radius of the fingerboard. Then, using a fine sharpening stone, the sanding marks are  smoothed. Finally, a special tool (called a fretfile, oddly enough!) is used to recrown the frets, always being careful not to take them down below the new, level, height. This tool also helps to round over the fret ends, so that they do not feel sharp while playing. The levelled, recrowned frets get sanded/polished to a nice smooth shine. I used the same micro-mesh sanding pads for this, but 0000 steel wool and polishing compound can do the same job.

The last job before wiring is to shape, fit and slot the nut. I used bone for this guitar. Other materials are plastic, synthetic bone or even corian. I shape the top of the nut blank to match the contour of the fingerboard radius, keeping it high enough so that that the strings, in their slots, will clear the frets without buzzing. After marking out the string positions on the nut according to an online nut slot calculator (the spacing is nut equidistant from slot to slot, but rather between the edge of the strings, so the gap changes according to the thickness of the string.) I used a fine detail saw to start the slots. Then, with the bridge and tailpiece installed on their posts, and the guitar strung up to pitch, I used files to seat the strings to the appropriate depth.

Even before wiring it up, the guitar had a nice clear, strong voice. My choice of butternut for the body and maple for the neck seemed to have resulted in a nicely resonant instrument. I had a friend help with the wiring (OK, do). It turned out to be more challenging than it might since I had opted to include an onboard tuner, which added an additional degree of difficulty. It didn’t help matters that my soldering pen was not cooperating fully (memo to self: GET A BETTER SOLDERING PEN!), but, after a while, it was wired.

Plugging it into an amp, turning it on, and…HEY, only one pickup is sounding! But, after checking the connections, playing with the knobs, it came to life. It must have been a stray bit of solder that worked itself loose; no problems since. A nice sound, although a little soft. But, after adjusting the pickup height, a nice full, rich sound. (I will be posting a video in the near future, so you can hear for yourselves.) All ready for its own page.

Now it just needs a name (I hear Les Paul is already taken.)


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