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Neck

These are the steps I took towards building the neck. Like the body I will build a prototype before dealing with the real thing. It won't be in MDF this time. I happen to have an idealy sized piece of cherry lying around. Even though a similar piece of mahogany won't cost very much its not worth buying one for scraps while I already have this piece. I don't think I will put a fingerboard on the prototype but if I do it surely won't be rosewood or ebony!

The neck is my most feared portion of the construction and its why I didn't start with it. As it happens so far its true ;-)

Head template

The first thing is the fun part, designing the head. Its one of the best way to personnalize a guitar. I did two designs. This is the first design:

The size of the head was determined by taking the measurements of a Gibson head. The tuners where positioned by using the real tuners and see how the keys were accessed. Its a nice design but it looks a bit too much like a PRS head.

And this is the final design:

The second design is more reminescent of the typical Gibson head. For an SG guitar style its a bit less awkward than the above design. The personnality comes from the cat ears added at the top. I love felines and it had to show somewhere. You can also see the tools I used to draw the curves.

I transposed the design on a 1/4" piece of MDF using carbon paper. I used a ruler and did not copy anything by hand. For the curves I used the blue curve ruler. I then used a scroll saw to cut the head. I sanded the sides using a sanding drum on the drill press.

This is the finished head template. Its exactly like the design on paper. See how I tried to build the first head to know why I emphasize this ;-) <TODO - LINK>

Neck prototype

The next step was to build the actual neck prototype. I used a 3/4" thick cherry plank. I determined the approximate head size and from this point drew a line at 12 degrees on both sides of the plank. I clamped the planked on its size on the work bench with a protective plywood strip under it. I then used a gentlemen's saw to saw the piece.

I could have used a bandsaw for this. In fact I did it later after I noticed that I miscalculated the head size. You can actually guess its size on the picture and yes, its too small. But the picture still shows where the famous 12 degrees angle was cut.

The two pieces were put one on top of each other to form a wedge. The surfaces were not equal and so the top part was put a little bit further. I then planed the pieces with a block planer so as to make a seemingly unique flat surface.

This shows the two pieces on top of each other to form a 'wedge'. The surfaces were planed smooth with a block planer. The picture was modified to emphasize the two separate pieces. The piece at the bottom of the 'stack' was added with a small piece of wood near the work bench. This acts like a kind of spring that pushes the pieces together tight over all the length of the 'wedge'.

I then needed to thin the head piece. The neck is 3/4" thick but the head cannot be more then about 5/8" so as to make it possible to mount the tuners. Since a veneer will be added to camouflage the joint between the neck and head the piece will be planed to 1/2". I used a hand plane to reduce the piece to about 5/8" and proceeded to reduce it to 1/2" using a belt sander. Cherry is pretty hard, I hope mahogany will be easier :P

The pieces were now ready to be glued together. I used six clamps to keep the two pieces tight together. I tested the setup first and once every clamp was well placed I removed a few and added glue to the head. I used regular carpenter's glue. I then clamped the whole thing back and waited.

I clamped the whole thing on a Workmate since it provides a lot of space for clamping. As can be seen, the head is nearly as long as the neck itself. This is an error. I initially miscalculated the head size and ended up with a one too small. This one is too long. I didn't want to take chances and hmm anyway its not as bad :P

It was then time to route the truss rod channel. I found the truss rod at a local music store. The store also has a small repair shop which had a couple of mismanufactured necks from a well known guitar maker here in Quebec. Woohoo! Its expensive to make things come from the U.S so its good to know we have great makers around who dispose of some mismanufacted stuff. Of course I couldn't use the neck because it would have been illegal (copyright and owner rights stuff). But I bought it anyway, promised to destroy it (and did) and got the truss rod out. Its a standard U-shaped truss rod. I also salvaged the frets which I'll use for the prototype.

I improvised a router table using a very cheap piece of 3/8" MDF bought for 1$ as scrap wood. I removed the the router's base and plugged it on the table. Its a 1$ router table and it works great! Of course I had the other pieces of wood lying around.. might cost more out of new stuff.

Clamped on the table is the guide which is a straight piece of hard wood. The white plank is a featherboard. Its a plank with 'fingers' cut at the end that push the piece of wood being routed against the guide. The piece on top of the featherboard is the neck that is to be routed. Its dangerous stuff though! The cutting bit is sharp and VERY dangerous!!

The router did a great job and the trussrod was flush nearly all the way. But I levelled the places in the channel where the truss rod wasn't totally flush with the edge of the neck using a chisel.

I scrapped very gently with the chisel. I did not carve anything so it acted more like a tiny plane. There wasn't much to remove.
This is the finished result. I know the trussrod isn't protruding anywhere because I can smoothly pass a straight block of wood over the channel without it ever blocking.

I added two pieces of wood to the head to make it a bit wider. The neck wasn't wide enough to fit the design.

I found a 1/8" thick piece of mahogany plywood lying around which I used at the peg head veneer. The veneer hides the joint between the neck and the head and also raises the height of the head a bit.

I used a straight wood block over the veneer to allow it to glue evenly. I used regular PVA based yellow glue like for everything else.

I then cut the truss rod channel in the veneer using a gentleman's saw. If I had it then, I would have used a pull saw instead.

 

The next step is the fingerboard! Oh the damn thing I just can't get right.

I took this maple plank from a big 2 1/2" thick piece of raw maple we had.

The idea is to saw the fret slots at each fret interval. The different fret positions are taken from a table in the books I bought. This is a 24 3/4" scale length. I got a ruler that is precise to 1/64" but I use the other side which is 1/50" precise (1" in steps of 2/100"). Its easier to use with the scales since they are written in 1000ths inches (ex.: 1.023") (I round them to the nearest 100th).

 

Now this is the toughest part yet. I need to saw the fret slots very precisly and I don't have all the tools I would need. I got a Shark Saw for the job. Its an incredible saw: very very good. I built a small jig so as to keep the saw straight down and at 90 degrees to the side of the fingerboard. It works, unfortunatly it doesn't allow seeing the fret positions.

The two holes allows the box to the clamped to a work bench.

I built it this way because I wanted to be able to use a template to guide the fretboard at the different fret positions. Since I have both a prototype and a final fingerboard I want them both to be the same. If the prototype was correct I didn't want it to be a lucky shot. The template has holes at each fret position. A wooden pin glued in the miter box allows positioning the template correctly. I made the template using a lexan sheet. Why lexan? I just had some lying around. Plexiglass is just as good.

But this only offset the difficulty since now the precise work had to be done on the drill press, fortunatly only once. To aling the drill bit for each fret position I used a small jig.

The flashlight was there to provide extra light since the area wasn't lit enough under the nail. I used the hammer to adjust the template while it was clamped. Since the 2/100" markings on the ruler are quite small, I used a magnifying glass. The pointing nail is right under the small G clamp holding the straight edge.

Here is a drawing showing the different components of the jig:

The ruler is stuck on the lexan sheet with double sided tape. It moves along the straight edge that is clamped to the drill press table. A small finishing nail was sharpened and used as a pointer. I simply aligned the tip of the nail with each fret position on the ruler, clamped the lexan sheet and drilled.

And here is the template fitted in the jig:

You can see the template with its white protective plastic removed inserted on the pin of the specialized miter box.

Right now, I'm not sure that the hole are correct. Since the holes are round its impossible or very difficult to gage their preciseness. I think they are precise to 1/100" (more than enough) but I will know for sure only once I saw the fret slots and check them.