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Guitar build – What color to choose???

Posted by is9582 on March 30, 2013 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , ,

Well, I’ve done most of the sanding for the Les Paul build which I’ve been building. I’m having the hardest time deciding what color scheme I’d like to have for the foreseeable future. I’ve always been fond of the old ’59 Gibson Les Paul guitars (who isn’t, right?) and some of those guitars have transitioned from a vibrant sunburst to a much more muted version. Some have even lost the majority of the cherry red coloration that originally adorned the outside edge of the guitar. Now those are almost a pure amber/honey color that has a great deal of appeal.

Yesterday I was trolling through some of the Los Angeles guitar seller’s websites, and saw some guitars that were much more bold, but still allowed the nice figuration of the top to show through. One specific maker was Tom Anderson, and one of his Bulldog guitars is listed on Mesa Boogie’s L.A. store’s website. What a great looking guitar.

Ok, since I’m having some trouble deciding on the color for my build, I was hoping I might get some input from those reading my article(s). Here are four photos, showing the body of my guitar as it sits presently, as well as a maple board with a couple of sections finished differently. The photos were taken on my iPhone, so please bear with me, but the most critical thing, on which I’d ask you to focus, is imagining the colors presented on my guitar. (Please notice the bright green arrows, as they will identify which of the colors is associated with the selection, in each photo.) Following the four photos, I’ve also included a picture showing a section of a guitar top, that is amber/honey in color.

Without further adiu:

Here is the 1st.
The 2nd
The 3rd.
And the 4th. You probably can’t see much difference, but this last has two  colors.
The arrow is actually pointing at the portion I would like you to consider. The other side
of the lower color block is a bit lighter, although the photo quality doesn’t show this well.

Below is picture that represents the earlier mentioned amber/honey coloration, which is very much like those old guitars where the cherry portion has faded:

Example of amber/honey coloration, and you can call it the 5th and last.
So now you have five colors from which to choose. Just let me know which you think is best, Ok?
I know I’ve been dragging my feet on the finishing, but I have one last thing I need to do, relating to the electronics. You very well may be able to guess what is missing, but I’m not going to talk about that right now, since I’m actually planning to handle it differently than any other guitar I’ve ever seen or played. I’m hoping I can find the components I need, to complete the guitar in the manner I’ve envisioned. Stay tuned and I’ll share this with you in an upcoming article. 
Thanks again for reading my blog and I look forward to your suggestion.

Bench with no tail vise? An alternate solution!

Posted by is9582 on March 19, 2013 with No Comments
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I know there are many in the woodworking arena that have a well-stocked workbench, with good size, heft, and clamps could restrain the most demanding work. Then there are the rest of us. 😉

Somewhat to my defense, I did update my workbench’s top from the old multi-layer plywood version to a Beech top that is approximately 3″ (ok, it’s still multi-layered, as it is two pre-made slabs glued together.), but it is still woefully small (24″ x 48″) and theres still no tail vise. I started out planing all face work up against a stop, which I think really can help the end-user hone some of the necessary planing skills and provides feedback you’d not receive if the wood was restrained, but there were certainly times I’d wish for a tail vise.

A number of years ago, I bought a couple of different devices that looked like they might cover some of the end vise duties. It was a product that Festool made primarily to help secure a workpiece to their Multi Functional Table (MFT); their clamping elements.

Clamp loose on bench top. Original 3/4″ hole in middle of picture (you can
see the upper section has been enlarged), and the 20mm hole below and to 
the right of the 3/4″ hole, to fit the Festool’s attachment shaft.

These clamps have a cam-action lever and a padded face, which really applies a good deal of force, while retaining a low profile. It’s pretty amazing just how well these things work. Just slap them into the proper sized hole on your benchtop, and you’re ready to get after it. Ok, I do need to add a couple of details to the last statement. The “proper” hole size to mount the clamps, is 20mm.

Comparison of the different holes.

I so wish they’d made them fit into the somewhat standard size of 3/4″, but you can readily obtain a 20mm bit at most of the national woodworking stores. The clamps come with a set of attachment screws (somewhat similar to a ball about 2″ across, with a screw sticking out of one side), that are geared for the specific thickness of their MFT, and screw into the bottom side of the clamp shaft. If your bench is thicker than the MFT, you CAN look for a longer screw to take its place. Since the clamps fit so snugly into the 20mm hole, I personally haven’t found the need to fabricate a replacement hold-down system. I’ve used these clamps while rough working 10/4 stock, and they never even flinched.

A piece of 8/4 pecan held extremely stable with the Festool clamp.

I know some of you likely already have a row of 3/4″ dog holes on your bench top, and are probably thinking it’d be crazy to drill another set of holes. There is a possible alternative to this situation. Since the shaft of the clamps is fairly short, it doesn’t need to have the 20mm hole all the way through the top. You could try centering the bit over the existing hole, and drill down just beyond the necessary depth, leaving the remaining 3/4″ diameter hole as is, so a hold fast or similar items might still function. Ultimately, getting dual functionality from a single line of holes. Obviously, if you were starting with a fresh top, you’d drill the shallow 20mm holes first, and then finish up with the 3/4″ bit, as it’s difficult at best to center another drill bit, especially when the holes are of somewhat similar size.

Another option is to use a router to modify existing 3/4″ holes. This will likely require some test holes to find the perfect size. In the picture of holes (above), I decided to try swapping the bearing on my flush trim bit, to a smaller size, ultimately allowing a known amount of wood to be removed. I made some measurements, and based off of my calculations, it seemed as if it would be close to perfect. Well, it didn’t quite end up like that! It turned out the bearing was smaller than was needed, but there was still something else that caused the hole to be much too large, which I’ll talk about in a moment. If the bearing you install is too small, wrap the outer surface with enough tape to bring it up to the required size. Since the bearing doesn’t spin with the bit, its not critical as to the direction you apply the tape. There is an aspect of this router process that may seem somewhat odd. Since you are changing the bearing to one that is smaller than the bit, it is best to lower the bit to full depth of cut, and completely remove the materia, instead of trying to take multiple sections by plunging. The problem is that the smaller bearing will allow the bit to cut relative to any surface it’s against, which by accident, may be a previously cut area. If this occurs, you’ll have no control of the final dimension. It certainly requires a different way of thinking, compared to when the bearing and bit area are the same size, as they are in flush cut bits.

I hope to upgrade to a full-sized bench (or at least replace the top) before too long, and to include a true end vise solution, but at least this Festool clamp allows me to better secure wood as long as it is shorter than about 44″ in length.

Let me know if you have any questions of comments. Thanks again for reading my blog posts.

Lee Laird

Guitar Build – How critical is the nut?

Posted by is9582 on March 8, 2013 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , ,

Now that my Les Paul (LP) build is mostly finished, I’ve been playing it more and more. Most of the time I have it plugged into my Fractal Audio AxeFX-II, and I lean towards a thick/smooth distortion, not unlike what I get out of my Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+. While this type of sound never fails to sooth my soul, it can also provide a sonic barrier of sorts. What I’m talking about is the lessened ability to pick up on the smallest nuances, which can be .

The first thing I’ll usually do, when I’m preparing to play my guitar, is to plug into my Strobe tuner (a highly accurate tuner). With all of the vibrato and bends I use when playing, it’s not unusual for the guitar to be slightly out of tune from the last session. The AxeFX-II has a built-in tuner of it’s own, which is both decent and extremely handy, since you just need to push a button to activate the tuner. During my longer playing sessions, I’ll usually notice a hint of warble, letting me know at least one string has shifted its tuning a bit. At that point, I’ll just engage the internal tuner, which gets me dang close to perfectly tuned.

With my LP, I’d tune it up, and very quickly notice the tuning seemed “off”, especially when playing through a fairly clean setting on the AxeFX-II. When I’d re-visit the tuner, it’d show the strings were still in tune. So what the heck was going on? I started noticing the tuning issue was primarily when I’d play chords with open strings (for non-guitarists, those are strings that have nothing touching them from the nut all the way up to the bridge) involved. So, I was laying in bed a couple of nights ago, thinking about this tuning issue, and had one of those “AHA” moments! The next morning I got up and plugged my LP into the strobe tuner, since it’s accuracy allows for comparisons that would likely evade other types of tuners. So, what was I looking for? When in bed, I’d thought that the nut might be the issue, either being slightly out of position or there might be a small hump in the slots, moving the point of contact back from the intended leading edge of the nut.

With the strobe, it was simple to verify my theory. I played an open string, while not touching the fretboard, and tuned it up so the string was perfectly in tune. Next I fretted the string (pushed on the string, but just hard enough to get clear tone, as more pressure can cause the pitch to go sharp) at the first fret, and checked to see if the tuner showed I had moved up a perfect half-step (showing the same relative tuning for that note). As I’d expected, each note I played up the neck, was sharp, relative to the pitch of the open string. Ok, ok, I know an F (first fret on the E string) is sharp, relative to the open E, but when I’m talking about these notes being sharp, it’s relative to the pitch each position SHOULD have. So each fretted note up the fretboard is just slightly sharp, relative to their intended pure pitch. Since the nut is somewhat like a fret, as in it contacts the string at a certain point, and the length of string between it and the bridge determines the pitch, its placement is just as important as the frets. Since I saw the same scenario on each string, I knew the nut was the problem. Interestingly enough, while I was focusing on the nut/string interaction, I thought I’d also check to make sure the face of the nut (towards the bridge) was perpendicular to the plane of the fingerboard (e.g. not tilted towards or away from the bridge). I used the blade of my square, placing the end of the blade flat onto the fingerboard, with one of the corners up against the fingerboard/nut junction. (see photo below)

The green arrow is pointing towards the small gap
between the square’s blade and the top of the nut.

As expected, the nut was slightly leaning away from the square’s blade, which placed the string contact point back from its intended position. This would increase the string’s length, when the open string was played, causing it to be slightly flat relative to the intended pitch.

The first thing I needed to do, for this fix, was to remove the nut from the guitar’s neck. Depending on how much and what type of glue was used, this could be easy or very difficult. I hadn’t anticipated needing to remove the nut, when building the guitar, so I’d gone a bit overboard with the amount of glue I used. I started the removal process by scoring around the edges of the nut, with a sharp small utility knife. This will help limit any of the surrounding wood (or finish, if you’ve already lacquered your guitar) from damage, when coaxing the nut free. It was time to apply some force to the nut, to break the glue bonds. I grabbed my heaviest Japanese hammer. You might be wondering why I wouldn’t use a small, lightweight hammer, so I wouldn’t accidentally damage anything. Actually, using the heavy hammer helped me do just that. Since it has so much mass, it required very small taps, to impart it’s will. I lightly tapped the nut from each side, as well as from the front and back. After a few taps on each side, I increased the tapping force very slightly. In about as much time as it took me to write the last couple of lines, the nut made a sound that might freak out the first timer. Something like a “SNAP” (yeah, I quickly checked it out to make sure I hadn’t broken something). The nut was free! (see photo below) Whew (visualize me wiping my brow).

The green arrow points towards the black nut, that is
now loose in the slot. Japanese hammer in lower left.

The nut slot and the bottom of the nut, both needed some attention, as the leftover glue covered each. I found my small chisel from Czeck Edge Hand Tool was just ticket for cleaning up the slot. It has a dovetailed cross-section and this allowed me to get into the tight spaces much easier than a standard shaped chisel. As luck would have it, it was also very close to the exact width of the slot. (see photo below)

Small Czech Tools chisel shown removing shaving of glue.

After cleaning up the slot and the bottom of the nut, I wanted to test the current status, before making modifications. I put the nut back into the slot and while holding the nut, again tested with the square’s blade. Nothing had changed. So I needed to adjust the bottom of the nut, so it would bring the leading edge forward enough to be square with the fingerboard. Initially, I thought about setting up one of my hand planes for an extremely fine shaving, so I could gradually adjust the angle on the bottom of the nut. I ultimately decided against this option, and placed some 220 grit sandpaper onto a flat granite plate. While holding the nut flat on the sandpaper, I applied a little extra pressure to the side under nut’s leading edge, and took some careful back-and-forth strokes. I wanted to make sure the only changes I made to the nut, was to adjust the angle of the base. If I was careless, I could end up with some curvature on the bottom, or a more pronounced angle on one side than the other. After the first set of strokes, I took it to the guitar and tested it again. I noticed the angle, relative to the fingerboard, hadn’t changed! I could also tell the now-angled base of the nut was only touching on the side away from the fingerboard. The space between the headstock maple cap, and the fretboard, was so tight, there was no way the nut could sit on the new angle. I grabbed my best paring chisel, and turning the chisel onto it’s side, pared off a very small section of the maple cap (the cap is seen in the photo above, just below the edge of the chisel). I tested the nut again, and it’s base made full contact, but was still shy of perpendicular. After a second pass at the sandpaper, and another paring session on the maple cap, it was looking pretty good. For some reason, the leading edge of the nut had some extra material at about the mid-way up it’s height, and that little bulge would very slightly hold the leading edge back from the fingerboard. I revisited the sandpaper for the last time, and removed the unwanted excess from the nut’s face. 

Before gluing the nut in place, I tuned up the guitar, with the the nut loose in it’s slot, so I could validate that portion of the repair. I tested the open strings and fretted positions, and it was right on target. I then decided to play the guitar lightly, and was surprised by an ancillary change. Before I started the repair, I’d also measured the distance between the string and the first fret, when I held the string at the second fret. The high E string was originally .011″ above the first fret, but after the alterations to the nut’s base, was now measuring at .004″ above the first fret. I’d planned to wait until I finished the nut’s orientation, and verify the status, before moving on to adjust for string height. With the new measurements, and the way the guitar felt, there was no need for further modifications.
Now it was glue time. As you might expect, I decided to use the glue sparingly, since it really doesn’t take much to keep the nut in place. I used a couple of drops of the original-viscosity super glue, and after placing the nut correctly, re-engaged (I left the strings attached earlier, but just took enough tension off, so I could remove the strings from the nut) the strings in the nut. After tuning the guitar, the tension of the strings will act as a clamp on the nut until it dries.  Before walking away, I checked the nut for perpendicular one last time, and it was rock solid. Done!
(photo of installed nut below)
Nut adjusted, reinstalled and string tension applied.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Let me know if you have any questions of comments.


Guitar Build – what do you really know about the neck’s shape??

Posted by is9582 on March 6, 2013 with No Commentsas , , , ,

I’ve been finished with the major aspects of my Les Paul (LP) copy, and just messing around with the little details, before saying “she’s” done and putting some lacquer down. I’ve been playing her every day or two, both because it’s fun and to make sure I wasn’t overlooking anything that needed attention. Well, the […]