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Gretch-like build with bent-ply, vacuum pressing, and Formica

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by mtorn, Mar 22, 2018.

  1. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Hi guys!
    It's been over six month since I finished my last build, so I'm excited to get rolling on a new project.
    This will be one of those builds where I try a whole bunch of new things, and that means that I'll be a total hack when it comes to those techniques.

    Here's my Photoshop sketch, something that I had worked on for a little while, until I was happy with the dimensions and proportions. If I remember correctly, it started out with a picture of something like a Gretsch white falcon. I shrunk it a bit and gave it a slight offset, for comfort, and to work better with what I'm now using as my standard headstock. The f-holes are essentially Rickenbacker shaped.

    This will be my second build with Formica. This one will have a pretty zany gloss B&W pattern that I managed to score a sheet of, even though it had been recently discontinued.

    Design Screenshot 1.jpg

    Here's a slightly more technical view, to easier see what's going on.

    Design Screenshot 2.jpg
    Some specs:
    Body wood: Maple veneer, 1/16" thick, mahogany center block and kerfing. And Formica, of course.
    Neck wood: Quarter sawn maple, ebony fingerboard.

    Bridge: A Stetsbar! I've been curious about these. The more obvious choice is a Bigsby, but I really wanted something more with a knife-edge fulcrum feel. Admittedly, Stetsbars look like a steampunk mechanical mess, but against the Formica pattern mess I think it will look fine.
    Tuners: Hipshot open gear locking, chrome.

    Pickup: I'm on a single-pickup roll lately, so this one will have single humbucker. I'm not 100% set to the neck position, but I already have a couple of single bridge humbucker guitars, so this would be a bit different from those.

    Scale length: 25"
    Body thickness: Sides are a tad under 1.5", so not very thick for a hollow body. Plus about .5" each for the top and back contours.
    Neck mounting: A basic bolt-on. Normally I like to use bizarre neck attachment methods, but there's already so much weird stuff going on with this guitar. And for a semi-hollow guitar, sustain is not so much a priority.
     

  2. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    At the beginning of a project I like to list what new techniques and materials I will get to try out.

    - Bending and laminating maple veneers, for the body outline.
    - Vacuum forming and laminating maple veneers into plywood, for the top and back.
    - Vacuum forming Formica.
    - Scarf joint for an angled headstock.
    - The Stetsbar.
    - Zero fret
    - Pickup truck bed liner spray coating, for the body sides. (yep)
     
    Minimalist518, Torren61 and Snowcave like this.

  3. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Alright, let's get started.
    I need an MDF template. First I print out, with my regular inkjet printer, the body outline. It's four separate printouts carefully taped together.

    IMG_7159.jpg

    In the past I've glued the paper to a sheet of MDF, and cut/sanded that, but the paper gets so ugly and messy that in this case I just traced it onto ½", then cut and sanded it to the pencil outline.

    Here you can see one thing I did since my last build - I made a simple 12" disc sander from an old Harbor Freight sander motor and axle. It's nice to have a good size table, a fixed reliable 90 degree table-to-disc angle, and a nice parallell miter gauge slot. Also, the dust collection worked out very well!

    IMG_7160.jpg

    I actually needed two identical MDF templates. I screwed them together, and used a bearing router bit to copy the first one.

    IMG_7162.jpg
     
    Freekmagnet, Minimalist518 and Mat UK like this.

  4. ebb soul

    ebb soul Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    58
    Jun 7, 2016
    Smyrna georgia
    I'm excited to start a new one two! Addicting, isn't it? I'm really liking your design.
    I might skip the steinbergs. Used them before , and find them to tight feeling for me, and not really looking that great.
    I have done a formica top before, directly braced with no wood under it.
    Have you found that actual pattern?
    Will this be semi full hollow with a block under bridge only?
     

  5. ToneLounge

    ToneLounge TDPRI Member

    3
    Oct 14, 2012
    laguna hills
    Very fun - I'm along for the ride!
     

  6. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    With a template cut, it's fun to mock up the guitar.

    The fingerboard is a reject that I gave up on when I did my Sapele Neck Through build. I've decided to resurrect it for this build. More on that later.

    The neck is an old template that I think will work for this build as well.

    IMG_7165.jpg

    With the two template halves bolted together, I now drill a bunch of holes.
    I learn later that I should have drilled even more.

    IMG_7168.jpg

    I cut some ½" dowel stock into little sections.

    IMG_7167.jpg

    And sandwich some scrap ½" MDF between the two layers. Hammer in all the dowels, screw it all together, and you have a bending template for the body. The dowels will be used to wrap elastic around when bending and gluing the veneer.

    IMG_7169.jpg
     
    Torren61 likes this.

  7. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Thanks! Yep, I'm an addict... this will be my eighth electric, and also four ukuleles.
    Not sure what you meant by Steinbergs, did you mix it up with the Stetsbar?

    I do have the pattern of Formica, there's a big roll in a big box waiting to be used. It's pretty bonkers looking!
    It's not a full hollow, there's a 4"x1"mahogany center block going from the neck to the strap button. Not exactly a purist build.
     

  8. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Welcome aboard!
     
    ToneLounge likes this.

  9. ebb soul

    ebb soul Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    58
    Jun 7, 2016
    Smyrna georgia
    Second image seems to show steinbergers that mount over the top of the headstock, whatever those were called...
     

  10. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Here's the maple veneer I will be working on. It's for skateboards!
    It's 1/16" thick, and pretty tough stuff. You can usually find it sized for regular skateboards, or larger, for long boards. That pretty much summarizes what I know about skateboards.

    The package contained seven sheets. Three of those are cut at a 90 degree angle, so you can alternate the direction of the grain between the plies.

    IMG_7166.jpg

    I rough cut strips to be used to wrap around the mold, to make the body sides. The sheets are 48" long, unfortunately not enough to wrap all the way around (which is about 58"). So each trip around the body will require two seams, which I will stagger.
    The sides will have three plies laminated, for a total of 3/16" thickness. The grain will all face the same direction (no cross ply).

    IMG_7170.jpg

    I also rough cut the veneer for the top and back. Again I will use three plies, and Formica will make a fourth layer. For these I will alternate the grain directions, for strength, and for holding the pressed 3D shape better.
    Unfortunately the skateboard sheets aren't big enough that I can get the whole body shape in one piece, so I'll joint and glue these pairs later on.

    In the end I'm left with nearly enough veneer to build one more guitar.

    IMG_7177.jpg
     

  11. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Aha, you mean Steinberger gearless tuners. No, these are Hipshot tuners, same on both pictures, although on the second picture I made the headstock see-through for clarity.
     

  12. Torren61

    Torren61 Tele-Meister

    415
    Mar 12, 2013
    Humboldt County, CA
    You’ll probably like the Stetsbar. It stays in tune no matter how much you divebomb. It is kinda big compared to other designs but, again, the tuning stability is its greatest assist. Plus, Eric Stets is a pretty cool guy.
     

  13. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Yes, I think I will! And I'm drilling for a regular Gibson stop tail setup, so if I don't like it, I have other options.
    I think the most important thing that's special about a Stetsbar is that the Tune-o-matic bridge moves together with the tailpiece. So there is no string travel across the bridge saddles, which is where strings usually get caught on other systems.
    A bit like the rocking bridge of a Jazzmaster, but a lot less flimsy.

    I contacted Stetsbar about a replacement part, and heard back directly from Eric. Love it when that happens.
    My only wish at the moment is that he would clean up the looks a little. Maybe even just a chrome cover, like old Telecasters.
     

  14. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Let's try to bend some wood!

    1/16" thick is pretty thin, but it still takes some tricks to make it bend. Lets try the easiest method first - soak it in very hot water.

    IMG_7172.jpg

    I'm using one of my favorite clamping methods, wrapping with a cut up bicycle inner tube.
    It bends, but it'll be hard to bend it quickly enough that I can wrap it around the mold. I think I'll try something else.

    IMG_7173.jpg

    Here's my heat bending tube that I built a few years ago to build a ukulele.
    I spritz the wood it with some water, and heat it up with a little pressure against the tube, and soon enough it softens, and it keeps its position when cooled. This might work!

    IMG_7174.jpg

    Here is how the heater works. It's a threaded 2" steel conduit, attached to a board, with a dimmer.

    IMG_7175.jpg

    Inside is a 500 watt halogen light, scavenged from a work light. I get a good amount of bending heat with the dimmer around 75%.
    Obviously I never leave this plugged unless I'm in the room!

    IMG_7176.jpg
     

  15. abrianb

    abrianb Tele-Meister

    292
    Mar 5, 2014
    Indiana
    i'm going to watch this thread, good ideas!
     

  16. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    So I bend the first layer all the way around, leaving it wrapped up for a few hours until it's dry and cool.
    Next I take it off the mold, and do it all over again with layer 2.
    They hold their shape. Kinda. They look like floppy wood ribbons.

    Finally I can glue! With the heater tube ready (to re-soften some sections of veneer), I spread Titebond on a section at a time, then wrestle the two layers onto the mold. It's a bit like wrangling a snake - not exactly dignified.

    I glue in the remaining sections (remember, the veneer isn't long enough to wrap the whole way) separately later.
    Note that I've added a few screws where I didn't put in enough wood pegs.
    Also, note that the veneer is a little oversized, so I can plane it down later. This way I don't have to bend and glue with as much precision.

    IMG_7178.jpg

    The two layers are glued and off the mold!
    I'm very pleased with the result. It's gained a little rigidity, and the shape is about 80% retained.

    IMG_7179.jpg

    Third and final layer.
    This time I had to use a little extra clamping force to coax all the wood into the narrow sections. And the red screwdriver is just to tuck in a loose corner.

    IMG_7180.jpg

    And with a little sanding, things are looking pretty okay. And it has gained a pretty significant degree of rigidity!

    IMG_7181.jpg
     

  17. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    The veneer layering wasn't perfect. As I'm sanding the edges clean, I can see several places where there are gaps. A few spot fixes with clamps and glue takes care of most of it.

    IMG_7186.jpg

    The seams between strips of veneer have gaps. This epoxy wood filler stuff might work.
    On an acoustic build, this is where you might inlay a decorative section.

    IMG_7260.jpg

    Good enough! As I mentioned before in passing, this whole part of the guitar is destined to be sprayed a textured black, using truck bed coating. I've used it on a wood part I built for my Vespa - it held up really well, and looked nice enough that I wanted to try it on a guitar.

    IMG_7269.jpg
     

  18. mtorn

    mtorn Tele-Holic

    568
    Nov 29, 2016
    Portland, Oregon
    Or maybe terrible ideas! Time will tell.
     

  19. abrianb

    abrianb Tele-Meister

    292
    Mar 5, 2014
    Indiana
    I've had my share of those.
     
    mtorn likes this.

  20. 10orgtr

    10orgtr Tele-Meister

    235
    May 3, 2011
    western PA
    When you go to form your Formica, make sure you have some plain stuff to experiment with. I've bent Formica in single curvatures, it can be a pain and often requires gentle heating. Not sure it's going to want to co operate with double curvatures. I do wish you luck with this, I just don't want to see you ruin your good stuff figuring out the process.
    Cheers,
    Woody
     

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