Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

My first build / potential disaster

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by GPlo, Aug 8, 2018.

  1. GPlo

    GPlo TDPRI Member

    Jul 26, 2018

    In this thread I will document my first attempt at building an electric guitar from scratch.
    Let me start of by saying that I'm probably the least qualified person ever to attempt this. I've only been into woodworking for little over a year. I do not have all the knowledge, skill or the tools to build a guitar. With a one year old daughter I barely even have time! I know I will most likely mess up and ruin the build at some point. And yet, there's this compulsive need inside me to still attempt this.

    The goal is to create something that plays but more importantly, learn a lot about building a guitar. This is why I chose to do everything from scratch.

    I have bought a nice piece of maple for the neck. A piece of mahogany for the body and a rather beautiful piece of ziricote for the fingerboard. I will build in my shed which is comically small. I have a handheld router, a small 3 wheel bandsaw, a cordless drill and a bunch of hand tools.

    I wasn't planning on sharing my efforts with anyone so I haven't really documented much of the process up until today. Last week I did the fret slots and glued the neck and the fingerboard together. To saw the slots I made the jig below. I believe I found the design on a forum somewhere (perhaps this one?). It works sort of like the stew mac fret slotting jig. Instead of the indexing pin I use a razor blade which falls in the template slots perfectly.

    The bearings are from old roller skates that were lying around in the shed.

    Today I had a couple of hours in the shed to work on my first guitar neck. My goal was to thickness the headstock and do the headstock/fingerboard transition (a task I've been putting off).

    I used my router sled to thickness the headstock first.

    Not pretty, but works surprisingly well.

    Next up, the dreaded transition. Unfortunately I do not own a spindle sander. After doing some research on the forums I found two possible ways of achieving this task: do it by hand or use a router with a round nose bit and a jig similar to my planing sled. I opted for the latter.

    However, the only round nose bit I own has a very small diameter which meant I'd have to make more passes and the transition wouldn't be as clean as it could be. Also, the shaft of the router bit was very short and would therefore not reach the headstock through my router sled.

    To fix the depth issue of the router bit I used these two pieces of square aluminium tubes for the router to ride over. As luck may have it, they are about the same height as the guitar neck.
    After thicknessing with the router

    Here is the setup i used. to make the headstock transition. The large clamp is used as a "stop block".


    I did not take any pictures of the transition after routing, but I can tell you it was far from pretty. It did however remove the bulk of the material which made sanding much quicker.

    The headstock with the transition

    The neck so far:

    Overall I'm not unhappy with the result so far but it's far from perfect or even 'good'. We'll see how it turns out.

    Some important things I've learned so far:
    • Making decently working jigs is essential
    • Ben crowe's (Crimson guitars) masking tape trick is pure gold (look it up on youtube if you're not familiar)
    • Super glue can fix a lot of (small) problems.
    • Don't ever rush
    Thanks for reading!
    John Nicholas, MM73, Anode100 and 9 others like this.

  2. Missing Link

    Missing Link TDPRI Member

    Jan 19, 2018
    USA and UK
    First my hat is off to you for you taking this on. This is something I to have wanted to do and will attempt soon. You are light years ahead of me so don't knock yourself all is a learning curve. From what I see you have done well with that neck so keep on posting your work - we are watching.
    GPlo likes this.

  3. TRexF16

    TRexF16 Friend of Leo's

    Apr 4, 2011
    Welcome to the THD!

    Your build is looking wonderful so far. Don't make the mistake of prejudging that your guitar will be anything other than fantastic! I can see from your work that you are thinking things through in advance and that is so important. There are also some "drive by" hints in things like the glimpses of the workbench you've made for yourself that hint further that you're likely to do a fine job. Guess what - you have already completed (or at least gotten the hard part done) the most challenging part of the build, making the neck. When you radius the fretboard, measure often with a good straight edge to make sure it stays straight back to front. Take your time and think ahead as you complete the body and it will be excellent. Consider building yourself a router table if you have not yet. At its most basic it is dead simple, and will make a huge difference in the precision with which you can build you body. The difference between an acceptable router table and a great one is only how big a pain it is to get set up for the cut you want to do. If you don't mind taking extra time for setup, any flat surface with a hole in it will work fine.

    I made my first build out of reclaimed pallet wood because of fears I would screw it up and a hesitance to do that to "good" wood. But it turned out really nice, if I say so myself. Really nice.

    What's the finish plan for the body? When in doubt, show the wood!

    Keep the updates coming and if you run into any problems ask here for help (after a search - almost everything you can think of has already been talked about here).

    Welcome again,
    John Nicholas and GPlo like this.

  4. Great job! You won't regret doing a build and every mistake will be a lesson learned.

    I have been using the back of a utility blade as a fretboard slot index for years. Works like a charm!

    Welcome to the addiction!

    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
    GPlo likes this.

  5. Ira7

    Ira7 Poster Extraordinaire

    Jan 8, 2008
    Coral Springs, FL
    Don't drill your string-through holes with a hand drill when you get to that point. It ain't gonna do what you want it to do. That bit has a mind of its own.

    Buy a dual-loading bridge, and use it as a top-loader at first.

    When you get a drill press, or have access to one, THEN drill it for string-through.
    eallen and Cantbreak100guy like this.

  6. PingGuo

    PingGuo Tele-Holic Ad Free Member

    May 19, 2014
    North FL
    Looks like you're off to a great start!
    GPlo likes this.

  7. GPlo

    GPlo TDPRI Member

    Jul 26, 2018
    Thanks all for the encouraging words!

    It is high on my list of things to buy/build. As for the finish I’m thinking black but I’m not sure yet. I’ll upload done pictures of the wood soon.

    thanks for the suggestion. That’s a great idea, I’ll look into that. Any specific one you’d recommend?

  8. GPlo

    GPlo TDPRI Member

    Jul 26, 2018
    This morning my daughter unexpectedly went for a nice long nap, which meant some time in the shed for me. I thought I’d try to radius the fingerboard.

    Here’s my setup. I used a laser to align everything, then clamped a fence into place to move the sanding block against

    This worked ok, but next time I’ll use a fence on both sides of the neck to ‘trap’ the sanding block into place.

    I used 80 grit sandpaper. It took a while but here’s the end result.


    The radius seems fine on most of the fingerboard. However, near the last couple of frets it seems ever so slightly off to one side. I think it’ll be fine though.

  9. Picton

    Picton Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Feb 7, 2009
    Reading, Massachusetts
    A couple of my early necks came out “canted” like your last pic. I’d recommend evening out the radius now.

    And welcome! Your shed is better-appointed than my basement was when I started, and you’ve got a good eye for FB wood. Nice work.
    John Nicholas and CFFF like this.

  10. maxvintage

    maxvintage Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    Arlington, VA
    It's looking good!

    Transition is always hard--I hate doing the transition and I've made dozens of tele style necks. Regarding the radius, fuss with it--check it with a straightedge, try to get it even. It will make fret dressing easier later on.

    Also good advice on the string through holes. It's surprisingly hard to get them right even with a drill press.
    John Nicholas, GPlo and CFFF like this.

  11. tigger

    tigger Tele-Meister

    Very interesting! Do you know why would the neck be uneven? Were you putting uneven pressure down?

  12. Jsil13

    Jsil13 Tele-Holic

    Feb 14, 2017
    Boston, MA
    I'm also just getting into doing scratch builds with somewhat limited tools and although some things would certainly be easier nothing is impossible. It looks like you already know what you're doing. I purchased pre slotted pre radiused fretboards from Stewmac, but want to start slot. I like your fret sawing jig. I need to rig something up like that. Same thing with the router/planer. I might actually try to build one today. Cheers man. I'll be following this build to learn along with you.
    2blue2 and GPlo like this.

  13. s_tones

    s_tones Tele-Holic

    Nov 10, 2013
    central CA
    what is that fb wood? really beautiful!
    GuitarJonz and GPlo like this.

  14. GPlo

    GPlo TDPRI Member

    Jul 26, 2018
    I might have! I'll either have to be more careful or build a more elaborate jig next time

    It's ziricote. It looks nice huh.

    I did some more sanding to try and even out the radius. I think it looks and feels slightly better now. This might be a silly question, but you say check with a straightedge. Do you mean along the center of the neck (from the nut to the end of the fretboard)? Checking to see if the radius is correct along the entire neck is a bit more difficult than I imagined. I've tried various things including using my pre-radiused fretwire as a radius gauge. All of the methods I've tried seem less than ideal but luckily they haven't revealed any huge variations or problems either.

    Any tips or tricks on how to confirm this are appreciated.

  15. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Mar 30, 2003
    Ontario County
    You should have a machined straightedge in your arsenal of tools. You would use this by placing it down on the centerline of the fretboard. That will determine whether that is level before you install your frets. If it's not, then you'll end up grinding more fret off to level them out. The more accurate a straightedge you can get, the better off you will be.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
    GPlo likes this.

  16. McGlamRock

    McGlamRock Friend of Leo's

    First, good luck on your build!

    I don’t have any useful wood working tips, but I initially misread the thread as “my first disastercaster”

    Has a nice ring to it: The Disaster-caster
    GPlo likes this.

  17. GPlo

    GPlo TDPRI Member

    Jul 26, 2018
    So yesterday I had a little accident I now refer to as "the superglue incident". I wanted to apply a small drop of superglue with some fretboard dust I collected to fill a tiny gap. When I carefully tilted the bottle, half the contents came pouring out, right onto the fretboard! Apparently, overnight, the nossel of the bottle had stuck to the cap and after opening the bottle, the nossel came off completely. I quickly grabbed the first thing I could find, which was a piece of paper, to try and wipe it off. With burning eyes I quickly realized this was a bad idea because the glue reacted with the paper and became quite hot. I threw the paper in a bucket of water, opened up my shed window and inspected the mess I made. About 4 frets on the bottom of the fretboard were shiny and sticky with glue.

    I decided I'd let it dry for a bit and sand it off with my radius block. After some work I got most of it off, which was a big relief. I felt like I'd done everything I could on this neck to fix the radius and get it even so I moved on to sawing the fret slots again. Some of the slots where almost completely gone from all the sanding! (will saw deeper next time). I decided to not use my fret slotting jig this time. I felt more in control by clamping the neck into place and carefully sawing the fret slot, with both hands on the saw. I tried to make the slots a hair deeper than the height of the fret tang.

    Now it was time to hammer in the frets. I practiced on a leftover piece of my fingerboard blank first. I tapped the sides in, then moved to the middle of the fret. It went surprisingly easy, which made me worry my slots were maybe too wide or something. Luckily the wire was in there pretty snug and I had to apply quite some force to pull it out.
    Time for the real work..

    Most of the frets went in smoothly. Some of them popped out once or twice, but with a little extra love tap of the hammer they stayed put.

    I bought this fretwire pre-radiused.

    All the frets in there. I clipped the excess wire off.

    As you can see, no fret dots. I really dislike how they look. I will probably still do some side dots

    So after all the frets were in. I spent about 30 minutes inspecting the neck to see if I could spot any gaps or other issues. I could not find anything. Just to be safe I figured I'd clamp the whole thing in my vise, using my radius block as a clamping caul (is the the correct word?) I'm not sure if this is recommended or if it did anything useful. After about an hour I released it, inspected the whole fretboard again. Still couldn't spot anything strange.

    Clamped in my vise

    Lastly, I applied two drops of superglue to the fret ends to try and fill any gaps. I triple checked the bottle this time ;)
    I'm curious to see if the frets will stay in. I don't really trust the fact that this process went so smoothly. I guess I'll find out sooner or later.

    Some questions I had during this process:
    • How do you know if and when a fret is seated correctly?
    • When do frets that aren't properly installed usually pop out?
    • What do you look for when inspecting the installed frets?

    Thanks for reading!
    John Nicholas, 2blue2 and CFFF like this.

  18. Frets sested correctly are fully touching the fretboard all the way across and don't move when pushed on.

    That said, I look for gaps and movement.

    Doing great!

    GPlo likes this.

  19. Meteorman

    Meteorman Tele-Holic

    Dec 23, 2012
    State College PA
    Take a small diameter steel rod, 4-5” long, (i use a small diameter punch, or drift, maybe 1/8”), hold it lightly on one end and lightly plink the other end on top of each fret, out near the end.
    If the fret is seated solidly, you’ll hear a nice clean ringing sound. If its loose, the sound will be a thin low-pitched clunky sound. Its easier to hear than describe in words You’ll hear the difference. Do this for each side of each fret. Do not pound hard - you’ll nick the fret. Just tap it lightly and listen for the ringing sound.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2018
    GPlo, CFFF and eallen like this.

  20. GPlo

    GPlo TDPRI Member

    Jul 26, 2018
    Thanks guys. I think the frets are seated solidly so I moved on to the next step, leveling and polishing the frets and taking care of the fret ends.
    I'm using a copper alloy fret wire, namely the Jescar Evo gold fretwire 55090.

    I "made" 2 fret end files: 1 for leveling the ends with the fingerboard, the other to bevel the fret ends 35 degrees.


    They did the job but I should have been a little more aggressive with the leveling file. Initially I was scared to damage the fingerboard because my neck is already quite thin and sanding out any damage would mean an even thinner neck. This resulted in the fret ends sticking out a tiny bit. I left it at first, hoping it would be better after beveling the fret ends and sanding/polishing them.


    I don't have any fret leveling file or beam so I decided to use my DMT diamond sharpening stone. I put a little block of plywood on there as a handle. At first I used the extra fine side (green) but that didn't remove quite enough material so I switched to the red side which is slightly coarser. I tried to be really gentle with it, just moving the stone over the frets without applying any extra pressure. Eventually all my marked frets were shiny so I marked them again and did a couple of passes to verify the frets were level.

    Next step was crowning the frets. I used a triangular file with the edges ground off (from Crimson Guitars). I found it quite difficult at first because I wasn't sure how to hold it, how much pressure to apply and when to stop. I did the best I could and then went on to polishing the frets. I started with 240 grit, wrapped around my finger to remove any leftover permanent marker and start the process of polishing the frets. I moved through various grit sizes. Finally, I used my leather strop with a compound (green) to do the last bit of polishing. Using the strop worked surprisingly well.

    After removing the masking tape I cleaned the fingerboard with acetone and applied some boiled linseed oil to it to condition the wood.


    Next part is carving the neck. Need to do some more research on how to do that properly.

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