What happens when a rocket scientist makes guitars

Recently, I visited Tangled String Studios in Lowe’s Mille in Huntsville, Alabama. Tangled String includes a recording studio, performing venue and the home of Danny Davis’ guitar-making shop.
Davis was very gracious to my wife, Cheryl, and me. He gave us a one-hour tour of his shop. He explained in detail how he makes guitars and demonstrated several finished guitars.
Davis worked for NASA for 30 years. His guitar-making business is a second career for him. He uses his expertise in vibrations and frequencies to tune the top and back of a guitar. He built many of the jigs in his shop over his past 20 years of guitar making.
He is a guitar player himself. He started building guitars because he wanted a really nice guitar, but couldn’t afford it. Eventually, people started offering him money for the guitars he was building. His second career was born.
A Davis-made guitar is in the possession of Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. Davis’ guitars looked and sounded fantastic. If you’ve got from $2,500 to $3,500 to drop on a guitar, check him out.
Here’s a link to his web page:


Here’s a link to an audio interview with Davis:

Davis is a very cool guy. If you’re in the Huntsville area, stop by. Be sure to call ahead to ensure that he will be there. You’ll be blown away by his guitars and his hospitality.
Oh, and be sure to buy a t-shirt. They are way cool!

Guitar parts from China

In previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned buying guitar parts from China via ebay. I thought I would go a little bit deeper into this practice. There are pros and cons of doing this.

When I assembled a solid body guitar from parts for the first time, I had to hustle to get reasonably-priced parts. Buying all brand-new parts would’ve been prohibitively expensive. Also, at the time (almost 30 years ago), the guitar parts industry wasn’t as big or competitive as it is now.

Nowadays, unless I was going for a high-end guitar, I probably would populate the guitar with parts from China. To obtain the parts, I go on ebay, search for “guitar parts from China” or something more specific, pick an item, order it and pay with PayPal. Within about two weeks, a little “e-packet” from China shows up in my mailbox with the part.

I always limit my ebay search to “buy-it-now” items, because I don’t want to hassle with waiting out an auction. I also am careful to check out the shipping cost, as some vendors will sneak in a shipping cost that’s exorbitant. Most of the parts I buy either include free shipping or charge a small, reasonable fee.


Now, you already may have noticed a problem with buying guitar parts from China. It takes a while to get them. After all, they are coming from China via surface shipment. You can pay extra for faster shipment, but then you would be just as well off ordering something from an American vendor (who might be selling you a part made in China).

If there’s a part I know I’m going to need in a couple of weeks, I might go the China route. I also stock up on certain items that are inexpensive. For example, you can get screws inexpensively. I often manage to lose a pickguard screw or some other kind of screw when working on a guitar. It’s handy to have some extras on hand.

Today, I ordered nine feet of shielded wire. One of my guitars does not have shielded wire going from the jack to the input lug on the volume pot. So, I want to upgrade it with shielded wire. In all likelihood, I’ll find other guitars that will need shielded wire. Or, I’ll need it for future projects. For about four dollars (shipped), I’m all set with shielded wire for some time.

Sometimes, I’m willing to postpone work on the project just to get a decent price on a part. I needed a nut for a Strat-style neck. The local guitar shop had a nice nut for around $13. I passed on it because I was afraid I might destroy the nut when I installed it. I also didn’t want to spend $13. I ordered six plastic nuts from China for less money than the one nut at the music store. Now, the nut at the music store was of much higher quality than the plastic ones I got from China. However, I knew if I messed up the nut installation, I would be able to chuck the nut and try another without crying over a lot of lost money. In the future, I just might go for that $13 nut, provided I have the confidence I can install it properly.

If you know you are going to need a part in the future and don’t mind parting with the money, a part from China may do the trick. One last thing – usually, the quoted shipping prices don’t include any form of tracking. It may be offered, but only for an additional fee. I’ve never paid for tracking. Were I to take a chance and buy something pricey from China, I would definitely get tracking. I’ve never had a part from China fail to be delivered.


It’s important to do your homework and know the going rate for the parts you are ordering. You could actually pay more to get a part from China than you would pay for getting it from the U.S.

For example, I was shopping for Wilkinson two-point tremolos recently. I discovered an American dealer who was selling two-point Wilkinson tremolos for the same price, including shipping, as the China sources. I haven’t bought one yet, but if I do, I’ll definitely go with the American vendor.

I also limit my total spending on a part or an order. I’ve never tried to return a part I’ve bought from China. I don’t think it would be worth the hassle. Were I to get an obviously defective part, then I would attempt a return. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the refund!

I also like the fact that there is no minimum order for parts form China. You can pay $2 for a packet of screws and get it delivered to your door. Always make sure that the total  cost of the item – part plus shipping – is competitive.


So, what about the quality of the China-made parts? I see the quality as similar to a low-end import guitar. Such guitars may sport parts from the same source as the ebay “from China” parts.

My project guitars aren’t made to be sold or to be compared to high-end, professional grade guitars. So, I don’t need expensive parts. Now, I won’t buy just any part from China. I’m “picky about my pickups.” I might buy a cheap pickup from China as an experiment. But I used to wind pickups as a hobby, so I have definite ideas about what I want in my pickups. I have bought pickups from China, but my expectations have been low. If I were to want a good value in a hot humbucker, I’d probably look at a GFS (guitarfetish.com) pickup. If an alnico slug pole pickup for a Strat was the ticket, I probably wouldn’t buy from China.

That being said, there are some brand name pickups available from China. Wilkinson comes to mind. I’ve never personally tried a Wilkinson pickup, but the brand has a good reputation. For example, I just checked and there’s a Wilkinson brand humbucking pickupon ebay for $19. Other humbucking pickups from China are running as low as $11 a pair. I would expect to pay about $19 for a reasonably good, low-priced hum bucking pickup. I might take a chance on the Wilkinson.

Another thing to consider about pickups is personal preference. A pickup that sounds good to me might not sound good to you. Some pickup makers offer a return privilege. You probably wouldn’t get that from a China vendor. So, you’re taking a chance. But you’re also taking a chance with an expensive U.S.-made pickup. The choice is yours.

You also should look at the specifications on the part. If you are familiar with the part you are buying, you can get some idea about the quality of the product. If you’re buying a bridge, you’ll know that chrome saddles aren’t as good as stainless steel saddles.

A disadvantage of buying parts from China is that the item descriptions are sketchy or difficult to understand. If you’re not comfortable with the description, then don’t buy the item!


So, you need to be  a bit of a gambler when buying guitar parts from China. I don’t guarantee that you will be satisfied. I always have been satisfied, but I’ve set my expectations in line with the price I’m paying. If you think you could benefit from buying parts from China, stick your toe in the water. Buy some inexpensive parts you know you will need some day. For example, stock up on some pickguard screws or tremolo mounting screws. Don’t spend a lot of money. See how the process works for you. As with most things in life, your mileage may vary.

Replacing a tremolo

Disclaimer time: I am not an expert in guitar repair or modification. This was the first time I have replaced a tremolo. Undoubtedly, mistakes were made, even though I was satisfied with the outcome. Your mileage may vary. I suggest you read many articles and/or view many videos on the Internet to get more information about how to do this. Your method may turn out to be a combination of methods.

This white partscaster was bought by me at a second-hand store for $100, including a used hardshell case. It apparently was someone’s project guitar. The neck is a WD, which costs more than I paid for the guitar and case! The bridge pickup was not original and I suspect the tremolo unit is not original. That’s because a standard threaded tremolo bar would not fit into it. I tried a push-in bar, but that didn’t work either. Not wanting to go on a hunt for the correct tremolo bar, I decided to replace the tremolo. The replacement was a black, six-screw unit that I bought on ebay. I get a lot of guitar parts by doing the search “guitar parts from china.” The quality of the parts is not top of the line, but if you want top of the line, buy a brand name from a dealer – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

1-guitar overview

Here’s the patient, laid out on my work table on top of the carpet-like work blanket. It does not suspect that it soon will have major surgery!


The tremolo unit before replacement. There is some wear on the saddles and some rust.


Off came the back plate and I loosened the “claw” screws so the springs would be easier to replace later.

4-unscrew bridge

Off came the strings and I unscrewed the tremolo unit.

5-bridge removed

Here’s the unit after removal.

6-bridge comparison

A tale of two tremolos:  the one on the left is what was in the guitar when I got it. Note that the block is much larger and more substantial than the one on the right, which is the replacement unit. The old one likely has better tone and sustain than the newer one. But still, i will proceed with the new one.

7-bridge components

Here are all of the parts that came with the new unit. I’ll use everything except the claw and the claw screws.8-misaligned holes

I small T-R-O-U-B-L-E!! The holes do not line up. I goofed. I bought a tremolo unit with different spring spacing than the one that was in the guitar. However, it can be fixed.


Ah, yes, a high-tech solution to the problem. I glued toothpicks into the holes to fill them.

11-flush-cut saw

This flush cut saw will be used to trim off the toothpicks when the glue is dry.

12-filled holes

The holes are filled.

13-bridge screwed in

I was careful to center the new unit and keep it centered as I installed the screws. I did not screw them all of the way in. Later, I would tighten the two outer screws all of the way.

14-springs installed

Here is what the image of the new springs after I had installed it. It is very frustrating to me to do this. I used a set of needle-nose pliers and the side of a screwdriver to somehow get them in place.


I screwed the claw springs in by about 1/4 of an inch.


The picture above shows the height adjustment allen wrench. Before I got to this point, I installed a new set of strings. There is a balancing act between the tension of the guitar strings and the tension of the claw springs. I twisted the tuning pegs just enough to get tension on the strings. Then I screwed in the claw springs about 1/8 of an inch. Then I tuned the strings to pitch.

I tightened the claws just a bit more to give the tremolo bar the tension that I wanted. This meant re-turning. Then, it was time to adjust the height of the screws. It is beyond my current skill set and tool inventory to do a proper setup. So, I did a “ballpark” setup – getting it close to acceptable. I can always take it to a tech for a full setup. I lowered all of the saddles, making the outside saddles a bit lower to simulate the arc of the fingerboard. I played the guitar and it seemed OK.


I used a Fishman clip-on tuner for the tuning and intonation adjustments.


Setting intonation is beyond my skill set and tool inventory, so again I went for the ballpark method. For each string, I tuned it. Then, I played the overtone at the 12th fret. To play an overtone, I place one finger lightly on the string at the 12th fret. Then, I play the string with the other hand. I try to time it so that I pull my finger off of the string just a split-second after I play it. That should sound an overtone. It took me a fair bit of practice to be able to to do it.

My tuner showed either sharp or flat for the string, usually flat. I used a Fishman clip-on tuner. The pros use strobe tuners. If the pitch is flat, you need to shorten the distance between the nut and saddle. Turn the adjusting screw in whatever direction moves the saddle closer to the nut. It now becomes a matter of trial and error to get it right. It can be frustrating. And, because of my lack of experience doing setups and my lack of a strobe tuner, I don’t know how close I will get. Still, I don’t have any arena gigs on the schedule, so I guess I’ll be all right.

Anyway, I finished all of that to the best of my ability. Lo and behold, I have a guitar with a new tremolo that I can actually use!


Neck shaping

Neck shaping is a part of guitar building in which you can connect with your inner craftsman. You are removing wood and hoping you will leave a shape that will be functional and playable. There are a variety of ways of shaping a neck – some are more “crafty” than others.

In shaping a neck recently, I took the more “craftsmanlike” approach, using hand tools mostly. I’ve seen people use only a grinder and a sander.  Some companies use a huge rounding over router bit to shape the neck. And, of course, there is CNC shaping of necks. What fun is that?

I used four different hand tools in my attack on this neck: a surform, round Microplane rasp, spokeshave and scraper.


Shown in the picture above are the round rasp (wooden handle,), surform (yellow handle) spokeshave (two blue handles( and scraper (rectangular piece of metal).


Here’s my setup. I have a clamp at the end of my workbench. I clamped a two by four board into it, and then clamped the neck onto the two by four. This picture shows a clamp at just one end; when I did the shaping, the neck was clamped at both ends.


I started off by using the round Microplane rasp to cut away the area near the place where the neck bolts onto the body. This neck hopefully will be the neck of a Telecaster-inspired guitar. The neck is mahogany; the body also will be mahogany with a maple drop top.

I like to cut out the areas by the base of the neck and by the headstock to establish cutting depth. I’m careful not to go too deep. You can always take off more wood, but you can’t put it back on!

Let me stop here and say you should be very careful not to remove so much wood that you expose the truss rod. The truss rod is going to be underneath the center (lengthwise) of the neck. I draw a line down the center to help me visualize the shaping, but to also help me remember where the truss rod is located.


You might be able to see where I drew lines on the neck to guide the wood removal.

After cutting out the areas near the headstock and base of the neck, I went to work with the surform. This tool removes wood quickly. Be sure your blade is sharp; otherwise, you might get very frustrated! My surform is a Stanley model that is available at most hardware stores and home improvement stores, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. Replacement blades are easy to find and install.

The surform lets you rough-shape the neck. After I roughed it out, I went to the spokeshave.


The spokeshave is an intriguing tool. To me, it’s also been frustrating.  I’ve owned a spokeshave for  years, but this was the first neck project in which I used it productively. The difference? I did some research and learned how to sharpen the blade! I bought a honing jig and a sharpening stone. I removed the blade and sharpened (or “honed”) the blade. I carefully re-installed it and set it so just a little of it was below the surface of the spokeshave.

It worked beautifully. I could pull the spokeshave toward me and wood would curl out of it. The spokeshave also helped to smooth out the wood, which was kind of rough from the surform shaping. I used the surform a little bit after starting off with the spokeshave. There still were some areas that needed a fair bit of wood removal.

The spokeshave got the shape pretty close to what I wanted. As far as shape went on this neck, I was eye-balling it. If you want to be precise about a neck shape, make or other otherwise obtain a neck contour template. Here’s a good story on guitar building that has a picture of a neck template in action.

Periodically, I would unclamp the neck and hold it as I would hold it while playing it. This helped me get a feel for  the neck and see if it was turning out the way I wanted. This is one of the real “crafty” stages of neck shaping.

At this point, I started to incorporate the scraper. A scraper doesn’t scrap; it’s actually a small “micro-plane” with a hook built into the side of the blade. If sharpened correctly, a scraper can do a great job of removing wood and smoothing the wood. This was the first time I had used my scraper seriously , so it was factory sharp. It removed the wood easily. It took a bit of practice to get the result I wanted. I obviously have a lot to learn about using a scraper.

After all of the work with the spokeshave and scraper were finished, it was time to go with a power tool. I pulled out my stationary belt sander. I hadn’t used it in a long time, so it needed some adjustment. Once I got it going, I gently rolled the neck across the sandpaper and lightly sanded various parts of the neck.


This stationary belt sander has been used on a lot of necks over the years!

Following the belt sander treatment, I re-clamped the neck and pulled out a small hand sander, or orbital sander. I used it for the final shaping and smoothing. There wasn’t much shaping left to do; it was mainly a matter of smoothing the surface of the wood.


This won’t be the last sanding. The final step is to hand-sand the neck with progressively finer and finer grades of sandpaper to make the neck finish-ready.

The neck turned out to have a v-shape, which is fine with me. I suspect I was worried  about cutting too deep and exposing the truss rod, so I didn’t round the neck as much as I could have.

Helping this project was the fact that the neck was made out of mahogany, which is not as hard to cut and shape as maple, another frequently-used neck wood.

Overall, it was fun to pull out the hand tools and connect with my inner craftsman.  The hand tools were reasonably safe, didn’t require hearing protection, and enforced a fairly relaxed pace of work.

Get in touch with your inner craftsman – carve the neck on your next guitar project!

The Tele partscaster project

A few years ago, I put together a partscaster Telecaster and took several pictures of the process. I started a thread on the Agile Guitar Forum to share my progress and to get advice.

Today’s blog will attempt to re-create the story of this project. I’m hoping somebody could benefit from my experience, including my mistakes!

The project was to mate a maple neck with a Douglas Telecaster copy body. I really liked the ash burl top on a particular Douglas model, but I didn’t like the neck – I think only a rosewood fingerboard was available at the time for the ash burl body. I prefer maple fingerboards on Fender-style guitars.

So, a kind fellow AGF’er and I worked a deal to buy a guitar so he would get a Douglas neck and I would get the Douglas body.

I gambled a bit and got a Guitarfetish.com (GFS) neck for all of $35. It ended up working out nicely.

Here are some photos and more details of the project:

Here’s the body before I attacked it:

The Douglas Telecaster body before modifications.
The Douglas Telecaster body before modifications.
Drilling holes to make routing easier for the hum bucking neck pickup.
Drilling holes to make routing easier for the hum bucking neck pickup.

Although initially the guitar would have a single-coil neck pickup, I routed it for a humbucker as well, so I would have that option in the future. I figured as long as I had it apart and was in a working mode, I should go ahead and do it. The picture shows holes drilled with forester bits in a drill press. These make it easier to rout the pickup cavity because there’s less wood to remove. The less I have to use the router, the better!

The finished neck humbucker cavity.
The finished neck humbucker cavity.

The pick guard will cover the extra routing when using a single-coil pickup. It’s not the neatest rout in the world, but it’s adequate because it will be covered by the pick guard.

Ultimately, I did switch out the single-coil and install a humbucker and had good results with it.

Here's the body with the pickguard in place for a humbucking pickup.
Here’s the body with the pickguard in place for a humbucking pickup.

Now for some neck work:

The GFS neck before I shaped the paddle headstock.
The GFS neck before I shaped the paddle headstock.

The GFS neck came with a “paddle” headstock. This provides plenty of wood for the builder/modder to shape the headstock as he/she sees fit. I had a Tele neck template available, so I made a drawing of the headstock shape. I traced it onto the headstock and used it as a guide in shaping the headstock.

I used a combination of sawing and sanding with an oscillating sander to shape the neck. I was pleased with how it turned out.

The re-shaped GFS neck with the Tele body.
The re-shaped GFS neck with the Tele body.

The headstock re-shaping was not the only work the neck needed. Fellow AGF’ers recommended that I do a fret job on the neck as well, thinking that the neck wouldn’t come with level frets.

I’m not that good at fret jobs, but I gave it a shot. Fortunately, I had most of the tools on hand to do a fret job.

The fret leveling tool.
The fret leveling tool.

Many years ago, during my first foray into guiltier modding/building, I bought the fret leveler shown in the picture above. I was fortunate to buy it, because it is a good tool and I don’t see anything like it on the market now. A piece of glass is attached to the bottom of the leveler. That forms the backing for the sandpaper. I just buy belt sander sand paper and cut it to fit the leveler.

The leveler is used to make all of the frets the same height relative to each other. Frets of different heights can cause a lot of trouble in playing!

The fret filing tool. This is used to round the top of the frets.
The fret filing tool. This is used to round the top of the frets.

Now, after the frets are leveled, their tops are flat. This is not good. They should be rounded. That’s what the fret rounding tool does. Pictured above is the type that I use, but there are many types on the market that should work fine.

This is a fret edge filing tool.
This is a fret edge filing tool.

This baby is helpful especially when installing frets. The file can be running up and down the edge of the fingerboard and file away those frets that are sticking out. The GFS neck didn’t need much, if any, edge filing.

These items are used to polish the top of the frets.
These items are used to polish the top of the frets.

These items are from Planet Waves and can be used to polish the files are they are rounded, or “crowned.”

The ferrule holes didn't line up perfectly, but they will work OK.
The ferrule holes didn’t line up perfectly, but they will work OK.

I wanted to convert the bridge to a string-through-body instead of a top loader. This required drilling holes through the body. The end of the strings would be mounted on the back of the guitar, with metal ferrules keeping them from digging out the wood. A friendly construction trades teacher at my high school let me use his drill press. The bit I used didn’t stay perfectly straight, so the holes were a little bit out of whack. They worked OK, though. After drilling through the body with a small bit, I turned over the guitar and drilled holes with a larger bit so the ferrules would fit. I used a bit that was a bit too big, so I have to be careful when I change strings not to lose any ferrules!

The guitar body came with a nice Wilkinson three barrel bridge with brass saddles.

The neck is clamped in a vise while the finish dries.
The neck is clamped in a vise while the finish dries.

Back to the neck: it needed a finish. After some research, I settled on Minwax wipe-on poly. I ultimately used four coats, allowing about two to four hours of drying time between applications. I liked the look of the finished neck and it feels good when I play it.

The neck is temporarily clamped to the body so I can drill the holes for the neck mounting screws in the neck.
The neck is temporarily clamped to the body so I can drill the holes for the neck mounting screws in the neck.

The neck attaches to the body with screws. The body already had holes for the screws. I needed to drill holes in the neck for the screws to drill into. So, I clamped the neck and body together carefully. I used a cordless drill to go through the body holes and drill holes in the neck so it would be easier to drive in the screws.

It’s very important not to drill too far! If you’re not careful, you could drill through the fingerboard. That would ruin your day (and your neck). Some people put masking tape on the bit to indicate the limit; others use metal drill stops on the drill bit to physically stop the bit when it’s about to go too far. Use whatever method floats your boat. Also, be careful on choosing the diameter of the drill bit. It should be just a bit smaller than the screws. It’s better to start too small, because you always can re-drill with a larger bit.

A reamer is shown with a tuner.
A reamer is shown with a tuner.

To install the tuner into the holes in the neck, it was necessary to ream the holes a little bit. I happened to have a small reamer that actually was made for metal work. It works fine in this function of slightly widening the tuner holes to accept the tuner. I used Wilkinson Easy-Lok tuners. They make string changes much easier.

This is the finished electronics setup.
This is the finished electronics setup.

I gutted the guitar’s electronics and re-built them from scratch. Inexpensive guitars tend to have poor electronic components.

I used Alpha quarter-size pots. The switch was replaced with a CRL-type switch, similar to those used on higher-end Fender guitars and like the originals that were on the original Fender guitars. They are inexpensive and easy to find. The capacitor was replaced with an Orange Drop capacitor. Electronics mods can do a lot to improve the tone of an electric guitar.

The Partscaster Tele is at the right.
The Partscaster Tele is at the right.

Here’s the finished Partscaster Tele hanging on the wall. The poster in the middle is of a collection of Sunburst Les Paul Standard guitars. The guitar at the left is a Strat partscaster for which I made the body and used another GFS neck.

In this picture, the Partscaster has been conerted to a humbucker in the ned position. Recently, I also installed a micro-tilt neck adjustment.

It’s a great guitar and I’m glad to have it!

Building a bass

bass project   I have lots of build projects that I have started at some point. Some have not had work done on them for literally years and are gathering dust in my pile of wood and projects.

This bass project is one that has almost slid into oblivion, but I keep trying to keep it active and make some progress with it.

Here’s the first bass I ever built:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s no masterpiece, but when built, it played and sounded pretty good. It had a purple heart body with a maple strip down the middle. It had a bolt-on neck. For a time, it was equipped with a home-made on-board EQ based on Craig Anderton’s “Clarifier” pre-amp design.

Alas, the neck went south. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but the bass became unplayable. I tried truss rod adjustments, removing the fingerboard and putting it back, and who knows what else. I suspect that I didn’t make the neck thick enough.

I decided a couple of years ago to make another bass and try to hold down the costs by using as many parts from the first bass as possible. Re-using the parts hasn’t worked out so well, as I have been tempted to upgrade.

Anyway, it was a project for which I enlisted my son, Michael, for help. Michael was a college student at the time we started the project (he’s since graduated). We started the project by figuring out the design. We looked at various bass guitars on the Internet and in catalogs. We settled on a design similar to the Les Paul bass – a single cutaway with a somewhat rounded body.

We sketched the design on some graph paper. Then, I took some larger paper and drew a pattern of grid squares on this. This enabled me to scale up the design to full size. That helped with cutting out the body.

The body was made of some wood that I had on hand – poplar. Poplar is a much-maligned solid guitar body work. Alder, ash and mahogany are three of the more popular body woods. But poplar has shown up in a lot of guitars and acquitted itself well. Besides, it was not very expensive when I stocked up on some, many, many years ago.

I had a nice piece of hard maple for the neck. It even has some figuring in it. The fingerboard and truss rod would come from the old bass. I may yet regret using that old truss rod.

To help ensure I wouldn’t get another twisted neck, not only did I put in a truss rod, but I cut slots for and glued in two one-fourth-inch square metal rods, one on each side of the truss rod. With all of that stiffness, I don’t think the truss rod could move the neck anyway.

The plan also included using the bridge and pickup from the old bass. I decided to use a bass bridge I saw online and got it and a Music Man clone bass pickup through ebay. Later, I bought a Music Man bass pick guard because that would make it easier to mount the pickup. Fortunately, it fit the body OK.

neck-body on fieldHere’s a shot of the neck and body. The neck is a “Fender style,” in that the headstock is not angled backward. The tuner pattern is four-on-a-side, which was chosen to use the tuners from the old bass. We managed to drill the holes on the headstock at the almost identical positions that they were on the old bass.

For the controls, I decided on top-mounting the controls with a removable plastic panel on the back. I purchased a control plate from Stewart-McDonald and made a template of it to guide the routing. The idea was to route a very thin, 1/8-inch deep outline of the control plate so it would fit flush with the top of the wood. I didn’t do the best job of this, but the cover did fit. Then it came time to rout out the areas for the controls.

basscavity72_zps0400a3d1I used a combination of forstner bits on a drill press as well as a router. I didn’t want to remove any more wood than necessary. In this picture, you can see my crude routing job for the control plate, as well as the areas for the the tone and volume pots.

Then, I had to connect the area for the pots with a jack and the pickup rout. A long drill bit came in handy for this:

In this picture, the drill bit is positioned approximately where I drilled into the body. You can see the jack plate hole already drilled.

bass body and drill gitIn one drilling, the drill bit created the hole for the jack plate, passed through the routings for the pots, and into the pickup routing. Another thing I did was to create a path from the bridge area to the control area for a ground wire in a separate operation.

Somewhere along the way I cut out a place for the truss rod, as it extends well away from the neck. It will be covered up by the pick guard. I also drilled the holes in the back of the body for the neck screws.

That’s about the extent of the progress for now. Next up? Lots of sanding as I prepare to put a finish on the bass. Also on the agenda is resolving the issue of the nut.

I’m using the nut from the old bass. It needs to be positioned so it is right up against the end of the fingerboard and stays in place. I kind of messed up that area in the early going, but now am fixing it with the aid of chisels (see previous blog) and probably some sandpaper. I may need to build a small “cradle” for the nut, because I may have cut the bottom of the nut area too low for the nut.

Instrument building is a process of solving problems, some of what are just part of the build, and some of which I, the builder, bring upon myself. I am hopeful that this bass will turn out to be a useable instrument.

More later!

Discovering chisels

Three of my chisels.
Three of my chisels.

I must admit that even though I’ve been battling wood off and on for many years, I only recently have begun to appreciate the value of good, old-fashioned chisels.

My guitar building and mod adventures generally have relied on power tools and sandpaper. Chisels rarely were mentioned in any of the solid-body guitar building books that I read over the years. So, I didn’t put much stock in them.

Now, the acoustic guitar building books I read had plenty of mention of chisels, with them being used to carve the body’s braces, shape up the neck-body joint, and do a bunch of other real skillful, “craftsmen” type things.

Being a solid-body builder, though, I didn’t find much use for chisels. When I was gearing up for my aborted acoustic guitar build several years ago, I sprung for a Luthiers Mercantile International chisel, probably thinking I would udsse it for shaping braces. Until tonight, I literally had let it sit for several years and had never used it.

I have three chisels that I consider to be “good” chisels. They are pictured at the beginning of the blog. Here are the business ends of them:

The business end of my favorite three chisels.
The business end of my favorite three chisels.

They are, from left, the LMII chisel; a “Swiss-made” chisel that I can’t remember buying; and the one-eighth inch chisel I bought to clear out a nut slot in a Fender-style neck. (See the blog “Better Lucky Than Good.”)

I whipped out the three of them tonight in part for this blog, but also for a problem with a solid-body bass that’s in my building queue. I messed up the area where the nut sits. I’m using an unusual nut – one that I cut for a bass that I built in the early 1990s. The neck of the bass has twisted beyond repair, so this bass project was intended to use hardware from that bass. That hasn’t exactly been how it turned out, but that’s a story for another blog.

Anyway, I wanted to make that area flat so I can possibly get the nut to sit there or rebuild a slot for the nut. Power tools clearly were not an option. So, out came the chisels.

Now, here’s a bit about the LMII chisel. Luthier’s Mercantile International, Inc., really is proud of the chisels it sells. Here are a few words from their web site:

“Our chisels, with beautifully designed hardwood handles, are as good as can be found anywhere in the world.”lmi chisel

Except for the larger chisels, LMII currently charges $44.15 for one of these cutting wonders.

I had considered selling my unused, “good as can be found anywhere in the world” LMII chisel, but I decided I should hang on to what allegedly is a great tool.

So, to clean up the nut area, I pulled out the LMII chisel, ran it down the sharpening stone a few times, and went to work. It didn’t take long to clean up the area beautifully. Maybe there is something to these chisels!

swiss 6mm chisel

The one-eighth chisel was purchased recently to clear out a nut slot in a Fender-style neck. It worked great. The third chisel has the words “Swiss-Made” stamped. This is the mystery chisel. I do not remember how I came to be in possession of it. However, it’s a good one – I tested it on some hardwood and it cut very well. It’s a 6mm chisel (about one-fourth of an inch). It stands ready for whatever guitar or other hobby task that I can come up with.

So, when problems need to be solved in my various woodworking projects, I will first decide if a chisel can do the job, as opposed to some other method. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure this out. I guess it just shows that one is never too old to learn.


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