A brief week in the shop

I finally got to spend a little time in the workshop this week, so I started with the Recovery Offset guitar build (I still a better name for this guitar). Now that the finishing is mostly complete, the first task was to go through all the hardware parts I have for it and set about fitting them, along with joining the neck to the body.


I was slightly stymied in this unfortunately by the spring in the pillar drill breaking, which means it wouldn’t return to resting position when released. Whilst the drill is still usable, there’s no rush to this build and I’d be gutted if anything went wrong (again) to this guitar, so I decided to park fitting the neck and the remaining hardware until a new spring arrives (many thanks to fellow Makespace workshop denizen Graeme for ordering a new spring!).

I did manage to select some pick guard material to go with guitar’s wonderful finish, thanks to Matt at Fidelity Guitars lending me some of his material to try out. In the end I selected a semi-clear tortoise shell type pattern that Matt had sprayed on the back with copper paint, giving it a wonderful shine, which I think both complements and contrasts with the peacock blues of the body. I’m very excited to see this combo in place.


Having picked a bit of material, I sat down to work out how to make the pick guard on the CNC Router. I’d never cut acrylic on the CNC Router before: usually I’d cut acrylic on the laser cutter, but here I want a chamfered edge to the material, so the CNC Router was the way to go. I had a chat with Graeme about his tips for cutting acrylic this way as he’d done it before, which was mostly to have a slower cutter speed at around 8k rpm, then I grabbed some scrap material and went to do a trail run…

I used to own an older Ducati motorcycle from the late 80s, and my usual joke about it was that it was very reliable: it was always in the garage being fixed (ho ho). I fear my relationship with the CNC Router at Makespace is in a very similar way.

A quick recap for those who don’t read regularly: the CNC Router at Makespace has spent the last year playing up and breaking jobs, and so recently a group of us performed brain surgery on it and swapped the original control electronics for new control electronics, which were selected after much testing on a jig. Since then many members have used the upgraded CNC Router successfully, and I’ve used it in training successfully, but until this moment I’d not tried using it myself for any actual work. This is one of the dangers of a place like Makespace: whilst I enjoy helping others out in the space, if you have limited time you find that you end up spending that helping others do their projects rather than making progress on your own. So I was quite looking forward to using the new CNC Router to make a thing.

So I made a quick test design in Fusion 360 to let me test cutting a chamfer on acrylic, which looked like so:

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There’s three stages to making this: drill some holes to let the cut out circle be held in place after the second stage, the second stage is to just cut a circle with a straight edge to free the piece up, and then the third stage is to add the chamfer along the now liberated outer edge.

Whilst the first stage passed without incident, the second stage did not go well. As the machine cut the contouring tool path, which is the one highlighted in the above picture, it started misbehaving. In the diagram you can see a green and red bit of the toolpath where the the bit is leading in and out of the circular cut; when executed on the machine it would move very rapidly on the lead-out, causing the machine to skip and lose track of the origin, so when it cut the next layer it was out in both the x and z-axis. Thankfully it was only out by mm, so it wasn’t too unsafe, but you can see the result here of what should have been a flattened cylinder instead has stepped sides, and should have only been cut half way by this point:


After it failed I felt a second pair of eyes would help, so I pulled in poor Graeme to see if he could spot where I’d gone wrong, hoping it was user error rather than machine error, as I’m easier to correct. We tried running many toolpaths, both variations of what I’d just run and some other different designs, and we could reliably cause the machine to fail either in the lead in or lead out motion in designs generated from Fusion 360. At times it actually lost track by a few tens of mms, which is really quite unsafe. As such we had to put a temporary restriction on using the CNC Router with Fusion 360 generated toolpaths until we figure this out.

To be clear, it’s not Fusion 360 that is at fault here, but rather the set of g-code that our controller will work with isn’t as good as we thought it was, so using the generic GRBL exporter in Fusion 360 (which seems to be the most generic export option for machines that don’t have a specifically supported post-processor in Fusion 360) is generating g-code that our CNC Router controller can’t cope with. What’s worrying is that after examining the offending g-code, it seems the errant commands are just simple arc drawing commands as far as we can tell, with the possible addition that they have an arc in the Z axis unlike other ones that run fine which only move in the x and y axis. We played around for over an hour and didn’t get to the bottom of it, so this is still a mystery and once again I can’t use the CNC Router for my guitar work.

All in all, it’s a bit of a sad thing to be back to having an unusable CNC Router again despite all the effort we put into fixing it. We still have the Masso controller unit to try, which does officially support Fusion 360, so we can try that. However, it is more complex, and what we like about the pendant controllers is they tend to do fewer things and have dumber UIs which is actually a plus for a place like Makespace where you have a lot of inexperienced users.

What amazes me is that things like our laser cutters and 3D printers don’t hit such issues, given g-code itself is inherently not a good way of describing designs. I can only assume though that these products have the advantage of having first party software to control them, rather than 3rd-party tools as we have to use with the CNC Router. If you can define both the software to generate the g-code and the software to execute the g-code on the machine then you can make sure they work together well, or at least avoid any areas where you know they don’t work well. But in the CNC-Routing world that’s not really the case: your machine manufacturer and and your g-code generator are done by totally different people and you just have to hope they’ve implemented the same thing with regards to the g-code used to pass things between them.

I hadn’t realised how difficult it is to get guitar parts if you’re left-handed until I spent two hours trying to source a left-handed telecaster bridge this week. I had assumed it would be slightly harder than getting a right-handed version, but not two hours of searching websites and forum posts, twice the price, and still not getting what I originally wanted levels of difficult. In the end I had to change the design I was trying to come up with to reflect the parts I could buy, which was another hour or so of churn. In the end I got it sorted, but it was totally not a thing I had considered when I started trying to draw up a left-handed guitar.

According to wikipedia, between 70% and 95% of the population is right-handed, but that’s still quite a lot of people who are left-handed and would like guitars. The take away is: if you’re thinking of building a left-handed guitar make sure you check for part availability early on in your design process, particularly for bridges and vibrato systems, as you may need to compromise your vision/design/price based on what you can actually get.

Thankfully one thing I don’t need a CNC Router for is jointing body blanks. I made a start on a new guitar this week, by doing some old school style wood jointing, which was quite satisfying.


Since Graeme taught me how to setup a plane properly this is a lot easier. However, it also means I realise how quickly a blade can blunt and need honing again, On my todo for next week is get trained on the Tormek blade sharpening machine at Makespace, as the primary bevel at 25˚ has gone on this blade, so I can’t just do the usual 30˚ micro-honing on it, and putting back a primary bevel by hand is a very slow process (I’ve done it once before, and would rather not do so again if I could avoid it).

I also did some more tweaking to the design of the “living hinge” for my effect pedal design (that’s the fancy name for the series of slits you laser cut into the wood to make it bend). One thing that was not quite right, and thus left me wanting to improve it, was that because of the expansion that occurs in the hinge slits as it curves, the top surface of the pedal had a bit of slack in it making it have a slight wiggle if you pulled at the controls. To try and prevent this I played around with the laser-cutter targeted vector DXF file I generated from Fusion 360 in Adobe Illustrator to take away bits at either end of the wooden part to make the top surface be pulled tighter against the 3D printed chassis.


In the above picture the one fitted to the chassis is just about perfect and fits snuggly; it took me a few goes at fiddling to get it just so. It turns out that what I should have done, rather than editing the generated DXF file, was fiddled in Fusion 360 with the settings for the sheet metal model. You can apparently adjust the expected material expansion for a curve, which is really what I should be adjusting, but my method was just quicker to bodge for a one off, but next time I’ll try that.

Another thing I was interested to try was seeing how well I could stain the wood inside a laser cut line without the stain crossing over the cut. I use water based stains and they’ll quite happily chase along the wood grain around the area you actually apply the stain itself. However, it seems that my cuts are deep enough to stop that happening:


This is probably because I make sure that my laser cut lines, like those around the beard logo here, go about 50% of the way through the material as I know I’ll want to sand the surface after cutting to remove the residue from cutting, and if the lines weren’t cut deep enough they’d just sand out. I do this by testing a box outline that goes over the edge of my test material when calibrating laser powers before cutting (if you’ve never used a laser cutter, at least in a shared space like Makespace, you can’t assume the power settings you used last time work next time as the lenses will be in a different state of cleanliness, thus you always need to calibrate how much power is required to cut/etch every time you use the machine). 

Given the CNC Router was out of action, I found myself with an hour or so to spare, and given workshop time is very limited right now I decided to put it to use by working on my soldering, which is improving but could still be better. I had enough components to make a few more fuzz boards, so I just whiled away an hour or so repeating the now familiar circuit, trying to get both more consistent and quicker with my solder joints.


Still not the best, but practice is definitely helping (it got a thumbs up with some critical comments from another Makespace member :).

With all those boards you might think I would be looking to sell some pedals, but no, as to sell electronics requires that you get things certified for safety, which isn’t a cheap process and is hard to justify at small quantities. Even if there’s no active components, as with my pedal board design which just has pass through power, it still counts as a low-voltage electronics device, and so will cost around £3000 to get certified, so my plans to make a small run of those is on hold for now, as it just makes no economic sense to build small numbers of such units when just getting things certified is so expensive. 


For the pedal board I could just remove the power lead that’s built into it, but then it’s no longer the product I had in mind, and not a product I would want to use personally, so it’s currently just dead in the water as far as the v1 pedalboard goes. I’ve learned a lot from it, and I had plans for a v2 which had some extra features, so now I have to go back to the spreadsheets and try and work out whether I could do something at all sensible in that space economically, without compromising on my vision feature wise, and without having to become a bulk manufacturer. 

I’ll try write up some more details on all this in a post shortly, as I think it’s an important missing part of the maker story that everyone seems to ignore for the most part.

Makespace’s 6th birthday party was this week, and as per last year I set up a little mode stall to show things I’d made there. It was a nice moment to reflect on all the different things I’ve made in the last year or so, as I was able to show off a guitar, an amp, a pedal, and a pedalboard all designed and built by me. I just need to start making cables myself, and then I’ll have the lot :)


As ever it’s such a kick to hear others make nice sounds with the things I’ve built, so thanks to everyone who came along and had a play. It was also nice to meet a couple of people again from the Autodesk office in Cambridge and show them how I made things and let them see their product being used on a variety of different physical things.

There was also a guitar show down in Newmarket at the end to the week, and I headed down to that to see what was going on. I’ve generally stopped going to guitar shows at the moment, as there’s nothing I particularly need from them, and I’m not in a position yet to exhibit anything; however, given Newmarket is just ten miles down the road it would have been silly not to.

It was nice to catch up with some friends who had stalls there and play some nice guitars and pedals, but made me realise I probably need to make a series of guitars to have people play of different types if I want to start getting into this scene, and here I am struggling to make more than two or three a year at the moment.

A week out the shop

Not every week is going to be a good one, and this one certainly didn’t have much guitar building in it unfortunately, as I battled to get finished some contract work that’s grown in scope unexpectedly (and undesirably). Still, the point of these notes is to share the bad with the good. So what did I manage to fit in?

The Recovery Offset guitar build hasn’t moved: it needs a week for the oil to cure anyway, so that’s expected at this point. I did a check of what hardware parts that it’ll need I already have in stock and what parts I need to order, and got some of those bits ordered (though not all of them, tsk). I’m not convinced this week is going to be any better than last as I try to get this bit of work landed, but fingers crossed I’ll get some time to spend on this.

I spent a chunk of time over the weekend trying to do a simple design based loosely on the Mustang’s offset shape, but still being my own thing. This isn't yet a very serious build, but someone mentioned they liked the Mustang’s offset vibe, but I’d rather do something better suited to my abilities/preferences in building if I were to make another one. There’s a bunch of things I’d change: for example, I really don’t like the control plate/cavity on the Mustang from a build practicality perspective. Here’s a work in progress picture:

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It’s a bit more angular, has rear access panels for the control cavities, and has my preferred pickup combo. Let me know what you think of it.

I did manage to make a test print of the pedal case in ABS as promised, and I lasered a new top to go with it. I was a bit worried about how the print would turn out, ABS is in general harder to work with than the PLA I used the first time, but this came out fine.


This time I sanded the wood for the lid before laser cutting it, as I do worry about the abuse those hinges can take. The first one I didn’t oil the wood or do any finishing as it’s a prototype just to check it hangs together, but it’s already showing dirt in the wood, so I’ll oil this one also, even if it is another prototype.

I started going through the 1001 Guitars to Dream of Playing Before You Die book, just sticking a post-it note of all the guitars that have some design cues that I find interesting.


I did try reading the book starting at the front, but there’s just too much there: whilst I’ll do that slowly anyway, right now I need to be a bit more focussed on research, and this first pass was a nice way to whittle that number of pages to read down.

This coming week it’s the Makespace 6th birthday party, so if you’re in Cambridge do come along. I hope to be there with some guitars and bits to play.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I had hoped to trial my new exhibit for Liverpool Makefest later in the year at the birthday party, but vexingly that’s just not going to be. Contract work has just kept me away from the workshop too much and rather than rush it and make myself stressed, I just resigned myself to not making the deadline. Frustrating, but the right choice I think.

Little demo of The Beard Fuzz Pedal

As promised in the weeknotes, I’ve done a quick demo of the fuzz pedal I made. It bearly scratches the surface in terms of the tones you can get from it, but should give you a rough idea of what to expect:

Fuzz is a funny effect I didn’t think I had a use for, but having one to hand I’ve realised how expressive it can be, particularly as it cleans up when you roll off your guitar’s volume control (which I fail to demonstrate here). I do remember to whack it through an overdrive pedal though - although Hendix is famed for using fuzz, he didn’t do so into a clean amp, he used it to push an already overdriven Marshall amp further.

A week in the shop

This last week has been a bit rushed with me context switching between bits of contract work, but the recovery offset has been oiled now and is spending a week just curing (I forgot to take pictures, sorry). As I reported last time I’m still having issues with oiling the fretboard: oil seems to build up behind the frets and seep out during curing. As before this meant having to sand back some of the fretboard finish and re-do it, which means I need to change something here. 

I’ve chatted to someone else I know who uses oil on fretboards, and he says he similar has to be wary of this, so it’s not just me, but what I don’t understand is why I didn’t hit this on the first few guitars, just the recent batch. Either my technique of applying it has changed in some subtle way I don’t realise, or perhaps the current batch of oil is off relative to the stuff I used before. Either way I need to find a solution for this.

I also picked up some lovely examples of orange/red/copper effect acrylic to see how that works for the pick guard against the iridescent blues of this guitar (thanks Matt!).


I hope to find time this week to pick one out and make the guard. 

I’ve not yet had time to try out the new CNC Router controller we fitted last month in anger, thought I’m pleased to see other Makespace members have been using it successfully. I think it’ll take me a while to gain confidence on it, so I’m going to find time to cut a neck on it with some of the cheaper bits of wood I have kicking around. As prep for that I have gone back to Fusion to tweak a neck design I made a while ago for a t-style but never made. Workshop is scarce right now now, so I suspect it’ll be the week after next before I get to sit down and try this, but for now I can do the tool-path prep.

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In addition to the testing of the CNC Router Controller, I also have some Pau Ferro wood to try as an alternative to wenge (which I was using as an alternative to rosewood). I’m hoping that’ll be easier to work with in terms of cutting the fret slots and getting the frets in, whilst still having some interesting texture to it. And when I go to finishing it I’ll try a new batch of oil to see if that helps with the issues I was having above.

I finished a full unit of the fuzz pedal I was talking about this last couple of weeks, and I now have it on my pedal board in use. It sounds awesome in its final form, and definitely better than the breadboard mock up I had, which I suspect is down to finding good quality parts off Mouser rather than whatever parts I could cobble together from my own spares box and the Makespace trove.


Making the verboard to fit the case was slow work: there isn’t much room inside the case, so most of the time was spent getting the wires between the components to be relatively neat (it isn’t neat, but it’s at least cut to sizes that’ll work inside this small case). Next time I design a pedal I’ll need to spend more time on how to mount the electronics in the case. 

The other thing that slowed it down was I embarrassingly accidentally got the transistors in backwards (i.e., I mixed the base and emitted pins around), and then had to find what was wrong and then fix it, all of which wasted an hour. I did however measure both the transistors’ gain value to ensure I put the higher gain transistor first to give me maximum distortion when needed: my thanks to Adrian at Makespace for educating me there.


Still it was worth all the effort, as I’m over the moon at how good it sounds: it goes from that Rolling Stones Satisfaction style fuzz through to almost Big Muff territory if you dime both the dials, doing a very nice White Stripes somewhere in there. It also responds well if you back off the guitar volume, cleaning up nicely, letting you use it for more blues lighter distortion if you play around. The only thing I’m eager to change is the resistor that controls the LED brightness on the case, as currently it’s quite blinding :)

At some point I’ll put together some video of the sounds, and a page documenting the whole build, but time has been short and my playing when I did make an attempt to record it was awful (the moment I turn the camera on my playing falls apart).

In the middle of the week I finally got around to syncing up again the metalwork company who made the folded metal piece for my prototype pedal board to discuss some of the things I wanted tweaked before I did a small production run.

It took a little while, but in the end I got to speak to the person who actually does the work turning designs into metal, and all the things that had worried me he was able to put to rest. It’s unfortunate we didn’t speak sooner, as he spotted in the old email thread from when I first put together the order for the prototype that I’d offered to tweak the design if it’d help them with manufacture, and he gave me some requests there. Although they’d made the prototype fine, if I make the tweaks it’s more likely that the finished result will have a better finish, so it’s worth me doing.

The downside is this means that I either have to make another prototype (which is costly) or just trust things will work for the initial run, which is a bit frustrating. Given they’re relatively minor tweaks and I’ve checked their impact on the current prototype with some callipers, I’ll probably go for it and fingers crossed all should be well. So tweaking that design and getting the CAD files over is on my todo list for the week.

I ran a couple of events at Makespace this last week: the first was the fourth Fusion 360 Show & Tell even, and the second was an attempt to run an introduction to the workshop at Makespace to show what you can do there and make it all seem a little less intimidating. Both are my attempts to try and turn serendipitous events into something more structured.

Like any complex bit of software, Autodesk Fusion 360 (the CAD/CAM software I used for most of my guitars and other bits) is full of things you either didn’t know existed or alternative ways to do things you thought you did understand but it turns out there’s multiple approaches you can take. I realised late last year that whenever I happened to chat with one of the other regular members at Makespace that uses Fusion 360 I’d find I’d not only learn something new about Fusion, but it was almost always something that would let me either improve my designs or workflow. Rather than rely on bumping into people I started organising these meetings, held ever other month, where a couple of Makespace members will share how they designed and build a thing using Fusion 360. The talks are deliberately focused on the how, so that the audience gets to be exposed to how other people work and hopefuly get that learning I was getting accidently through conversations.


So far this attempt to take serendipitous learning and make it a regular thing in my calendar seems to be working. This was the fourth such event, and this week we had one person talk about how they’re using Fusion 360 for a complex product in their startup, and another about how they fixed a broken shower, and both talks taught me something i didn’t know about a tool I use regularly. Definitely this has been a valuable return on the little time it takes to organise, so if you are at a community workshop I can highly recommend trying this kind of thing out.

The second event was my attempt to help accelerate other people along the path that I’ve been walking for the last few years (and continue to walk still) as I’ve gone from someone who’s done no woodwork or other manufacturing to someone who is at home in the Makespace workshop. I originally found the workshop a mysterious and intimidating place, but it was thanks to random people who happened to see me struggling and lend me a hand that I was able to learn and make progress. Whilst that is wonderful and I hope doesn’t stop, it’s hard to rely on that sort of help, so I ran a sort of two hour introduction to the workshop to show Makespace members who’d not done woodwork before what they could achieve in the workshop, what possibilities were, and just generally make it seem less intimidating. Hopefully this will encourage some of them to have a go at things they might otherwise not have.


I got positive feedback for running the event, so I hope it was of use. In reality you’ll never really know if such a thing works, but I figure that as we try and improve both the physical workshop at Makespace and the sense of community amongst those who use it, anything that might mean new people come in and try new things already armed with a little knowledge is a good thing.

Last year I came up with a couple of guitar designs I was happy with, but I think there’s room for improvement, so I’ve tried drawing some more shapes, none of which I’ve been happy with. I decided it was time to try and work out what it is I liked about some designs and not others, by looking through a lot of existing designs. Thus I ordered a couple of books to plow through: 1001 Guitars to Dream of Playing Before You Die (terrible book title, but okay book so far), and I pre-ordered Electric Guitar Evolution: Classic 50s and 60s Models from Past to Present, as that era of guitars I find myself more drawn to.

A week in the shop

Last week I shouted about how I have a guitar up for sale, The Orange Surf, and at the time I was still trying to set up a Reverb Store set-up for both that and other things I want to sell in the future. If you’ve not come across Reverb before, it’s a site dedicated to buying and/or selling musical equipment. It’s been around for a while, and seems much more popular in the US than it is in the UK, but that seems to be changing over time.

I finally got my store set up this last week, which means that now if you’d rather buy the guitar via credit card or PayPal rather than direct bank transfer to my company you now can. You can check out my store here, or from the link at the top this website.

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I also used this as time to do a little house keeping across this site - nothing major, but just a few things that seemed a little broken due to an update Square Space did a while ago.

I continued to do the finishing on the Recovery Offset. The Phthalo Blue stain from Crimson Guitars has come out an amazing iridescent peacock blue, going through greens and purples in places as the light catches it. It’s not at all what I expected from the label colour guide, but then that’s why in general you should use test pieces before you splash stain onto a guitar body. In this instance, given I just wanted to do something with this body to get the ball rolling again and wasn’t too fussed so long as it didn’t look horrible, I just pressed on, and thankfully it’s turned out better than I’d expected.


Usually I apply about half a dozen coats of stain to get a nice solid colour, however I’ve stopped at three this time as the range of colours at this stage was lovely, and I was worried the more I added the more I’d lose that magic it seems to have.

This means I went on to the oiling stage for both this and the neck quicker than expected. Both are looking quite lovely.


The only downside to the amazing blue stain is that it doesn’t really go with the red turtleshell material I had in stock that I was going to use for the pick guard; the texture of the turtleshell was meant to add interest to what I expected to be a flat blue colour, and now they just fight a bit and so I’ve been looking for another approach. After trying looking through many different materials nothing really made me happy until I hit upon the notion of perhaps doing something in copper, as shown in this quick mock-up in Fusion:

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This direction might just work. I started looking into how to apply copper leaf, but that’s now on pause as my friend Matt at Fidelity Guitars thinks he has some iridescent acrylic that would be a good match, so I’ll try that first. I’m quite excited to see how this is going to turn out.

Last week I talked about my little pedal project, where I prototyped the case for the little fuzz face circuit I breadboarded. I’ve pushed that prototype case all the way through to where I’m happy all the bits fit, and now I just need to find time to make a veroboard of the fuzz circuit that’ll fit.


The beard is a sort of pedal-pun: it’s a fuzz-face pedal, geddit? No? Sorry…

The case took me a couple of goes to get it such that the components all fitted together. The main failure on my first 3D print of the case was I made the wall too thick for the audio jacks, and thus I had to tweak the design to thin the walls around that area. I also added a little bit of height to give me a little more room under the foot switch, as the one I’d modelled was slightly smaller than the bulk set of foot switches I ordered.

The first comment most people say when they see it is surely the wood won’t take the pressure of being pressed on, however, underneath the lower end of the pedal I’ve made the 3D printed part quite solid, with just enough room for the foot switch, and that seems to provide plenty of support in testing.

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Beyond the fun of it all, part of the reason I’m doing this is I have an idea for a different style of exhibit for Liverpool Makefest later this year. I’ve been fortunate enough to have an exhibit at Makefest the past two years, where I’ve shown how guitars are made, going from planks, to an in-progress guitar, to the final thing that they can play. However, I fear for repeat attendees to the festival that’ll start to get boring, and so this year I wanted to try mix it up a bit: I’d like to try and explain to people where that classic rock electric guitar sound comes from, and making a pedal I can easily attach oscilloscope probes to is part of that.


The rough idea is that I’ll have a guitar, an amp, and this pedal, and I’ll use an oscilloscope to visualise the clean waveform so you can see what an undistorted guitar signal looks like, and then you can turn on the fuzz pedal and not only will you hear the difference, you’ll get to see how it alters the waveform on the oscilloscope screen.

Depending on how well that works, I’d also like to try and show the frequency spread of a guitar, and what say a tube screamer does and why that’s important in a band context. I’ve no idea how well this will work in practice, so I’m going to try do a dry run at the Makespace birthday party later this month. It might be a disaster in practice, in which case I’ll be back to piles of wood for Makefest, but I figure it’s worth a shot.

To help me understand pedals a bit more I also got the bible of pedal-builders this week on amazon: Brian Wampler’s book on how to modify guitar pedals. I look forward to having a read through this: my electronics from university is very, very rusty, so having a layman’s explanation of what each part of an effect pedal circuit does sound wise rather than just the mathematical explanation of what a capacitor or resistor does is very appealing.

I was delighted to see that my good friend Jason wrote up the clock case we built together last summer. Jason lives in California these days, but last summer he spent a couple of weeks in Makespace and we worked together on building a beautiful wooden case for the nixie clock he designed. 


I wrote bits about it on this blog at the time, but that was fragmented over the weeks we worked on it, and Jason’s done a lovely retrospective of the project as a single post. For me it’s a great reminder of fun little project, and in general it’s a nice post that shows you don’t need to be a seasoned pro to make something beautiful with wood, you just need to plan and test as you go (measure, measure, cut!).

A week in the shop

Now that The Clydesdale is happily with its owner, I’ve been turning my attention to the two other guitars I have, one finished, one needing finished.

First up is The Orange Surf, which is a completed offset guitar that I made whilst testing out parts for The Clydesdale, but deliberately made with a totally different character to its sibling to stand them apart. The Clydesdale is a bit of a rock monster, whereas The Orange Surf is channelling a custom shop mentality to that classic original surf guitar. 


Tonally we vintage Mustang appointments, but made with the best parts I could get: we have House of Tone’s Bronco single-coil pickups for a hand wound take on that classic Mustang sound, and a dynamic vibrato system upgraded with a Mastery Bridge. This lets you recreate those classic surf tones with the vibrato wobble - just add an amp with spring reverb (or your favour pedal equivalent) to complete the sound.

The classic pickup selector switches on the original Mustang are not to my taste, so I designed something totally custom here, using a 3D printed control that uses a rotary switch to give options: neck, bridge, and then both in series or parallel. I really wanted a selector that was nicely ergonomic, and this you can flick with your thumb nicely whilst playing, without it being in the way when strumming.

Visually I wanted this guitar to be vibrant like the sounds. I went with a light Swamp Ash body, which has a beautiful bright orange finish, paired with a sparkly white pearloid pick guard. The neck is maple with a wenge fretboard, and has classic style clay dot inlays. You can see all this on the video I made of it:

This guitar is for sale now for £1500 plus postage. I plan on listing it on Reverb.com once I’ve got through signing up as a company there, but feel free to get in touch directly if you’d like to buy this beauty. 

The second guitar left over from The Clydesdale build era is what I’ve been calling The Recovery Offset (though needs a better name), which is constructed from both a neck and a body that the CNC Router tried to destroy: on the neck the CNC ramped the bit into the wood when it shouldn’t, shattering the bit and taking a chunk of the neck with it, and on the body it decided to just cut into the upper horn. Both bits I’d since patched, but clearly they couldn’t be used on the commission, and as such they’ve sat to one side for a good while.

But, as a way of getting back to actual guitar building after all this time fighting the machines, I decided to take these pieces and make a guitar from them at last. Part of why I’d not done this before now was lack of time, but it was also I lacked a vision for this build: although I had these parts I knew I should use, I didn’t really have a goal in mind. So, this week I did a little planning, and now I have a target in my head, and I started moving things forward.

This guitar is going to be the little punk guitar that the machines tried to kill but survived. Because the body was routed for The Clydesdale, it’ll similarly have a hard tail bridge with strings running through the body, but to find a different space for the guitar from the other offsets I’ve made, I’ll go with single-coil pickups with rotary selection like The Orange Surf.

Original I’d thought that I’d paint the body to hide the scar of where I had to fix it, but no, I’ve decided I’m not going to hide that. The neck has a patch in it I can’t readily hide, so the body will similarly wear its scar with pride. The patches I apply have fixed the material, meaning they play and feel just fine, but the visible scars will be there to show that this guitar survived the machine’s attempt to make it go away; it’s going to be a punk guitar Sarah Conner :)

Colour wise, I’m going for something bold. Blue body, red marble pick-guard, and both the neck and fretboard are maple. It’s a look partly inspired by the lovely blue/maple PRS SE that Kris, the other guitarist in my brother’s band IKARI has, which I really like the visual aesthetic of.


It’s early days, but now that I have a direction I can get started. This week I finish the fretwork on the neck, and gave it a good sand down, and the body I sanded all the way up to 2000 grit and then started the staining process. It feels good to be building again.

Speaking of IKARI, I’m super proud of my brother and his bandmates who have released the first single, No Longer Human, from their upcoming album Shapes & Sounds. As with any project, they’ve had their struggles, so it’s great to see the fruits of their labours starting to come through with this catchy wee bit of rock. Better yet, the video features the guitar I made for Tris :)

Their album, which was a kickstarter project last year, now has a release date of April 5th, and you can pre-order it from their website.

And similarly, speaking on the machine that tried to destroy so much of my work last year: this was also the week we finally gave the Makespace CNC Router a brain transplant. Adrian and I spent the entire of Saturday removing the old controller electronics and wiring in the new DM500 controller that we’d tested last month. 


The DM500 isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely an improvement over what we had before. That said, in terms of will it be more trustworthy for cutting expensive bits of wood meant for guitars, only time will tell: we’ll just have to run lots of things through it to see how reliable it is. For now I’ll be at least testing my tool paths on cheaper wood before using expensive good, and probably do more with templates made on the CNC Router and then cut the actual wood with a hand router.

A few weeks ago I made a circuit up for a fuzz face pedal, and I’ve been meaning to make a case for that for a while, so this week I sat down and took a first pass at that. I made one in the past that was like a regular rectangle, but I had some ideas I wanted to try out to make it a bit more interesting. The first one of those was to have a rounded/sloped wooden top. 

My initial idea was that I could 3D print the top and glue a veneer to it, but the common consensus at Makespace was that glue on ABS prints doesn’t work very well, so I decided to try a different tack and make it using the “living hinge” design, where you laser cut slats into wood to make it bendable. After a morning of learning, I had something like this:

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Fusion 360 doesn’t have some magic mode for making these hinges, but there is an excellent video tutorial on how to make them by one of their sales engineers, which you can also watch here. The bottom part is built fairly conventionally for Fusion 360, but the top part is modelled as sheet metal with custom bend radiuses, and then that model is unfolded and the lattice of slots applied. I definitely recommend the video if you want to learn more about the sheet metal mode in Fusion: even though I’ve made and had manufactured sheet metal parts in Fusion, I still learned some new things from this video.

Modelling done, I then made my first prototype in Makespace:


Not bad for literally the first 3D print of the base and laser cut of the top. In fact, it’s better than it seems, as that lid is friction fit without screws currently. The spacing for the lattice work I guessed at, so it was also pretty lucky. Incase anyone is trying this: I have a 12mm radius curve there, and to get things to fit I used a roughly 2mm spacing between lines on the curve.

I have a couple of things to tweak, but overall I’m very happy with the design. I’ve ordered a bunch of parts from Mouser to make the pedal (and to let me finish my switcher prototype), so with luck I’ll get this on my board in the near future.

On the topic of sheet metal and pedals, my pedalboard is still holding up well:


I’ve added a Keeley Compression Plus, as I’ve been trying to play more finger-style of late, and took it to a band practice/lesson session over at Rhinocorn Studios at the end of the week, which was a good demonstration of how nice the extra room provided by the ability to lay things out clear is: getting access to both the Compressor and the OMEC Teleport (which embarrassingly I was using as a kill switch rather than for anything fancy :) on the top row was not a problem whilst in mid-song panic.

The Orange Surf

Whilst building The Clydesdale commission, I built a second Mustang styled guitar as part of testing the build process, which I’ve christened The Orange Surf. This guitar is very different from its sibling, both visually and tonally, and was a place for me to try out some new ideas that make it unique in its own way. And this guitar can now be yours, for £1500 (plus postage) - head over to reverb.com to see the listing.


This guitar channels the surf vibe of the original Mustang and its players: it has the traditional single coil pickups for that classic Mustang tone, using the excellent Bronco pickups from House of Tone Pickups; it has they dynamic vibrato system to provide that trademark surf wobble to your sound, but paired with a top notch Mastery bridge unit and Tusq nut to ensure your guitar remains stable throughout; and it has a bright and vibrant styling to match the music of the time. Construction wise, it has a swamp ash body, making it a wonderfully light guitar, and the neck is maple with a wenge fretboard inlayed with period style clay dots.

Tonally the guitar has a custom 3D printed pickup selector that provides four sound options: bridge, neck, and then bridge+neck in both series and parallel. The selector was designed by me to be easily accessible whilst playing without being in the way when strumming, thanks to a unique long beak on the selector control. The range of sounds are well suited to that classic surf tone on the bridge, to more punk/blur on the neck (top fact: although more commonly associated with the Telecaster, Graham Coxon used a Mustang on bits of the Blur album, and can be seen using one on the video for Beetlebum).

In addition to the guitar itself the price includes a Mighty Beasts guitar strap and a hard case. If you want to see more of the guitar, then you can see this video.

This guitar is up on reverb.com, but if you’re interested to know more then just drop me a note via the contact page here or email (michael at electricflapjack.com) or via the contact page. If you’re in the Cambridge area than I can also arrange a time to try the guitar.


When digging through old boxes in the garage the other weekend I happened across this CD (remember CDs?), which was probably a large part of why guitars are part of my life today: R.E.M.’s Monster, which will be a quarter century old later this year.


I don’t recall how I got this, whether it was a present or I frivolously spent part of my first year student grant on it (remember student grants?). I do recall the albums either side of it: Automatic For The People was the first CD I ever owned, and was a present from my parents along with my first CD player; New Adventures in Hi-Fi I bought at midnight on the day it was released. That I did the insane buying thing with the album the followed Monster tells you all you need to know about how much Monster impressed me at the time.


Monster game out just at the right time: my Dad had just got an entry level electric guitar and amp, and here was this rocking album that sounded like nothing R.E.M. had done before that was just chock full of loud and simple to play tunes. Peter Buck really stripped back the guitars on this record, and suddenly I had an album where I could play along for the most part. Thankfully as someone with a terrible ear, I also had access to the Internet for the first time at this period, and found Chris Bray’s then new R.E.M. Guitar Archive, which had chords and tabs for everything. Armed with all these pieces aligning, I found myself able to play along to an album that I loved and feel like I could play guitar. I was terrible, but it was enough to give me that sensation of being able to rock out that is an integral part of playing electric guitar. Still to this day I can remember the chords of What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? or the arpeggios of Strange Currencies by muscle memory.

It’s also a thing of friendship: I wasn’t alone in picking up the guitar at this period or being inspired to play by the works of R.E.M., and two good friends went through a similar journey, and despite being better players tolerated my attempts to play along with them (a hat tip to Dave and Andy if they’re reading this). R.E.M.’s Monster tour was also the first stadium rock event I went to, which again brings back memories of the friends I went with.

Whilst I suspect this album is, for me, second to New Adventures in Hi-Fi in terms of what my favourite album to listen to, Monster will always hold a special place in heart as it was the first album I could mostly play, sorta. And it’s always been there, even if sometimes I forget about the album directly: the 7” single of Strange Currencies came with a monster pin badge, which went on my amp of the time, and has moved to every successive amp I’ve used: a little discreet reminder of where I came from.


A week in which a guitar is delivered

My notes from this last week are short but decidedly sweet: The Clydesdale guitar finally shipped to its owner, Stewart Matheson of the band Layaway.

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You can see Stewart having a little play on the guitar on his instagram account here.

The week before I had done the first pass of the setup on the guitar, getting it to play well with strings that I was familiar with, and then this week I did a second pass at it with the heavier gauge strings Stewart wanted. Moving up from 10s to beefy 11s required the nut to be filed a bit more, and in the end I’m quite pleased with how the setup went, mostly thanks to the new nut files I’ve got. At some point I’ll have to go revisit some of the older guitars and check how they’re setup. 


The final setup done, I had a wee session on the guitar myself to hear it rock out through my amp and pedals, and then I headed up to Glasgow with it to hand it over to Stewart in person. Driving the better part of 400 miles is a slightly excessive way to deliver a guitar, but in part I wanted to hand this one over personally given how delayed it had been, and I do have friends and family in the Glasgow area, so it was a good excuse to visit them too.

Stewart has a pretty sweet rig at home for testing with: he plugged The Clydesdale into his Victory V30 amp plugged into a mix of Strymon and Walrus Audio pedals, and the combination of all these things sounded sublime in his hands. You can head some in the video Ilnked above, but in the room it sounded just perfect - I just closed my eyes for a bit and listened to him explore what The Clydesdale can do. It’s this that makes all the effort worthwhile, and I’m hoping that I’ll get to go see Layaway gig later this year and see The Clydesdale in real action.

A huge thanks to Stewart from me: he’s been very forgiving of the delays that we’ve been through in getting this guitar finished, understanding why things were slow, and having belief that it’ll make good in the end. For anyone else struggling with a project I can only encourage you to be as communicative about things as you can and keep your client in the loop. Things don’t always go right, so just be upfront and honest with these things.

I spent half a day trying to make a video for the Prototype Offset guitar I want to sell, similar to the videos I’ve made before, but I really struggled this time. I managed to get something, but it was a lot more mentally like getting blood from a stone than I’d expected from previous experience. Still, it’s forced me to kick the tyres on Adobe Premier Pro for pulling together the video, as it required a lot more editing to get the video than I’d thought.

I managed to see another gig last week, with amusing and frinetic bluegrass sounds of Whiskey Shivers coming to Cambridge. We saw them last year at Wilderness festival, and it was nice to see them in a more intimate venue. 


They were supported by Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band, who were equally as amazing as the main act, and their album “Come With Me” has been on repeat most of this last week. 


The DI&TSB album is great, but if you get to see them live then I can really recommend it: much more energy coming across from the band (not that the album lacks energy, just they turn it up to 11 on stage). As a guitarist I was particular impressed with sounds that their guitarist Feadora Morris made live, going from gentle fingerpicking one minute wailing grungy messed up sounds the next - the sort of things I wish I could play, executed much better than I ever could. I couldn’t make out the make of guitar she was using, but it looked a lot of fun: an ES style guitar with a P90 in the neck, a humbucker in the bridge, and a bigsby wiggle stick.

As a final nice touch to the gig, Whiskey Shiver’s encore had both bands come together in the middle of the audience to play a couple of acoustic numbers. Such a great thing to do when you have a smaller audience, and it’s not often you get to high five the band at the end of the gig :)

A productive week in the shop

Last week The Clydesdale offset build finally came together, which has made me very relieved/happy.

At the end of last week I’d put it all together and strung it up to discover that the neck was sitting a bit too high and I needed to route out a bit of material from the neck pocket to compensate. It turned out that wasn’t the only thing that needed tweaking: when I sat down to prep for routing out the neck pocket a little to lower the neck, I noticed that the low E string was particularly buzzy, and upon closer inspection I discovered that one of the frets had shifted over time to sit proud at the low one end, which resulted in buzzing for any note played behind it. Wood shifts over time, so although frustrating, this is something that just happens occasionally and has to be accepted and dealt with. Thus before I could adjust the neck I first had to fix the errant fret, as nothing I did on the neck position would fix that problem, and I’d not be able to tell how well the neck was positioned with the fret causing issues.

I tried my best to reseat it without removing it, but in the end I couldn’t get it set correctly, and even if I did I was worried it might unset again, thus in the end I bit the bullet and re-did the fret from scratch. I taped up the neck to protect the fretboard, carefully pulled out the rest of the fret, and then put in place a new one. This replacement fret sat in much better and held fast. But now I have one fret that is higher than all the others, so it was time to file it down level and reshape it to match.


Filing down one fret without damaging the others is slow work, but after an hour or two of filing, measuring, filing, measuring etc. I got the replacement fret down to the right level and polished it so it looks just like the others and you’d not know it was treated special. With all the frets back in place, next it was time to lower the neck pocket on the body.

Taking material away is obviously easier than adding material back, but because the body on The Clydesdale has been stained and oiled to finish it I needed to take care not to scratch the now beautifully surface. The tool to remove the material for a task like this is a hand router with a following bit - that’s a bit with a bearing the same radius as the cutter, so I can just move the hand router within the pocket to remove material from the bottom, and the bearing will stop me eating into the side walls of the new pocket. But a hand router has a large flat base that it uses to keep itself stable that slides around the top surface of the thing you’re working on, and that’s where scratches might occur. To counter this I used a combination of cleaning cloths and a small jig made from ply to sit atop the body and protect it, and the result looks a little like something from an operating theatre:


I actually still had the original body for the The Clydesdale that the CNC Router ruined sitting around, and above that’s what I’m using as a quick practice run. It had the same neck pocket depth so needed the same treatment anyway. After I was happy I’d got my technique down on the test body, I repeated the process on The Clydesdale itself. Here you can see the results:


Before I got to the workshop I checked the neck heights on my other guitars to work out what my target height would be. My tele’s have  the fretboard about 5 to 6mm proud of the pick guard, and The Clydesdale was at 7.4mm, so all I needed to remove was 1.5mm to get it in line, which I can do easily in a single pass. I was worried that I might need to touch up the finish on the edge of the neck pocket where I’d removed material, but as you can see there’s a beautiful clean line; I only had to remove a sliver of material here, and my router bit was nice and sharp, so it gave a nice clean cut. 

Once done I then strung up the guitar once more, and everything was much happier. A day of stressful work, but all worth it.

The following day I sat and started the setup. Jamie of Swannell Guitars, who stopped by the workshop briefly this week, gave me the sage advice that I should spend a lot longer on setup than you think is required, as it’s the setup that really defines how a guitar feels to the player. So I put on it a set of strings I’m familiar with (so I’d understand how the guitar felt, rather than using the strings the customer wanted straight away where i’d be less able to tell) and spent the afternoon filing the nut, tweaking the bridge height, getting the intonation set. By the end of the afternoon the instrument was really starting to make me forget all the woes of the last year, as it became something that was lovely to play.


It’s not quite done: obviously I now have to put on the strings the customer wants, which are of a heavier gauge and thus will require the setup to be tweaked a little more. But once that’s done, it’ll be up to Glasgow with this guitar to hand it over! 

I set up my pedalboard prototype now that I have the replacement PSU, and it’s looking great, even in it’s somewhat sketchy unfinished-metal-and-MDF-end-caps sort of way:


The positioning of the cable routing slots in the top surface fits perfect (as it should do given I measured it all out), and at the same time I upgrading my cables to use custom length patch leads, there’s so much more room on the board than before. On my old board I’d have been able to get just one more small profile pedal on, but here there’s quite a bit of space if I were to squish all the pedals together.

The rest of the routing works well too: you have power, going in the top, and guitar in and out for the entire board on the sides, so it’s easy to pick up and move around. Not visible here are the slots in the sides that are there to make it easier to pick up whilst keeping the top side free of handles that would block pedal placement. All in all it’s what I hoped from the design.

I’ll live with this for a week to check it stands up to abuse: for example, the wah is deliberately in the middle of the board currently where there’s the least support to check it doesn’t give. Once I’m happy I’ll go back to the metalwork manufacturers and review the finishing issues I had with this one and start deciding whether I do another prototype or perhaps even move onto a small small production run. The idea is that for the production run the metal will be powder coated black, and the end caps will be made from some pretty figured wood to make it something that you’d be happy to live with in the studio or your living room. That said, I actually like the bare metal look - what do you think?

I also found a little time to get the electronics on my pedal switcher to the point where I have all the components in place and validated that they work end-to-end.


The last stage was to add the relays that would control the audio signal path, which you can see here as the little white boxes on the veroboard, one on the bottom right and another in the middle. Here they’re just wired up to red and green LEDs, but that’s enough to let me see them switch as expected. The kind of relay I’m using is a latched relay which should save on power draw, but also requires more thought to wire up than just hooking it up to GPIOs on an embedded controller. I’m still quite slow at relearning electronics, but I seem to have managed to get these working with a little educated guess work :)

I also have just off the top in that picture a power supply board that let’s me run everything off a standard 9V centre negative power supply as you would an effect pedal. This means that my switcher can use whatever power setup you have for your pedals already, rather than needing its own.

Next steps for this are to figure out how I’ll assemble it into a boxed thing with connectors so that I can order those bits and build a functional prototype.