A week in the shop

Last week I wrote about how I’d been making progress hand thicknessing a neck blank, but alas that all went a bit Pete Tong this week.


I was struggling with this particular bit of maple due to the multi-directional grain making it prone to tearing, and in the end just as I was getting it down to the right thickness it tore some more, and now it’s unlikely I can make a neck from this bit of wood. Still, a useful lesson on how to work with tough bits of wood, and I need some neck sized jigs to let me line up necks when shaping them on the band saw and spindle sander, so it’s not a total loss as I can use this for one of those.

One of the problems was despite the nice new blade for my plane, the sharpening stones at Makespace were worn almost smooth, so I was struggling on my new tougher steel blade re-honed. Graeme stepped in and ordered Makespace both some new blades for the No 4 and No 5 planes we refurbished the other week, and got us a new diamond 600 grit sharpening stone, so we should be better equipped next time.

I’ve ordered some replacement bits of neck maple from the usual place, so hopefully they’ll turn up shortly and I can try again.

I did take another crack at making the neck template again for the new neck I want to make for The Blues Deluxe t-style, a guitar I made a while back. Last week the laser cutter hadn’t been playing ball power wise as I tried to cut 5mm clear acrylic, but this week it was in a better mood and I managed to get a couple of iterations in as I tried to adjust the template to make the neck fit snug with the pocket in this body (which I didn’t do the design for, so I can’t just make it magically fit).


The main thing you need to be careful with when laser cutting templates is the kerf: that is the material that is vaporised by the laser, making the thing you’re left with a couple of tenths of a millimetre smaller than you expected. It’s not just the size of the kerf that you have to worry about though, it’s also the angle: there is more material vaporised at the top of the cut than at the bottom, so you  have a sloped edge. If you then take a router bit with a bearing on it to follow this template, the amount you cut away will depend where that bearing rests upon the slope. 

Still, I’ve got something that fits well, and indeed fits better than the current neck on that guitar, so once the new maple turns up I can try moving that forward again.

I still need to make a pick guard for the Recovery Offset i’ve been building. If truth be told, I’ve been putting this off, as I’ve had so many things go wrong on the CNC Router in the last few months, I think I have a bit of a mental block on using it now - I just expect it to do me wrong and ruin the nice acrylic I have. But I really want to get this guitar finished before Liverpool Makefest, and all that’s really blocking it is this pick guard.

So, to try and find a way forward, I got myself trained on the smaller Roland Desktop Mill we have at Makespace:


Although clearly no good for making guitar bodies or neck, the bed is big enough for me to make a pick guard. My tasks this week include doing some test cuts on acrylic to check how well it works, and see how I can work around the fact you can’t drill with this, so you need to bore with smaller bits. 

At the start of the week Laura and I went to see Samantha Fish, who was playing in Cambridge. It definitely gave me a new guitar hero: she can really play, and got some amazing sounds out of her rig, which included a Gibson SG in standard tuning, a PRS in open tuning for slide, and a cigar box guitar that she made sound just as good as the two “proper” guitars she was playing. You can see an example of her playing the cigar box here.

Given my string of setbacks in guitar building of late, I feel the need for some cheap wins to try and get a sense of having finished something, so I took this gig as inspiration to knock up a cigar box guitar for fun. My friend Amir has donated one of his prized collection of cigar boxes (one he actually got in Havana!) to the project, and given I was ordering some new neck blanks I’ve ordered some wood to make the neck for this (a nice bit of black limba).


This box has a wooden base but cardboard sides, so wouldn’t be ideal if I was intending to make an acoustic cigar box guitar, but I plan to electrify it, so all should be good. Being the engineer I am, I worked out the rough design in Fusion 360, even though I plan to make this entirely by hand, something that my friend Jim has teased me about, given the spirit of a cigar box guitar is just to make it rough and ready out of what is to hand. But I’m a nerd at the end of the day, and this is how I think even if I’m just roughing out ideas :)

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Having got a rough idea of how it’s going to sit together I just need the wood to turn up!

Speaking of Jim, he’s started making progress on the new workbench for the Makespace workshop, something we desperately need. As we’ve improved the state of the workshop over the last half year, we’re seeing a corresponding increase in usage, which is good, but we keep running out of bench space. So it’s great to see the new bench start to move forward, which’ll almost double the available space.

Jim wanted to have a nice pattern of bench dog holes in one half of the workbench, so I helped out by knocking up a quick design in Fusion 360, and then using the CNC Router to make all the holes.


It was fun cutting something that was the size of the CNC Router bed - perhaps Adrian is right and we do need a bigger CNC Router! The depth of the bench top was just at the limit of what I could cut the with bits I had to hand, down to the last millimetre, but we managed it, and it’s all good to go.

One thing we spotted when making the bench dog holes was that the coolant to the spindle wasn’t flowing properly, with the flow occasionally coming to a standstill. We managed to get it going a bit by running the pump backwards briefly which dislodged some build up in the pipes somewhere, but the flow still wasn’t great. Thus Adrian and I got medieval on it at the weekend.


We took some compressed air to each section and gave it a good clear out, and now it’s running better. However, we still don’t quite know why it blocked up, as the water system has pool cleaner in it, and the motor shouldn’t get hot enough to cause limescale to form. It’s always a bit unsatisfying when you fix something but you don’t know why you had to fix it.

A week in the shop

No big achievements again his week, just a bunch of small things moved forward, and fewer of those due to it being a bank holiday in the UK, and my other half and I went to see the sea. Still, I made one complete thing this week, and moved some other things forward. Oh, and I also got my accounts for last year prepared for my accountant, which isn’t exciting, but is part of trying to run a business.

On to more interesting things: I started the week by having a go at manually thicknessing one of the neck blanks down to size. This particular bit of maple has some weird multi-directional grain going on, so no matter which way you attack it there’s risk of the surface tearing. I’d left it a good few millimetres short of my target thickness (19mm) when running it through the thicknesses as a result, and now that I have the new blade for my No 7 took about trying to get it down to size and clearing up the tearing already imparted by the thicknesser.


The new blade I ordered from Ray Iles really did make a difference, holding it’s edge much better than the one that came with this more affordable plane. I was getting nice long shavings in no time after giving the new blade a quick honing.


It took me a good few hours, but I got there in the end. I often make a bad joke about how Makespace is like a gym membership for the mind (with all the good and bad connotations that carries), but this day it felt just like a regular gym membership after all the manual labour for several hours. It really was an awkward bit of wood to work with due to the odd grain direction causing me to tear it again if not careful, but I got there in the end.

Next up for this bit of wood is to laser cut the template to let me turn this into a neck for a 25.5” scale length. 

One of the reasons I wasn’t using the CNC Router for thicknessing was that the spindle was sufficiently out of alignment it was causing issues when used with the 2” facing off bit. At the end of the week Adrian and I had a look at fixing that.


In the end the root cause was that over time some of the bolts holding the spindle in place had worked ever so slightly loose. Not enough to be obvious, but enough that if you gave the spindle a whack it’d move around. So we broke out the DTI (Dial Test Indicator) gauges and got it straightened back up and tightened properly, after which I was able to also re-level the bed which was well overdue.

If you’ve never seen a DTI gauge before (I hadn’t until I started being a carer for the CNC Router), it’s a very sensitive distance measuring gauge where a full 360˚ on the gauge is 1mm in travel, so you can use it to test for very small movements. Here we’d place it on the CNC Router spindle and move the spindle up and down to check for any horizontal movement between the top and the bottom.

I also spent a day taking the Masso CNC Router controller we ordered back at xmas and started getting that set up on the test rig we have (sorry, I forgot to take pictures of this one, perhaps next week). We ordered the Masso unit at the same time as the DM500 pendant controller we ended up running with, but since then the DM500 has shown itself to not be ideal for several reasons, so we’re back to looking for another replacement.

Initially I’d been put off the Masso as, whilst it doesn’t lack in features, at Makespace we are more concerned about simplicity and robustness in the face of confused users. However, having briefly played with the Masso now, it does look like it manages to pull off both of these. The main plus is that it also has an officially supported post-processor for Fusion 360, where as the DM500 has show itself to be unsafe when used with Fusion 360 generated tool paths using the basic GRBL post-processor.

This week the time I had was mostly spent just getting the Masso into our CNC Router test rig - checking the power requirements, levels for the switchers, etc. The test rig is just a series of motor controllers, motors, and physical switches that let us test a CNC Router controller without having to take apart and fit a unit to the actual CNC Router, which is a time expensive operation, particularly when you then have to put it back as you found it if said unit doesn’t pan out. I hope to have more to report on this next week.

I wrote a good while ago about how someone wanted me to make them a baritone, and they came back to me again keen to make it happen, so I had a call with them to get the full details of what they want, after which I made up a bill of materials and a rough CAD model so they can see what it would look like.

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The design is based on the simplified version of my ambitious plans for 2018 that fell through, but I’m still very happy with the result. This let me make an estimate for them, and it would seem that they’re happy. Hopefully this will get properly commissioned in the next month or two.

Making the model required that I learn a new trick in Fusion 360. In Fusion there’s the fillet tool that lets you round over an edge. However, if your design consists of multiple bodies, the fillet tool won’t work if you want a nice even radius: it’ll only fillet a single body, so if you want to radius more than the depth of the top body it makes the fillet uneven. In the above guitar design the body cap (the red bit of wood on the top) is not as deep as the fillet I put on the edges typically (4mm vs 6mm), so I need to model that fillet going onto both the cap and the body underneath. 

Here’s an example of what you get if you use the fillet tool to try do this sort of thing:

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You can see that what should have been a nice even curve has been shortened to fit with the constraints of the cap, rather than crossing over to the second body. The trick it turns out is to make a sketch of the curve you want, and then use the sweep tool to use that sketch to create a cutting body along the path of the top surface:

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Once you apply this you get the effect you want:

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It’s not an ideal way of doing things, as selecting the path on a complex surface like a guitar top is fiddly to say the least, and I had to use several applications of this approach to get it right, but at least it is possible.

I’ve got a little preliminary feedback from the pedals I sent out last week to people. Seems that the old classic fuzz circuits are very sensitive to noise from the power supply.

I’d not spotted this in my testing as I have an isolated PSU on my pedalboard, and on the bench I have a wall wart of a reasonable quality. But both the people in the test cohort that are what I’d consider enthusiasts rather than professionals ran into this problem immediately unfortunately (which at least one solved by just going out and getting a better PSU, but it wasn’t my intention to cause my testers to have to go buy things!).

Most pedals I imagine these days do have a bit on the power input to protect the circuit and clean things up, but the older circuit I used does not, so any variance in the PSU will be passed on to your audio signal. This also covers if you have multiple pedals on one PSU and the other pedal is emitting noise over the ground or such. Something to remember for v2.

To wrap the week up, I made a quick thing for the workshop: a way to hold the scroll saw blades so that it’s both obvious where they are, and we can see when we’re running low on any particular blade type:


I think it was Toby who originally suggested we wanted something made with clear tubing and some caps, but that sounded like a lot of work when you can get ready made clear tubes of almost exactly the right size: chemistry lab test tubes! I bought some cheap plastic test tubes from eBay, some terry clips to hold them, and used a bit of wood from the scrap pile, and a little work later, voila!

A week in the shop

This last week was one where I didn’t feel like I achieved anything, but writing up these week notes I realise I had a lot going on. This is a useful feature of keeping a diary or doing a weekly review (even if you don’t share it): weeks like this where you do lots of little bits on many things don’t feel productive, but so long as you’re moving things forward then you’re in a good place: the trouble is when you have nothing to write…

Last week I wrote about making the body for the Corvette guitar build, and now I need to make a start on the neck. Given the CNC Router is unwell yet again (my usual goto for thicknessing wood in Makespace, which doesn’t have a proper thicknesses), I called upon my friend Matt who has one, and in return for the promise of future beers he let me fill his workshop with dust.


I thicknessed enough wood to make two necks: one for the Corvette, and a potential replacement for the neck on The Blues Deluxe, as I’ve never really been that happy with the neck on that guitar for various reasons.

The fretboards are almost at the right thickness, with just the last bit that’ll be removed during the radius sanding left, but both the maple blanks I left a little bit more meat on to remove by hand back in the workshop. One of the maple blanks has a light birds-eye to it, and a planer thicknesser will tear at those features, so you need to finish that by hand. The other neck had multi direction grain in one area that was tearing, so I stopped short again on this one for effectively the same reason, letting me finish it by hand. This one also is slightly bent in plant form, and whilst the thicknesser got rid of most of that, I want to get it dead straight using my giant No 7 plane.

Given my new found confidence in using the hand plane to get things into shape I then got ready to finish these, but I discovered my plane wasn’t cutting that well despite my having re-honed the blade. A closer examination showed that the edge on the blade just isn’t staying sharp with such tough wood: the downside of buying a cheaper plane. I’ve now ordered a new blade of a higher quality, at which point I can then resume getting these blanks down to the final thickness.

On the topic of hand planes, the Makespace workshop team (Graeme, Jim, and myself) spent and afternoon turning two vintage Stanley hand planes from being rusted relics into working quality bits of kit.


Between the three of us we re-ground the base and sides using some tough 80 & 120 grit sandpaper mounted to a surface plate (a known true flat surface), we reground the blades to give them a new working edge, and we stripped and re-oiled the wooden handles. It was a lot of effort, but in effect we took two cast offs that cost next-to-nothing and for a small investment in time (having three people definitely helped) we turned them into working units that are better than most of the cheaper hand planes you can buy.


The problem (I’ve come to discover having done this myself) is that cheaper hand planes just aren’t built to a good quality: the bottoms aren’t perfectly flat, the blades are of a cheaper material and quite thin, etc. And whilst it may not seem like it, a hand plane is a precision instrument: once set up just right and kept there it’ll make your life a lot easier, but otherwise you end up just fighting it a lot.

It’s hard to justify spending several hundred pounds on a hand plane when you’re starting out and unsure if you’ll be using it lots or it’ll just end up at the back of the cupboard, but getting an old one that looks beat up can, as we demonstrated, be put back into action with a little effort. And it saves on resources for the environment, so it’s a win-win.

I tried to laser cut another neck template, this time for the second neck which has a longer scale-length (25.5” for The Blues Deluxe compared to 24” on the Corvette), but this failed to cut properly, due to the power on the Makespace laser cutters being at a low ebb. An unfortunate waste of material, but is a lesson to me to do more than just one test cut to check the power.

The power levels of a laser cutter will vary over time as it is used: despite extraction, dust and vapourised particulates will build up on the lens, the alignment might shift slightly, etc. I suspect the Makespace laser cutters are having a bit of a success failure: at times they’re almost in constant use, so the mean time between maintenance needs adjusting to compensate, but there’s not enough volunteers right now to make that happen I suspect. I’d volunteer, but I already have my hands full with looking after the woodwork shop and CNC Router at Makespace.

On the topic of looking after the woodwork shop at Makespace, I realised I was struggling to keep on top of the workshop todo list: some people will talk to you in person about things that need fixing, some will email, some will use the mailing list. Then there’s multiple people looking after the workshop, so you have no idea who, if anyone, has responded. This was driving me slightly batty, so I decided to try following the example set at DoES Liverpool and create a GitHub issue tracker for the woodwork shop.

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There was quite an interesting discussion behind the scenes about this. No one disagreed that we needed to do better, but there were some justifiable concerns about how to ensure that things are picked up are actually responded to and that it doesn’t fill with moribund issues. To that end I’ve said for now I’ll ensure a weekly triage happens, and I’m quite happy to close things as “won’t fix” if they’re nice to haves but have no real hope of happening in the near term. The death of systems like this is that they’re not properly weeded, and so the price for me of getting this going is some effort in maintaining it.

Fretwork is hard; I think I’ve said that here before. It doesn’t help that one of the steps in the process I use is that I hammer the frets in, which makes it more effort to level them later, as you’ve effectively created an individual un-even top surface on each fret. The alternative that people use is to have a fret press, where you use an inverse radiused bit that fits into a drill press or an arbor press, or even you can buy a full press setup from places like Stew-Mac.

We have an arbor press at Makespace, and I bought a press bit for it, so I decided to have a go at making my own adapter for it (spurred on by Jim, who has a good habit of challenging me to remove blockers like this :). As a first pass I made a mock up of the press and bit in Fusion 360, and then modelled a block that would take the bit and align up with the mount holes on the press. The idea is that the block will pivot, to allow for any slight misalignment with centring the fretboard under the press.

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One day later, I had a 3D printed part, which almost fits, but not quite:


Whilst I measured everything, I had two things working against me I think: the 3D print expanded slightly from my design, and also after years of abuse the bottom of the central block of the arbor press has flared out slightly. I’ll need to do a re-design of this, and then do some test pressing to see how it holds up strength wise.

We had another successful Fusion 360 Show & Tell night at Makespace. This is an event I run every other month to try get all the Fusion 360 users at Makespace to share how they made things, so everyone else can learn new ways to make things. 


This week we had Greame talk about how to get the best out of using Fusion 360’s rendering facilities for making pretty previews of your design. I’ve used this feature when communicating guitar designs to clients, but I’ve never felt I got anything to look amazing with it. The main learning from Graeme’s talk I took away was to pay attention to the defaults in the rendering options: they probably all need a little tweak. For example, a little bit more exposure than Fusion 360 has by default, making things a little bit more bright, had quite a big impact.

I also did a talk this time, covering how to use the sheet metal features of Fusion 360. In particularly I was keen to get across that it’s not just to make things with metal (as I did with my pedalboard), but also in wood (as I did with my fuzz pedal), acrylic, and leather (thanks to a design shared by Jason). I can see why they named it what they did, but it’s actually a way more applicable tool than the name suggests.

Speaking of the fuzz pedals, I finally closed the chapter on those. The four additional prototypes I made recently have been sent out for prolonged field testing.


I’ve learned a lot making this small batch of pedals, from soldering the boards up, to making this unusual wood/plastic fusion case, to the problems created by making something that is put together this way (top tip: if you’re making something with multiple connectors, don’t have them on both halves of your case, put them all on one part, otherwise it’s a pain to assemble).

when just making one of something you’re so focussed on “can I do this”, and you miss a lot of things about “can I do this at scale”. Whilst 5 isn’t exactly a large scale, it quickly brings out a bunch of issues not apparent in the first one. I’ll try and summarise it all as an individual post at some point.

For now, just like research satellites that pass out of the solar system having examined the inner planets, they are on one final longer term experiment: I sent four pedals out to different (types of) guitarist I know to see how they survive long term. The wood and plastic case is nice visually, and it is very nice that it can be entirely fabricated in Makespace using the 3D printers and laser cutters, but how will it actually last as people use them over a longer period? Will it stand up to repeatedly being stood on? Will the plastic and wood age badly? I don’t know the answer to those, but I want to know, so getting these pedals out is another of those win-wins: four people get a nice sounding fuzz pedal to play with, and I’ll get feedback as to how well they last.

Finally, a reminder that I’ll be appearing at a couple of events over the summer, both of which were announced officially this week: I’m going to e exhibiting how to build guitars from bits of wood at Liverpool Makefest on June 29th, and I’ll be speaking about some interaction of guitar building and community workshop involvement at Wuthering Bytes Festival Day up in Hebdon Bridge on August 30th. Both events are awesome (despite me ;) so you should put them in your calendar.

A week in the shop

This week I made a start on the body for the first of my Corvette model guitars. The corvette is loosely inspired by the Fender Mustang design, but made more modern/angular, keeps my ergonomic preferences around comfortable shaping, and has a design that reflects some changes I want to make to make building guitars easier: namely making it easier to do test setups as the build progresses without marking the wood, and reducing reliance on tools that I either don’t have at Makespace (e.g., a table router) or are sufficiently troublesome that I want to stop using them (e.g., the CNC Router). 

The finished guitar will hopefully look a little like this:

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Overall this move away from such tools will mean more hand building, which will be a good step for me I think. Although this makes the guitars more expensive to build, I’m not yet at the point where scaling them in time is a major issue, I’m more blocked on my own ability to operate without the support of the CNC machinery I’ve been using. I’m trying to break a major hangup I have about woodworking coming from the digital realm as I do where everything is perfectly quantified; something the CNC Router in particular has solidified in my technique, and why I’ve been so slow at guitar building because the one I have access to has been unreliable.

On an electric guitar there’s actually very few measurements that need to be near perfect: the position of the nut, the frets, and the bridge are the only things that matter to any high degree of accuracy, everything else is fungible. But because I’ve come from a digital background, and I design all my guitars in CAD first, I have this mindset of wanting every measurement to be near perfect when that’s not actually the case, and I get overly hung up on any slight deviation when building.

I do have one major part where that’s not true: I hand carve the necks, a fact of which I’m quite proud. This was forced on me as I didn’t have the CAD skills to model the neck properly, and as such I accepted that this was a more analogue process, and found that it worked. I just need to do that more, and hopefully this guitar will teach me some of that.

So, having done all the planning, I started making wood dust on this guitar this week. The body blank was roughly the right thickness, but needed taking down a little more. Makespace doesn’t have a planar thicknesser machine, so normally I’d use the CNC Router as a slow alternative, but that’s also playing up again, so I went old school and broke out the hand planes!


The large No 7 is ideal for making large straight edges, and I had the shorter No 4 there just to get things into rough shape where needed as it’s an easier tool to handle. Now that I’m better educated on setting up a hand plane and keeping the blade in good shape, this went quickly, though does require a reasonable bit of muscle compared to my usual alternatives - free exercise!

Once the body blank was down to the final thickness, I stuck on the template I laser cut previously, and set about removing the bulk of the material using the bandsaw. Although the template is there to let me use a hand router to copy the profile from the template into the wood, the hand router is more a finishing tool rather than a bulk removal tool, so you don’t want to use that from the start, you want to get things close to the template using another method. A well set up bandsaw will cut through the 42mm of swamp ash I have here nicely, and actually did a good job of following the curves of the template better than I expected.


One thing I failed to anticipate: now much dust is made by the bandsaw. Whilst I was wearing my safety glasses and ear defenders, I didn’t protect myself against the dust. The dust extraction system was temporarily out of action in the workshop, and I didn’t consider how much dust a bandsaw makes, and regretted not wearing my face mask for this. Don’t make my mistake: if you’re doing a lot of bandsawing like this, make sure you have good dust extraction and/or wear a face mask.

Once the rough shape was cut, then I took the hand router and made a lot more dust, this time properly protected (ears, eyes, and mouth/nose all covered). 


I have a reasonably deep follow bit (with a 1” cutting blade) for the hand router, so this was just a two pass process: once with the template on, and then a second pass with the template removed and using the first pass as the guide for the bit to cut the lower half. The finish this way is pretty good, but there was a slight seam between the two passes, so I broke out the spindle sander to get the outside nice and smooth.


Now that the rough outline was done, the next stage was to make the neck pocket. For this I had a second template, which was designed to use the mount holes from the first template to give me close to perfect alignment (this is part of making sure the neck is straight to the body, so again one of the few bits that does need to be reasonably accurate).


I then marked out on the side edge with a pencil the correct pocket depth (using the join seam between the two halves of the body as my reference line), after which I drilled out a bunch of material before taking the hand router to cut the pocket (remember what I said above: the router is a finishing tool in general, so drilling is a nice way to get rid of some of the bulk).


Very pleased with how it turned out (the dots you can see are from the drilling, but these will be covered by the neck, so no one will ever know but us).

Speed wise this entire process probably took a couple of hours, so I think this means I’m just about as fast as the CNC Router Makespace has.

The next stage will be to make the neck so I can get a reference from that for the bridge, after which I can cut the remaining cavities in the body for the pickups and controls. To make the neck I first need to get the maple plank I have down to the right depth, and for that I need access to a thicknesser, so I’ve made an appointment next week to go visit my friend who was one.

I continue to use the fuzz pedal I made as a platform for understanding shipping products. This week, packaging - how would I ship the pedal to people if I made them in small numbers?

I had a bunch of nice wooden boxes from House of Tone, who make the pickups I use, ship their pickups in. They’re very nice boxes, so I’ve kept them to try and find a use for them, and it turns out they’re almost a perfect match size size to hold the fuzz pedal I made (with some bubble wrap). The boxes come branded (as in, branded with an iron), so I took one and sanded it down to remove the logo, which then meant I needed to sand off the rest of the finish to make the box look uniform (HoT relic the boxes nicely, so the sanded top looked very odd on its own). I then laser cut my own logo into the sanded box.


This looks quite nice, and matches the aesthetic of the pedal somewhat. Unfortunately, it didn’t scale as a process: the two other boxes I had didn’t come out so well, either the ply wearing unevenly, or the stress of sanding causing the boxes to come apart (they are, after all, just lightweight packaging, so not the most robust of things). Still, as a quick experiment, I was pleased with the result: at some point I need to ask Matthew whether they make the boxes in house, or if he has a supplier he can recommend. I could make my own obviously, but I already have too many projects on the go, and so that doesn’t scale.

On Friday I also did a bunch of workshop maintenance: replacing the belt and disk on the sander, and sharpening my set of chisels and the Makespace No 4 plane again.


There’s now a set of people who are supposed to help look after the workshop, myself included, and I’ve been trying to find a way to make sure things don’t fall between the cracks as different people respond to different requests that come in via different methods. I think I’d like to follow the example set at DoES Liverpool (as explained by Adrian at last year’s Festival of Maintenance) and get at least the workshop part of Makespace using a software projects style issue tracker to make something that everyone can access that shows what needs to be done, what is being done, and who’s doing it. I just need to see if I can convince the others that this is a good way forward, or find a better way, as the mix of email and one-on-one conversations we have right now doesn’t work well (at least for me).

A week in the shop

At the end of last week I had cut out the body template for the Corvette guitar, but I was still concerned about laser cut templates for routing due to the kerf you have from that process. The kerf is the material that is vaporised by the laser, which can be tenths of a milimeter, and so if you make a neck pocket template where you’ve lost some material and a neck template where you’ve also lost some material that will double up the error, and you may end up with a neck that is loose in the pocket. There was really only one way to find out, which was to make the rest of the templates for the Corvette design and see how good a fit I got.


Having cut the templates I then got some scrap wood and cut out the heel of the neck:


And then the neck pocket:


Having made both bits, I was delighted to discover that they had a nice friction fit:


So in this instance the kerf wasn’t enough to cause any trouble, phew! But it’s definite an experiment worth doing if you’re going to be making things this way. I also tested out cutting the truss rod slot using my new 1/4” follow bit for the router.


I was a bit nervous using a bit in a slot like this, and with such a small bearing (having had small bearing like this from cheaper bits fail), but it all worked well.

I realised that I had one other design issue unresolved with the neck for the Corvette design. One of the things I try and drill into people when I teach CAD is that just because you can design it doesn’t mean you can build it, and the software doesn’t know what you can and can’t do, so you have to make sure to review your designs to ensure you can execute them. This is an example of that, which I almost missed.

The idea on this guitar is to avoid CNC Routing where possible, so I’ll be doing the neck to headstock transition using the spindle sander and a jig to ensure the neck is perpendicular to the spindle. I did this for guitars #3 and #4, so this is nothing new, however with the Mustang style guitars I switched to a headstock with the truss rod adjustment end exposed, as I don’t believe in hiding the functional parts of the instrument.  However, if we take a side profile of the headstock, the problem becomes evident: I can’t spindle sander the headstock down with the truss rod in place, as I’ll end up hitting the truss rod.

Screenshot 2019-04-23 at 11.18.17.png

The truss rod is the little grey bit that sticks up on the curved section, which would prevent me betting the spindle sander to actually cut that curve.

I had a play with moving the truss rod such that the adjustment end was more recessed, either by using a shorter truss rod and/or moving the transition further, and nothing made me happy design wise. So I think I’m going to try sand in the transition on the main part of the neck before I glue on the fretboard, and then use a chisel/sanding to get the transition on the fretboard side lined up.

I did some practice with chisels, thanks again to Graeme who brought in some nicely shaprpened chisels.


This game me confidence that I could use a chisel to help shape the fretboard. Thankfully I have a reasonable set of chisels myself, they just need sharpening on the tormec.

Whilst the Corvette guitar will be mostly CNC Router free, I still have to finish off the Recovery Offset guitar which relies on that (I could avoid it if I have access to a table router, but I don’t). The CNC Router is still playing up, and I can’t use Fusion 360 to generate tool paths for this current controller, so I sat down with Vectric’s vCarve software to try out making a pick guard this way.


This mostly worked, but the acrylic I was using turned out to be quite uneven, so I couldn’t test adding the chamfer. Still, it validated using vCarve Pro. The workflow then was to use Fusion 360 for the design, saving a DXF file from the sketch in Fusion 360 for the pick guard and then importing that to vCarve Pro. Whilst I think vCarve Pro is a terrible tool for design entry, I have to say that for tool path generation it did everything I needed (though I’d still rather have used Fusion 360 if I could, as it just makes it a little easier to tweak things.

I currently have a backlog of half done projects, so I decided to burn a day of the easter break just ignoring the guitars and getting on with some soldering. 


A while, to help me get soldering practice, I made a batch of fuzz face boards, and I finished making those playable. What I look forward to now is trying to see how different they are. There’s lots of mystique about vintage pedals etc. or how specific components have that magic tone, but given the tolerances on a lot of electrical components it’s quite frankly amazing if any two pedals sound the same at all. For example, most pots you buy are rated to within 20%, which is quite a wide margin. I also bought a batch of transistors and measured the gain value for them.


The gain varied from 284 to 341, which is again getting up towards 20%. So at some point I’ll get this collection of fuzz boards and see how they compare when put at the same settings. A lot of companies will buy components in bulk and filter them to ensure that the components are more tightly controller in how close to ideal they are, which is in part what you pay for when you get a more expensive pedal. But the idea that two pedals are totally identical, particularly for more budget brands, is quite clearly nonsense (though that doesn’t mean any are bad :).

Adding some beats to your practice session

I try to practice my guitar daily, even if that means carting a guitar around the country with me when travelling. It’s always a challenge though to keep your practice routine fresh whilst keeping it actual practice rather than playing. To try mix up my routine a bit I’ve tried adding drum loops to replace the metronome for jamming along to using the FunkBox app on iOS. I tried it for the first time today and it inspired this little jam.

It’s quite a nice little app: simple enough that even I can program in a drum loop (like the one in the video, which is one I made rather than one of the stock loops), and covers a wide range of drum machine tones from old to new, simple analogue sounds to synth sounds.

Whilst it doesn’t replace the metronome for everything, it certainly makes it more fun to try and practice keeping time over longer pieces. In theory I can load loops into my TC Electronic Ditto x2 looper pedal, which I love otherwise, but loading loops on it involves getting out my computer and fiddling rather than playing, so in practice I never use this feature. Having a stand alone drum machine app like FunkBox, even if it lacks the complexity of the drums I could make on my laptop using AI drummers in GarageBand or Logic, wins by just being immediate to use without stopping the flow of my practice session. Only time will tell if I find it easy enough to use that I persist with it or return to the metronome.

One seventh of a week in the shop

This week I took the body blank I glued up last week and got it ready for turning into an actual guitar body. Whilst I plan on doing all of this guitar by hand rather than using the CNC Router for bits of it as I would normally, I made one exception to that rule for thicknessing. Makespace, the community workshop where I work, doesn’t have a planer thicknesser machine, which is what you’d normally use to get planks to the right depth. Instead I did the much slower way of using the CNC Router with a 2” wide bit to shave off 0.5mm layers repeatedly.


It took me about 2 hours just to get both sides perfectly parallel and free from the machine marks. I’ll need to go at it a little more to get it down to the right depth for the guitar design I have in mind, but at 2 hours of shaving half mm layers off my attention was starting to wane.

However, it was enough to let me see how well my jointing had been, and after all the effort I was pleased there was no visible glue line along the seam, and thanks to careful matching of the grain direction on the front it’s quite hard to tell there’s a seam at all.


Having exposed the top surface, I had a quick look with the template for the body I laser cut last week, only now I removed the protective film on the acrylic so that you can see why I chose clear acrylic for the job:


This has two advantages. Firstly, you can see the grain under the template and know exactly what it’s going to look like once you cut it out. Secondly, I etched in some guide lines to show me where things like pickups would be, plus a centre line to help with alignment.


The template is actually etched backwards, so that the centreline is against the wood when I place the template down, so as to remove alignment errors due to parallax. 

I’m very happy with the way it’s looking, I just need to remove about another 4 mm of thickness from the body blank and we’ll be good to go.

Having discovered the new CNC Router controller wasn’t compatible with Fusion 360, I was slightly slowed down on the making of the pick guard for the Recovery Offset guitar. One thing I like about Fusion 360 for CAM is the control it gives you over all aspects of the tool paths it generates, letting you take into account the physical qualities of the material you’re using to get the best finish you can.Thus, I set about trying to work out if in vCarve, the default software we train people to use with the CNC Router at Makespace, I could get things like gentle drill pecking to work. Last time I’d tried this with vCarve the drill rate was so aggressive it split the acrylic I was machining, but I was actually able to get vCarve to do what I wanted this time, which I guess means either it’s had an update or I just know what to look for better these days (or both, obviously). 

Convinced I had a way to make the pick guard, I then did a test cut in paper and card again.


Although this is my third mustang styled build, each pick guard is different as I’ve not yet used the same combination of pickups, pickup selector, and bridge, so I have to tweak it each time. It took a couple of paper iterations to get everything lined up, but now I’m ready to try cutting the nice tortoiseshell acrylic I have next week.

One thing I did for fun was take a picture of the body and neck blanks for the new guitar alongside the Recovery offset. Even in it’s incomplete state you can get a sense of perspective of how far the wood has to journey to go from raw material to the finished product:


People often raise an eyebrow when I given them a rough price for building a guitar, but this picture shows you how much I have to do by hand to get from raw wood to something as beautiful as a custom guitar. If you want a cheap guitar then guitar shops are full of very good affordable guitars, and you should look there. If you want a custom guitar made by hand for you, then it just takes a lot of time and effort, and the price reflects that. For that price you do get something that is unique to you, and designed to be the right guitar for your play style and tastes, but I appreciate they are not cheap. But I hope people enquiring similarly appreciate how much effort they take to build to a high quality.

There’s been a flurry of event related stuff this week. I’m now going to be talking at the wonderful Wuthering Bytes Festival Day event up in Hebdon Bridge in late August. I’ve been to this event for the last two years, and it’s a great celebration of the intersection between art and technology, and I’m honoured to be taking part.

I saw, thanks to a tip off from my friend Adrian, that Glasgow Maker Faire has a call out for people to show things, and so I’ve put in a proposal to show off how you can make an electric guitar there. It’s a bit of a hike, but it’d be lovely to be able to not only take part in a Maker Faire, but also to do so in my former home town.

All of which reminds me I still need to do a trial run of my stand for Liverpool Makefest! Seems a long way away, but it’s almost just two months away.

More early guitar recollections: Radiohead

There’s a lovely interview with Ed O’Brian, one of the members of Radiohead, on a recent That Pedal Show. Interviews on TPS are normally very gear focussed, but here Mr O’Brian talks much more about the musical journey he and Radiohead took, with a nod to how the gear influenced that, but overall it’s a wonderful insight into the world of Radiohead if you’ve ever been into their music.

I wrote recently about how R.E.M.’s Monster was an important album to me in terms of being a guitar player, but if it was Monster that made me pick up a guitar and try make some noise, it was Radiohead’s The Bends, and its successor OK Computer, that motivated me to buy a Telecaster as my first guitar. I didn’t understand enough about guitars at the time to know that Johnny Greenwood was playing a Telecaster Plus that had very different pickups or that it had been modified to have a momentary kill switch, I just saw it was a sunburst tele and so when the next summer I earned enough to buy myself my first guitar, that’s what I got.


I bought (and still have) the tab books for their first three albums. I remember getting the book for The Bends and reading the tab on the bus on the way home with the music clear in my mind as I read along. I can still muscle memory my way through some guitar parts from those early albums, but they’re not really what I play these days: their sound comes from having three guitarists in the band, so anything you play on your own is nothing like it, and these days I’m happier to play guitar as me than trying to be someone else. But occasionally I still try, though more from their later albums.

My favourite Radiohead album these days is probably In Rainbows, which is just beautiful, and seems to fit perfectly the ambiance of walking around a city like London, but in general has some wonderful guitar textures. If you want to see how Radiohead make their sounds then I can highly recommend the Live From The Basement video of In Rainbows. It seems quite hard to find now, though you can buy the tracks individually as music videos on iTunes. Excellent music, but also just nice to see the band at work up close. 

A couple of days in the shop

I took another crack at joining these two body blank halves again by hand, using my now nicely sharpened No 7 jointing plane, rather than bugging my friend to using his jointing machine. In theory using a well set up plane should be a relatively quick process, but there’s definitely a knack to it that takes time to learn. I started by doing some youtube scouring and found this video which was quite good at explaining the technique required.


One thing I’ve done here is made my life hard by not having faced or thicknesses the planks, so I don’t have a nice flat reference plane on the front of each bit by which to check the side is consistent using a set square. Makespace doesn’t have a thicknesses (yet, I’m trying to get that fixed), so I have to use the CNC Router to thickness wood which is quite slow, and thus I wanted to hold off doing that until I’d jointed the two halves. However, I think that essentially turned out to be a false economy of time. A lesson for next time.

Still, a bit of persistence, and regular checking that the blade was sharp, and ensuring I took care around the development of a slight convex-ing of the edge in its middle as per the linked video, I got there in the end, and got the two parts glued and clamped down in sash clamps. 

Getting to this stage has been much slower than the last time I did this, but that’s because using my friend’s jointing machine has ruined me: it’s amazing how invisible the seam can be on a joint if you take care to get the edges near perfect and you can even roughly align the grain. The last couple of guitars people have had to double check when I explain the body isn’t a single piece of wood, which is quite a satisfying outcome. Getting there with a hand plane is totally doable, but I just need to practice more. 

The other thing I need is to look into getting my hand plane ground true. I’m not sure where I’ll do that, but I know that the bottom of my no 7 has a slight drive at the nose and a slight rise at the rear, which makes using it to check how true I am impossible using the plane, even if it’s not hampering my ability to get a straight edge with the plane itself. I bought a semi-cheap plane, as a good plane is a lot of money, and when I bought the plane I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it. But if you’re trying to do precision work, then it’s worth investing in ones as you end up paying for it in time later. I suspect give the person-hours I’ve put into setting this plane up, and the cost of getting it ground, it’d have been cheaper to start with a better plane.

Body blank gluing, I then turned to the next stage for the body, which is making the template to get the body cut out. Rather than use the CNC Router, I’m trying to challenge myself to make this guitar without using the CNC Router where possible, and that means templates and a hand router. I found some nice clear 6mm acrylic, and I set about making the template.

Normally, because I’ve made templates on the CNC Router using MDF, I’d model the template in Fusion 360 as a full 3D model and then setup the machining paths etc. to cut it there. However, using a laser cutter I took a different approach, as I realised that using clear acrylic let me do some other tricks. Although I started going down the template modelling path, in the end I just created a sketch layer into which I projected all the important features, importantly including reference lines such as the centre line and where the pickups etc. will be.

Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 09.16.21.png

This I then exported as a DXF from the sketch itself, moved it via Adobe Illustrator just to covert the DXF generated by Fusion 360 into the subset that our laser cutter software will understand, and then I used the laser cutter not only to cut holes in the acrylic, but I also etched the important reference lines into it too, so when I’m lining up the template on the wood I can use those lines for either alignment with the joint or to know where I’ll be cutting out holes so I can hide any features I don’t like in the wood behind say the pickups. I also made sure to etch it in reverse, so that the marks will be against the wood rather than floating a few mm over it which might lead to errors due to parallax. 


I didn’t get time to take a nicer picture, in the above you have the clear template with its protective anti-scratch film on it, but if you squint closely you can just make out the marks where the neck pocket and pickups will be. I’ll try get some pictures of using the guides as I cut out the body.

I’ve already written about it on this blog, but for those that only read the week notes: my brother’s band IKARI released their debut album this week, Shapes & Sounds. I’ve been listening to it regularly since, and it’s very well executed: I’m very proud of the IKARI lads. And obviously I’m also a little bit proud as it means there’s an album out there with one of my guitars on it :)


Anyway, you can go find the words I’ve already written on the topic here, and you can just go listen to it here.

I still need to make that pick guard for the Recovery Offset, but I really was limited on time this week, so didn’t yet get around to that. In my current anti-CNC Router mood I’m tempted to laser cut the pick guard, however there is the issue that the laser cutter can’t do chamfered edges, and I do think that makes quite a big difference. However, my friend Matt pointed out that you can use a scraper on acrylic and such quite nicely to put a chamfer on plastic, so I gave that a try.


The technique works really quite well, albeit quite slowly. It doesn’t (at least with my technique) give the same nice crisp edge you get with a machined chamfer, but a slightly more organic chamfer which is quite nice. I finished it off with a bit of the old 2000 grit, lest Graeme reads this and think I’m saved ;)

I had a 3D printer failure yet again, this time right at the end of a 14 hour print. I post this mostly because people tend to assume that with things like 3D printers that it’s a bit of an effort free process, but I’d say I get around 1/3 to 1/2 of prints fail using the Makespace Ultimakers. Thankfully most of them fail early on, which saves on both time and money (as I have to pay for failed print material),.


The failure here is that at some point the material stopped feeding. Usually this is because the material has snagged on the spool (the spool system is not very well designed), but I looked at the back of the machine and there was clearly still play in the material so I’m at a loss as to why it has snagged. I’ve had issues with feeding over quite a few prints of late, which is getting frustrating. 

In Ultimaker’s defence here I should also point out that given these printers live in a shared space they get an awful lot of use and probably not all of it by people who take proper care and attention when they use it, so I can’t vouch for whether this is normal or not for these machines.

This print was meant to be an exhibit piece for the Makespace display cabinets, so not a critical loss to my todo list, but if it’d been something I needed for a client at short notice this kind of failure would be ultimately untenable. So off the back of this I did look into could I get someone else to print it for me, but commercial services like Shapeways are quite costly in comparison, like almost 500% more costly (not allowing for my time obviously), so even though I now detest using the Ultimakers due to their dice-roll like nature, it’s still the most economical way for me to get case like this fabricated by a long run, and I just have to plan around their poor performance and I can’t assume a quick turn around is possible.

Obviously, it could just be me that’s holding it wrong, but my attempts to engage people on this at Makespace hasn’t been very rewarding; to be fair, I know as an equipment owner at Makespace that there’s only so many hours in the day, and requests like mine are probably behind the users who seem to be trying to destroy the machines with their prints. I’d love to hear from any readers with more experience if those failure rates (using white ABS if anyone is interested) are expected, and if not any tips around ensuring prints work would be appreciated.

Shapes & Sounds

It’s an exciting new music day today, as my brother’s band IKARI release their first album, Shapes & Sounds


You can buy it from their website, or find it on all the usual major suspects like Spotify, iTunes, etc. If you like heavy and melodic rock, then give it a listen (I’m sure there’s a proper genre term, but I’m a bit too old to know ;).

It’s a huge achievement for the guys (Tris, Kris, Chris, and by no means least, Chris): they’ve worked very hard over the last 18 months to make this band into something and go straight to a full album as they had so much material to work with, pushing on despite the setbacks along the way to get here, and all self funded via themselves and their kickstarter fans.

It’s also a first for me too: the first album that has an Electric Flapjack guitar on it, which is somewhat mind blowing. Still the most proudest career moment I’ve ever had, of anything I’ve ever made, was when I went to see IKARI play King Tut’s and I got to see a guitar I made be a small part of a room of people having an amazing evening.


That night has lead in a large part to this weird state I find myself in these days trying to juggle building guitars and guitar related things alongside other ways of generating income. This is not the most profitable lifestyle, but it certainly is rewarding knowing that something you’ve made is going on to have a multiplicative effect of making people happy via people making music for themselves or others.

Which I imagine is why the IKARI crew have soldiered on this last 18 months to get out an album that they can be proud of and know will entertain many, many people now and in years to come. Well done guys!