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!

Another brief week in the shop

Another short week in the shop, same as last week, but fewer todo items ticked off this week than last, despite being busy all the time. 

As I mentioned last week I wanted to joint the two parts of the body for the next guitar, but the blade in my No 7 plane needed not just sharpening, but needed it’s cutting face entirely re-honed. The way you normally hone a blade is you put in a primary bevel at say 25˚ across the entire width/depth of the blade, and then as you use it you’ll keep refining what’s called a micro-bevel just at the tip of the cutting edge at 30˚ which is much quicker to add than redoing the entire face. Over time this micro-bevel will grow to the size of the primary bevel, at which point you need to start again. You can see pictures that explain this better here.

My blade needed a new primary bevel in it, and I knew that doing this by hand was a long and slow process, and so I took this as an opportunity to get trained on the Tormek sharpening machine at Makespace. The Tormek is basically just a spinning whetstone with a lot of jigs that let you set blades at different angles and orientations depending on whether you’re sharpening a plane blade like me, chisels, axes, knives, gouges, or whatever.


Training was relatively quick, but I did learn that putting in a primary bevel on a blade with automation is still a slow process, just less tiring than doing it manually. Having put the primary bevel back in on the Tormek I then got a diamond whetstone and a Veritas jig to put in the 30˚ micro-bevel by hand. That done I was taking nice long shaves again off the wood.


Having fixed the plane, the next problem was then my technique. Although I got the two edges straight on both axis, the two body parts weren’t lining up quite right; you can’t see it that well in the below picture, but there’s a slight gap between the parts on the right hand side for the last couple of inches. I suspect I’ve introduced a slight twist along the length on one or both of them, so although they’re straight in any measurement along the major axis, it varies as you go along.


I was tempted to keep trying to fix it, but I was getting tired and was about to slip into that perpetual “just one more go” trap where I’d just make things worse. I’m getting better at catching myself doing that these days in the workshop. I’m an impatient person by nature, and in building guitars you can’t rush certain things, such as this. If I’m honest with myself, that’s kind of why I enjoy building guitars, as it forces a discipline on me that doesn’t come naturally. So I stopped here on this guitar for the week, and next up is to find some time to watch a bunch of videos on how to deal with the twist. 

I could take the blocks to my friend who has an edge planing machine, but I feel this shouldn’t be beyond me, and with a well setup plane should be a relatively quick process. 

Having parked the jointing for guitar #9, I went back to guitar #8, the Recover Offset guitar. I had thought initially that I might wrap this one up this week, but again progress was slower than anticipated.

Last week the pillar drill in Makespace had a broken spring, so I’d delayed joining the body and the neck. That has since been fixed, so first task was to get drilling the pilot holes for the screws that would attach the neck to the body.


Here I’m using a brad point bit here rather than a regular drill bit: in the past I just used regular bits, but they tend to follow the grain if given the chance rather than going true, and on one early neck that caused me to have to plug and re-drill one of these neck mount holes. Now I use brad point bits which are much better at remaining true as you drill.

Having put the holes in the bottom end of the neck, I also quickly did the ones at the headstock end for the machine heads (aka tuning pegs). That all done the two parts finally became one, which is always a lovely moment in a guitar build:


However, mounting the machine heads didn’t go so quickly: although they went on fine from the back, the other side of the headstock went less smoothly. The machine heads I was using were not the ones I’d originally designed the neck for: the supplier was out of stock when I bought them a week or so ago, and had been for a while, so I was forced to get some from another brand in the same style. However, the metal inserts that go on the front of the headstock were both slightly wider and deeper than the ones I’d designed for. As a result I had to spend a good hour or so manually reaming the holes wider and use a drill bit by hand to gently make the holes a mm deeper. It was slow, careful work given that the neck is finished, and shows why in general you should get the hardware for your build before you do the woodwork for it. In this case the neck was destined originally for another guitar (before the CNC Router damaged it), so I did things out of order and needed to adapt, but that doesn’t always work out simply.

I also had the inverse problem on the back of the guitar body, where the holes for the string ferrules were fractionally too large, so I used aluminium tape around the ferrules to make them fit snug. I was wondering why I hit this issue on this body, and I belatedly realised that the holes on the body here were drilled rather than CNC Routed, and I probably used the closest metric bit I had (9mm), rather than finding the appropriate imperial measurement (11/32”) for the ferrules which are 8.8mm. Another one to chalk up to experience.

Still, now the major hardware bits are in, and I started on fitting the nut. When I next get chance I’ll make a start on the pick guard and electronics.

Given the CNC Router issues I mentioned a couple of weeks back, for Guitar #9 I’m just going to hand route the neck and body, so I did make a start on deriving template designs from the guitar design to let me do that.

Screenshot 2019-04-01 at 09.06.26.png

My plan is to laser cut the templates in acrylic, but I’ll need to do a little practicing with that to work out the kerf size I need allow for to ensure the body and neck join well. When you cut things on the laser cutter it will burn away a tidy width of material (the kerf), making what you get ever so fractionally smaller than what you designed. For most things this is okay, but if you want to have a nice friction fit between two parts you’ll need to think about it somewhat. I can compensate for the kerf in the tools I use to generate the laser cutter vectors, but to do that I need to measure what the kerf is with the material I’ll use on the machine I’m using with the settings I’ll use. Sort of measure, measure, measure, cut. 

I did another afternoon teaching an introduction to CAD/CAM with Fusion 360 to Makespace members at the end of the week. I’d left it a few months since the last one as I felt I’d got through most the members who wanted to learn this particular approach, but we’ve had quite a few new members since then, and also it was part of a barter with the person who looks after the Tormek: I knew he wanted to learn Fusion 360, so I set this up in exchange for him teaching me on that.

People occasionally ask why I put so much effort into doing teaching/training at Makespace, and there’s a couple of reasons. Firstly, whilst I’d never want to be a teacher/academic, I do enjoy the process of helping someone learn a new skill, and then seeing what they go on to do with that. Volunteer teaching and training at Makespace is a low commitment way to do that. It’s also a chance to give back for all the learning I’ve gotten from others.

But there’s a bunch of more selfish reasons I do it, but just because they’re selfish doesn’t mean they’re bad (I think). For example, by teaching others at Makespace how to use the tool that I use for all my CAD/CAM, there’s now a greater pool of people whom I can turn to with questions when I get stuck. There wasn’t that peer group at Makespace when I started out using Fusion 360, so I made it happen. That was a conscious motivator for starting to do the teaching, and that investment of time has helped both me and others.

Similarly, I spend time trying to teach people how to better use the Makespace woodworking facilities so as to encourage people to use it more, which in turn makes it easier for me to justify championing the better upkeep of said facilities at Makespace. In a community space like Makespace we can’t buy all the kit for all the possible hobbies/crafts, we have to focus on the things that are in demand. So, if I can get people better trained on how to use tools and machines in the woodworking part of Makespace we get a sort of positive feedback loop. It just takes a little catalyst to get it started, which is what myself and my fellow workshop advocates are trying to do. Also by being involved in this way I get to guide it along the lines that align with what I’m trying to do personally. With a community space I can’t dictate what happens, but these things are inevitably guided by those that put in the effort, so I’ve chosen to be part of that group.

Basically I do it as it’s nice to do, but I also do it as I’m trying to make something better for myself by making it better for everyone, if that makes sense: a sort of “rising tide raises all boats” metaphor. If you’re frustrated about how your workshop or community space is being run, then I can strongly advocate this approach as being a win for everyone.

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:

Screenshot 2019-03-24 at 15.05.01.png

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:

Screenshot 2019-03-16 at 16.02.18.png

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.

Screenshot 2019-03-11 at 13.37.10.png

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.