A week in the shop

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

The Orange Surf

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


A week in which a guitar is delivered

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

A productive week in the shop

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A week in the shop

At the end of last week I had successfully, after a bunch of failed attempts, cut out a pristine pick guard for The Clydesdale offset guitar, so I started this week by bringing together all the bits of the guitar and working on the electronics. First was just to get all the final bits together onto the guitar. Here it is from the front:


and from the back:


It’s looking lovely. I did a quick rough shaping of the nut, but that’s one of the last bits to do at final setup time, once the electronics are done and we’re just dialling in the final playability.

The electronics took me longer than it should of because I have a tendency to leave as much wire on the pickups etc. as I can, just in case someone wants to re-purpose the pickups later or other such events. However, there really isn’t much room to manoeuvre in this guitar, so I ended up effectively wriring everything up twice: first with lots of spare wire, and then having realised I didn’t have enough space in the body cavities for all that wire I then had to unsoldered everything, cut things to a better size, and put it back together again (and thankfully it all fit nicely this time). Partly the limited space is down to the mustang not having much room under the metal control plate combined with using push/pull pots to let the player switch the pickups between humbucker and single coil modes - fender really didn’t have this in mind for this kind of guitar. The other reason for the lack of room was my own doing: in an attempt not to remove too much wood from around the pickups (to leave the body being solid rather than hollowed out) I’d left not a huge amount of room when I designed the space behind the pick guard: in retrospect I should have left more room. Still, we got there in the end.


Electronics done I could finally string up the guitar and see how much setup was needed. This is where I discovered that the neck is sitting too high for the fixed bridge on this guitar, and the strings were buzzing on the frets even with the saddles extended as high as they’d go.

This hadn’t been an issue on the prototype offset, which used the dynamic vibrato bridge system, and that bridge naturally sits quite a bit higher than the hardtail bridge the customer wanted on this build. I did have a look at Fender’s Mustang guitars with a hardtail bridge, and they do tend to have them with the saddles set really high. In the photo below you can see quite a lot of screw under the saddles on the bridge, more so than I’d expect on say a Strat.


However, on The Clydesdale it’s just a bit too much: I think I need to take a millimetre or so out of the neck pocket to get things sitting comfortably. So this week I need to take the neck off and with the hand router remove some wood from the neck pocket using the hand router and a short follow bit. I’ll need to make a small jig to let me use the hand router over the finished body without scratching the surface, but I’ve actually done this before on The Chuncaster t-style I made early on, which had a similar problem.

The frustrating bit about it is I find out these sort of things at this late stage in the build: ideally I’d string the guitar up early on before doing any finishing. However, with Fender style guitars this is something I’m generally reluctant to do, for two reasons. Firstly, when you assemble the guitar and put it under tension by stringing it up you’ll find the metal parts like the tuning pegs and the neck plate will mark the wood as they press into it. Doing this after you’ve oiled the wood makes such marks less pronounced as the oil toughens up the wood’s outer surface. The second reason I try to avoid it is for string through guitars like this one I’d need to put in the ferrules on the back which then I can’t typically not remove, but would like to not have there when I do the finishing. Hence why I only tend to find out now that I need to adjust heights etc. after it’s finished and I then need to be very careful about such adjustments.

Mostly all this is down to a lack of experience: if I made a lot of guitars I’d be better at predicting things like this before we get this far into the process. But it is also useful learning for my own guitar designs. I think with a bit of tweaking I can design the guitar in such a way that it won’t notably mark when assembled and put under tension before finishing (e.g., using recessed screw ferrules to hold the neck rather than a Fender style neck plate).

Anyway, I have a fun week ahead of me getting the guitar adjusted so it’s a musical instrument rather than a pretty bit of art.

The rest of the week was taken up with some sudden contract work, so I didn’t do much else in the shop. I did manage to pick up some bits for the other projects I’ve got going. I was in London for a gig (see below), so I swung by GuitarGuitar in Camden and picked up a new pedal board PSU (another Walrus Audio Aetos in the end, given I know it and have been happy with it), which means at some point this coming week I can finally assemble my pedalboard prototype and start (literally) stress testing it by mounting all my pedals on it and stomping on it bunch.

I also managed to raid the spares trove in Makespace and find the correct capacitors for the fuzz pedal I built last week.


Putting these caps in place solved the sound drop issue I as experiencing with it, and now I have that classic fuzz tone. At some point I can now take this from breadboard to some veroboard (or if I find time, a custom PCB via Eagle) and mount it on my pedalboard and have it in regular rotation.

I did get to visit another workshop briefly: I was up in Liverpool at the weekend, so I finally made good on a promise I’d made in autumn last year (where does time go?) to run the Fusion 360 tutorial course I run regularly at Makespace for the DoES Liverpool community. The turnout was less than we’d hoped, I suspect due to the inclement weather, but we had enough people to keep me busy for the full duration, and feedback seemed positive.

It was nice to meet a different set of makers; DoES has different vibe to Makespace, and I met people working on things no one is working on at Makespace.  For example, I met one chap who has been using 3D printing to make moulds for casting jewellery, and was interested in Fusion 360 so he could start using their CNC Router to make moulds by milling out material - very interesting stuff.

From a personal perspective, it was also nice to chat to Adrian McEwen, one of the founders of DoES and someone I’ve had the fortune to know for a while. Long before I set out on this, Adrian’s been forging his own path in trying to work on interesting and meaningful projects between bits of contracting and is very familiar with the trials of making physical things, so it was nice to have someone to compare notes with given all the issues I’ve had over the last year. Adrian has also been doing weeknotes, so if you’re interested in seeing what he’s been up to, you should check his notes out.

I also managed to go see one of my favourite bands, The Dandy Warhols, who were playing in London. Hard to believe they’ve been going 25 years now (again, where does time go?). They did a great set, and I love how The Dandy’s do their shows: there’s no fake encore, just one bountiful set filled with a mix of things from their most recent album and spanning a good chunk of their back catalogue. Also, and I’ve not seen any other headline band do this, they present themselves as a group of equals: all four members are in a line at the front of the stage, including their drummer Fathead; it’s a small thing, but I think makes a big statement about them being a group of equals, and not just a singer and some musicians. 


Of the support bands, I really loved the 60s psychedelic surf sounds by Juniore. You should check there stuff out on their bandcamp page if you’re at all into that sort of thing.

A week in the shop

Following on from last week, I did more testing of the DM500 CNC Router controller to test its suitability for use in Makespace, and on the test rig we have it’s worked pretty well. It’s not without it’s own idiosyncrasies, but no worse than what we have (indeed probably fewer). Next step on that will be to get it tested on the actual CNC Router itself, to check that it works in situ. But given that’s effectively a day to do, it’s great being able to know the basic functionality works as should on our test harness.

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In terms of pros for this unit (beyond just working, which is not a bar all controllers appear to reach): the UI, whilst not amazing, is better than the current controller; it takes feeds speeds from the g-code itself (our current one can’t, so you have to set it manually each time), but you can also override it to be both slower and faster on the pendant (up to the configured safe maximum for the machine); and unlike the Grbl controllers we tried before it handles things like continuous jog properly and safely. On the down side, you can’t copy g-code onto the pendant before running it and it does incremental processing of the g-code itself. This has two consequences: it means you need to be careful that you don’t knock the USB stick that protrudes from the pendant whilst running your job, and the device doesn’t tell you if your g-code is going to exceed bounds until you get to that bit of the file. Not ideal, but then it actually otherwise works consistently and safely, which is surprisingly infrequent in this space we’ve found.

Given the downsides we still want to try the Masso controller unit we have also, but it’s great to have an option to swap out the current known bad controller.

I took a third go at making the pick guard for The Clydesdale guitar on the CNC router with the current controller: the first time it failed due to the CNC router misinterpreting some valid g-code, which I changed to workaround and then the second time it failed due to my double sided sticky tape failing to hold the material in place. This third time I ran the same known working g-code files on the CNC router, but made sure to screw down the centre of the pickups so they wouldn’t come free despite the double sided tape.


As you can see, third time’s a charm: the piece came out perfect thanks to the belt and braces method of securing the material (I’m still using double sided tape to ensure the PVC remains uniformly flat to the router bed). This means this week I can get started on the electronics for The Clydesdale - that’s all the manufacturing of bits complete!

The prototype offset has been sat to one side awaiting proper setup, which I’ve now completed. I’d been blocked on this waiting for my new set of nut files to be delivered, as I decided life was too short to keep using the cost saving trick of using nozzle cleaning files to cut the nuts. Proper nut files feel eye-wateringly expensive when compared with other tools you might get, particularly how briefly you use them (over a £100 for a full set), but I do say that they make the job so much easier: they’re both quicker to cut and more precise. 


Thus in half an hour I had everything setup just as I wanted. This also involved setting the levels and intonation on the bridge. The Mastery bridge units are lovely, and much more secure than the standard bridge for this type of guitar, but they are a little more fiddly to set up.


Still, the guitar is now setup, and I just have to work out what it’ll cost to post so I can get it listed on reverb.

My plan had been to test out the new pedal board prototype by moving my entire pedal setup to the prototype for a bit, but I hit an embarrassing snag there. When I assembled my current pedalboard two years ago I used 3M Dual Lock, a sort of industrial strength advanced velcro, to stick the supply under my board. It turns out that dual lock is four times as strong as velcro, and as a result you should use less of it. Unfortunately I didn’t know this at the time, so I used lots of the stuff to ensure it never fell off. Unfortunately this means the bond is now so strong I can’t remove the power supply from my current board! Doh!

There’s things I could do to try remove them, but it’d leave either the pedal board and/or power supply a bit worse for wear, so I need to chalk this one up to experience, and when I sell my old pedal board it’ll be coming with a nice power supply already attached :)

I need to order a replacement, so if you have any recommendations for pedalboard power supplies, let me know. I’ve been happily using the Walrus Audio Aetos this last two years, but there’s been a couple of times I’ve hit limits of it’s current delivery for things like the OWL programmable pedal I have, so am shopping around for a slightly beefier replacement.

I spent a little time on my pedal switcher logic, and I finally got the MCP23017 IO Expanders working properly. Turns out that although those chips will work at the 3.3Vs from the regulator on the ESP32 micro-controller board I have, it can’t provide enough current. I moved everything to the USB 5V supply, and all is fine. Next step there is to try connecting the relays I have to the IO Expander. Once I have those working I’ll have all the major bits in place and can try a working prototype.

As a fun Saturday afternoon project, I finally made myself a fuzz pedal. I was going through my electronic bits box whilst putting together my pedal switcher circuit when I noticed I had just about the right parts to make the very simple circuit that is the original Fuzz Face design (albeit with silicon transistors rather than germanium). I didn’t have everything right, notably I was missing the right values for the input and output filter caps, but I found things close enough, and half an hour later I was playing through my own fuzz build.


The sound is not perfect - I seem to have some power fade at points, though that could be due to my close-but-not-quite-right filter caps cutting out the wrong things - but it’s definitely recognisable as that early Satisfaction style fuzz sound. I did a little dive through the Makespace trove and now have some more bits to try and bring it closer to the original circuit next time I get a moment.

In the picture above you can see four transistors (the little silver cylinders on legs), but the circuit only uses two, so what are the other two doing?

They’re there for experimentation! I have two transistors of one particular type, and two of another, and I tried swapping them in and out for each other to see how it changed the sound. Whilst all combinations gave a fuzz type sound, I found I preferred the two that gave me a less harsh sound (using BC107s for both rather than any other combination of those and the BC108s I also had).

I actually bought a big-muff style fuzz pedal kit a while ago on the idea I’d make it, but in the end I never felt motivated to do so, as just copying an existing circuit for no other reason than to use it without change felt a bit pointless. But instead of using a PCB with a fixed configuration and making it on a breadboard like this lets me start to experiment and learn what impact each component has on the sound: I have a broad idea of what the circuit is meant to be doing, but that’s very different from being able to hear the impact of tweaking bits through your amplifier. I look forward to swapping out the filter caps in a similar fashion next time I get to play with it: when I found the extra caps I got not just the ones that are specified in the original circuit but others around the range to let me pick what I think sounds best.

And this is why there’s 1001 different pedals on the market: each one is subtly different and you have to find the right one that inspires you when used with your guitar and amplifier.

A week in the shop

There was no direct guitar progress this week, with the CNC Router still out of bounds for guitar work. We did fix the USB port failure on the current adapter so it is back in operation, but it’s on the old control electronics so I refuse to put material on it at the moment that I can’t afford to replace, and after two failed attempts to cut a pick guard on that, I’m not going to throw good money after bad.

As a result I concentrated on mostly contract work this last week to let me get ahead of that so that when the CNC router does get it’s new brain I’m ready to take advantage of it.

So, progress on that new brain. Two replacement CNC Controllers have now arrived: the DM500, a new pendant style controller, and the Masso, a more advanced unit that has lots of bells and whistles, but still has the advantage of not being a PC. Adrian, one of the Makespace directors (with minimal help from me in the form of switch pressing occasionally) wired up the first of the new controllers to our test jig (shown below with the old Grbl controller we tested initially).


Whilst I like the idea of a controller with lots of bells and whistles, in the context of Makespace that’s not necessarily optimal. Whilst there’s a small set of users like myself who are pushing to the more advanced end of what can be done, there’s many more users for whom this is their first bit of industrial control kit, and as such whatever solution we get for Makespace has to be robust and easy to comprehend. becoming a trainer on the CNC Router has been quite an eye-opener in terms of what the Makespace requirements are - it has to just work more than it needs to let you control things to the nth degree (no matter my personal opinions on it). At the same time though, we do have some minimum feature requirements, such as the ability to do 3D surfaces, not just 2.5D as per some solution (e.g., the Instructables X-Carve). Thus we’re starting testing with the simpler of the two controllers, the DM500, which I hope to start software testing on today.

In early December I wrote a bit about my side project to make myself a new pedal board. This was partly to fix something that bugged me about my current pedal board, and partly to move me out of my comfort zone in terms of making things and make learn a new skill. The design centred around a folded bit of metal onto which the pedals would attach, along with some nice wood end-caps designed to make it look nice for a home or studio setting. 

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Having designed the metal work, and consulted with a couple of friends who had done this sort of thing before (many thanks to Mark, Rob, and Adrian!) I commissioned a local firm to build me a one off prototype, and the metal work finally came back:


When this turned up, I was very excited to see how close what I got was to my design: it’s one thing to design an object, it’s another thing for it to be actually manufacturable. I might have designed the radiuses too tight to be folded, or relied on tolerances that were not feasible etc.

Initial impressions were that it looked very much like the design I sent them, but the question is whether it’d mate with the other parts needed to make the entire thing. The main interaction points are the wooden end-caps, and in the rear is a power socket that just passes through to an internal kettle connector, so you can mount your pedal power block under the board but still have an accessible on/off switch on the outside. There are also rubber feed I ordered and the undersides were designed to fit those.


As you can see in the above picture, the power socket and the feet mount perfectly, and the board sits nice and level with the feat on. Very pleased with this. I then cut some mock end caps out of MDF just to see how those would work (demonstrating that our current CNC Router controller knows when I’m using cheap material, as it let these ones cut without incident).  With those on it looks the business:


Not bad for a first go at designing with folded metal!

However, although it looks the business, there’s a few things the prototype indicated I need to tweak. The main one is that the front fold isn’t quite perfect, and so having the end-caps perfectly flush with the metal doesn’t work aesthetically, as they highlight the slight variance. I’m informed that folded metal like this is never absolutely perfect, and you have to allow for little variations like this - sometimes with a mallet ;) However, here I’ll try to adjust the design of the end-caps to make this acceptable in the design. There’s also a few machine marks I’d like to see if I can get removed at the production place, as although I can file them out, I want the production place to also powder coat them before shipping them to me for the planned production run. Before I respin the end-caps I’ll get the guitar cable jacks wired in and pedals mounted so I can check for any other niggles by actually using it.

But for all those niggles, I consider this Achievement Unlocked! I’ve never fabricated things in metal before, and this turned out better than I had any reasonable right to expect for my first go. This opens up the door for other things down the line: for example, if I wanted to make more amps I can now make my own chassis to match my design rather than (as I did last time) building my design around an existing chassis which changed the vision I had quite substantially.

I did find a little time to keep plugging away with my trying to re-learn electronics. I’ve been struggling to get my IO-expander chips to play ball, but didn’t get very far due to my push on contract work. I did however make some strip boards for the relays I want to use with my pedal switcher, as they don’t mount on the breadboard directly.

A week in the shop

Apologies for the lateness of the weeknotes, contracting work has kept me rushed this last few days. But, the week notes must go on: here’s what I did last week.

After the previous week’s setback with the CNC router, I decided to just use the slightly damaged pick guard I had made and spent the better part of a day putting together most of the rest of The Clydesdale. This was partly just to check everything else was okay and there were no more surprises waiting in store as I brought all the bits both made and bought for the guitar together, but it was also a bit of a cathartic process for me to let me see the guitar looking like a guitar.


As is inevitable on a project that goes wrong so many times and drags on long beyond what you expected, this guitar has become something of a weight on my shoulders and mostly a thing that brings me negative emotions, as I view it as a series of personal failures leading it to be over six months behind schedule. Seeing it put together like this though helped remind me why it’s worth all the pain: the guitar just looks beautiful. The dark crimson stain sets off against the cream pick guard just right, the birdseye maple neck with the wenge fretboard is wonderfully rich in texture, and all the bits hang together just right.

I was going to solder up the electronics and string it up, but the Mustang design on which this is based is quite fiddly to do wiring wise and so I’d rather just wire it up once (when I have the correct pick guard) rather than do it now and then have to dismantle it when I replace the pick guard. But for now it was motivational to see it in this form.

A tip I learned whilst putting They Clydesdale together that I didn’t know before: how to shorten screws reliably. When you get pickups they have to come with long screws to allow for whatever mounting you might use, but I find then that they’re too long for the cavities I make in the body for the pickups, and so I have to cut them short with a hacksaw. This is a fiddly process, but a friend of mine (thanks Graeme!) explained his trick to getting reliable cuts on the screws: use two nuts to create a guide for the hacksaw blade.


This lets you get the position right and fixes it so that you don’t lose your place when you measure and then go to the vice for sawing. It also helps keep the ends neat by containing the material in something, so you don’t have ragged ends of your bolts. You can additionally sand the ends whilst in the nut for a better finish.

To do the setup for The Clydesdale and the prototype offset I finally ordered a proper set of nut files. Nut files are really quite eye-wateringly expensive, and so until now I’d been getting by with a set of the blowtorch nozzle cleaners, but whilst they do get the job done, they’re slow and frustrating to use. I think at this stage I want to be making things easier to get right rather than fighting with tools still. I do enough of that with the CNC Router :)

As I mentioned in the last weeknotes, I decided that I needed to rethink my guitar building plans for 2019. Even once the CNC Router is back online, I don’t think I’ll trust it for anything complex for a while, so I want a simple design that I can make using templates and the hand router, and nothing too complicated. At the same time I want it to be related to my future designs, so I’ve come up with the following design for my next guitar builds once The Clydesdale is done.

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Whilst I had bigger ambitions for the next set of guitars, I’m still quite pleased with how my more complicated design has made the transition here to something simpler, but still has elements of what I wanted. This particular example is a baritone scale length with a reverse headstock, as that’s what the customer was asking for, but I’ll also do a conventional scale length version to, with a either a reverse or regular headstock depending on the preference of who’s the customer will be.

I did a quick 3D print of this and sent it off to my brother who spec’d the baritone and his feedback was that he’s happy with the shape, which is top news. 


So the plan for this will be to make some MDF templates, then make the body and neck using the hand router and using a rasp for the comfort carves. Fingers crossed that this’ll move me forward more quickly in the first half of 2019 than I did in 2018.

It was quite nice to spend a bit of time in CAD again: it’s a technical challenge that I quite enjoy. I’m not alone in that, as the third Fusion 360 Show & Tell session I’ve organised at Makespace ran this last week, and we had a good turn out yet again with people sharing their tips and tricks on how the designed made made stuff.


It’s been quite a nice community event at Makespace, and we seem to be meeting my aim for this meeting that everyone leave with at least one bit of knowledge they can apply to their next project.

Related to that I’m looking forward to engaging with another community of makers up at DoES Liverpool: I’m going to be back up there for other reasons at the end of the month but am using the opportunity to make good on my promise to run the Fusion 360 training course I run at Makespace for their community. As DoES has a different set of equipment and different kinds of activities going on, I hope for me this is a way that I can find another set of people who’ll in future inspire my design and making process as has happened at Makespace.

The other thing I did was spend a bit more time on the electronics for my pedal switcher design. Slowly managing to remember bits of electronics, but slowly :)


Still, with other things blocked at the moment, it’s been a good mental exercise to keep me moving forward on this guitar side of the fence.

A frustrating start to the new year

I’ve been putting this week notes off as it’s been a frustrating week, but the point of these notes is to show the good with the bad, so let’s get to it.

As discussed last week, having diagnosed the latest fault with the CNC router down to the fact that it didn’t like one particular file I gave it, despite being valid, I generated the same tool path with slightly different layer heights and when I tested that on air, it all worked fine. Thanks CNC Router. 

So, I sat down to route the pick guard once again, but this time I had a more conventional failure, which left me with an almost perfect pick guard but with an annoying ding in it. When cutting out the holes for the pickups in the pick guard the the piece to be removed, which should have been secured by double sided tape on the rear, came loose, which then hooked on the router bit and managed to get in the way:


This caused the bit to deflect, making the edge there slightly less straight than it should be:


The pick guard is otherwise fine, but the professional in me sees this as unacceptable to ship.


So another failure, and I’m beginning to feel very cursed right now. The fix here is to not rely on the tape alone - I should have put a couple of screws in the bit that came loose - but for before now I’d managed to get away with it just using tape. To top it off, before I got time to cut it out again, the CNC Router pendant’s USB port broke, so now I’m without CNC Router until we replace it.

As the kids say, FML.

All in all, a frustrating week, which is why I didn’t really want to write up these notes. I’d set myself the goal to finish The Clydesdale by xmas, then by new year, and each time I hit yet another problem.

However, rather than just stop, I do have a pick guard that is the right shape and size and has the right holes in the right place, so what I’ll do this week is finish the rest of the guitar with this pick guard and then when the CNC Router starts working again I’ll cut another.

And when will the CNC Router be fixed? Well, Makespace has ordered two new controllers to try, and they’ll turn up mid Jan, so fingers crossed one of those will make us happy.

Given the frustration and given I was still trying to spend the new year at home whilst my other half was around more, I did some more playing with electronics. I actually did two years of electronics at university (over 20 years ago for those counting), but have not used it since (whilst I have done on-chip design since then, that’s a very different kettle of fish to playing with capacitors and resistors). 

My little project to help me relearn electronics is to make myself a pedal switcher, as at 6 pedals I have enough in my chain now that with it all “off” I still have a notable change in tone (doesn’t help that three of my pedals are buffered).

Thus, thanks to the advice of my friend Jason (who I helped with his Nixie Clock back in the summer), I got myself an Adafruit HUZZAH32 microcontroller and a bunch of other parts to let me prototype the bits I’d need for a switcher: an I/O expander chip to let me control more things than the HUZZAH32 will control directly, some latching relays, and some transistor arrays to let me power those. 


Early days, bit slowly getting there with the design, here I’ve got everything hooked up bar the relays as they don’t fit onto the breadboard here, I need to make a small board with stripboard with those on. 

A nice distraction from the woes in the workshop.

So, with 2019 arriving and the guitar building in 2018 not having gone anything like as well as I’d hoped, I think I need to reset my expectations. I tried to push along with the guitar building with the assumption that I could do a lot on the CNC Router and that just isn’t the case. Even with a fully working CNC Router I think it’s not a tool designed for quick one-off productions: either it’s something you labour over a lot time wise for a one-off that can be made no other way, or you want to do some test pieces and then never change your design and make multiples of them. But I’m not making enough guitars that I’ve hit that point, so I need to trying to use production techniques that suit the fact I’m making one off guitars for people or one-off test guitars to get me to that small volume production place.

I had designed some ambitious guitars for this year, which used both carved tops and angled headstocks, but I think committing to those would be foolish at this point, they rely too much on the CNC Router as a tool for making the guitar not just templates to let me build guitars by hand. Instead, at this point, I want to be making templates and using a hand router to generate the guitars, and designing to match a more traditional workflow given what I have access to. I just want to make some simple guitars this year that let me regain momentum and having the satisfaction of shipping. 

I’ll finish these two offsets, and then I’ll switch to making a sort of Junior version of the guitars I’d hoped to make for 2019: so flat tops, hand carved contours, and no angled headstocks. On one had I’m again frustrated, as in my head is this guitar I want to make and play, and now that’s a 2020 project, but on the flip side I just want to make guitars and see people play them, and that’s more important. So here’s to more wood being turned into music this year.