A week in and out the shop

Where to start this week? It was a very mixed bag, with the week starting with frustrations (broken/missing tools, causing me to spend a bunch of money I hadn’t expected) and then ending with an unexpected amazing happenings (a fully 3D printed guitar body prototype!)


Let’s start at the frustrating part of the week to get that over and done with. Last week I mentioned that things were going south with the neck build I was doing to prototype my new more manual build process (of which I still intend to do a proper write up), but rather than just abandon the build there and then, there was still more to learn from this neck before I moved on. As a general rule, if you’re working on something and it goes wrong, it’s worth asking if there’s something to be gained by pushing it a little further, either to practice and hone existing techniques or try out new ones, and with this I got to do a little of both in this instance.

Anyway, given things had gone sub-optimally when I glued on the fretboard the main thing I wanted to do with this neck was still finish the headstock transition: this was something that previously I’d done with the CNC router, and so wanted to try by hand once before I do the necks for the commissions I have in the queue. Before I can look at the headstock transition though I had to first remove most of the excess of the wood from the fretboard material, making it flush with the rest of the neck at the heel and sides (I could have done with more pictures here, sorry, but I hadn’t realised what was about to happen :). To do this I used a hand-router with a follow bit, but unfortunately in the process ended up tearing the edge of the wenge fretboard.


Wenge is a difficult wood to work with, and I’ve said previously I don’t plan on using it until I get better at woodwork, but I have quite a bit in stock, which is why I was using some for this test build. Wenge is a weird mix of hard and soft wood, and that combined with the shallow grain angle here made it very susceptible to the kind of tearing damage you see above.

At the time the way I solved this was by doing something you’re generally not advised to do with a hand-router, which was switch to using climb cutting. There’s two ways you can use a hand router when going around a workpiece like this: either counter-clockwise (conventional cutting) or clockwise (climb cutting). For hand-routing the rule is that conventional cutting is preferred, for CNC routing you tend to use climb cutting. The main reason of using conventional cutting with a hand-router is that you’re pushing against the direction of the bit rotation, so the hand-router will not run away from you, keeping you in control of the router at all times. With climb cutting you are pushing with the direction of the bit acting like a wheel on a car, so it wants to speed away from you which has obvious safety implications. However, the other side effect is that with conventional cutting as the cutting surface of the router bit digs into the wood you are reinforcing this motion as you push, digging the bit further into the wood as it turns, making tearing more likely. With climb cutting you get more a compacting action as you move the router back relative to the bit’s cutting direction, reducing that risk.

Given in this situation my neck was firmly clamped down, I was using the smaller, less powerful, hand-router, and I was only removing a small amount of material (I’d removed the bulk earlier with the bandsaw), I switched cautiously to climb cutting for the rest of the neck, and I avoided any further tearing.

However, potentially what I could have done, had I had an appropriate follow bit with the bearing on the other side, would be to flip the entire workpiece over so I wasn’t cutting into the grain line, just as you would turn the piece around if you experienced tearing with a hand plane. Obviously if you’re doing conventional cutting here you’re still using the tool where it might tear more, but working with the grain direction lets you use the safer conventional cutting with lower risk.

In this case it’s not the end of the world that I had a small chip: wenge being a dark wood with varied texture is fairly easy to patch using a mixture of sawdust and wood glue. But still, it’s something I’ll think about more next time I use wenge.

The hand router let me get all the fretboard flush with the neck, except the headstock. Here you can see that I have an overhang above the transition part I made last week. The next task was to finish that transition.


Unfortunately, in the gap between my using the spindle sander last week to round out the main part of the neck and when I came to complete it with the fretboard attached the Makespace workshop had suffered a sudden drought of clamps. For all the benefits of working in a community workshop, this is one of the downsides: at times the things you come to rely on will be broken or missing. The problem isn’t that things break (it’s a workshop) but rather that members have a tendency not to report that things have broken.

In general at Makespace we try and make reporting such things easy, and at every opportunity make it clear that this is normal for a workshop and no one will hold it against you if something breaks whilst you’re using it. Unfortunately people still tend to be embarrassed or scared at having broken something and, so often the first time you realise things are missing is when you go to use them, which is quite frustrating as it can waste a lot of time. I tried to make do with an old F-clamp rather than the one handed clamps I wanted to use, but it wouldn’t hold properly, so I was forced to give up on that task for the day rather than make a mess of the operation.


Whilst for Makespace we ordered some replacement clamps, I decided this was also time to order my own small set of good clamps, so I went over to Axminster and ordered a pair of G-clamps and a pair of one-handed clamps that I can then rely on to be always at Makespace and always in a known good condition. Good clamps are not cheap (£15 to £20 each for the sizes I’m looking at), but compared to the wasted time here I’d rather just spend the money and try recover that by making more guitars. Having my own also deals with the other downside of a community workshop in that we have to buy things on the assumption they’ll be abused (not deliberately, we just have a lot of people who start inexperienced at Makespace), so we can’t justify having the nicest of everything. For most jobs that’s fine, but occasionally it’s not, so this outlay also covers me for this.


Once the clamps turned up I was able to get the neck on the spindle sander set up properly and it did a top job of rounding out that transition.


So, despite the neck not being fit for purpose currently, I still learned a couple of things by continuing to push it forward a little more. I have a sneaky plan to try this week to see if I can fix the thing that went wrong, but even if that doesn’t work I still managed to extract more value from the neck than I would had I just given up the moment I realised I’d messed up when gluing.

Next up I went to route out the control and pickup cavities on the set of bodies I have on the go. First step was to make some more templates for the internal cavities.


The 5mm clear acrylic I use for templates is about £10 a sheet, so as you can see I like to get as many templates out of a piece as I can! Unfortunately this is about as far as I got this week, as again I was frustrated by the stock Forstner bits in the Makespace workshop, which were just too blunt for purpose. When I tried them on a bit of scrap they just started to burn the wood without cutting into it.


When using a hand-router to cut pockets you generally want to remove as much material as possible using drill bits before hand, using the hand-router more as a finishing tool rather than for bulk removal. For this you ideally want Forstner bits for, as the guide spike isn’t too deep (compared to a spade bit) and thanks to the circular outer guide you can cut overlapping holes easily, whereas other bits will want to slip into existing holes if you try to overlap them.

This is another case where in the end I have just ordered my own so I always have my own sharp set to hand, rather than rely on the shared ones in the workshop always being in a top notch state. Another unexpected expense, but at this point I’d rather just spend the money and know I won’t be blocked by this in the future. Thus I wasn’t able to route out the body cavities last week, that’s now a priority for this week.

After a frustrating week in the workshop, on Saturday it was nice to take a trip across to the Engineering Build Space at Warwick University, where on Saturday department lecturer Simon Leigh hosted an Autodesk Fusion 360 Makers day. I’m always on the look out to see how I can improve my Fusion 360 usage, so signed up to the day despite not knowing quite what to expect. 

What I found when I went was the maker-space equivalent of a candy land. They had a good workshop space in one half, with lots of bench space, woodwork tools, lathes for both metal and wood, a very nice CNC mill, and other things I’d hope to find in such a shop. In the second half though they had the more experimental tools, befitting of a space that is actually part of a research department at a university: giant 3D printers, printers that use non-conventional materials or nozzles, and so forth. It was the kind of place that just leaves your mind fizzing with ideas and inspiration as it makes you aware that the little box you assumed you had to work in is much bigger.

There was no real agenda to the day, beyond a meeting of like minded people, so after being shown around the equipment I realised that I might be able to solve a problem that I discussed here a few weeks ago: how to quickly prototype a guitar body to see if the ergonomics feel right? It’s one thing to see a guitar design on screen, but it’s another to actual have a physical model of it. In the past I’ve made 1/4 sized prints on the Ultimaker at Makespace, and that at least tells me that visually things are okay, but to know what it feels like takes an actual thing in your hands, and then you really need a full size model. I looked at several techniques to try and make it faster than just building one with wood and in the end nothing was that practical in terms of either cost, time, or weight. But here I was somewhere with a 3D printer that had a build volume of 1 x 1 x 0.5 m, more than plenty to print a guitar body… 


I forgot to bring a banana for scale in the above picture, but between the cup of tea and the row of ultimakers behind you should start to get an idea for the scale of the machine :)

So faced with this machine I had to ask if I could try printing a prototype body. Simon though this would be a fun idea, and pointed me towards Liz Bishop, one of the department’s engineering PhD students, who spends her time trying to solve some of the technical/material challenges of printing on such large machines. To make the print more meaningful, I picked one of my designs that I’ve wanted to make for ages but has a non-uniform top, so would be hard to make quickly by hand, or at least very time expensive for a prototype that might prove the design wasn’t good.

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Given we wanted the print to be complete during the meetup, Liz and I made a few tweaks to the design to speed up the printing, namely removing the control and tremolo sprint cavities on the rear (basically details that don’t matter ergonomically), and Liz took some educated guess on things like infill density and outer layer counts to try and keep the print time down too. With that done, we kicked the job off.


And six hours later (with some careful monitoring from Liz and some olympic-level filament swap over action), we had a full-sized guitar body!


The idea with this print is just to get a sense of how the design looks and feels at scale. My plan is to put a neck on it in the coming week, but already I’m over the moon to see my design at actual scale. I like the lines it has and it feels good to hold. Once I have a neck on it I’ll know a lot more, but even just in this form it tells me a lot about the design I can’t get from screen. Weight wise it’s a little light, at 1.2 kg, compared with roughly 2 kg for a wooden body, but it’s close enough still, and if we were to repeat this we could tune the infill to get the weight up - which is a better position to be in than when I looked at doing this with acrylic, where I was struggling to get the weight down from an initial 4 kg estimation. Cost-wise it’s also quite reasonable: a 2kg spool of filament costs around £45, which is a lot cheaper than what I’d need to spend on acrylic when I looked the other week, and probably about right if I use lower quality wood.

Because this was a spur of the moment print, and we were pushed for time, we didn’t try to make a body that we could string up - the minimal infill means that it’d likely snap if we tried. However, Liz and I are already planning a round two at some point, and then perhaps even crazier things if that works out :)

The guitar body wasn’t the only experimental print I got to do at the weekend. One of the things I’ve been wondering about is how I make custom control knobs now that Makespace has got rid of the FormOne resin printer we had. Whilst I liked the finish on prints from the FormOne, the overheads and failure rates in a place like Makespace were unsustainable, so we got rid of it and replaced it with two more Ultimaker printers. However, getting a finish like the FormOne on the Ultimaker is less of a known thing.

I was chatting to Chris Purcell, another staff member from the Engineering Build Space about this, and he introduced me to Polysmooth filament, which is designed to be as easy to print with as PLA filament, but be polishable using a solvent like IPA to remove the ridges that you get on a filament style printer (they even will sell you a special machine for this process). As a demonstration Chris and Liz helped me print one of my controls that I had made before using their Polysmooth filament.


Straight out of the printer it has the common layer ridges, but then Chris made a quick ad-hoc IPA vapour chamber to let us get an impression of how it’d smooth out. By the end of the process we had something that whilst not perfectly smooth, was enough to demonstrate the potential, and certainly something I want to play more with.


The main area where it was lacking was on the top surface of the print, where there was a grid like pattern from the printing that was particularly pronounced. However, Chris then pointed me at another PhD student of the lab, Elliot Griffiths, who introduced me to an option I’d not seen in Cura before: ironing.

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With ironing you can get the 3D printer to do a second pass on a layer where it doesn’t extrude any new material, but rather uses the heated nozzle to press down on the just printed layer with a fine step over, effectively ironing it like you would with clothes. We didn’t have change to test that there and then, but it’s something I can test out on our Ultimakers back in Makespace.

Between the above and the other conversations I had it was a wonderful event: I met people who knew a lot more than me on 3D printing and I learned a lot from them, and it was great to see some of the future of digital making at the same time. My thanks to Simon and the Engineering department of Warwick University for running the event, and to Liz, Chris, Elliot and everyone else for being very generous with their time and knowledge.

A week in the shop

I know, I know, these notes are late: I got a mental block on trying to go into detail on some issues I hit whilst making the pilot neck that I describe below, and wasn’t in the right (write) frame of mind, so kept putting these notes off. In the end it got silly, so I’ve pulled that section out from here and I’ll write that up in its own post in due course. I’m not a natural writer, so the weeknotes discipline does occasionally bog down like this. But shorter notes are better than no notes, so let’s get to it.

The week started with that new toy fun: I got to use the new Makespace bandsaw! [DISCLAIMER: bandsaws are not toys…] I was looking forward to this because the old bandsaw (pictured here on the left, with the new bandsaw on the right) did not have either the throat clearance nor power to do the sorts of cuts I want to do when building necks in a more manual way.


In the past I’ve used the CNC router on all my necks (which also tells you it’s been a good while since I cut a new neck), but in my post-CNC router workflow I need to be able to cut the headstock face on the bandsaw. This being the first time we’d used the bandsaw for precision work like this, Graeme and I spent some time making sure the bed was properly perpendicular to the blade, and then getting the fence (the whiteish board you can see in the above picture on the bed of the new bandsaw that is used as a vertical reference) to be parallel to the blade. This took a little time, but is worth it: as I’ve said before here, there’s a tendency to see a bandsaw as a crude bulk-cutting tool, but if it’s properly set up a bandsaw can be a precision instrument.

Once we were happy with the alignment, I tried doing the initial shaping of the neck headstock on my first neck to use this new approach. This involved two cuts: the first is just marking where the start of the transition from headstock face to fretboard happens:


Then a second longer cut removes the material from the tip of the headstock to that point, revealing the face of the headstock:


The new bandsaw made light work of this, and thanks to all the set up effort that had gone in, it was precise: I was aiming fo 12mm thick and I got 12.0 on the callipers, so spot on.

Whilst I was very happy with how the neck looked post band-saw, that step from headstock face to fretboard needs to be rounded out. That I did with the spindle sander. 


Again, I took time to get myself set up here, and did a few test pieces first using scrap. I found that for some reason when I apply what I feel is even force on the material into the spindle I always end up with more being removed at the bottom than the top, so I have to watch for that and compensate if necessary by pushing harder on the top. I’m not sure why this is, the spindle itself is quite rigid, so I doubt it’s flexing under the pressure. Still, this is why you test on scrap first, and the final results were again pretty spot on.


The final step this week on this pilot neck for my new process was to glue on the fretboard. 


This is the aforementioned by that didn’t go according to plan unfortunately, but that spills into this week (as I’m now writing these notes for last week after some time in the shop this week), and I think needs it’s own little post. As it is, I now have an order to make for some more wood and repeat the process. Whilst frustrating, I know what I did wrong here, and so it’s just one to chalk up to experience. However, I will still finish the neck roughly here, as I want to check I can get the fretboard transition to be seamless, so there’s still value in this neck even though it’s not going to end up on a guitar.

The other thing I was able to do on the new bandsaw was cut out the body that I found the old bandsaw struggling with last week. The new bandsaw made very quick work of this, slicing through the thicker bit of ash like butter. The downside, if one is being picky, is that the new bandsaw has a thicker blade, so you can’t do as tight turns as I could on the old bandsaw. This means I can’t quite carve out as much wood from the curves on the body with the new bandsaw as I could on the old one, leaving me more to remove with the hand-router. But given the old bandsaw couldn’t really cope, I’m obviously better off with he new bandsaw, but it’s worth understanding that every tool has trade-offs.


As you can see below though, all the extra material to remove with the hand router meant I had quite a mess to sweep up afterwards :)


With the body routed out, I then ran it through the thicknesser to get it to the right depth, and then used the spindle sander to get rid of any machine marks or grain tearing from the hand router. I did make a template to route out the neck pocket, but because I’d used all the clamps in gluing the neck at the time I had to defer routing the neck pocket to the next week.


Here’s a picture of all three bodies I’ve got going on right now, which is a nice thing (to me at least) to see - a little bit of a production line.


Last week I talked about how light the body for guitar #6 is, I did a quick comparison, and can confirm that the other two bodies are currently 2.2 kilograms compared to 1.8 for #6. Now, all these will come down, as there’s still quite a bit of material to remove for the comfort carves and the electronics cavities, however, it does just go to show how much lighter that particular bit of swamp ash is.

For guitar #10, the client and I were unsure of what colour scheme to go for at the time the build was specified, but I’m at the point where I need to start commissioning pickups from House of Tone for this build, and for that I need to know the colour of the pickup covers, and so I took one of the larger offcuts from the body and stained it green, and then set him pictures of the stained wood with a series of pick-guard materials.


In the end we both liked the above option, so I can now get ordering pick guard material, pickups, etc.

Makespace has some interns at the moment trying to improve its public visibility, and as part of that I was interviewed as part of a series of meet the makers. I’ve not managed to bring myself to read what nonsense I spouted, so do let me know if I sound sane or not if you read it :)

To end the week fellow Makespace regular Jonathan and I went on a wood safari, heading up to MAC Timber near Peterborough who had an open day. MAC Timber specialise in locally grown hardwoods, and I wanted to see it they had anything that might be good for guitar building. Whilst I’ve been very happy with the service I get from my regular supplier, Exotic Hardwoods UK Ltd, it’s always nice to see what other options are out there.


MAC Timber are a relatively small outfit compared to other timberyards I’ve visited, but they had a very nice selection of woods, just nothing quite to the dimensions and weights that I normally look for, catering more for furniture making and turning. Jonathan had better luck than me: he makes these lovely laser etched maps of Cambridge on unique bits of wood, and MAC Timber had some lovely knotted and burled bits of oak he fell in love with.


In the end I did pick up a wonderfully light bit of poplar I can use to make a guitar body with, but it’s not something they normally stock, so not a thing I can use on a regular basis.

Mostly the trip once again revealed how ignorant I am of woodwork the moment I go out of the narrow path I’ve trodden to date. I really would like to follow the path taken by local luthier Jamie at Swannell Guitars who is trying to use locally sourced and sustainable woods for his beautiful acoustic guitars. For solid body electric guitars I need to understand a bit more about the density and strength requirements and then perhaps take another visit to MAC Timber to quiz them over what might be appropriate for my needs.

Wilderness 2019 music highlights

At last year’s Wilderness festival I saw some amazing bands, a number of which I’ve either seen since at solo shows or I still have in my regular playlist rotation, and so I was a little disappointed when I saw this year there was less music to suit my particular palette scheduled. However, I needn’t have worried: I just had to look a little harder, and thus I still came back armed with a list of bands to follow up on. One (of the many) nice thing about Wilderness is that I get no phone reception there, so can actually switch off, but it does mean there’s a post Wilderness research phase I have to go through as I process my notes from the event, and for the music I thought I would share the list I’d made. The order here is pretty much the order in which I saw them, and I’ve thrown in some random youtube videos that I found so you can get a quick taste for each artist.

Last year I mostly hung out at The Hearafter stage which had lots of great bands on it, but this year that stage was swapped out for something less to my tastes. However, for the Saturday afternoon the stage was temporarily taken over by The Great Brain Robbery, who I believe were responsible for ranning last year’s The Hereafter stage. From this session my highlight was the awesome Annie Bea and her band. Annie Bea sang some great new-orleans style blues, whilst herself giving off the aura of a 20s jazz singer (including chaise longue on stage, which was a nice touch). Her band were similarly very good; they had a guest fiddler who did a great job of filling in where there might have been a guitar solo, mimicking that high end of the fretboard with lots of vibrato style. The guitar on stage was also an interesting pawn shop style strat with a single pickup and no tone or volume controls (apologies, but if you are willing to read music reviews by a guitar builder this is the kid of observation you’re going to get ;).

Alas, as is often the case with the smaller stage artists, she doesn’t have a full album out yet, but there’s bits and pieces out there both on her website and on youtube, like this one:

On a tiny stage in the corner of one of the bars, ran by Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, there was some great small jazz and blues bands playing. Sam 3 had an amazing energy as a vocals-free jazz team, along with the biggest pedalboard I’ve ever seen, which their guitarist used to help his guitar fill the space freed up by having no vocalist: using lots of modulation effects, a looper, and working the entire board well during the set to create some very nice sounds. Their drummer and bassist also did a fantastic job of driving the pace and energy, and the entire band were clearly having a fun time. Unfortunately I’ve not found any info on the Internet about them, so something to keep an eye out for.

Also on the same stage was Markus Bonfanti with The Delta Trio playing a strong growly blues game. Markus’s show I only caught the end of their set, but thankfully Markus does have a bunch of recordings, including albums, out there, so I’ve been making up for that today. In contrast to the variety of sounds Sam 3’s guitarist was playing through his pedalboard, Markus was getting some amazing sounds just from an old Harmony Rocket H59 plugged straight into a Fender Twin Reverb. Not to imply one was better than the other - both guitarists got great sounds to suit their styles, and it was wonderful to get to hear the contrast. 

As a Wilderness tradition Ronnie Scott’s also have been annually taking one of the bigger stages on the Saturday evening, and this year was no exception. This year they hosted the band Incognito, a funk-jazz band with enough members to fill the stage: again a nice contrast to the three-piece outfits on the smaller Ronnie Scott’s stage. Incongnito fielded two guitarists (some kind of Gibson ES and a Deluxe Telecaster for those counting), three brass, two drummers, bass, keyboards, and three vocalists. Quite the ensemble, but well utilised so that they all had their moments and it didn’t sound like a single wall of sound. Jazz is not a music form I’ve managed to get into before, but this year I’m hoping that all the Ronnie Scott’s music has given me some threads to pull on. 

In a change of pace over on the main stage, we saw Caravan Palace, a French electro-swing act. I have to confess that whilst I find electro-swing entertaining, I’d assumed it was just pulled together digitally - mixing samples of old swing records with new electronically made music. How wrong was I: Caravan Palace is a full band and they perform everything live, including some live swing dancing (watch out for the mic hand over in the below video, and now imagine a roadie legging it across a stage 4 times the size to do the same thing, it was quite impressive :). There’s still a digital element in there: I’m fairly sure the acoustic guitar on stage had a midi pickup, as it seemed to be making piano sounds at one point. Again, not that that’s bad, rather to the contrary, it was great to see my expectations broken in many ways by this set. 

Also on the main stage the following day, were Cosmic Strip, who we saw last year on The Hearafter stage. They’re listed as shoe-gaze music apparently, but I’d list them as alternative or psychedelic-rock. I have to confess, whilst it was great to see them again, they’d been put into that awful main stage opener slot, where (at least at Wilderness due to it being very spread out) there’s not much of an audience and no sense of real connection between the artist and audience. Still, it was good to get to hear them live again all the same. Their lineup had changed since last year, with the lead singer handing over second guitar duties to a new member, which I think has given them a slightly more punchy sound overall, with the second guitar now being more a second lead in a different style. Kit wise they’d also moved from hollow bodies to Fender offsets (both a jazzmaster and a jaguar), and one amp had gone, I assume to replaced with a Helix or such given their modulation heavy sound (which makes my game of gear spotting much harder :).

Finally, I went to a guitar workshop on the folk style stage by Smith and Brewer, who turned out are Cambridge locals. They did a mix of playing and a guitar playing Q&A. Their music style was mostly a mix of folk and country style songs, with the pair duetting both vocals and guitar playing to make a wonderfully rich texture, delivering much more than you’d expect from a couple of blokes with acoustic guitars. I was worried the Q&A part might struggle without an audience fully armed with guitars, but the session quickly found its feet, and there was some good discussion had about tunings and the challenges of playing with two guitars, and some desperate attempts to avoid playing Oasis on request. Unfortunately their next Cambridge gig (despite being in the place I get my beard trimmed!) is when I’m up doing my own festival appearance at Wuthering Bytes later in the month, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them in future.

And that’s a wrap for Wilderness 2019 musically - if you need me to do a list of the wines and gins I tried, let me know and I can try remember enough for that post ;) It just goes to show, that if you put enough music up, even if the overall trend isn’t to my tastes, there’s bound to be some gems in there, you just need to go find them.

A very short week in the shop

This was a short week in the workshop due to Laura and I spending the last four days at what is now our annual sojourn away from reality at Wilderness Festival

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It was nice to hang out in some woodland studded with stages with our group of Wilderness friends, eat nice food, drink nice drinks, and listen to some good talks, and obviously some good music. As with last year, I’ll put up another post here shortly with the music Iiked in it.

Guitar build wise I didn’t manage to move things forward that much, as I finally was defeated on the old bandsaw. I wanted to cut out the body for the recent offset commission, so I mounted the template and went to the bandsaw to trim things down.


Unfortunately the bandsaw blade was in a bad state, and whilst just a few days earlier it had made light work of offset #6’s body, that wood being unusually light and the blade being in a better state, that day it was just no go. With the new bandsaw about to be commissioned I didn’t see the value in changing the blade out for a new one, and just deferred this to when the new bandsaw is ready.

Which, I’m glad to report, it is. I’ve not yet been back to the workshop due to galavanting in a field for over half a week, but in my absence Graeme and other Makespace members have got the new bandsaw working, so I just need to find time this week to be in Makespace at the same time as Graeme so I can get a quick tutorial on the newer, more industrial, machine.

Given I was blocked, I took some time to learn a new skill: using a sewing machine. 


For the cigar box guitar I wanted to complete the home made look by making it a strap and a bag to carry it around in. A regular guitar strap looks a little oversized on the cigar box, and obviously a regular bag won’t match size-wise either. Thus my plan is to get some corduroy or similar heavy material and use that to make them.

Claudia, who looks after the sewing machine at Makespace, kindly took time to both teach me the machine and then offer guidance as I did a bunch of practice pieces on my own. The sewing machine is a machine that takes very little time to learn how to operate, but clearly takes a lifetime to master (which makes it interesting). As with a lot of things in the workshop I normally inhabit, there is some setup that you need to get right, but there’s a real skill that needs to be learned through repeated doing before you can get the kind of quality you’d hope to be producing - experience is everything.


Claudia, knowing that eventually I want to make a bag for the cigar box guitar, encouraged me to make a series of pockets, each one having more complex structural properties than the last. In the above picture the one on the left is just a very minimal pocket design, and then on the right is the same thing but with a proper hem to give it a nicer outside edge and some additional stitching in the corners to make it keep that open shape without anything in the pocket.


Finally for this practice session I made an actual box from fabric, using a single ring of material for the four sides and then another bit of material for the bottom. My execution was very rough, but it showed me how to make seams that hold shape and to feed more complicated arrangements of material through the machine.

As with anything of this ilk (e.g., wood work) the secret here will be to slowly build up to making the more complicated bag, so I can see a lot more test pockets being made, and then the next thing I try will be a strap. That in itself will present an interesting challenge: by far the most difficult thing of making the pockets was cutting material with scissors, so I need to get better of that first!

A week in the shop

A long week notes here I’m afraid, but the tl;dr for those of you who are busy:

  • Wear your PPE all the time

  • Remember that done is better than perfect

  • I also do make some guitar build progress too.

Still reading on? Then let’s get into what was an educational week in many ways, not all of which are ideal.

I spent some time of late wondering how I can make it easier to prototype new guitar body shapes to see if I like them without investing the time required to make a body from scratch on a regular build. In the past I’ve 3D printed some 1/4 size models, and whilst those are good at giving you the idea of the physicality of the guitar better than a picture on a computer screen, you still don’t know what it’s like to hold and play.

Having recently taken to laser cutting templates, I wondered if there was a way I could use the laser cutters available to me at Makespace, and just laser cut some acrylic to the right shape, glue it together to get the right thickness, and then I have a quick and dirty guitar made. It’d need quite a lot of weight relief inside, as acrylic is about twice as dense as the woods I normally use, but it seemed a potential idea. To convince myself it was sensible, I first mocked it up in Fusion 360 so I understood what I’d need to cut out.

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This is not the colour I would make it in mind, though perhaps if someone wanted a very 80s guitar I could do, but rather this is Fusion 360’s analysis mode that shows up different bodies in different colours, and thus you can clearly see here the body made up from many sheets of acrylic. For the first time I took advantage of Fusion 360’s ability to model physical material properties so I could assess the overall weight; this meant I was able to convince myself that if I made this out of acrylic I’d be able to actually lift it. It took a surprising volume of cavities in the body to get the weight to anything close to reasonable (at least, it was surprising to me), but certainly it was doable.

This next section is a lesson about health and safety in the workshop. To save you skipping through al the text: don’t worry, I am fine, but I gave myself a little scare and so I recount this as a lesson I’ve learned so you don’t have to.

With the above design convincing me this was a potentially viable approach, the next thing was to think about how I’d make the sheets of acrylic stick together. I could just bolt them together, but that’s going to most likely lead to bits of bolt sticking out something that will be up against your body, and I was’t convinced just a few bolts would do to stop the sheets moving around given the stressed on the body. Ideally, I’d find a way to “glue” acrylic: so I did some research, and it turns out you can use dichrolomethane to do just that. It’s a fairly common solvent to use for this purpose rather than regular glue; it actually melts the two pieces slightly which then rebond as one. Thus my next step was to test this out on something smaller, so I laser cut some bits of scrap acrylic into shapes I could align with pins, and went to stick them together.

As with any experiment, I got everything I needed together before I started: the bits of acrylic I wanted to test with, clamps to hold things in place, a bottle of dichloromethane (which wasn’t new to the workshop, as other people have safely used it to stick acrylic together successfully), and a plastic syringe to apply the dichloromethane with. I thought about safety, so I moved to the secure workshop out of the way of people who might knock me, and I wore gloves as I’d be holding bits of acrylic with the solvent on them and I didn’t want to get any on my skin, as dichloromethane isn’t the healthiest of stuff (though no worse than other glues or cleaning products I might use).

What I failed to do, as some of you may already have observed, was wear my safety goggles, as I didn’t consider splash risk. In hindsight, this was a particularly silly slip up, as I’ve taken recently to wearing contact lenses to enable me to wear more comfortable safety goggles, and I’ve even bought my own. But getting them out of storage and putting them on before I go into the workshop wasn’t yet habit, and this time I forgot.

As per the videos of how to apply this solvent I watched in preperation, I put dichloromethane in the syringe to let me apply a small amount and have it soak up between the sheets using capiliary action. What I didn’t identifiy as important was that all the videos I watched used glass syringes which slide more smoothly than plastic ones do. Unfortunately the plastic ones have a much more stuttery plunge, and as such the dichloromethane spurted out quicker than I intended and a small amount splashed up towards my face, landing near my eyes.

At this point there was a certain amount of panic on my behalf, despite there only being a tiny amount that splashed. I really could do without losing any amount of vision if I can avoid it. Thankfully I know just outside the workshop is the first-aid stand which has eye wash solution, so with the help of Graeme who happened to be in the workshop I went to get some, remove the safety gloves I was wearing, remove my contact lenses, and give my eyes a thorough rinse for a while. I also then washed my face, and then rinse my eyes some more for good measure.

At this point, I am okay, there’s no burning, my vision is okay. However, given how important my vision is and I’m a bit of a worrier at the best of times, I found the whole thing a little unsettling. Thankfully Jonathan and Graeme were around to help convince me that if I had got some in my eyes I’d know about it, and if I was still concerned I should go get my eyes checked.

That I did. I phoned my opticians and they fitted me in a couple of hours later, something for which I’m very grateful. My regular optician gave me a quick eye-check and gave me an all clear, and an unofficial perception to head home and have some real ale to calm my nerves. Having a proper check enabled me to finally relax.

All in all, not my proudest of moments, all because of a silly oversight.

It was my own foolishness that I didn’t think to wear safety goggles when using a solvent like this. I just wasn’t acoustomed to doing this, so wasn’t aware of all the things that could go wrong, but that’s not much good had I been less fortunate. Whilst it was a new solent to me, that’s not really the issue here - I use superglue fairly regularly, and it’s a common luthier trick to dilute this down to be more runny and apply it in exactly the same fashion. The fault was I’m not used to handling liquids with a syringe so didn’t think of the consequences as I lacked experience.

Thus, my advice to you is, as ever, wear your PPE in the workshop. Even if you haven’t spotted a risk, wear some eye protectors, as there’s no real downside to doing so for most things.

If you’re in a workshop regularly like I am, get your own PPE that is comfortable to wear so you’re more likely to do so. For example, for xmas Laura got me some workshop safety trainers, and now I wear them all the time in the workshop as a matter of course. I was trying to do that with my move to contact lenses and the habit hadn’t yet taken, but now I’ll redouble my efforts.

As an aside, I think I’ll put to one side the acrylic test guitar idea for a bit and stick to wood. It’s not just the fun with solvents, but actually it’s hugely wasteful in terms of acrylic given the weight relief required. It’s also quite expensive compared to wood: given the cost of acrylic, wood is 2/3rds the cost for heavier ash, and even more expensive than swamp ash.

So, personal drama dealt with, let’s get back to guitar building. Earlier in the week I made another neck blank and jig, as I did a few weeks ago for the Corvette (here and here). This is going to be a prorotype for my new way of making the necks, as all the other necks I have in progress are using nice birds-eye maple, and so I wanted a cheaper bit of wood to trial it on first. I also want to replace the neck on The Blues Deluxe build, so I’m using this as a chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Thus I laser cut a new template (this being a longer scale length compared to the one I cut previously), and broke out the hand router.


I also routed out an MDF jig to let me work on the headstock. As I said above, the whole point of this neck really is to be a guinea pig for this new process. If you look at the following picture, you can see the headstock in the jig:


I want to use the bandsaw to take off the front face of the headstock up to the left-most pencil line on the face. From the cut out piece to the second pencil line will be a shallow curve up, which I’ll put in using the spindle sander. In theory it’ll all go well, but given I have three necks in the queue with nice birds-eye maple, I wanted one plain old maple neck so that if it doesn’t go to plan I found out on the less expensive material.

All this is blocked however on the new bandsaw at Makespace getting commissioned. It has now arrived at Makespace, and Graeme has already done a bunch of the initial setup work for it, but we discovered that whilst its operating current is 9A, the initial peak current requirement as it spins up the motor is 16A, so a regular 13A plug won’t cut it: we’ll need to install a new single phase commando socket in the workshop.

Given I’m now backlogging on necks, I spent time getting another body ready. This time, it’s one of the two commissions I have going on right now, and indeed one that a friend commissioned last year but got blocked with the never-ending CNC Router issues, and has been a bit of weight on my shoulders as time goes on.

When I took on the commission from my friend Andy (guitar #6 in my books, though now I’ve made 8 guitars by this point), I was still on good terms with the CNC router at Makespace - it was yet to develop its habit of eating all the nice bits of wood I put before it. Thus I happily came up with a semi-hollow design for a guitar that I wouldn’t be able to build by hand.

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The design complexity comes from the body being hollowed and having a belly carve - that means there’s a thin non-flat surface there, and I didn’t have the confidence that I could do that by hand, which you can see here:

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So for the last year this has hung over me, with the CNC router never getting to a point where I could trust it, and I’ve decided that this has to stop. I either need to build this guitar or scrap the project. A combination of things pursuaded me to give it a go. Firstly, because I realised there was a challenge here and Andy was a close friend, I didn’t take a deposit from him, but I did buy the wood, so if I mess up he’s not out of pocket and I can write off the expense as a learning experience. Secondly, Now that I’ve spent more time around other wood workers, particlarly those who make bowls on the lathes, I can kinda see how to do it by hand now.

In the end, it didn’t matter as you’ll see, but I guess what I’m trying to say is I procrastinated on this one a long time, but at some point you just need to move forward and accept that things may not work out. Or call it all off :) But do one of the other, don’t let it become a weight over you like I did with this one.

The body blank I had already assembled for Andy’s guitar a year ago, it’s just sat in storage waiting all this time. The first thing I observed when picking it up: it’s actually amazingly light, lighter than even the other swamp ash bodies I’ve made.


When I sent that picture to Andy he commented on how lovely the grain was, but I was forced to point out that because it was semi-hollow we’d be forced to put a cap on the top and it’d be lost. However, given it felt so light, I proposed to Andy we see what the weight is at the end of the roughing out and then decide if we want to make it semi-hollow, or see if the exceptionally light wood would be sufficient. He agreed to this plan, and I got to work.

The first stage here was to use the old bandsaw (which was big enough to cut a body like this, just not to cut the face off a neck blank as above) to lose most of the material around the body (note the new bandsaw in the background in this picture!).


That done, the next task was to use a hand router to do finishing passes to make the body perfectly flush with the template.


The ultra observant of you might have noticed that the hand router in this picture is a bigger one than the one I was using earlier in the week to route out the neck. The router I used on the neck is the one in the Makespace workshop for general use, and the second one belongs to a fellow Makespace member who kindly let me borrow it. The workshop router has develoed a small flaw now where you can descend the nut that holds the bit in place below the bottom plate, and I’ve now twice accidentally done this when trying to make deep cuts, marking the wood I was working on, and I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

It was interesting using the big router. Although slightly more clunky in terms of being able to see what you’re doing, the step up from a 1.2KW to a 2KW motor made the job significantly more easy, and the larger base plate offset the larger bulk of the router itself in terms of balance. So the net result was not mistakes on the deeper cut required on the body, and it was much easier to remove material. I’ll be using this router for most things in future I suspect.

Now that the body was the right shape I needed to decide how thick was it going to be? Was it about right as is for a solid body, or did I need to take 5mm or so off on the assumption it’d be hollowed out and a cap put on. So I found some scales, and was surprised at how light it was already, without even the material removed for pickups, comfort carves, etc.

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Normally I’d exect a light body to be 2 to 2.5 kilograms, so 1.8 at this stage is really quite light indeed. I had a chat with Andy, and he said this was good, he was happy with this weight and we’d keep the body solid. this is a good result for all: Andy gets to keep the grain he likes there, and it makes my job simpler in building it.

The last step was just to take down the front and back a hair. In the past I’ve used the CNC router with a 2” bit to do this, but as I discovered on the last swamp ash guitar I ran through it, this tears the grain somewhat, so this time I took advantage of the fact we have a thicknesser at Makespace wide enough to fit an entire guitar body and has been turned to eliminate snipe (over cutting on entry and exit).


After a year procrastinating on this build, it’s great to finally get it going.

With all these guitar bits in progress, it probably bears a quick recap of what’s being built right now. I have two mustang-style commissions in progress (guitars #11 and #6), the Corvette build (a custom offset design, guitar #10), and a replacement neck (for guitar #3). And that’s also the order of priority: whilst I’m keen to get the Corvette build moving forward again once we have the new bandsaw in place, the customer commissions come first. This is quite a fortunate place to be in, and it’s nice to have things moving forward again.

A week out the shop

I really don’t know where last week went. Well, at a logical level I do: I was trying to move contracting forward on two client software projects, both of which are in a frustrating stage themselves, and then I was ill for part of the week, so it was just One Of Those Weeks™. But still, last week I was talking about how you can use spare moments to make progress, and this week felt like I didn’t get to do that. It’s just one of those weeks where I look back and feel a crushing lack of progress was made. Some weeks are like that, and the challenge has to be to not let that mental low stop me from making progress this week. 

The only guitar bit I managed to do was I laser cut a neck template out of clear acrylic again, this time for a 25.5” neck, and attached it to a neck blank ready to trim. The trimming I’ve held off as Makespace has finally received its new bandsaw, which will make trimming things much easier (in theory at least). Similarly the body for the commission is in the queue waiting for this to become operational, which it should do at the end of this coming week. Whilst I can do these with the current bandsaw, I am pushing what is effectively a hobbyist bandsaw to its limits at times. 


The new bandsaw is practically big enough to chop up the old bandsaw, so it should make light work of the body and neck blanks I have. On my todo list for the coming week is to change the plug on this from a commando unit to a regular 3 pin UK Plug so that when Graeme turns up to commission the bandsaw later in the week it’s good to go.

The main bit I did do in the workshop this week was help a friend prep for a big get-together his family were planning and help him make a giant Connect 4 game :) Connect 4 is a board game that I played as a child, so it was fun to try make a giant one nostalgia wise. 

Firstly I modelled the thing in Fusion 360, and calculated everything based off the maximum width of the wood I can machine on the CNC Router at Makespace. Based on that, and given you have a grid of 7 x 6 for the game, you can pretty much calculate everything else from that, putting in a few constants for things like spacer sizes. Now if you asked me to make one a foot wide my design would nicely just resize and re-calculate all the board and counters to be suitable - I do love parametric design.

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After that, there was a good few hours on the CNC Router. I’ve mentioned before that people assume CNC Routing is fast, but it really is not. Effectively each hole in the board takes a minute to cut, and we have two boards, each with 42 holes in, and then we have 46 counters (allowing for some spares), so you’re already down for over two hours machining just for those bits. 


Thankfully there was two of us, so whilst I nursed the CNC Router, Rob was able to get on doing other bits of work like putting together the bits we’d already cut.


Because we were pushing the limits of what could be made on the bed size wise, we weren’t able to do all the cutting on the CNC Router: once we made made the holes and assembled the main board part, I then ran over it with a hand router to get all the edges nice and straight. I was wearing a lot of dust by the end of the night!


It took us 6 hours all in, which includes the CNC Router setup, machining, and then cutting other bits on the bandsaw etc. Since then Rob’s taken it home, added the side frames to help it stand up, and given it a lick of paint, and it’s now looking like the real thing.


This was a fun little project, and reminded me that CNC Routing for certain things is the right tool for the job, even if I’ve kind of given up on it for guitar building. It was also just nice to build a thing with a friend.

The only other bit I did in the workshop was to do some training, continuing my volunteer duties at Makespace, taking a couple of hours to get someone up and running on the CNC Router. It’s tempting to see volunteering like this as a time sink, but it’s definitely an investment on which I get regular returns.

The worst thing you can have in a community workshop like Makespace is a bit of equipment that only one person or a small clique know how to use. It means that bit of kit won’t get properly maintained, and it’ll be resented by those who can’t use it (either because they want to use it and can’t, or because they see it as taking up room that could be used for something else). You can see this at Makespace if you contrast the fortunes of the woodworking vs metalwork facilities. A year or so ago they were both equally neglected, but since a group of us have put in effort to get the woodworking facilities improved, you now see not only more people using it, but also everything is generally better looked after, other people are maintaining things, etc., and now woodworking at Makespace is much better served than metalwork as there’s a momentum there.

So I definitely see time spent improving the workshop or training people to use equipment that I use as a good thing that makes things not just better for others but also better for me. A rising tide raises all boats is the saying that springs to mind. It’s even the little things, such as I went to use a hand plane off the shadow board the other day and it was sharp and set up properly so I could just do what I wanted without thinking - that’d never have been the case 12 months ago.

A week of brief moments in the shop

I was mostly heads down catching up on contract work last week, so didn’t get any time dedicated to luthiery last week except a burst at the weekend. However, I decided to go with some industrial headphones and work out of the desk space in the community workshop I use, so when I needed a break from software I could move the guitars forward. This was enough to let me draw a line under two near complete projects and move another two early stage projects forward a little. So don’t worry if you can’t spend all your time working on the thing you’re passionate about, just try and find a way to make any small moments in the week you can find productive if you can and you can move things slowly forward.

The main thing I moved forward in terms of time was the cigar box guitar, which is now complete. When I took it up to Liverpool Makefest it played acoustically, but I’d not had time to get either the electronics in place or strengthen the box so it’ll cope with being on a guitar strap and having a cable hanging out the side.

The first task was to finish cutting a hole in the lid of the cigar box to let me put the pickup in place, which I started a while ago but didn’t finish.


I forget why, but at some point I’d convinced myself the lid was made from cardboard (not uncommon), but as I cut through I realised the upper surface is cardboard, but the rest of the lid is the same light ply that’s used to make the rest of the box. This explains why the guitar is more resonant than I expected it to be! Had I known it was a wood lid I might have been tempted to make it more of an acoustic guitar with a sound hole, but by this point I was already on my way to making it electric so I kept with the plan.

Once the hole in the lid was made, I also needed to remove material from the main body of the guitar, the stick of wood that runs the entire length. I marked this out in pencil using the hole in the lid, cut the sides down with a saw, and then removed most of the material with the pillar drill, finishing it off with a chisel. It doesn’t need to be pretty being inside the guitar :)


This done I was then able to mount the pickup, which I bought from Coney Customs. I need to give it a light oil at some point, but it fits the look of the guitar quite well, and it sounds great.

Pickup in, my next break filling task was to add support to the cigar box. Because I’ve cut holes in the sides to let me run the main guitar neck through, the sides were very flimsy, only being anchored on two sides and not being the strongest of woods. I wanted to anchor the strap buttons to the box, and have the cable jack in one side too, and there was no way the now weakened sides would cope with this.

There are many ways I could do this, but I was saved from procrastination by not having much time. In an ideal world I like the idea of being able to take the guitar apart should I need to fix anything, but in practice that wasn’t a very practical option, so whilst I opted to screw the cigar box and neck together, I used wood glue to add in the support wood between the body and the neck, effectively joining everything together as one.


Because of the angles involved getting clamps in and the limited number of clamps of the right size I had, it took me two days to get everything glued:


But once set, the box is now suitably sturdy to stand up to being used, and it hasn’t damped the acoustic quality of the box any, I assume because I’ve not impeded the lid movement any more than I already was.

The final little task to complete the cigar box guitar was to get the electronics soldered up. I kept it simple as suits the nature of this instrument: one pickup, one volume control, and then the jack. The main thing I realised late was that the wiring would have been a lot simpler had I put the jack on the lid, rather than in the side of the box, as then all the electronics would have been on one surface. Still, here’s a lot more room to manoeuvre here than in most guitars I’ve worked on, so it wasn’t the end of the world.


To keep with home made feel of the guitar, I made the knob for the volume dial out of a wine cork:


And that’s it - I string the guitar back up, and it plays great. I’ll do a demo video at some point, but it sounds surprisingly professional for such a rustic little instrument. Fellow Makespace member Zi was around, who’s taken my previous guitars for spin, and this one was no exception - it was great to hear it in action.


I have it tuned to open-G currently, GDGD, so it makes a great slide instrument for my very limited slide ability. On my todo list for the near future is get my guitar teacher to teach me some slide licks!

I did one last tweak to the Phoenix Offset, which is now up for sale! I realised that I’d not aligned the pickup selector pot quite right, and so I fixed that little detail, and thus I’m now happy for someone to take the instrument away and play it.


Don’t worry: I put the proper control knob back on afterwards! A plectrum makes a nice temporary substute, as the rotary switches are not easy to turn just using the shaft itself, but I don’t think that’s a good long term look :)

This guitar has been a lot of work, and if you’ve ready through all these week notes you’ll know it’s had a difficult history, but all of this makes it an instrument I’m really proud of as a result.

For the new commission I found a moment to make the template for the body. I do have some older MDF mustang-style templates, but now I’ve learned the trick of using clear acrylic to make templates that I can see through to help me line everything up, I can’t go back to MDF, so I made a fresh initial template on the laser cutter.


The final thing for the week was to laser etch the fretboard for the Corvette guitar. I’m using purpleheart wood for this, which I’ve not used before, but I was pleased to note that despite it having a reputation for being tough, I had no problem etching in the saw guides into the wood, or indeed on sawing the slot on my test piece.


The purpleheart looks lovely, though that colour will darken brown over time, and indeed when it’s oiled it’ll go darker purple too. I had a look at how one can try to preserve that colour (there’s one useful guide here), but I think within the bounds of what treatments I can practically use on the fretboard, it’s going to fade over time. However, I’ve made peace with that: everything changes over time, and as this instrument ages it’ll mature into something other than it started out as, just as the musician playing it will change over time too as they abilities grow and tastes change.

A week in the shop

No big headlines in the shop this week, as I tried to catch up on all the things I put off outside of guitar building in the run up to Liverpool Makefest last week. I did however spend some time moving the new commission forward.

My aim is to get this new guitar to the same stage as the Corvette build so that I can move them along in parallel: I generally finding having two guitars on the go at once is more productive than just having one on its own. Having two on the go lets you switch between them when you feel the need for a break or need to stop and think about some particular troublesome bit, but means you’re still building a guitar when you switch away.

The first thing then was to joint the body wood. Last week I had thicknessed the swamp ash to about 5mm from where I wanted it. I don’t take it all the way down, as when jointing I never get the side edge planed to exactly 90˚, so there’s always some height variance across the joined body blank that I’ll need to take down afterwards, so that extra 5mm is to allow for that (it’s actually a bit excessive, next time I’ll make it smaller).

Before I start jointing however, I lay the bits of wood out and work out where the guitar is going to be in the two halves. 


What I’m aiming for here is two-fold. Firstly, I want to identify any defects in the wood I’d like to avoid (such as knot holes etc.), and secondly I want to try and align the grain as best I can so that the join line is less obvious. Whilst with a properly jointed edge you shouldn’t see a glue line, an obvious discontinuity in the grain can give things away. Sometimes it’s not possible, but if you can get roughly the same direction of grain on both sides of the join line people will generally struggle to spot it’s not a single piece of wood. Once you’ve decided on how the two halves are going to go together, mark the faces on both side with a pencil so you don’t forget when you go to glue it.

Whilst we have a thicknesser at Makespace, we don’t have a planer, so I do the jointing the old fashion way using a No 7 hand plane. The more I do this the faster it’s getting, but I’m still at that stage where I get it flat on one axis but knock it out on the other axis etc. It took me about half a day to get this just about perfect and glued up (which is half as long as what it took last time, so that’s progress for you). 


Once you’re happy with the edges you’re jointing, it’s into a set of sash clamps for 24 hours, and then voila, you now have one bit of wood for the body rather than two.


A common question I get in the workshop is whether I use any dowels or biscuits on the joint to give it extra strength, and the answer is no, I don’t, and it’s not something I’ve seen other luthers do either. Modern wood glues are very strong (stronger than the wood itself), and you have a nice big surface here for the joint. Also, the joint itself isn’t going to be under a lot of stress: the pull of the strings is not going to be causing the two halves to want to come away from each other, so glue alone will hold it fine.

One thing I did do here, and thanks to Makespace workshop regular Stefan for this tip, is to use beeswax to help make planing such a large area easier. I was finding with these particular bits of ash that even going with the grain that the plane was stuttering a bit, no matter how I had the blade set; I guess you have quite a large surface area of friction on a joint like this between the wood and the sole of the plane. Although you wouldn’t want to use any form of synthetic lubricant that might soak into the wood, beeswax is apparently the thing to help get the plane to move along smoothly without clogging up the wood. I can report it worked a charm.

Once glued up, the next task was to take out any slight bow in the blank due to any slight inaccuracy in getting the jointed edge perfectly perpendicular to the faces. On this one I actually seemed to have got it close to bang on, but even with that there’s still the glue excess that needs removing. The body blank is now too broad to fit on the thicknesser we have (which will cope with 330mm but the blank at this point is about 460mm wide), so I’m back to the CNC router to use it as a thicknesser briefly. 


However, this didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I suspect the facing off bit we have isn’t sharp enough, but I found it was tearing the grain on this particular bit of ash quite terribly.


I let the CNC remove half a millimetre from both sides (just to get rid of the glue excess mostly) and then stopped, which left me with still about 4mm to remove to get the body blank to my target thickness for this guitar. What I think I’ll have to do here is trim the blank down on the bandsaw so that it fits through the thicknesser, which I know doesn’t tear the grain on this wood from when I did the original thicknessing of the two halves. This will need careful marking - the design of this guitar body is just over 300mm wide, and isn’t perfectly symmetric about the centre line, so I’ll need to get the template cut and mounted, and then trim things down from that before thicknessing. Fun.

Speaking of templates, the more eagle eyed of you might have spotted I already had an MDF template above for this guitar, so why do I need to cut a new one? There’s two reasons for this. Firstly, the above template was designed for the Phoenix Offset, where the guitar was partly cut on the CNC Router before it failed and I had to finish the job by hand. I failed to plan ahead and didn’t put any suitable mounting points on it for how I’d like to make a new body. Secondly, I want to have one made from clear perspex as I did on the Corvette guitar I cut a few weeks ago, as I can mark the centre line etc. on the clear acrylic and do a much neater job of lining everything up when I can see through it.

One problem: Makespace had run out of the acrylic I normally use, so I had to order some new in, which turned up just as the week closed:


Five sheets should be enough for a few more guitars worth of templates.

Final bit on the new commission this week: I thinknessed the maple for the neck, ready to cut that out using a template in the near future.


Even though it’s still not yet fully commissioned in the space (we’re waiting for improvements to the workshop extraction piping) the thicknesser has been getting lots of use by the workshop regulars, which is great to see (given I was the one who pushed for us to get one). However, it’s had one knock on consequence we’d not considered until the extractor unit clogged up: it’s the first thing in our workshop that generates large offcut particles, and as such we need to manage the extractor waste better!

Our extractor has two bins: one for dust and one for larger bits sucked up, and given the kind of machines we’ve had until now it was mostly dust we were getting rid of. However, with just a week of using the thicknesser, the heavier particle bin had clogged up with shavings.


It’s somewhat obvious in hindsight, but its funny how just one new addition to the workshop can expose the bad habits of several years - we’ll be checking the second bin regularly from now on!

The only other real progress I made this week was a I created a portfolio page for the now completed Phoenix Offset, and a reverb sale page for it. I have one final tweak I want to make the guitar, then I can get that listing to go live and hopefully find it a new home. 

A week in the shop, and Liverpool MakeFest

This week began on a great start, with a new commission coming in, a hectic middle as I tried to get everything ready for Liverpool MakeFest, and had a wonderful end with MakeFest itself. As such, this is a long post, so apologies, but a lot went on!

At the end of last week I’d strung up the cigar box guitar to let it sit under tension for a day or two, but just because it had strings on didn’t mean it was ready to play, or indeed to show at MakeFest. 


Although I could strum it, and I even managed to get the bridge positioned such that the intonation was okay, not everything was as finished as it looks. Most notably the nut wasn’t yet fixed in position: in the above picture is simply held roughly in place by the strings, but that’s not a good long term solution. Clamping it for gluing was tricky as there’s not really any good surfaces to use a regular small G-clamp at this point, and I’ve no idea what the “proper” way to achieve this is, but in the end I just used some rubber bands looped over the neck to provide pull both down into the neck and along into the fretboard. I also had to use a tiny shim of veneer, as I over sanded the nut trying to get the bottom to match the angle of the headstock (which creates a nice visual effect, which I’ve had positive comments on, so a happy accident there). I also wasn’t sure what glue to use here, but in the end opted for the the wood Gorilla Glue I normally use, and that seems to have held well enough.

The next day, having let the glue set for 24 hours, I then went to tidy up the nut and veneer shim: getting it flush with the neck, trimming the shim to look neater, and removing any excess glue. The selection of tools for this shows you that I’ve become a changed person this last few months thanks to fellow Makespace member Graeme introducing me to properly sharp tools:


I did use some sand paper to get the bone nut down, but then I was in with the chisels etc. to tidy things up properly. Here’s the finished result, where you can see the shim, and perhaps get an appreciation for why it was hard to clamp down the nut.


With the nut properly secured and tidied, I took a second pass at the neck. Having it strung up before let me get a sense for how it felt to play, and I found I wanted to round out the neck a little more. That done, I then sanded the neck up through the grits, going up from 240 all the way up to 2000 grit, after which I started to apply the finishing oil. As ever, this made the bits of wood really come alive.

By this point it was the day before I had to travel up to Liverpool, so I was running out of time. I managed three coats of oil that day, applying a coat every 4 hours. Normally I’d have gone for more coats, but three is more than enough to ensure that it remains nice and clean despite having lots of people play it at MakeFest.

I didn’t get everything done on the cigar box guitar, most notably the electronics didn’t get started properly, but it was enough to let people play it acoustically. The next steps once back from Liverpool will be to get the pickup installed, and to put some support material inside the cigar box so that it’ll take being held up by a guitar strap and having a cable dangling out the side. The wood in the cigar boxes isn’t designed to take either of these strains, and I’ve made it worse by splitting the side edges to run the neck through, so some form of bracing will be needed.

The next thing I wanted to sort out before Makefest this week was the pickup selector on the Phoenix Offset (the new name for the Recovery Offset). I use a 4-position rotary switch for the pickup selector, and in testing I’d realised that how I had things set up wasn’t durable enough. As ever, it’s one thing to make a thing, it’s another to make a thing that’ll withstand abuse. For reference, this is what the rotary switch looks like (apologies for the stock image, but I’m away up North still):


The problem I hit was because there’s no visual indicator on the guitar of what the range of positions is on the selector, people don’t know when they start where they are, and as a consequence tend to try and over turn it. The switches themselves actually ship with a little tab on them that can lock into the surface you mount them on (you can just see them in the above pic if you look hard enough), but that requires a hole to be put through that surface (in this case the pick guard), and I didn’t want that visual artefact, so I’d removed the tab and was relying on just tightening the nut that secures the selector to the pick guard to be secure enough. But it turns out someone who’s not familiar with the guitar doesn’t know how much force to give to turn it, and they were able to rotate the entire assembly when going too far.

I decided to try solve both problems at once: my plan was to create a little position indicator that would sandwich between the pick guard and the control knob with tick marks in each of the positions. This indicator would solve two problems: firstly it would show visually the range of options so people wouldn’t feel the need to keep turning to see if they’d reached the end or not, and secondly I could make it wide enough that it would cover over any hole made to let me use the locator tab on the rotary switches themselves.

I’d ideally liked to have made this indicator in chrome to match the other control bits on the guitar, but I didn’t have time for that - I needed this problem solved before attending MakeFest and unleashing the public on this guitar, so I did some research and found a very thin (0.7mm) laser safe laminate that had a brushed metal effect on the top and black underneath. A little fun with the laser cutter later, and I had this:


I realised after installing this that it reminds me of the indicator disk used on the Varitone control on some of the Gibson ES guitars, and I wonder if that’s solving both the same problems there too.

In the end a fully circular design didn’t really suit the flowing lines of this offset, so for the final version I went for a more minimal curved design that doesn’t disrupt the look of the guitar too much. My friend Jason has suggested another variation, which looked nicer, but again I was against the clock this last week, so that’ll be something to try in the near future.

I similarly didn’t have time to unsolder the rotary selector in the guitar and change it to one with the locator tab on it before heading up to Liverpool, but in practice just having a visual indicator was enough that despite many people trying out the guitar a MakeFest, not one of them tried to over-turn it, the visual indicator was enough. Clearly in practice I do want both - I don’t expect an on-stage guitarist to have time to check the little indicator plate every time - but it was nice to see that this small addition to the guitar was worth the effort.

It’s details like this that make a big difference to the long term usability of an instrument, so it’s well worth the effort spent in fixing little niggles like this.

I did a bunch of other small bits this week in between getting the two guitars above ready for MakeFest. Firstly, I ordered the wood for the new commission (which as ever came from Exotic Hardwoods UK Ltd.), which turned up later in the week and I got the ball rolling on that build by doing the initial thicknessing of the body halves, using the new thicknesser at Makespace:


This one will be a swamp ash body, a maple neck, and a rosewood fretboard. It’ll be very similar to the Phoenix Offset above in functionality, but with the darker wood fretboard, and stained green rather than blue. The pick-guard material is up in the air until we see how the green stain comes out and then the client and I can decide what will work well with that.

The second bit I worked on was making jigs for the Corvette guitar I’m making. Last week I routed out the main part of the neck, and the next steps for that are to shape the headstock, but to do that I need a way to hold the neck such that the centreline is horizontal, but a neck has no edges perpendicular to the centre line, and thus a jig is needed. I found some 18mm scrap MDF in the Makespace trove that was big enough and cut that out on the CNC Router:


It was a shorter week in the workshop, as Friday was driving up from Cambridge to Liverpool in time to help set up Liverpool Central Library on the Friday evening ready for the exhibitors to arrive on Saturday morning. My other half, Laura, had volunteered to help lead the set-up crew this year, and so given I was going to be around that evening anyway I pitched in as crew and helped with the general setup (as did several other exhibitors like myself who were in the area early). This mostly involved clearing bits of library to one side and then carrying trestle tables left, right and centre (and then on the Saturday evening after the event doing the inverse to restore the library to its normal state). I’m not sure I’ve had so much exercise for a long time :) In just two hours we’d got pretty much everything transformed from being a normal library space to somewhere ready for a bunch of makers to descend and exhibit the weird and wonderful things they’ve been creating.

This was also the time when I heard the best phrase said to me in a long time: “don’t worry, the steampunks will be here soon.” :)


Events like this are really a labour of love by so many people, and it was great to be part of the broader team, with everyone pitching in with good spirits.

As it has been in previous years, the day of MakeFest itself was a blur. Once the library doors open and people start coming through it’s seven hours of talking and explaining and demonstrating to people: an exhausting but fun day.

As in previous years, on my stand I was trying to demystify how electric guitars are made. The guitar itself is a very democratic instrument, there for anyone to pick up regardless of musical ability and make some noise for their own amusement or for others. I’d argue that it’s also a democratic instrument in terms that anyone can, with a bit of perseverance, also make a guitar. I wanted to try and help people see this. Not that it is for everyone, but even if they don’t go on to build one themselves, they will know a bit more about how a thing is made, rather than it just being an atomic object.

On my stand I had a stack of the wood required to make one electric guitar on one side, an in progress body and neck in the middle, and a finished guitar on the right, and I attempt to draw a narrative that helps people see how the pile on the left moves to the guitar on the right, demystifying the process. The cigar box guitar was a new addition to the stand this year, and this was an attempt to show that actually if you just wanted to make a fun instrument, you don’t even need to make anything as fancy as what I normally do.


In addition to that, one of the joys for me as ever in this kind of thing is letting people play my guitars, so I had my small workbench amp with me (the excellent Blackstar Fly), and I happily let anyone who felt willing to try have a go. There were many players pass through, of all ages and backgrounds, and all of them made me happy that they could get one of my guitars to sing for them. 


As ever it was a great day: I had lots of interesting conversations, I was able to open some people’s eyes to how things are made, and I learned a few things myself too from the conversations. A huge thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hello, as you made the day worth all the effort.

It’s always slightly nerve-wracking taking your latest pride and joy (or in this case, two prides and joys) and giving it over to a series of strangers to play, but it really is rewarding; if you build guitars, I can’t recommend enough getting them into the hands of people to play. It’s very easy to worry about people dinging them, but in practice people are generally very careful with the instruments, and respond well to being guided about sitting down to play (which I strongly recommend), and with younger kids I position myself ready to catch the instrument should it slip. It’s also a good stress test of your instrument (as I was describing with the pickup selector above) - giving it to strangers will quickly show up niggles that you haven’t spotted.

It’s also a good way to get feedback from a wide-range of players. For instance, neck profiles are a personal thing, and over the years I’ve learned that people tend to like a broader neck that I do. It’s only by putting your guitar(s) into the hands of many players that you get to learn what people like. The positive feedback is a useful indicator of how far you’ve come, and kind comments are always appreciated, but it’s also very useful to learn what different features people do and don’t like.

One thing that did make me happy though is the overall tone of the comments on the guitars did confirm to me that year-on-year I am getting better at this guitar building thing, which is great to see, and something you can only tell by putting things out there.

Despite the overall day being good, I did leave with a feeling that I failed in my original aim of trying to make people see that guitar building was something they could do. The pitch just wasn’t working, and I wasn’t getting across the narrative I wanted people to take.

Without trying to sound like I’m bragging, I think the guitars I had on the stand this year were a bit too good compared to when I did this for the first time two years ago: whereas the logically leap from a pile of parts to the first guitar I built was tractable, I think a lot of people found the leap from that pile of parts to my latest guitar somewhat too wide to make. They all said nice things about the guitar, but it was generally done in a way that implied I’d done something special they couldn’t do, which wasn’t the point.

Even the cigar box, which I made for this event in an attempt to show you can make a very simple guitar using just basic tools, possibly turned out a bit too well. For example, I gave it fancy headstock as I just wanted to try some new techniques I’d not done before whilst building it, but that makes it look more professional than is required for such an instrument. For this event I should have stuck with a simple straight headstock if I wanted to convince people that they can make something with very little experience.

So, whilst I had a good time, and got lots of positive response from the people I talked to, I left the event feeling that next year (assuming they’ll have me back of course), I will need to do a radical revamp and either tell a different story, or a approach to telling this story. I had originally hoped to try something different for this year, but work pressures caused me to run out of time; now I have 12 months to prep, so I’m going to start planning the next one now.

The one bit where did feel I was able to help someone along their path to building a guitar was chatting to a young chap called Oli (who is actually the person playing the guitar above). He’s at Neston High School, who have a Makes club, and he’s been trying to make a guitar as part of his assessed project work. As a fan of 60s guitars, I was delighted to see the tear shaped guitar he’s building.


The guitar started life as a stratocaster type guitar, and Oli’s made it a new body and pick guard, turning it into something like a Vox teardrop guitar, which looked awesome. He’s done a good job on the pick guard too, which is entirely custom made, and had a nice straight edge. I was very impressed both with Oli’s work and Pat’s tutelage. 

Oli was struggling a bit with the electronics, so his teacher Pat (who I met last year) pointed him in my direction. I had a quick look, and it seemed everything was in order, with the exception of a few simple things that are the normal kind of mistakes I might make. Truth be told, I didn’t have much to help him with, as he was actually getting it right, but I think sometimes we all just need that confidence boost of someone experienced telling you that your frustrations aren’t unique to you, and you’re on the right track (I know I do, and is why I make efforts to engage with the broader luthiery community), so that was a service I was happy to provide.  We had a good chat, and hopefully I convinced him he was on the right track and to keep going. Fingers crossed he does, as I’m looking forward to giving the guitar a play next year!

Related, Neston High School Makers are trying to raise money via crowd funding to help them set up the workshop to let them recycle plastic themselves for use in projects. If you want to help support something that encourages kids to make things in a sustainable way, then go have a look.

The Sunday after the show, we headed into DoES Liverpool, the local equivalent of the community workshop I work out of in Cambridge, and something that is a large part of why there’s a good maker scene up in that city. It was a nice chill day with people from Makefest coming by to relax after a hectic couple of days. We even had a bit of a jam session in the afternoon (with MakeFest organiser Caroline, who took this photo, on bassline) , which was a lot of fun, and we’ve promised we’ll have to reform to perform at next year’s event.


Being in DoES is always interesting to me, as it’s like Cambridge Makespace in many ways, but also nicely different in others. It’s a good reminder that how the community workshop I take part in isn’t the only way things can be done, and that for all the things I like I about Makespace I can see in DoES things that it doesn’t do highlighted. I think it’s particularly poignant to me now that I can reflect on the last year or so of putting a lot of time and effort into making Makespace be a better version of itself;  it’s a reminder that I should perhaps occasionally step back and think that there are other approaches that I could consider beyond improving on what’s there. 

DoES, for instance, seems to do a better job of doing larger group projects across their community. At Makespace we do more polished individual projects. I’m not sure where this comes from, and even whether it’d be a good fit for Cambridge to try and change, but there’s some really nice projects I see at DoES that it’s hard to imagine getting off the ground in Makespace due to the way we individual members are pushing forward on our own projects. Many of these things may not fit Cambridge and it’d be wrong to try and impose them, but it was interesting to reflect on these differences with a couple of the Makespace crowd who were also in attendance.

Finally, I saw lots of cool projects whilst at MakeFest and DoES. Too many to call out all of them, but some particular highlights I recommend you take a look at:

A week in the shop

It’s been a busy week, with lots of building progress, so a fun set of things to write about. But first, let’s do the health and safety bit:


Working in a workshop is safe if you’re careful, but I had one of those lapses whilst rushing due to being tired and paid the price. It was near the end of the day, and I was meant to be meeting friends for dinner, so trying to get things done, and I couldn’t find the right tool for tool for the job (some sharp side cutters) and so used my chisel instead to cut the side dot inlays on the cigar box guitar neck. Not an unreasonable tool, but I wasn’t set up for this: I hadn’t clamped the neck, so I was steadying it with my left hand, and chiseling with my right, and the material gave way quicker than I was expecting, and ouch. The plaster above looks innocent enough, but I managed quite a deep cut there, enough to give me a bit of a scare.

Chisels are quite sharp if well maintained (as mine are), so at least it was a nice clean cut, and luckily not too deep. But ultimately the fault was mine: when using a chisel you want one hand on the handle and the other hand behind the blade guiding it, and you secure your workpiece in a vice or with a clamp. You definitely shouldn’t have your hand in front of the blade. It’s easy to forget these things when flustered or in a rush, but that’s when accidents like this happen.

I still earn most of my money from typing (as a software contractor) so this incident unnerved me quite a bit. So please do be careful out there when building your own things. A nice sharp chisel is a wonderful tool, but needs to be treated with respect (as do most things in the workshop). I’m generally quite good about workshop safety, using PPE, etc., but it just takes one small lapse and you have an injury.

My penance has been I’ve not played guitar all week, and had to spend my daily practice slot reading up on music theory and doing audio interval training.

The cigar box has come along leaps and bounds. At the end of last week I’d laser etched the fret-slot guides into the fretboard and clamped it for gluing, so at the start of the week I came in and unclamped it and started to trim the fretboard flush with the rest of the neck. The majority of the overhang I removed using the bandsaw, which left me with just a couple of millimetres of fretboard wood to get rid of, along with the glue that had seeped out when I clamped things down.


Normally I’d use a hand router with a follow bit to get the fretboard flush, but this neck doesn’t have a flat underside preventing me from that route (ho-ho), so I instead went unpowered and broke out the No 4 hand plane and my chisels. Now that Makespace has a set of well maintained tools, doing it this way was much simpler and satisfying, and not much slower, so a technique I’ll perhaps return to in the future for this job.


It also reminded me of how good wood glue is: I’m always amazed that it’ll hold on shavings like this:


Because of the shape of the headstock protrudes beyond the sides of the neck I couldn’t plane all the way to the end of the fretboard, so the last little bit I got down with my chisels. For this you want a sharp broad chisel, taking little shavings off repeated rather than doing big chunks, but it’s still fairly fast work.

I could have glued the wings on the headstock after I’d added the fretboard and just used the plane for everything at this stage, but then I’d not have been able to plane the headstock face flat as I did last week (as the fretboard lip would be in the way); sometimes there just isn’t a perfect ordering, and you have to pick the approach with the least compromises.

With the fretboard now nice and flush, I next set about cutting the slots to roughly the correct depth. I say roughly, as I did this before radiusing the fretboard (which would remove the laser etched guides I made), so I have to do another pass later on to get the final depth post radius.


Before radiusing I also added the inlays to both the side of the fretboard and the face. Normally I’d insert the side dots along the glue line between the fretboard and the neck, which is very unforgiving in terms of accuracy: it’s really obvious if you’re out of alignment even slightly. Given that on this build I had gone with a deeper fretboard than usual, for a change I did the inlays purely in the fretboard side for a change. I’m not sure it’s actually any less forgiving than doing them along the seam given how close you are to it, but it’s interesting in that it’s potentially also something one could do before gluing the fretboard on, giving you more flexibility in your assembly order.

Inlays done, I then used my new long radius sanding block to put the 9.5” radius on the fretboard. On a cigar box guitar you technically don’t need to radius the fretboard, as the fretboard is very narrow and the strings are set to have a high action to allow for slide playing, but I had an ulterior motive here as you’ll see shortly. The longer sanding block was a step up from the 6” one I normally use, as it was much easier to keep it aligned with the neck rather than skewing to one side as you push along the neck.


With the fretboard radiused and the fret slots recut to ensure the edges were deep enough, it was time to put in the frets. Normally I hammer home the frets into the slots, but I wanted to see if an alternative approach might be easier. To this end I got to use the fret press I made myself a while back for the first time. The press consists of a 9.5” radius bit, which is why I had to radius the fretboard even though it wasn’t technically necessary for this guitar, which is then connected to an arbor press via a 3D printed jig I made.


The other trick I used this time that I’d not done before  was to use a small V shaped file to widen the top of the slot to make it easier to get the frets home, which I can definitely recommend. I try to avoid using glue with my frets, so as to make it easier to replace the frets down the line should the wear out, and to do this I cut a very tight slot, which makes the frets hard to get started in the slot. This slight widening makes getting them to start easier, and doesn’t come close to where the fret tangs start to grip.

The press worked, and was less stress and hassle than just hammering the frets home, but wasn’t stress free itself. If you don’t get the frets suitably started before pressing them then they will just fall over as you push down, or worse they’ll go in at an angle which you really don’t want. I was also hoping the resultant frets would be closer to level than when I hammer them home, but you still do need to level them (or you would on a real guitar, for a cigar box guitar with very high action this was good enough). But as I say, it as less hassle overall, and you get a much more consistent fit this way off the bat, so I’ll definitely use this method again in future.

The other tip I’d give you here is not to cut the fretwork too short when cutting it off the reel. There’s a real temptation to be as efficient as possible to get as many frets out of a reel of wire as possible, but when you cut the wire you will inevitably distort the shape as your cutters compress into the material, and this makes it harder to get the frets in. I forgot to bring in my second reel on this particular day, so was trying to eek out as many frets as possible from this short strip I had, and in the end made life harder for myself as a result.

Whilst I’d made the bridge for the strings a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t yet figured out how I’d attach the strings to the heel of the neck. I considered running the strings through the heel end of the neck, using ferrules to secure them on the back and guide them on the front, but that seemed a little professional for a cigar box, particularly given I’d made the bridge out of a bolt I found in the workshop; I wanted to continue that rough and ready feel. In the end I searched for some nicely styled hinges on eBay, and found some ornate ones meant for a dolls house that seemed to fit the bill stylistically, and almost exactly were the right size. With a couple of extra holes drilled in on one side to hold the strings, it seems perfect.


I’m quite pleased that it adds to the hand made look of the instrument. This means the only bits I did build myself on this guitar are the tuning pegs.

With the front of the neck completed, I could now start to shape the rest of it, both carving the back of the neck and shaping the headstock. To shape the neck I carved it as I normally would using a mixture of rasps, but I was a little more conservative on how much material to leave: this neck doesn’t have a truss rod, so I wanted to leave as much wood on as I comfortably could to ensure it has enough strength to withstand the string pull.


The headstock design I did freehand, which was a fun experience. I sat down with the tuners and a pencil and ruler and just started to rough out where I wanted things.


I then used a combination of bandsaw and spindle sander to get the shape, and the pillar drill to make the holes for the tuners, and suddenly it’s starting to look close to finished…


I did in fact manage to get it strung up and tuned, though in my excitement forgot to take any pictures! Still, it’s got a little bit to go yet: I still need to do the electronics, and the wood needs a proper sanding down and finishing oil applied, and the fret ends need dressing as they’re still rough from trimming. That said, I was impressed with how good it sounds acoustically, given this particular cigar box has a cardboard lid, which I didn’t expect to be so resonant. 

My main goal here was to have something that was roughly done in time next weekend’s Liverpool Makefest, so mission accomplished!

Despite having a lot of fun learning new techniques and going freehand with the cigar box guitar, I did return to the corvette guitar I started last month, and now that we have a thicknesser to let me trim wood down to size, I set about making the neck using a laser cut template.


First step was to screw the template to the neck (masking tape really isn’t enough to withstand a hand router ;), and once secured I then used the bandsaw to get rid of most of the material, leaving just a few millimetres material to remove with the hand router. I then carefully followed the template around using the hand router to get the neck profile cut.


Whilst I’ve cut many profiles using templates and a hand router before, a new stage here for me was also cutting the truss rod slot using the hand router (normally I’ve made my necks using the CNC Router). Thanks to a recommendation from Matt at Fidelity Guitars I’d acquired a 1/4” follow router bit that is just the right width for the slot. I was a little tricky to get everything to the right depth, but in the end I managed to get a spot on fit. I did a long time ago make a very complicated jig for doing the truss rod slots with a hand router, but this smaller follow bit turns out to be quite workable.


The next step for this neck is to make a jig to hold the neck straight along its length when I use tools like the bandsaw and the spindle sander to get the headstock to the right thickness and add the transition curve. I also need to drill the tuner holes.

And that’s it, other than to remind you all yet again that I’ll be at Liverpool Central Library this coming Saturday (29th June) taking part in Liverpool Makefest again, showing how guitars are made and trying to inspire people to try making things themselves. if you’re in the area, please do stop by and say hello!