Wednesday, June 8, 2011

One Guitar Box Down, One Neck To Go

Fitting the neck to the box
After nine months, my box is essentially finished and now it's time to focus on the neck. I still need to attach the bridge, do a little more sanding and complete a few cosmetic touch-ups, and of course it still needs to be varnished but, other than that, it is what it is. There's nothing left to do to it that will make it sound any different than it would right now, so that ship has sailed. It sounds great when tapping it, so let's hope that translates into a great sounding guitar.

But I'm focused on the neck now and I made a  good bit of progress this week. We took several small but important steps, including fitting the neck tenon to the mortise in the box. Needless to say, getting the right fit is extremely important, so it's a matter of calculating the proper angle of the neck in relation to the body and then chiseling and filing the tenon until the neck and box come together properly. After this week's class, I was able to  get very close to a final fit, but there will be many adjustments and tweaks made as I work on putting together all of the pieces of the neck and finally bolting it on.

Shaping the neck tenon
In addition to fitting the neck to the box, we worked on fitting the fingerboard to the neck blank. This involves first cutting channels for the carbon fiber rods in the fingerboard to match the channels we cut in the neck blank earlier. You can see in the picture at the bottom of this post how the rods run the length of the neck. It's more difficult to see that the rods are set in the channels of both the neck and the fingerboard, bringing them all together into a solid unit. Eventually they will all be glued together. And, as you can see, there is one remaining channel, which is where the truss rod will be inserted.

After cutting the channels, the fingerboard was cut to the proper width, a very important step that required an even more important decision: In order to cut the fingerboard to the proper width, it's necessary to decide how wide the neck will be at the nut. Guitars vary widely in neck width depending on the style of guitar, but even within a particular guitar type there are variations. Most Martins have a neck width of 1 and 11/16th inches, but I chose to make mine slightly wider at 1 and 3/4 inches. That's only a sixteenth of an inch wider, but it makes a pretty big difference in the feel of the instrument. It's the same width as the neck of my Collings OM-3 and I plan to model my neck after it since it's the most comfortable of any I own.

The last task we completed was to drill a hole in the neck tenon and glue in a maple dowel. Since bolts will eventually be inserted through the tenon and since the wood grain there is relatively short, the hardwood dowel is inserted to provide added strength.

Fitting the fretboard and carbon fiber rods to the neck
In the next couple of weeks, we'll work on the headstock (where the tuning pegs go) by cutting it to the proper angle and adding "ears." Those are pieces of wood glued to the either side of the neck blank. The headstock is wider than the rest of the neck, so "ears" are added to widen it. After that, we'll begin shaping the neck - a very, very important task. We'll also be bolting the neck on for the first time next week. It will be bolted on and taken off several times during the process, but bolting it on the first time is a big step.

And I almost forgot to mention that I brought my box home for the first time, which turned out to be a bigger deal than I expected. I brought it home to show Natalie and so I could do a few minor touch-ups at home before class next week, and it felt remarkably like a teenager bringing home a girlfriend to meet the folks for the first time. Fortunately, I think Natalie approved. And she didn't say a word when we went into my music room to spend some quality time together.

Not to exaggerate the significance of it - it's just a guitar, after all - but there is a feeling that comes from building an instrument like this that is tangibly different from any other feeling I've had. Because it's a musical instrument it truly feels like it has a life of its own - that it's more than just an inanimate object. It's just some pieces of wood shaped and put together, but it has qualities that are inherently its own that can't be changed by me. It makes me think that one doesn't really build a guitar - they meet it.

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