Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Very Faint Light at the End of the Tunnel

Fitting the fretboard to the neck
I seem to remember saying not too long ago something about how quickly everything was falling into place. Well, never mind. You may have noticed that I haven't posted anything to my blog in over a month, and that's mainly due to the fact that there hasn't been much to talk about. I've been working diligently, but the progress has seemed very, very slow. But I have a sense that feeling is about to end. In fact, it already has. Case in point: yesterday I held in my hand something that looked and felt very much like the neck of a guitar. It may seem a small accomplishment, but when you look at a completed box while holding a neck that's getting closer and closer to completion it's not hard to imagine a finished product. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It's a very faint light I admit, but it's definitely a light.

So to recap the past month or so, most of my time has been spent fitting the neck to the box, a process that requires lots of small adjustments and, due to a minor problem in fabricating the neck blank, a few small repairs. Once that very important step was completed, we moved on to the neck.

There are many steps involved in building the neck, including fitting the carbon fiber rods and truss rod into the slots we cut earlier, roughing out the shape of the neck by cutting away most of the extra wood from the neck blank, gluing in the carbon rods, and gluing the binding and purfling to the fingerboard.

Carving the neck
After finishing those steps the pace of progress sped up considerably. In the past two classes I glued the fingerboard to the neck, trimmed the binding so that it's flush with the fingerboard, shaved the neck blank to conform to the shape of the fingerboard, and began one of the most important tasks of the whole building process: carving the neck.

For guitar players, it's not necessary to explain how important it is to have a comfortable neck. It is the most important factor in how it feels to play the instrument. Another way to put it is that the body is the most important component in how the guitar will sound, but the neck is the most important component in how it feels to play, and unlike many of the features of a guitar, it's a very personal thing. Some players like thick chunky necks, some like narrow ones, some are the same width and thickness throughout, and others' dimensions vary from one end of the neck to the other. There are also variations in the shape of the neck that are important to the way they feel and play.

I started the process of carving last night, and I'm very happy with my progress so far. I have very particular ideas about the shape and dimensions I'm after, but I haven't gotten to the point of having to worry about them yet. So far I've only been working on carving away as much excess wood as possible and getting it close to the final shape I'm after. You've probably heard the old saying about the master craftsman who builds duck decoys. When asked how he goes about his work, he says, "I just take a chunk of wood and carve away everything that doesn't look like a duck." This is a very similar process, I think. I'm taking a chunk of wood and carving away everything that doesn't feel like my guitar neck.

Cutting out the bridge
My bridge is also in the works and I've made little bits of progress on it here and there. For the uninitiated, the bridge is the piece of wood connected to the top of the guitar to which the strings are attached. It's made from ebony, so I started with a rectangular piece with holes drilled for the strings. After deciding on the shape I wanted I cut it out roughly and am now working on carving, filing, and sanding it to its final shape and dimension. With luck I'll be able to finish it in the next couple of classes. And the light will be just a little bit brighter.