14. March 2012 · Comments Off on Binding and the neck mortise · Categories: Guitar Builds

To make a channel for the binding, I used a rabbet router bit set to form the channel. Find the correct router bit and bearing combination to make the correct rabbet to fit the binding. You don’t want it to fit completely flush. Try and make the binding a little proud to allow you to sand it flush later. The binding for this guitar will be a consistent 1/4″ tall and .06″ thick. I installed the router in the overhead jig I made earlier (see previous post) and set the height to cut the tallest section first. This is the area in the Les Paul’s cutaway section:

Binding channel in the cutawayThe rest of the binding channel is at a consistent height all the way around the body so I reset the router to cut just below the maple/mahogany seam. This should be about 1/4″ below the maple’s top surface.

Another view of the binding channelOnce the binding channel is complete you will need to connect the section in the cutaway. Using both a razor blade and chisel I was able to complete this section. A lot of builders would make a floating router stand with a puck like device to rest against the body to make the binding channel. The puck will rest on top of the body edge and make a binding channel that is same size all the way around the guitar. I couldn’t justify the extra time to make or purchase this device for just one guitar.

This is where I jumped ahead a little. Attach the neck mortise template to the guitar body on the neck plane for the 4.4 degree slope. The neck plane is a very small area so be careful setup this part. Use double-sided tape and nails on either side of the mortise to help secure the template. Wedges and clamps were used at the tail end to help steady the template. Next, hog out the majority of the material with a forstner bit.

I then proceeded to remove the remainder of the material with a pattern bit.

Neck pocketAnother picture with the template removed. You can also see the completed binding channel in the cutaway.

Another view of the neck pocketOk, now back to the binding channel. The binding was glued in using an acetone and binding material mixture. The binding goop can be made by cutting up small piece of the extra binding and mixing it with some acetone. Mix it until you get it to the consistency of thick paint. Starting on one end, brush on the acetone mixture one section at a time. Put the binding in the channel and hold in place tightly with good tape. Once completed, let the guitar sit overnight before removing the tape. The next day you will have a little cleanup to do on the binding.

Messy binding installed

I like using a good cabinet scraper to clean up the binding. Sandpaper on a block of wood for the outside curves and sandpaper on a pvc pipe work great on the inside curves. A cabinet scraper works best for the top. Be careful not to dig the edge of the scraper into the maple top.

The pickup up cavities are next and then on to the neck!


26. January 2012 · Comments Off on Carving the maple top(sort of) · Categories: Guitar Builds

We just returned from this year’s NAMM show so now it’s time to get back on track with this build.

Instead of finishing the guitar neck this week we are going to start on the body again. We need to complete the top carve, neck/pickup plane, binding channel, pickup routes, and neck pocket. It’s easier to make the neck fit the body than make the body fit the neck.

To make the carved top, I routed steps using a template that I found on www.mylespaul.com in the Luthier Corner forum.

Top carve templatesOnce all the steps are routed you can use an orbital sander to sand the steps smooth. I also built an overhead router jig to hold the router level during this process of routing the steps. Also. I used this jig to route the binding channel. Here are a few pictures of the overhead router jig, router bit, and the body after steps are completed.

Overhead router jig is a thick piece of cast acrylic that is machined to match the router base and clamped about 3″ above the table.

This is a short pattern/flush trim bit.

Another picture of the overhead routing jigAttach the first template. Make sure to line up the center line and use two screws through the pickup pockets to secure the template. The first route is going to be the deepest. After each additional template, adjust the router about 1/16″ higher.

Top carve routingThe routed steps are done…miscalculated some of the steps but all will be fine. The steps are only a rough guide to help you visualize how the carve will look.

Top carve routingNext is to cut the neck and pickup planes. The neck plane will be 4.4 degrees and the pickup plane is 1.2 degrees. The neck plane basically sets how far the neck is tilted back and the bridge height. Incorrectly done, will result in having a bridge that is very high or a bridge that can’t go low enough to get good string action.

I made a hinged router box and used double side tape hold the guitar body inside. First, using a digital level, I leveled the box by laying it on the flat area on the guitar. Next, set the angle of the hinged sides of the box to 4.4 degrees. Make sure both sides of the box read 4.4 degrees. You don’t want the neck plane to be sloped to one side. Next, put a pencil mark where the fingerboard will end. This will be where you need to stop the neck plane. Check your plans to get the starting height and route to the mark you measured earlier (where the fingerboard ends).

Neck plane doneNow, reset the hinged router box to 1.2 degrees. Mark the location of the bridge…this will be how far you will extend the pickup plane. You will start where the neck plane ends and go to the location of the bridge. When you’re done it should be a smooth transition.

Neck and pickup planeAnother image of the neck and pickup planeUsing an orbital sander, you will start sanding the steps smooth. Try not to stay in one area too long but keep the sander constantly going around the parameter. This is probably the best way to keep from getting dips from sanding one spot too long.

A few areas you will also need to stay away from are the outer edge where the binding will go and the neck plane. The outer edge is currently level. You don’t want your binding to vary in height. You also need the neck plane to stay flat so the fingerboard can rest on it without any gaps.

Sanding steps for top carveAnother image of top carve almost completeThe top looks pretty nice here. I kept feeling the top to try to make sure everything is smooth. I also added a little recurve to the outer edge. When I felt everything was good, I sprayed the whole top lightly black. Why? This will help me locate any imperfections in the top. You don’t usually notice any imperfection until you start sanding the black paint back off. The low spots will hold the black paint while the high spots will get lighter. Sand them to even them out. You can see them in this picture.

Using black paint to find imperfections in the top carveHere is a picture with the sanding all done.   It came out pretty nice and I am pleased with the result.

Top carve completeNext time we will do the binding channel, neck and pickup pockets.


After test fitting the inlay we can super glue the inlay into place. I recommend FastCap brand super glue. FastCap has super glue available in thin, medium, thick, and Jel formulas. For these inlays, we will use the thick formula. This will help fill the unevenness in the inlay cavities. Since the cavities we routed are also radiused with the fingerboard we are going to need to use spring clamps to hold it down into the slots as the super glue sets. We will use one on each end of the inlays. After about 1 minute you can remove the clamps and the inlays will now hold the radiused shape.

Gluing inlays into cavitiesAfter the inlays are all glued in place, sand the inlays flush with the fingerboard using a 12″ radius block with sandpaper attached. I taped the fingerboard down to a flat surface using double-sided tape and taped a straight edge parallel to the center line of the fingerboard. Use a straight edge to keep the radius block running down the center of the fingerboard. Use light and even pressure to sand the inlays flush being careful not the change the shape of your fingerboard. These celluloid inlays will sand very easily.

Leave the fingerboard and straight edge attached to the flat surface for the next step. We are going to fill the uneven gaps between the inlay and the fingerboard. You can see in the next picture some of the gaps. While most were nice and tight some are very unsightly. Look at the second inlay from the left.

View of gaps from inlay routeClean the fret slots and any gaps between the inlays and the fingerboard with compressed air. Tape the frets slots to prevent the gap filler from clogging the slots as seen in the above picture.

To make the gap filler we are going to use some fine rosewood sanding dust and Testors plastic model cement (in the orange tube). You can use a scrape piece of the rosewood fingerboard and sandpaper to make the fine rosewood sanding dust. Make more than you think you will need. Mix a small amount of the plastic glue and the sanding dust to make the gap filler. I used my fingertip to press the filler into all the gaps and left it a little high. The filler will sing and get lighter as it dries.

Filling inlay gaps

The picture above shows the 2nd or 3rd filling of the gap. After the gap filler dries (about 12 hours) you will want to use the radius block to lightly sand the filler flush. You will usually need to fill the gaps 3 times to completely fill the gaps because of shrinkage.

Sorry i don’t have any pictures of the fret installation. Seemed to have misplaced the set of pictures or accidentally deleted them. Tips on fret installations:

1. Clean fret slots…make sure there isn’t anything that will hinder the frets tangs from properly seating.

2. Use a file to slightly bevel both side of the fret slot. This will also help the fret to set close to the fingerboard surface.

3. Pre-radius your fretwire. Fret wire that matches the fingerboard radius are less likely to pop out of the slots.

4. If you have a fret that is not staying in the slot…use thin superglue at the fret edge. It will have a capillary action and suck the superglue into the slot. Use a spring clamp to hold the fret down until the superglue sets.

5. If hammering the fret in go with light taps across the surface starting at the middle. Hammering to hard will dent the fingerboard at the slot. Will require a lot of fret leveling later to fix.

This fingerboard is going to have nibs (binding over the fret ends) like most Gibson Les Paul guitars have on their fingerboards. Clip the end of the fretwire flush to the edge of the fingerboard. Run a flat file along the edge to clean up the end of the fret.

Frets filed flush with fretboardNext we are going to install the fingerboard binding. Use double side tape and attach the fingerboard to a piece of MDF that is larger than the fingerboard. This will help us align the bottom edge of the binding. To attach the binding I used a thick superglue formula. Pre-cut the binding for the 3 sides (2 sides and bottom). Attach to small piece of binding to the bottom edge of the fingerboard (where the 23rd fret would be). Make sure to hold it flush with the bottom surface. After the superglue dries (30 sec), trim and sand the installed binding flush on the side of the fretboard and the top to match the radius. Next install the side bindings with the thick superglue. Trim and sand the binding end. Use end nips to trim the binding above the fingerboard and frets to within a 1/16″.

Binding the fretboardFretboard binding There is two ways to trim the binding and shape the nibs. You can shave it with a cabinet scraper/file or use a flush trim bit installed on a router table. Using a cabinet scraper and file can take hours. With a flush trim bit it can be down in minutes. The trick to make sure only the bearing rides on the fret board. Adjust the router so cutter only hits the binding.

Router table set up to do fret nibsFinish up the binding detail with a feather edge and flat file. No need to do a perfect job yet. You will have time to finish the fret ends when dressing and leveling the frets.

Rough shaping of fret nibsNext we will start on the top carve….

25. November 2011 · Comments Off on Fingerboard part 1 · Categories: Guitar Builds

For the fingerboard, we used a pre-slotted, pre-radiused fretboard. This makes the job a lot easier and saves plenty of time. This fingerboard came ready for 24 frets so we will need to remove the extra fingerboard length for this guitar. Cut the fretboard at the 23rd slot and sand to the final length. Make sure you account for your binding thickness.

Fretboard with extra length removedWe are next going to taper the fingerboard. Sorry I forgot to take picture of these steps. I will try my best to explain the procedure. First I marked the center of the fingerboard and then proceeded to mark the 43mm width at the nut and 58mm width at the body end. Make sure you again account for the binding thickness. On a table saw, we cut a scrape board (used a piece of mdf) to about 12″ wide. After cutting the board do no move the table saw fence. Using double side tape, tape the fingerboard to the scrape board lining up the 43mm and 58mm marks. After running the fingerboard through the table saw you will have one side of the fingerboard tapered. Repeat this process on the other side.

Fretboard taperedFor the next step I like to use painters tape protect the wood and mark where the inlay marks will go. After taping the position of the inlays you should double check inlay position against a guitar. Many guitar builders have accidentally put inlays on the incorrect fret position.

Fretboard ready for inlay installationLay each inlay into position and trace the inlay with a x-acto knife.

Tracing inlays positionRemove the inlays and go over the trace with the knife again to deepen mark. This will help the fingerboard from chipping when you’re routing the inlay pockets.

Fretboard ready for routing of inlay cavitiesTo route the inlay pocket I used a dremel with a router base and small endmill. This dremel router isn’t the best and requires a lot work to keep centered. We would recommend an upgraded to the dremel router base. The fingerboard was installed on a piece of MDF and clamped into place with acrylic plastic strips. The acrylic strips acted as a straight edge for the router base to run against. With some patients everything came out ok.

Router bit used to route inlay cavitiesInlay cavity routedInlay cavity routed Here is a close-up picture of the fingerboard with the inlays installed. Any gaps will be filled will be filled with Testors plastic cement and fine rosewood sanding dust.

View of inlays before glueingWe will continue working on the fingerboard in the next blog entry which will include gluing in the inlays, fretting and binding the fingerboard.

14. November 2011 · Comments Off on The maple top · Categories: Guitar Builds

We didn’t use a book matched maple set for this top. I found two boards that look very similar and glued them together with Titebond wood glue. After joining we planed the top to a 5/8″ thickness. Trace the body outline from the template to the maple board. You will be using the center seam as your center line throughout this build so make sure it accurate. Rough cut the maple using a bandsaw and leave about 1/8″ at the outer edge. You will be trimming the extra with a router once the top is glued to the mahogany body.

Maple top rough cut from bandsawTrace the pickup routes onto the maple top using one of the templates. Drill two pilot holes in the pickup pocket to help you when gluing the maple top to the body. Carefully clamp the top to the body to dry fit without glue. Once everything is lined up, screw two drywall screws into predrilled holes.

Test fit of maple to mahogonyRemove the screws and separate the two pieces. Tape the edge of the mahogany body to protect it from glue squeeze out. I used hide glue but you can also use titebond to join the two pieces. When working with hide glue you need to work quickly. Make sure you plan out the steps ahead of time and have everything within easy reach. Spread on the glue to the top and body and leave about 1/4″ of space around the wire channel and controls cavities. Spread a nice even coat that isn’t to thick. Join the two pieces and line up the center lines. Screw the two drywall screws. These will help things from shifting during assembly. Start clamping and make sure to keep checking the center line. I end up using most of the clamps I own. Don’t forget to get clamps into the center area.

Maple top being glued to bodyAfter the glue has dried overnight you can remove the clamps. Flush trim the top to body with a router. Finish the sides by using an oscillating spindle sander for the inside curves and a block sand for the outer curve. Spend a lot of time to ensure a smooth surface. Use your hand and a good light source.

Maple top routed to backAnother picture of maple top routed to backNext I drill small pilot holes for the volume/tone controls, and toggle switch. One thing I should have done was drill the pilot holes for the tailpiece. Doing this now while the surface is flat is a lot easier than when you already have the carved top.

Body already for top carveOur next update we will take a break from the body and work on the fingerboard.