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.


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