|Building the Blue Ash Guitar|
First Tip: Buy Make Your Own Electric Guitar by Mel Hiscock. His techniques and guidance presented in the book are priceless when you are in that "head scratching" mode, leaning over a bunch of wood and parts. The book's ISBN Number is 0-7137-1706-8 (this is the number the bookstore needs to order the book).
I built the guitar from a single plank of ash. I had originally bought the ash to make a neck for the FM Special 1 guitar. I initially thought that I didn't have enough wood for the neck, so I glued up a neck blank just in case. When I got the first guitar finished, I decided to continue to build a guitar from the ash. I joined the body in the center (you can make out the seam on the top), and made the neck from three pieces of the ash. The neck profile is similar to an early 60s Gibson SG, and the scale is 24 ¾". All the joining work was done with Gorilla Glue, but I glued the neck in with Titebond (in case I ever need to steam it out). The fingerboard is rosewood, and the headstock veneer is flame maple. The tuning machines are Grover Minis, and the pickups are a Fender Japanese Single Coil and an old Ibanez V2 Humbucker. The pot is a push-pull master volume up for single coil, down for humbucker.
The shape of the guitar is about the same as the FM Special 1. I made a template from plywood to capture the body shape for future guitars. However, this guitar is thinner than the first -- it is about 1 1/2" thick as opposed to 1 3/4" for the FM Special 1. It also features a smooth neck joint and heel similar to a mid-60's Gibson SG.
I honed some techniques during the building of the guitar, and I had a couple of missteps. For example, I built a little device that I could use to duplicate a neck contour (I thought). It held a Dremel tool with a router bit on one side with a stylus made from a 1/4" dowel on the other. I bought some 2x4s and a big bag of hardware at Lowe's and started building it. The analysis was sound; however, play in the device (which would fit on my bench) proved its undoing. I had to retreat to manual shaping of the neck. I used a belt sander at a local woodshop to help shape the neck, but I finally used a Stanley Surform and a wood rasp to get the shape right. When I got the neck attached to the body and the fingerboard installed, the neck still felt big. I strung the unfinished guitar up and held it in playing position. I then used the rasp and 220-grit sandpaper to final shape the neck with the strings on! When the neck feels right, you know it. I suppose it comes from years of playing guitar, but it really came out great. I completed the frets on the guitar, and cut the nut to size. Whew
I routed the pickup cavities with templates using a pattern following bit in my router. The humbucker template was from Stew-Mac. I made the front template from plywood. I drew the outline on the wood and cut it out (roughly) with a band saw, then used an oscillating table sander to final shape it. I used double-sided tape to hold the single-coil template down while I routed. I used screws to hold the humbucker template down. Once routed, I used a Sears "aircraft bit" to drill the wiring cavity through the guitar. If I had done better planning, I could have routed the cavity prior to gluing the halves together. Oh well This is a scary maneuver because if the bit wanders, it will poke through either the front or back of the body. This happened during the construction of the first GuitarAttack Mako guitar!
I made another template for the control pocket. First, I decided what the plate should look like. Based on the contours of the back of the guitar, I made a plate of poster board and taped it to the back. Once sure the plate would cover the pot or pots in the cavity, I decided where the screws should be. This dictated the shape of the inner route of the cavity. This was tedious as well, particularly since I wanted to ensure the cavity would be big enough to accommodate more pots and switches if I changed my mind later.
I positioned the one knob on the face of the guitar with double-sided tape. I wanted to ensure the knob was in a comfortable position in relation to the bridge. I played the strung guitar with the knob in place. After several moves, I decided on the position. When it was set, I drilled a 1/4" hole through the entire guitar to mark its position. This hole would position my template. I positioned the plate on the rear of the guitar and drilled a hole corresponding to the hole I had just drilled through the guitar. I now knew it was aligned.
I made a plywood version of the cover plate, and used it to position the routing template. Technique: the outer template corresponded to the cover plate. I made an insert that would fit into the template; this insert would guide the router for the inside route. It worked great, and once the deep route was complete, I removed the insert and completed the shallow route for the plate. The guitar was ready to finish.
When I was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas back in the day, an officer that worked for me had a Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul with an awesome transparent blue finish. I absolutely loved the finish on that guitar, and wanted to reproduce it on one of mine. When I started building this guitar out of ash, I almost immediately decided to do a transparent finish sort of a blue SG finish. After some deliberation with my 7-year old son, I decided that this would be the guitar I tried the blue finish on.
Step 1. I printed ReRanch 101 from Mr. Bill Lester's site at http://www.flash.net/~guitars. Next, I followed its guidance.
I sanded the guitar to 320-grit smoothness. I applied a blue water-based aniline stain (Woodcraft Part #123833), sanding between each of the three applications. I sanded nearly all of the stain off, leaving the grain heavily accented with the blue color. I applied two applications of Parks Nitrocellulose Lacquer Sanding Sealer (Part #16-1014) per the directions in ReRanch Basics. The ash that I used had very pronounced grain and the sanding sealer made the job of filling that grain much easier. I still used some Behlen's Water Based filler on the guitar to ensure I had a glass-like finish.
I then made a shader with blue TransTint dye (Woodcraft Part #6022). I poured approximately 4 ounces of Parks Lacquer Thinner (Part # 2215) in a PreVal sprayer bottle and added drops of the dye until it was nearly opaque. Once the color was right, I poured in about a bottle-cap's worth (that's the little PreVal cap) of Parks Clear Gloss Nitrocellulose Lacquer (Part # 16-0634). Using the PreVal sprayer, I sprayed about three coats of the shader. NOTE: The TransTint dye is awesome. You can use it with water or alcohol as a stain, or put it in lacquer as a shader. I used very little on this guitar, and the appearance is spectacular.
The criterion for the number of coats sprayed was based on how it looked -- I wanted the highlighted grain to show through the blue stain. When I reached my limit on shader, I allowed the guitar to dry a week (I have to do my work on the weekend). The next weekend I examined the guitar, liked what I saw, and began spraying clear coats. Using the Parks lacquer and PreVal sprayers, I sprayed generally to the ReRanch "Rule of Threes" schedule. After about the sixth coat, I was becoming unhappy with the pebbly appearance of the lacquer. I performed the old Gibson scratch coat method (a departure from ReRanch here) -- I used no-load 220-grit sandpaper and leveled the entire finish. Once level, I had to fill some pits by drop filling lacquer into them. When the guitar's finish was even and uniform, I sprayed a flash-coat of lacquer. This consisted of thinning the spraying mixture to about 4 parts thinner to 1 part lacquer. When the spray hit the guitar, the scratches disappeared and the finish was very level. Another tip: I had three PreVal power units available during spraying. When the first sprayer got cold during spraying, I would rotate it. I continued this rotation, and I believe that it significantly reduced the "spitting" sometimes seen with PreVals.
After allowing the guitar to dry for a week (remember, weekends), I followed the sanding schedule from the ReRanch site. After the 2000 grit, I buffed the finish out with 3M Finesse II (Part # 051131) using a WEN hand-held Orbital Buffer (Part # 6010WM) I bought from Wal-Mart (NOTE: They can be found in the auto wax section). The finish is nearly Gibson-approved! I have had several offers for the guitar, but I really can't sell it. Like I told my wife, it has about $100 worth of parts on it, and $2,000 worth of labor!
This is my second complete guitar that I have finished. I completed the first one with aerosol cans bought from a major guitar shop supplier. I have to say that the finish on this guitar is much harder and much more brilliant that the other guitar. The Parks lacquer, though not built specifically for instruments, is wonderfully clear and rubbed out great. I like the Parks products because I can buy them at Lowe's. I plan to try the Lawrence-MacFadden lacquer in the future -- a product recommended by Mr. Lester at ReRanch as well as another mentor of mine, Mr. Richard Beck in Scottsdale, AZ.
Oh by the way the guitar sounds and plays great!