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Phil's Music Modifications

I'm on an adventure making and modifying musical things… fancy coming with me?

That one skill that you never quite mastered…

In most things I try, or like to have a go at,  I have a fair level of competence.  I tend to be at least average at most things; but soldering is not one of them!

I remember soldering at school and learning the general method. I’ve read up on it and know the theory… but it never quite goes as I expect!

One of the problems I faced was down to the hardware…I know, a bad workman and all that… but as this was my first attempt at using a gas fired soldering iron; it caused me some problems. One such problem was that the heat vented out melted some plastic on one if the wires.

I'm not proud of this part!
I’m not proud of this part!

So now, despite my limitations and lack of the correct clamps, my shoddy wiring job is compete. If you’ve been following my previous posts (if not, go back and read them 😉 ) then you can see that I’ve been building a guitar from a kit. The guitar is now complete; I’ve attached all the hardware and now wired up the electrics. Only one of the pickups works and the earth is a little dodgy but it plays and sounds great (on the one working pickup). I suspect the problem is a broken switch (not helped by the scorch mark I made on it, which I’ll probably swap out later.

The finished guitar with all the hardware attached
The finished guitar with all the hardware attached

The last step in this journey is to correct one or two minor flaws and then make some personalisations to make it something I’m really pleased with 🙂

The neck joint’s connected to the body joint…

So now I’ve finished the body and and neck; it’s time to join them together!

This is possibly the most critical bit in the building of any guitar so as I look at putting my kit guitar together I did a bit a research. Lots of guitars have glued necks (Les Paul jr. and PRS guitars) but most you’ll pick up off the shelf are bolted (except top-end, through neck guitars). Read more here if you want to know more about the difference.  I’ve never owned a set-neck so I was unsure how stable they were; but after convincing myself they were, it was time for the glue.

Again, preparation is key; so i set up my bench (the dining room table), and dry-clamped it all together.  This is essential as you don’t want to be messing about finding more clamps or bit of wood etc. while the glue is working. Now I’m sure I’ve got the set-up in the right place to get my clamps on; I applied the glue. I used a contact adhesive from Evostick and waited about 5 minutes after covering both parts to be in contact for it to be touch-dry before putting the two pieces together.

Glue freshly applied ready for the neck to be attached
Glue freshly applied ready for the neck to be attached

Next, I applied the clamps. These clamps were borrowed from my great friend Rob who also lent me the wooden legs and flip flops which belong to his wife… sorry Jen (I’ll come to that in a min).  The joint position was a little awkward to get a G-clamp directly on top of so I improvised and used a 1 inch block of wood positioned in the pickup cavity, on top of the joint, with thick solid oak legs on top and below. This allowed me to clamp the two oak legs together and the pressie would be applied to the small block and therefore to the neck.  This seemed to work fine. The quickgrip clamps I used are really easy to get the correct pressure and can be used with one hand so they are ideal for jobs like these! And then there’s the flip flops… These were positioned on the body to protect the surface of the wood while I clamp the joint and just held everything in place; just like a thick piece of rubber… which is exactly what they are!

Glue in, clamps on; yes, those are flip flops!
Glue in, clamps on; yes, those are flip flops!

And now… to wait!

Phew!  That was tough to get everything in place and clamped while the glue was going off. I was careful not to put too much glue on to the wood to avoid it sitting too thick and stopping the neck from fitting into the cavity accurately and making the desired contact; but it worked fine. I then left it overnight and most of the next day to give it roughly 24 hours to set and I’ll give it about a week before I tension the neck and put strings on so that i give then the neck plenty of time to settle.

So,  grab a brew and a biscuit and wait…

Nearly there. Neck glued on and feeling sturdy
Nearly there. Neck glued on and feeling sturdy

Next stop; installing the hardware and the electrics.

Decisions, decisions…

One of the biggest decisions to make when building a guitar from a kit is how you are going to finish the wood; ie. do I stain the wood; do I laquer it or oil it?

Preparation is key to any finish so I wanted to sand the wood smooth.  Even though it arrived pretty smooth, I wanted it REALLY smooth 🙂  Starting with coarse grade (I used about 120 grit, then working up through the grades to remove the scratches I’d just made). Start with about 120 grit, then 240, 480 and then I finished with a wet and dry 600 sheet.  Wire wool works well to take off any last grain that’s risen or 1200 grit wet and dry to get a really smooth finish. Wetting the wood and leaving it for a little while makes the grain “sit up”. Following this with another fine sand makes the wood silky smooth like a “freshly shaved leg” as a friend said the other day 🙂

So… which finish do I use…?

I liked the idea of a blue stain and got plenty of inspiration from various articles and videos. In fact I was planning to stain it black, sand back and then add a blue stain over the top which gives a great depth to the colour.  But in the end, I decided that I like wood to look like wood and a natural finish is really the best way to achieve that.

I’m going to use Danish oil, which again I had around from a previous project, as it’s cheap, gives a great finish and is easy to do.  You can get it in a small tin from any good hardware store and you apply it with a cloth, straight from the tin.  It does get a bit fumey though so I recommend doing it outside or in the garage and storing it out of the way too, preferably somewhere well ventilated.

I’ve used Danish oil a few times before and I find it gives a tough, waterproof finish, and looks great. It does darken the wood and can make it slightly orangey even; so test it on a sample piece before you use it on your beloved guitar to make sure you’re happy with the finish.

Oil really brings out the grain
Oil really brings out the grain
Look at the beautiful grain!
Look at the beautiful grain!

The oil raises the grain which gives a brilliant texture and shine as you can see.  As the grain really stands up it is important to sand between coats to smooth it back.  I like to give the wood at least 3 coats of oil,  sanding inbetween, to achieve the desired finish. The grain looks great and the detail in the wood is highlighted,  particularly in the flamed maple.

The flamed maple is glowing after the first coat of oil
The flamed maple is glowing after the first coat of oil
After 3 coats oil; the guitar kit is ready to be glued
After 3 coats oil; the guitar kit is ready to be glued

Now the finish is complete,  time to glue the neck 🙂

Fixing the “dodgy” heel joint

Have you ever had an irritating feature of one of your guitars and wished you could change it?

Well; with a starting point of having a guitar kit in pieces; see my previous blog, I can fix one such “irritation” before I put my guitar together.

While looking up how to fix the neck to the body (a glued joint… no bolts); I came across an article on Fixing the “heel from hell” where Ed Roman describes how he dislikes the heel joint that PRS have started using and how he fixes them.  While my neck is separate from the body, I figured I could try and fix mine before I glued it. Here’s how I did it:

The dodgy PRS heel before I worked my magic
The dodgy PRS heel before I worked my magic

First I put the two pieces together and made a feint pencil line to show where the joint was.  I made sure this wasn’t too dark as I didn’t want to see it on the finished guitar.  Then, using my trusty sanding block and some coarse sandpaper, I sanded and smoothed the heel to remove the definite lip to leave a smooth contour.  With more specialised tools I could have changed the shape even more, but I didn’t want to buy any tools at this point; I’d rather make do with what I’ve got where possible.

Line drawn, sanding block ready to shape the heel.
Line drawn, sanding block ready to shape the heel.

Next,  I checked the joint and adjusted where it didn’t quite look right and you know what,  I’m pleased with the result 🙂

The dodgy PRS heel before I worked my magic
Before: The dodgy PRS heel before I worked my magic
The joint between neck and body with smooth heel
After: The joint between neck and body with smooth heel

Next step; putting the finish on the guitar…

What’s in the box? WHAT’S IN THE BOX??

I love getting mail.

I especially love getting parcels and this was one parcel I was really looking forward to; it was my new project; an electric guitar kit from china.

For those who may not have discovered it; Ali Express is a bit like ebay; but instead of dealing with middleman, you buy direct from chinese sellers.  You can get some real bargains if you look carefully, especially as most offer free postage.

I decided I wanted a PRS style guitar as I’ve always loved the shape and style, so after a bit of shopping around, I finally found one that was a good price (less than £100 at the time) and had the features I wanted (fixed bridge, flame maple top).  This is one I chose:  PRS style guitar kit from aliexpress.com

So, the box…

What is inside? Is it what i expected?
What is inside? Is it what I expected?

When ordering off the Internet,  you can never be quite sure what to expect. Is the hardware as good as expected? Is it going to be well made? Is it going to look anything like the picture?

Well, as you can see, the wood is beautiful and well made; the hardware isn’t great, but fine for the price (we can always replace these later).  The only slight flaw is a slight ‘lip’ where the maple top meets; but I’ll sand that out before I finish the wood.

And of course, most importantly, there was no severed head… (check out Seven with Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman if that reference went over your head).

The bits from the guitar kit box
The bits from the guitar kit box

I’m really looking forward to starting work on this one 🙂

Off we go!

So here we go…

This is a blog to describe my adventures into making, improving and my sucesses (and failures) in wooden musical instruments.  I am not a luthier (instrument maker) but gifts, challenges and just “giving it a go” has enabled me to make a cajon (box drum), ukulele and an electric guitar; alongside improving or experimenting with some other things…

I’ve just started an electric guitar kit so I’ll be showing you my journey as I go from beginning to completion with my challenges along the way.

If you enjoy music, working with wood, or just want to give it a go; just do it! Get the kit, buy or borrow tools and get going; you’d be amazed what you can achieve! 🙂

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