This beautiful neck came from USA Custom Guitars. Last December (2016), I needed a neck for this guitar and Allparts was out of stock on the model I wanted. On the internet I found the USACG site (I visit from time to time), and followed the pages to some information about a neck sale they were running. I was able to get this flame maple neck with the fretboard width and radius I wanted, with my choice of fret size, neck carve, and other features. Wow! With the sale pricing, the neck was only a few bucks more than the Allparts neck I would have chosen, and the options I could pick made it an amazing deal.
They were buried in orders and it took a few weeks to get it, but it was well worth waiting for. Very pretty wood and great workmanship! It needed only a little sanding to be ready for finishing. They had already rolled the fretboard edges, and I went a little further with that. The fret ends were beautifully rounded and didn’t need any further attention. The peghead’s shape is a slight departure from the classic Tele profile, but I like it and am happy with it as it came. Four coats of Tru-Oil and some 0000 steel wool later, the neck was ready for tuners and a nut, and the wood grain looked great, as you can see.
One option I chose was to get the truss rod adjustment on the peghead, instead of the heel. That’s a huge convenience! I’m good at getting the adjustment done the old school way, but it’s always a bit of a guessing game. This neck straightened with only a bit of adjustment. I’m anxious to see how it behaves under tension. The neck heel fits perfectly on the body. It always blows my mind a bit when I see a neck and body from different makers go together so well. So far, I’m really impressed with USACG’s work.
Continuing with finishing the body! Whoever said that finishing a guitar is the hardest part of this process has it right. I used Trans Tint bright red dye concentrate to get this color, and diluted it with water for easier handling. I kept pushing the dilution until I got the shade I wanted, and it’s exactly what I hoped for. More luck and perseverance than skill here.
Once again it’s Tru-Oil for the topcoat, working up to six thin layers and scuff-sanding between each coat with 2000 grit paper. At that point I rubbed it back pretty hard with 0000 steel wool, and then applied two more coats over the next couple of days. I like to allow 12 to 24 hours between coats, and then I let the body hang for a week before another rub-out with steel wool, followed by buffing and polishing.
I don’t grain fill, and feel that the bright, responsive sound I get from the guitars I assemble has a lot to do applying a very thin finish. Tru-Oil gives great “grain pop”, and plenty of moisture protection, but very little impact protection. I’m fine with that trade-off. I also like to see the texture of the wood I’m working with. I sanded this body very smooth, raised the grain with water, and re-sanded until I was happy. Heavy applications of the dye solution re-raised the grain a tiny bit, but I liked it and decided not to re-sand.
I’m not interested in a glossy commercial finish, though I certainly appreciate the skill it takes to do that. I can get a hand-rubbed bright satin luster with Meguiar’s #7 and some buffing pads, and then a final buffing with Virtuoso polish. Looks good to me.
The body for this guitar is a single piece of Eastern White Pine (IIRC) from my pal Larry at Clearfork Designs. It’s about 3.5 pounds and very resonant. As you can see from the photos in this first installment, I’m dyeing the body RED, using an awesome black and white shell pickguard, and installing a Fender-logo Bigsby B5. Once the color is right, I’ll topcoat with Tru-Oil, rub it out with 0000 steel wool, and buff it with Meguiar’s for a bright satin gloss (if that makes any sense).
To come: a neck from USA Custom Guitars (en route as I write), maple and rosewood, which will get a bone nut, and a new (to me, anyway) type of Gotoh locking tuner. Final pickup choice will rely on how things are sounding, but I have a brand new set of Electric City low-wind humbuckers that I think will work great. The bridge will be a Marc Rutters “Chopped” model, notched for the Bigsby. Standard wiring on a flipped plate, and we’ll see where we are. Much more to come!
I’m selling a very nice Gibson AJ from 2002, with its original hard case. This is Gibson’s round-shouldered dreadnought design, originally from the 1930’s, which has a huge, loud sound. This is also partly due to the 25.5″ scale. I believe the AJ is the only Gibson acoustic with that Martin-like scale length. You can see from the photos there’s only normal handling wear, with one tiny ding on the top and very little fret wear.
Spruce top (probably Sitka), Indian rosewood back and sides, and a mahogany neck. The guitar is very well set up and comfortable to play. The intonation is great, and came that way from the factory. I made and installed a bone nut, and put a new strap button on, with a matching one on the underside of the neck heel. I have the original button, and the warranty card from Gibson. This guitar is ready to go!
And it’s gorgeous! Nobody sprays a sunburst like Gibson, and the grain in the top is outstanding. This is the best example of this model I found, which is why I bought it. It’s going for $1800. Check it out!
This is the second pine Strat-style guitar to come off my bench, and both have been winners!
Leo Fender built several early Broadcaster models from pine, but never any Strats, so far as I know. Many people look down on pine (too cheap, too common?) but it sounds fantastic and looks great, too.
Check out this beautiful example, with its blue streaks and intergalactic knot placed right on the arm cut! Graeme, the builder, chose this body for his second project. Clearfork Designs body, Allparts neck, Fender bridge, tuners, noiseless pickups, and plastic parts, and a Tru-Oil finish. It’s simple: gather good parts and put them together properly, and you really can’t miss.
This one has been awhile coming, but was well worth waiting for. The body is African mahogany, and was originally destined to get an Allparts Strat neck. Long story short: AJ, the builder, also has an American Strat. He decided he wanted to have his new Tele set up for slide playing, while the Strat would become his guitar for other styles. He felt the Strat would benefit more from a neck with fresh frets. It’s a good move, and both necks fit their respective bodies with no problems.
As you can see, the bridge is a six-saddle Gotoh, and the pickups are Fender’s Pure Vintage ’64 set, which I had not heard before. They sound great on this guitar! We opted to flip the plate, in order to improve access to the selector switch; otherwise the control setup is standard.
The body, as usual, is from Clearfork Designs, and is stunning. AJ did one of the best arm- and belly-cut jobs I’ve seen yet, with beautiful lines and execution. It’s a favorite way to modify a Tele body, and he really got it right. He applied a Tru-Oil finish, also with great results.
I may sound like I’m just cheerleading when I write these posts, but I’m really proud of the work all of these builders have done. And it’s interesting to see that in many cases they really bond with these guitars. I know I have, and the whole process of getting your hands on all the parts as you work through the steps is very satisfying. Plus, you have a cool instrument when you’re done. Another beautiful job here, Thanks, AJ!
Regular readers know I’ve been working with TransTint dyes lately. I did the orange Tele body and liked it so much, as did pretty much everyone who saw it, that I went looking for another color. I found this purple on their website and bought a bottle of the liquid concentrate at Woodcraft.
This project, like all my builds for myself, involved some loose experimenting. Not in any scientific way; more like, “What happens if I do this?”, and “What the hell is THAT??”. I bought a very lightweight two-piece swamp ash body from Larry Robinson at the 2015 Fall Philly Guitar Show to replace a three-piece body I’d bought from him a year or so ago. My intention was to move all the parts from the older Strat to the newer body. I figured that this was the closest I could get to a meaningful comparison between the two bodies. The older Strat sounded good but some people love the lighter bodies, so I wanted to see if I heard a difference.
Of course, that wasn’t enough. I decided to assemble the guitar with the body unfinished. Years ago I met a violin maker who told me that, in his opinion, violins sounded best “in the white”, or unfinished. You can’t play them without the protection of the finish for long, but he felt that even a thin finish changed the sound. Now, Strats and fiddles are different animals, but I’ve already heard the results of applying the thin Tru-Oil finishes I use on all my guitars. The guitars are acoustically brighter than commercially finished instruments tend to be (though there’s a LOT of variation there). What would I hear with no finish?
So off I went, and the short version is that I now had a much different sounding guitar. Strats are bright anyway, and this one had the extra top end I am used to hearing with the thin finish, plus a bit more. The guitar was also clearer and more open sounding than with the other body. Great bass response, which some people say can be an issue with a lighter body. So far, that has not been my experience; the orange Tele body is spruce, and also very light, and it has all the tone I want.
Most of the difference I heard I chalked up to the body weight, and this was borne out after the new body had been completely finished. No doubt the unfinished body was brighter and a touch livelier, but the effect was very subtle, and I don’t need more brightness than I’m already getting. Interesting, glad I did it, time to move on.
The dye concentrate can be mixed with with water or denatured alcohol. I tried the alcohol dilution first, since I’d had good results with that on the orange Tele, but it was harder to get an even, blotch-free color because the alcohol evaporated so fast. I switched to using water and solved the problem. I applied a few coats, to build up the color. I did some tests on pine, but pine isn’t swamp ash, and I couldn’t entirely trust what I saw. Easy to apply more, not easy to remove it.
Finally, I wound up with a dilution that was opaque in the plastic bottle when held a few inches away from a 100-watt bulb (scientific, like I said). This led me to the final dye tone you see above. The color changes amazingly under incandescent, camera flash, and sunlight, but looks cool everywhere. On to the Tru-Oil.
I wiped on eight coats, with plenty of drying time, and more light sanding (1500 grit) between coats than usual. I wanted a higher gloss this time, and no “brushy” look to the surface, which happens with Tru-Oil if you aren’t really careful. On previous builds, I’ve gotten great satin finishes rubbing out with 0000 steel wool, and more gloss from using the aerosol Tru-Oil (the mahogany Tele). The orange Tele got rubbed out by hand with Meguiar’s No. 7 after the steel wool, and that gave me a brighter satin than the steel wool alone did.
This time (another experiment), I went for a lighter rub with the Meguiar’s, just enough to knock down the shine a touch. It’s my glossiest finish so far, and I think it suits the guitar and the color well. The grain is clearly visible (I like that), the color is deep, and the surface looks as though it could have been sprayed.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the lighter body leads to a different sound. I like it! It’s a bit leaner in the bass, and the mids are complex but clear. The whole guitar is very responsive and fun to play. It’s a great chord guitar, but also holds together very well for single notes, and clean or dirty amp settings. The final experiment was a new bridge with narrower string spacing. That solved the E-string balance problem I’ve heard on every Strat I ever played, and completed this guitar. Enough workbench “science” for now. It’s time to play!
Next up is a knockout figured maple top on a mahogany body. The photos don’t do it full justice. This Clearfork body is stunning, and, as we found, became an essential part of a great guitar.
The pickups are Duncan Vintage Stacks. I like this set a lot. It delivers plenty of Tele tone but is noiseless. It looks right and sounds the way it should. The controls mount from the back instead of on a plate. Charles, the builder, did a very careful job sanding and Tru-Oil finishing the neck and body and got a beautiful result. The grain really pops and the maple is as 3-D as you could ask.
The neck is from Allparts, and the tuners are Fender/Gotoh vintage-style. The bridge is also Gotoh, the six-saddle type. I’ve been working with these bridges a lot lately, including on two of my own guitars, and have come to really like them. They’re easy to set up, and sound bright and focused. They’re not the twangiest, but they twang just fine if you know how to pull that sound out with your hands. The pickguard is almost translucent, and a nice change from the usual colors.
Charles did more of the assembly himself than I usually see in our builds, and worked cleanly and confidently. It shows in the result. The maple/mahogany combination works well on Les Pauls, and very nicely here as well. The guitar is punchy and clear, and lets you know there’s more than a pretty face at work here. Great job! I think his other guitars are feeling a little neglected.
Okay, I haven’t posted anything here for quite awhile. Largely that’s been due to the number of guitars I’m helping people assemble, as well as my own projects and some work on refining certain steps in the process (more tools!) and using Trans Tint dyes.
First up we have Bob’s very cool pine Tele, featuring a Clearfork body and a Warmoth neck. Bob did most of the work himself. He finished the neck and body, selected and ordered his parts, and installed his own pickups (Duncans) and wiring. He was after a Tele for jazz playing, with warmer, fuller tones than you’d think a Tele might produce. He also wanted individual volume controls for the pickups and a master tone control. I helped with a few of the trickier assembly steps and the setup.
This neck features the Gotoh truss rod adjustment at the side of the heel (http://www.warmoth.com/Guitar/Necks/SideAdjust.aspx). That makes it possible to preserve a more vintage peghead appearance without the inconvenience of having to remove the neck to do rod adjustments. It works very well! No doubt there have been plenty of forum arguments about how it changes the sound. There is certainly more routing involved at the factory and more hardware inside the neck. I can’t speak to its durability, but if it ever broke, there’s a conventional truss rod in the neck as well.
Anyway, the guitar plays very comfortably and nailed the sound Bob wanted. It’s very smooth, and fun to play. Well done!