After a week off for Thanksgiving, we gathered this week to continue the build. We started by choosing stock for our curly maple tops and ebony fretboards. Unfortunately, I had third choice of the stock, so I took a chance on a maple piece with an interesting bluish scar left by an insect (see photo). The hope was that the damage was mainly on the surface and not near the middle. More on this below.
I chose a fretboard with quite a bit of “brindle”—light brown streaks in the dark brown wood, because it reminded me of Remington, our new Boston Terrier. Rather than risking imprecise placement of fret locations, our instructor Ted Harlan orders his fretboards from Stewart-McDonald, a guitar supply source. He chose a 25″ fretboard, which is slightly longer than the traditional Les Paul, but not as long as a Strat. I’m not sure about the tonal implications.
Next we glued up the two piece mahogany backs we prepared on day one.
“Bookmatching” the two pieces is a simple but fun task to make the two pieces appear to be one. I was especially pleased with my match.
After setting the backs aside to dry, we turned to the maple tops. Prepping curly maple is difficult because the grain goes every which way (that’s what makes it so pretty). Fortunately, at this stage we’re not so worried about finish. The maple is 2″ thick, and we need only 5/8″ for the top, so we resawed the pieces (cut them in half lengthwise) on the bandsaw.
We were hoping the insect damage on my piece was local and only on the one surface, but it turned out not to be so. The damage was throughout the piece, but fortunately far enough toward the edge that we should be able to cut out the top and avoid the blemish entirely. After the resaw, the maple pieces “sprung” just a bit, as tension in the wood released. We decided to give them a week to get used to their new condition before moving forward with the glue up.
We finished the night by working on our fretboards. Using a 1970s era Les Paul as a guide, Ted measured the width at the zero fret and the 16th fret, where the neck will join the body. We used calipers to get a precise width, divided by two, and then pencil marked a centerline using a grade school compass. This operation must be done exactly!
The source for all this fun: Ted Harlan Woodworking School.
- Always dry fit before gluing.
- After bookmatching, mark a large triangle over the face, then joint both joining edges. Mark one edge “Inside” and one “Outside”—as indicators for how to place each piece against the jointer fence. By marking them opposite, we compensate for any lack of square in the jointer fence.
- When gluing the back, clamp from the center out. Don’t use too much glue! Use clamps on the ends as necessary to bring them into alignment. Don’t worry about squeeze out at this point. We’ll scrape it off later.
- Prepare the maple stock in the normal way: face joint, plane, edge joint, rip to width on table saw. Avoid tear out on the jointer by cutting with the grain, not into it.
- On a table saw: rip with a rip blade, cross cut with a cross cut blade. Yes, take the time to change them.
- When scoring the edge of the maple for resawing, set the marking tool slightly off center, then turn and score again. This way, we leave a narrow gap within which to keep the saw, rather than trying to keep a single line perfectly.
- Resaw the maple slowly to avoid burning the wood or overheating the blade. Pay attention to drift; all bandsaws drift.
- Use calipers to get precise width of the zero and 16th frets. Mark the middle of the fretboard with a grade school compass, then mark the width of these two frets.
- Use the bandsaw and a hand plane to shape the fretboard (next week).