Guitar Build 3: Routing the body

One of the fun parts of a project like this is being made to think about things I just never noticed in the past. For example, why does a Fender Stratocaster have a large faceplate, when the Gibson Les Paul does not? Answer: the Strat has a one piece body, so the only way to get the electronics inside is to rout out the face, which leaves a hole that must be covered. The Strat also has a cavity in the back for tremolo springs.

Stevie Ray Vaughan's Stratocaster "Number One." Notice the large faceplate, which allows a single piece maple body.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Stratocaster “Number One.” Notice the large faceplate, which allows a single piece maple body (source: srvguitars.com).
Robben Ford's '99 Les Paul. The curly maple top is glued on to the back; therefore, no need for a face plate.
Robben Ford’s ’99 Les Paul. The curly maple top is glued on to the back; therefore, no need for a face plate. (I plan to finish my guitar with a tobacco sunburst slightly darker than this one.) Source: lespaulforum.com

To allow for a beautiful wooden top requires a two piece body (not counting the two pieces that make up each piece of the two pieces!). As I covered in a previous post, we’re making a mahogany body (the back) and a curly maple top.

So, this past Thursday we spent most of our time on routing cavities into the backs of our guitars for electronics. The front side of the back, which will be covered with the maple top, has two large cavities and a channel for the selector switch. The back side of the back also has a cavity to allow for the control knobs.

Jointing the body on Ted's 16" jointer. You can't do this at home.
Jointing the body on Ted’s 16″ jointer. You can’t do this at home.

After being glued up last week, the two piece mahogany backs needed to be prepared and brought to proper thickness (1 3/4″). As always, we began by jointing one side, which is a “you can’t do this at home” operation. My jointer at home can handle stock 4″ wide, but our bodies are 14″ or so. Not to worry: Ted’s industrial strength jointer handles 16″ stock!

Next, we brought the back to approximately the right thickness on the planer. Most planers for home use are 13″, I think, so this operation requires a shop as well. Ted’s planer is 20″. After planing, we brought the piece to just the right thickness with a huge belt sander that operates just like a planer. This machine is impressive.

Removing stock before routing.
Removing stock before routing.

At this point, we drilled “registration holes” to which we will affix templates for the routing and perhaps other things. Instead of using the router to remove all the stock, we used a Forstner bit to remove most of the stock, then finished the job with an inverted router. This is where I made my first blunder:  When using a router, the direction you push the stock is critical.  It turns out I was supposed to rotate the piece counter-clockwise when the router is inverted and cutting an inside edge (see this helpful Woodcraft article). I rotated the wrong way, causing the bit to “jump,” and somehow the bit removed stock outside the template (it probably moved). Ted is pretty sure the back plate will cover the goof. We shall see.

Cavities for electronics. My router blunder is visible on the inside lip of the bottom right cavity. Sigh....
Cavities for electronics. My router blunder is visible on the inside lip of the bottom right cavity. Sigh….

Finally, we planed off the burn marks from our maple tops, and then bookmatched them for the best look. Can’t wait to see these babies finished!

My top. Note the insect marks on top and bottom. These should be outside the cut of the body, and so go to waste.
My top. Note the insect marks on top and bottom. These should be outside the cut of the body, and so go to waste.

Production Notes

  • Prepare the mahogany back in the usual way. Face jointing requires a 16″ jointer. Planing requires a 20″ planer.
  • Placement of registration holes is critical.
  • On an inverted router, rotate the piece counter-clockwise on an inside cut! Read the Woodcraft article before proceeding—don’t goof this up!

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s