Guitar Build 5: Bugs in Wood

Engineers are frequently accused of seeing everything as black or white, which is one reason woodworking is good for my soul. Imperfections in materials and overcoming mistakes are what it’s all about.

This week I had to deal with another misstep, this time on my top. We began the night planing our maple tops to thickness (5/8″). As always, we jointed one face, then used the planer and then the belt sanding planer (a monster!) to get to precise thickness. At this point, the top is pretty smooth and showing off its curly grain self. The process of exposing beautiful wood grain is something like sculpture—the beauty is in there somewhere, we just need to take away what’s hiding it.

After planing away a fair bit of the top, it turns out that the insect damage had “moved” toward the center of the guitar. As I said in my first post, I took a gamble on this piece of maple, knowing that the bug damage was close to the edge of the body. Alas, it had migrated to the top and bottom edges (see photo).

We have two ways forward. The binding will partially cover some of this scar, and the remaining should be hidden in the dark brown outer edge of a tobacco sunburst. Ted offered a second way: we could modify the shape slightly to cut out these imperfections (top and bottom). Messing with the design of the master makes me nervous!

After drilling registration holes with the same template used for the body, we glued top to body. I discovered another interesting part of electric guitars here—one of the cavities has no electronics and is completely devoted to resonance! I had no idea a “solid body” guitar had such a cavity. There you go.

We finished the night bringing the edges of the fretboard into line and at the proper width. Because of a bandsaw error, mine had to be brought in a little under width. We’ll compensate for this error with a touch of extra binding.

While we were working on fretboards, Ted cut some 1/8″ maple strips for edge binding the fretboards. We glued these strips to a mahogany veneer, so the fretboard will have an “ebony to mahogany to maple” edge. Should be nice.

Production Notes

  • Avoid maple tops with bug damage 🙂
  • Dry fit everything before gluing! I got lucky on the top to body glue up, which I did without dry fitting.
  • A good, straight edge on the sides of the fretboard is more important than the width. Compensate for imperfections in width with the binding.
  • Glue will seep through a veneer, so go light on the glue and make sure to put down wax paper first.
  • Be careful reading calipers! It is very easy to misread this device.



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