Routing – so where should I begin?  Probably with a little lesson of “don’t do it like I did”; that’s as good a place as any!  So the last entry showed that I cut the guitar body out of a block of wood, and sanded close to my body outline.  The next step in this process was to use the MDF template I created to rout the outside of the body to a more precise shape, as well as rout the neck cavity and pickup / control cavities.  Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, I’ve never used a router before (let’s get that out of the way), and the idea of a little metal bit spinning at 10, 000 rpm absolutely terrifies me, so I was sure to read LOTS of information on how to rout before actually trying it.  From what I’ve read, the most important things to remember are the following:

  1. Keep your fingers away from any and all tiny, powerful, spinning blades.  Just do it!  Don’t get your shit cut off!
  2. Eye protection is a must.  If you don’t understand why this is, then read rule number 1 and the mention of the tiny spinning blade.
  3. Keep a firm grip on the wood at all times.  You don’t want a piece of wood being flung around the workshop, potentially breaking bones or causing major lacerations.  See rule number 1, regarding the tiny, powerful, spinning blade.
  4. When routing the body, be sure to take very light and shallow passes.  This will minimize tear-out and potential body damage.
I followed steps 1 through 3 very well, but shit the bed on #4.  Let’s take a look.
Looks good so far, right?  This is the body after routing the outline.
Looks pretty good from this angle as well, right?  Well too bad this angle is hiding some major tear out that I experienced from routing too much material at once.
 Ahh, here’s the screw-up!  Some major tear out right on the bottom edge of the guitar.  This will be mostly addressed by rounding the edges, but some will still need to be filled before finish.  Maybe I can still go for a translucent finish on the back, right?
Wrong!  Here’s the MAJOR tear-out on the bottom end grain.  Apparently the end grain is a very touchy spot, and I was routing WAY too much material.
Here’s a better shot of the damage.  Not only was there tear-out, but a chunk of my rounded bottom was ripped off of the body.  Luckily, I was able to find it, glue everything back together and clamp it up tight.  Some dings were still apparent, so I used wood filler putty to patch them up, and sand smooth.  The body is back to shape, but there is NO way I can possibly use a translucent finish on the back.  Black opaque it is!
So here’s my template for routing the control cavities, pickup cavities and neck pocket.
While the neck pocket outline is PRECISE and has been measured many times, the pickup cavities and control switch aren’t perfect.  But that’s okay, as they will be covered by the pickguard and control switch plate.
Here are the traced outlines on the body.  Note – I’ve already drilled the bridge screw holes.  My first step was to drill out most of the cavity material using a Forstner bit.  This will require me to have to rout as little as possible.  Lesson learned, right?
So what the hell happened here!?  Like I said, the template outline wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t nearly THIS ugly.  I was sure I did everything as I should, and here’s what I found…
The ball bearing guide on my flush trim template router bit slipped.  WTF!?  Nowhere had I read of a ball bearing guide slipping on a template router!  This is just my luck – On my first time around, everything that could go wrong, is going wrong.  In the above picture, take note of the silver ring below the red cutting surface.  That’s the rolling guide that is supposed to stop the bit from cutting beyond the template.  The black ring (from what I’ve learned) is the retaining ring.  This holds the guide in place, while allowing the guide to freely spin when running over the template surface.
Here’s what the router bit SHOULD look like.  I moved everything back in place, and tightened the retaining ring with an Allen key.  On the positive side, I’m glad this happened here, where the control plate will cover the mistake, and not on the neck pocket where precision is absolutely necessary.
So I neglected to take pictures of my using the round over bit to produce the rounded edges, but everything (finally) went well.  You can see the rounded edges in the above shot.  Here, I’ve already applied four coats of tinted nitrocellulose lacquer over the body.  This will serve several purposes.  Previous to this step, I used three good coats of grain sealer.
Another angle of the black nitro base color.
The goal for this guitar, is to finish it with a gold top, similar to those beautiful Gibson Les Paul Gold Tops.  I will be using a special gold finish, that was formulated specifically to emulate the Gibson color.  This product is sold by Guitar Reranch, and I would highly recommend them.   Above, I’ve begun sanding the guitar face using 330 grit sandpaper.  The surface should be as flat, and perfect, as possible.  The gold paint will reveal many imperfections, so you want to minimize this possibility.
 It doesn’t have to be pretty, just smooth.

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