Installing Grover Tuning Machines and Finishing the 7-String LED Guitar Neck

It’s final assembly time for the LED 7-String guitar!  In this first part of final assembly, I’m going to finish off the guitar neck.  To do this, I need to do three things:

  • Install the Grover Tuners
  • Install the Floyd Rose locking nut
  • Install the Floyd Rose string angle guide bar
Let’s get to it!
Here’s the guitar body and neck, just waiting to be assembled.  I started with the neck, as that would be the more straightforward of the two to assemble.  The body is going to need a LOT of wiring, mounting of things, measuring and drilling.
The first thing is to make sure that the tuning machine post holes are thoroughly cleaned of any lacquer buildup.  In the picture above, you can see the rough edges around the post holes.  I simply used a rat tail file  to gently work the holes back to their proper diameter.
 Once the holes were cleaned of excess nitrocellulose lacquer buildup, I gently worked each of the Grover Tuning machines in place and gave them a rough alignment.
Using a straightedge, parallel to the top of the guitar headstock, I aligned each of the tuners.  As you can see, the flat bottom of the Grover tuners made this pretty easy to do.
To secure the tuners from the back, and to stop them from rotating out of alignment, each one had to be screwed in with these tiny little screws.
In the final assembly phase, it is VERY important to pre-drill your holes.  Doing this will prevent you from causing any cracks in the wood or the lacquer surface.  Since I didn’t want to drill to deeply, I measured the depth of the screw with a caliper, and marked the end of the drill bit with a piece of tape.  This would give me a good visual cue to not drill too deeply.
Once the tuners were drilled and screwed in, I put the nut and sleeve screw on each post on the face and tightened easily.  If you tighten these to much, you run the risk of cracking the lacquer on the face of the headstock; too little and your tuners will wobble.
This is one of the things I’ve been most excited about, a 7-String Floyd Rose guitar tremolo system!  I’ve never owned a guitar with a Floyd Rose Tremolo setup, nor have I owned a 7-String guitar.  Soon I’ll have the two, combined into one!
Installing the Floyd Rose locking nut was a snap.  Just two screws and two washers.
Next up, I needed to install the string guide bar.  To do this, I laid the bar in position, making sure the screw holes didn’t interfere with the run of the strings.  Once I had this in place, and using a very technical specialized clamp (my hand), I drilled the two post holes.
 The grand unveil!  Here are the two post holes!
And last but not least, I’ve got the string guide bar in place.  Consider the neck finished!

Drilling Holes in the Guitar Neck

So this was the part that I was very much not looking forward to.  This is the first neck in which I will be drilling fresh mounting holes, and I sure didn’t want to mess it up!  As it turns out, it was a lot easier than I had anticipated!

This body features an “easy access” heel.  This means that the outermost edge actually slopes down, toward the guitar neck.  In the picture above, you can see the slope.  Because of this, I could use full length mounting screws in the back, but needed to use shorter screws in the front so as not to pierce the fingerboard.  In order to test the length, and take accurate depth measurements, I installed the neckplate, and put the screws in.  What I didn’t show, was that I put the neck in place, secured it with a clamp, and lightly tapped the screws into the neck to mark my drilling locations.
 Next up, I set the depth measurement on my drill press.  After that, I put my neck, next to the drill bit and extended the arm fully.  This was to ensure that I didn’t drill too deeply.

Next up, drilling the actual holes.  This part was easy, as I had already marked the neck positions, and set my drill press depth.  I took my time, lined up each screw marker, and carefully drilled the hole.  Note – If you are using a handheld drill, it is important to make sure to drill as vertical a hole as possible.  You don’t want your holes wandering off to the side! 

So after all that worrying, I now have four, perfectly aligned drill holes!  Note, the picture above makes the top left hole look out of place, but that must be just the angle of the photo.  The holes line up very well!  One note though.  I would have drilled these holes before finishing the body and neck so there was less chance of damaging the finish, but I didn’t have a drill press at the time.  I knew I would be getting one, so I held off drilling until I knew I could do it accurately.

Sanding and Polishing the LED Guitar Body

It’s been about four weeks since the last time I sprayed lacquer, so the body and neck of the LED Guitar should be fully cured.  It is important to wait a good amount of time, of else wet sanding will do nothing but mar and gouge the soft finish.  One way to judge if the body is dry, is to smell it.  Over the course of a few weeks, you will begin to notice the smell of lacquer disappearing from your guitar body.  This means that the volatile compounds are evaporating, and the finish is hardening.

I’ll save you the dull action shots of my wet sanding the body, but I’ll give you a quick rundown.  I leveled the surface of both the guitar body, and neck, with 500 grit sandpaper.  This was by far the most time consuming  part of the finishing process.  The goal is to sand, until the surface is completely even, and no shiny spots are left.  A few notes on this process:

  • If your sandpaper starts to feel like grits of “sand” are scratching around while sanding, stop and rinse your sandpaper.  These hardened bits of residue can actually scratch your finish more than you had intended.  
  • Be careful when sanding the edges of the guitar body.  Due to the nature of the spraying process, the lacquer is actually thinnest and so it is very easy to sand through the finish.  
  • When you are sanding, work in opposite directions for varying degrees of paper.  This will help you to see if you are removing the sanding marks from the previous paper.
  • I used the following levels of sandpaper: 500, 800, 1000, 1500 and 2500.  This works for me, but I encourage you to experiment and develop a technique that suits you best.
Here’s a shot of the finished guitar body!  It took me four months to get to this point. Hopefully the next one will only one or two if I don’t make the same rookie mistakes. 

Here’s another angle, and you can see the top of the headstock.  I neglected to take pictures of the finished neck, so I’ll have to post those later. 

 I don’t have an expensive buffing arbor, so I used these drill mounted foam pads from Stewmac.  They come in varying sizes to make it easier to get into the guitar’s tight spots.
 Here’s a larger foam pad that makes buffing the guitar body faces much easier.
I started with Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound.  This removed almost all of the scratches from the sanding process.
I then used Meguiar’s Swirl Remover to give it a more professional shine.  Lastly, I used Meguiar’s Show Car Glaze, to brighten and protect the surface.  I’ll add a picture later.

Making a Custom Telecaster Guitar Body Template

While I am waiting for the lacquer to dry on my 7-String LED Guitar, I figured I would start my next project, namely, building a guitar completely from scratch!  I’ve been doing a lot of research, over the past few months, on how best to do this and I believe I’m ready to begin.  The first thing I need to do is to make some templates out of cheap 1/4″ MDF (medium density fiberboard).  There are a few reasons to to this:

  • MDF is CHEAP!  You want to do as little experimenting on expensive wood as possible.
  • From what I understand, building guitars is like eating potato chips; you can’t eat just one!
  • Once you have a good set of templates, a great design is easily repeatable.
Personally, I’m a HUGE fan of Craigslist.  Since I’m a beginner, hobbyist guitar builder, I couldn’t justify spending the cash for new / expensive shop tools.  In this case, patience, and a sharp eye on Craigslist paid dividends.  I purchased the above drill press for only $150.  This unit costs $400 new, easily!  One tool you don’t want to skimp on is the drill press.  If you purchase one of those small, tabletop drill presses from Home Depot or Lowes, you will have barely enough clearance (if you’re lucky) to drill holes closer to the middle of a telecaster body.  Forget it, if you plan on building larger body guitars.
Since I don’t have a bandsaw (watching Craigslist for the “right” deal), I’m stuck cutting the MDF with a “jigsaw”.  I put “jigsaw” in quotes, because this is a shitty excuse for a jigsaw.  I picked this one up for only $15, and I quickly came to realize why that is.  Cutting just about ANYTHING, with a jigsaw, produces terrible vibration in the piece.  It is almost impossible to cut very close to the line, without fear of running over.  Also, while it may seem like the blade cuts straight up and down, it really doesn’t.  There is often slight “runout” in the blade, causing it to cut at a slight, non-ninety degree, angle.
I missed a few pictures, so bear with me.  I downloaded .PDF templates of a full size Telecaster body from here (my favorite forum, by far, and look for me under PACaster).  I sent those .PDFs to Staples to have them print several full-sized copies.  After cutting them out, and quickly comparing them to the size of the KAOSS Pad Guitar, I found they were almost a dead match.  Using some 3M spray glue, I laid the templates on the MDF in a way to minimize waste.  I would highly recommend using spray glue, for several one good reason – if you goop on too much glue from a bottle, you will never get even coverage, and your blueprint will begin to kink and blister up (affecting the accuracy of the lines).  Note – It may be worth mentioning that I am using Home Depot MDF, that is only about $11 for a 2’x4′ 1/4″ sheet.
If I haven’t already mentioned it, using a “jigsaw” really blows. Pardon my language.  If I had a better jigsaw, this might have been easier.  In any event, I managed to get a rough cutout of my template body.
Here’s an even more rough cut of my neck templates.
Since I don’t have a bandsaw, and I don’t trust the “jigsaw”, I’m relying on my Forstner bits to cut out close to the line of my template.  I need to get it close, so I can refine the edges on my spindle / belt sander.
Note the rough edges, after using the Forstner drill press bit to cut close to the line.
I bought this new.  the Ridgid Oscillating Spindle / Belt Sander, known as the ROSS from here on out.  This was only $199 new, and since they NEVER pop up on Craigslist, I made the plunge.  The benefit here is that you can use it as a belt sander for the long edges, and quickly convert it to a spindle sander for the tight curves and details.
This is the template after a few passes on the ROSS.  Notice how the edges are becoming more refined!
I will end up using two kinds of routers, both of which are CL purchases.  This is the Ryobi table router I picked up for $40.
This bit, purchased new, cost almost as much as the table!  This is a bottom bearing, flush cut bit.  It is used to follow a pattern, and cut a duplicate of a template.
After shaping the first template by hand, I was able to quickly cut out and refine a second.  The reason I need two templates is because I need one for the complete body contour, with the lower heel.  The second template will be used to cut the neck pocket and control cavities.
Now I couldn’t hand cut the straight edges of my neck pocket, and trust they were straight, so I used some assistance.
By clamping this metal, right angle, ruler exactly on the lines, I am able to create a perfect template for a router template bit.  In this shot, you can see the ruler clamped to the body, and everything clamped to my workbench.
Here’s another angle of my clamps, holding all the guitar template materials to my workbench.
And here’s the business; my CL handheld router.  I picked this up for only $50, and it was never even used!  I popped the pattern bit, seen previously, into the router and cut the complete right side, and half of the heel end.
Here, I flipped the right angle ruler to the other side, so I could complete the routing.  You can see all sides are now flush.
Next up, cutting the control cavities and pickup routs.  Using the Forstner bit, I cut out as much material as possible.  The reason I’m doing this is because a router is REALLY scary business, if you’re a beginner, and you want to cut as little as possible with it.
But hey, since I’m real cool, and the MDF guitar body pattern templates have progressed smoothly so far, why take my time, right?  Well stupid me lined up the straight edge of my metal ruler perfectly to the line.  I started to cut the straight edge with my router, and realized very quickly I completely forgot (like an idiot) to line up the top edge of the ruler with the top edge of the switchplate cavity.  Take a look at that nice gouge, well beyond my blueprint line.  That’s a mistake I’ll have to correct somehow.  That’s a problem for another day…

Finishing the Guitar Neck and Painting the Headstock

Hey everyone – We are almost down to the home stretch on the LED Guitar project!  This is the last bit of finishing that will be necessary, before final sanding / polishing and assembly.  Today, I’ll cover how I finished the guitar neck in a vintage amber finish, and painted the headstock.

You may remember these products from my previous article on how to paint stripes on a guitar body.  I ordered these from Stewmac.com, at the recommendation of a gentleman on a Telecaster guitar forum I frequent. My goal was to finish the back of the LED Guitar neck and headstock in a vintage amber tint.  The goal here was to offset the highly stylized / modern finish with some vintage personality.  Going by his recommendation, I would need to start with clear nitrocellulose lacquer, and add four drops of ColorTone Vintage Amber Liquid Stain, and one drop of ColorTone Medium Brown Liquid Stain.  Doing this in a mason jar produced a “vintage amber” that was extremely close to what I had envisioned. I ended up dropping in a bit more of the brown to give the tint a little more “presence”, being careful not to overpower the amber too much.

I masked off the headstock face and fingerboard before spraying.  Even though I would be spraying the headstock an opaque white, I masked it because I didn’t want the finish to be too thick.

Here’s the wood after a single pass of the vintage amber finish.  It’s getting there! 
Once again, however, I didn’t heed my own advice and sprayed too heavy of an initial base coat.  Rather than mess around with this later, I stopped what I was doing, waited a few hours for this to dry, and just sanded the runs out.

 
After a second wet coat, and a few hours drying time, here’s what I ended up with.  The perfect “vintage amber” neck finish!

 Rather than boring you with the details of spraying white lacquer on the headstock, I figured I would just show you the finished product.  After letting the vintage amber dry for a week, I masked everything but the headstock face.  Here it is with four good coats of white tinted lacquer.  That’s a good blank canvas!
 After staring at the headstock for about ten minutes, with a cutout of my custom logo in place, I realized it needed a bit of flare.  This is a large headstock, due to the extra space needed for the 7th string, and so I felt it needed a little accent.  Since I have a red stripe at the bottom of the guitar, I thought it would be cool to balance the design by adding a red slash to the tip of the headstock.  In this picture, you can see the neck completely masked, except for a small portion of the top of the headstock.

I had some red tinted lacquer left, so I laid down three good coats to get a deep red covering. 

After removing the masking tape, I’m left with a deep red accent at the top of the headstock.  Finally, something worked just as planned!  Note – In this picture, the red looks a little magenta.  I think that is either an optical illusion because of the purple towel in the background, or the camera’s color sensor getting confused by the similar colors.  In real life, this is a nice, deep red.

 Here’s a closeup of the painted headstock.  The red looks a little more true to color here.

Now it’s time to do the waterslide logo!  You may remember my post, detailing how I added a waterslide decal to the headstock of my KAOSS Pad Guitar.  This is the same idea.  Above is a shot of the decal I designed for this guitar.  I named the model LD-1; LD for LED guitar, and “1” because it’s my first.
Here’s a test fit of the decal, to make sure it fits properly.  
 A little dip in some water…

 And on to the guitar headstock the waterslide decal goes!  This one actually went on a lot easier than my KAOSS Pad Guitar decal.  I’m thinking that is the case because I knew what to expect.  Now that I’ve completed the finish of both the guitar body and neck, it is time to seal everything in with some clear lacquer. Here is my finish schedule:
  • The body will get about six coats of clear nitro lacquer.  This is to build up enough finish so that I can sand / buff without cutting into the stripes.
  • The back of the neck and headstock will get only two coats.  This is to keep it nice and thin.
  • The face of the headstock will get about six coats of clear.  This is to build up the surface, so that it surpasses the thickness of the decal.  
I probably won’t bore you with those, but we’ll see.  See you soon!

Painting Stripes on a Guitar Body

At this point in my build, I decided my white lacquer base-coat had dried enough for me to paint the multi-colored striping.  Per my previous article, I finished a bare wood guitar body with a white tinted nitrocellulose lacquer finish.  Since there were no major catastrophes to deal with, I didn’t have to do any additional prep work.  On a side note – The surface has that wavy “just sprayed” lacquer texture to it, onto which I am simply going to paint the stripes.  Everything will even out when I lay down the top coats of clear, to seal everything in.

White is the perfect blank canvas for a guitar body!  Too bad I didn’t prime first, or else I would have gotten to this point weeks ago.

Unlike finishing a full guitar body and neck, I decided to use my HVLP touchup gun to spray the stripes. This gun uses MUCH less material, and sprays a much smaller (and more controllable) pattern. 

In order to achieve my desired lacquer tints for not only the red and black striping, but the neck as well, I ordered some different tint shades. For this step, I used both red and black ColorTone Liquid Pigment.  Also in this picture is ColorTone Liquid Stain. This will be demonstrated in a later post covering the neck finish.

Wow – You may be saying to yourself that you must have missed something, right? Well, you didn’t.  I forgot to take pictures of my first masking run, to outline the black stripe.  So what you are looking at is an exposed are, on which I’m going to lay down coats of black tinted lacquer until it is good and dark. In order to achieve a perfectly straight line, I simply placed a strip of masking tape on the guitar body (which was the same width as my desired line).  Using that as a guide, I put two more strips of masking tape on the guitar body – one directly above my guide strip, and one directly below my guide strip.  Once I had those two outline pieces in place, I was able to remove the guide tape in the middle, and have a perfectly straight, bare line.  Some sheets of newspaper later, and you have the picture above!

Off to the garage!  Since it was about 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside on my spraying day, I moved my operation from the shed to my garage.  It isn’t heated, but is insulated and retains enough of the ambient heat from the house to maintain about 35 to 40 degrees F.  Oh, and I sprayed about four coats of black lacquer to achieve the dark black stripe.

Well I really $hit the bed again, as I neglected to take any intermediate pictures.  I guess we’ll have to use our imaginations here!  After letting the black lacquer dry for about 12 hours, I removed all masking tape and ended up with a perfect black line!  At this point, I gave the line about one week to dry, because I would have to mask over THAT line to produce my red line.
In the picture above, I used a very think automotive detailing masking tape to tape a guide line directly below the black line.  This will help me to get an even white space between the black and red lines.  Below that guide line, I taped a slightly thicker line using a wider automotive detail masking tape. This will eventually end up as the area where the red line will be painted.  Beneath that guide tape, I used a standard wide masking tape to mask off the area that will end up directly below the red line (wide yellow tape at the bottom of the guitar body).

 At this point, I masked off the top guide line, as well as the black stripe, to create the outline of where the red line will end up.  To finish it off, I removed the guide masking tape line, mentioned in the step above, to produce the area where I will spray my red.  In the picture above, you can see the white stripe, in between the top and bottom guide lines.

Here’s a closeup of the uncovered strip.

Now tape and mask the whole thing, and it’s ready for some red lacquer! 

 Same deal as with the black, this needed about four coats of red tinted lacquer in order to achieve a deep red line.

And after giving that about 10 hours to dry, I removed all masking material and ended up with two perfect lines!  Next up, finishing the guitar neck.

Please learn from my mistakes. Really…

It’s been a rough few weeks, but in the end, I’ve had a LOT of learning lessons.  Read that last sentence, and realize it is a nice way of saying “I messed up a lot of stuff over the past few weeks”!

Now that that sanding sealer has dried, I was ready to start my color coats.

Here’s a shot of the guitar body, after the sanding sealer dried, and sanding with 320 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface.  It looks pretty good, right? 

Here’s the back, after sealing and sanding.  Again, it looks great!

Now instead of showing you some great pictures of how I primed the guitar, to ready it for some color coats, I can’t do that.  Why, you ask? Because I forgot that I should probably prime this damn thing.  So instead, I’m showing you a picture of how I feel after making that stupid mistake!  Prime your guitar body, if you intend on finishing it in a solid color, especially white.  No really, PRIME THE GUITAR. I’m probably a can and a half through white tinted lacquer, when it should only have taken a handful of coats to achieve the desired consistency, but more on that later.

Ok, let’s forget that last dumb mistake, and move on to some good stuff.  I now use a Nitrocellulose lacquer by Behlen for finishing.  This is great (expensive) stuff, that I purchase from Stewart-MacDonald.  I’m told that I can achieve the same effects with less expensive lacquer by Sherwin Williams.  That’s a good thing to keep in mind for my next build, as I can save a lot on lacquer, and also purchase it locally to save on shipping costs.

The lacquer has a tinted, amber, appearance which dries completely clear.

To achieve the opaque white finish I’m going for, I used lacquer dye from ColorTone.  This is great stuff, and comes in all different colors.  This can be used for any number of finish types, like clear “bursts”, light tinting, etc.  Here come more mistakes.

 Just stop!  Don’t do this!  I didn’t have any fresh mixing cups handy, so I decided to mix some lacquer and pigment in a red Solo cup, before filling my spray gun.  I didn’t realize that the lacquer actually would MELT the cup, very quickly.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but I ended up with a sludge of melted plastic and lacquer all over my work space.  Thankfully, I was able to clean most of it up, very quickly.  What’s the lesson learned here, you ask?  Use a proper mixing cup from a paint retailer, or even mix your combinations in empty lacquer cans.  Can you guess what’s next?  You got it, more stupid mistakes!

I carefully masked the fretboard, neck and sides / back of the headstock.  My plan is to finish those areas with an antique, tinted amber clearcoat.  No mistakes in this shot, but here they come!

 Boy, I think I’ve achieved new heights in how badly I can set this project back!  Take a look at my first pass of laying down tinted lacquer, and realize that you shouldn’t see any runs. Not only did I have runs, but they were so bad, it actually looked like my guitar was melting!  Here’s what went wrong:

Spray technique – The gun adjustments were way, Way, WAY off.  Not only did I have it set to allow too much lacquer to feed into the gun nozzle, but I didn’t have anywhere near enough pressure going to the tip.  Why did I do this?  My only guess at what I was thinking is that it had been quite awhile since I shot lacquer on a fresh body, and it didn’t seem like I was piling it on too think.  It took a few minutes for the runs to start, which allowed me to mess up even more.  Ultimately, this resulted in lacquer basically being gooped onto the guitar body, instead of being finely atomized like a nice aerosol spray. 
Too much lacquer dye – Something that I now realize, after some research, is that the more dye you add to lacquer, the slower the lacquer will actually “cure”.  This gives the lacquer more time to run and sag.  Not good!
No “tack coat” - The first coat of lacquer that is applied to a guitar body, should be a “tack coat”.  This provides a very light (almost misted) base coat that adheres to the guitar body, and allows subsequent “wet” coats of lacquer better adhesion to prevent runs.  
Cold weather - This is unavoidable in the Northeast, and extra caution should be taken when it is cold.  It makes it that much more difficult for the lacquer to dry quickly.

Thankfully, I did a good job of masking the neck.  You can see the runs in this shot as well. 

So I let that whole mess dry, and sanded it all back to a relatively even base coat (as even as possible).  After correcting all of my mistakes, I have been able to lay down some very nice coats of tinted lacquer.  It looks much better in this shot, right?  Now here’s where the lack of priming comes into play.  Since I didn’t prime, it took MANY coats, before the wood grain stopped showing through.  Now, I’m left with some areas where the dark body coloring is still shadowing the pure white coats.  I probably doubled the amount of white lacquer that I’m going to have to spray, all because I forgot to prime.  Note – the grain filler did prevent the body from absorbing any lacquer, but since it is clear, didn’t help the coloring any.  Overall, I will be able to achieve a great finish, just with a lot of extra work.

Here’s the back.  If you look closely, you can actually see some of the “shadowy” areas that still need to be covered. 

Last but not least, the headstock.  This picture was taken right after spraying, so it looks very watery, but it actually did dry very nicely.  There are no runs or bubbles to speak of on this piece.  Overall, I think this was a great learning lesson of what not to do.  Every one of these I finish, should teach me more, and hopefully should get easier as well!

Sealing a Guitar Body and Neck Before Lacquer

Now that all of the body modifications have been completed, I’m ready to begin the finishing process.  The first step in finishing a bare wood guitar body and neck is to seal the wood.  This fills the grain, locks out moisture and provides a smooth surface to which the lacquer may adhere.  Here’s a great article about finishing schedules, and recommendations for various types of wood.

Now that I’ve decided to move away from “rattlecan finishing”, I decided to pick up a spray gun.  As I mentioned previously, I purchased this gun from Harbor Freight for about $25.  This type of gun is called an HVLP, or high volume low pressure, gun.  This gun allows you to spray a nice, controlled coat of lacquer and will actually save you money in the long run.  If you consider that spray cans of lacquer cost around $7 to $10 a piece, you can see how this might quickly add up.  Note, I also added a moisture separator and an adjustable pressure valve (both at the bottom of the gun).  The moisture separator removes any condensation from the air, before it enters the gun.  The pressure valve allows me to adjust the air pressure entering into the gun.
I found this air compressor on Craigslist for about $70.  There are a lot of great deals to be found on Craigslist for compressors!  If you were to purchase this new at Harbor Freight, it would cost you about $130.  In a previous post, I mentioned that I had purchased a smaller compressor for my HVLP spray gun.  I ended up returning it, because it was just a little too small.  It would work, if I really needed it, but ended up running all of the time. 

When spraying anything, USE A MASK!  Seriously, don’t come whining to me when you’ve got something nasty going on in your chest because you wanted to look cool, or save a couple of bucks.  I purchased this mask from Sherwin Williams for about $25.  Trust me, when you are spraying with a compressor and HVLP gun, you are releasing a lot of potentially harmful material into the air.  Also, a lot of what is sprayed, when finishing a guitar, is flammable.  Make sure you have a well ventilated work space, away from open flame (or BAD things can happen).  Again, if you have any doubt about how to safely operate any of this equipment, please refer to the disclaimer, aka the “I’m not liable if you do something stupid because I told you not to do it” clause.

 Any time I use the spray gun for the day, or when changing materials, I always flush some lacquer thinner through it.  This cleans the internal mechanism and ensures that you aren’t mixing anything that you hadn’t intended to mix.

Since I’m not spraying overly porous wood, I can get away with going straight to vinyl sealer, which I buy this from Stewart – MacDonald (along with just about everything else).  Again, this is used to level the surface, fill the wood grain and protect the guitar from moisture.  It also provides a strong surface to which the nitrocellulose lacquer may adhere.

To get the best results, you should hang your body and neck for spraying.  Here’s the neck after a second (wet) coat of sealer.  Note – The neck looks greenish in this picture but that’s only due to a combination of the lighting and the wet coat of sealer.  The Behlen Vinyl Sealer actually dries almost completely clear.  Another item of note is that I masked the fretboard to prevent overspray.

 Here’s the guitar body.  Again, you see the greenish tint, and while that’s mostly a product of the wet coat, and lighting, the wood itself does actually have a bit of green in it.  The body is made of poplar which has a natural green tint.  I wouldn’t use poplar if I were doing a semi-transparent finish, but since this will be 100% opaque white, it really didn’t matter.  Also, as a tonewood, many people swear by it (even though it is considered a less expensive wood).

Last but not least, here’s the back (more green).  After this drys (two coats / 24 hours), the next step will be to sand this using 320 grit paper, to prep for lacquer.  

7 String LED Guitar

Hey Everyone, it’s time for my next project!  I’m going to step away from the hardcore electronics for this one, and focus more on design and cosmetics (whatever that means).  As I previously mentioned (in this post) I’m going to be building a 7-string guitar.  Here’s the specs:

  • 7 String Guitar
  • White lacquer finish (body & headstock)
  • Black hardware
  • Recessed Floyd Rose locking tremolo system
  • Ebony fretboard (with no fret marker inlays)
  • Dimarzio Evolution humbucker pickup in the bridge position
  • Dimarzio Blaze humbucker pickup in the neck position
  • LED backlights in the pickup cavities
  • Two LED illuminated buttons, one to control the lights, and the second that will act as a momentary kill switch for stutter effects.
I ordered both the body and the neck from Warmoth.  The folks over at Warmoth do a tremendous job, and make very high quality products!  Be sure to check them out if you are ever in the market for a custom guitar body or neck.
Here’s a top-down view of the body.  Note the recessed tremolo cavity, and three control holes.  I’m going to install a volume knob, three way pickup selector, and tone knob.

Here’s another top-down view. 

This is a rear shot of the control cavity.  The large size will be very convenient when working with the electronics.  Also, note the rear routed tremolo cavity.
This is the ebony fretboard, with a headstock blank.  Note, I opted for no fret-marker inlays, as I thought the clean, black look was badass!

Here’s the headstock blank.  This will allow me to design my own, custom, headstock shape. 

A closeup of the dark, ebony fretboard.  This will provide great contrast from the pure white body and headstock. 

Here’s the headstock after crafting and cutting a design.  This was the first significant piece of work on this project! 

This is a closeup of the three control layout.  Note, the finish will be a completely opaque white, so the unsightly knot in the wood will not be visible. 

I included a shot of a test fit of the humbucker ring that will serve as the pickup mounts.  You can’t believe how difficult it is to find a 7-string humbucker pickup ring!  Apparently, most DIYers choose to mount the pickups directly to the guitar body.  Not me. 

I placed the control knobs on the body, in order to get an idea of layout tolerances when determining the spacing for my two pushbuttons.  This positioning gives enough room for the electronics, and offers  comfortable access positioning while playing.

Once I had the positioning determined, I drilled two pilot holes in the center (or close to) of the positioning markers. 

Next, I used a stepped drilling tool to enlarge the holes to 15.8mm, which is the size of the button’s threaded barrel.

Test fit of button one – success!

Test fit of button two – success!

 For completeness, here’s a shot of the rear of the button, as seen in the control cavity.

Now for the good stuff!  Here’s a shot of the test fit of the led backlighting that will live behind each pickup. 

Here’s another angle of the LED pickup backlight.  Here’s a link to the lighting I used, if you wanted to achieve a similar look. 

This is a view of the guitar from the bottom, towards the neck pocket.  Since the LED lighting is a single strand of lights, I figured it would be easiest to run the wire from the control cavity, into the bottom pickup cavity, and then straight into the top pickup cavity.  Since a hole didn’t exist to allow me to do this, I had to drill one.  In the above picture, you can see the hole, as I drilled it.

Here’s a top down (neck to bridge) view of the pickup cavities.  This is where the drilled hole ends up. 

In order to accomplish this hole, I had to drill through at a shallow angle, while staying far away from the guitar body to allow clearance to hold the drill.  I ended up having to purchase a (very) long drill bit for just this purpose. 

That’s it for the fabrication on this guitar!  Now it’s time for finishing.  Here, you can see my fancy, custom cut, paint stick installed.  Next up, sealing the body and neck!

Final Assembly Part 4 – Putting it All Together

After more than a year, I can’t believe this is actually done!  I’ve got a fully assembled KAOSS Pad guitar, that began life as a cheesy Fender Telecaster knock-off, which was acquired through a Craigslist trade.  At this point, assembly is a no-brainer, so I won’t be showing pictures of me installing the neck screws.  Below, you will mostly find some post-assembly shots.  I would call them glamour shots, but the lighting isn’t right, and the camera wasn’t great.  I promise, I’ll eventually get some really good shots of this axe.  Also, in the next post, I’ll be covering how the base unit hooks into the amp, as well as some additional implementation guidelines.

Here’s the guitar body (fully assembled) and the neck. 

One MAJOR mistake I made was not cleaning the neck pocket thoroughly.  I managed to get this entire guitar together, put on a set of strings and got to work adjusting the saddles, neck and intonation.  No matter what I tried, however, the strings kept bottoming out on the frets, and most of the notes in the upper registers were dead.  I raised the string saddles to their maximum height, to no avail.  My friend suggested checking the neck pocket, and sure enough, there was a SMALL amount of built up lacquer, close to the pickguard end.  This tipped the neck ever so slightly, and caused a major misalignment!  This picture is what the neck pocket looks like, after a thorough cleaning.  Sure enough, that fixed ALL of my issues!  The neck is now straight, the action is low, and this guitar plays like a dream!

Here it is!

This is the guitar, with the power switch in the “off” position.

This is the guitar, with the power switch in the “on” position.  Note the illuminated hold button, as well as the glow of the touchpad.

This is more difficult to see, but here’s a shot of the touchpad, color cycled to green.

Here’s the touchpad, color cycled to red.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be posting some info on how the base unit interfaces with my guitar amp / rig, as well as some additional pointers.  I’ll also be posting a postmortem of everything I learned during this build.