I’m back!  It’s been about a year since I last updated this build, and it’s been that long since I’ve actually worked on the goldtop telecaster body!  This past weekend, I decided to get back to it, and finish this thing off. The unfortunate part is that I seem to be missing some photos from this step in the build.  So please bear with me, and if I happen to find those additional photos, I’ll add them later.

If you look back at my last post, Routing the Guitar Body and Beginning the Finish, you will remember that the first step in my execution of a gold top finish was to coat the body first in black nitrocellulose lacquer.

 

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In the picture above, you can see that after coating the body in about 10 layers of black tinted nitrocellulose lacquer, I sanded the top with 330 grit sandpaper.  As mentioned in my previous post, the goal here is to make the initial surface as flat as possible before application of the gold paint.

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This a product by the company Guitar Reranch and Color Supply called Les Paul Original Gold.  This is one of the best formulations of a Gibson style metallic gold paint, available on the market today.  You can go here to order it directly from Guitar Reranch.  At $16 a can, it’s not cheap but certainly worth it.  I purchased two cans, not knowing how much I would need, but I ended up only using about half of one can since I was only doing the top.  If you are coating an entire guitar body, I can see you easily using close to two cans.

Now this is the part of the build where I’m missing some photos.  As I mentioned previously, if I happen to find them, I’ll post them.  Otherwise, here is a rundown of the next steps.

First I used high-quality automotive masking tape to mask off the edge of the guitar.  This is going to be a paint-edge guitar, so I started the mask right below the corner radius.  From there, I masked off the entire back and lower sides of the guitar body.  Since I would be spraying an aerosol gold color, if everything isn’t masked properly, you would end up with overspray and color-bleed.

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After laying down about five coats of Reranch Les Paul Gold, I removed the masking tape so that my edge wouldn’t lift.  If you wait too long, and the color hardens on the masking tape, your edge will crack when removing the tape.  After removal, I hung the Telecaster body, and let it dry overnight.

Here’s another portion where I’m missing pictures.  Once the gold top was dry, I then coated the entire guitar body in about 10 layers of clear nitrocellulose lacquer.  The gold spray instructions state that you must clear coat the paint.  Also, we need to blend the height difference in the edge, between the black nitrocellulose base and the layers of gold spray on top.  Ultimately, you want to be sure to lay down enough coats of clear nitro lacquer so that you even the edges, and provide enough buffer so as not to sand through into the paint during the finishing process.

Once you lay down the lacquer, then it’s the nitrocellulose waiting game.  Hang the body, and don’t touch it for at least 6 weeks (longer in cold climates).  It’s torture, I know, but you don’t want to ruin all that hard work by jumping the gun!  I’m back on schedule, and so I should have the sanding / buffing post up in a few days.  See you then!

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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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Let me say this up front – this post should have been titled, “Cut the Guitar Body, Don’t Cut Corners”.  More on that later.  Today, I’ll be moving on to my “scratch” build guitar full time.  That doesn’t mean I’ll be spending 40 hours a week on it, rather it means I’m not concurrently working on another guitar at the same time.  With the 7-String LED Guitar completed, I can now devote my full attention to my first guitar built completely from nothing from a block of wood.

Previously, I posted some discussion on my building MDF templates for this new project.  As a brief recap, I printed full-size blueprints for a telecaster, and cut them out on 1/4 inch thick MDF.  There are a few reasons to do this:  1. MDF is cheap, and if you make a mistake, hey – it’s only MDF! 2. Once you have a body template that makes you feel awesome, then you can make as many actual guitars from it and to the exact specs of the template.  Above is a shot of both the neck template, and the control cavity template in place.
Here’s a long shot of the two templates.
Note – it is important to make sure that not only does the neck fit, but that the center line of the neck and guitar body, match perfectly.  After all, you don’t want your neck to shoot out at a ridiculous angle, do you?  It would be nice if this thing actually intonated properly, once completed.  In the shot above, I am using a long ruler to observe the center line.  This is after some slight hand sanding, in order to adjust the neck angle.
This is wood.  Take a good look, as you may not have seen this “wood” before. Wood comes from things called “trees”.  In this case, I purchased my “wood” from a place called “eBay”.  I don’t have a thickness planer, so it made my life easy to buy a block of wood large enough to fit my template, and that was already sanded to 1 and 3/4 inches thickness.  Oh, this is Poplar…
The first step is to use a pencil to outline the body shape on the Poplar.
This is a top-down shot of the alignment.  I was careful to make sure there were minimal imperfections in the portion that would eventually fall inside of the guitar body line.
The pencil line.  Note – The neck pocket may look a little crooked in this shot, and it is.  I was quick with my pencil outline, as this is just for rough cut purposes.  We will do a fine cut later with the templates, and a table router.
I bought this Band Saw off of Craigslist for only $120.  The reason I got this so cheap, is because the guy selling it told me it worked perfectly, but when I got it home, found that the blades would not stay on the unit.  The jackass thought he pulled a fast one, but little did he know it would only take the installation of a new $5 urethane bandsaw “tire” to get this back in tip-top shape.  For those of you reading from outside of the United States who are unfamiliar with the term “Jackass”, you could describe this person as one who has minimal intelligence and little to no friends.  Because after all, no one wants to be friends with a “Jackass”.
Here’s a shot of the body rough cut.  Note, I didn’t cut out the actual neck pocket.  Don’t forget, this design has a heel (area where the neck attaches to the body), and so that portion will be routed to thickness later.
Here’s a shot of the body after a quick spin on my belt sander.  It has somewhat of a more refined appearance, but is still well outside of the actual body lines.
Here’s the body sanded much closer to the body lines.  The goal is to sand the body as close to the body lines as possible.  At that point, I will use the MDF templates, and a table router, to cut the body exactly to spec.  It is necessary to sand the body close to the line, as it isn’t advisable to use a router to remove large amounts of wood.
And another angle of the rough sanded body.
DISASTER!  Here’s why you shouldn’t cut corners!  I began cutting out the body on my table router, and all went exceptionally well.  The only problem is that my pattern router bit was only long enough to cut about half of the thickness of the guitar body.  So rather than waiting, and ordering a new router bit, I decided to use a different bit in a handheld router.  Now if you haven’t used one before, let me tell you that handheld routers are great tools, but have nowhere near the stability of a table router.  From the shot above, you can see that I started towards the top right of the body (moving counter clockwise), and made it all the way to the bottom of the guitar, and then experienced a sizable tear-out.  Shaken a little, and for some unknown reason, I thought I would continue, and got some additional minor marking towards the right side.  At that point, I actually became smart enough to tell myself to just stop.
Here’s a closeup of the tear out.  I’m going to have to glue this piece back on, sand it flat, and then glue another block of wood in place.  Once that is dry, I’ll have to cut the glued wood back to the template specifications, re-sand, and then re-rout.
 As I mentioned, the bottom half of the guitar went perfectly, as you can see in the picture above.  While I’m waiting for the glued scrap to dry, I ordered this longer router bit.  It should be here in a few days, thanks to quick Amazon Prime shipping.
Here’s the minor marking, at the bottom of the guitar.  Luckily this is small enough that it should be mostly removed when I round the edge over.  If any marks are left afterward, I will use either a grail filler, or epoxy, to fill the rest.  Now, I’m waiting for glue to dry, and Amazon to deliver…

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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…

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