Voodoo Telecaster Sound Sample

Old friend Hedley Vick, down at The Harp in Little Neston, Cheshire, playing my self-built Voodoo Telecaster.

Guitar was plugged into a Roland Microcube and was recorded (video and audio) on a Samsung Galaxy S and I might add was late into the night and was preceded by several beers.

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From PDF to MDF: Making a guitar body routing template part 2

A couple of days ago, where I described the first stages of turning a PDF plan into an MDF template, we got as far as having a printed plan. Now let us turn that printed plan into a template we can use for routing the body shape.

The last step in the last episode was to double check all the measurements – well in my experience double checking is never enough. Stop what you’re doing and go and check it again.

First we need a piece of MDF. The recommended approach to doing this is to first make yourself a master template, and then use this to create a working copy of the template. For the master you’d use 9mm (because it is easier to work with and to sand to shape) and for the working copy 18mm (so you’ve got enough depth for the router bit to run against). Because this build is a one-off I’m just going to go straight to 18mm MDF.

Many people recommend gluing the paper template to the MDF, but I have previously had problems with the glue causing the plan to expand slightly as it dampened. I suspect you could overcome this problem using spray mount adhesive but I now choose a different approach. I tape the plan down to the MDF at four or five points and then hatch lines across the edge all the way round. Once the paper plan is removed it is a piece of cake to join the ends of the lines.

Then it is a matter of using a bandsaw or jigsaw to cut close to the line…

…and finish of by sanding to shape – continually checking against the paper plan.

A word of warning here. Spend time making sure the edges of the template are smooth and exactly as you want them to be. Don’t just look at the edges – close your eyes and feel them too. The first time I made a template I left a couple of bumps, knowing that I could tidy them up when I was sanding the final body. I quickly learned that a sanding job that would have taken a matter of minutes on thin MDF became a herculean task when I was doing it to 1.75″ of hardwood. Get the template right and you don’t have to do it later!

Now you’ve already checked the measurements three time but you know what… Do it again before you put the template anywhere near that chunk of expensive timber.

From PDF to MDF: Making a guitar body routing template Part 1

One of the questions that I have been asked a couple of times is “Where can I find a guitar body plan and how do I make that into a router template”? This series of posts will outline how I do it. It definitely isn’t the only way. It may not be the best way. But it is the cheapest and consequently they way I do it.

The first challenge is finding a good accurate plan. My first port of call for Fender style designs would be TDPRI. There are also several excellent plans available over at www.gitarrebassbau.de.

Most plans are available in PDF format, and that is what I’ll be talking about primarily, but occasionally you’ll find a plan in DXF format (AutoCAD’s interchange format). In these cases you can use the free online version of AutoCAD (requires registration) to convert to PDF.

Download and install Inkscape, a free vector drawing program. Head over to http://inkscape.org/ and download the version relevant to whichever operating system you prefer. Once you’ve got it installed fire it up and we can get started.

The first decision to make is what orientation of paper would best fit the plan. For most guitar body shapes (Strat, Tele, Jazzmaster, Les Paul, etc) I’ve found that four landscape sheets (2×2) is about the most efficient, but for a larger body shape you may find you need six portrait (3×2).

In Inkscape, to change the document orientation, you choose File -> Document Properties (or Shift-Ctrl-D).

Next we’re going to import the PDF plan into Inkscape. Choose File -> Import (or Ctrl-I) and select the PDF file. Accept the default suggestions in the next step.

Now we could just print off the plan just as it is, but to help align the sheets as they’re stuck together I like to overlay the plan with a pattern of diagonal lines.

To draw the lines;

  • Select the Bezier/Straight Line tool (Shift-F6)
  • Click once then hold down the Ctrl and drag the mouse out diagonally. Click a second time and then press enter.
  • Duplicate the line by pressing Ctrl-D and then flip it horizontally by pressing “H”. This gives us two diagonal lines at right angles to each other.
  • We now want to duplicate these lines many times over. First we need to group the two lines into a single object so select them both and press Ctrl-G.
  • With that still selected, choose Edit -> Clone -> Create Tiled Clones.
  • We want 100 rows and 1 column (to repeat the pattern 100 times).

  • On the “Shift” tab we define how much each subsequent copy should be moved. For “Shift X” choose 5% per row and 0% per column. For “Shift Y” use -100% for both row and column.

  • Click the “Create” button and you’ll find yourself with a pattern of intersecting diagonal lines.

  • Drag to select all of the lines and group them into a single object (Ctrl-G).
  • Now drag the grid pattern over the top of the plan. If it is not big enough, you can grab any of the corners to resize.
  • Select both the plan and the overlaid grid pattern and group these together (Ctrl-G).
  • You can now grab the whole thing and move it over the page image, and print overlapping areas of the plan.

You may find that the lines on the plan are much more faint than on the grid. You can correct this by selecting all of the items (Ctrl-A), pull up the dialog that allows you to change fill/line properties (Ctrl-Shift-F), on the “Stroke Paint” tab, make sure the stroke colour is set to black. On the “Stroke Style” tab set the stroke thickness to 1px.

Then it is just a simple matter of trimming the edges (assuming your printer doesn’t print right to the edge) and taping them together. And in best Blue Peter fashion, here’s one I prepared earlier.

And now comes the most important step of all – take a good ruler and CHECK IT IS THE RIGHT SIZE. Please don’t ask me how I know.

The next instalment will cover the making of a template from the paper plan.

Additional resources

BigPrint is an excellent application that can do all of the above for you, working from a picture or photograph. It is not free but is well worth the money.

The Voodoo Telecaster revisited and rewired

While the finish has been drying on my current project, I turned my attention back to the Voodoo Telecaster I built a few months ago. I had never got round to giving it more than a perfunctory setup and nor had I wired in the two push/pull pots that I had fitted. At the time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the switches so had just gone with the standard Tele wiring to start off.

Last night a spent a few hours tweaking the truss rod and action. It has transformed the guitar from something that was OK, into a beautifully playable guitar. Now on to the wiring. I’ve decided that the first push/pull pot will be a phase switch. This will of course only work when the pickup selector is in the middle position. It requires a modification to the neck pickup. As standard, one end of the coil is attached to the pickup cover and then on to the ground lead. I’ll snip this connection and run a separate wire to ground the pickup cover.

The second push/pull is going to be a “turbo” which will switch the volume and tone out of the circuit. A passive volume and tone control will sap somewhere between 8-12db from the pickup signal. Bypassing these passive controls gives a big boost. It is at the expense of having any control (other than the pickup selector switch) but it just sounds great when over-driving the pre-amp stage of my valve amp.

Here’s the schematic I’ve sketched out.

The neck pickup first goes to the phase switch which effectively flips the pickup’s coil round in the circuit. From there it joins up with the bridge pickup at the selector switch. The selector switch goes into the “turbo” switch. When engaged the signal is routed through to the standard Tele master volume/tone controls. When disengaged the output from the selector switch goes directly to the hot of the jack socket.

Edit 1: After completing the rewiring and playing with it for an hour or two I decided to disconnect the “turbo” volume/tone bypass. It just wasn’t working for me. I had previously tried this with humbuckers and P90s and loved it, but with the sharp, cutting single coil pickups it just didn’t sound as I expected. I’m going to investigate the “Arlo Cocked Wah” mod.

Edit 2: I’ve just spotted why the “turbo” mod wasn’t working as I’d hoped. If you trace the scematic through, then you can see, when the turbo mode is engaged, is still allows a path to ground for the hot signal via the vol and tone pots. No wonder I didn’t like the sound, it would have been the same except the volume knob wouldn’t work properly. To correct it I need to use the second poles of the turbo switch to disconnect the vol/tone part of the circuit from the hot. When I get time, I’ll redraw the schematic and retry this mod.

Planning out my next guitar building projects

This morning I ordered 5 metres of African mahogany, also known as sapele. Each piece will be 45mm thick and 180mm wide. This will provide enough timber for five two-piece guitar body blanks, each of around 350mm by 450-520mm. In preparation for the arrival of the wood I need to start firming up my plans for what I intend to do with each piece. I would be really interested to hear your own thoughts, suggestions and ideas in the comments below.

So far, my ill-thought out plans are to build…

Strat/Tele hybrid

I’m going to strip all of the parts from my £29 Tanglewood Nevada to donate to a guitar with a Telecaster shaped body and headstock, with Tele style controls, but with a Strat trem bridge and pickups. I will start off by using the Tanglewood pickups but, since these are the weakest link on this guitar, they’ll be replaced as soon as finances allow. I’m particularly attracted by the “Extra Width” Strat pickup set by The Creamery.

Bass

Nothing fancy, just take my existing Aria Pro II bass, reshape the headstock (which is the one feature I particularly dislike) and replace the body. For the body shape I’m still undecided whether to make something close to the current generic shape, or go for something more quirky. I do like the idea of giving it a carved top though.

SG Style guitar

This one will be using my old Shaftesbury Les Paul copy as donor. The guitar has a beautifully playable neck, and perhaps the best sounding vintage humbuckers I’ve ever played. It is let down by the ply body which, despite my attempts to tart it up, still sounds and feels like a crap ply body. I particularly enjoyed playing Clint Searcy’s SG Studio when I visited Nashville last May and I love the look of the SG body with a plain oiled mahogany finish.

Some of the less well formed ideas are;

  • To have a go at building a double neck Telecaster. Possibly a 6/12 string combo, or, the one that particularly appeals, is a 6 string/mandolin combination, or maybe even a 6 string standard and 6 string tenor combo.
  • To “rebody” my Line 6 Variax 500. A fine guitar saddled with some of the dullest styling ever devised.
  • A solid body version of the Kala U-Bass. A short scale bass (19-21″) which uses a piezo bridge and polyurethane strings to generate a remarkably authentic double bass sound.
  • To find suitable projects to use a First Act Neck and beautiful curly maple fretboard, donated by Clint Searcy and Steve Benford, respectively.
  • To build a guitar with a stained neck. I’m curious why necks always seem to be left in a natural shade. At the most extreme they get a vintage amber tint. Well how does the “Redneck Tele” sound?

OK, so if you had a pile of sapele and a bunch of old cheap guitars, what would you make out of them?

A cheap chrome switch tip for a Telecaster

I was unhappy with the fit and finish of the standard black plastic Telecaster switch tip on my Voodoo Tele.

I set off searching for a knurled chrome replacement. Despite the size, there is still a lot of work in making one of these and so they’re not cheap. Then I had a brainwave. The switch tip is about the same size as a tyre valve cap. A quick visit to eBay and I had secured myself five “switch tips” for the princely sum of £1.99 (inl P&P).

I removed the rubber sealing washer from one.

I masked of the surface of the guitar and used a pair of wire cutters to crimp a couple of slots into the side of the switch stem.

I mixed up a small amount of bondo (Isopon P38 that I had left over from the Jazzmangle project) and used a cocktail stick to fill the valve cap. I think any epoxy resin would work equally well.

And here’s the finished result. Cool and cheap. What more can you ask for?

Voodoo Telecaster: Reshaping the neck profile

As I mentioned in my last post I wasn’t 100% happy with the neck profile. This is down to my lack of experience and the flaws with the neck shape didn’t become apparent until I put strings on it and I had chance to play. Thankfully the neck is finished in Danish oil and so taking off a little more wood and then refinishing is relatively simple.

I used a cabinet scraper to remove the excess. This has become one of my favourite tools, removing wood almost as quickly as a rasp but with more control and leaving a smoother finish.

Once I’d got the shape I sanded it to 320 grit. Dampened it to raise the grain and then lightly resanded.

And applied four coats of Danish oil.

Tomorrow morning it’ll get sanded back with 600 and then a number of very thin coats during the day, at an interval of 1-2 hours and that should be enough.