Guitar Portfolio

It has been a loooong time without a post. I’ve not forgotten you all but working away from home has completed diverted me from guitar/music projects so there has been little to document.

Tomorrow I’m attending one of those company “team building” events and, as an ice-breaker, we were asked to bring in a picture that will illustrate something about our lives that most of our colleagues wouldn’t know about. Here’s mine.

For anybody who has followed this blog for a while, there’s nothing new here, but it was very rewarding for me seeing them all in one place. Last year was a damn sight more productive than I had realised.

And for anyone interested in how I put the image together I used the “Collage” feature in Picasa. Very easy to get some interesting layouts in a matter of minutes.

Finishing with Danish oil

I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with the best way of applying Danish oil and I think I’ve just about arrived at the perfect approach for me.

Day One

The first phase is all about getting the first coats to soak in as deeply as possible to give a good foundation to the top coats. I don’t know for certain but I’m hoping this deep soak, means that it will be a more durable and longer lasting finish too. I get the oil and piece to be finished good and warm as a start. Using a brush I apply a liberal coat, let that soak in for 15 mins and repeat. You can see the areas where it has reached saturation point because the surface retains the satin sheen. Keep going until the whole piece has got that satin sheen. Give it a wipe down with a lint free rag and give it an hour or two to dry. After the drying period, if there are spots that appear “dry” I do it again. Once you’re happy let it dry over-night.

Day Two

The second day is all about applying the thinner top coats to give it a deeper finish. For a long while I used 400 or 600 grit wet & dry paper to apply these coats. This helps flatten out any imperfections as you apply. It worked well but because the paper doesn’t hold any oil, you are continually dipping the paper back into the oil; inconvenient, messy and unnecessarily wasteful. The breakthrough came when I tried an old, well used, green nylon scouring pad. It went through the washing machine first to ensure that it was clean and grease free. This works brilliantly. It is gently abrasive and it’ll hold a decent amount of oil so that you’re not continually stopping to reload. Once the thinner coat is on, any excess gets wiped away with the lint-free cloth and allowed to dry. Throughout the second day I do this every 60 to 90 mins. I leave it to dry a minimum of 24 hours (48 is better) and then top it off with a good wax polish.

Here are some of the progress pictures from day two of applying oil to the minibass.

Minibass: Cavity cover and prep for Danish oil

Before I got started I took a picture of the minibass being held by my son, to give an idea of just how small this thing is.

So putting yesterday’s theory into practice, after a number of test runs on MDF I worked out a slightly different approach. I use the same technique but, rather than cutting the shapes into the final timber I cut them into MDF and then used those as templates for routing with the top bearing cutter. Here’s the main cavity.

I drilled the hole for the barrel style jack socket.

I laid paper over the cavity and using the old schoolboy brass-rubbing technique, traced the cavity shape onto the paper, so that I could draw the shape of the cover itself.

The paper shape was transferred to MDF.

This MDF master was then used to create an oversize template.

Using the different sized collars, I then used the oversized template to cut a male and female template.

Using the female template I routed the lip into the body.

And with the male routed the shape into an offcut of sapele.

Perfect? Not quite, but better than my previous attempts by a large margin.

So after giving the whole thing a good sand, and cleaning up my work area, it was time to apply the Danish oil.

Tomorrow I’ll continue applying light coats of Danish oil and start work on the changes to the preamp. Currently it has the volume and tone surface mounted to the PCB. I need to desolder these and run wire from PCB to pots, so that I can fit everything into the cavity and have the volume and tone where I want them.

Test recording of the custom bass

This morning I made a quick recording with the new bass and, rather than posting to soundcloud, as I normally would, decided to test out Windows Live Movie Maker to add a slideshow and some video.

The track was recorded direct into Reaper and Amplitube. Drums by EZ Drummer.

Custom bass is finished

The Danish oil had hardened nicely so it was on to assembly, wiring and set up.

First I gave the body and neck a good wipe down with a wax-based non-silicone polish. Note the tapered candle stuck through the hole in the top left of my bench. I leave that in there so that I can quickly swipe screws across it to lubricate them as I assemble.

This is the step I usually forget. I thread the earth strap wire through from the control cavity and fan out the strands to make a good contact with the base of the bridge.

All the hardware on.

I wire up the cavity. Simple passive volume and tone. The one variant I use is rather than putting the tone control across the input to the volume I put it across the output from the volume (aka “The Fezz Parker mod”). This reduces treble loss at low volumes. The lead from the pickup is far longer than I need but, raather than cropping it to length, I prefer to roll it up and tuck it away in the cavity, because I may want to reuse the pickup somewhere else later and I may be glad of the extra length of wire on it.

I break out one of my favourite little tools for testing continuity. Its a jack plug and short length of cable from a broken guitar lead. I can use my multimeter to clip one end to the lead’s shield and then go probing about touching all of the parts that should be grounded (pickup ground, pot backs, bridge) checking connectivity.

Now the wiring is complete I can get the strings on, do a rough initial set up (I like to let it settle for a week or two before doing a final setup) and there she is… COMPLETED!

It took me eight working days. The costs break down as follows;

Item Amount
Donor bass £53.20
Sapele timber for body £18.00
Musicman style pickup £14.99
Chrome bridge £17.99
Total £104.18

That’s what I call a result!

Preparing the bass for finishing

I’m into the final furlong now, and just need to get everything ready for final finish to go on.

The first step is to mark the final position of the bridge and drill the pilot holes for the screws to mount it to the body. I initially set the G string saddle to about 2/3 to 3/4 of its range of adjustment. Using the long rule, laid along the line of the thinnest string, I position the bridge so the G string saddle is exactly 17″ from the 12th fret (this bass has a 34″ scale length).

I mark the front edge of the bridge and then using my square and the centreline extend the mark.

Once the bridge is fixed in place, you generally have two axes of movement. You can move the saddles back and forward, or up and down. You can’t move them side to side. This is the one aspect of fastening down the bridge that you must get exact. To do this I run threads from bridge to nut, which makes it really easy to get this alignment perfect. I mark the top and bottom of the bridge.

I use a small bradawl to mark the exact centre of the outermost two holes. I drill the pilot holes, screw the bridge down using these two and then I can take my time and use both hands to accurately mark up and drill the remaining holes

I drilled the hole for the jack socket (the one scavenged from the Aria is a rather neat screw in barrel type).

After drilling the pilot holes for the strap buttons and pickup height adjustment/mounting screws the woodworking stage is complete. Onto preparation for finishing. I lightly dampen the body to raise the grain.

I usually regard this procedure as something simple and quick – but I realised I was missing an opportunity. On two of my recent builds (the Stratele and the Voodoo) I was disappointed that glue seepage round the neck pocket had interfered with the application of finish. As I was wetting down the body I noticed these marks where glue has seeped into the wood. I spent a few minutes with a Stanley knife blade and fine sandpaper getting rid of all traces. Before…

…and after.

I printed off the decal, shot a thin coat of nitro clear lacquer over the headstock face, applied the decal and then finished with two more coats of lacquer, all with drying time in between.

Once that had dried I removed the raised grain. This involves just getting rid of the ends of those torn fibres, and rather than sanding I think of it as more like wiping the body down with a piece of 320 grit paper in my hand.

And here she is after the first coat of finish.

It’ll get another heavy coat of warmed Danish oil this evening, and then tomorrow I’ll start applying thin coats using 600 grit wet & dry.

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.