Jazzmaster: Bound for glory?

Today was going to be dedicated to binding the Jazzmaster’s body and headstock. I had cut the binding channel yesterday after several practice attempts on scrap. Thankfully I saved those and was able to experiment with technique and materials before tackling the guitar itself.

The lessons I learned during my tests were:

  • Of all the types of tape I had, plain old Sellotape was best suited to this task. Strong enough to hold the binding down but you can still peel it off the superglue after it has dried.
  • A piece of the binding held in very hot (almost boiling) water for 30 secs can follow a sharp bend without cracking.
  • Once the binding cools it almost holds the shape, so you can do the pre-bends, let it all dry off, and then glue it up.

I figured that the tight bends at the corner of the headstock were going to be toughest part of the job so I rushed headlong in to get this part of the task out of the way. I warmed the binding, as above, and just using finger pressure held it in position on the corners until it had cooled. I then used the CA glue to attach it along the end of the headstock.

I did one side at a time allowing it to dry in between each. I had first tried securing the binding with Sellotape, but on the tight corner it was pulling away slightly. Luckily I had had the foresight to put a couple of clamps within easy reach, just in case…

Same approach for the remaining side…

…scrape the binding down to the same level as the top of the headstock, trim the ends, wipe with a damp cloth and my first piece of binding is done.

With that under my belt I tackled the body. One advantage of the Jazzmaster shape is that the curves are very soft and I didn’t need to pre-bend at all. Steve Benford had given me some great advice in preparation for the binding. The two most useful nuggets were to make sure you have lengths of tape precut, and the suggestion not to start at the neck pocket. The area round the neck pocket is one of the more fiddly aspects of the job and you don’t want all 1.6m of binding flapping about while you’re trying to do the intricate bit. I started at the peak of the top bout, worked down to the tail end, and then finished off the section to the neck pocket.

Back to the tail end, and work my way round the bottom edge of the body. I would apply about 5-6″ of glue, hold down the binding and tape it up, give it a couple of mins to grab and then do the next section.

I trimmed the ends with my model maker’s tenon saw, and then scraped the binding. I’ve misplaced ALL of my favourite tools – my cabinet scrapers – and I had to “slum it” with a Stanley knife blade.

Wipe down with a damp cloth and this is as far as I got. Very pleasing results for a first attempt.

Cutting the Jazzmaster neck pocket and binding channel

Overnight I drafted the decal and this morning printed out a copy, cut it to shape and checked for size and position.

For making the neck template I largely base my approach on that documented by Jack Wells over on TDPRI, but because that approach demands a table router, I’ve adapted it for working with a plunge router.

I rip some 18mm MDF into a 50mm strip and cut it into two long and one short pieces.

I stick one down on the MDF that will become the template, and push the neck up tight against it.

As tightly as possible I stick down the second piece. With pencil I mark a line on the inside edge of each piece – so that I can accurately mark the centre-line later on.

I mark the end of the heel and then tap the neck into the two pieces to get them as snug as possible – without dislodging the two taped down battens. I mark the new position of the neck heel. I measure a further 7-8mm in and stick down the small piece. This ensures a nice snug fit once the pocket is cut.

With the pattern following bit I cut about 10mm deep into the MDF and then remove the battens. Before I’ve cut right through I want to mark the centre-line. Rather than pencil – when I’m working on template material, I prefer to use my Stanley knife to mark lines which is much more accurate and less prone to smudging.

And then I check the fit against the neck. What I’m aiming for is snug enough to hold itself to the neck, but not so tight that you have trouble getting the neck in and out.

Now I’m happy with the neck pocket I mark on the body exactly where the neck heel should lie. I can then use the centre-line and this mark to mount the neck pocket template to the body.

Then it is a simple matter of routing the pocket to depth (17mm in this case) and then checking the fit.

Last job for the day was to cut the binding channel in the body and headstock. I removed the bearing from my 12mm laminate trimmer and replaced it with a 9mm bearing from another cutter. This will cut a channel 1.5mm deep. I set the depth and tested on numerous pieces of scrap until I was totally happy. Then it was a simple matter of running it round the top edge of the body.

The headstock was more problematic because the narrowness means that it is difficult to keep the router’s baseplate flat against the surface. With care and patience I was able to complete the cut, but I didn’t go too close to the ends, preferring to finish these with a chisel.

There are only a woodworking jobs left now. I need to drill the hole for the jack socket, rout the control cavity and make a cover, rout for the pickups and drill the wire runs. I’ll glue the binding and trim the ends before gluing the neck into place. All that will then remain is carving the heel and sanding it ready for finish.

Preparing the Jazzmaster neck

Today I got all the parts ordered.

I managed to find some 7mm x 1.5mm black plastic binding at http://www.luthierssupplies.co.uk/

The strap buttons, 500k pots, an on/on/on toggle switch, and two knurled chome knobs with a black pearl top inlay, from http://axesrus.co.uk/

Lastly I called up Joel at Shanghai Guitars and ordered the pair of chrome Filtertrons. Joel is a top bloke and we spoke for about 45 mins – covering subjects as diverse as Airline/Eastwood guitars, the geography of Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, how weird Canadians are (in a good way) and the guitar shops of Frankfurt.

The proper work has continued. Today it has been all about the neck. First I drilled the headstock holes out to 9mm. This picture shows the rather nice curl on the maple that was hidden under the black lacquer.

I used a Stanley knife to cut grooves into a piece of 9mm dowel. This is because it is a fairly tight fit into the holes in the headstock and I want to make sure the glue doesn’t all get squeezed out. I trimmed them into six lengths and chamfered one end.

I tapped them in with a soft-faced mallet.

After allowing them to dry I trimmed the excess and sanded them flush.

Using the table saw I cut two thin strips of sapele veneer from one of the body offcuts. I cleaned up the centre edges with a Stanley knife, stuck them together with Sellotape…

…and then glued and clamped them to the headstock.

After the clamps came off I trimmed the headstock to shape on the bandsaw and sanded the edges smooth.

The next job was to drill the new holes for the tuners. I marked up the headstock and drilled a 2mm pilot hole for each right through. Then, from the front, I drilled an 8mm hole 6mm deep for the tuner ferrule. From the back I drilled a 6mm hole right through for the tuner post.

I mounted the tuners to test the position. Here it is from the back…

…and from the front.

Here are the neck and body together, showing the matching body and headstock.

Minibass neck and headstock

I started off today’s work session by getting stung on the arm by this little b*stard. Not a good way to begin.

Now that I’ve received the tuners and truss rod I can get going on the neck and headstock.

I secured the neck to the bench with double sided tape and then, to the right hand side, a piece of straight parallel timber as a guide. The position of piece to the left is less important because it is only there to keep the router baseplate level. Note where I trimmed out the corner of the right hand piece so that it would fit around the headstock – so that I can rout the full length of the neck.

I centred the 6mm cutter on the neck’s centre-line and checked it along the full length of the neck.

I clamped on an MDF stop, so that the cutter would stop at the right place on the neck, making sure the truss rod slot was big enough but no bigger than necessary.

Here is it after the first two passes.

And finally with the truss rod fitted. Note that the nut end is a couple of millimeters wider than the main part of the truss rod. I adjusted the side guide in and out a couple of mm to enlarge the slot to fit. There was a tiny part of tear out on the left side but this will be completely covered by the fretboard so no harm done.

Now on to the headstock. I had sketched out a rough shape on paper, aiming to keep the tuners as close as possible together. I really want to give the impression of this being a small stubby bass and the squat/wide headstock shape will be a key part. I transferred the sketch to MDF and tested it out. I was happy with it so this became the headstock template.

On the bandsaw I rough cut the headstock to shape.

And this shows the evolution of the headstock, from paper to template to neck blank.

I trimmed the ends of the headstock and neck templates, to ensure they fitted together neatly and attached them to the neck blank with my indispensable double-sided tape

A few passes round with the router and this is the neck ready for the next stage.

It is slightly rough around the scarf joint because it is not possible to get the router to run smoothly across the change in angle, and keep the bearing in touch with the template. This is no problem though because this area will be getting extensively carved once I’m ready to start profiling the neck.

The next stage is to mount the fretboard but, before I can do that I need to install the inlaid fretmarkers. I’m waiting for the arrival of a set of plug cutters so that I can cut neat rounds of contrasting hardwood to glue into the fretboard. Once the inlays are in I’ll glue the fretboard to the neck, trim it to shape, sand in the radius and then install the frets. Once they’re in I can profile the neck, cut the angled neck pocket into the body and the finishing post will be in sight.

Minibass: Routing the body shape and laminating the headstock

I have still to design the headstock layout (awaiting the arrival of the machine heads) but I do know that the current headstock will not be wide enough. I cut strips of sapele and the unknown hardwood and glued them to the sides.

While the glue dried, I attached the body template with double sided tape and routed it to shape, first with the top bearing bit…

…then remove the template so that I can cut deeper…

…and then finish off by flipping it over and running round it with a bottom bearing cutter.

and then I just had chance to snap this shot before the rain came.

Minibass: Making a bridge, cutting neck and body templates

I started off making an acoustic style bridge. First I cut the slot, by mounting a dremel router bit into my drill press, with two fences to guide the piece through. It took me two goes to get it right.

I ran it through the table saw, with the blade tipped at 30 degrees, to chamfer the sides.

After testing it on the 1:1 drawing I decided it was too long so trimmed each end. I sanded it to 220 grit and then dropped it in the jar of brown aniline dye solution.

I cut out the neck template. I’m going to use a separate template for the headstock, but cannot finalise the shape of that until the tuners arrive and I can work out the smallest, most compact shape possible.

I then cut two different versions of a body template. I prefer the one on the left so the other will get scrapped.

I used the template to draw an outline onto the blody blank and trim it to shape. Here is what I’ve got so far.

Here you can see the scarf joint on the headstock, and the 12″ measure at the bottom gives you an idea of just how small this thing will be.

Minibass: Gluing up the body blank and making a scarf joint headstock

I assembled all of the pieces of scrap timber for the body and trimmed them to around 38mm thick. I then ran them through the table saw to make sure each jointing face was flat and true. I then shade the edge of each jointing face with pencil and use my flat sanding block to remove all the pencil marks.

I gathered together a selection of clamps that are large enough for the job.

My initial thought was to glue on the first two pieces, let that dry, glue on the next two pieces, etc, and then I realised that, even with cauls, the clamping pressure would deform the edge of the wood I was about to join next. This lead me to tackle it all in one go.

I left that for a couple of hours for the Titebond Original to do what it does so well. It doesn’t finish drying properly for 24 hours, but, as long as the join isn’t put under any stress, the clamps can be removed after an hour. I set to work on making the headstock scarf joint.

I marked up the angle of 17 degrees and cut it on the bandsaw freehand.

The headstock portion is flipped over to make the joint.

I glued and clamped that up and then I was in a position to go back to the body blank. I roughly trimmed the ends and then skimmed the surfaces front and back to level and clean them up. Here it is dry and then dampened to show the grain.

And in idle moments while that was going on, and now I know the size of the body blank I’ve got to work with, I took a spare sheet of MDF and drew a 1:1 scale image of what I’m shooting for.