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.

Pseudo drop D tuning using a capo

One of my favourite little tricks is to simulate a drop D tuning by using an upside down capo across the top five strings at the 2nd fret, leaving the bottom E open.

Of course it is not actually a drop D tuning but it allows you to get that full rich 6 string D chord shape and, as an added bonus, when you’re fretting the bottom string everything is back to normal so there are no new shapes to learn.

Ouch! A podcast about disability that doesn’t patronise?

I mentioned some of my favourite podcasts in a previous post, but, since most of these are published between Friday and Monday, I find that by Wednesday or Thursday I’m running out of stuff to listen to. Last week I went searching for something else and was lucky enough to stumble on the “Ouch!” podcast from the BBC.

It is billed as a podcast about disability, but it is so much more than that. It is funny, informative, irreverent, entertaining and definitely worth a few minutes of your time to check it out. My favourite feature I think was “Vegetable, vegetable or vegetable?” where the presenters call up a listener and, twenty questions style, try to guess their disability/condition in 90 secs. It was a proper “squirt coffee out of the nose” moment. Genius!

You can visit their web pages at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/podcast/ or subscribe using iTunes.

Opting out of junk mail in the UK

I noticed recently that, as part of the resolution of the recent UK postal dispute, the unions agreed to the removal of the limits on the number of “unaddressed” post items they’ll deliver. It used to be capped at three items per week. Get ready for a deluge of crap. See the BBC news story.

junk mail image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/uzvards/2481348414/

In 2006 a postman was suspended for explaining to his customers how they could opt out of receiving junk mail.

Whilst I find it easy to put all of this unaddressed post straight into the recycling bin (plus anything that is an obvious sales flyer or to “the occupier”) is always irritates me that someone is wasting paper and the resources in this way. I decided to do something about it.

First off I registered my address with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). This cuts down on the junk mail that is specifically addressed to me. Next I went to the Royal Mail website to request my opt out of the unaddressed post. They make this as difficult as possible, requiring that you request the forms which they post to you, you fill in and return and “within six weeks” will get processed. They do this under the guise of “security verification” but it is obviously to try and minimise the number of people who do this and to allow them to continue to profit from profligate waste.

If you’ve got a few minutes spare I’d urge you to do the same. If you don’t believe in the whole “eco-lobby” thing, then why not just do it to deny a smug marketing arsehole the opportunity to insert themselves into your daily life? Surely that has merit just by itself?

Here are those links again:
Direct Marketing Association
Royal Mail Opt Out

[Update, you can download the Royal Mail opt out in PDF format.]

Use Wallpaper As Wallpaper

Here’s an idea for you, why not use your wallpaper as wallpaper? Here’s a picture of my TV attached to my MythTV PVR. The background image is a photograph of the wallpaper immediately to the left of TV. It just makes the TV “fit” into the room better (in my opinion).

Wallpaper as wallpaper

You could do this for any computer screen that sits in front of a wall.

In this case I updated a MythTV theme to use the picture as the background.

To do this locate your themes folder. Mine is at /usr/share/mythtv/themes/ and then copy the folder of the theme you want to base it on. Have a look for the theme.xml file and open this with gedit (or your text editor of choice). You’ll see a section that describes the background – note the name of the file and the directory it is in. Now go and open that file and take a note of the image size.

All you have to do is rescale your photograph of your wallpaper, and then replace the theme background image with it. Select your new theme from within MythTV and you’re done.

Soundchecks and how to survive them

Six String Bliss Logo
There has been a great thread over on the Six String Bliss forum about how to get the best out of a soundcheck. With permission, I’ve summarised the main points below. But if you are interested in this subject I urge you to go and read the original thread.

  1. As the boy scouts say “Be Prepared” make sure you load up your van with what you need. Make a simple list of all the bands, or your own, equipment, and write on each case what’s in there
  2. If some piece of equipment is problematic or having issues then treat it as broken! Get it fixed or repaired, or replaced or borrow something. Nothing is more annoying than the guitarists amp crackling and banging when he hits his boost pedal because there is a short inside it hes been aware of for months.
  3. If you are a support for a bigger band then make sure you get an exact time for your soundcheck, then also ask what time you have access to the venue. If you have soundcheck at 3:00pm then that means you start loading your assembled (see next note) rig onstage.. not turning up to the venue at 3:00 and unloading your car and finishing your coffee/lunch and finding a park and wasting time.
  4. Get there early and assemble everything. That doesn’t mean plug it in and make a racket while the main act is trying to tune their vocal mics or eq the room. Find an area side of stage and unpack and prepare your gear. If you’re big enough to have a tech then find them a space to set up your “guitar world and kit” get your guitars out and tuned, if you have time restring, but not if it means eating into your soundcheck time. Get your pedals sorted and cables untangled. If you need to do any last minute battery changes or plug in power cables get ready.
  5. When you get your “call” to set up or “change over” be as efficient and as tidy and as “RESPECTFUL” as possible. Remember on the bigger shows some of the crew there will have been there from early in the morning and will be stuck there till very late that night and the last thing they need or want is some band practising “Welcome to the jungle” riffs while they’re trying to put mics in front of your cab.
  6. Get set up and plugged in and ready to make a noise. At this point if no one is working in front of your cab/amp then you can make sure its all going. This doesn’t mean endlessly doodle and fark round. There will be each member of the band wanting to do the same thing and that noise can be quite off putting to people who are trying to save their ears to mix your band so you sound the best you can be.
  7. Soundchecks are NOT rehearsals. You shouldn’t be really writing or rehearsing songs during your soundcheck. This time is set aside for the Front Of House (FOH) engineer and Monitor engineer to get your levels right and the placement of everyone in the mix. They don’t want to hear you all debate which chord the song should end on.
  8. A sound check will normally follow a few simple rules. There may be a line check which is where the FOH makes sure all the corresponding mic’s and lines are all matched to his desk layout before they start asking for individual instruments.
  9. The soundcheck begins… whether you’re using a house engineer, the main band’s engineer, or an engineer you hire they will want to go through each instrument as it is layed out on their sound desk.
    So this will nearly always begin with kick drum, snare, rack tom 1, rack tom 2 and so on then the cymbals and overheads. Then it is normally the bass – both DI and mic if applicable. Then the guitars, keys or whatever instruments ending up with the vocals.

  10. Drum sound checks are TEDIOUS. Having to listen to a drummer hit the kick drum or snare or as the case usually is rack toms over and over and over…… and over…… and over whilst the FOh eq’s out any over rings or bad frequencies is boring and hard on the ears. If you have ear plugs put them in. Normally the FOH will check each guitar individually, for your clean sounds and your overdrive sounds, to make sure the volume difference isn’t too major. The last thing you want is for a solo to come in so loud it blows the ears out of everyone in the crowd, making the FOH guy pull the fader down and curse at you under his breath. Also your pedal may be too low and need turning up to get across the band. Its usual to need both guitarists to play together for a bit on their own so they can get the balance of each guitar and see if either needs to turn down on stage. During this time pick an easy piece of music you can play over and over and keep repeating… and keep on playing till they ask you to stop. Believe me, the FOH guys are working as fast as they can and not wanting to drag a soundcheck out any longer than need be.
  11. When its time to play thru a song, pick a song that has everyone playing most of the time.. A 15 minute epic conceptual piece where the singer warbles and the drummer plays one note on the floor tom doesn’t help the soundcheck for anyone. Pick a song that has everyone playing and something that covers the hard and soft elements of the bands sound. The FOH engineer needs to hear you at your softest and your loudest. Giving them a setlist with notes pertaining to a heavy number or a long mellow start will help them mix off the cuff and add any effects that may make the song sparkle..
  12. Sorry but the FOH engineer is nearly always right. If they ask you to turn down, it is in the bands best interest and the best interest for the mix. The PA is there to put out a perfect mix of the band so everyone in the venue has a great sounding show. If you’re playing your bass or guitar so loud on stage then the engineer will just be pushing the Vocals thru the PA trying to get over the top of the noise of guitars and thats a terrible sounding mix. It is better to turn down and give your engineer the chance to do his job to the best and MIX the band. and make sure it all comes across clear and defined. I don’t care how loud you practise in your bedroom or practise room, a proper stage volume is not as loud as you think it should be. And sorry, but alot of those big super rock and metal acts with walls of guitar cabs on stage – never plug them in. Yes there are the exception that do, but most of the time they are dummy cabs or just not plugged in and the amp is in the guitar techs work area where he can keep an eye on it and there is a cab behind the wall of speakers or in an isolation chamber so the FOH engineer can get a clear guitar channel without every other instrument blaring through it.
  13. If you have to take your gear off between soundcheck and playing time, say if there is another band to check, then “spike” your gear out. This means take some clearly visible tape like colored gaffer tape and mark out the corners of your pedal board and amp. It is even worth putting some tape on your amp and mark down your settings after soundcheck so in moving nothing gets knocked. Even a few notches can be mega-drastic when you put that through a 20,000 watt PA!
  14. MONITORS! if your lucky enough have a monitor engineer side of stage or maybe the FOH guy/gal is doing monitors then usually after you’ve gone through a song or just before they will ask any specific requirements for each member if they have there own Monitor or “wedge” some smaller venues may only have “two sends” which means you can get two different mixes – usually one for the drummer and one for the front of the stage for the singer and guitarists to share. Getting a good monitor mix is as important as the FOH mix – if you cant hear yourself or the singer or the beat then the band WILL fall apart!
  15. Once you’ve done your soundcheck, if you have to clear the stage, then make sure thats what you do, get all your stuff off. I have seen stage managers from bands throw support bands gear into bins when they leave stuff behind.
  16. Every band playing at any professional or semi-professional level should have an accurate and most importantly UP TO DATE “Stage Plot”. This is a diagram that shows, from above, each instrument, amp and drumkit position and also placement of mic stands and monitors. You can also include an input list, though this is something that a good sound engineer is best to type up for you as its designed to give other engineers and stage hands an idea what you’d like on your Quad box and combo amp, or if you’d like your bass cab mic’d up as well as DI’d. The stage plot helps any stage hands that have to load on your gear and makes sure a particular guitar amp is on a particular side. Even a badly drawn stage plot is better than none.

    Thanks to “gunsforhire” and “laughinglarry” for sharing their vast experience, as well as all of the other forum contributors.