Saturday, October 15, 2011

My First 4-String Guitar Build

 Last week, I pulled the pickup and controls out of a junk Memphis brand guitar (likely a Teisco, as it was made in Japan and has some of the tell-tale Teisco details), and installed them into the lid of this Questa-Rey cigar box.  The box held 25 cigars, rather than 50, so it has a fairly thin profile.  That is one reason I decided to use it for this project.

I wanted a purpose-built electric guitar, rather than an acoustic-electric hybrid.  So, even though I knew that the depth of the box would likely decrease the volume of the guitar, unplugged, that was irrelevant.

 I rough-cut the neck from a 1-1/2"x1-1/2" piece of hard maple, which I got over at Rockler.  Luckily, I got two pieces out of the original stick, as I totally screwed the first cut up.  I always use a circular saw for the initial rough shaping, and that is not the ideal tool for the job (to say the least).

 After the initial shaping, I used an industrial knife and a wood rasp to refine the shape of the neck

 Then, a lot of sanding took place.  I use strips of sandpaper backed with duct tape for this work.

 I decided to get a bit fancy, and cut a piece of the pickguard from the Memphis to veneer the headstock.

 I used Black Walnut for the fingerboard.  As with every other step of my guitar building, I use a pretty primitive method of fretting the fingerboard.  I cut slots in the wood with a standard mitre saw from Ace Hardware, then I cut lengths of 1/8" brazing rod and Super Glue them into the slots as frets.

 Here is the fingerboard before I glued on the frets.

Once the frets were glued on, I used my Dremel tool to trim and smooth the ends.  It's faster than filing, but the chances of gouging the fingerboard are high.

 Here is the finished product.  Well, 99% finished, anyway.  I still need to actually mount the bridge, now that I have the intonation set, then attach the ground wire to the bridge screws.  I will also add some strap buttons, because I prefer to play standing up.

 I had two of the skull-button tuners, and two old Kluson Deluxe tuners, so I made do.  The upper string tree is made from the side plate of a bicycle chainlink.

 Since I had the pickup stuck through the lid/soundboard, I had to mount the neck to the back of the box.  I ran a support all the way through to the butt end of the box, and used a spacer to get the neck height right.  The three pieces are glued together, then bolted, as well.  (You can see that I stained the maple a bit darker, to better match the wood of the box.)

 I had to put a base under the bridge in order to get the string height correct.  Rather than brace the top, I installed a "tone post".  In other words, I built up the support beam until the lid rested on solid wood beneath the bridge.  Gibson does this in the ES-335, so I guess it's good enough for me!

Again, not the best thing for acoustic tone and volume, but it doesn't matter on this guitar.  It theoretically cuts down on feedback, and increases sustain, though, on an electric.

 I bent the trapeze tailpiece to wrap around the body of the guitar, so that it would reach the correct distance toward the bridge.  It is bolted through the back of the box and into the support beam.

Here's a little video how it sounds.  I am playing through my Jay Turser rechargeable amp, with the gain on 3, and everything else on 10.  The Volume knob on the guitar is dimed, but the Tone is on 5. (I should have taken my bandanna off, when I got off of the motorcycle, I suppose...)

It's tuned G-D-G-B (open G), from low to high.  I wanted to tune it in open E, but it just doesn't sound very good in that tuning.  I am finding G to be the most pleasant tuning for these small guitars (to my ear, anyway).

It's not perfect, but with the tools I have available I don't strive for perfection.  I have a plan for an upcoming build which might include borrowing a buddy's woodshop (and the buddy's talent).  We'll see if that works out (Tom).