The Neck – Part 5

 

OK, this part is arguably the most enjoyable (for me) part of building a guitar. Carving the neck. It can be very strenuous, especially when carving hard maple, but for me its very rewarding when my efforts produce a smooth, flowing, comfortable neck.

Like everything, what constitutes the perfect neck varys greatly from one player to another. For me, the perfect carve is exactly what I achieved here. This is a smooth “C” carve from end to end. Its .85″ in thickness at the first fret, and .90″ at fret 12, so it gradually thickens.

It feels great to my hands and is very easily playable.

There are many different methods people uise to carve their necks. I use one I learned from an Aussie Luthier named David Fletcher and find that this technique produces great, even, consistent results.

I start by marking out a series of lines on the neck to use as guides for my carve. The center line first. Then I draw a perpendicular line at the first and 12th frets. At the first fret I make a mark 5mm out on both sides of the center line, and then at the 12th fret I do the same thing only the marks at 10mm to either side of the center line. I then use a straight edge to connect the 5mm and 10mm marks first on one side of the center line, and then again on the other. You can see these lines are not parallel to each other but gradually widen at roughly the same rate as the neck tapers.

Then I rough out the headstock shape with a pencil pretty much by eye. Fender doesnt have a defined end to their headstock on the neck, but I like it to be a more defined shape.

For the heel, I draw a line perpendicular to the center line approximately 85mm from the heel, and then another 35mm farther toward the headstock and connect that 35mm mark back towards the 85mm line but at each edge, forming a triangle shape. This is where the heel will transition to the neck.

Finally theres a line on each side of the neck (not visible here) thats roughly 1/3 of the neck thickness down from the top of the fretboard. This line runs the length of the neck on both sides.

Now I’m ready to start carving, using these lines as guides

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I use these two tools more than anything else. These are dragon hand cut rasps. the larger one is very coarse and aggressive. the smaller one is a much finer cut and removes less material.

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I start by taking off the corners and carve a flat plane removing all the material between each angled line on the back of the neck and the lines on the sides

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Once thats finished, I carve another “facet” from the center line to roughly the center of the first flat carve. I stay away from the headstock and heel for now until I have these facets carved fully

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At this point I’ve removed the bulk of unwanted material from the neck and I switch to the smaller, finer rasp and start to rough in the heel and headstock transitions.

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Once those transitions are roughed in I make a flat cut at the first fret and take it down until the thickness of the neck here is .85″. I then make a similar cut at the 12th fret and take it down to .90″. Having established those two points I go back to the large rasp and carve away the back making a flat straight line from the fret 1 notch to the fret 12 notch. This establishes the taper of the back of the neck. Once I have that line I can continue it straight to both the headstock and the heel.

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At this point I just use the small rasp to round over all the remaining facets and then switch to 120 grit sand paper. I take a full sheet and drape it over the neck and pull it back and forth like a shoeshine dude buffing shoes. I keep going until the neck is perfectly smooth end to end. After that I basically hand sand everything else to nearly the final shapes. Switching to 220 grit paper I finalize the shape and smooth it all out.

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and this is the result. Just as an FYI, the carving process on this neck took me approximately 3 hours

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Last thing to be done at this point is to drill the pilot holes in the heel for screwing on the neck. This is a 1/8″ bit.

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Rough construction completed, now we have to wire and string everything up and check for any major problems with the build or hardware.

 

first up, get all our electronics hooked up.

 

Seymour Duncan SSL-1, SSL-1rwrp, and SSL-5 vintage staggered single-coil pickups…

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Solder it all together (correctly!). Neatness counts here. You dont want some other tech or luthier ever looking this over and thinking “what a half-assed hack!”

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Emerson Pro CTS 250k pots and an .022 uF orange drop capacitor

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We drill a couple holes. One from underneath the bridge into the control cavity, and the other from the output jack cavity into the control cavity. We run a ground wire from under the bridge through the one channel. This is just a 22 gauge wire with about 1/2″ of insulation stripped off exposing the conductor. When the bridge is bolted down it presses firmly on the wire making good contact. The other end gets soldered to the body of a pot connecting it to the common ground. Once the strings are on this will ground everything from the tuning pegs to the bridge.

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The red and black pair shown here pass through the other channel into the output jack cavity and are then soldered to the output jack.

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And finally bolt it all together and see what you see 🙂

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Off-angle lighting to show the belly carve…blue-hooked19

 

Modern style string trees…

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Gotoh 6-in-line tuning machines. I loathe vintage looking tuners. Sorry.

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LACQUER TIME!!!