May and June 2023 Update
Posted on June 30, 2023 by Scott French
This journal was intended to be updated monthly, but here we are with back-to-back entries spanning two full months each. I should be back on the monthly schedule going forward. One more note before moving into the actual update... I had planned on attending the 2023 GAL Convention this upcoming week, but when I starting really looking at my current progress and funds, I decided it would be better to spend that time and money working on an actual guitar instead of going on a trip. It's a big bummer to miss it, but I am trying to stay as focused as I can on this project until I am done. I do hope to get out a bit more in the future though. I think my next oportunity will be Kauerfest at Kauer Guitars down in Elk Grove this September.
May was a very busy month away from guitars with plenty of end-of-year stuff at my kids' school taking up a lot of time. A festival, a play, a recital, a three day field trip, a big report, and our youngest's birthday celebration kept us all busy throughout May. I also made some stuff on the laser for the school and spent a ton of time helping another student with their final project of making an electric guitar body. While we're off topic, on that long field trip I ran into a really beautiful piano that looked a lot like claro walnut so I couldn't resist including a photo. Nice stuff!
Even with everything going on, during the nights and weekends I still managed to sneak in some guitar work. First I finalized the design for some new block inlays on the current SF3 and later got them all cut out. Then I set up all the new fingerboard radiusing and slotting jobs in Fusion and tested them using some old maple.
From there we moved into running these new jobs on the real ziricote fingerboard blank which ended up being a bit more challenging. Ziricote is much harder than maple, so the speeds and feeds for the tiny fret slotting bit needed to be adjusted a good amount. Eventually it all came together and I think both my first block inlay board, and my first captive fret slot board on the CNC, turned out pretty darn nice.
Before moving on to the neck progress, I should mention that I ended up changing my mind on the stock I would use for this project. The original plan was to use a much more simple quarted neck and fingerboard, but because I ended up using this amazingly figured claro walnut top, I decided to match the neck woods and go with crazy figure across the board. In the future I intend to go a little more simple with neck materials, but I already had the wood and it seemed to be in line with the uniformly flamed figure of the claro walnut top.
Next up I got this highly figured one-piece roasted maple neck blank scarfed and surfaced. This roasted wood is very stable compared to normal hard maple at the same dimensions. I'm not a scientist, but this stuff feels very solid and sounds really good in your hand. My understanding is it doesn't even need a finish and should hold up very well for necks. I am going to finish it anyway but it's interesting to read about the magic going on with torrified woods. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
This is my first time using a spoke wheel trussrod. Adding trussrod access to the headstock end of the neck has always been messy and I have never been happy removing so much wood around that area. With this updated neck design the spoke adjustment is at the other end of the neck so the potentially weaker area around the neck to headstock transition is left intact. Between this new roasted wood, this new trussrod access method, and a bit beefier dimensions in general, this should be the most solid neck I've ever made. (So solid in fact that I decided to skip carbon bars that I had been considering on this one.) My standard design with the scarf joint, fingerboard, and headcap all overlapping is already a pretty strong design, but I believe this takes it to another level.
My initial plan was always to use the CNC to do the fingerboard, trussrod slot, and indexing pins for both pieces, but at the last minute I decided to rough out the neck shaft to save some time. This surprisingly ended up being one of the more simple CNC jobs to get set up. Maybe I am just finally starting to internalize some of this workflow, but I probably worked 10x longer getting all the fingerboard jobs setup while the neck carve was done in an afternoon. I do think it would have been MUCH MORE complicated if I was attempting to do the full heel and headstock transition, but my 3D modeling skills aren't there yet and I am happy to do that all by hand.
I only just realized that this wasn't covered in the March and April Update, but I also got a start on carving the top. I roughed out some steps on the CNC and did the rest of the carving and radiusing by hand. This is another case where my CAD skills are likely there, but I am lagging far behind on the CAM part. I'll get there someday but for now the CNC is just being used to save time and help with consistency and quality where it really matters. I have to say I am really happy with this little machine. I understand is pretty low-grade in the grand scheme of things, but for a garage luthier is has been an amazing learning tool and I actually think the quality is decent all things considered.
That's it for this update. Coming up soon is building a jig for the side dots, gluing up the neck, then shaping the headstock, shaping the heel, and doing all the transitions. We should have a real neck soon!