MY FIRST GUITAR PROJECT
My initial inspiration – After hearing about fanned fret necks, researching them on the net, and visiting http://www.novaxguitars.com I decided I had to try one. Immediately I had a vision of building my own guitar and attaching a Novax neck to it. Having no friends compassionate enough to dissuade me from this quest, I proceded to order parts. After all, how hard could it be ?
The raw materials - All of the materials for the guitar came from Carvin with the following exceptions:
the neck came from Novax
the push-pull pots and abalone topped knobs came from Stewart McDonald
Finishing supplies – These came mostly from Stewart McDonald, and a few items from Lowe's Hardware.
Tools I used - I really did not have all the tools I wanted but I managed to get by with a drill, a drill press, a router, a jigsaw a small round file, a thin file for nut slots, and a neck template from Stewart McDonald. When I build my next one I would like to have a router table and some kind of angle vise.
What went well - I was very concerned about the neck pocket depth and angle. I thought it would be difficult to get this right. But the template from Stewart McDonald make the shape correct, the router does a good job of cutting a consistently deep slot, and the angle was close enough. After routing the neck pocket, I did take a guitar string and visually line up the neck and bridge, and determined exactly where to drill the Wilkinson bridge support holes, and cavity.
The Novax neck comes with a blank nut. The first nut I cut was functional, though I have ordered a graphite blank and a couple of fret files for a second try.
The pickup wiring went smoothly, as I have done this kind of work before. I was initially disappointed that the Carvin C22 neck pickup only came with three wires plus a shield (instead of four wires plus a shield). The bridge pickup had four wires plus a shield, and the fourth wire was going to be important to a feature I wanted, series parallel wiring, with both modes out of phase for hum rejection. But a little testing revealed that the resulting sound was too thin, so I opted for single coil tap instead.
I suspected there might be a problem using a tremolo with the fanned fret neck, that it might defeat some of the intonation gains. But in practice it seems to intonate well, requiring a little less saddle range than I had thought.
The Vintage Amber Stain I used appeared to go on a bit dark, but lightened a bit as it dried.
Of course, the most important criteria for me is playability. I can definitely get in "the zone" with this guitar, where my fingers seem to float and it is hard to stop playing. It is equal to my Strat in playability, which is has been my most playable guitar in terms of action and comfort. The fanned fret neck was very easy to adjust to and is very comfortable to play. The low F bar chord is a little bit more of a reach, so if you play a lot of scoop metal, you might need to work a little harder for that chord. The higher notes are more comfortable that an average neck.
What went wrong – This was the first time that I had tried several things, including serious use of the router, and wood finishing. A few times I slipped with the router, managing to take sizeable chunks out of the body. It was then I met up with Elmer's Wood Putty. I joke that this guitar body is half Alder, half wood putty. The putty worked pretty well. After sanding, I could hardly even feel an imperfection in the surface. The wood putty did not, however, take the stain I would later apply. So instead of masking the putty as I expected, the stain actually caused the putty to stand out, as the body took on the dark amber stain, while the putty remained a nice vintage yellow. I am researching to see if there is a way to repair mistakes on a body, or if good luthiers just don't make mistakes when routing.
How hard could driling the input jack be ? When I started drilling, I had a terrible time with the 1/2” drill bit walking on me, and ended up having to drill a second hole. Moral: Start with a small bit, next use a medium bit, then use the large bit.
The maple neck did not appear to take the stain like the alder body at first. As it dried it looked fine, but if I was doing this professionally I would be concerned about the maple taking the stain evenly. Also, though I taped up the neck, I eneded up accidently staining the fretboard in a couple of spots.
The actual countour of the body sides is not as truly round as you would expect from a store bought guitar. I used a flexible ruler to draw the shapes, but ultimately I had to cut the templates with a jigsaw, and sand them out as best as I could. On my next guitar I will pay more attention to making better quality templates. Also, I routed into a couple of my templates accidently by letting the guide bearing fall under the template edge when the template was elevated <doh !>. I know to watch this now. Lastly, I had a real problem with burning the wood with the router. Even when I moved fairly quickly and had a new bit. Perhaps the router spins too fast ? I tried to keep the cuts to about 1/4” per pass. But the edge rounding left several burn marks that did not sand out.
Somehow I managed to leave several runs in applying the lacquer finish, that I did not notice until they dried. I later sanded them but they look bad. I used two coats of lacquer (not enough really) sanding with 400 after the first coat and 800 after the second. While you can tell it has finish, it still feels woody.
Alder / wood putty body
Novax fanned fret maple neck with rosewood 22 fret fretboard
Carvin C22 neck and bridge pickups
Volume and tone control both pull up for coil splitting the neck and bridge pickup.
Three way pickup selector switch
Volume and tone control knobs with abalone inlay
Dunlop strap locks