Towards the end of last year, I decided I’d like to have a go at making the next step from modding guitars to making them.
Logically, a kit seemed the way to go and as PRS didn’t do an affordable model that I liked, I went for a custom 24 style kit with the intention of modifying it to suit what I was after.
My intention is to get some experience carving, staining and oiling the wood during this process (and possibly some burning, we’ll see).
As this was my first kit build, I purposely went for a reasonably cheap kit. All of the hardware and electronics were pretty poor, the nut is awful and there is no backplate.
So, first step was to bin what I didn’t need and take a photo:
You may be able to see some of the pencil marks from my planning for extending the cutaway and shaping the headstock.
I’ll be using my favourite open gear Hipshot tuners in black, a black Hipshot tone-a-matic bridge, Tusq nut, Bare Knuckle pickups (yet to finalise what I’m going for there) and a fairly standard wiring setup including a killswitch from Iron Age Guitar Accessories.
Carving and Shaping
Watching a lot of YouTube videos, it seemed that a spindle sander would make things easier, so I grabbed this one (referring link, opens in new window) from Triton and got to work. Unless stated otherwise, various 80 grit cylinders were used.
After experimenting with shapes using a pencil, it was time to shape.
I found while shaping that an implied, more organic shape seemed to come out of the wood, so I ran with it, which is why you can still see the pencil marks in the after photo:
I had initially intended to shape in the sides and may still do that once I have the tuners, but felt for the moment I’d like to keep some material back, just in case.
This is the stage I’m at now.
Shaping the body has been a bit more of an undertaking.
I started with increasing the cutaway depth using the spindle sander:
Next I started adding the chamfer, which I rounded with some 60 grit sandpaper afterwards for comfort:
To do this, I offered the guitar up to the spindle sander at an angle and removed the material gradually that way.
I decided to repeat this on the back of the guitar in the same way, eventually rolling the guitar to get a smooth curve, finishing off with 60 grit sandpaper:
Quick shot after shaping (showing the shaping for the cutaway and upper horn):
And from the top:
Next I added an extra hole for the kill switch:
The method I went for does have the drawback of being very easy to carve where you don’t want to. The lower horn had to be reshaped a few times and I came very close to the neck pocket at one stage, but it seems ok for now (we’ll see once it’s assembled).
Next I “cleaned up” the control cavity as much as I dared with the forstner bit:
Next I started marking the tummy and arm cuts out with a truly awesome 2mm 2B Mechanical Drafting Pencil (referring link. Opens in new window)
Right! Carving time!
Making use of the taller Black and Decker vice pegs (referring link, opens in new window) as the kit already had a carved top. Put some leather down to avoid imprinting the workbench in the veneer (man it’s thin!).
After first terrifying flapdisc experiment:
Once I’d extracted a suitable amount of wood via the terrifying flapdisc, I moved on to my new Lie Nielsen violin maker’s plane. Once I’d figured out how to set it up, it was the perfect tool to get those rough flapdisc carves into something that looked like it should be there:
I especially like the curly bits:
Looking a lot more deliberate:
Next to the disc sander and working through the grits by hand:
I particularly love how this looks like it’s always been there!
Bit more work to do for the front carve:
I also added a minor carve I wish my other guitars had:
This came in especially handy when making the control cover.
Making the control cover/back plate
For this I started with a plastic Les Paul cover which was too big on all sides. I traced that onto some faux ebony and cut it on the Dremel Moto-Saw (referring link, opens in new page):
Next I tried a few approaches for making a stencil. Paper was easiest, which I transferred to card, placing and cutting as I went:
I stuck the cardboard template to the cover with some automotive trim tape (first thing that came to hand), then fine shaped it with my Triton spindle sander, before working through the grits on the edges for a firm, but not too tight fit:
Then for lack of a batter idea, I used the disc sander for a while to thin the cover to thickness using the cavity itself as a jig. After about 20 minutes, the body looked as it does below and I hadn’t seemed to make any progress. I’m thinking of trying scrapers for a more efficient job (I’ve also got a planer/thicknesser in my shopping list!).
Further carving and shaping on the body
At this point, my new even smaller violin maker’s plane arrived, so back to that front carve!
Featuring the star of the show!
Just the thing!
This is how the body looked after a bit of a touch up with the grits:
Having checked the body over, I wasn’t completely happy with the curve near where the strap pin goes, so I went at it with a sanding block. I’m a lot happier with it now.
Completing the control cover/back plate
I finished the final sanding and shaping firstly with the orbital sander and then with a sanding block, working through the grits until I was happy with the fitting and taper on the edges:
Next I marked and drilled the holes carefully with the assistance of my scratch awl
Once that was done, I completed the fine sanding, before prepping for finish.
Scalloping the top four frets
Taking inspiration from Steve Vai and Herman Li (and as practice for one of my future projects) I decided to scallop the top four frets on the neck.
This was pretty straightforward and I think went fairly well taking my time and planning before acting.
My process (which may or may not be correct) was to first tape off the frets to protect them from filing. Then I used a small rat’s tail file to file a groove to depth down the centre before widening the groove with a wider round file. I made sure to follow the fretboard radius as closely as possible, using a caliper to make sure that all of the scallops were to the same depth – in this case 2mm. Final shaping was performed using 220 then 320 grit sandpaper before a final buff with kitchen towel. I’ll be revisiting this with the rest of the fretboard after stain.