Starting a Pre-CBS Style Olympic White S-Type
I documented the process of this build pretty well since it would come to be the first build under the Weybach name. The plan was to use all my research about how pre-CBS instruments were built and try to do a pretty good replica, or at least build an instrument in the spirit of this classic. I will try to note any tips or tricks I have learned and show the pitfalls that you will want to avoid
Step one is to get some wood. We are lucky to have a great wood dealer down the street in West Midtown Atlanta. They have all sorts of exotics and hard to find stuff (like rosewood and koa). They are at rarewoodsandveneers.com.
The other thing you will need is a good set of templates. Luckly some good fellow published a Pre-CBS spec blueprint online. I use a large format printer that can print on rolled paper to print these since the body is about 13 inches wide and the neck is 26″ long. You can get it done at staples too. Making a good template is critical. I end up making and remaking templates to try and improve on them all the time. I have gotten best results with a scroll saw that was on clearance at home depot for $70. The Body outline and back routes can go on one template and the pickup and control cavities and neck pocket on another.
I trace a line on the big alder slab for the body outline and do the same for the neck. This neck is going to be a 2 piece neck so 4/4 maple is used. It is just under an inch thick. The body is one piece 8/4 Red Alder which is just about 2 Inches thick. The bodies that I build will be almost all 1 peice.
The body and neck are cut on the band saw being very careful to not cut right on the line. I leave a little bit because I use a sanding drum called a Robo-Sander which has a guide bushing to sand the body flush to the template. Then I use a solid carbide downcut bit with a guide bearing to cut a very smooth edge on the body to save time sanding. Then again on the router table to cut the body roundover which should be 9/16″ for this year. A note on this, Currently I route the body cavities first, then do the roundover last.
I use a plunge router with a 1/2 wide by 3/4 deep bit with a bearing above the cutter to route the pickup cavities. The template keeps the router from cutting where it should not. The photos below show tooling marks from the router. With better plunge technique these can be avoided.
Had a knot right on the side of the body. Had to fill this which took a good bit of work to sand flat, refill, repeat till you cant see it. The key is to avoid it in the first place or not locate it right in the roundover.
Here is a shot of testing the neck fit in the pocket. Getting this fit tight takes a lot of meticulous tinkering. I’ve gotten faster at it by improving the template. I cut the sides of the pocket to the correct curve with a chisel. Gotta keep them sharp as hell.
I have a jig that helps cut the truss rod channel curve. It keeps the plunge router moving in a straight line and makes the plunge base follow the curve. I use a 3/16 bit and a 3/16 vintage style rod and anchor to match the Pre-CBS spec. The channel for the anchor is cut with a chisel. The hole on the neck heel is drilled with a long 3/16 bit and a block that keeps it moving at the correct angle.
After bending the rod and running it through the heel hole a skunk stripe is cut to hold the rod down. The stripe is cut on the bandsaw to match the arc of the truss rod. Normally you see a skunk stripe on the back of the neck, but on Pre-CBS slab board necks it is under the fretboard. Then the fretboard is glued down to the neck using this jig and tons of clamp pressure.
While the hide glue used to secure the fretboard is curing for 24 hours I turn my attention to the body contours. I shape the arm and beck reliefs on the belt sander, and then finished with incrementally higher grit sand paper. Then I take the neck out of the mega clamp and take a look to make sure we have a good glue joint.
I ran the bearing from the router bit into the truss rod nut hole, causing a gouge. It took time but I cut a little piece of rosewood and glued it in the gouge and filled it with rosewood dust mixed with titebond. Looks like this guitar is going on sale. At least it sounds awesome. Now I flush trim the fretboard using the Robo-Sander. Don’t heat the rosewood up to much though. It will warp.
After fixing my errors I cut the frets using the Stew Mac fret slotting jig and a Japanese fret saw. I would come to improve this process by building a sled that moves through the jig with the fret scale ruler attached to it.
Then I built the first iteration of my neck shaping jig. I wanted to have the repeatability of using neck template pucks so I offer standard neck shapes, and do replication necks. My advice here is to use practice 2×4 necks till it cuts correctly. I ended up scrapping this jig and rebuilding it differently later.
The neck comes out of the jig with rough tooling marks and they are sanded out. I shape the headstock transitions with a rasp, and sandpaper. This part is very fun
Finishing with Nitro Lacquer
I sprayed the body with an HVLP gun and sherwood nitrocellulose sanding sealer. The photo shows the template holes and other imperfections that were filled. Then I sanded with an orbital sander to 150 grit for a very smooth surface. Don’t breathe in the dust, it’s terrible for you. I need a downdraft table to connect to the dust collector. Gotta have a few respirators around the shop.
I sanded the body, and sprayed it. I put nails in the front of the body just like they did in the Fullerton Factory in the pre-CBS days. You spray the front with a misty tack coat and then a wetter coat. Then flip the body over on the nails, and spray the back and sides.
Working on the Neck
The headstock if thinned down to the correct thickness for the period. It came out slightly thinner after sanding down any imperfections. I sand the sides of the neck to remove glue squeeze out.
The headstock transition where the nut will be installed is hand shaped on the drill press using the robo sander. The shape shown is not finished yet. It has a gentle arc to it. It’s pretty tricky to get this right. Then I use a radius sanding beam to apply the 7.25 radius to the fretboard. 3m Gold sandpaper sticks to the arced side of the beam. This gives a pretty good workout.
Fret Dots and Problems
Fret dot holes were drilled using a 1/4 inch drill bit. Getting the depth right here is pretty important. I marked the dots and drilled them, which was tricky. Then I glued in vintage style clay dots. I installed the nut with hide glue and tons of pressure.
Went out a town and came back to find that the glue I used pushed the dots out of their holes. I used gorilla glue thinking it would expand slightly to make a good fit. Instead it expanded a ton. I had to pull the dots out and put new ones in using CA Glue (Superglue).
A Lesson from the Drill Press
Learn from my mistakes! When drilling out the tuners on the drill press always clamp the neck onto the drill press table. The drill press is set to the correct depth but it grabbed the neck and lifted the whole thing off the table and tore out a good chunk of wood. I cut a plug out of maple and glued it into the headstock, then redid the tuner hole.
You can also see the frets installed on the neck. The frets are bent to the correct radius using a fret bender. Then I feel them like I am playing the guitar, and file the sides of any of them that don’t feel good. The method for installing frets on Pre-CBS instruments involved sliding them in from the side of the neck. I prefer to install them using a fret press in the drill press.
These photos show the first olympic white coat sprayed on the body. I use automotive lacquer for this, and add a tiny bit of blue dye to give it the correct tint.
Here you can see the headstock ready for nitro. The plug in the headstock is visible. If this was a custom order I would have to toss the neck. In the second shot you can see the neck color is a little different. I shot some tinted lacquer to give the neck an aged (but not worn) look to it. You can either just leave lacquer out in the sun for a few months, or tint it with a stewmac or transtint dye. The finish on the body had 2 color coats and maybe 3 clear coats. You want a very thin film finish to let the body resonate. Nitro is great for letting wood “breathe” but if you put it on too thick then its no better than polyurethane.
Building this winder was an ordeal, but i’m so glad I did it. I learned a ton and can fix it when it breaks. It has a counter, tachometer, and a reverse switch for reverse winding a pickup. A huge thanks goes out to the gentleman who came up with this concept and posted it to instructables. You sir are brilliant.
Winding pickups is very tricky because the AWG 43 heavy formvar wire is about the size of human hair. It will break in a heartbeat and was pissing me off to no end. After a lot of practice I got the hang of it and now somewhat enjoy it.
The flatwork and magnets get put together using wood templates and the drill press. I staggered the alnico 5 magnets just like the Pre-CBS pups. I bevel the magnets with a drill and sandpaper so they are period correct. The pickups get a lacquer dip before winding just like they did in the golden years.
I pot the pickups in a rice cooker from goodwill ($6) and leave them for 30 mins to get the air out. You want that nitro to cure pretty well before buffing. Don’t forget be wait 30 days for the lacquer to fully cure. This guitar came out with some orange peel after buffing when it should be like a mirror. I’m building a real buffer so I don’t have to use the orbital anymore.
I finished the wiring. This guitar has a reverse wound reverse polarity middle pickup so it has a few switch positions that provide a humbucking effect. I used cloth insulated wire just like the vintage instruments. I should make my own pickguards, and I will build them when I can find a good vendor for the plastic sheets. So far all the sheets I’ve found cost more than a regular pickguard. I also do some work on the frets and file the nut slots for the strings.
There are some things in the final assembly that I did not go into detail on. Then I screwed on the bridge, and install the springs and claw in the back cavity, press the ferrules in using the drill press and install the tuners. I always wax the screws and drill the exact right size pilot hole to avoid breaking a screw off in the hard maple headstock. I’ve done it before and it was a bad day.
Then I strung it up and leave it hanging for a while to adapt to the string tension. I pulled it down a few weeks later and went through the setup process. I check the neck relief and adjust the truss rod. The neck is so fat that it probably didn’t even need a rod. I also check the intonation and action and just play around on it for a while. I’ll get around to posting another build soon and can hopefully elaborate on anything I forgot to discuss.