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Sonic Blue ’62 “The Leo”

Getting Started on a New Classic

Here we go again. A nice flamed piece of maple rough cut on the bandsaw and a nice one peice alder body. It has no knots and a very nice light weight. The customer picked sonic blue (most excellent).

Flamed maple rough cut neck blankRough cut vintage strat style alder body

I forgot to take pictures of the routing process but it’s hard to move the router and take pictures. Then I route the back cavity first, then put the front template on and do the front. I use a 5\8 inch pattern bit with a bearing to copy the template. I use a 1/2 diameter pattern bit for the tighter corners. Then I test and tweak the neck pocket fit with chisels, sand paper and putty.

Strat style body after routingTesting neck pocket fit

I sand the body contours on the belt sander and then test fit the pickguard, pickups, bridge, and jack plate. Then I test the tuner fit. The tuners are hard to do right because there is a lot of precision involved. You can find plenty of examples bad lutherie on all kinds of headstocks. This one came out great luckily.

Pickguard and pickup test fit strat style buildStrat style vintage tuners in template test fit

Working on the Neck

You can see where I made notes on the template to help remember how drill the holes accurately. There is also some pink bondo on there from redrilling a pilot hole. Again they have to be perfect. You can also see a shot of my truss rod channel jig. You can kind of see the curve transferred from the neck blueprint. The router stays straight because it’s a tight fit from left to right.

straight on shot of tuner test fitTruss rod channel routing jig and bosch router

The fretboard is clamped down to drill the truss rod hole. The size of this hole needs to be perfect because you want a good fit. On vintage models the nut went into the rosewood slightly

A neck prepared for truss nut hole drillingNeck heel with freshly drilled nut hole

The truss rod channel is slid through the hole at the end. it can be tough to knock it through the hole at the heel. The anchor at the headstock is installed in a slot cut to the exact size of the anchor. The body is sanded, sprayed with sealer, and sanded again to 150 grit. You can see the nails in the front so the guitar can be sprayed the pre-CBS way.

Photo of an exposed truss rod and anchorGuitar body ready for finishing with pre CBS nails in the front

A maple stunk stripe is installed and glued in with hide glue and tons of clamps. I use a chisel to cut it flush. Sometimes i just run it through the planer if the metal anchor is deep enough. Then the fretboard was glued on with hide glue and thousands of PSI of pressure. The glue squeeze out is cleaned up

Truss rod skunk stripe being chiseled flatCleaning up sides of neck after fretboard glued on

I was unhappy with my last iteration of the neck shaping jig so I improved on it. You can see the initial base being built. It needs to move smoothly. I also had to route very accurate 1/2 inch channels on the ends for the rod. I ended up using bungie cord and gate clamps instead of springs. It is a little more adjustable.

Catlanta is all around you.

neck shaping jig under constructioncatlanta is all around you

Neck jig is operational. You can see the curved pucks that dictate the neck shape. It took tons of research and math and sketchup drawing to get this thing working well. I still have a few improvements to make. Mainly in the dust collection department, as well as making more pucks for different shapes.

Neck shaping jig being testedanother neck shaping jig photo

I ran tons of 2×4 practice necks through the jig before it started cutting correctly. Getting an accurate centerline and lining it up with the jig is pretty critical. The actual neck was run through it and it was nearly perfect. It leaves a lot of tooling lines in the neck which are sanded out. I am still experimenting with different bits to see which will give me the smoothest cut.

test neck profile cutMaple neck has been run through a shaper

I use a rasp to shape the headstock and heel transitions. This may be my favorite part of every build.

Guitar headstock transitions shaped with a raspStrat style neck after transition shaped and sanded

I thinned the headstock to the correct thickness. I like to cut it with the bandsaw first then sand it.

Guitar neck fretboard ready for radiusHeadstock thinned down to 1/2 inch thickness

The headstock nut transition is sanded using the robo sander on the drill press. It has a gentle curve to it which is pretty fun to shape. It goes pretty quick with 36 grit paper on the drum. I filled the template holes with a mix of maple dust and titebond glue.

Strat style headstock with curved nut transition doneStrat style neck template hole filled

I cut the frets on a jig from stew mac with a japanese fret saw. The jig has an indexing pin for the stew mac fret ruler. But I have the ruler that does not have slots in it, so I removed the pin and built a sled with my ruler attached to it. Then I don’t have to worry about getting slots perpendicular to the center line. My only concern is getting the slots in the right place, and the right depth.

Template hole on neck heel filled with puttyfret slots cut on stew mac jig

Then I glue in the nut with hide glue and tons of pressure. I drill fret dots and glue in clay dots with super glue.

Strat style guitar nut being glued in with clampsstrat style fretboard with dots drilled and installed

The body got a second sanding sealer coat. I sanded the first coat almost completely off. Then I sprayed the second coat, and sanded dull. You use the shiny spots to locate any small dips, dings, or scratches. Then I installed the side dots, and mask the fretboard. I do spray lacquer on the side rosewood.

strat style body with nitrocellulose sanding sealer sprayed onGuitar neck side dots installed and fretboard masked

Sonic Blue

Lacquer really brings out the light flame in the maple. Its just beautiful, but not too overstated to distract from the classic qualities of the guitar. I mixed up some sonic blue using old automotive paint catalogs to get a good match. Its hard to say what this color really looked like in the 50s, but this should be very close. I use automotive lacquer as a base just like the Pre-CBS days. They don’t make duco lacquer anymore but this stuff should be very similar.

Back of a flamed maple strat style neck with lacquer appliedMixing sonic blue custom color for strat style guitar

I just love the figure on the back of the neck.

Weybach headstock with nitro lacquer appliedback of weybach headstock with lacquer applied

A shot of the brownish lacquer in the spray gun. It is brown because it sat in my driveway in the sun for almost a year. It is still pretty clear when applied. If shot over stark white it gives a cream color.

cut of tinted nitrocellulose lacquer in an hvlp gunSonic blue first coat

You can see the final tint after building up some coats on the neck.

neck with nitro appliedanother coat of sonic blue sprayed

I installed the waterslide decal. They don’t want to adhere properly unless you do it just right. It seems like it needs to sit in water for no more than 30 seconds. Once you install it you don’t want to move it around at all. Around the 10 day mark, I send the customer photos of some different pickguards so he can pick one out. He went with parchment.

Weybach decal applied to headstockIMG_0543

I start working on the pickups and electronics since the guitar is nearly ready for the buffer. The pickup bobbin was assembled with the spacers that made sure it’s stayed square. Then I dip the frame in lacquer before winding. After winding I check the resistance with a multimeter. I was shooting for 6k. Pretty dang close. Each pickup got 7600 turns of wire.

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Then I install the pickguard switch, potentiometers, and pickups. I temporarily install the input jack and plug in to the amp> I use a tuning fork to check the electronics before installing into the guitar. Then I buffed out the neck and body.

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Final Assembly

I love how it turned out. Then I carefully install the tuners and ferrules. I wax the tuner screws so they don’t break off in the hard maple. If you don’t do this correctly they will easily break. I use tape on the bit to make sure it does not go too deep while installing tuner screws.

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I installed the front hardware. Then I cut and file the nut for the strings to a depth of .071 inch using feeler gauges from autozone. I use a string spacing rule from stewmac.com to space the string gaps. I measure 1/8th inch from the sides of the nut and space evenly from there.

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I weigh the guitar and it’s a very light 7lbs 7.2oz. I can go lighter by hogging out holes under the pickguard with a forstner bit on heavier bodies, or for a customer who needs a featherweight instrument.

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And that’s it. Thanks for reading.

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