A Custom HSS Modern Build
Howdy Folks! This build is a Custom HSS Modern “Leo” which means it has a humbucker and two single coils. I took my sweet time on this build because I was trying to improve some things. I ended up killing two different necks. The third one turned out great.
Body and Neck Blank
To anyone thats read one my build posts this should look pretty familiar. They go through the usual bandsawing, and flush trimming on the router table. The body is milled down to 1.75″ and the neck thinned down to 1.03″. I check it with a caliper and leave a little extra for flattening on the belt sander if there is any movement. You can see the lines running down the body. They are caused by tiny knicks in the planer blades. Not a big deal, because they are raised instead of gouged, which means they are easily sanded.
We had an awesome time at the Goat Farm open studio. My wife put out an impressive spread and we had a few hundred people tour the shop over the weekend. Thanks to everyone who stopped by!
I wanted to build an extra neck because I have a body that needs one.
Constantly Reworking Jigs
I built a jig to cut my truss rod channels and the original version did not have tight enough tolerances. The old design allowed the carriage holding the router to rack side to side a few thousands of an inch, which could cause small gaps. By making the base really heavy and bracing things to reduce flex I was able to improve the tolerances. The photo from the underside makes it look like a robot. The “eyes” are bearings that will ride on a curve template.
I bought two machinist clamps for $15 bucks each to hold the neck in place. On the next build I want to make improvements to the way the neck mounts in the clamps. I am trying to make this thing idiot proof, and i’m still a little ways off. I think the next iteration will be drafted and designed in CAD and parts will either be laser cut or milled.
Truss Rod Nut
I used a brad point bit do drill the hole that the truss rod nut goes into. I measured the bit with the calipers to make sure it was the right size. When I drilled the hole it came out slightly larger than it should. I think the neck needs to be clamped down harder so it can’t vibrate at all. My theory is that if a small vibration happens when you are drilling, the brad points on the sides of the bit cut a larger hole.
It also looks like its time for another spiral flush trim bit because its leaving a line around the neck and body which means it has a tiny knick in the blade. It’s also leaving a few burn marks on the end grain. I want a spare so I can send one to be sharpened while the other is in service.
Truss Rod Channel
Here is a look at the truss rod channel. The newly redesigned jig made a very straight cut. The beginning and end of the cut are cleaner too. The power of the router can cause it to move a little when the bit is plunged into the wood. I’d like to improve the plunge motion as well.
Truss Rod Anchor Plug
Here is the headstock before the transition is sanded. I got some walnut dowels from Rockler Woodworking. They have a more consistant radius and smoother sides than the plugs I was cutting. When the transition sanding is done it will leave a clean looking plug with no visible glue line.
Another look at the neck.
This guitar is a custom order and the customer wanted a more modern “Leo” with a Humbucker in the bridge position. After routing the usual pickup cavities I made a second template for the humbucker. I had some tear out in the cavity that I had to clean up with a chisel and some sandpaper. In the future I would like to do these routes on an industrial overarm pin router so I can do more passes at smaller depths. I sanded the arm contour on the belt sander and blend it with the palm sander.
The sanding on the belly contour looks a little ugly before I get it with the palm sander. Sometimes I do it outside with an angle grinder and flap disk so the dust stays outside. It was too cold outside so the shop got dusty.
A New Jig
I wanted more consistency when sanding the headstock transition. I wanted to build something simple that would hold the neck so that the nut would be perpendicular to the drill press table. With a fence on the drill press I can thickness sand the neck and do the transition in one step. I drew it out in sketchup and printed it out so the angle was dead on.
The Neck Pocket
I clamped up the neck and the backplate to drill the neck screw pilot holes. I am also checking for a tight fit that can stay put on its own.
Swing Arm Radius Jig
I decided to change the way I mount the neck to the swing arm jig. I was using double sided tape which worked fine but I hate working with the stuff. Someday I want to build vacuum fixtures for all this stuff. For now I will just screw the neck to the beam.
You can see the screws in the heel and trough the tuner hole. I drew a centerline down the beam so I can match it with the neck centerline. I had to cut away a little bit of aluminum on the beam to make room for the neck heel screws.
Some Repairs on Cool Guitars
I had a few repairs to do during the build. Why not put up some pictures?
This is a vintage Micro-Frets Swinger. It was very cool and had an intonation system that was way ahead of its time. It needed a cleaning, setup, wiring repair, and cleaned pots. The soapbarish pickups were pretty interesting. He also brought his ’76 tele which was heavy but sounded great. I can’t believe I forgot to take photos!
Here is a nice vintage alvarez that needed a bridge reglue. You can see the piezo pickup sticking out of the top. It sits directly under the saddle to pick up the sound. I spent a good deal of time sanding the bridge to match the curve of the spruce top. I got new clamps too!
This Gibson Les Paul just needed a little tune up and cleaning. The light weight of the chambered body is great. I want to build one of these with a really nice flame top. The build will likely take a 80-100 hours.
Back to the Build
I cut the fret slots and installed the fret dots. One thing I need to do is make sure the waste wood is cleaned out of the brad point bit. I use a depth stop on the bit which wood can get stuck in. Then the bit will burn the hole, and not drill as precisely. The dots are glued in with plain old super glue. I did pick up some stewmac whip tips that let me apply superglue much more accurately.
Here is one of the necks I ruined. I sanded through the fretboard while sanding the fretboard radius on the belt sander. The bright side is I now know to really drive the walnut plug home. In this neck it didn’t seat fully even though I hammered it down. Another thing to be cautious of is not to split the maple on top of the plug while hammering it into place.
I hate to throw away a neck, so I may be able to do something with it in the future. It could possibly be a like a ’65 neck with a rosewood veneer. Or it will end up as part of my dead neck sculpture.
Here is the neck with the frets pressed in. My in laws got me a dead blow fret hammer for christmas. How much different than my normal hammer could it be?
I was wrong, it did a perfect job. I think a normal hammer wants to bounce off the fret when you strike it, leaving the fret out of its home. The dead blow hammer doesn’t seem to vibrate when it strikes the fret and they go where they are supposed to.
Because this guitar was ordered with modern tuners I had to drill the holes out larger. These are easier to install, because they don’t need a pressed in ferrule. I have been really liking the Schaller tuners lately. The locking set is great too.
The modern style dual fulcrum tremolo is a little bit different to install than the 6 hole vintage style. You drill holes for the ferrules and screw in the posts. The idea is that you balance the string tension and the spring tension and the tremolo floats off the body.
I strung up the guitar so the neck can start adjusting to the string tension.
I spent most of the day winding the pickups for the guitar. I wound the humbucker to use 4 conductor modern wiring, so it can have a coil tap. The middle pot is a push pull switch that controls the coil tap. The middle pickup is out RWRP so that the 2 and 4 positions can have out of phase tele type of sounds. The humbucker was wound to 5k turns of wire like a PAF. I will take another look at the circuit after finishing to see if I need to make any changes, but it sounds great.
Here is the back of the pickguard before wiring everything. The modern CTS push pull is kind of cool. It gets wired like a PCB because it has holes in the front. For my future humbuckers I want to get a beastly 130w soldering iron to do the grounding between the cover and base plate. The whole thing acts like a heat sink, so I need more power to get it hot enough.
Here it is put together with no finish on it. The customer wants it done in black. I’ll update the post when I get it done. Thanks for reading!
Here she is while finish is being applied. Since this guitar was not going to be a traditional build, I decided to try out a combination of shellac and Tru-Oil. I used Transtint dye to create a translucent black finish.
Here it is after some tru oil coats and wet sanding. I think there were about 10 coats with wet sanding in between to keep it thin.
I took the body outside to see how the trans black looks in natural sunlight. It really has a different character outdoors.
Here is the final product. After letting the finish cure for a while I gave it a final wet sanding a light buffing, followed by wax. I like how the finish turned out, and I think I can change the technique a little bit on the next one to get it dialed in.
It took some tweaking to get the trem to float properly. The tonal possibilities with the push pull pot and coil tap are vast. It was a blast to play. I should have taken more photos before it was picked up. Doh!