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Veneering guitar sides

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Veneering guitar sides

Postby Steve Sawyer » Fri Sep 09, 2016 1:54 pm

It seems that veneering the front & back of a solid-body guitar is a common practice, but I was wondering the other day about veneering the sides as well. The first thing I thought of though was how this veneer, completely encasing a slab of wood (along with the binding) would fare over time. That wood is going to move and could cause some problems with the veneer.

I then got to wondering how often front & back veneers exhibit damage from wood movement.

We have a highly accomplished professional furniture maker in our woodworking club - high-end one-of-a-kind pieces that are absolutely stunning. He uses veneers extensively in his work, and always uses lightweight MDF or MDF core plywood as the substrate specifically because the seasonal movement of the wood could cause the veneers to split or crack. Now admittedly, a guitar body is a much smaller piece of wood, and the nature of many finishing schedules is going to provide some impediment to wild swings in moisture content, but I don't recall seeing any solid-body guitars that were veneered on the sides as well as the front & back (not to say that they don't exist, just don't recall seeing any).

So - is this something that is done? Any special considerations related to wood movement when using veneers on a solid-body guitar?
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Randolph Rhett » Sat Sep 10, 2016 5:42 pm

Most factory arch tops are veneer all around. Gibson ES-335, ES-175, pretty much all Epis, Ibanez, you name it. All have laminated sides, back, and top. Then you have many serious classical builders building with laminated veneer sides on guitars. Probably a happy accident that they sounded so good after someone was trying to make some Brazilian Rosewood go further. Veneer tops do NOT sound good IMHO.

I am fortunate enough to own some 18th century furniture that is veneered over solid wood. No problems there. People veneer over MDF because MDF is cheap and no one sees the core.

The hardest thing about veneer sides is scraping binding flush and being careful that you don't scrape/sand through the veneer.
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sun Sep 11, 2016 2:36 pm

Thanks, Randolph. I wonder if laminating the sides on a solid body would be any different.

Not surprised at successful use of laminated sides on an an acoustic guitar. My Simon & Patrick has laminated sides and a solid spruce top that sounds great. And i hear ya on the binding. Going thfough the veneer would certainly ruin your day! :(
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Freeman Keller » Sun Sep 11, 2016 9:21 pm

Randolph Rhett wrote:Most factory arch tops are veneer all around. Gibson ES-335, ES-175, pretty much all Epis, Ibanez, you name it. All have laminated sides, back, and top.


I had always understood that this was how they got the shape - the veneers were coated in glue and pressed in a huge hydraulic press. I even found this picture from the Kalamazoo factory in the "50's

Image

I have built a couple of 335 style guitars and they never were intended to be great acoustic instruments - they are strictly electric. The show face of back, sides and tops are all maple veneers, one thing to be careful of is sanding thru. Here are the plates and sides

Image
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Bill Raymond » Sun Sep 11, 2016 11:45 pm

Of course, gluing veneer around a solidbody's sides is a bit different from laminating sides. I doubt, though, that you should encounter any difficulty from wood movement; a good deal of the grain of the edge of a solid body (perhaps the majority?) is long grain and close-to-long grain. I can't be sure as I haven't thought it completely through, but it _may_ be helful to glue a layer of poplar crossbanding to the sides (grain runs from front to back, at 90deg. to the length of the body) and then glue your finish veneer to that. If you put binding on the guitar it would hide the crossbanding. Just a thought.
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Sep 12, 2016 9:16 am

Bill Raymond wrote:a good deal of the grain of the edge of a solid body (perhaps the majority?) is long grain and close-to-long grain.

And it's thin - much less detectable movement as compared to a slab the width of something like a coffee-table!!

Good thought on the cross-banding.

The guitar I have in-progress is a solid-body Tele copy which will have a simple, painted finish. When I bought the alder for that body I had enough left over to make two more blanks. The next project in the queue in my head is to do an LP copy, which will give me some experience with binding and maybe a set-neck, but even stained, the alder may not be the best wood choice for the sides aesthetically, hence my interest in possibly veneering the sides too. Obviously since I plan on binding it, your cross-banding idea would be do-able.
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Freeman Keller » Mon Sep 12, 2016 12:18 pm

Steve Sawyer wrote: The next project in the queue in my head is to do an LP copy, which will give me some experience with binding and maybe a set-neck, but even stained, the alder may not be the best wood choice for the sides aesthetically, hence my interest in possibly veneering the sides too. Obviously since I plan on binding it, your cross-banding idea would be do-able.


Steve, a couple of things to think about for your LP build. Most of the time an LP is bound on the top edge and the back has a round over radius rather than binding. The binding does some funky things at the horn - I've built two LP clones and that was a little tricky to get it to bend just right (one of them was bound in wood). Also as far as the back goes, remember that you will probably have two electronic cavities - that might give you a little difficulty with your veneer (however they are flat surfaces).

You may want to take some off cuts of your alder and play around with stains and finish, personally I think that trying to veneer this would be a nightmare

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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Sep 12, 2016 12:35 pm

Thanks, Freeman - the voice of experience is usually good advice. Bad enough to bind the front without having to do the back too...

I have a good source for some quarter-sawn sapele - I may just build a body from that, or maybe even cap the back with a plate of it thus avoiding the binding issue on the back, if I can find a stain or dye that would give me a good color match between the sides and back.
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Freeman Keller » Mon Sep 12, 2016 1:36 pm

Another point about Lesters - the tops are usually a separate cap, 5/8 to 3/4 thick that is carved into that beautiful arch which terminates in the recurve which is 1/4 thick. That edge is bound (PRS does a cool thing were they mask it and leave it unstained to make a wood like fax binding. LP Jr's have flat tops and could easily be veneered and bound but if you want to make a true LP I think that would be very hard to veneer the top.

The other thing that the top cap does is hides the routing for the electronics (and the pots, etc are mounted to the cap). Here is my LP body blank with the channel between pickup cavities and electronics

Image

And here is the bound body. The neck pitches down at 3-1/2 to 4 degrees which makes the bridge and pickups all line up correctly. Again, I think this would be a real pain to bend and glue a veneer to the top.

Image

Actually binding a flat guitar top or back is relatively easy, its the carved ones that are difficult. With a flat top you can just put a bit with a follower bearing in your router and run around the edge - for a carved top you need to somehow reference the top edge too. I finally broke down and bought the StewMac gizmo after doing a lot of mickey mouse things

Image

Another reason to consider making a Jr. btw - that picture is not a LP, it is the laminated ES335 that I showed the plates for earlier. You can see that the top and back are "plywood", the sides are too. Its really important to get the depth of the cut right so there isn't too much scraping or sanding.
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Eric Baack » Mon Sep 12, 2016 2:52 pm

You can vacuum press a veneer onto a carved top. The centerline of the veneer cannot be left straight though. There's a good demo of it being done on youtube. I followed that and did the veneer on this one:

Image

Image

Image
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Bill Raymond » Mon Sep 12, 2016 3:45 pm

I would second a recommendation to build a LP Jr. unless you are overly enamored of the arched top of the LP. The arched top is a design feature that is really only for aesthetic reasons and was introduced to make the guitar more difficult for
Gibson's competitors to copy! The LP Jr. would be easy to veneer and bind. If you do want to go ahead with an LP with the carved top, the one my son and I built (it should be in the old library archives) was bound with wood and we used multiple layers of veneer to go around the "horn" of the cutaway, as I recall. Plastic would have gone better, but not look as nice, in my opinion.
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Sep 12, 2016 4:21 pm

Bill Raymond wrote:I would second a recommendation to build a LP Jr. unless you are overly enamored of the arched top of the LP. The arched top is a design feature that is really only for aesthetic reasons

Yeah, but what aesthetics! ;)

As I implied above, I'm looking to work through a series of guitars, each one incorporating some new features while not trying to bite off too much on each go. I could build another Tele-style, but veneer it & bind it. However I'd love to have a chance to tackle carving that arch-top! :mrgreen:
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Freeman Keller » Mon Sep 12, 2016 6:51 pm

I had a piece of flamed spanish cedar 1/2 inch thick - not thick enough for a true carved top but too thick for just a drop top. Made sort of a carved LP Jr. Routed two channels - the deepest one is for the binding, the second one will be the end of the carve

Image

(one nice thing here is the top was flat to start so I could just use the router on the top) Carved back to that edge

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Still had to deal with funky neck angle (it was a set neck)

Image

You can see a slight recurve at the waist but the top is pretty much flat

Image
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Sep 12, 2016 7:41 pm

Freeman Keller wrote:You can see a slight recurve at the waist but the top is pretty much flat


It doesn't take a lot - that's real purty, Freeman...
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Re: Veneering guitar sides

Postby Freeman Keller » Mon Sep 12, 2016 7:57 pm

Steve Sawyer wrote:
Freeman Keller wrote:You can see a slight recurve at the waist but the top is pretty much flat


It doesn't take a lot - that's real purty, Freeman...


Thank you

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