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Neck Build Order and Carve

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Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Todd Stock » Wed Sep 30, 2015 9:48 am

There is the start of a decent thread over on UMGF re: order of neck build and carve. Thought it might be worth seeing how order varies for builders here. My response to the UMGF thread is below, but I'd enjoy hearing how others here as to the how and why of build order for the neck. I should mention that I don't start on the fretboard and neck for cutaway guitars until I have a bound, sanded body, as most of my cutaways have fretboard flush to edge of body.

So generally, there's a bunch of possible variations for 'order of construction' because there are many variations on neck attachment and truss rod, peghead, and heel designs. Proulx butts his necks to body and uses hanger bolts to mount; there's Cumpiano-style barrel nut mounting with tenon, traditional dovetail, so-called double tenon (really a variant on bolt-on/bolt-down), Somogyi sets his neck, drills two locking dowel holes, and glues up, etc. All cause variants of the basic build order. Here's mine:

- Mill blank square
- Rough cut neck blank (usually two necks from single 24" x 3" x 4" blank)
- Trim neck blank to width (most of my peg heads are over 3-1/2" at headstock, so get trimmed to body fret width + 1/32")
- Mill truss rod channel (I use channel to align blank on jig to cut dovetail or tenon...if in dressing the top (fretboard mating surface) I take off some additional wood, I just use a round file as a scraper to refit rod))
- Mill dovetail or tenon slot on tablesaw or router table; close headstock end with plug, and mill body end of channel to fit rod to be used
- Fit adjustable truss rod
- Fit neck to body for alignment with centerline and neck angle; check truss rod access will actually work
- For dovetail, trim dovetail length as needed to provide desired space between socket and tail; for M&T, trim tenon to length, mill slots for CF reinforcement and drill barrel nut/hanger holes, etc.)
- Set nut location based on completed fretboard config
- Add peg head wings if necessary
- Plane peghead square and true to top surface of neck and nut location with correct back angle (with a sharp hand plane...I'll also correct any tenon or dovetail top surface alignment issue at this time with a few swipes of the plane as needed)
- Glue on head plate (after squaring and beveling the head plate blank as necessary, and setting the nut edge of the head plate back for nut space)
- Mill peghead to final thickness (as desired...can also be tapered at this time, or prepped for back strap and back strap added)
- Mill peghead to shape
- Pre-mill heel to shape if tapered heel used, and trim to cut line for heel cap
- Glue on heel cap and trim excess/fit to body when dry
- Glue on unfretted fretboard
- Carve neck
-- Set depth at frets 1 and 10 (pattern rasp and cabinet file)
-- Reduce profile between 1 and 10 to line (drawknife, Iwasaki medium rasp, sharp block plane)
-- Shape cross section at 1 and 10 (rasp and cabinet file)
-- Rough carve heel area and peghead transitions (carver's draw knife, rasps, file)
-- 5-side neck shaft between 1 and 10 (drawknife and Iwasaki med rasp)
-- Rough carve (mostly pattern rasp and draw knife, then cabinet file and small block plane) cross section between 1 and 10
-- Blend heel and peghead with shaft carve (rasp, cabinet file, scraper)
-- Scrape and sand to final shape (short, straight sanding blocks with 80 and 120 papers to fair)
- Final fit neck to body to verify alignment/angle and heel cap fit prior to fill and finish
- Lay out and drill tuner holes (full diameter for screw-downs and appropriate lead hole/counterbore for bushed tuners)

Pretty much it for one way to proceed.
Todd Stock
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Ryan Mazzocco » Sun Nov 01, 2015 1:25 am

Wow, Kinda suprised this thread died. I was interested to hear what people had to say so I'll try to resurrect it.

I make my fretboard first.
Mill fretboard material a bit thicker than final dimension
run the blank through woodmaster moulder with my 12" radius knife
layout frets, inlays, etc..
inlay markers
cut fret slots
taper and bind fretboard
fret, level and dress
side dots
and onto the neck itself...
rip to just over 3" and surface all 4 sides
cut and glue on scarfe joint
thin headstock to 1/2"
establish center line, nut, 14th fret and end of tenon
glue up heel stack and then glue onto neck
cut to length
shape heel with router and template, check preliminary alignment with body and adjust
rout pocket for cantilever/extended truss rod support, install and plane level
rout for truss rod and install
glue on fretboard
bandsaw and spindle sand heel transition profile
rough in taper on bandsaw then cleanup with router
find desired thickness at 1st and 10th frets, then connect the two points
rasp, sand, file, sand, chisel, sand...
glue on heel cap
carve heel transition
carve headstock transition
rout headstock shape
rout for headstock binding, install binding, clean up
layout and drill tuner holes
layout and install bolt-on hardware

of course each step has about 20 steps of it's own, so I'm sure there's something I'm leaving out, but that's basically my process
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Todd Stock » Sun Nov 01, 2015 8:35 am

I am guessing that reading a laundry list of steps and trying to understand the rationale is not that high on priority list, but for newer builders, order of build is one of the keys to getting a decent result. Interesting differences between order of build, but the 'A before B because...' looks pretty similar.
Todd Stock
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Jason Rodgers » Sun Nov 01, 2015 1:50 pm

The anticipation of neck construction was for a long time, until I actually did it, fraught with anxiety: after all, it is the correct geometry along all planes that separates guitars from GLOs.

As such, I read about this order and process for quite a long time, on the forums, in American Lutherie, and in the numerous landmark books on the subject of guitar building. Regardless of shaft construction (one-piece, laminated, scarfed headstock, stacked heel, etc.), truss rod type and reinforcement (one-way, two-way, carbon filbert, etc.), or attachment method (dovetail, tenon, butt, bolt, etc.), it seems like there are a few orders of operation that folks feel very strongly about:
1. Fretting before or after the fretboard is glued on.
2. Shaping the neck before or after the fretboard is glued on.
3. Steps 1 or 2 above before or after the neck is attached to the body.

Some of this, of course, is completely wrapped up in the bigger picture of the style/school/tradition of the instrument being built. In many other cases, the order is up to the builder, and I've read many justifications for each.

When I did finally build a neck, I learned that there are some anxiety-prone steps, but for the most part is quite enjoyable. I build a laminated neck, scarfed headstock, two-way rod with CF reinforcement, fretboard fretted, fretboard glued, neck shaped, frets dressed, and bolted on (solid body electric).
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:59 pm

As I am in the final planning stages before my first acoustic build, this post is being bumped up.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Brian Evans » Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:46 am

The hardest part for me is tapering the fretboard. It has to be dead on, since I carve the neck to the fretboard, and while I always figure out a way to do it I never remember from time to time what I actually did. So I have to figure it out each time from scratch. I should build a jig, I guess. But I can't figure out how to build a jig for that task...

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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:53 am

If you have a router table, build a jig that has a very straight edge to follow a template cutting bit. Add a couple of toggle clamps to hold the fingerboard down and your good to go.

A good sharp handplane is another option.
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Bob Gramann » Fri Oct 20, 2017 12:23 pm

I found that the occasional chip out with the router bit on the fret board bothered me enough that I went to an outside cut with the band saw and sanded to the line on the belt sander. I do use a pattern cutting router bit on the router table to cut the sides of the neck flush with the fingerboard after the fingerboard is glued. Neck woods are generally softer than fingerboard woods and don't tend to chip.
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Brian Evans » Fri Oct 20, 2017 2:07 pm

What I am trying to dream up is a jig that automatically tapers both sides the same on the table saw. I already do the sorts of things mentioned, which basically depend on layout being accurate and working/cutting/planing to the line. All the jigs I dream up need to reference one side and cut the other. Referencing the square, uncut side and cutting the other side is easy, it's referencing the now-tapered side to taper the other side that is hard to figure out.

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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Oct 20, 2017 3:12 pm

I have seen a jig that has two notches to register the blank against while you cut each side. Don't know where I saw it but it was very simple.
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Brian Evans » Sat Oct 21, 2017 8:45 am

I thought of one just now, actually! The issue is keeping the fretboard dead straight on the jig. I could use a template to drill two register holes on the slotted but over-length fretboard, use the holes to register on the jig dead on 90 degrees, and just flip the fretboard over to cut the second side at exactly the same angle as the first side. I could probably make it so the angle was adjustable, too.
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Re: Neck Build Order and Carve

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Mon Oct 23, 2017 2:33 pm

by Brian Evans » Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:46 am
"The hardest part for me is tapering the fretboard"

I mark it out on the board, cut just off the line with the bandsaw, and then trim to the line on the jointer.
If the board has a little extra length it could all be done on the jointer in the same fashion tapered legs are made.
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