Mistakes made while building early guitars

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Eddie McRae
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Joined: Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:07 am
Location: Woodbury, GA USA

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Eddie McRae »

I'd have to agree with John Kingma. After building almost 100 customs, I still make mistakes on almost every single one. Something always goes wrong. But I understand now that it's just part of the process and it's no big deal. I was building it to begin with...so I can certainly fix it. My most common mistake, though, would have to be router tear-out. This happens to me all too often and, in fact, just today.....while flush-trimming a headstock overlay on a resonator in progress, the router bit grabbed and tore off a nice little chunk of the headstock. Glued it back in place, and for the most part, it's invisible now. Luckily, it will get a 3-tone vintage burst finish anyway so it won't be seen regardless.

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Andrew Porter
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Location: The Banks of Sleepy Creek, NC, USA

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Andrew Porter »

Eddie, have you tried a downward cut router bits to avoid pull out?

It seems clean work space is a big problem. I know its led to a lot of mistakes for me. I remember reading how a member of the WoodenBoat Forum solved his work space problems. His benches were door panels attached to the walls with hinges and held up with 2x4s. When he needed more bench space, he just kicked out the 2x4s and started over again.
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Richard Turner
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Richard Turner »

Knowing the mistakes would happen led me to try my first on a smaller scale to familiarize myself with the processes.

Guitar #1: Short scale Lefty for my son...
Designed it on CAD using spec from one hardtail bridge, then bought a different bridge with wider string spacing. Over chamfered and rounded the fret ends. Add to that a slight error in placing the bridge on the center line. Between the three errors, the thing was unplayable because you couldn't keep the outer strings from rolling off the frets. Somewhat corrected by getting the bridge that matched the original design spec. Still needs a re-fret with minimal chamfering to make it right. On the positive side, the "adjustments" I made to avoid this on my next design resulted in a neck with a generous amount room for the outer strings that I actually kind of like. I can do more vibrato no High-E than I can on my other guitars. Designing in a little "Room for error" is not a bad thing.

Guitar #2: Drilled the holes for my TOM bridge studs without any angle... I still can't figure out how I did that as I was doing two identical one after the other using a jig. Something must have slipped on one. The patched hole ended up giving a "witness" line in the paint. grrrrr

Guitars #2 and #3: Designed slightly insufficient neck angle for desired action,,, just barely. And being TOMs with mounting studs, I did not check the fits before paint. Fixed one by recessing the studs just a bit, which messed up the paint in that area. Fixed the second by filing the underside of the stud flange which allowed lowering the stud the 16th inch or so I needed. :) Pre-designing to fine tolerances on CAD is great until the realities of machining don't quite live up to those.

Louie Atienza
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Louie Atienza »

Amana makes some downspiral bits with ball bearing pilots. I use quite a few Amana bits.

BTW it is not recommended to use downspiral bits on an undermount router table, for pretty obvious reasons! Some more of my greatest hits:

- Using soft acrylic for guitar jigs, and not removing enough waste material. When those bearings get hot, they'll melt that plastic so fast!
- Related to the last one, having said plastic jam the bearing, disintegrating it and ruining the work!
- I once make a solidbody guitar that I intended to top-carve. After not allowing for this in the control cavity, I proceeded to carve right through it from the top. The most expensivev firewood I ever bought.
- I used flatsawn wood for an acoustic back. This thing rippled like the sea. Needless to say I had to start all over again, removing it from the sides.
- I can't even count how many times a bit slipped out of a collet, creating even more trash.
- I used to use a chisel to do Floyd nut conversions. One time I thought I made my saw cut deep enough. I went to tap the chisel on the fretboard end to remove the waste, and consequently split the fretboard about 5-6 inches. This was not fun to fix.
- My first birdseye top guitar, made a perfect bookmatch joint by hand. Glued up to the mahogany back. One side was slightly raised, so I thought it would be a good idea to clean this up on the thickness planer. Ended up planing all that work off.

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Bruce McIntosh
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Bruce McIntosh »

I just made a doozy on my first (well, second, but the first one got set aside and postponed and... anyhow...). The cheap yardsale bandsaw I picked up was DOA - bent shaft on the lower wheel - so I was forced to use my 35yo B&D jigsaw to rough out the body blank. Since it was old and tired and prone to wandering I stayed well away from the lines. The saw actually gave up the ghost before I finished cutting the body out. Had to hit Craigslist for a new saw, and got a terrific deal on a monster Bosch that works great. Finished cutting, and should have gone back and gotten closer to the line on the earlier cuts but I was in a hurry and didn't, figuring "it's only pine, I can chew it down with th' router no problem, right?" WRONG!!!! Bit dug in, jerked the body out of my hand and flung the body halfway across the garage. MASSIVE chunk torn out. Just finished gluing in a patch, but lesson learned. Slow down and get closer to the line!
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david frassetto
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Location: Milwaukee WI

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by david frassetto »

Not clamping the PU template tight enough and having it migrate while routing on a figured maple top! OUCH! Now I check and check and check yet again. And I dont use figured maple.
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Justin Bretz
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Joined: Tue Feb 28, 2012 7:18 pm
Location: Kamiah, Idaho

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Justin Bretz »

I have a doozy. After spraying and level sanding my first guitar. I had just done my final pass with the finish and my hanger came apart. The guitar fell about 4 feet onto a sawdust covered concrete floor. It crushed one corner on the lower bout and the nice, now softened burning-in lacquer was impregnated with coarse saw dust. To add insult to injury, I had also stained a sunburst on the bare wood on the guitar so fixing the huge mistake was extra tough to get the stain right after I had to scrape the finish down to bare wood to fix it. Perseverance paid off though and it was repaired. Someone on here posted quite a few years ago that the difference between a good builder and a great builder is the ability to cover mistakes. Now I could hang a sherman tank from my spraying hanger. Lesson learned I guess.

julian gifford
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by julian gifford »

Inducing a back bow while gluing on the fretboard with titebond- (I only use epoxy now!) The multi laminate neck was so ridgid, it snapped the Truss Rod trying to bring it level.

Using a thicker 2 way rod and have it crack the back of the neck that was now too thin for it. This could have been prevented by using a thinner rod, or a thinner fretboard.

Using fretboards that are too thick. I always thought was a good thing, but leaves less neck wood under the rod.

Roughing out body shapes with a sabre (jig saw) since I dont have a band saw, and too lazy to drive to Dads to use his. Get too close to the line.... and... Those skill saw blades bend pretty far inside the wood... why do they never bend out to the "scrap" side? Always bend in to the body side....

Spend the evening looking at the project- assessing... planning the next steps in construction- scribble notes on construction order. Next day in the shop, dont look at my notes- do something out of sequence which makes another job far more difficult.

Does the server have enough hard drive space for this? LOL!

Bill Munroe
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Location: South Central Alaska

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Bill Munroe »

It's great to read about everybody's what not to do and here's a few of the more memorable slip ups I've made. The very first guitar I tried to build wound up becoming a short scale bass because I shaved the profile of the neck too narrow. I later tried to use soft maple for neck laminations; something I have given up on! Another time I built a really nice neck through 12 string, wound up making the headstock a little too long and the body end of the neck recieved nice hand carved covers to hide the gap between the body halves.

And then of course I've had bits come loose, too much glue squeeze out, splinters in the finger tips, ruined body blanks from getting too happy with router bit selection/adjustment and working with wood not aclimated with my shop that wound up warping too much after carving....I now try to age everything here for a couple of years and I'm seriously thinking about a dedicated wood locker with a humidistat and it's own heater.

Robert Follett
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Joined: Sun Jan 08, 2012 11:39 am

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Robert Follett »

The biggest mistake I made on my first build was actually completing it. That led to wanting to build a second and then a third and so on. If I had never completed the first one I might have the money I spent on acquiring a shop full of tools and equipment, a stockpile of various tonewoods, and a hoard of guitar hardware and electronics.

On second thought; I wouldn't have the money I spent and I wouldn't trade this hobby for anything.

julian gifford
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Joined: Thu Mar 22, 2012 3:01 pm

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by julian gifford »

The biggest mistake I've ever made.... and I forgot to include it in my first post. Not an early build- a recent build.

NEVER EVER, EVER! Let a customer push you into something: 1 you're not comfortable with- 2 You downright disagree with.

Simple fact of the matter is- "the customer is always right.... until they're wrong."

Many customer requests are straight forward, and no problem to accomodate, but when it comes to construction ideas, techniques and the build process as a whole, *YOU* are the expert, and *YOU* remind them of that fact, and refuse to do something "their way" when you know it is wrong.

I'm almost ready to paint another guitar because the first one is all but unplayable since the customer had pushed me into things I knew were a bad idea. No matter how much I told him why some choices were bad, he insisted... and I let him have his way. I regret doing that, and will never do it again. Thankfully this was a very hard lesson learned from a friend and not a real customer.

The new guitar, I told him from the very beginning- "it will look basically the same on the outside- everything else is going to be different. I'm doing it *MY WAY* and thats it.... and you're gonna like it!"

I really hope that advice is taken seriously- It will save face, and save a replacement build.

John Sonksen
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Location: Portland, OR

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by John Sonksen »

well I'm still on my first guitar so hopefully my biggest mistake isn't yet to come. The biggest mistakes I've made so far have purely had to do with patience. I've been a woodworker for 16 years and am quite familiar with all of the woods and tools required for making guitars. However one dumb mistake I made was as I was routing my flame maple top to the body, I used a bit that I thought was "sharp enough", even though I had fully planned on getting a brand new one. I ended up getting a nasty tearout that I've spent a great deal of time fixing. Basically I decided to wrap the outside of the guitar with more curly maple, which will look nice but has been a lot more work and more learning, as I don't have a lot of experience steam bending wood. What I did was using a rabbeting bit, I cut a rabbet in the top edge that would become the new outer dimension of the body of the guitar, pre-wrap and using a template bit, I took the outer dimension of the guitar down all the way around the body. It will return to my desired size once I wrap it, but it's also going to mean using binding at the top edge at least.

The second biggest mistake I made was also trying to rush things, this time with the fretboard. After very carefully laying out the slots, (twice as the first time I did it, I measured from fret to fret and upon double checking, found my higher frets had gotten a little off track), and cutting them I went to put the radius on the fretboard. I knew that once I radiused this I would have to run my fretting saw back through the slots to compensate for the shallower depth I had created by removing the material at the top of the cut. Because I was using the shop that I work at as my shop, and paying shop time for the use I was getting pretty anxious about speeding things up. I made a radiused caul that I was going to chuck into the drill press and use that to press in the frets. Sadly, I got ahead of myself and started pressing them before I had cleared out the fret slots. This lead to frets that were slightly high on the outside of the fretboard. I fixed it by using some superglue and some serious clamping, but I hope I never have to do that again.

I took the neck down to the best guitar techs in town and asked them if they thought I should pull the fretboard and redo it, they told me that they had seen worse things come off the gibson line so I've left it. The frets are set and just took a little more leveling than they probably should have. I figure I'll keep it as is as a reminder of my guitar building roots, and to tell myself never to make that mistake again.

Greg Martin
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Greg Martin »

I was almost done with a tele,it was finished In a great dark green and I was mounting the bridge when I discovered that I had drilled all the bridge holes and routed the bridge pickup in the wrong spot. I was more than slightly ticked at myself. I went to the band saw and cut it in 4 pieces. It brought a tear to my eye for sure !! so the old addage of measure twice and drill and rout once is very true !!!

Roger Rosenberger
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Roger Rosenberger »

I don’t build as many instruments as most of you do but at some point, on nearly every one, there are “adjustments” that need to be made. The last build I completed was the Mexican vihuela for the Holiday challenge. http://www.mimf.com/phpbb/download/file ... &mode=view

The purfling (I think that’s what it would be called) inset from the edge of the top was planned to be closer to the edge. I set up my trim router like I wanted but forgot to completely tighten the stop, it was only finger tight. I routed a couple inches and noticed it had wandered away from the edge. So I took the cut off from the top, matched up the grain as best I could and filled it back in. Then reset the router to match the last inch or so of the route and continued. I actually think it looks better in the final location than where I had originally planned it to be.

I’m about half way through another build and so far everything is going as planned. But there’s still time.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” - James Joyce

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Mario Labonte
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Location: Quebec, Canada

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Mario Labonte »

When I build my first guitar, I followed religeously the only book I could find in 1997, Roger Simonoff's "Constructing a Solidbody Guitar". Good book for what it is but I ended up routing every cavities and recesses free hand like he does in the book thinking if he could do it I could too.

What a mess!!

Now templates are a must for thess kind of jobs

Greg Steil
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Greg Steil »

I found that the best plan is to always make new mistakes.

Chad McCormack
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Location: Berwick, Maine

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Chad McCormack »

I'll toss out a +1 for router tearout. My first build involved a massive tearout episode with a flush-cutting bit on curly maple. I didn't get close enough to the line when cutting out the body with my jigsaw (btw, now I'll only go with a bandsaw for body cutouts, even though it involves a trip to the school's woodshop) and right at the turn coming off the top of one of the horns... well, I muttered a few foul phrases and shut it all down for the day. Now I make absolutely sure that 1) I get nice and close to the line with a bandsaw on my rough-out cuts, 2) use an angle-cutter pattern following bit, and most importantly 3) pay attention to grain direction and where the bit will be entering the lumber.

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Hans Bezemer
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Location: The Netherlands

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Hans Bezemer »

I've glued a fretboard on a neck using epoxy instead of woodglue, forgetting that epoxy also glues truss rods... :?

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John Kingma
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Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by John Kingma »

I'm working on my first "lefty" and I routed the neck pocket on the wrong side of the body... so I'll use that for some future project and start a new body from scratch.

John Kingma,
Builder of Fine Sawdust & Expensive Kindling

Warren May
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Joined: Fri Aug 10, 2012 7:00 pm

Re: Mistakes made while building early guitars

Post by Warren May »

At the finishing stage of a singlecut electric with a set neck already glued in and realized I forgot to drill for wiring from neck pickup. Thought about going through the jack hole but couldn't angle it enough. Tried to mate holes at an angle from neck and bridge routes but, having drilled through the face of a guitar once, stopped after a while since the seperate holes didn't seem to want to meet. Finally decided to route out for a 1/4" back stripe as the least risky operation. I doubt anyone else would ever know since it all worked out okay and has the "optional" back stripe, now :) I had a neck once with an "optional" skunk stripe...I had routed the truss rod pocket too deep when an old router collet slipped.

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