2017-03-23

Building a Telecaster, Chapter 4 - Wring That Neck!

What's the most important part of an electric guitar?

I'd say it's the neck. You could have a perfectly usable guitar with a body made from compressed sawdust (e.g. Danelectro) or whatever, carved in more or less any shape that you can hang in front of you, anything from a piece of two-by-four to pointy monstrosities. And it would work just fine despite that. Working pickups and wiring are important, but a lot can be done to the signal outside the guitar.

But the neck is really the main user interface to the guitar. It just has to be straight and stiff and strong; it makes the guitar downright unplayable if it deviates just by a few millimeters from that. And of course it should have a comfortable shape to fit the fretting hand, too. So it really is the spot where details matter. And they matter a lot.

Touch wood

Fretboard, routed neck and uranium truss rod.
The fretboard came pre-sawed and radiused so I just let it be in that state without much adjusting. I left the fretboard pretty thick, which should be OK in itself as rosewood is at least as stiff as maple, probably even stiffer. Not that I know if it matters much in the end, as there's a truss rod to stiffen the neck as well. The rod turned out to be somewhat heavy, another guy in my guitar making course had a rod that looked pretty much the same, but weighed a lot less. Didn't see anyone selling rods advertising the weight, so I guess most people think it's irrelevant. Well, this time I'm letting it slide, but I have my mind kinda set on making a lighter guitar at some point. Maybe the next one, maybe the one after that... anyway, insert rod, apply glue, clamp together.
Wood, glue, clamps... the easy part.

After that there was all the shaping necessary to make a neck out of the wood. First I screwed up in making the headstock, it turned out too thin for the tuners so I had to add a thin piece of wood in between. Shaping that took some precious time, as I had to make it look like an intentional artistic choice and not to cover up a mistake... as a finishing touch it received a CNC carved logo, which I highlighted with some glitter nail polish stolen from my daughter.

The actual carving of the neck profile was a pretty interesting experience for a totally, 100%, unexperienced person. All wood shaping I've done before this has been stuff like sawing firewood or maybe using an axe to sharpen the end of some pole to be pounded in the ground. So I was half expecting disaster to strike. But to my surprise the neck shaping went pretty well, using a spokeshave and a rasp. Towards the end I started adding up the numbers in my head and became a bit nervous about soon reaching the truss rod ditch (thick fretboard + routed 9 mm deep - or was it even deeper?), but that didn't happen. Phew!

I stopped at a 21-22 mm thick D profile (thought I was going for a C, but whatever), it'll be interesting to see how it works out in the finished guitar. It'll be different to my old one for sure, with a 7.25" radius it's a lot more curved than the 80's metal guitar knockoff I have. I'm going to assemble everything first and play around a bit to get a feel for the neck before putting the finish on, as I know I might need to make some adjustments. The area most concerning me is the transition from headstock to neck profile. It's pretty hard to evaluate the results in a spot like that on a stringless neck all by itself, without the body.

And speaking of adjustments, the leveling and crowning of the frets... that's one kind of magic I can imagine takes a long time to master. I followed the instructions and probably ended up with a usable result, but it could be that I just got lucky, it was my first time after all, and I was under competent supervision. Put me in a room alone with the tools and a fretted guitar neck, and I wouldn't bet any large sum on ending up with something playable.

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