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Building a Telehawk

OK, I'm going to share with you how I build a guitar. It's not the only way to do it, it's just what works for me. For this essay I'm going to build a Telehawk, just because I need to build one anyway(seems I may never get the prototype back ;^). This method of construction is easily modified to suit almost any style of guitar. As this is a hobby job for me, I will do the work and update this section on an approximately weekly schedule. A little about tools: I have, or have access to a full shop with all the tools, but almost everything here can be done with a few simple tools. To me the essentials are a small band saw or scroll saw (can be done without), a belt sander (can be done without), an orbital palm sander (can be done without), a good med. weight router(probably can be done without), a small drill press, and a small table saw (10" preferred) that's about it. Where other methods are usable Vs the method/tool I'm using I will try to point out alternatives. Templates: The first thing we need are templates. I built these throughout the process of building the prototype, so I have a bit of an advantage here. However, you can simply trace and "assemble" templates from an existing guitar. (You might note the fancy body template, that's what happens when you work until 4am in the morning ;^) I recessed the wrong side of the top when building the prototype.) You can make your templates from tempered hardboard, 3/8" thick, or glue up too layers of 1/4". I recommend the latter, and if you plan on using them more than once, you may want to treat the edges of the templates with thin superglue. The glue will be absorbed and harden the edges further so they will wear less.

The neck template is already marked with all critical information to include fretboard start and stop points, nut placement, centerline, trussrod location, where the body line crosses, and because this is really a neckthru, bridge location and correct bridge angle for the 25" scale length. (You may also note there are 7 tuner holes, you probably can't read the big "wrong" marked on it ;^). The template is also labeled "front" and "back". Beginning the project: First, I select a board suitable for the neck. (I build most of my guitars with cherry, so other than the top and fretboard, all wood for this project is cherry. All the wood I'm using was aged, cut and kiln dried to 6% moisture, and then acclimated to the shop) I look for a nice straight quartersawn board of suitable size. I think quartersawn is the only choice if you want the greatest strength and reliability, but you don't usually get any figure in quartersawn. (flatsawn may be as reliable with a good finished neck, but I'm not going to go through all this to find out I have an unstable piece; besides, I want to be confident for years to come) I chose a piece of 4/4 (7/8" thick) for the blank as it is approximately the right thickness (believe it or not a bolt-on neck minus the fretboard is approx. 3/4" thick at the heel, thinner where contoured) I will be using a straight headstock due to it's simplicity and inherently greater strength.

Next I will profile ONE side. I used an inexpensive (approx. $100.00) table top bandsaw. You could also use a scroll saw, a jig saw, a saber saw (leave a lot of extra), or if you really want to do it hard, a coping saw /hand saw. On all cuts, "leave the line" to allow for final fitting/shaping.

It is important to only profile one side as the straight side will be used to run against the fence on the router table to rout the trussrod channel. The straight side needs to be parallel to the neck centerline. Now, boldly mark both sides of the neck blank as "front" and "back". I neglected this step. I now thickness the headstock, first marking the location of the nut. I cut off the excess with the bandsaw and then use an oscillating spindle sander to sand the face. I clamp a board to the table as a fence, and run the flat side of the neck blank against the table.

I make multiple passes until I get the correct thickness (5/8"), and the drum leaves me a nice curve meeting fretboard level where the nut location was marked.

OK, remember where I noted I neglected to mark "front" and "back"? That's right, I just made my blank into a left handed neck to go with my left handed top from the prototype! (eventually I'll have a complete lefty ;^) You will note it's not perfect, but it is very close. Before I came up with the setup for the oscillating spindle sander. I did this freehand w/ a small belt sander. Of course, rasps and sanding blocks can do the job with enough work. Another option is to use the router which will leave a square lip. (Use other boards surrounding the blank for the router to ride on.) Well, I've now redone all previous steps and have a right hand blank. The next logical step would be to rout the trussrod channel, but since I can't get to the router table right now I'll let it wait and move on to making the body. Select pieces of wood of suitable thickness for the body (I'm using slighty over 1" as I will have 3/8" thick top and back caps. A strat type is typically aprox 1 3/4- 1 7/8"s thick. This body will end up aproximately 1 5/8" to be a little thinner/lighter) At some point prior to continuing I need to have cut the sides of the neck blank to width, without taper, where it will be joined to the body wings. I simply align the center line of the neck and body templates to determine the joining point I desire (based upon fret access, adequate bolting surfaces etc) and mark the neck template w/ the line and then transfer that line to the neck blank. Then, from the edges of the neck outline at the joining point to the butt end of the neck blank, straight lines are drawn parallel to the neck centerline, and cut on the tablesaw (leave the lines to allow for planing the joining faces later). Before moving on cut a piece of body wood to the same width. Select suitable pieces for the "wings". This arrangement/ method of construction is very similar to that used by Jim Jaros and McNaught. This method has the advantage of not having any of the seams line up. The top and back cap seams fall along the centerline resulting in much stronger construction, similar to a brick wall. Guitar building is the only form of construction I know where someone will tell you it's ok to have seams line up in multiple layers (it's not ok in cabinetry or carpentry or masonry or......) I don't buy it. It may be adequate, but it certainly is not ideal. Additionally, because all significant parts of the vibration path/ tone path are directly attached to the neck (nut, bridge, pickups, etc) it acts like a guitar carved entirely from one piece of wood more than any other multi-piece design.

The neck could be done as a complete neckthru; however, I typically use a 2 piece heel just for comfort and cosmetics (I could do without it, but it would leave a sharp transition from neck to body) A two piece neckthru would likely have a visible glueline and misaligned grain at the butt end (it is very difficult to get the grain on a two piece glue up to lign up well at both ends. I want the best possible alignment of the grain at the heel) I could go with a board which is the full thickness (plus some) but that is more costly, and the wood has a greater chance of moving when the neck is shaped.(Either right away, or over a period of days or months). That could be disastrous! I next arrange and mark the pieces. Mark a centerline down the neck blank, and extend that line to the end of the body blank. Draw a centerline on the body template and align it over the body pieces with the neck centerline, Trace the body outline, and mark for cutouts. Doing it this way makes certain the body is centered on the neck centerline, and not on glue seams or other less accurate/ relevant guides.

The Telehawk is a thinline design with the pickups mounted to the body and stringthrucontstruction(I'm considering installing a Jaguar type tremolo...any opinions?). I make sure to draw the cutouts to allow the bridge posts, string ferrules, pickup screws etc. to mount into the full thickness of wood, and I allow a bit extra (exact spacing was determined/learned when I built the prototype. A bit more wood could be removed here and there, but you need to leave enough that the guitar doesn't become neck heavy) Also note the small gap between the sound chamber and the control cavity in the lower bout. This will make it easy for me to install pickups by simply drilling through the side of the pickup routs into the chambers. I work in this order as I find it much easier to cut the chambers on the bandsaw(scroll saw, jigsaw etc.) before gluing it all together Vs routing the chambers in the assembled body. The entry cut is small and is made at the end of the neck (on the INSIDE of the wings) to allow maximum continuous contact for vibration transfer and strength. For more of a hollow body design, wood can be removed from along the neck to body seam. With this design all wood of the wings centers can be removed as long as you leave wood for the bridge and string thru ferrules to contact and for mounting the control cavity backplate to. It will still balance well (the prototype was built that way). Removing more wood along neck to wing joints also has the advantage of having less wood to join, making seams easier to get very tight. Well, before I can do much more, I need to go back and finish roughing out the neck. I'm going to start by routing the trussrod channel. For this guitar I'm installing a double action trussrod(sourced from Stew Mac), for a couple of reasons. First, it is the simplest to install. It only requires a straight, flat bottomed , channel 1/4 wide by 18 1/4 long, and a bit under 1/2" deep. Other traditional trussrods require the rout to have a curved bottom; that requires additional jigs and we want to keep this simple. Additionally, the fact that it can bend a neck up as well as back gives a little more room for errors (but still not much).

First thing to do is mark out where on the neck the ends of the trussrod will be located. I want the adjustment nut to be right at the back edge of the nut, or just under the nut, to ease access. Once the ends are marked, these lines are transferred to the back of the neck blank. Now, with the router table setup with the 1/4" bit, carefully mark the fence at each side of the router bit (not the bit's centerline).

The marks are in red, and a little hard to see, sorry about that. Now, if you did as directed earlier, one side of your neck blank is parallel the neck's centerline. On the first neck I started, it was on mine as well. Unfortunately, I am suffering a shortage of quartersawn stock, and I couldn't fit it quite right on the piece I had remaining. Not a big deal, I just cut a tapered shim and attached it to the side which will ride along the fence with double stick tape.

Now the table is set so that the bit's center is the same distance from the fence as the neck centerline is from the edge. The next step is to rout the trussrod channel (in multiple passes). Make certain to move the blank in the direction which will cause the cutter to pull the wood against the fence(typically right to left). If run in the other direction, it will tend to push the blank away from the fence and wander. The bit is extended above the table just under 1/4", and the router turned on. The blank is then lowered on top of the bit so that the first alignment mark lines up with the mark on the fence to the left of the bit (when going right to left, see picture above). The blank is slid along until the second alignment mark lines up with the mark on the fence at the right edge of the bit, and the router turned off. Once the router quits turning check the rout, and if it's ok, raise the bit and repeat. I went to 1/2" to allow me a little room to level the surface which the fretboard will be glued to. I also squared the butt end of the rout with a 1/4" chisel, but it's not necessary.

It should now look like the picture above. Next step is to cut out the profile on the remaining side. But first, I want to ensure my taper will suit the bridge and nut width desired. I do this by roughly marking the locations of the two E strings at the nut line and checking that the nut width(typically 1 11/16ths) is marked correctly. I then mark the location of the bridge (it should fall on the neck blank). The bridge I'm using has a 52mm saddle spacing (measured, but it's generally either 50 or 52mm) I mark the two E strings locations at the bridge (angle is not important now) and draw lines between the bridge marks and nut marks, basically drawing in the E strings. I then draw lines parallel to the E strings for the fretboard edges allowing enough space that the strings won't fall off the edges. Ensure that you end the taper lines where the blank enters the body (even if you must exit at an angle). I now have the correct fretboard taper in width for the bridge and nut spacing being used. The next picture shows the strings drawn in at the bridge end, and the squared end of the trussrod rout.

Now that the width taper has been defined, I profile it with the bandsaw. I set the bandsaw to approximately 30* angle and bevel the back edges, cutting almost up to the profile edge (and always leaving a little extra room, how much depends upon experience/comfort/skill). This is a freehand cut, and many may not be comfortable doing this. Alternatively, any number of saws can be used, or my preference would be for a belt sander equipped with a very course belt.

Note that the back bevels exit at the point where the blank enters the body, and just beyond the nut. The next step is to joint all mating faces in the assembly( neck to body seams). This can be done with a jointer, a router table, or a hand plane. All methods are almost as easy , but because the neck is so much narrower than the body pieces, these joints benefit from a simple jig called a shooting board when making them with a hand plane. It is important to do this now; once the chambers are cut the body pieces will be too flexible to joint. Tip: When jointing boards, it is usually beneficial to take a couple extra shavings from the center with a hand plane. This "gap" is small enough to easily close w/ clamping/ glueup, and provides a tighter seam at the ends, and a little more pressure there where the wood tends to shrink more. Now that all pieces mate well, I can return to the body, and cut out the chambers and profile. Again, I use the bandsaw, but it is also possible to do with many other saws, or even the router (with templates). I'll now arrange all the parts to check fit and alignment.

It's starting to look like a guitar now!(the dark line on the upper body seam is shadow) The perpendicular lines are the entry cuts, and you can see they are located to allow more than enough gluing surface for stability, especially when glued to the caps on top and back. (it looks like I forgot to make a small gap between the lower chamber and the control cavity, I'll have to check that......) The next step is to establish the correct neck angle. First, I must know the height of the saddles (for a tune-o-matic type which I'll be using, it's about 1/2") I must know the thickness of the fretboard(1/4") and the thickness of the top (approx. 3/8") Because my fretboard thickness, plus height of the frets equals approximately the thickness of the top, I can measure as if they were installed, otherwise a few calculations would need to be made, or the pieces laid in place to measure against. Measuring as if they were installed, I know I need 1/2" of height above the body blank at the bridge location, and level at the neck to body joint.

This is the required angle for the neck to be set so the strings run straight along the frets tops to the bridge saddle tops. Generally 3-5 degrees, in this case it measures 4. Note, the neck blank will be slightly higher above the body core on the lower bout side as it connects to the neck a little further down than the upper bout does. Also note, as shown the finished guitar will have the top of the fretboard level with the top of the body where they intersect at the upper bout. I want it higher than that so I will raise the neck at the body junction 1/4"(thickness of the fretboard), and reestablish the angle which gives me 1/2" height at the bridge position (now about 3 1/2 degrees). Trace the body top along the neck blank. These measurements mean that when the bridge is

full down, the strings will be resting on the frets. This is planned, it ensures I can get a low enough action for the player, and allows me a little leeway if the body ends up slightly thinner than planned (as can easily happen). I now make a second thickness of quartersawn cherry and glue it to the neck blank. Ensure it extends beyond the body far enough to carve the heel. The heel as on the prototype is not absolutely necessary, and in some designs would be unwanted (i.e. LP Junior) In those cases, the neck sits above the back of the guitar the thickness of the. In the interest of simplifying things, this is the method I'll use.

Glue-up, note the body line on the edge. Now that the glue has fully dried, we can shape the neck. First thing to do is cut the tennon to thickness. I do this on the bandsaw. The tennon is then clamped between the body sides, and a hand plane is used to make it flat front and back. Next I clamp the tennon into a vise, or clamp the tennon and headstock to the bench and begin shaping using a belt sander, a spoke shave, and rasps (mostly the belt sander). WARNING, do not bring the neck right to final width until after the fretboard has been installed. I then use a hand plane and sanding blocks to further smooth out the neck. I use a small block plane to fine tune the taper of the neck width AFTER confirming my string layout lines and fretboard overhang (still leaving room for final fitting.) Also, at some point you need to ramp the end of the trussrod slot where the adjusting wrench will enter. I use a 1/4" chisel, but you can use a dremel or ratt tail file etc. PRS extends the trussrod slot aprox 3/4" into the headstock and hides it w/ a cover. The disadvantage here is you must use a short angled wrench or the short end of the allen wrench, and you don't get much turning radius before having to move the wrench. This is what the neck looks like at this point.

The next step is to prepare the fretboard. First thing I do is to place the fretboard where I want it on the neck with double stick tape and mark the outline. I then remove the fretboard, and using a curved scraper (or small block plane, chisel used as scraper, or skip this step) I remove a LITTLE wood along the center of the fretboard staying at least 1/8" from the line on all sides. This causes the edges to contact the neck just before the rest of the fretboard, making a tight glue seam along the edge easier to get.

Next I install the dots. I use 1/4" abalone dots and a 1/4" forstner bit. Carefully mark the location of the dots and center punch them w/ an awl. Then drill the holes with the forstner bit making sure the insert will sit at least level w/ the highest point on the fretboard(or stick out above a hair). The first time I tried to install dots, I tested and dry fit stuff till I was satisfied, then drilled the fretboard. I then went to glue them in and all of a sudden they wouldn't go in. I leaned on them, stood on them, tapped on them w/ a hammer, but they would not go in. What happened? Well, the glue caused an airtight fit, and there was a bubble of air and glue caught under the dot which could not escape. so I now drill a small pilot hole all the way thru the fretboard at the center of each dot. (make sure to smooth the back of the fretboard where the drill comes thru)

The dots are glued in place with epoxy. If there is any gap at all, tint the epoxy with black epoxy paint (I use a small bottle of Testers model paint). I now install the trussrod following the directions. I use silicoln at both ends and the middle to absorb any vibration.

You can see where some of the silicoln has pushed up. and the access cut at the headstock for the allen wrench. Next we glue on the fretboard w/ epoxy. A trick here is to use 2 small pieces of finish nails. Drive them into the neck slightly, and then clip them off as flush to the neck as possible. After they are clipped there should be a very slight bit of the nail above the fretboard and kind of sharp. These will dig into the fretboard keeping it from slipping when clamping, but are small enough that they will seat fully into the fretboard when clamped (place a clamp directly over them. Another trick is to use 1/2" wide tape and tape over the trussrod slot. Apply the glue to the neck, thouroughly coating it (but not too thick) then remove the tape. the dry area will be coated by glue squeeze out, but no glue will reach the slot, or at least not enough to glue the trussrod in place ruining it. Use enough clamps, but not alot of pressure.

You can clamp it upside down to the bench, or use a board along the top to help ensure the neck remains straight. Oh yeah, one other trick; to get very tight glue seams along the fretboard edge, scrape or sand a (very) small void lengthwise along the center section of the fretboard. this will put additional pressure along the edges when clamped and requires less wood mate up perfectly flat. Now we let the glue set up over night. While that's happening I'll bookmatch the caps. The first step in book matching a top is to cut the long edges with the table saw. I use a thin kerf blade. Set the fence so the blade will cut exactly down the center of the edge, and then cut to full depth with several passes. I use a 10" table saw, and at full depth it cuts about 3 1/2"s deep.

You can see, even w/ my best care, the slot is not perfectly straight, and one edge has closed on the slot. This is common, so start with a board thicker than necessary. There is a tennoning jig availiable that can help keep the slots straight. Next we cut the remaining wood with either a band saw, or a hand saw. I often do this with a handsaw as it is easy and quick enough. A trick here is to use small wedges to hold the slots open and the halves apart on either side of the saw in order to reduce friction and ease any pressure caused by the boards moving (clamping together).

I next run the halves thru a thickness planer, or plane them by hand. If they are of highly figured wood, a thickness planer or hand plane may not do a very good job, so stop early and finish by sanding. I recommend a thickness sander here. You can usually find a local mill shop who will do it for you for about 5 bucks. (look for a shop who does custom cabinetry or mill work. i.e. mouldings) Well, I ran out of camera space, so I need to take more pictures. Well, I'm FINALLY getting back to this project..... Here's the top plates after planing. These pieces are figured birdseye, extra care must be taken in that the eyes chip out very easily when planing. Leave extra and sand them down to final thickness.

At this point I clamp the plates between a couple 1/2" or 3/4" scrap boards and set them aside. The clamping helps keep them from moving before I'm ready to use them. Alternatively, you could wait on cutting the plates until you are ready to use them.

Now after much sanding and work with a cabinet scraper (A scraper is a wonderful thing, much quicker and better than sanding) the neck profile is almost perfect...

You can see in the picture the calipers used to check thickness and ensure it's uniform, and my shop made round sanding block (see "repair tips"). It is now ready to glue on the wings... Carefully check all the alignments and make any adjustments first... I use plenty of clamps and glue up on a very flat surface (my tablesaw)

Note that I kept the outside pieces from when I profiled the wings, and now use them as form fitting cauls... Now that the body is glued up, spend a little time leveling the top and back surfaces using a hand plane, cabinet scraper, or sanding block. The next step is to fit the top. First thing I do is "book" the glue seam. You do this by clamping the two halves of the top together with the same face together (tops in). You then plane the mating edges at the same time with a hand plane. (this could be done each halfseperately with a jointer or router table, but I think this works better)

When the edges are planed this way, they don't have to be perfectly square as the angles will match perfectly. The next thing I do is lay out the top and trace the body outline onto it. Be careful to align the glue seam with the centerline of the guitar body.

Since the top is going to have an "f-hole" I also trace the cavity outline. I then draw in the design for the "f-hole" (this is more of a "cat's eye" design)

Next trace the body onto the back cap. Make certain it's arranged as it will be when glued to the body, and also trace the control cavity. Now the top and "f-hole" design are cut out using a scroll saw, or a jig saw. I make sure to stay well away from the "outline" the top edges will be trimmed once it's glued on.

Now's the time to clean up the "f-hole" cutout; it'll be much harder once the top's glued on. The next step is to fit the top around the fretboard "tongue".

Start by placing one half of the top alongside the tonge at the same height as it will be when finished, mark the end of the tongue.

Next take the cap and place it's booked edge along the body centerline. Place a straightedge along the side of the tongue and transfer that line to the cap.

The marks are then connected to indicate the area to be removed.

This area is then cut out, and as always, "leave the line". Now it's a process of carefully trimming until everything fits very tightly and aligns correctly. I use a sharp chisel and a rasp. It should wind up looking like this...

If you have to remove too much from the sides of the "pocket", rebook the center seem until the sides pull in tight again. A trick to fitting the top to the end of the tongue is to undercut the edge a little. This leaves a finer edge to mate up.

Now that we've fitted the top we can start the full layout and glueup of the body. First thing we need to do is ensure our outline still lines up with the body. Trace the body outline and cavities onto the back plates and set them aside. Then trace the chamber outline onto the top and then draw the desired "f-hole" shape. I'm using a modified "cat's-eye" as shown.

Now drill holes inside the line and cut out the remainder. The best tool is probably a scroll saw, I used a hand held jig saw for this one.

Now simply glue the top to the body. Use enough glue. If they move around a lot you can let the glue set up just a bit before putting the pieces together.

I use clamping bourds to get even pressure across the top. These are simply longish boards (these are about 1.5x1.5"s) with a slight "V" to them; when clamped at the ends the v maintains pressure in the center. If they were not "v'd" the boards would flex and the center would lift. First clamp the top dowmn into place with little pressure and get everything lined up (enough pressure it doesn't slip, but you can still move it around a bit). Next I pull the sides in with bar clamps to get the center seam tight but not using much pressure.I then tighten the top clamping boards fully and add additional clamps as needed. I want to see even squeeze-out along the perimiter. I probably used too much glue this time so I have a little more mess to clean up.

This is the result after 12 hrs dry time. If you do end up with small gaps you can sand with fine paper letting it collect in the gaps, and apply a coat of sanding sealer. You don't have to worry about a fine finish as you're going to sand it all off later. (the sealer will likely not take stain the same as the rest, so be aware...)

Now we proceed to the back. Remember we traced the cavities onto the back plates earlier. If we didn't we would have trouble with this next part. I draw a line about 3/8" larger than the control cavity, this will be the back cover and 3/8" gives plenty of room for instlling the screws to secure it later. Next, using the finest drill bit I drill a hole in the sharpest corner of the outline and then cut out the cover with the scrollsaw and very fine blade. My coping and my jewlers saws won't reach all the way around, and my jig saw blades are too big. If you don't have a scroll saw you can cutout the back along the cavity line and use a plastic cover.

This picture shows the cover cutout, it's that fine... Now just glue the back on like we did the top. After everything sets rough trim the caps close to the body sides in order to minimize sanding. (I used a bandsaw.

Next thing to do is sand the edges smooth. I used a spindle sander. Of course it could be done with rasps and sanding blocks or various power sanders. Either way you still have to use blocks and paper to get into the corners near the neck. Here's the results.

Notice how tight the glue seams are.