A Bird of Flame part one

With the Great Guitar Build Off 2020 done and dusted, I was contacted by someone who asked if I could make a guitar. Of course I said yes, and we started to talk about what to do. The customer is left-handed, which is a new challenge, and wanted something in the style of a Gibson Firebird with a through neck and some purpleheart in the mix. We picked out the woods together and I got started.

Strips of purpleheart, maple and padauk being prepared for the neck

I began by working on the through neck. It started as a 9-piece laminate, as shown in the picture above, but after I had cleaned up the pieces the neck was too narrow so I had to add a couple more pieces of bubinga. This was not easy because I had to taper some of the pieces along the length of the guitar, but it all came together nicely.

Because of the length of the pieces I could get, I didn’t have enough length to make a scarf joint and use the same piece for the headstock. We picked bubinga for the sides of the body, so I used a piece of that for the headstock. However, I always like to make things difficult for myself so I sandwiched a layer of maple in the headstock too!

The headstock in preparation

The headstock of the Firebird has a rather distinctive design with an extra layer on top, and I made this from veneers of maple and purpleheart. My version is a bit different from the original, and it will also sport an ebony truss rod cover.

Of course, this wasn’t enough complication and I decided to try and make an extra decorative piece for the other end of the through neck. I used various offcuts and glued them together…

There were several delicate gluing operations involved in making this piece

The pieces in the middle are offcuts from the neck laminates, framed by some ebony and capped with bubinga, to match the body. Here it is after it was glued onto the through neck, and with the body sides glued on but before the sides were sanded (so it’s still a bit rough here).

The decorative end piece after the body shape was rough cut out

Next I planned where everything would go on the body and where to rout out the cavities for the electronics, the pickup cable channels and the weight relief. The Firebird has a very large body (although I reduced that a bit for this one) and bubinga is very heavy, so I needed to remove a significant amount of wood to make the guitar a reasonable weight.

The body with all cavities drilled and routed out

You can see the effects above – this looks a bit messy but it was all carefully worked out, and it is all hidden by the top. Note the stepped cavities at the top, because there is a belly carve on the back of the guitar.

Finally I could glue the top on, which is a lovely piece of spalted maple that I bought from www.luthierwood.com. Many Firebirds have a raised central section, so I cut that out and then glued on a pair of thin purpleheart strips to delineate the raised part.

There’s still some cleaning up to do, but so far, so good!

Finally, at this stage, we had to choose the fretboard. We had left the decision until this stage so that we could see the various options against the rest of the guitar. I have a decent stock of different fretboards, and the customer picked a green ebony board. It’s a fairly sober choice to counteract the colourful body, and I think they will look great after the guitar has been finished. Here’s a picture of the fretboard sitting on the neck – it’s not yet glued on but I had cut it to size and slotted it.

The guitar and my messy workbench!

So there’s plenty left to be done but this guitar is really shaping up nicely! We’ve just made the final decisions about everything else (inlays, control layout and hardware), and I can’t wait to see it coming to life!

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