Crimson Guitar Build – Day One

It’s here at last!  The first day of my guitar build…it got off to a slightly delayed start because I got stuck behind lorries, coaches and assorted traffic on the drive down to Crimson Guitars, which took me two hours and a half, but I finally arrived at 9:15am.  I met Christopher, who is my tutor for the week, and he showed me around the place and introduced me to the others (Ben Crowe turned up later).

After reading the Health and Safety notice – which I take seriously since I don’t want to have any accidents this week – the first job was to pick the woods.  I’d had an idea in mind of what I wanted, and I am happy to say that we found almost exactly that.  The concept was a maple top, ideally with some figuring, and a stripe of purpleheart running down the middle, and then a natural ebony fretboard.  Everything else was left open to be decided today.  They had a nice chunk of sapele for the body, which was already glued together, and a piece of flamed maple big enough for two necks, which we cut in half and picked the nicer half for mine! 🙂

The piece of maple for the neck and the ebony fretboard, on top of the purpleheart stripe!
The piece of maple for the neck and the ebony fretboard, on top of the purpleheart stripe!

They had a selection of ebony fretboards, and I chose one that has an attractive, slightly swirly pattern in it, which I think will look fantastic.  We found a piece of purpleheart that was just the right size for my stripe, and we dug around and found a superb piece of flamed maple with a stripe of figuring running down it.  We worked out that we could cut off one side of it and bookmatch it to go around the purpleheart, and everyone seems to agree that it looks pretty good!

The main business of the day, then, was to assemble the main pieces of the guitar.  We spent some time discussing the overall design of the guitar, including the control layout and cavities etc.  It’s going to be a single cut guitar, slightly modelled on the PRS McCarty models.  The first job was preparing the three pieces of the top to be glued together.  The purpleheart was cut down to size and planed, using their big planing machine, and then we worked out how much of the chunk of maple we needed and prepared that.  It was thick enough to cut into three slices, two of which are used for my guitar and the third can be used for another drop top guitar (only a drop top rather than a carved top because it’s thinner).

purpleheart-cutting
Christopher cutting the piece of purpleheart to size

Christopher did the slicing and so we had a bookmatched pair of wings for my top.  We planed down the edges and glued them together, leaving them clamped up to dry for a few hours while we turned to the neck.

The three pieces of the top glued together
The three pieces of the top glued together

We used one of their neck blanks to draw the outline, and worked out the angle for the headstock.  I sawed that corner off and then planed it until the headstock face was perfectly flat – and I really mean perfectly flat; it took a long time to get it right, with much checking with a set square!

The neck blank with the headstock face planed
The neck blank with the headstock face planed

Next we routed out the channel for the truss rod.  This went slightly wrong, as for some reason I managed to go past the stop point on the router and dig out the channel too deep.  We corrected this by cutting some thin strips of veneer that we placed in the bottom of the channel, and the truss rod went in on top of those.  They didn’t need to be glued because the truss rod fitted very snugly into the channel – in fact, we had to chisel it out and sand it a bit so that the truss rod went in.  Then we drilled the hole for the truss rod access, from the headstock.

Our attention turned next to the fretboard.  Although it was a lovely piece, there was a knot on one side.  Fortunately, it was wide enough that we could cut off one side and avoid most of that, although there may still be a tiny crack that might need to be filled later on – we’ll see how it looks once it’s cut to size on the neck and radiused.  We used their sanding machine to sand it down to 6mm thickness – that machine is fantastic, I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to do that accurately by hand!

The next job was to cut the fret slots.  This is when the final decision about the scale length was taken, and I decided to go for 24 5/8, which is very close to the McCarty 594 scale length and a little less than the standard Gibson Les Paul scale.  I chose this out of the scale lengths that they are tooled up for – they have metal guides with notches for the frets at various different scale lengths.  I wanted a shortish scale length, and it’s nice to have something a bit different again – I really want this guitar to be unique!

The fretboard on the neck, before being slotted
The fretboard on the neck, before being slotted

Cutting the fret slots was quite easy, using a special circular saw that they have.  The slots will need to be deepened again by hand after the fretboard has been radiused, but this first cutting process ensures that they are in the right place.  After that, I carefully bandsawed the ends of the fretboard and then planed them to the right length and to be perfectly perpendicular and flat, using a plane with an incredibly fine cut.  I remarked to Christopher that it seemed to be taking off about a nanometre at a time; more seriously, it was certainly only a few hundredths of a millimetre.

And after being slotted!
And after being slotted!

Now the fretboard was ready to be glued onto the neck.  We drilled a couple of holes to put little dowels (made from a toothpick) to ensure that the fretboard stayed in exactly the right position on the neck and didn’t move while it was being clamped, and then glued it on.  As I write, it is sitting on the workbench with no less than seven clamps to make sure that it’s tightly glued to the neck, and we’ll see how it has turned out tomorrow morning.

The neck and fretboard, glued and clamped together
The neck and fretboard, glued and clamped together

So the neck was set aside, and the last steps on the first day were to cut the top and the body to the rough shape.  The top was removed from the clamps, and looked to have been glued very successfully.  It was planed down using the machine planer to get both sides reasonably flat – there are a couple of imperfections in the maple, but we think they will be taken off in the carving process.

We (mainly Christopher) worked out the design and he sketched it roughly onto the body and top.  I did a rough cut, leaving about a centimeter extra around the projected shape, on both pieces.  We had a slightly awkward problem because the bandsaw got stuck in the top, and we had to pull it back through the cut, which was most of one side of the body shape, but we managed to sort that out.

The top and body of the guitar, roughly cut to shape
The top and body of the guitar, roughly cut to shape

So that’s the result of day one.  I have three pieces: the body, the top and the neck, all partly prepared and ready for more shaping tomorrow.  I’m very happy with the result of the first day, and am looking forward to getting back to it tomorrow morning, after a good night’s sleep!  My legs are feeling the effects of standing all day, which I’m not used to, and I have maybe a couple of hours of video footage that I will use to make a video of the first day.  I’m afraid that’s going to take a while to produce; I plan to make a video for each day of the build, and I will post them here when they’re done.

ADDENDUM: The video for this first day is now available on YouTube!