Crimson Guitar Build – Day Six

Continued from Day Five

The sixth and last day of my guitar building course began with a long list of things to be done, and I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to finish in the remaining time.  For some parts of the day, Christopher and I were working on parallel tasks.  At the start, he began working on preparing for the installation of the frets, and I made a little ring of purpleheart which I glued into the hole that we had drilled for the jack socket, just to make that look a bit better.

The body, showing the socket with the purpleheart ring
The body, showing the socket with the purpleheart ring

I also worked a bit on my extra pieces for the headstock, sanding the maple veneer that I had already made and digging out a piece of padauk from the wood bin to make another piece, which will become the truss rod cover.

The headstock with the extra pieces...not yet fixed in place
The headstock with the extra pieces…not yet fixed in place

Then I started working in earnest on the fretting.  Guided by Christopher, I sawed the fret slots to the required depth and then cut the frets to size from three pieces of fret wire.  Next I installed the frets – we did this by hand, putting a small amount of superglue on each fret before banging it in with a fret hammer, and then snipping off the protruding ends.

After that, there was a lot of filing and sanding: firstly on the side of the fretboard, to smooth the fret ends, and then on the top to level the frets, which took ages!  The levelling process flattens the frets, since you sand them down until they are all level, and so they need to be filed back to a kind of arch-shaped profile for correct playability and intonation.  This was the most tedious job of the entire week!

That wasn’t the end, because then the frets were smoothed with 400 grain sandpaper, and the fret ends were filed to a smooth shape.  They still need a final polish, but I will do that at home.


Meanwhile, Christopher was making the cover for the control cavity.  He dug out the slice of sapele that we had saved when we cut the body down to the required thickness, and used the template we had made to rout out the cavity in order to roughly cut out the cover, and then filed and sanded it down to a perfect fit.  Because it was made from the same piece of wood as the body, it matches perfectly.  It isn’t yet fitted, but I will do that at home.  I plan on attaching it with magnets so that there are no visible screws or other fittings on the back of the guitar.

The back of the guitar and the control cavity
The back of the guitar and the control cavity

By now, it was already after lunch because the fret work had taken a long, long time.  I then took the guitar back off to the carving station in order to carve the area around the neck joint, and to make a spoon cut to facilitate access to the highest frets.  I used the angle grinder and then a half-round Iwasaki file for this, finishing with the orbital sander, and I made a really smooth neck join which I think looks and feels fabulous.  This and the carve of the neck are things that I’m quite proud of; the neck feels really, really good to me, and I can’t wait to try it out with strings on the guitar!  If anybody is interested, it’s essentially based on a PRS Pattern Thin carve, but with an asymmetric carve, with the high point running about 2-3mm above the centre line of the neck.

The carve around the neck joint - no hard lines!
The carve around the neck joint – no hard lines!

Christopher managed to cut out three control knobs, and I worked on them to smooth them into shape, and then made a paste out of metal powder and superglue to put indicators on the tops.  I still don’t know if I will use them, but it was an interesting experiment.

The three finished control knobs
The three finished control knobs

Christopher took over for a while and stained the body blue, and then gave it a first coat of oil.  We didn’t have time for more, but I will give it more coats at home.  I’m not sure if it was a good decision to stain the top, because it has covered up the nice figuring.  If I feel brave enough, I might actually sand it back to the natural look.

We drilled the relevant holes, including some extra ones so that we can connect up the piezo pickups, and installed the bridge.  Christopher made sure that the cavity for the neck pickup was large enough but we didn’t have time to actually install them – another task for me to do afterwards.

We were severely short on time now, and it had been clear for a long time that we wouldn’t complete the guitar, so for the last part of the day we tried to make sure that I understood what still needs to be done.  The main jobs that remain are:

  • Finish the headstock
  • Fix the pick-ups
  • Wire up the electronics
  • Fix the back plate on
  • Several coats of oil
  • Fix the tuners
  • String up, adjust and play!

I must admit that I’m disappointed not to have finished the guitar during the course.  I think the reasons for this are the fact that I had to make a second neck, and making the control knobs.  These two activities cost me the best part of a day, which probably would have been enough to finish.

However, this is a relatively small issue, and overall I found that the course was a great learning experience and very interesting.  The staff at Crimson Guitars were very friendly and helpful, starting with Christopher and Ben, of course, but some of the others chipped in too.  On a practical note, the hotel that I stayed in – the Poacher’s Inn in Piddletrenthide – was very good too, and overall the week lived up to almost all of my expectations.

The guitar at the end of the course - the blue stain is quite a change!
The guitar at the end of the course – the blue stain is quite a change!

I am astounded at how much work goes into making a guitar – and that was with the help of some tools (band saw, router, planer, sander…) that greatly reduce the time required for many of the tasks.  Obviously, with experience the process would go significantly quicker, and I did make a rod for my own back by wanting some special features on my guitar.  However, part of the learning process is experimentation, and some of my experiments succeeded, and others failed.

Although it’s not quite finished, I think my guitar will be fantastic and I’m really happy with it.  I shall be working on it at home as soon as I can, and I will update this website when I do.  Thank you for reading these articles so far – this isn’t quite the end of the story, although it is the end of the course!

All of the videos of the course are now available on YouTube on the relevant pages.  Here is the video of the last day!

More news – and hopefully the finished guitar – in the near future, so come back again soon!