Guitar-building Project: Getting Started

Okay - and obviously my posting is clear evidence of the pernicious nature of the navel-gazing and mental noodling and obessive geekery associated with Designing the Perfect Guitar™ - I think I can frame my basic design philosophy this way:

Like **Carson O’Genic ** said, telling the tonal differences between specific wood types is harder than you might think - most folks won’t pass a blindfold test. But, to me, what is important is to build a guitar that efficiently creates the fundamental, musical tone that the pickups, electronics and amp can then modify. Now, the “recipe” of woods to use in the Fender design is well understood - so my thinking is to NOT swap in Gibson-style or other woods to try to obtain their tonal influence - instead, use woods that are proven in the Fender design and that I think will deliver “good vibrations” - that I can then nudge into Gibson territory with a single coil that can still sound good with the Volume rolled off and musically-inefficient electronics and a good amp…

Whew. I really must get a life. :smiley: :dubious: :smack:

I think you’re going in the right direction, WM.

I’m no expert, but I definitely agree that it would be easier to get a Gibson tone out of a Fender than a Fender tone out of a Gibson.

Hold the phone -

In the earlier guitar shopping thread, I’d played a reissue '50s Tele that seemingly had a dead neck pickup. See this post. Is the “muffle setting” what I was seeing, Fender being all “pure vintage” and giving me a feature that nobody likes? I had no idea.

:smack: :smack: :smack: you just summed my logorrheic ramblings spanning several posts in one sentence. I hate you. :wink:

Shoot - sorry I missed that in your previous thread. My, as they say, bad. I still think you ended up with a far better Tele for your needs vs. a vintage re-issue…

For whatever it’s worth I saw a show recently that tried to find the reason behind the legendary tonal characteristics of a Stradivarius. They looked at wood type, varnish, all manner of stuff. Now, while they can’t say conclusively that this is the reason, they did notice that all the wood he used in his violin construction was very tight-grained. It had a number of growth rings per unit of measure, much greater than the norm and, of course, indicative of slow growth. I’ve read in my gardening perusals that this produces a much stronger wood than that which has grown rapidly.

The researchers noted that the dense ring concentration was not a guarantee of rich tonal properties as there were other manufacturers of inferior products that also selected the dense ring wood, but that it was one continuous element Stradivari employed.
(and yes, Crotalus is out of town. I got an Out of Office reply to an email sent him yesterday.)

:smack: Shoot - that’s sleestak, not **squeegee ** - ::shakes fist:: cursed confusing usernames!! Sorry! :smack:

And lieu, I hear you about a Strad - the key difference is that that is an acoustic instrument, where what you care about is the ability for the violin’s top to transduce the strings’ vibrations straight into sound - so the top functions kinda like a speaker cone. So materials and design must support that and sure, tight grained spruce sounds ideal.

With a solidbody, it needs to send the vibrations to the pickups - so instead of a tight-grained topwood, I would argue, as I did above, materials that combine with the strings to create an efficient vibrating system - or better stated, that is inefficient in musical ways…

Heh, you are the man. Sorry, I missed that above. Carry on, Maestro!

No worries - there is a whole area of electric guitar geekery where folks groove on hollow-bodied jazz boxes or semi-hollows and the virtues of solid spruce tops…

Good luck with this project, WordMan.

A coworker was asking me about this yesterday. He is interested in building a guitar and knows I do woodworking stuff. He started by asking about using mequite as a top wood. I don’t have access to any mesquite and I probably would not choose it because I’ve heard it can be a little brittle and hard to work with. He wanted a “Texas wood” for the top.

However, I do have a small suppy of pecan. I about whether pecan would be a good wood for a solid body guitar. He seemed to think that a denser, tighter-grained wood would be better. I don’t know enough about guitars to agree or disagree. The pecan I have is very dense and tight-grained and very hard, too. It’s hell on tools.

I might donate a piece of this pecan to my cowork, just to see how it would turn out. Regardless of the tonal properties, it would be beautiful.

One of my fantasy projects is to someday build a violin.

Well, if I’d posted that before you posted all that, it would’ve been sugarshit sharp. Since it was after you posted all that, it was just a ditto. :slight_smile:

Yeah, the pecan wood I’ve seen is harder than hell, and pretty dense, but maybe not as dense as, say, mahogany. I also wonder why oak is never used for guitars, AFAIK. Oak is heavy, dense and hard as a rock.

I have no idea about mesquite, or really pecan either. I can say that for pretty much any workable material you can start with a tonewood body like mahogany or ash and then put a veneer on top of that. So if the mesquite is no good as a tone wood - I have no idea but I suspect not - then your buddy might consider a thin veneer for a visually-appealing-but-not-really-functional top.

As for pecan - well, I have seen a number of acoustic and electric guitars made out of walnut - apparently it has good tonal properties and can be visually spectacular. But it can weigh a TON. I have no idea if pecan is similar…but I bet a little research online would be revealing - guitar-builders and wood nuts hang out a LOT on line so you can typically find someone talking about that stuff…

squeegee, old bean, it isn’t used because it’s heavy, dense and hard as a rock.


(heavy = no fun on your back; dense and hard = tough to work with; you wear out your tools and take way too much time vs. working on mahogany or ash…)

Okay - just got out of a successful planning meeting; back to the important stuff.

**- the neck and its role

  • the pickups and what I am hoping for**

Okay, so I am trying to build a Fender that can sound like a Gibson, to quote the annoyingly concise An Arky. :smiley:

There is, however, one aspect of the Fender design that I do want to change in my quest to make Gibson tones possible: the neck scale. As I have mentioned in earlier geeky posts, Gibsons have a fingerboard scale that is ~3/4" shorter. This matters because if you take two strings tuned to the same pitch, where one is on a shorter fingerboard and one is on a longer one:

  • The strings will sound different - the long-scale string will be tightened to a somewhat higher tension to achieve the same tone (think about a piano - the bass strings inside are longer - if you wanted those strings to sound higher, you’d have to tighten them). A tighter string vibrates differently - period. So a Gibson-scaled neck is more likely to impart Gibson-y vibrations to the strings. Now, I have no idea why, but one characteristic of a great Gibson tone - especially a Les Paul through a Marshall - is tight lows. You can crank the volume and have a ton of gain, but lows don’t “flub out” - where they sound big and messy (like the riff from Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum; you know the song - it sounds cool but the tone is shapeless) - but instead sound crisp and punchy, like, well, pretty much any big guitar-driven classic rock tune… :wink:

  • The strings will feel different - so on a Gibson string tuned to the correct pitch it will be at lower tension vs. the Fender scale - so the strings will be easier to bend. In guitar lingo that’s a “slinkier feel.”

Well - I want to skew in the Gibson tone direction and I would love to see if the shorter scale helps impart tighter lows. I prefer a slinkier feel, and even though I have big, ham-fisted hands, actually like the shorter scale for easier chording down at the end of the neck.

But I am building a Fender design - what to do?

Sure enough - there’s a solution: use a Conversion Neck (link to Warmoth Guitars’ web page covering this). Basically it is a Gibson-scaled neck that you can use in Fender designs with no other alterations needed - just bolt it on and go. Pretty cool, eh?

After making that choice, I decided to go with a Compound Radius(another Warmoth link) - the fretboard radius is the curve of the surface you are fretting against; a flat surface is easy to bend against; a surface that has more of an upward arc in the middle is more comfortable to wrap your thumb over and made chords with. This CR neck starts out rounded and they use a computer to do the math so by the time you are up past the 12th fret it has a much flatter radius - which is where you are doing most of your bends anyway. Pretty cool - eh? And I have **Crotalus ** to thank for it - in our back-channel geeking exchanges, he pointed it out as something he wanted to check out; I just jumped on the bandwagon…

I am also getting a Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard. Maple, on my current project guitar is bright in tone and hard/stiff in feel - and it is lacquered. I don’t want lacquer (I have a maple neck and want variety) but want to retain the bright tone - but ebony is a bit too rigid. Brazilian Rosewood (“Braz” to the doctors and lawyers who pay a several-thousand-dollar premium when Gibson produces a limited run of Historic Re-issues with “Braz” boards) is in that magic intersection - harder than (typical) Indian Rosewood, but with a bit more give than ebony or lacquered maple. It is an indulgence, but I have had guitars with BR fingerboards and have been able to tell the difference, and the upcharge was, like $30 or so, so I decided to go for it. Also, BR is likely to have blonde, red or purpose stripes in it vs. Indian’s more deep browns and blacks - so it could have a cool look to it…

Back to work…

Oh shoot - forgot that. Well, you see my rationale for sticking with single coils. I am likely going to stay with the same pickup I have in my bridge of my first project guitar - a Seymour Duncan Jerry Donahue model(link to Seymour’s website). It is described as a higher-output vintage design - that means it is on the higher end of the low-output side of the spectrum. Vintage pickups were relatively lower output - gain was provided more by the amp. In the 70’s with Super Distortion pickups, they were wound hotter - which can sound cool, but you don’t have much clean headroom. I prefer to let the amp do the work and rely on the pickup to be weaker but more…precise? what it sends to the amp. But a truly weak Tele pickup is better suited to truly clean work - so I want something on the low-output end but on the other end…I love what it does in my first project Tele.

And for the neck - well, I love big thick P-90 Soapbar pickups based on the original Gibson pre-humbucker design. I have a humbucker-sized P-90 style pickup in my current project guitar (I can actually explain that if anyone cares), but want to try a different make - in this case a Fralin P-92 (link to Lindy Fralin’s website) - it is easier to have a humbucker-sized rout since it is the standard; a P-90 pickup can deliver the tigher lows of a single coil but can be bigger and ballsier than a humbucker and they lend themselves REALLY well to knob-twiddling. Life is good and I have heard great things about these P-92’s - and if I don’t like it I can swap in a different one or the same one as my current project guitar (a Duncan Phat Cat) in a snap…

Brian May’s Red Special is made largely from oak. I think he got around the heaviness by making it semi-hollow, and the body is fairly small, IIRC.

I was discussing this with a friend recently, and my guess is that it was the man himself. Anyone who has read Clapton’s Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument knows that a specific piece of wood may sound better than another that looks exactly the same. One would guess that Mr. S was simply better at picking out the good slices–his instruments were better because he had a superior ear/feel/skill.

I am sure the touch of a Master matters in both selection and use. And yeah, I love that book - really well-written and insightful on the lore and construction of acoustic steel strings…

What range of radius (radii? radiuses?) are you considering for the nut and body ends of the neck?

I don’t have much choice - they start at 10" at the nut end and 16" at the high end. Since I like Fender’s standard 9.5" radius for chord word, that 10" should be fine. I don’t have a lot of experience with flat-radius necks, but when I have played a few I like the flatness up at the top, so we’ll see!