Getting Past the First Obstacle

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by the baint, Feb 20, 2018.

  1. the baint

    the baint Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    Greenville, SC
    Techtronic Industries, North America employee. Opinions are my own.
    Hello all! I've been reading here for 9 years and have been planning a build for a long time. I have most of the hardware aren pickups, scale vector drawings and even much of the hand tools required. But given my lack of certain tools and confidence in certain operations, I keep getting stumped on the neck build.

    The bass is as follows:
    • 33" 5 string
    • Wenge neck, with tilt headstock (12°)
    • Ash body with satin white finish
    • Black Hipshot Ultralites and B Style Bridge (19mm spacing)
    • Nordstrand Big Singles
    • Nordy or OPB3 3 band pre

    I have fretwire, trussrod, and tuner ferrules, for a neck, however I keep getting intimidated about the neck construction. I believe I could enjoy the neck carving aspect, but worry about the precision aspects of laminating, making the neck joint, routing the truss and enforcement bars.

    My ideal scenario would be if Warmoth offered shorter scale 5 string paddle necks. Handling the frets, the tuner reaming, routing the headstock, the nut and setup and finishing all seem up my alley.

    Can the awesome community here help me get past this and encourage me into starting and finishing this? Do you guys have recommendations on how you would handle this roadblock if you were in my shoes? You all have a wealth of advice and beautiful spirit of community, and anything you would share with me would be greatly appreciated. I'd even love to get feedback on design concerns, etc.

    Thanks in advance!

    - Matt
  2. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    My dead serious suggestion is to make a couple of practice necks from cheap lumber, with no intention of ever using them, just to get past the "jittery" phase (rather than the "how many times have we seen this fail or disappoint" first/only one I build is my "ultimate" goal.)

    An alternative which many folks here take is to farm the dang thing out to someone who will work as custom as you need it worked.
    Stumbo and the baint like this.
  3. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    And when your practice neck comes out exactly the way you want it, then do the actual neck.:thumbsup:
    T_Bone_TL likes this.
  4. mark5009


    Feb 17, 2018
    Sydney, Oz
    As a relative newbie, I still get nervous when doing necks. After all, any slip of the tool can ruin all that hard work and timber, right? But it turns out, with a bit of care, it isn't so bad. I personally find the fretting to be the most worrisome, but that's me :)

    As T_Bone mentioned, try it out on scrap to start with. The laminating is fun, just make sure everything is square and smear the glue fine (works for me). The neck scarf joint requires some jigs and practice (plus a sharp saw!). Again, make a few from scraps to get the idea and hone the jigs. Same for cutting the truss rod channel.

    If you haven't seen it, I can also recommend Martin Koch's book, "Building Electric Guitars." He goes through all this in detail and can ease many of your concerns. Right up until the time you put a tool to the wood... ;-)
    Stumbo likes this.
  5. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    Ya gotta have all the tools in place so you don't create your own obstacles.:confused:
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2018
  6. I think the neck is the most worrisome part for new builders, including me back in the day. I royally screwed up my first one in a whole variety of ways. It still hangs in my shop as a testament to my humanity.

    But the second attempt turned out pretty good. Now, dozens of necks later, building the neck is my favorite part of the whole process.
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  7. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Yep, just do it! I’m a firm believer in the “learn from experience” school of thought. I was intimidated at first as well, but after reading lots of build threads here, I just went for it. And it wasn’t too bad! The next ones were better though. :cool:
    the baint and T_Bone_TL like this.
  8. the baint

    the baint Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    Greenville, SC
    Techtronic Industries, North America employee. Opinions are my own.
    I worry about all the little variables that go into the neck’s precision, and it feels like every step is a chance to get the tolerances wrong.

    I actually have Martin’s book, and it has been great for getting to this point in design planning.
  9. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    The art of what we do here is to make it look right when we do go out of spec.

    We all do!

    Do as other suggest, get some practice pieces first. When you get comfortable, get your working wood out and carve on that.
    the baint likes this.
  10. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I agree completely with what the other guys are saying above. Building the neck is the most complicated part of building a bass. You have to pay attention to dimensions and details, and there are lots of ways you can screw it up. But that doesn't stop us brave Luthiers! Read the book, practice on some scrap wood, make a test neck or two if you like. Then just do it.

    But, I will offer one shortcut: Here in the Secret Underground Lab, we build custom order "Stage 2" neck blanks for other Luthiers. These are made to any design or dimensions that you want, and all the critical work is done. The truss rod is installed, the fingerboard is radiused and slotted, and most of the important flat surfaces are cut. The back of the neck is left rectangular. You cut out the headstock, shape the back, and do the dots and fretwork.

    We supply these to other pro Luthiers, in all different configurations. We will also do one-offs for hobby Luthiers. It's an easy way to get you past that initial hurdle, until you are ready to build your own.

    The We is myself and Keith Horne. His shop is across the hall, and we work together on these. I make up the metal hardware and do the steady necks for long-time clients. Keith does the one-offs. He operates under the name of Marvin Guitars; you can look up his site and contact him.
    the baint likes this.
  11. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    I’m a beginner, and I’m in the process of building my first neck. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, most of which have been more like speed bumps as opposed to complete disasters. I haven’t gotten to the fretting part yet, so we’ll see how that goes.

    I’d say everyone here has given very sound advice.

    My 2¢ is just do it. It’s a complicated process, but if you separate each stage into blocks, it’s a manageable process.

    Work under the assumption that it’s not going to be perfect the first time.

    Absolute precision is an illusion. To what degree you want that illusion to be real is up to you.

    My other bit of advice is put the laminated wenge idea aside for a while and start with a flat sawn maple neck. I know it’s not as exciting, but you’ll be saving yourself a lot of unnecessary hassle for your first build. Maple is pretty easy to work with and machines really nicely. Besides, the stuff you make and acquire along the way to building one neck will allow you to build several. You’ll be knocking that multi-laminate wenge neck out before you know it.

    And the option of farming the neck out is totally viable. A lot of guys here on this forum farm their necks out and there’s really no shame in it. I’ve had a lot of fun building my first, but if I was building and moving a lot of guitars, I would farm out the necks in a hot minute.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2018
    the baint likes this.
  12. the baint

    the baint Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    Greenville, SC
    Techtronic Industries, North America employee. Opinions are my own.
    Thanks everyone! @Bruce Johnson I'm glad you chimed in, and I'll talk to Keith on pricing. The state of the neck you describe sounds ideal to me, with enough work left to feel highly involved, but getting past some of the initial workload and cutting out some of the tools (table saw especially) that I'd have to borrow.

    I can see that if I am going to proceed with the neck myself, building fully-functional prototypes in maple will be an obvious benefit.

    This brings me to wood. I'm sure the lumber mill in town has no idea what "swamp ash" is, and doubtful they have wenge (if I build the neck). And I'm sure my local WoodCraft is not likely the best use of funds for lumber.

    Does anyone have any light ash they'd be willing to sell? Or any ideas on good ballpark prices for ash, maple, and wenge? Knowing approximate value would be helpful in determining if I'm getting ripped off or paying fair prices.

    Those of you without local sources, do you buy body blanks from the likes of Warmoth, or other online lumber retailers?
  13. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    These guys are great. I buy almost all of my wood there. I'm lucky to have a local store a few minutes from my house, but they also do mail order. Just tell them (or email them) what you need, and they will hook you up. Several of the workers there are guitar builders themselves, and even one or two are graduates from Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, so they'll be able to help you. Pricing is fair, and they occasionally run sales, which I take full advantage of. Highly recommended.
  14. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    Woodfinder: Find Sources of Lumber, Veneer and Sawmill Services

    A very useful if not always complete resource. You have a bunch of possibles within an hours drive based on the 29601 zip code as "one from Greenville, SC" and there may be others that are not showing up there (local mills that are not in the loop.)

    Woodcraft is not always a bad deal. Often, but not always. Especially if the alternative has shipping charges. Some folks have found good wood lurking in HD and Lowes (of course you kinda have to pick through it and find the good, but their "hardwood" is not all bad.)
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2018
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  15. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    Plan your steps so that mistakes are as isolated as possible. For example, since I am still new to this, I build bolt on instruments. Screwing up the neck doesn't mean rebuilding the body and visa versa.

    Once I got too sloppy with the fret slots. I didn't realize it until the instrument was completed and not playing in tune. I didn't have to remake the neck, just remove the old fingerboard, make a new one and put it on (just ... ha ha.)
    Stumbo likes this.
  16. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    Another argument for farming out the neck blank is that the neck-making tools are pretty specialized and expensive.

    As far as materials, if you can find a local hardwood dealer, that’s a good way to go. Greenville seems like a pretty good sized town, so there’s gotta be someplace nearby.

    Hard maple is pretty commonplace, but a lot of woods are stocked according to availability. For instance, we have a local lumber dealer here in Ventura County. They don’t have swamp ash, but they have alder, walnut, mahogany, poplar and even wenge. Even then, some woods are less expensive than others, largely due to availability.

    I haven’t bought blanks online, so I can’t tell you much about that other than they’re expensive.
  17. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Not the way I make them. A table saw (preferably with a good glue-line rip blade), a planer, a router, a Shinto, and a half-round rasp, and I’m there.

    Edit: oh, and a radius sanding block. And I do farm out slotting to LMII. $9? Sold!
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2018
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  18. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    Hah yeah I have similar arsenal of tools. I was thinking of the fretting and nut-making tools specifically - some of those files get pretty pricey!
  19. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Hmm. Fretting: a fretting hammer and snips. And a triangle file. Nuts: assorted cheap-o files.

    Maybe I’m beginning to see what you mean! :roflmao:
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