Most difficult task in neck building?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by JFT, Jul 10, 2003.

  1. Carving the neck?

    10 vote(s)
  2. Glueing and sanding the fretboard?

    2 vote(s)
  3. Cutting the neck heel?

    1 vote(s)
  4. Installing and sanding fret?

    4 vote(s)
  5. Installing inlays and finishing?

    2 vote(s)
  6. Routing and installing the truss rod?

    11 vote(s)
  7. What are you talking about everything is easy!

    2 vote(s)
  1. Hi I'm wondering what is the thoughest part in building a neck?

    This is doing 100% of the woodwork by yourself. Let's say the only part bought be the truss rod and the fret wire...
  2. hoytbasses


    Mar 30, 2003
    Cape Cod
    I build stringed instruments.......
    I didn't respond to the poll, but here are my top ten most difficult tasks regarding neck building:

    1. finding decent wood: believe it or don't you can find a decent piece of maple at even home depot (and it'll be milled to 3/4" which is good) You'll have to pick through the stack to find a knot free, straight grained piece: don't worry about finding quarter sawn wood

    2. fingerboard: for your first bass, have luthiers' mercantile sell you a slotted,radiused fingergoard: saves boucoups aggravation. they only do 16" radii now, but you can always sand (don't plane unless you're really good at it) to a different radius OR buy a stew-mac radius sanding block (this is what I use)

    3. making sure all glue surfaces mate well prior to gluing. parts have to fit right before you schmear the glue on

    4. have adequate clamps: it takes about 16 clamps to glue down the fingerboard right: don't SCHMUSH the hell out of the clamps, a little more than finger pressure is adequate and clamp the whole mess to a known flat surface

    5. CAREFUL layout: run a strip of masking tape down the center of the fingerboard and draw a clear centerline: buy yourself some 10 dollar vernier calipers and use these to lay out all your lines on the neck

    6. CAREFUL cutting . we use a band saw and cut just outside the line and then use sanding sticks and planes to bring it to the line and do the final fitting

    7. Headstock: use a tried and true design for your first, to eliminate the possibility of drilling holes for the tuners and then finding out that the design doesn't work. (we drill the tuner holes in the Nauset Shop prior to cutting out the headstock design, which is all laid out on more masking tape prior to any cutting

    8. level the fingerboard, put in positon markers and fret PRIOR to carving: this gives you a solid means to hold the neck when fretting and a solid basse for pressing or hammering in the frets:

    9.PRACTICE fretting on a piece of scrap (theres usually some cutoffs of fingerboard material) slot it a bunch of times and practice fretting prior to touching the board

    10 Start at the HEEL end of the fingeboard when fretting, so if you mess up, it's not on the area that is the most used: also, by the time you get to frets 5-4-3-2-1 you're fairly proficient at fretting

    11. (bonus) our favorite tools for carving the necks are rasps (especially shoe rasps, which have a half round on one side and flat on the other, with rasp and medium file on each end) files, and finally sanding sticks (flat boards with stick-on sandpaper on them) . calculate the amount of front to back thickness you can have and set the caliper to that: then slowly take off wood on the back of the neck (by the headstock) at that measurement: then work on the heel transition, THEN connect the two carved areas: rasp a little, measure, check the feel of the neck by holding it in the playing positin, when you get the shape where you want it, switch to the smooth file and then sandpaper from 80 down to 320....

    the main proviso is to GO SLOW, MEASURE often, then go SLOWER

    and have fun!

    this system has worked for about 200 high school kids who have taken my guitar building class with very few clinkers! the kids who messed up the worst all RUSHED too much:

    have fun

    Karl Hoyt
  3. Thanks for the information!

    I'm still waiting for books I've order on the subject.

    As a first project I intend to do a fretless neck for my BTB.

    Here's something I don't get.?!?! You mentionned radiused fingerboard (curved) where in point 8 you mentionned to level the fingerboard?

    I fact I'd like to do the fretboard myself if possible. First because I don't want to "cheat" second because I want to practice doing before I "waste" some exotic wood :p

    I'm not sure and understand you here, which design are you reffering to? A scarf joint one or a "Fender" offest with strings tree?
    What is "Nauset Shop"?

    In fact I was going for a fretless neck to start with (easier I guess) but I sure appreciate the trick for when I'm going to do a fretted one.

    Thanks again for a very clear and helpful answer!
  4. hoytbasses


    Mar 30, 2003
    Cape Cod
    I build stringed instruments.......
    I'm glad to be helpful:

    Nauset shop is the Nauset regional high school here on the cape: I teach guitar building to high school kids and every school year we turn out about 45 acoustic and electric instruments:

    leveling the fingerboard means that you want to have a dead-on level surface (especially if you're building a fretless) so that when it's played, you don't get buzzes from high or low spots: keep a straightedge handy ahd check your work often, but use a long flat board with sandpaper stuck to it as a 'plane'

    radiusing the board means to put the arch into it for easier playing:

    sorry I wasn't clearer on those points

  5. HannibalSpector


    Mar 27, 2002
    Most difficult task was finding the time to do it and mustering the patience to do a good job.
    I also found getting the 'perfect' shape to a bit of trial and error. My first bass, after finishing the neck I decided to shave more off , then wanted it more rounder , then decided it had to be a bit squarer and flatter - Never ending! I'll never have the 'perfect' shape neck.;)

  6. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    I wouldn't necessarily say that any of the steps are "difficult" per se, but it is easy to screw up if you simply get impatient and try to go too fast.

    I personally think that get the neck taper from the nut to the last fret is very easy to screw up.

    For as many of the steps in neck (and guitar / bass) building, making and setting up jigs to handle as much of the work as possible will not only make it easier to not screw up, but also make the job go quicker, and make it easier to replicate on multiple instruments. I'm not talking about CNC machines or anything like that, but just jigs to make the same neck taper, neck shape, fingerboard radius, drillout out the tuner holes, etc.

  7. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Mostly I agree with Karl Hoyt. But just to take out the "highs" form his list:

    1 Finding the proper wood! You may find the best at home depot, or you my have a long pest of time to find any decent, straight enugh grained...

    2 Excesses, like frets and inlays. Lots of particular work, for no function...:bag:
  8. Tim Barber

    Tim Barber Commercial User

    Apr 28, 2003
    Serenity Valley
    Owner: Barber Music
    It's not on the poll, but for me it's getting the neck pocket to (1) fit properly and (2) be correctly aligned with the centerline of the instrument.
  9. JP Basses

    JP Basses

    Mar 22, 2002
    Paris FRANCE

    try this method:

    Works pretty well!

    Peace, JP
  10. Tim Barber

    Tim Barber Commercial User

    Apr 28, 2003
    Serenity Valley
    Owner: Barber Music
    That looks like a great way to do it! :) Thanks!
  11. hoytbasses


    Mar 30, 2003
    Cape Cod
    I build stringed instruments.......
    we use essentially the same method in the guitar building class I teach, except that I installed the two long boards onto a piece of 1/4" plexiglass with a clear centerline: in this way, we can line up the centerlines on the body blank with the jig, and cut out dozens of neck pockets using the jig: we have one for 4 strings, one for 6 string guitars and one for 5 string basses.....

  12. Thanks to those that responded.

    I was expecting a bit more participation in the poll though!?! Is there so "few" post on this forum?

    I finally 2 books:

    "Building Electric Guitar", from Martin Koch
    "Make your own electric guitar" by Melvyn Hiscock

    I thought I would get scared by reading those but so far it's quite the opposite.

    Thanks again!
  13. bound


    Dec 28, 2003
    Jersey, Baby!
    It's definitely the truss rods on this particular six-string i'm working on. I'm not even sure that they are nescesary on this bass. I've discovered that i like thick necks, and it's wenge, with a LOT of carbonfiber in it, so i'm not even sure if the two rods will be able to flex it anyway... we'll see.:p

  14. Hey Karl, Glad to see there is a reputable builder on cape, but why couldn't you have tought that guitar building class at Barnsatable High too.:(
  15. hoytbasses


    Mar 30, 2003
    Cape Cod
    I build stringed instruments.......
    In don't know how reputable I am: but it's been a blessing to be able to build instruments alongside the kids out here at Nauset:

    I think there is but one other guitar building class at the high school level and it's on the left coast......

    have a great week, folks

    Karl Hoyt
  16. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    i have a question for you seasoned pros.

    I am building a 4 string at the moment. the neck blank is 2.5 inches wide total as this is the width at the 21st fret.

    Now, as to tapering the neck, the bass wing hits the neck at about the 19th fret and the treble wing hits and the 21st fret. Where should I start the taper ? At the 21st fret. I tried to explain this to Matt but couldn't articulate it properly.

    A local luthier tells me that I should start the taper at the very butt of the neck way down at the base of the body and taper althe way through the headstock as this will give me square material to join the wings.

    So i would have to add more material to the neck in order to do this.

    My thinking from looking at other basses is that the neck width seems to stay the same for a few inches from the end of the fingerboard which would clear both wings and i would still have square surfaces to attach the wings.

    Am i making myself clear ?

    any ideas ?
  17. Cliff Bordwell

    Cliff Bordwell Commercial User

    Jan 6, 2004
    USA , Orlando , Florida
    Owner of CB BASSES
    That is the way I go about it also, if you can get your router bit sharpened to .010 under the size of the bearing you will get a nice press fit.

  18. JP Basses

    JP Basses

    Mar 22, 2002
    Paris FRANCE
    another trick is to add some tape on the wall of what makes your template when you get the neck off.

    Then you just get the hand fit with some light sanding.

    Peace, JP
  19. Carey


    Jan 18, 2002
    Redlands, CA
    Don, are you talking about a neck through? Although I haven't built one yet I think it works best to run the taper all the way down the neck, but you need substantially thicker woods to do this. Or, you can do it straight up past the neck joint and then taper the neck to the headstock. I think this is how Matt does it, and it's probably easier than tapering the whole neck blank.
    I think Darrin Huff and Mike Browne taper the wood the length of the neck. You may want to look at their stuff too.
  20. Beefbass

    Beefbass Guest

    Feb 4, 2001
    Hey Karl, you must be pretty reputable, because Mike Dimin mentioned your basses in his own forum last year! :)

    Is that high school in Orleans? Just wondering-Nauset I hear has an awesome music program.

    Have a good week yourself :)