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On Ted's suggestion, I'm blogging to document my first build. Fair warning, I don't know what I am doing so I am just figuring it out as I go and gleaming information wherever I can. This first photo is one some of you have seen before, and then I will bring you up to date as to what I've done so far.

This first build is pretty much just for practice because I have the tendency to plan things out to the nth degree, over-thinking every detail. Doing a practice build lets me jump right in and get busy, just do it... go cheap, rude and crude. I watched Crow's one hour build video and bummed his eye bolt tuner idea but didn't feel like calling a taxi cab to go buy parts in the right size so I whittled down one end of a poplar 1 x 2 x 24 (actual size only 1.5 wide) with an X-acto knife to use the shorter eye bolts that I already had, and sanded it smooth. Then sanded a radius on the back edge so it would feel good for my hand.

I was thinking of cutting the step in the neck board deep enough for the top surface to be flush with the top of the box so the fingerboard would lay nice, run right down the neck and on top of the box and hide the screws I planned on using to attach the neck to the box, but... there was this pesty little knot in the wood that did not like my blade. I'm a little shy on power tools right now so I chipped it out with a knife and worked it smooth and flat, testing for daylight with a piece of scrap wood so I could see if it would mate with the box. I cut the box lid to accept the stepped edge of the neck so I could see when I had stepped it deep enough.

When I was deep enough to see that I could quit fighting with that knot and make a step in the back of the fingerboard instead, it sounded like a good idea so I cut the bottom of the box to accept the neck.

Then I went to the stewmac website to use their fret calculator and cut a piece of 1/4 x 2 poplar to just a wee past the length required for 20 frets at a 25 scale even tho I planned to go fretless, then laid it on the neck to decide where the nut will be so I'd know where to start the step so it could round over the curved edge on top of the box.

A little oil based leather dye on the top and sides and under the stepped edge, hand buffed to removed excess pigment before sealing exsposed surfaces with a wax, and it was ready to glue onto the neck.

I'm glad I did not buff or wax the curved underside step of the fingerboard because it did not fit nice and I had to do some sanding on the curve of the box lid. I kept sanding and test fitting until I could slide the neck into place without leaving a black mark on the edge of the box top.

The next problem was how to attach it. I didn't want to screw up (literally) because this box is an old miniature cedar "hope chest" that the Lane company gave away to girls when they graduated from High School in the late 1970s, not to reveal my age or anything. I was afraid that I would split the wood if I screw into it. I still wasn't thrilled with the idea of exposed screw heads even if it is a "rude & crude" practice guitar. So, I opted to use dowel pins. I drilled holes in the box first, then slid the neck in place to mark the neck. I drilled thru holes just in case the glue and dowels fail over time... then it will be easier to knock them out if I need to repair it with some screws. I don't own woodworking clamps, so I protected the box with a piece of scrap leather.

Here is a long picture of everything.

OOPS!!! I screwed up somewhere... good thing I did not use fretwire because 25 inches from the nut would place a bridge within an inch of the bottom of the box. Hummm... it could be 23 scale... so back to stewmac's calculator. I printed out the chart and measured out where the frets should be on a piece of paper and double checked to make sure each fret measured ye about okay with the 12th dead on, telling myself that this is fretless, I do not have to be ultra precise... it's wood... I'm not grinding steel to the 4th decimal place or anything so don't be so anal, but I still checked with my digital calibers. When I was happy, I taped the paper to the side of the neck and drew fret lines on the side of the fingerboard with an off white polychromos pencil (oil based artist pencil) so it won't rub off the wax so easy.

I decided to mark the frets on the side, another tidbit gleamed from Crow's video, but I had to go girly and glue on shiny flat back gems instead of using thumb tacks. Yes, I marked ALL frets... purple for those usually not marked, because I have to learn how to play this... I want to know where my fingers are.

And here is my sound holes... without power tools, I'm limited on drill size. I could cut a diamond shape by drilling 4 holes and sawing dot to dot with an Xacto saw blade. I think it looks like a kite. A little "cowboy brown" (saddle tan leather dye) on the cut edges eliminated the lighter shade of wood and blended in some sanding marks.

I debated about using violin fine tuners to compensate for the eye bolt tuners per a suggestion, but since this is a practice build, drilled holes for the guitar strings is fine. Colorful 1/8" grommets will protect the strings or the holes. I'm not sure which. Maybe both.

The eye screws on top is a temp fix... I don't have the key for the lock on the box and don't feel like paying $12 for a replacement key. Someday, I may find one at a yard sale. RIght now, a bit of wire is holding it shut.

The line drawn ye high up is where the leading edge of the bridge should be for a 23 scale.

And here is what I am working on now... (last photo for today! lol)

The thin woods are cherry and sassafras, cut and glued in layers, to support a bridge made of a bone jewelry making part... yes, I have earrings to match. I did some more sanding after snapping this photo.

I may be over-thinking this bridge... the one side is lower and more curved and the grooves in the bone were filed in on an angle from that side to give the strings a bit of lead-in. Does it need more or less? I don't know. Is it too tall or too short? Grooves too deep or not deep enough? Guess we'll find out when I string it up, eh?

Well, thanks for reading or at least scrolling down... maybe I should apologize as I do tend to ramble, perhaps give too much information but Ted said to document the why and how... someday I'll come back and read this and groan at my own mistakes... in the meanwhile, yall can groan for me.

So what's next? I get to figure out what to do with a piezo.

Views: 425

Comment by Dave K. on September 7, 2010 at 9:47pm
The first is always a dress rehearsal for the second, the second for the third, etc. But the hardest is the first, and you're well on your way to knocking that one out. Looks good so far!
Comment by Ted Crocker on September 7, 2010 at 10:04pm
Very nice Nancy! No apology needed, your explanations are very informative. Very cool creative choices and follow through with limited tools. A bit whimsical! Somehow the long picture isn't (mostly) showing up, perhaps you can check the file and post it below.

As for the piezo, perhaps you can create a small hollow under the bridge and mount it there using hot glue, then cover the bottom with a veneer...

Great job Nancy, thanks for taking the time to share it with us!!!!!
Comment by Randy S. Bretz on September 7, 2010 at 10:33pm
Very cool Nancy, my favorite build I uised a large humidor box, simalar to the one your using. It has great sound. Seems your off to a great start, I `ll be watching to see what you come up with. Enjoy !!
Comment by Nancy Barnes on September 7, 2010 at 10:57pm
Thanks! I'm only making two... maybe three. If this one works, I have to learn how to play it before making the next. The piezo idea has me thinking... I've been wandering this site reading and learning all sorts of things about piezos tonight, like I did not know that you can cut the piezo and wire the pieces together. I don't know why the long photo isn't showing up on your screen as it shows up on mine, but maybe the size is too big so here's a reduced version. Thanks again!!!

Comment by JoJo on September 9, 2010 at 9:52am
Welcome to the clubhouse, and to the fun world of building instruments. Watch out, the building fever is DANGEROUS, ha ha! Great Blog!
Comment by Nancy Barnes on September 9, 2010 at 2:50pm
UPDATE: I started chipping out a pocket for the jack and oh my gosh... the wood of this old box is so dry, so hard, so thick, and what a pain to get deep enough with Xacto knives so the nut can get screwed on. Yes, I put it on the side instead of the bottom because a part of me is not sure this thing will sound okay. Kind of dumb because the jack ends up below surface anyway. I wanted to keep the bottom flat just in case it ends up sitting on a shelf as folk art.

Time to pretty it up... and oh no! Too much stress and crack!

Okay, it is just the old glue... I didn't split the wood. It seems kind of dumb for a 5 inch wide box lid to be made of pieced together narrower boards, but I don't suppose the Lane company realized that 30 some years later, someone like me would be doing more than filling it full of trinkets. I noticed another glue line runs down the side right thru that pocket so break out the dremel and oh so gently nib out the roughness to pretty up the pocket. If I am going to do this... I definately need some power tools, wood clamps, etc. Next stop was to my dad's workshop to bum his clamps. I glued it up while I was there, using a toothpick to gently separate the boards and a sliver of a plastic milk carton (dad's suggestion, he keeps such slivers on hand) to wiggle a little Weldbond glue into fine cracks.

Weldbond needs 24 hours to fully cure so I'm not going to stress this box until tomorrow. Yeah, there was two other places the old glue gave way. I'm starting to think this box was a mistake from the get go. If it plays, I will use this practice guitar to practice, learn how to play "Bad to the Bone" until the next one is done... lol. (Those videos for dummies will be fun... I remember fretboard notes, sequenced like on a piano, from when I got stuck picking notes for stupid kiddie lesson songs that no one in their right mind would ever want to play when I took lessons years ago.) ANYWAY... look what my dad gave me... yeah, a cigar box.

The tin in this photo is the one I wanted to put tooled leather on the back side. I'm still thinking about that... maybe if I did not use the bottom as the soundboard? And the guitar in oh so sad shape is a mosaic art project that donated fret wire for the tin box project. Oh yeah... what fun. Well, I still have to solder the piezo thing. I'm thinking of just slapping it on with a glob of hot glue inside the box, as is... I've seen on youtube people doing things like adding foam, like huh? this thing picks up vibrations and foam cushions, absorbs vibrations, so does it make it better or worse... or sandwiched in thin woods, all sorts of things... I want to find out for myself what happens if nothing is done to it, that will help me understand why people do things to it instead of just following along with what other people do, great way to learn eh? Well, that is where I am at right now... trying to be patient so the glue cures before I try to string it up.
Comment by Ted Crocker on September 9, 2010 at 4:05pm
Great job so far Nancy.

Piezos are weird beasts. In my opinion they are too precise to be used as pickups without some kind of treatment. Used alone they tend to pick up a lot of unwanted sounds such as any contact with the box or neck. Left bare they also tend to induce feedback. Most of us agree that the tone produced from a bare piezo is too tinny.

My method with a Tesla is to encase the piezo in a wood or leather sandwich, which eliminates most feedback. I use thick foam double side tape to mount them. I found that the foam act as a sort of high filter cutting down on handling noise and taming the tinnyness.

Something you may try is cutting a shallow hole in the bottom of your bridge and embedding the piezo in it using hot glue or another non rigid drying adhesive.

The way I mount my Flatbed piezo bridge is to cut a small hole in a piece of paper, run the wires through the hole and trace the outline of the bridge. Cut out that shape and use it to get the final position of the bridge on the box. The hole in the paper will show you where to drill for the wire.

You can experiment with different ways to mount your piezo but generally if mounted inside the box the best location is as close to under the bass side of the bridge as possible.

Good luck! If you have any questions just ask.

Thanks again for taking the time to document and share your build!
Comment by c# merle on September 10, 2010 at 6:01am
for a 1st try this is pretty awesome - great stuff nancy
Comment by Nancy Barnes on September 11, 2010 at 5:39am
SAY BYE to the eye... bolts, that is. Maybe it's just me... they are a pain to wrap and trying to tune it kept landing on the flats and I couldn't overcome the screw slop. I even tried leather washers - perhaps goofy to try that, but after a couple hours, I'd try about any variation. Trying did give me a hint of how sweet this box will sound, which only added to the flustration. I figured that I could either smack it with a big hammer or call my dad and ask him which music store sells used parts. He volunteered to take me, which was great because I don't drive and I don't know if this music stores sells used parts to just anybody. The store dude rumaged around in the back for a bit and came out with two sets of used machine heads. I got the set of 6 so I'd have 3 for the next build and dad got the odd set of 5. While we were there, I picked up a new set of strings and purchased the only slide in the store small enough for my fingers. Then I went home to stare at this mess for awhile and try to figure out how to fix it.

About an hour later, I gathered things up and headed over to dad's workshop to replace the headstock with a piece of his scrap wood. He suggested using an angled cut for a greater gluing surface and helped me saw it out and glue it up with his favorite glue. I'll drill holes and add dowels to strengthen that joint tomorrow.

I couldn't wait... had to take a dremel to it and start sanding it down.

I know that I ramble endlessly, but documenting the problems may help someone else on their very first build avoid some of the same mistakes I've made. Yeah, I like to think that I'm not the only first timer to wander in here.
Comment by Nancy Barnes on September 12, 2010 at 3:48am
Time to wrap this up... here's what I did today.

Added dowels to strengthen that angle joint... after I drilled the holes for the tiny screws, I got to thinking maybe I should have used the OTHER half of the set. Oh well... it is what it is. I mike'd the screws at .0945" so I used a .081" drill bit so the threads would only dig into the wood at ye about .007" per side. Yeah, maybe I am over thinking again, but at this point, I'm scared of splitting the wood. Here's the other side.

And then what? Oh... that piezo thing. Here is a peek inside.

Yeah, guess where the piezo is... lol. Soldering went okay... my temp controller is still packed from moving here, so I temp controlled by getting it hot and unplugging it, letting it cool just a wee bit. Flux and solder is with the temp controller, so I tried a no flux required solder in a syringe thing, which turned out okay. Oh, here's where the piezo goes, before hot gluing.

I put it face down in a shallow grave under where the bridge goes, with hot glue under, then hot glued a thin cherry wood plate on the box for the bridge to sit on. If it is messed up like that, I'll just cut the wires, redo it another way. I didn't take time to test it... maybe I should have? I was anxious to string it up, worry about that piezo later. Oh drats... test string tells me that the strings have to wrap from the left. If I used the other half of the set, maybe it could have wrapped from the right? I don't know... my brain is fried so I'll think about that before the next build... right now, the main problem is the strings need something to keep them on location as they cross the nut AND keep them low... I didn't like what was happening with the test string. Here's what I came up with... yeah, each guide is different, good for whimsy... hopefully, it will work.

So what's next? Time to string this baby up... hopefully the guides will make the strings happy and that neck is strong enough. I decide to wait until daylight to be nice to sleeping neighbors.


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