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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: 432

Comment by Dave K. on September 12, 2010 at 7:39am
the scarf joint looks good & tight, and i can't help but think that you'll be much happier with the action of real tuners (they may lack that 'old school' feel, but there's no arguing with staying in tune for more than 5 minutes). Dowels perpendicular to the neck joint would add a bit of strength, but may be completely unnecessary - allow a good 24 hours of drying time on that joint before stringing up. Looks great!
Comment by Ted Crocker on September 12, 2010 at 11:07am
It's coming together really well Nancy. You seem to have all the right instincts for problem solving. Don't get too excited toward the end that you rush through or leave out some steps just so you can string it up...
Comment by Diane in Chicago on September 12, 2010 at 11:44am
Excellent punting on that headstock! You'll be much happier, and it looks really nice.
Comment by Randy S. Bretz on September 12, 2010 at 12:11pm
Hey Nancy , yeah I like doing the " step down" style peghead myself. It works just as good as the angled style. Your build looks great - Conqrats on a job well done so far, we all learn in this world of homemade built instruments. But it is fun !!!
Comment by Nancy Barnes on September 12, 2010 at 8:31pm

So far, none of the neighbors have complained... but I have been told that a music teacher lives up on the 3rd floor. That might have been a hint, lol. I used Ernie Ball's Power Slinky custom guage strings 18p, 28, 38 tuned to GDG and discovered my bridge was too tall... horrid sound at the 12 fret, like whoa... and it seemed like a long way down to the fingerboard, so I shortened the bridge. I'm not sure if the angle is right yet... but it is NOT glued down. One thing for sure... I'll be popping those jewel dots off and gluing them back on when I find the sweet spot for each note as the sweet spot for the G at the 12 fret is where the pencil line is... and it is not lined up with my dots. I'm thinking it is because the sweet spot on a fretless is where your finger pushes down to hit the note... not just anywhere between fret bars as fret bars (correct me if I'm wrong) act like a nut so you are actually holding it down to the fret wire, if you have frets. Yes, I measured again... nut to leading edge of the bridge is right on 23" and the line drawn for the 12th fret is right on 11.5" but the sweet spot to hit the note is not exactly half way between the 11th & 12th fret. Thank goodness for LJ's playing for dummies... best to mark the sweet spots of where the notes are for your own fingers when going fretless. Here's another photo from a different angle.

So how does it sound? Well... someday I will learn how to make a video clip, but the only thing I want to learn right now is how to play it. The midnight cabbie says it sounds like a guitar. A huge THANK YOU to Ted and everyone here... I really appreciated the comments, ideas, and helpful hints. If I blog another build someday, I'll try not to be so flakey and/or ramble endlessly. It does help to blog... even just snapping photos along the way lets you see things from a different angle just by looking at the photos, like oh... this could be better, that should have been... and I should have done this before that... but it's all good. I suppose some people think it is strange for someone who does not play to want to build one... oh, I could have asked my dad to make me something, but I think if you want to play, you are supposed to make your own.
Comment by Dave K. on September 12, 2010 at 9:04pm
can't be a jedi until you build your own lightsaber.
Comment by Ted Crocker on September 12, 2010 at 9:38pm
WOW Nancy!!!!

Great job, I'm really proud. Unbelievable first build, a lot of nice details. Lots of folks have learned a lot and maybe a few now have the confidence to build one. Thanks!!

HMMMMM a strummer next??

Nancy, thanks for taking the time to document this for us, and I must say you make one helluva entrance...
Comment by The Phrygian Kid on September 16, 2010 at 4:19am
this is awesome !!!
im super impressed
Comment by Lucky on September 16, 2010 at 1:18pm
Nice first build Nancy, really... that's how most of us learned, trial and error. I've only built one fretless, and you all correct me if I'm wrong, but mostly you play them with a slide. I found the only "clean" notes I could finger were high on the neck (like maybe down to the third fret marker) anything below that was muted. I messed with the string height and it didn't seem to make a difference. You can hear the sound check of it on may page. It's called Reso sound I think. Good luck and keep building.


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