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Thread: EXA-1 - First build. A Father & Son project

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane

    EXA-1 - First build. A Father & Son project

    The kit arrived and on inspection I was surprised at how cleanly machined/crafted the body and neck were. No deep gouges at all and very little glue mess to sand out.

    The electrical components were as expected (not high quality pickups and HW) so if the build goes ok, I will replace the switch, pots and jack. I have already decided to put the kit pickups to the side and am starting with a Seymour Duncan Custom in the Bridge and an Iron Gear Blues engine in the neck. Together they can give a nice out of phase tone, as I learned from other installs in the past.
    One of the pickup rings in the kit was snapped on arrival, but I have spares here. I also opted for the Grover locking tuner upgrade, so the stock tuners will not be used on this build.

    Note: The supplied pickups don't fit the pickup routes in the body, so if you're reading this to glean some insights prior to starting your own build, know that Seymour Duncan, Iron Gear and Dimarzios pickups that I have here fitted the routes, but only just. Greco, Burny and some Epiphone pickups didn't. To resolve you could either file the pickup tangs slightly or slightly enlarge the routes in the body.

    Day 1.
    Its great working on a project like this with my 88yr old Father, neither of us have built a guitar before and we are enjoying the activity together.

    We started with dividing the work and my job is fret leveling and my Dad has started sanding the body.
    Using a sanding block and 180, 240, 400, 600, 800, 1200 is the plan.
    He is a retired carpenter, so is delighted to see the wood grain patterns coming to light.
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    I managed to adjust the truss rod and obtain a nice level fretboard, at least in the centre of the radius. (I used a notched straight edge to verify).
    Masked up the fretboard, marked the frets with a sharpie and using a levelling beam I started levelling the frets.
    Problem: My sandpaper was too short for the 40cm steel beam I bought, so I foolishly decided to go ahead with a smaller cheap beam (aprox 7" long). So I had to address the fret board in sections.

    Second Problem, as it turns out my cheap fret rocker only has two straight edges! I verified this against my machined parallel beam. End result is likely to be a terrible fret job. I was unable to get good levels, but still crowned (Baroque Brand crowning file, on the medium frets seemed closest, but was equally cheap and nasty) and polished the frets. Also did the fret ends and at least that aspect came out well. Wont know how bad the fret job is until final assembly and testing. In any event I can redo later.

    Day 2.
    More sanding of the body, its starting to look very good and feels smooth.
    Dad is doing some minor contouring of the edges also.

    Neck wise, well it turns out that the tape I used has left residue on both the rosewood fretboard and the sides of the neck. On the fretboard I used a small amount of handsanitizer to good effect to remove the gum. Im not concerned as the fretboard will get a good Dunlop oil in due course..and the neck needs a little sanding anyway.

    Sanded the neck with some 1200 Grit. It needed very little, as it was a big leg up to have it delivered so well from the factory.
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    Day 3.
    We made a couple of templates to experiment with different headstock shapes and settled on just slimming down the banana headstock. I think the stock shape looks like a clog

    In the end, rather than use the template, we just bent a flexible steel ruler and used that to pencil mark the new shape.

    Sanded the headstock into the slimmed down shape, there was only a few mm to remove and it was finished within 40 min or so.

    Day 4.
    The body and neck sanding is considered good enough at this stage.
    We re-test fitted the neck and body and marked the neck and bridge pickup surround screw positions. Noted that one of the screw holes is directly above the wire route and I will shorten the screw that is placed there.

    We also marked and drilled for all HW, using a very fine bit and drilling down to a tape mark on the bit to ensure we didn’t go too deep.
    Fitted the tuning keys (machine heads), lined them up, marked and drilled.

    We had to sand the plastic electronics enclosure cover to get it to fit, but its a good fit now.

    Gently and only partially pushed the bridge and tailpiece studs into the body and checked string alignment, intonation/scale length. Removed the studs, just placed the bridge on the body and using a straight edge along the fretboard checked the neck break angle. Its not perfect as the straight edge only slightly interferes with the bridge. (It would clear the saddles if the bridge were about 1.5 mm lower). So not an ideal angle, but hopefully I can work with this and maybe even change out or grind the bridge for a lower height if needed.

    Day 5.
    Prepared the neck and body for glue. (Put some minor scoring into the wood, to give the glue extra cavities to bind with). Placed tape at areas where there may be glue spread out on clamping. Made a block to ensure the clamp designated for the pickup cavity will reach and operate without binding on the body.

    Made a small block of wood for the fretboard area clamp, cut with fret grooves.
    Applied the supplied PBG glue and spread with a small artist paint brush right into the corners etc, ensuring all contact surfaces had glue covering. So a thin glue coverage to coat the neck heel areas and body cavity (no gaps in the coverage).

    Positioned clamps, tightened the fretboard clamp first and then the one at the neck pickup cavity. Visually checked for gaps and that the neck was correctly seated as it was per dry test fitting,

    The rest of the day was spent sanding a test piece of plywood and applying Amber Shellac. So far… hmmm its patchy.

    Also designed a decal for the guitar logo.

    So far.. its been fun, but my optimism about having a recording worthy instrument (low action, no buzzy frets..) is fading. Dad, still reckons its gonna be a success.

    Any tips on when to apply an Inkjet printed decal that has been sprayed with fixative over Bullseye Shellac would be good to hear. Right now the plan is to start that in 3 days time (leaving the neck loads of time to set). We plan to cloth apply a very light coat of Shellac. Sand with 600, 800, 1200 so that the only shellac remaining is in down in the grain. THEN apply the waterslide decal. Then continue with cycles of Shellac and sanding with 800, 1200.

    One, fear in the back of my mind is also that on inspection of the small bottle of glue, it seems we only used about 1/5 of it. We did cover all contact areas on both neck and body, but had no seep out on clamping.. So im worried we didn’t use enough… Dad reckons its all good!

    Last edited by GerardL; 23-02-2022 at 07:02 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane
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    The clamps come off today!

    ..and sanding resumes.. hahah..

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane
    Well the glue was certainly suffice and the neck is set solid!

    But..on re-checking neck angle alignment, it is a little higher than it was when we checked during the 'unglued test fitting'. So this could result in a higher than ideal action.

    So we sanded the body a little more and on measuring it seems like we improved (reduced) the potential action a mm or two.
    Right now I anticipate that our lowest possible 12th fret action height is likely to be in the 2mm region (too high for my taste).
    If that turns out to be correct and the resultant action isn't low enough, then I will try the following countermeasures, incrementally.

    1: Countersink the bridge posts just a little. (no more than 2mm) otherwise I suspect the pickup surrounds may interfere with the strings.
    2: Of course lower the first fret action/nut slots, a little and modify the overall nut to compensate. (That won't have a huge impact on the 12th Fret action height though)
    3: File the bridge string slots a little.
    4: Thin the bridge a little (lower the profile), in order that it will sit lower on the posts.

    But those are 'potential problems and remedies' and I don't yet know if they will eventuate.

    Today, we started applying the finish, and given our time constraint.. (2weeks for the complete build) we opted to just Shellac an amber finish over the natural wood.

    Well... I must say this shellacking is way way less forgiving than we had hoped.
    We have never used Shellac before and it seems to be a steep learning curve. Our Shellac product (Zinnesers BullsEye Amber Shellac - the waxed version which cannot be thinned, gets tacky almost immediately and so does not spread well.
    Within seconds of first applying if you return to touch up a brush stroke, it messes up.. So the result, so far is terribly patchy and uneven .. kinda like finger painting! (We practiced with a test piece of ply and tried applying with a cloth but results were worse)
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    Hmm... if we had went with spray paint our lives would have been much easier.. But, Shellac dries quick and suits our timeline. So we will continue..
    Last edited by GerardL; 15-02-2022 at 05:57 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane
    Diary Update, Day 8: this Shellac isn't hardening. we left the thin coat overnight (actually longer) and it is still soft, like gum.

    Turns out that this Zinnisers Bullseye Abmer shellac, has a Lot number beginning with S8...
    That '8' means it was made in 2018. Given the product only has a 36mth shelf life.. that means its over a year out of date, which might be why it isn't hardening. (Note: We applied it directly to the sanded wood and did not cut/mix the product with anything).

    Don't have time, or sandpaper, left to totally strip the finish given my father is only here for another 4 days... so will have to work as best we can with what we have and in any event, on this project its about the journey not the destination
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    Last edited by GerardL; 16-02-2022 at 12:34 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2020
    Gold Coast, Qld
    You boys are a lot more organised then I was on the same build.. Great diary and photos too.
    I used about 1/4 - 1/3 bottle on the neck joint. I wiped off a fair bit after though.

    Shame about the finish. Hope you get it sorted while your dad's there. Keep us updated..

  6. Liked by: GerardL

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane
    Day 9..
    This is what waiting on shellac drying looks like... it was a little early for beer unfortunately.
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    We also applied the water slide decals today and added another coat of the 'finger painting quality' / shellac.
    The decals were Ink Jet printed and therefore needed a spray coat of clear lacquer to seal the ink prior to applying them.
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    Tomorrow, we start installing the HW
    Last edited by GerardL; 19-02-2022 at 09:14 PM.

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane
    Day 10

    Although the shellac was a little gummy at a few small areas of build up, we used a remedy of fine wire wool, or lightly dampened cloth with metho, or 1200 grit very light sandpapering, as needed to remove. The entire guitar was then rubbed with 0000 wire wool, which evened the brush marks out and gave the finish a slight matt look. We brought the finish back to mild sheen, simply rubbing with a clean cloth (Have not tried polish yet). I actually prefer the slightly matt sheen.
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    Next, using a razor blade as a gentle scraper we removed any shellac that found its was onto the fretboard (Was just a little here and there at the edge of the tape and it came away easy).
    Then we applied Dunlop fretboard oil to bring the dried out and thirsty fretboard back to luster.

    Now, adding HW!!
    First the Tuners /Machine Heads..
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    After insulating the component cavity (our Faraday Cage!) and the pickup routes with Copper tape we were ready for pickup install.
    Now this is were we avoided one problem, but found two or three new ones..

    On sanding it was apparent that the bridge pickup route had a wire channeling hole very close to the surface of the body and directly aligned with one of the pickup mounting ring screw holes. So if you used a full length screw here, you could puncture your pickup wiring. So we trimmed that particular screw down a few mm and ensured it had a blunt tip.
    That was the problem avoidance part...

    Now to the problem.

    The neck pickup wire channeling hole is also close to the surface and given the pickup route itself is narrow (rather than widen a little on the channeling side below the surface of the body) it means that the wire coming from the base of your pickup needs to make a sharp upward turn, squeeze between the pickup cover and the guitar body (an impossible space) and go into the small channeling hole. We managed to fit the pickup and it aligned perfectly with our pre-drilled holes and the pickup ring 'just fitted' in place between the neck base and pickup.... but on doing our wiring test we found that we had completely severed the pickup wire between the pickup cover and sharp edges of the channeling hole (photos to follow tomorrow).
    So to remedy this we
    1- Enlarged the channeling hole entrance making the hole entrance start lower into the guitar body.
    2 -cut the front of the pickup ring, which enabled the pickup to sit just a little more forward.
    3- And, fit a new pickup.. (Thankfully I had a spare Iron Gear Blues Engine neck pickup on hand).

    This combination enabled us to fit the neck pickup without damaging our (slightly thicker) pickup wiring.

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    We then completed the wiring and have opted for 2 Vol, 3-way toggle,... 0 Zone pots... i.e. were keeping 'All the tone! All the time'
    Tested by tapping on the pickups and all is working.

    That was a long day and a well deserved beer, may mean a later start tomorrow!
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    Last edited by GerardL; 19-02-2022 at 08:55 PM.

  9. #8
    Mentor Trevor Davies's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2020
    Great Diary, and great joint project.
    PitBull Builds: FVB-4, LP-1SS, FBM-1, AG-2, TB-4, SSCM-1, TLA-1, TL-1TB, STA-1HT.

    Scratch Builds: Pine Explorer, Axe Bass, Mr Scary (current), Scratchy Thinline (current).

  10. Liked by: GerardL

  11. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane
    Day 11 - Completion!!

    Was a rewarding day today, but not without its challenges..

    On gluing the neck last week, we suspected that we hadn’t got the neck seated entirely flat in the body pocket. We’re talking only a mm gap at the base of the neck, but a small angle change can make a big difference to action height. So on spotting that we had begun planning things we could do to in the event we need to make a high action lower.

    Well, today we had to put some of those plans in action.

    The bridge too far..
    On test fitting a low E string we could see that the action was going to be ‘slide guitar high’ and that’s not what were going for here.
    The bridge was adjusted to its lowest position and still the action was way too high. So we extracted the bridge studs from the guitar by screwing in a long bolt with threads matching the bridge posts. (The long bolt presses against the internal guitar body and on tighting the stud slowly raises out of its press fitting.. no damage done).

    Once we had the studs removed we filed and totally removed the ‘washer like’ end on each stud, that would normally sit a little above the guitars body when hammered into place. This meant that we could now fully recess the studs into the guitar body such that they would sit just below the body surface. (Thus enabling the bridge to sit a little lower).
    (An alternate approach would be to countersink the stud holes in the body with an appropriately sized bit, but we didn’t have that and the body was finished painted already).
    So after modifying the studs we reinserted them and we checked again with a test fitted string. Now, although the action was improved it was still too high.

    Next we put the bridge in a vice (carefully padded with cardboard to avoid marking it) and we filed the underside, removing material not just from where the adjuster posts rest, but from the entire length of the bridge, as it will now rest on the guitar body. On fitting this back in the guitar and test fitting a string, we found that we now had a playable action.

    String Slots at the Nut.
    Next we fitted our preferred strings (Ernie Ball 008s). The stock plastic nut needed work as the strings were sitting very high (Although I opted for the bone nut upgrade, I have yet to fit it).
    So with this stock plastic nut the ‘1st fret action height’ was very high indeed and so some string slot filing was needed.

    I had expected that the PBG nut file set we purchased would be adequate, but it was useless even against a plastic nut. (There is almost no abrasion with the 'files'). So, we had to find a way to file each string slot to the correct width and depth and we didn’t have files to do it..
    What we came up with worked well enough to get us out of a hole..

    This is what we did..
    For each string we selected an appropriate thickness feeler gauge and either 400 grit, 600 grit, 1200 grit etc sandpaper folded tightly over the feeler gauge to give a total thickness of the same, or very slightly wider than the gauge of string designated for that string slot..
    For example, for the D string, which in our set is 22 thou in diameter. We used a combination of a 12 Thou feeler gauge and folded 600 grit sand paper, which together, when measured with a vernier caliper, was a total of 22 thou in width. (Approx). The feeler gauge gives a little more rigidity to the sandpaper and although still a slow process the results were pretty good.
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    After some carefull effort we were able to achieve a very low (perfect) 1st fret action height and no buzz.

    On stringing up the guitar I did a quick intonation check and was relieved to be able to confirm we have got our scale length neck position correct. (Edit: I have since made the intonation adjustment for each string and can confirm it is 100% spot on )

    With stings tuned to concert pitch (A440), I checked neck relief and made a minor adjustment to the truss rod in order to counter the new neck tension. I plan to revisit that in a day or so after the neck has had time to settle.

    We attached the truss rod/nut cover and let the amps warm up while I did a string stretch and retune.

    How does it sound?
    Absolutely brilliant!!
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    There is not a single buzz or choked fret area on the neck, and the pickups are a great match for the guitar woods. Neck pickup sounds warm and full, bridge sounds ideal for confident solos and the mid position has the out of phase tones I expected, especially if you slightly roll off one of the volume pots (I wired it for 2 vols).

    So we completed the build and are just 1 day over schedule.
    I will honestly record with this guitar, it really does sound quite different that any other I have and I love it.

    The objective of this project was to give my Father and I something to do together on his short holiday with me, and irrespective of the quality of instrument we produced it would still have been of sentimental value to me, but I didn’t dream it would turn out to be such a nice sounding guitar and that really is a bonus.
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    Well that’s my Diary finished, I hope that something here inspires, or helps someone and if not then I hope at least it had a little entertainment value!
    Happy Building!!

    See you next time!
    G (& Dad!)

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    Last edited by GerardL; 24-02-2022 at 08:05 PM.

  12. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2022
    West of Brisbane
    Here is a short demo of the completed guitar.
    A little rough playing, rusty at the moment. Had a long break over the Christmas period and can't believe I forgot Eruption!
    How quickly you loose it if you don't practice... But all that's about to change Loving this new guitar!

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