Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The "Finished" Telecaster

The absolutely horrid weather of late (more than 3 ft. of snow ) has kept me pretty distracted, but I have had a chance to finish the guitar project for my daughter.  It has been a great project, not without its challenges, and I'm very happy with the result -- so much so that I'm watching an eBay auction for a swamp ash telecaster body for myself.

I won't go through the Grizzly details, (yes, I will stoop for this low pun) instead I'll just mention a few things that can apply to any similar project.

1.  When it comes to these high-gloss, exceedingly fussy finishes, every step counts.  The places that were glass smooth after the grain filling stage, and after the sealer, and again after the primer tended to be the places that took the final color and lacquer best.

2.  While the color coat seemed on the verge of sagging, the lacquer coats could be applied in a heavier fashion.  These heavy coats gave it the french polished type of finish.  That being said . . .

3.  Applying the finish to a horizontal surface worked best and helped to stop sags and runs.

4.  Give the final lacquer coat at least three weeks before polishing.  I found that the finish stayed plastic and evened out over the first week or so.

5.  If you are using typical abrasives (silicon carbide) for polishing, wet sanding is the only way to go.  The paper loads almost immediately when dry and creates little globs that scratch the surface.

6.  When polishing, use only the pressure of the weight of your fingers -- if you feel that is not enough, get a coarser abrasive.

7.  My backside was saved by the fact that we were creating a "relic" guitar with a slightly distressed finish.  If I needed perfection I would have failed.  I had hoped to make it perfect as a dry run for the next (non-relic) version but that wasn't the case.  But, I really like the way it looks -- used but not abused.

8.  Read all Grizzly instructions start to finish several times.  The instructions said "now secure the neck of the guitar to the body" at least three times before they really meant it.  If I had really bore down on the screws the first time I could have risked losing some grip by the last time.

9.  With a couple of caveats, this Grizzly kit is good value for money.  The specs were not dead on, but it got the job done.  Here you can see that even with the bridge back as far as possible, you really had to back off the string saddles to get the necessary 25 1/2" from nut to saddle.  If this isn't right, the intonation will be off.

And although it looks like the action is high, it is not.  The neck is not at all bowed, but I'm not sure that the neck pocket was routed (at the factory) dead plumb.  It gives it a bit of character.

The best surprise came after set-up.  If you'll pardon my Anglo-Saxon, this guitar kicks ass.  It growls more than my strat and the sustain is really good.  Even with the bargain basement pups it has that jangly Tele sound -- and all for less than 200 bucks.  I'm not sure I've been more excited about a project in a while.  And I think I know why.

Several years ago, after a long day over a hot stove, I was stumbling down the steps of the Piccadilly Circus tube station.  At the bottom was a guy wailing on "Voodoo Chile" with a similar guitar, and for that moment, I knew he was the coolest cat on the planet.  So while my musical ambitions have all but vanished, I still dream of busking, with a homemade guitar for anyone who will listen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Shoji Inspired Screen -- Out From Underfoot

It would seem like one quick hop from designing and cutting the kumiko (lattice) to final completion.  But as this is an insulated Shoji screen, there are a few more challenges which require some chess-like strategy.

In a traditional screen there would be a single lattice covered with rice paper attached by means of rice glue (or wallpaper paste or double sided tape.)  My project is sort of a sandwich -- two kumiko lattices surrounding a 1/2" piece of rigid insulation that is covered in rice paper.  I start by using my story stick to transfer the half-lap marks to the rails and stiles.  This ensures that the kumiko will run in straight lines.  I considered marking right from the assembled lattice work itself, but it is cumbersome and way too flexible to give a true reference.

After marking, I ganged the rails and stiles together and drew out the mortices.  They are 1/4" by 1/2" and sit 1/4" from the outside of the frame.  This leaves a 1/2" space for a groove that will hold the insulation.  For whatever reason it seemed easier to drill the mortices, then cut the groove, and finally chisel the mortices to final dimension.  Cutting the groove was a machine job (as I don't have the right plane) and it was just a case of running it over the dado blade in the tablesaw, both ways, to ensure that it was centered.  After that, the handwork was a piece of cake.

The trickiest bit was trimming the tenons to proper dimension.  On paper I have left 1/2" on each end to be tenoned into the frame.  I've learned (through bitter experience) that as a project gets bigger, the chance for measuring error increases.  So to give myself the greatest chance at success I developed a system.

1.  Leave some excess on one end when cutting the kumiko piece to length.  Mark the end with the correct dimension with the 1/2" tenon.  Trim accordingly and fit into place.

2.  Mark the actual intersection with the frame on the long end of the kumiko and dimension the tenon.  Insert in place -- it should be a custom fit.

3.  If you are confident about the squareness of the frame, complete the rest of those in that direction using this piece as a story stick.  If not, repeat for all those on that row using the same process.

4.  Now set these in place and (because this is a half weave) thread the first perpendicular piece in place.   Give it a wiggle and make sure it is square.  Now mark both ends where it intersects with the frame and dimension.  Again, you can use this as a story stick for the rest, or do each one individually.

If you remember, I did one set of kumiko in an alternate stick weave and one in a flat weave.  The former is stronger, but more complicated, and is best installed before you glue up the frame.  It is, shall we say, the bottom slice of bread in the sandwich.  For ease of installation I opened the frame by about 1", placed the alternate weave kumiko nearly in place, and drank a cup of coffee.

The next step is to glue up the frame and capture this first alternate weave kumiko in place.  As you can see, the glue only reaches the first 1" or so of the tenon.  This is fine (and I think, better) because we will be wedging the end of this big through tenon.  Once glued, I created this awkward little rig to hold it in place.

In the final post of this project,  I'll outline the process of affixing the rice paper to the kumiko, wetting it to (hopefully) tighten it on the frame, and the installation of the door on its tracks.  While I wait for the proper hardware to arrive,  I'll take a look at the progress of the Telecaster and maybe even make a tool or two.