That Guitar You Might have Seen

Inspiration

Some time back in high school, I got some parts and built an SG clone. I can't find any photographs of the guitar anymore and it has since been stolen, but that guitar turned out pretty crappy and I really wanted to make something legit.

Design and Components

Well, it was a long time ago now and I didn't document anything along the way. In short, I bought the neck from Carvin because I was a wuss at the time. The body is a collection of pieces of mahogany (back), rosewood (sides), ash (pale stripes), padauk (orange stripes), and a really dark piece of bubinga (center stripe). I picked some Planet Waves locking tuners. The pickups have varied over the years and included some Seymour Duncan active pickups, some PRS Dragon IIs (before they got stolen while installed in the SG clone), and more recently some Dimarzio FRED (bridge) and PAF Pro (neck) pickups in a switchable coil-splitting arrangement. I want to go back to something with higher output but have gotten complacent. I added Graphtech piezoelectric saddles too for the purpose of a MIDI interface. Unfortunately, I haven't used these in a long time but that's my own fault. I will someday soon add sample recordings.

I wanted something that would show some nice wood grains somewhat naturally and so planned to not have any paint or stain involved at all. The shape was to be inspired by the modern super-strat style with 24-frets and a deep cutaway for access to all of them. A neck-through configuration would allow a minimal heel for playability on higher frets.

Construction

With the help of Ned Gibbons and his workshop, I cut a groove in the back of the body with a dado saw for the neck to pass fully through the body while keeping the slick stripes up top. I drew the body shape free-hand and cut it with a bandsaw. Finer shaping was done with an angle grinder and rasps. The vast majority was cut away by hand but I have fond memories from back in 2005-2006 of sanding while watching movies or hanging out with friends. My life was covered in sawdust.

The pickup holes and electronics cavity were routed with a plunge router at about 1/8”-1/4” at a time. The final touches were done by chisel to get the internal shaping inside. Before laying in the neck, I put a small channel filled with foam in the neck to make sure that there would be space to pass wires between the cavities and that it wouldn't get filled with epoxy.

Finishing

The guitar was completed back in 2006 but has been in and out of finishing since. Initially, I wanted a shiny lacquer-based finish. They're really popular and decently durable. I ran into problems with the oily padauk which was always causing a horribly uneven and porous finish over it. I fought with that for a few years and eventually somebody left the guitar next to a heater, completely destroying the finish on the back circa 2010. I'm now grateful for this, as it got be to rethink the finishing and I went for a tung oil varnish instead. I really wanted shellac but was concerned about durability. The tung oil varnish mix seems to be a bit tougher (though the oil itself is absoltely not) and has lasted for a few years now with only a few small dings. I'm abusive with the guitar so that's to be expected.

The process I finally used started by diluting some Minwax tung oil with about 50% mineral spirits for two coats (applied by paper towel in my bedroom) to ensure even saturation in the wood. Another four or so full-strength coats were applied lightly with at least 12 hours (arguably excessive) between coats. Two days after the last coat, I polished it all by a soft cloth and that was it. It was insanely simple. I thank Bob Flexner’s Understanding Wood Finishing for tips that have helped me through many wood-finishing projects, including this one.

Guitar finished

Guitar after tung oil varnish

While removing lacquer, I managed to disolve the white plastic dots on the side of the neck. I should have anticipated it but whatever, I needed to do something about. I drilled out the old dots and replaced them with some cheap abalone dots I found with some epoxy. I didn't have exactly the right size drill so I had a small bit of clearance. I dealt with that by adding a black dye to the epoxy and now the gap is completely indistinguishable from the ebony fingerboard. The new dots look extra classy.