Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dumpster Ibanez, Part the third

So, here I am again. Today I will tell you a tale of glue, swearing and drills.

I left off at the point where I put the neck back in the box it came in, along with all my tools and the larger offcuts (my experience the previous year taught me that you should never turn up your nose at offcuts of good wood) and took it home. I would have liked to do the rest of the project in the workshop, but sadly I only had a few days off work. I'd done all the things that had to be done in the workshop though, so it wasn't a major problem.

The first task, which had to be completed before I could do anything else, was sorting out the slightly squiffy trussrod rout. This was a time consuming but not particularly difficult process – I sat in my attic watching Doctor Who while gradually widening and straightening the rout with a selection of teensy chisels and files. While doing this I also evened out the shape of the router's little excursion into the heel of the neck. The next day I cut a handful of thin slivers from the veneer-like piece and shoved them into the unwanted rout until they filled it with no visible gaps. I then took them out, slavered them in titebond (which is so much easier to work with than gorilla glue) and jammed them back into the gap with a mallet. When dried and planed flat, you could barely see the repair. At about the same time I took another veneer-piece and glued it to the side of the heel where I'd drifted off the line during the jigsaw phase. Once trimmed and planed to the right shape, it got the neck back to the right shape.

I was pleased with myself, work could now continue.

The next stage was attaching the fretboard, which involved a great deal of persnickety measuring and minute adjustments. It also involved a lot of clamps. Like this.

The neck, held in place with three clamps attached to a big bit of scrap pine. The strange mutant in the background is a scrap of pine that I radiused with a plane and then banged frets into for practice. 

Once the neck was firmly glued in place (I kept it clamped securely for two days to be sure) I set about trimming the fretboard to the same size as the neck. It would have been quickest to do this with a saw, but I was terrified of cocking it up so close to completion, so I did it the slow but certain way – with planes and rasps. After I'd done this, I gave the neck back to Kristen so that she could drill the tuning peg holes with the big pillar-drill in her workshop. 

 The neck after I'd removed all the excess material. It was just balanced on the body for the look of the thing in the picture – I'd not actually bolted it into place yet.

It was through experiments with this mutant neck shown above that I figured out a fretting method that seemed to work pretty well. Like the old method, it was still fundamentally clawhammer based (perhaps one day I'll buy a dead-drop hammer in a fit of wild extravagance). It had, however, a few crucial differences from the old method. First of all, I was using Jescar fretwire, which comes pre-radiused (joy), rather than the flat stuff Stewmac sells. This meant that the curve of the fretwire was consistent and even. Secondly, I found a ratty looking old chopping board in the kitchen made out of a funny sort of rubbery plastic that seemed to have just the right amount of bouncy-vs-hard. This latter point sounds a little odd, but it was possibly the more important of the two developments mentioned so far. By cutting a little square of this and sticking it to the end of my hammer, I was able to knock the frets into place without marking them or exposing them to too much shock and vibration. Finally, I bought a big new pair of end-nippers which Kristen reshaped on her grinding wheel at work, fixing them so that the cutting edge was flush with the face of the nippers. This allowed me to cut the frets pretty much flush with the edge of the fretboard, eliminating the lengthy process of grinding the ends down with a file (a process which often shook frets loose). The whole process of fretting, much to my surprise, went smoothly and only took about an hour and a half.

Frets, behold their shinyness. There's only two strings on there because I was just lining up the neck at this point.

With this done I drilled the holes in the headstock for the tuning peg screws, the string trees and the neck attachment bolts. The last of these was probably the most nerve racking. I did it with a hand drill because I was paranoid about drilling through the front of fingerboard. I'm not entirely satisfied with the fit of the neck in the pocket, but it seems good enough to play. With these things done, I wired up one of the pickups and strung it up.

All these things done I gave it a very simple, cursory set up to get the strings somewhere near the fretboard (this involved shimming the neck pocket a little to increase the angle) and plugged it into my amp. I think you could probably have heard my Dr Frankenstein-style laughing from the other side of the street when I figured out that it worked. The frets were even and level, no buzzes or dead notes, the neck felt good in my hands. I gave the truss-rod a tweak and it did what it was supposed to do, correcting the ever-so-slight bow caused by putting it under tension for the first time. 

But, of course, I could not call it finished just yet. So after a few more minutes’ playing, I took the strings back off, dismantled it, and prepared for part four: finishing and set up. Do stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of this saga.