Friday, 1 February 2013

preamble to making my own guitar (Guitar Part 2)

first few items for the guitar project
It doesn't look much yet but I've started to assemble the bits n' pieces for my guitar project.

I'm using the blog here in a very traditional way as a project diary of my thinking. That way I can look back at my imbecilic ideas later and chuckle.

I'm already realising how little I really know about this. My original premise was just to have a simple bash as a February project, but I'm having some different thoughts now I've started.

I'm trying to avoid 'creeping elegance', but at the same time want to make something that is actually usable.

A few points have come to mind in the early stages:

  • The body: I think I can have a go at that.
  • The fretboard: Way too difficult for me. Frets, Inlays, spacing, tensioner. I will need to procure this.
  • Electronics: Straightforward. Some potentiometers, a couple of capacitors and some switches
  • Paint job: Probably much harder than it appears at first inspection

I've had a chance to look at a few web sites where other people make guitars. I've decided that although I could try to make a copy of something recognisable, it will probably be better to make something -er- unique.

Someone's website showed what I thought was a stunning paint job on their own guitar project. Then others had remarked that the 'sunburst finish' wasn't quite right for the model in question. I don't want that, I'd rather invent something of my own based loosely on tried and tested designs.

I've decided to go for a traditional 'Les Paul' derived shape; it's a pretty and curvaceous guitar that also allows the various controls to be built into the wooden bodywork. I've tracked down some drawings but won't get too precious about the overall dimensions, as long as the string distances are correct.

With a solid body and a screwed on neck, it should give me the ability to make the basic guitar parts fairly strong, with some ability to adjust. That's my pragmatic take on tone and sustain. I know everyone goes on about 'legendary' and 'vintage' guitars that cost thousands of pounds made from rare timbers. I'm thinking that if I can make something for very modest amounts, it will still be better than my playing ability.

I'll source this piece ready assembled, but add my own tuners.

The bridge is another area where I think I'll need to spend slightly more than the bare minimum. It's so that I can adjust the strings in case the body isn't laser perfect (it won't be). I see that there is a type of bridge with little wheels on it to assist this. I've decided that it will have to be a fixed bridge (no tremolo) because adding the musical equivalent of a crossbow into the design is too difficult.

I've decided to go for a block colour and to make it something striking. I'd rather have people ask 'What on earth is that?' than have it blend into the background. It's also a way to hide the relatively inexpensive timber used in the construction. It will come as little surprise to those that know me to know that I've selected an orange colour, with probably black controls.

The obvious thing to do with a Les Paul shape is to put two humbucker pickups on. My electronics comes in here again and I think I'll go for something less conventional, although using the humbucker form factor. I'm looking for something that can mix a humbucker with maybe a rail pickup so that I can make the device work in multiple ways.

Controls (a bit technical sounding)
There are a few components where my technological background makes me think I shouldn't scrimp too much. I've already looked at a few sites that sell volume and tone controls and I was surprised to see that many are so tiny and flimsy looking.

Instead I'll get some traditional 'big' old school potentiometers for the volume and tone circuits. They seem to be an important part of the signal chain and I can't bear the thought of using components that look as if they belong in Christmas crackers. It will make the soldering easier too. I also need to learn the special jargon for this used in guitars, such as logarithmic pots are called 'audio taper'. I've already checked that with humbuckers I need 500k audio taper pots for volume and 500k linear pots for tone with probably 0.047μF electrolytic capacitors. I'll get controls that have embedded switchgear I think, to keep my options open without adding more controls to the body.

I'll want the control layout to look 'normal' but have a few surprises in the circuits. If I go for a humbucker/rail combo, then I'll want a wiring that supports series and parallel for either or both sets of coils, plus maybe something out of phase. That's something I can start scribbling out designs for right now.

I'm aware some of this may read as gobbledygook to passing readers, but I'm sure I'll get over it. Oh, and I've somehow got to fit this in around everything else, so don't be too surprised if it overruns.

(Building a guitar? See also parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)


Nikki-ann said...

Ambitious! But if somebody can do it, I'm sure it'd be you. Good luck! :)

rashbre said...

Nikki-ann It might look like a lolly stick with an elastic band by the end of it.