As I mentioned last week, my goal was to go into our workshop and make myself a stringed instrument from the materials I had at hand. I’ve set myself the limitation of not buying any specialist materials or tools – everything has to be sourced from the workshop. That means that frets, tuners, saddles and nuts (the bits the strings sit on) all have to be made by me.
After much “um-ing” and “ah-ing” I’ve decided to make a 6-string guitar, rather than the usual 3-string Cigar Box variety. I just felt that after putting so much time and effort into the project it would be a shame not to play it as often as my “normal” acoustic guitar. So, that’s 3 more strings, goodness knows how much more strain on the neck and I need a way of keeping the thing in tune… what could go wrong?
Neck and Headstock Construction
More strings mean more tension and a softwood neck, particularly one made from an old palette, might not be able to cope without some additional strengthening. Most guitars nowadays come with a metal “truss-rod” built into the neck. However, as I didn’t have any metal reinforcing bars lying around that meant that I’d have to be a bit more creative.
Thankfully I could do something to strengthen the softwood neck – making my own “laminate”. This is basically taking pieces of wood and arranging them so that their grains run in different directions to one another. The method is used in plywood and has tremendous strength; just watch Grand Designs and you’re likely to see spindly plywood beams that span massive distances. With this in mind, I cut three seperate pieces of wood, flipped them around so the grains were complimentary and glued them together.
I’ve also read that using something called a “scarf joint” for joining the headstock to the neck is the best way of giving the area strength (it will be under a lot of pressure with the string tension). The angle also helps reduce buzzing when the string is played. So I made the headstock seperately, again using three pieces which are glued together. It sits snugly in the angled gap at the top of the neck.
Mike was kind enough to let me have an offcut of Elm left over from making his chopping boards. I cut it to size and glued it to the top of the neck. This should make the neck even stronger, as well as looking beautiful once it’s oiled.
I’m still not entirely sure how I’m going to make the frets. I don’t have any special fret-wire lying about but I’ve seen people use cocktail sticks, nails, wire or even fishing wire tied on to the neck and that seems to work. As I mentioned last week, I’ve already modified my beginner’s Cigar Box Guitar by adding frets made of wire that are tied around the neck. These work well enough, but they can slip and don’t feel very comfortable when you are sliding your hand up and down the neck…
There are countless ingenious methods of making your own homemade tuning machines on the internet, but I’ve decided upon making my own friction tuning pegs – similar to those found on a violin or double bass. So, once the neck was all glued I set to making some out of some scraps of mahogony that I found.
These are tapered and will sit inside a tapered hole on the headstock. The strings will go through a hole in the peg and wrap around the body of the peg as they are tightened. I carved these by hand using some brilliant Flexcut carving knives – incredibly sharp, but I managed to finish all 6 without cutting myself once (a new record!)
Time to Plan Ahead
That’s it for now. Next week I’ll be finishing off the neck with frets, making the nut and bridge and installing the strings…