Custom Telecaster Guitar Build Diary

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This will be a custom Telecaster build with the following specs:

  • body: three-piece African mahogany
  • top: book-matched Padouk with sapwood center
  • neck: laminated, flamed maple / padouk / flamed maple
  • fretboard: choice of bird’s eye maple, jacaranda, rosewood, etc. (12″ radius)
  • 25.5″ scale length
  • bridge pickup: DiMario The Chopper T™ Bridge with push-pull tone knob for coil splitting
  • neck pickup: single coil
  • black hardware: tuners, bridge, knobs, etc.

Wood for custom telecaster

From left to right: African padouk (top), African mahogany (body), flamed maple (neck laminate), African padouk (neck laminate), jacaranda (fretboard), bird’s eye maple (fretboard)

 

African Padauk

I will make 2 book-matched tops from this piece of beautiful African Padauk.

 

Flamed maple and padauk laminated neck

The neck will be made from 2 pieces of flamed maple and 1 piece of padouk.

Wood for neck and fingerboard

Closer look at the jacaranda and bird’s eye maple. Not sure which one to use yet…

 

Another look at the body and top

Another look at the body and top.

 

Cutting the mahogany into 3 pieces on the miter saw

Cutting the mahogany into 3 pieces on the miter saw.

 

The three mahogany pieces

The three mahogany pieces that will form the body

 

Cleaning the edges for jointing

Cleaning the edges for jointing

 

Gluing the mahogany pieces

Gluing and clamping the mahogany pieces

 

The mahogany body blank is ready

The mahogany body blank is ready

 

This padauk blank was too big for my band saw so I had to remove 1" from it

This padauk blank was too big for my band saw so I had to remove 1″ from it

 

Now I can resaw it into two pieces

 

Bookmatched padauk

Bookmatched padauk

 

Then I resawed each side into a set of 2 bookmatched tops

Then I resawed each side into a set of 2 bookmatched tops

 

The outline of the telecaster shape is added in photoshop

The outline of the telecaster shape is added in Photoshop to get an idea of what it will look like… Looks good!

 

Planing the boards

Planing the boards using my new planer. This thing is saving me so much time and frustration, I’m really liking it so far 🙂

 

Before and after planing

Before and after planing

 

before planing

Closer look at before planing… you can see all the band saw marks

 

after planing

Closer look at after planing… clean, flat and smooth.

 

Now comes the difficult part… which combination of bookmatch and fretboard?

White sapwood stripe with bird'eye maple fretboard

One: White sapwood stripe with bird’eye maple fretboard?

 

White sapwood stripe with jacaranda fretboard

Two: White sapwood stripe with jacaranda fretboard?

 

White sapwood stripe with rosewood fretboard

Three: White sapwood stripe with rosewood fretboard?

 

All-red top with bird's eye maple fretboard

Four: All-red top with bird’s eye maple fretboard?

 

All-red top with jacaranda fretboard

Five: All-red top with jacaranda fretboard?

 

All-red top with rosewood fretboard

Six: All-red top with rosewood fretboard?

 

The pieces for the laminated neck

The pieces for the laminated neck: figured maple, padouk and another figured maple

 

Cut them to strips

Cut them to strips

 

Dry fitting the neck laminates

Dry fitting the neck laminates… looking good!

 

Gluing the 5-piece neck laminate

Preparing to glue the 5-piece neck laminate

 

Glue drying

Glue drying

 

trimming off the excess from the ends

Trimming a few inches of excess from each end

 

5-piece laminated neck blank is ready

5-piece laminated neck blank is ready. I should be able to get two necks from this.

 

Cutting the neck blank in half

Cutting the neck blank in two two pieces on the bandsaw

 

The neck blank is cut into 2 pieces

The neck blank is cut into 2 pieces

 

The inside of the cut is very rough

The inside of the cut is very rough with band saw marks

 

Cleaning those faces on the planer

Cleaning those faces on the planer

 

Nice clean surfaces

Two nice, clean, quatersawn neck blanks… did I say how much I like this planer!? 🙂

 

The bird's eye maple neck blank

The bird’s eye maple fingerboard blank

 

A 3/8" piece is ripped off

A 3/8″ piece is ripped off on the band saw

 

Passing it through the planer

Passing it through the planer

 

Fingerboard blank

Fingerboard blank

 

The neck and fingerboard blanks

The neck and fingerboard blanks

 

Planing the mahogany body

Planing the mahogany body

 

The mahogany body is flat

The body is flat

 

Time to take it to the band saw and cut out the rough telecaster shape

Time to take it to the band saw and cut out the rough Telecaster shape

 

The Telecaster mahogany body

The Telecaster mahogany body

 

The collection of guitar parts so far

The collection of guitar parts so far

 

Mike Potvin Telecaster template

I’m using the Mike Potvin Telecaster template

 

Routing the guitar shape with a flush trim router bit

First pass with a flush trim router bit. I usually use a much longer bit and route the shape in one pass but this time I chose to use a smaller bit and take two passes. It takes more time but put less stress on the router bit.

 

Guitar shape routed

Guitar shape routed

 

The mahogany body weighs 4.3 lbs

The mahogany body weighs 4.3 lbs, a bit too heavy since a top will be added.

 

Reducing the weight by adding weight-relief cavities

Reducing the weight by adding weight-relief cavities.

 

Weight reduced to 4 lbs

Weight reduced to about 4 lbs. Even though the difference is only 0.3 lbs, you can definitely feel it.

 

Jointing the padouk top

The padouk top has been jointed and glue is now drying.

 

The body and top

The top after glue has dried and the body

 

Tracing a double line

Tracing a double line. I’m using a fairly large nut in order to get a fairly distant double line that will make it easier during glue up

 

The top before being cut on the band saw

The top before being cut on the band saw

 

The top after being cut on the band saw

The top after being cut on the band saw. It’s starting to take shape!

 

The body and top

The body and top

 

Cleaning up the glue surface

Cleaning up the glue surface with some low grit sandpaper

 

Top, body and clamps ready for gluing

Top, body and my newly-made clamps ready for gluing

 

Glue applied to top and body

Glue applied to top and body

 

Clamps applied

This is a new clamping system I came up with to glue guitar tops.

 

Guitar clamps

Guitar clamps, side view. I will let this dry for about 24 hours.

 

Trimming off excess padouk

The body is out of the clamps and I’m trimming off, carefully, some excess padouk so that the router does not have to remove it.

 

Flush trim router to clean the edges

Flush trim router to clean the edges on the router table with the template

 

Oscillating spindle sander to sand the edges

Oscillating spindle sander to sand the edges and remove the router marks

 

Passing the body in the planer

Passing the body through the planer to clean up and level the top

 

The body so far with indoor fluorescent light

The body so far with indoor fluorescent light

 

The body outdoor daylight so far with light

The body so far with outdoor daylight

 

Drilling out most of the wood with the Forstener bit

Drilling out most of the wood from the pickup cavities with the Forstener bit on the drill press

 

Drilling the pickup cavities

Removed the bulk of the wood with a Forstener bit before using the router

 

Routing the pickup and electronics cavities with the template as a guide

Routing the pickup and electronics cavities with the template as a guide

 

The pickup and electronics cavities are routed

The pickup and electronics cavities are routed. Looking good.

 

Round over router bit

Round over router bit

 

The edges of the back side are rounded over

The edges of the back side are rounded over

 

The body so far

The body so far…

 

Drawing the back side belly curve

Drawing the back side belly curve

 

Rough carving the belly contour on the Telecaster with a sanding disk on the drill

Rough carving the belly contour with a sanding disk on the drill

 

Finer sanding the belly contour onthe Telecaster with sandpaper

Finer sanding the belly contour with sandpaper rolled on a tube

 

The belly contour nearly finished. The curve on the Telecaster body looks nice

The belly contour nearly finished

 

A view of the tummy contour from the side

A view of the tummy contour from the side

 

Drilling holes for the wires

Drilling holes for the wires, from the pickup cavities to the electronics cavity. I feel like a surgeon performing an operation 🙂

 

Cutting off excess from one side of the headstock

Cutting off excess from one side of the headstock

 

Gluing on the headstock extension

After jointing the edges, the headstock extension is glued on

 

The headstock extension

The headstock extension. The pencil outline is not the final shape of the headstock, it’s just a temporary shape.

 

A look down the length of the neck

A look down the length of the neck

 

Cutting excess material from the sides of the neck

Cutting excess material from the sides of the neck on the band saw. I’m not shaping the headstock yet.

 

Cutting the fret slots on the miter box

Cutting the fret slots on the miter box and the 25.5″ template underneath

 

Cutting fret slots on Bird's Eye Maple

A closer look at cutting the fret slots on this Bird’s eye maple

 

All the fret slots are cut

All the fret slots are cut

 

Making the groove for the nut

Making the groove for the nut (thanks to my wife for taking the photo 🙂

 

The groove for the nut is complete

The groove for the nut is complete

 

Bird's eye maple fretboard slotted

Bird’s eye maple fretboard slotted and wiped with some mineral spirit

 

Trimming off excess material from the fretboard edges

Trimming off excess material from the fretboard edges and bringing it closer to its final dimension

 

Making the neck and headstock template

Making the neck and headstock template

 

Tracing the neck template on the neck

Tracing the neck template on the neck

 

Band sawing out the rough neck shape

Band sawing out the rough neck shape

 

Flush trim routing the neck on teh router table with the template underneath

Flush trim routing the neck on the router table with the template underneath

 

After routing out the neck shape

After routing out the neck shape

 

The fretboard and neck so far

The fretboard and neck so far

 

It's starting to look like a guitar

Temporarily clamping the neck to the body… it’s starting to look like a guitar

 

Preparing the truss rod channel routing jig

Setting up the truss rod channel routing jig with stops at the back and front

 

Centering the neck under the router bit

Centering the neck under the router bit

 

Before ...

Before…

 

Truss rod channel

… after. The truss rod fits nice and tight.

 

Truss rod head in channel

Truss rod in the channel

 

Truss rod in channel

Truss rod in channel

 

Drilling the tuner holes

Drilling the tuner holes on the drill press

 

Tuner holes drilled

Tuner holes drilled

 

Cutting the perpendicular line on the headstock

Cutting the perpendicular line on the headstock

 

Shimming the neck to cut on the band saw

Shimming the neck to cut parallel to that line on the band saw

 

Headstock thicknessed down

Headstock thicknessed down

 

Wrapping the truss rid with Teflon tape

Wrapping the truss rod with Teflon tape so it won’t rattle in the neck when not the truss rod is not tightened

 

Squeezing some silicon at the ends

A bit of silicon to hold it in place firmly

 

Clean both surfaces with some mineral spirit or acetone

Clean both surfaces with some mineral spirit or acetone to have a good bond

 

Locator pin for fretboard placement

Making a locator pin for fretboard placement

 

The locator pin and the equivalent hole on the fretboard

The locator pin and the equivalent hole on the fretboard

 

Place masking tape over the truss rod channel and the sides of the neck

Place masking tape over the truss rod channel and the sides of the neck

 

Apply glue to both faces

Apply glue to both faces

 

Clamp the fretboard to the neck using cauls

Clamp the fretboard to the neck using cauls

 

Clean the glue squeeze out

Clean the glue squeeze out when the glue is a bit dry

 

Let glue cure overnight

Let glue cure overnight

 

Route the fretboard flush with the neck

Once out of the clamps, route the fretboard flush with the neck

 

A look at the neck so far

A look at the neck so far

 

Reducing the thickness of the headstock

Reducing the thickness of the headstock

 

Closeup view of the headstock

Closeup view of the headstock

 

Making sure the headstock is ready for the veneer

Making sure the headstock is ready for the veneer and labeling the neck with some useful information

 

The headstock veneer blank

The headstock veneer blank

 

Gluing the headstock veneer blank

Gluing the headstock veneer blank

 

Flattening the bottom of the headstock veneer

Flattening the bottom of the headstock veneer

 

The headstock veneer is glued on and a opening is made for access to the truss rod

The headstock veneer is glued on and a opening is made for access to the truss rod

 

The top piece of the headstock venner

The top piece of the headstock veneer is glued on

 

In the process of cleaning up the headstock veneer

In the process of cleaning up the headstock veneer

 

The headstock veneer transformation is complete

The headstock veneer transformation is complete

 

The guitar so far

The guitar so far

 

The guitar so far

The guitar so far

 

Drawing reference lines

Drawing reference lines for carving on the back of the headstock and neck

 

Starting to carve the back of the neck with a spokeshave

Starting to carve the back of the neck with a spokeshave

 

Caving the back of the guitar neck

Making some progress on caving the back of the guitar neck

 

The shape of the back of the headstock

The shape on the back of the headstock

 

Making sure that the back of the neck is straight

Making sure that the back of the neck is straight

 

The neck so far, treble side

The neck carving is about 90% completed, just need to clean up some areas.

 

A look at the back of the neck carving

A look at the back of the neck carving, about 90% completed.

 

A look at the neck

Another look at the neck

 

Making dot inlays from ebony using a plug cutter

Making dot inlays from ebony using a plug cutter

 

Testing positions of dot inlays

Testing positions of dot inlays before committing to this pattern

 

Drilling inlay holes on the drill press

Drilling inlay holes on the drill press

 

Gluing the ebony dot inlays

Gluing the ebony dot inlays

 

After glue is dry, trimming the top off

After glue is dry, trimming off the tops

 

All the tops are cut off

All the tops are cut off

 

After sanding the ebony dots inlays flush with the fretboard

After sanding the ebony dots inlays flush with the fretboard and wiping with some mineral spirit

 

The ebony dot inlays are done

The ebony dot inlays are done

 

A closer look at the ebony dot inlays

A closer look

 

Even closer look at the ebony dot inlays

Even closer look

 

A new radiusing jig

I built a new radiusing jig that works for both making a radiusing block and when flipped, will also radius a fretboard

 

The newly-made radiusing block

The newly-made 12″ radiusing block

 

Tape some 60 grit sandpaper to the radiusing block

Stick some 60 grit sandpaper to the radiusing block

 

The fretboard before radiusing

The fretboard before radiusing

 

The perfect radiusing dust pattern

After about 45 minutes, this dust pattern reveals that the fretboard now has a 12″ radius

 

The fretbloard after rough radiusing

The fretbloard after rough radiusing

 

The bird's eye maple fretboard

The fretboard after fine sanding

 

The neck heel

I decided to round over the neck heel

 

Installing tuners

Temporarily installing tuners to get the location of the screws

 

The headstock with the tuners

A first look at the headstock with the tuners

 

Removing the tangs from the fretwire

Removing the tangs from the fretwires

 

Hammering in the frets and then clamping them

First I hammer the fret into the slots 2 to 3 at a time and then clamp them for 5 minutes

 

Beveling the edges of the frets

Beveling the edges of the frets with a home-made 25 degree beveling block that hold a file

 

Taping the fretboard before leveling the frets

Taping the fretboard before leveling the frets with the home-made leveling beam and some 220 grit sandpaper

 

Polishing the frets with some car polish

Polishing the frets with some car polish. The 3 frets to the left of the center fret are polished.

 

The frets are done

The frets are done!

 

Removing wood from neck pocket on Forstener bit drill press

Removing wood from neck pocket on Forstener bit drill press

 

Aligning the neck pocket template

Aligning the neck pocket template and then routing the pocket to the right depth

 

Neck pocket carved

Neck pocket carved

 

Checking neck pocket alignment with a laser

Checking neck pocket alignment with a laser. It’s dead on!

 

Neck pickup mock up

Neck pickup mock up

 

Mock up of the guitar with hardware

Mock up of the guitar with hardware

 

Mock up of the guitar with hardware

Another look of the mock up of the guitar with hardware

 

Clamped on the drill press to drill the jack hole

Clamped on the drill press about to drill the jack hole

 

Jack hole drilled

Jack hole drilled on the drill press

 

Carving a small round over by hand

Carving a small round over by hand

 

Me working on the guitar

Me working on the guitar (photo courtesy of my daughter 🙂

 

About to start finish-sanding

About to start finish-sanding

 

A quick setup to check neck and string alignments

A quick setup to check bridge, neck and string alignments

 

Checking alignments

Checking alignments… looks great!

 

Testing finish on test piece

Testing intended finish method on a test piece. It consists of thin coats of epoxy to fill the deep padauk pores and provide a flat surface for the hand-rubbed, home-brewed polyurethane/mineral spirit solution.

 

A small amount of buffing

Gloss look after a small amount of buffing. The guitar will have many more coats of polyuerthane and will have a much better buff job. But the owner and I are happy with the overall result on the test piece.

 

Final sanding done, one last wipe with mineral spirit to remove dust

After hours of final sanding, one last wipe with mineral spirit to remove dust. I think Dora approves! 🙂

 

Adding grain filler to the mahogany

Adding grain filler to the mahogany

 

Grain filler drying in the sun

Grain filler drying in the sun

 

The surface is smooth after grain filler

The pores are filled and the surface is smooth after the grain filler

 

Wiping on the polyurethane, wet

Wipe-on the polyurethane, wet. Starting to build the layers of poly.

 

Wipe-off the polyurethane, dry

Wipe-off the polyurethane, dry

 

Polyurethane drying

Polyurethane drying

 

Polyurethane drying closer look

Polyurethane drying closer look. There’s still a lot of “orange peel”, I will get rid of that at a later stage. Right now, I’m still building up the layers of clear.

 

Layering up the layers of polyurethane

Layering up the layers of polyurethane on th back

 

Reflection on the clear coats

Reflection on the clear coats.

Carving the headstock logo on the cnc (click the link to watch a 10 sec video)

 

Filling the logo with black epoxy

Filling the logo with black epoxy

 

Carved the cavity in the headstock

Carved the cavity in the headstock

 

Glue the inlay in the cavity

Glue the inlay in the cavity

 

The clear coat

Another look at the clear coat, still needs to be wet-sanded and buffed

 

The evolution of a fender-style neck

As I was applying the finish on the neck, I noticed that I still had the original pieces of wood and an extra neck blank, so I took a photo with all three.

 

Applying Tru-Oil to the neck

Applying Tru-Oil to the neck

 

Tru-Oil and wax applied

Tru-Oil and wax applied

 

Tru-Oil and wax applied

A look at the back of the neck with Tru-Oil and wax applied

 

Sanding the top layer of poly

After the polyurethane has had enough time to properly cure, it’s time to sand the top layer to remove the orange peel.

 

Buffing the mahogany back

After many hours of buffing

 

Applying the final buffing compound

Applying the final buffing compound

 

All the buffing is finally done!

All the buffing is finally done!

 

 

Wiring the electronics

My friend Tom wiring the electronics

 

drilling the holes on the neck heel

Drilling the holes on the neck heel

 

After aligning the neck, it's screwed in

After careful alignment, the neck is screwed in

 

Installing strings!

Installing strings!

 

Almost all the hardware is installed

Almost all the hardware is installed. Next step is set-up.

 

Testing the guitar on a Fender Blues Deluxe Reverb

Testing the guitar on a Fender Blues Deluxe Reverb. No it’s not my amp, … I wish 🙂

 

Vanity Photos

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En route to the owner…

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About araz

I'm an ex research scientist, now building electric guitars :)

3 thoughts on “Custom Telecaster Guitar Build Diary

  1. HI, i am Vladimir from Montenegro ( ex Yugoslavia ). I am building my first guitar, telecaster. The neck will be the same as this on the pictures. Can you tell me what is the thickness of the parts you used to build the neck for telecaster?
    Thank you!

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