Guitar Build Diary – Explorer

There are many, (many!) photos on this page of the process of building a custom Gibson Explorer guitar.  Enjoy!

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Start date: Nov 30, 2015

This will be a custom Gibson Explorer build with the following specs:

  • full-size Gibson ’58 Explorer-style
  • body back: 1″African Mahogany, grain filled
  • body top: 1/2″ two-piece walnut
  • neck: two piece laminated walnut with scarf joint for headstock
  • headstock: 6 in-line tuners
  • fretboard: maple with walnut binding (12″ radius)
  • inlays: round wooden walnut fret markers
  • pickups: SD JB at bridge and Jazz on neck, both coil splittable with push/pull on the tone knob
  • knobs: 1 volume, 1 push/pull master tone, 1 three-way switch
  • bridge: Tune-o-matic style with tail piece
  • electronics cavity cover: walnut
  • nut: bone
  • finish: Tru-oil finish

 

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The template is made from 1/2″ MDF

 

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The back is African Mahogany

 

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The neck will be flamed maple and the fretboard will be rosewood.

 

_MG_3849_web

 

Dec 1, 2015

Adding a piece of mahogany

Extending the body by adding a piece of mahogany. I highlighted the body shape in yellow in Photoshop to better show the body perimeter. This body is huge and uses up a lot wood ! 🙁

 

Dec 2, 2015

Tracing the body shape on the mahogany body

Made some progress on the body today.  Traced the outline of the body.

 

Using the washer trick to create a double line

Used a washer to trace a second line 0.1″ away

 

Double line trace

 

Cutting on the exterior line with a jigsaw

rough-cutting the body shape on the outer line

 

Rough cut of the Explorer Mahogany body

The body is rough-cut

 

Cleaning the edges on the oscillating sander

Cleaning the edges on the oscillating sander.

 

Saving that precious mahogany fine dust

Collecting and saving the mahogany fine-dust, you never know when you will need it.

 

The edges are clean and square

Nice clean edges after sanding…

 

Router template bit

Ball bearing on the router bit will follow the template.

 

Routing the body with using the template

The template is on the bottom and everything in held down with double-stick tape.

 

 

The mahogany body now perfectly matches the template

Perfect edges after routing.

 

The body outer shape is done

The body weights 5 lbs, that’s too much so I will have to make some relief cavities in the body before the top is glued on in order to reduce the weight.

 

Dec 3, 2015

weight relief pattern for explorer

Figuring out the weight relief pattern for the Explorer. All cavities will be 1/2″ from the edges of the body contour. The black dashed lines represent the back body contours, I don’t want the inner cavities to be near them. The drawing was made with Inkscape (will open in new window).

 

paper template for weight reduction

Weight relief pattern printed on multiple sheets of paper.

 

Trace for weight reduction

Weight relief pattern transferred onto the mahogany body with red marker.

 

Mahogany shavings

Mahogany shavings

 

Forstner bit marks

Forstner bit pattern

 

after weight reduction

After weight relief… 3.2 lbs (before=5 lbs), a reduction of 1.8 lbs.

 

This walnut board will become the top

This walnut will become the top of the guitar. It’s the only wood I found that is wide enough, just barely, for this body. It’s simple but beautiful. I think it’s going to look amazing on this body once I finish with it. Can’t wait!

 

table saw shooting board jig

I made this table saw jointing jig to join the two piece of walnut. You can see the building and using of the jig here (will open in new window).

 

simulated walnut top

Simulating how the body will fit…

Dec 4, 2015

the edges of the walnut pieces are jointed

The two piece of walnut ready to be joined

 

gluing the walnut piece into a top

Applying glue and pressure

 

perfect glue line squeeze out

I must say, this is my nicest glue squeeze out ever… textbook glue squeeze out…

 

Dec 5, 2015

Joint line cleaned up with chisel

Cleaned the dry glue from the joint with a chisel

 

The walnut top is not wide enough

This body is very big and the walnut is not wide enough

 

gluing on an extension

I have to add an small extension to the body

gluing on an extension, closeup

Gluing the extension (used the table saw joining jog to make sure the joint is as good as possible)

 

The top walnut blank next to the mahogany back

The walnut top is now ready to be rough cut

 

the walnut top cut to rough shape

Cough cut of the top. All joint are excellent.

 

first look at bottom plus top

A first look at the top and bottom together

 

the walnut top

The walnut top, still in rough-cut shape. I think that white strip in the middle looks great

 

Dec 7, 2015

using the router planing jog to thickness plane the walnut body

using the router planing jig to thickness plane the walnut body

 

after thickness planing the walnut body

after thickness planing the walnut body

 

scratches left my the router

scratches left by the router

 

the scratches are easily removed with sanding

the scratches are easily removed with sanding

 

Dec. 11, 2015

thickness planing the walnut top

Thickness planing the walnut top.

 

regularly checking the thickness

Regularly checking the thickness

 

Gluing the top in the press-machine

Gluing the top in the press-machine using car jacks for pressure. The guitar body is in there somewhere…

 

Closeup view of gluing process

Closeup view of gluing process. The glue was allowed to dry for over 24 hours

after the top is glued on

Once the body is out of the press and the glued is dry. The walnut body (the bottom piece) is over-sized at this point.

 

getting ready to trim the walnut down to the same size as the mahogany

Getting ready to trim the walnut down to the same size as the mahogany

 

The top and bottom are now flush

The top and bottom are now flush

 

Closeup of the joint between top and bottom

Closeup of the joint between top and bottom

 

Put on some mineral spirit to see the grain patterns

Put on some mineral spirit to see the grain patterns.

 

Dec. 13, 2015 – Starting To Work On The Neck

Jointing the edge of the neck blank with my home-made plane

Jointing the edge of the neck blank with my home-made plane, in my home-made vise on my home-made bench 🙂 I guess I like to make things.

 

Planing and thickness routing the neck blank

Planing and thickness routing the neck blank

 

After cutting the scarf joint, I thickess sanded the headstock to proper thickness

After cutting the scarf joint, I routed the headstock to proper thickness

 

How to glue a scarf joint

How to glue a scarf joint

 

Scarf joint glue setup

Closeup of scarf joint glue setup

 

Design and template making of the headstock

Design and template making of the headstock

 

Dec. 15, 2015

headstock shape template

Headstock template shaped with jigsaw and sander

 

angled neck, fretboard and headstock mock-up

Angled neck, fretboard and headstock mock-up

 

Mock-up of guitar side view

Mock-up of guitar side view

 

Mock-up of guitar front view

It’s starting to look like a guitar, very “Flintstones”-like at this point.

 

Dec. 31, 2015

At this point, I abandoned the neck and started to build a new one made from two pieces of walnut. Why? Sometimes you instinctively know what you should do but don’t necessarily want to put in the energy to understand why… it’s like that… 🙂

two pieces of walnut

This new neck will be made from two 36″ pieces of walnut

 

jointing the edges on the table saw

Each board was passed through the table saw in order to prepare the edges for jointing

 

preparing to glue the boards

The pieces are jointed and read for gluing

 

gluing the pieces of walnut for the neck

Gluing the two pieces of walnut for the neck

 

thickness planing with a router and planing jig

Thickness planing with a router and planing jig

 

router scratches left behind

The router scratches left behind

 

after a light sanding

After a light sanding, looks pretty good.

 

scarf joint cut

Scarf joint cut made on the table saw

 

dry testing the scarf joint

Dry testing the scarf joint

 

after glue-up

The scarf joint is glued

 

Jan 9, 2016

tracing the headstock shape onto the peghead

Tracing the headstock shape onto the headstock

 

cutting extra material from the headstock

Cutting off extra material. This piece will be glued back on the headstock to extend it.

 

checking for light leaks before gluing the extension

Edge jointing. Checking for light leaks before gluing on the extensions.

 

gluing the headstock ears

Gluing on the extensions on the headstock.

 

after gluing the headstock extensions

After glue has dried, not very pretty…

 

after cleaning up the glue

After cleaning up the glue with a random orbit sander, much better… 🙂

 

Making the headstock veneer

cutting the headstock veneer on the bandsaw

Cutting the headstock veneer on the band saw from the same piece of walnut that was used for the guitar body.

 

thickness planing the headstock veneer with a router planing jig

Thickness planing the headstock veneer with a router on the router planing jig.

 

the headstock veneer angle, side view

The veneer has a square edge that will not sit properly with the eventual nut.

 

the headstock veneer angle, top view

The top of the headstock veneer is not aligned with the eventual nut because the headstock is tilted by 13 degrees with respect to the neck. Therefore a bevel is needed on the veneer.

 

putting a bevel on the headstock veneer

A bevel is made on the oscillating sander.

 

headstock veneer with bevel

A close up side view of the bevel created on the veneer.

 

headstock veneer with bevel, side view

The veneer now sits perfectly flush with the eventual nut (side view).

 

headstock veneer with bevel, top view

The veneer now sits perfectly flush with the eventual nut (top view).

 

glue setup for headstock veneer

Gluing up the veneer to the headstock.

 

carving the back with a rasp

Shaping the back of the guitar with a rasp. Adding two body reliefs.

 

the back carve is almost completed

The shaping of the back is nearly completed, just needs some more fine-tuning. The body feels much more comfortable now…

Jan 17, 2016

headstock cut to rough shape

Headstock veneer cut to rough shape.

 

planing the neck surface flat. This is where the fingerboard will sit.

Planing the neck surface flat, this is where the fingerboard will sit.

 

Scraping it clean

Scraping it clean

 

Truss rod channel routed

Truss rod channel routed

 

Truss rod channel routed

Close up view of truss rod and channel

 

ready to route the final headstock shape with the template

Ready to route the final headstock shape with the headstock template taped on

 

Using a laser to check for accuracy and to find the real centerline on the headstock

Using a laser to check for accuracy and to find the real centerline on the headstock.

 

final shape of headstock

Final headstock shape… me likes 🙂

 

Bringing the neck dimensions closer to final on the band saw

Bringing the neck dimensions closer to final, on the band saw.

 

Bringing the neck dimensions closer to final on the band saw

Closer look.

 

Slopping the heel to give the neck a 2 degree angle

Slopping the heel to give the neck a 2 degree angle.

 

Gluing on the heel

Gluing on the heel.

 

Planing the back of the fretboard

Planing the back of the fretboard.

 

About to insert the truss rod

About to insert the truss rod.

 

Some silicon caulking at the ends to remove any potential rattling

Some silicon caulking at the ends to remove any potential rattling. Notice the small metal pin? That will allow the fretboard to be glued on without moving.

 

About to glue the fretboard on the neck

About to glue the fretboard on the neck. It’s the last time the truss rod sees the light of day. There’s a thin masking tape over the truss rod channel to prevent glue from entering it.

 

Clamping the fretboard to the neck. Allowing the glue to cure for 24 hours

Clamping the fretboard to the neck. Allowing the glue to cure for 24 hours.

 

The neck with fretboard, truss rod and heel

The neck with fretboard, truss rod and heel.

 

Close up of the neck with fretboard and truss rod

Close up of the neck with fretboard and truss rod.

 

Feb 1, 2016

Fretboard transplant

fretboard transplant

Something went wrong with this fretboard so I decided to remove it and put a new one in 🙁

 

Fretboard Transplant

The rosewood fretboard is off. The process was not too painful 🙂

 

Preparing the new fretboard

This will be the new fretboard. It’s maple with walnut inlay fret markers (you can see a video of how I made them here)

 

maple fretboard cut to rough dimensions on the bandsaw

Maple fretboard cut to rough dimensions on the band saw

 

gluing the maple fretboard to the neck

The maple fretboard is installed on the neck and here I’m adding walnut binding.

 

Maple fretboard with walnut fret markers and binding

Maple fretboard with walnut fret markers and binding

 

Maple fretboard

A closer look.

 

sanded the fretboard to 320 grit followed by steel wool

It’s starting to pop, I sanded the fretboard to 320 grit followed by steel wool. No water, mineral spirit or oil applied. I thin it’s going to look awesome with some Tru-oil.

 

filing off some of the tang from the edges of the frets

Filing off some of the tang from the edges of the frets.

 

The fret are cut to size, tangs are nipped and they are ready to be installed

The fret are cut to size, tangs are being nipped.

 

Explorer walnut

Here’s a first look at what the finished guitar will look like.

 

Feb. 3, 2016

Installing the frets

Installing the frets. I use a bit of glue in the slot.

 

Fret installation completed

Fret installation completed.

 

The fretboard with frets installed

The fretboard with frets installed

 

The fretboard with frets installed

View of the whole neck.

 

Feb. 12, 2016

Starting to shape the back of the neck with a spokeshave

Starting to shape the back of the neck with a spokeshave.

 

Progress shaping the back of the guitar neck

Progress shaping the back of the guitar neck.

 

Shaping of the neck about 80% completed

Shaping of the neck about 80% completed.

 

Tuner holes are drilled

Tuner holes are drilled.

 

Testing the tuning machines

Testing the tuning machines.

 

Aligning the neck with the body centerline with a laser

 

Aligning the neck with the body centerline with a laser.

 

Using a laser to align the neck with the body

Using a laser to align the neck with the body.

 

Carving the majority of the neck pocket with a Forstner bit

Carving the majority of the neck pocket with a Forstner bit before using a router.

 

Neck pocket hole carved

Neck pocket hole carved.

 

The neck in the neck pocket

The neck in the neck pocket. A 2 degree tilt in incorporated in the heel of the neck.

 

Very tight fit, too tight actually

Very tight fit, too tight actually…

 

Making wooden humbucker pickups rings

Tracing pickups rings on maple.

 

Making wooden humbucker pickups rings

Making wooden humbucker pickups rings .

 

Aligning the pickup router template

Aligning the pickup router template.

 

Neck pickup cavity routed

Neck pickup cavity routed.

 

Both pickup cavities routed

Both pickup cavities routed.

 

Neck, body and pickup cavities routed

Neck, body and pickup cavities routed.

 

Cutting the upper part of the heel

Cutting the upper part of the heel.

 

Routing the upper part of the heel

Routing the upper part of the heel.

 

The upper part of the heel in final shape

The upper part of the heel in final shape.

 

The neck heel in the neck pocket with humbucker cavity

The neck heel in the neck pocket with humbucker cavity.

 

Feb. 21, 2016

Making the electronics cavity and cover.

Designed the control knobs, switch and shape of cavity

Designed the control knobs, switch and shape of cavity in software and then printed it.

 

Making the electronics cavity template.

Making the electronics cavity template.

 

Removing the bulk of the wood with a Forstner bit

Removing the bulk of the wood with a Forstner bit.

 

Electronics cavity finished

Electronics cavity finished.

 

Electronics cavity cover plate

Electronics cavity cover plate.

 

Drilling the jack hole

Drilling the jack hole.

 

The jack hole

The jack hole.

 

Drilling the Tune-o-matic bridge post holes

Drilling the Tune-o-matic bridge post holes.

 

Finish sanding started.

Finish sanding started. Starting with 80 grit and going to 240.

 

Preparing for grain filling

Preparing for grain filling.

 

The mahogany back is grain filled

The mahogany back is grain filled.

 

Grain filler applied on walnut top

Grain filler applied on walnut top.

 

Grain filler is drying

Grain filler is drying.

 

March 6, 2016

Applied 10 coats of tru-oil to the mahogany

Applied 10 coats of Tru-oil to the mahogany.

 

Applied 10 coats of tru-oil to the walnut top

Applied 10 coats of Tru-oil to the walnut top.

 

The whole guitar body was coated with Tru-oil

The whole guitar body was coated with Tru-oil.

 

The neck, electronics cavity cover and truss rod cover

The neck, electronics cavity cover and truss rod cover.

 

The whole guitar body is finished in Tru-oil and beeswax

The whole guitar body is finished in Tru-oil and beeswax.

 

Checking the straightness of the neck with my homemade notched straight edge

Checking the straightness of the neck with my homemade notched straight edge and adjusting the truss rod.

 

Protecting the fretboard with painter's tape

Protecting the fretboard with painter’s tape.

 

Filing the edges flat and adding a bevel

Filing the edges flat and adding a bevel.

 

Closeup view of the newly filed 45 degree bevel

Closeup view of the newly filed 45 degree bevel.

 

March 10, 2016

Fret dressing

Fret dressing mostly completed

 

Tuners installed

Tuners installed

 

Bridge and tail piece posts installed

Bridge and tail piece posts installed

 

Making the nut

Making the nut

 

Nut files

Nut files

 

Filing the nut to rough shape

Filing the nut to rough shape

 

Strings installed to fine tune nut slots

Strings installed to fine tune nut slots

 

March 18, 2016

Starting to work on the electronics

Starting to work on the electronics

 

My friend Tom doing the soldering for me

My friend Tom doing the soldering for me

 

March 22, 2016

Installing pickups

Installing the pickups.

Gibson Explorer nearly completed

Explorer nearly completed… a few more thing left to do…

 

April 3, 2016

The construction is finished !

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer neck joint

Explorer neck joint

Explorer neck

Explorer back

Explorer fretboard

Explorer

Explorer

Explorer tail piece

Explorer

Explorer headstock

 

I made a demo video, but please don’t judge the guitar based on the amp (crappy little amp), the audio recording quality (recorded with my smartphone) and especially my playing… I’m not really a guitar player, I’m a builder.

About araz

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

22 thoughts on “Guitar Build Diary – Explorer

  1. very good job

    but one question, you explain that the neck pocket is flat in your video but with this type of bridge (same as lespaul) you don’t need to shime your pocket ??

    Thanks

    1. Thanks Stephane. That video is for another guitar I’m building, not this Explorer.

      You are correct, with this type of bridge, the neck needs to be tilted. I have incorporated a 2 degree angle in the heel of the neck (see this photo).

      Hope that clears thing up.

      Araz

  2. Hey Araz,
    Truly an amazing job, bud–really! I stumbled upon this site and your post by accident, while looking for jelly beans…not really, but you know how it goes. One click leads to another. I also completely dig that new neck you built with the maple board and walnut binding. That looks so much better than the original rosewood version. Anyway, I ended up here because I’m getting back into building after a long hiatus (about 7 years), and was looking for some measurements. An image search revealed your Explorer monster and I just HAD to see it. Glad I did.

    Cheers,
    Rob

  3. Hi Araz, this is great job ! I wanted to know if after sanding the router marks on the body, it will be enough flat for glueing? Thanks.

    1. The control cavity needs to be deep enough for the pots to fit properly through the holes but not so thin to compromise the stability of the remaining wood. I like to leave around 1/4 to 3/8″ deep of wood. You can also choose to make the wood thiner only at the location of the pots inside the cavity.

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