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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.
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)
I will make 2 book-matched tops from this piece of beautiful African Padauk.
The neck will be made from 2 pieces of flamed maple and 1 piece of padouk.
Closer look at the jacaranda and bird’s eye maple. Not sure which one to use yet…
Another look at the body and top.
Cutting the mahogany into 3 pieces on the miter saw.
The three mahogany pieces that will form the body
Cleaning the edges for jointing
Gluing and clamping the mahogany pieces
The mahogany body blank is ready
This padauk blank was too big for my band saw so I had to remove 1″ from it
Then I resawed each side into a set of 2 bookmatched tops
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 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
Closer look at before planing… you can see all the band saw marks
Closer look at after planing… clean, flat and smooth.
Now comes the difficult part… which combination of bookmatch and fretboard?
One: White sapwood stripe with bird’eye maple fretboard?
Two: White sapwood stripe with jacaranda fretboard?
Three: White sapwood stripe with rosewood fretboard?
Four: All-red top with bird’s eye maple fretboard?
Five: All-red top with jacaranda fretboard?
Six: All-red top with rosewood fretboard?
The pieces for the laminated neck: figured maple, padouk and another figured maple
Cut them to strips
Dry fitting the neck laminates… looking good!
Preparing to glue the 5-piece neck laminate
Trimming a few inches of excess from each end
5-piece laminated neck blank is ready. I should be able to get two necks from this.
Cutting the neck blank in two two pieces on the bandsaw
The neck blank is cut into 2 pieces
The inside of the cut is very rough with band saw marks
Cleaning those faces on the planer
Two nice, clean, quatersawn neck blanks… did I say how much I like this planer!? 🙂
The bird’s eye maple fingerboard blank
A 3/8″ piece is ripped off on the band saw
Passing it through the planer
The neck and fingerboard blanks
Planing the mahogany body
The body is flat
Time to take it to the band saw and cut out the rough Telecaster shape
The Telecaster mahogany body
The collection of guitar parts so far
I’m using the Mike Potvin Telecaster template
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
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.
Weight reduced to about 4 lbs. Even though the difference is only 0.3 lbs, you can definitely feel it.
The padouk top has been jointed and glue is now drying.
The top after glue has dried and the body
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 after being cut on the band saw. It’s starting to take shape!
The body and top
Cleaning up the glue surface with some low grit sandpaper
Top, body and my newly-made clamps ready for gluing
Glue applied to top and body
This is a new clamping system I came up with to glue guitar tops.
Guitar clamps, side view. I will let this dry for about 24 hours.
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 on the router table with the template
Oscillating spindle sander to sand the edges and remove the router marks
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 outdoor daylight
Drilling out most of the wood from the pickup cavities with the Forstener bit on the drill press
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
The pickup and electronics cavities are routed. Looking good.
Round over router bit
The edges of the back side are rounded over
The body so far…
Drawing the back side belly curve
Rough carving the belly contour with a sanding disk on the drill
Finer sanding the belly contour with sandpaper rolled on a tube
The belly contour nearly finished
A view of the tummy contour from the side
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
After jointing the edges, the headstock extension is glued on
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
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 and the 25.5″ template underneath
A closer look at cutting the fret slots on this Bird’s eye maple
All the fret slots are cut
Making the groove for the nut (thanks to my wife for taking the photo 🙂
The groove for the nut is complete
Bird’s eye maple fretboard slotted and wiped with some mineral spirit
Trimming off excess material from the fretboard edges and bringing it closer to its final dimension
Making the neck and headstock template
Tracing the neck template on the neck
Band sawing out the rough neck shape
Flush trim routing the neck on the router table with the template underneath
After routing out the neck shape
The fretboard and neck so far
Temporarily clamping the neck to the body… it’s starting to look like a guitar
Setting up the truss rod channel routing jig with stops at the back and front
Centering the neck under the router bit
… after. The truss rod fits nice and tight.
Truss rod in the channel
Truss rod in channel
Drilling the tuner holes on the drill press
Tuner holes drilled
Cutting the perpendicular line on the headstock
Shimming the neck to cut parallel to that line on the band saw
Headstock thicknessed down
Wrapping the truss rod with Teflon tape so it won’t rattle in the neck when not the truss rod is not tightened
A bit of silicon to hold it in place firmly
Clean both surfaces with some mineral spirit or acetone to have a good bond
Making a locator pin for fretboard placement
The locator pin and the equivalent hole on the fretboard
Place masking tape over the truss rod channel and the sides of the neck
Apply glue to both faces
Clamp the fretboard to the neck using cauls
Clean the glue squeeze out when the glue is a bit dry
Let glue cure overnight
Once out of the clamps, route the fretboard flush with the neck
A look at the neck so far
Reducing the thickness of the headstock
Closeup view of the headstock
Making sure the headstock is ready for the veneer and labeling the neck with some useful information
The headstock veneer blank
Gluing the headstock veneer blank
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 top piece of the headstock veneer is glued on
In the process of cleaning up the headstock veneer
The headstock veneer transformation is complete
The guitar so far
The guitar so far
Drawing reference lines for carving on the back of the headstock and neck
Starting to carve the back of the neck with a spokeshave
Making some progress on caving the back of the guitar neck
The shape on the back of the headstock
Making sure that the back of the neck is straight
The neck carving is about 90% completed, just need to clean up some areas.
A look at the back of the neck carving, about 90% completed.
Another look at the neck
Making dot inlays from ebony using a plug cutter
Testing positions of dot inlays before committing to this pattern
Drilling inlay holes on the drill press
Gluing the ebony dot inlays
After glue is dry, trimming off the tops
All the tops are cut off
After sanding the ebony dots inlays flush with the fretboard and wiping with some mineral spirit
The ebony dot inlays are done
A closer look
Even closer look
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 12″ radiusing block
Stick some 60 grit sandpaper to the radiusing block
The fretboard before radiusing
After about 45 minutes, this dust pattern reveals that the fretboard now has a 12″ radius
The fretbloard after rough radiusing
The fretboard after fine sanding
I decided to round over the neck heel
Temporarily installing tuners to get the location of the screws
A first look at the headstock with the tuners
Removing the tangs from the fretwires
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 with a home-made 25 degree beveling block that hold a file
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. The 3 frets to the left of the center fret are polished.
The frets are done!
Removing wood from neck pocket on Forstener bit drill press
Aligning the neck pocket template and then routing the pocket to the right depth
Neck pocket carved
Checking neck pocket alignment with a laser. It’s dead on!
Neck pickup mock up
Mock up of the guitar with hardware
Another look of the mock up of the guitar with hardware
Clamped on the drill press about to drill the jack hole
Jack hole drilled on the drill press
Carving a small round over by hand
Me working on the guitar (photo courtesy of my daughter 🙂
About to start finish-sanding
A quick setup to check bridge, neck and string alignments
Checking alignments… looks great!
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.
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.
After hours of final sanding, one last wipe with mineral spirit to remove dust. I think Dora approves! 🙂
Adding grain filler to the mahogany
Grain filler drying in the sun
The pores are filled and the surface is smooth after the grain filler
Wipe-on the polyurethane, wet. Starting to build the layers of poly.
Wipe-off the polyurethane, dry
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 on th back
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
Carved the cavity in the headstock
Glue the inlay in the cavity
Another look at the clear coat, still needs to be wet-sanded and buffed
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
Tru-Oil and wax applied
A look at the back of the neck with Tru-Oil and wax applied
After the polyurethane has had enough time to properly cure, it’s time to sand the top layer to remove the orange peel.
After many hours of buffing
Applying the final buffing compound
All the buffing is finally done!
My friend Tom wiring the electronics
Drilling the holes on the neck heel
After careful alignment, the neck is screwed in
Almost all the hardware is installed. Next step is set-up.
Testing the guitar on a Fender Blues Deluxe Reverb. No it’s not my amp, … I wish 🙂
En route to the owner…
10 thoughts on “Custom Telecaster Guitar Build Diary”
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?
Hi Vladimir, The thickness of the neck blank is 0.75″ (1.9 cm) and the fretboard is 0.25″ (0.64 cm). Feel free to join the Project Electric Guitar Facebook group, there are many new guitar builders but also many experienced, knowledgeable and friendly people to help with questions if you get stuck… https://www.facebook.com/groups/ProjectElectricGuitar/
Take care, Araz
Looks really great!
Can I ask what finish you used on the body? And how did you apply it?
Thanks John. The finish is gloss polyurethane and I applied it from spray cans.
Hi – I just stumbled across this project and I am just floored by the the quality of your craftsmanship and attention to detail. I can only hope to build somethings remotely resembling your work some day. I do have one question – how long did you wait for the poly to dry before wet sanding? Thanks.
Can you tell please what is the thickness of the top, and what is the thickness of the body?
Thank you Tom. The top is 1/4″ (0.64cm) and the body is 1-5/16″ (3.33cm).
Your step by step guide is fantastic, to say nothing of your workmanship.
I don’t know if you’re still answering questions and comments on this page, but I was wondering how many coats of polyurethane you applied.
Also wondering why you decided to use grain filler + finish rather than just build up several layers of finish to achieve that mirror look–is the wood just too porous too achieve that finish using only the polyurethane coat?
To be honest, I don’t remember how many coats I applied.
For porous woods like mahogany and padouk, applying the grain filler allows for faster accumulation of finish. Don’t underestimate the need to fill pores before applying the finish, it will speed up the whole process greatly.