Monday, September 28, 2009

More Neck Work...Oops!

If the neck were to be attached to the body perfectly perpendicular to the top, the strings would be too far above the frets at the lower end of the fretboard, down around the 14th fret where the neck joins the body.  Angling the neck back very slightly--one to two percent, lowers the strings enough to make it playable.  However, the top has a very slight radius, so some material must be removed from the heel area just to bring the neck angle to 90 degrees, then a slight bit more to achieve the final neck angle of 1-2 percent.

This is easily if not quickly done with some sand paper.  It's tedious because I have to sand, bolt the neck on, place a straightedge on the neck and measure the gap between the straightedge and the soundboard at the bridge location, take it off, sand some more, rinse and repeat.

It's further complicated by the fact that both edges of the heel must be flush against the guitar when the neck is attached.  If not, it not only looks bad, but because the neck will rock a bit it's impossible to measure the gap accurately.

I worked on this the week of September 14; I really want to have the neck attached and the fretboard glued on by the time I went away for the weekend on a Walk to Emmaus.  (If you don't know what that is, well, I'll have to make that the subject of another post.)

It's an artificial deadline, self-imposed for whatever reason.  And I found myself pushing for it even more as I took time away to work on the den painting project which ended up also involving staining a hundred board feet of chair rail.  (Prep, sand, stain, sand, stain again.  A week away from guitar-building.  Grrr.)

Well, I had no problem sanding down to a decent neck angle, but for some reason I couldn't get the edges of the heel flush to the body.  I sanded and sanded and it didn't seem to do anything.  I worked late on Monday the 14th, and it just wasn't working.  I'm usually reading in bed by 11 p.m., and Pam came out to find out why I was still working at 11:30, and in my frustration I snapped at her.

Well, one of the reasons I got into guitar-building was for a release from stress, not to cause frustration.  I have found that when I get stuck on a problem, it's best to leave it alone for a while.  Put the tools down, turn off the lights, get a good night sleep and tackle the problem the next evening.  That time away helps my brain to sort through the problem and see it from a fresh perspective.

I had passed that time a couple of hours before.  I knew the solution was simple, but I couldn't see it.  I was determined to solve it that night, but nothing I did made any difference in the neck joint.  That was both puzzling and frustrating, but I plowed on.  And on.  And on.  Mainly because of a stupid, arbitrary deadline that I put on myself.

Snapping at Pam showed me that I was past my limit.  She quietly left me alone.  I worked for a couple of minutes and finally gave up.  Turned off the lights, went in, hugged my wife and apologized and explained that I was frustrated because I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong with the neck.

She's a good woman and had already forgiven me.

The next evening I went out, got my engineers square, found the high spots, sanded them down, and attached the neck.

Perfect fit, perfect neck angle.

See?  Going to bed and letting the brain work on it during the night worked.

So now it's time to glue on the fretboard.

Uh-oh.  In sanding I tried to avoid the front of the heel where the fretboard is attached, because that would reduce the neck angle, but in trying to level the heel I ended up sanding some on the front.

Not just some, but too much.  Now, instead of joining the body at the 14th fret, the fretboard joins at the 13 1/2th fret.  Which looks like crap.  It's  a cosmetic thing, but looks matter.  To me, a guitar is as much a visual work of art as it is a musical work of art.

But it's not just cosmetic.  Moving the fretboard down also moves the bridge location down, and the bridge is strategically located on the lower bout to create the greatest amount of movement on the top.  By moving the bridge, I'll change the sound.  I'm not sure what it will sound like--I'm guessing some of the low end will be robbed, and undoubtedly some volume will be sacrificed.

Unacceptable.  And now I realize that I have to make another neck.

At first I'm really upset with myself, but strangely, after a few minutes, I'm all right.  Relieved.  I'm not going to meet my stupid deadline, and it was a stupid deadline.  There was no need for it, and it didn't help the process, it impeded it.

And I find myself kinda glad.  There were some aspects of the neck that I wasn't quite satisfied with, and now I get to fix those things.  I already have another neck blank, so I just have to order a few small parts like another headplate and some more bolts.

Oh, and look at that last picture again.  You can see that I installed the pearl position markers?  Looks good, right?  If you play guitar, you might have already caught my mistake.  There are two position markers at the 12th fret, which is traditional (the 12th fret marking the octave), but the next markers should be on the 15th and 17th frets.  I've put them on the 14th and 16th frets.

I actually laughed at myself.  So, what the heck, I'll order another fretboard.  No big deal.  Glad I caught it.  Gotta do it right.

So I closed up shop, went inside, took a shower, got a book, a cup of coffee, a really good cigar went out on the deck and had a relaxing evening with Kobi the Wonder Beagle.

Slept like a baby.  Took the guitar with the bad neck still attached to Emmaus and used it as an illustration that we are all in the process of becoming what God wants us to be, and sometimes that involves getting rid of something that's not working right, like a bad neck that will interfer with the music God wants to make in our lives.  Something like that.  You had to be there.

Friday and Saturday I worked on a new neck.  The guitar will be better for me having made a new neck.

I know I am.

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