It’s close enough kid, we aren’t making watches…
Closing in on the nerve-racking moment whereby the body and neck would be joined together in permanent union ready to accept the long-awaited makeover of nitrocellulose varnish, I decided for the first time to slot the pieces together purely as a temporary arrangement to assess the neck alignment. I am relieved to report that it looked good and alleviated any fears I was harbouring about producing the stringed equivalent of Dizzy Gillespie’s famous bent trumpet. To quote an old journeyman of mine who endowed me with many precious skills during my apprenticeship but who also from time to time adopted this single policy of dubious value, “it’s close enough kid, we aren’t making watches”.
The Dizzy Gillespie “bent trumpet” scenario was avoided
Now that the dovetail was verified as acceptable in that it was straight and tight enough to hold even without glue I gently separated the parts and set about the final preparations required before applying the finish. There were three outstanding issues.
Issue 1: Cleaning the sides
The black paint on the sides of the body was something I had avoided eye contact with on a number of occasions throughout the process. I had attempted to ambush it with the trusty sander but it was obvious that the deep curves at the waist would not suit this approach and damage to the laminate would result. Sanding the whole area by hand would be hideous too and may result in an uneven surface. It is amazing how quickly shallow grooves, a facsimile of your fingertips, appear in a piece of wood with aggressive sanding.
I decided that a hybrid approach was required in using the sander where it was safe to do so and sanding by hand when the opposite was true. A stroke of genius occurred when I decided to make a sanding block from some old pipe insulation which fitted the guitar’s curves perfectly. Please see below.
Old pipe insulation cut to length
A circular sanding block !
Toning the waistline
Issue 2: The f-hole dilemma
Still wallowing in self-satisfaction at the achievements of the circular sanding block, the now perfectly clean sides and the level binding strips around the guitar edges, I sat on a rugged stool, coffee in hand, staring upon the beauty before me. It felt as though I was roosted in a creaking old rocking chair on the sun drenched porch of a cabin in the American deep south listening to Hank Williams compose a new song.
This quiet reflective moment was shattered in an instant by a sudden attack from an unexpected source, the f-holes! The close up photograph below illustrates better than words the issue that confronted me.
An unbound f-hole
The epiphany was simple, the f-holes had no binding. I pondered for a moment whether or not they should be bound or if it was traditional to simply paint them in with the body colour. A quick consultation of the oracle that is the internet confirmed that higher quality guitars invariably have a binding around the inner edge of the f-holes and indeed close inspection of a photograph of the Gibson Barney Kessel demonstrated this to be true. I reached for the superglue, the masking tape and a strip of 0.5mm binding strip. Et voila!
A bound f-hole
Issue 3: The headstock logo
My memory fails me when attempting to recall how the original Shaftesbury logo was attached to the headstock. I remember clearly that it had the appearance of mother-of-pearl but it must have been very thin as it was not routed into the headstock itself and disappeared with the removal of the original finish. I had replaced it with rather dapper gold lettering from a stationers shop. American singer songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard is often credited with the statement, “the problem with irony is, not everyone gets it”. For the avoidance of doubt I was being ironic. As the appropriately low quality photograph to the left demonstrates my previous attempt at a new logo was dismal at best and an embarrassment at worst.. What was I thinking?!
This could not be allowed to happen again and as a consequence a few days of research was embarked upon resulting in a substantial degree of trepidation. The research revealed that mother-of-pearl or abalone are quite difficult to work with and require patience, specialist tools and most of all hard earned skills to achieve acceptable results. Not for the first time I began to wonder if this was my waterloo, the point at which I would falter and a partially completed guitar would return to the loft.
Akin to the optimism rendered when sunshine bursts through dark clouds I decided that there could be no turning back. Defiantly a couple of slices of mother-of-pearl (basically a carved up seashell) were purchased from Original Marquetry Ltd and a new stage of this adventure began.
Firstly of course I need a Shaftesbury logo to cut from the mother-of-pearl blank and I managed
to find a reasonably high resolution image of a Model 3264 on an internet auction site. Having imported the image into Adobe Illustrator I painstakingly traced around it to create a decent quality scaleable vector image. It was sized using real life measurements from my own guitar and extrapolated measurements from the image. Again I heard a comforting echo from the past concerning relative accuracy and the manufacture of watches…
I was then able to print the logo actual size to create a template around which I could cut the mother-of-pearl.
At this stage I had to await the arrival of some tools from StewMac which included a pearl cutting saw frame and blades as well as other inlay tools such as a scribe, cutting lubricant and engraving filler. A couple of tiny Dremel inlay router bits were purchased at the same time and their usage is revealed in the following set of photographs.
The process was to glue the printed logo to a square blank of mother-of-pearl and after taking the precaution of wearing a mask the cutting began. This was slow and tedious work with heavy casualties in the form of saw blades visible alongside the red and black book in the bottom right corner of the montage above.
So we had an inlay logo. What now?
The next step was to scribe the logo onto the headstock in preparation for routing the wood to receive the inlay. I may not have got the angle of the “S” quite right but I tried as best I could to copy the original 1960/70 logo. Certainly in more recent incarnations of Shaftesbury guitars it is much lower than the grandiose sweep seen here.
Below you will see the headstock etched using the inlay scribe. StewMac’s precision router base attachment was once more fitted to the Dremel and within minutes a new trauma became apparent.
My lack of skill in the mini routing arena was brutally exposed and I allowed the machine as much free reign as it desired around the headstock rather like letting a toddler loose with a rotavator on a freshly laid lawn. The saving grace here was that the headstock would eventually be painted black and so my routing mishaps could be covered up by extensive use of engraving filler. My inexperience was also exposed in that I routed the inlay cavity about 1.0mm too deep.
The inlaid logo completed albeit in an amateur fashion
This section of the blog dealt with some of the most difficult challenges encountered throughout the project but, in spite of it all, we were now at last ready to glue the body to the neck, apply the finish and install the pickups.
Come back soon for the conclusion of the journey!