As with many of my garage projects this next one started with someone else’s idea. A good friend of mine decided to get himself self educated in luthiering. For those of you who do not know what a luthier is Wikipedia defines it as someone who makes or repairs string instruments generally consisting of a neck and a sound box. It is better known as a guitar builder. He plays guitar and had the urge, and the skills, to be able to build his own electric 6 string.
He had already started his build before he approached me with his idea. He works much the same way as I do in respects to how he stages his builds. Although he had his current project well under way he was already thinking ahead to his second guitar build. For his current build he opted to purchase a pre-fabbed neck. For his next guitar he was planning to custom build the neck from scratch and this is the point where I enter in.
He required a way to cut the fret slots into the neck. Basically he need a high precision miter box in order to mount the neck blank square and then miter a slot to a precise depth using a fret saw. These fret miter boxes are nothing new as there are companies that exist who sell miter boxes specifically for this purpose. He approached me thinking that I may be able to come up with a custom design that would suit his needs.
So one early Saturday morning we met for breakfast and blueprinted out a rough design. Threw some ideas around and I was able to get a solid idea of what he needed the box to do. Best part was that as long as it accomplished the required task I was free to build it anyway I wanted to. I love not being constricted by boundaries. I had planned to combine materials in order to make the visuals worth looking at. I opted to use brass, oak, and aluminum in order to give it a unique image. Guitar building is precise, requires patience, and needs a deep philosophical understanding of craftsmanship therefore the tools that are used to build the guitar should meet the same standards as the luthier possesses. So, like usual, the following pictures take you through the entire build.
I planned to sandwich the fret saw blade in between 8 sealed ball bearings. I acquired high precision ball bearings used for router bits. The bearings will all get supported by brass spacers. I acquired a small Taig lathe awhile back which works great for small, precision, parts so I spun all the brass spacers out using it.
This is the ball bearing set up that will eventually get installed into 4 main aluminum supports.
Time to get the main vertical supports fabricated. Started off with some 6061 aluminum and squared it all up in the mill.
Milling out slots that will accept the ball bearing assemblies.
The miter box will require adjustment to accommodate fret saw blade thickness. 2 of the vertical supports were slotted to allow for adjustment.
Cross drilling and tapping holes to allow for a set screw to be threaded in and therefore secure the ball bearing assemblies. The hole will be hidden on the bottom thereby making the top, visual, portion of the support super clean.
I needed to secure different widths of the fret board blank into the base of the miter box. I came up with a cam system that would adjust to widths. Here I am spinning out one of the brass cams. Keep scrolling as more pictures will show exactly how this cam works.
The 2 brass cams required clearance in order to spin and adjust therefore the 2 rear vertical supports got milled in order to allow for cam clearance.
Time to lighten things up and shave off some excess material. The vertical supports didn’t require all the aluminum they started off with so I shave some off just to give them better visuals.
Since I was on a roll I thought I would try and prevent things from getting too mundane so I opted to drop a ball nose endmill into the supports to give them a good visual dimension.
Onto building some feet. They were machined from some round stock aluminum and then milled out to mount flush with the oak base.
Drilled and chamferred to accept stainless steel hardware.
Moving onto the depth stop for the saw blade. This will all make sense later. I machined some brass guide pins on the Taig lathe. I built a radius turner for the lather in order to get I beautiful contour finish.
More depth stop milling.
Time for another mill clean up.
With most of the aluminum machining completed I moved onto the oak base. I used a combination of endmills and router bits in the mill. Although the mill can’t even come close to putting out the RPM a router does it still does the job well. Here I drill all the holes in order to mount the brass and aluminum to.
I hate screwing into wood as it feels so imprecise to me. All the drilled holes received 1/4″ thread steel inserts therefore implementing metal threads.
Taking the edge of the base using a radius router bit on the mill.
And here are all the fabricated components that will eventually make up the miter box. Seem a bit excessive considering the tool only has to cut 1 slot.
The bearing assemblies get secured using hidden set screws.
These are all the components that make up the blade depth stop.
And these are all components assembled that make up the blade depth stop.
Before I go into finishing stage I mock everything up to ensure that it all works the way my brain designed it to.
The box gets disassembled and then the finishing process begins. The oak base received a couple coats of stain.
I thought since the miter box was a one-off design I would customize specifically to my friend. His name is Fabrizio and so I came up with an unapproved logo for him. I cut out a stencil on my vinyl plotter so that I could embed the logo into the oak base.
Using my airbrush I experimented with some colors on some scrap. I came up with a trio combination of colors that would suit the overall appearance of the design.
Applied the stencil, taped of the remainder, and started laying down the paint.
Once the logo was airbrushed in the oak received a polyurethane clear coat finish in order to protect both the logo and the work surface.
All the aluminum received hand brushing using a 320 grit paper.
Since the miter box required adjustment before use I built in a spring loaded hex key holder. A couple plungers and springs would allow for tool storage in the base.
This is a shot of me drilling only 2 holes for my friend in his original electric 6 string build. I want to be very clear here that I had NOTHING to do with his build. It was all him and all I simply did was drill 2 precision holes for him. His progress looks fantastic.
So here I move onto the pictures showing the completed build. You can get an idea of how everything works from this shot. The saw gets sandwiched between the bearing assemblies and then the top brass support of the saw is what contacts the depth stop.
Here one of the brass cams are evident. The 1/4″ stainless steel Allen head bolt gets loosened and then the cam can be pivoted and locked into place to allow for different neck widths.
The 2 spring loaded hex key holders are shown here. All that is required is light push in of the key and then a 90 degree turn in order to release it from the base.
Close up shot of the bearing assemblies.
This is the depth stop mounted to the verticals.
Here the 2 brass guide pins are visible. The center screw is used for precision adjustment of the depth height. I installed a rubber protective cap on the end of the adjustment screw in order to prevent any damage to the guitar neck due to contact with sharp edges.
I won’t go into great detail about how the depth stop set up is done however I will mention this. The stop can be precisely set using feeler blades. The saw in inserted and rested on top of the require feeler blades which represent the required depth. The depth stop is then locked into place.
You can see the slotted screw in the center and on top which is what is used to adjust the depth stop vertically. The stop is then locked into place using 2 set screws (shown being tightened) that lock into the brass guide pins.
The screw that is being pointed out allows for adjustment to accommodate different saw blade thicknesses. If only 1 saw is ever being used there is no reason to have to ever need to adjust this after the initial setting has been made. There are a total of 4 adjustment screws.
Here shows the adjustment and lock down of the brass neck width cams.
The underside of the miter box shows the aluminum supports. I built the 2 end feet with holes to accommodate screws in order to secure the box to a work bench. The center aluminum “GG” logo plate is simply there to provide support and prevent the oak from bowing.
For those interested this is the fret saw that is being used for the build.
This post wouldn’t be complete without showcasing Fabrizio’s first guitar build. The lines and zebra finish are fantastic! At this point the guitar is only mocked up which is evident by missing hardware. Photo credit goes to Fabrizio Tessaro.
And as an added bonus we all get to enjoy a 30 second riff featuring Fabrizio rippn’ on his custom in gordsgarage. NOTE: Do not judge the quality, the session was impromptu and features sound courtesy of a low end practice amplifier with absolutely no consideration given to sound set up.