Part 1

OK - so we're ready to start shaping the headstock. The first job is to mask off the wood, then draw the design. I've also measured and marked out where I want the tuners to be.

The headstock is now pretty much done. I cut out the rough shape with a coping saw, then use half round rasps, files and sandpaper to neaten things up. I use a Dremel with a barrel sander to work on the curves.

Now it's time to drill out the holes for the tuners. I prefer to do this after shaping the headstock, just in case I slip up and need to radically change the design! Again, this job would be much less of a headache with a pillar drill, but I make do with what I've got :)

The shaping of the neck begins. First of all I mark a line down the centre of the neck, and another down each side about 3mm below the fretboard. This indicates the material to be removed. The first job is shaping the 'shoulders' where the headstock meets the neck with a half round rasp:

Then on to the 'heel' where the two pieces of the neck meet. Again, using a half round rasp - take it slow, a rasp can remove a lot of material in a short time:

Then I move on to the spokeshave. Get the neck securely clamped, then take off equal amounts of material from either side, making sure to stay within your markings. Once I'm happy with the basic shape, I use the spokeshave to run straight down the centre of the neck to remove a little thickness. Just a little is all that's needed - mainly to blend in the headstock transition, and give the neck a gentle taper:

Then I round everything over with the rasp, followed by a cross cut file, making sure that the scratches made by the previous tool are all gone. I then take a long strip of 60 grit (a sanding belt is good too) and run it up and down the neck using a 'shoe shining' approach - this is effective for both removing file scratches and ensuring a nice rounded profile to the neck. Just make sure you sand with the grain afterwards with the same paper to remove any cross-grain scratches!

As a recap: I recently made this video, which shows my technique for shaping a CBG neck (sped up to double speed)

Once I'm happy with the basic shape of the neck, I turn my attention to the fretboard. I gently squeeze the mother of pearl inlay dots into the holes with a dab of superglue, then file them down a little, before using 120 grit sandpaper to get them flush with the board. I sand the fretboard down to 320 grit, then apply finish. I find it much easier to get a good finish on a fretboard before the frets are in than after. After a couple of coats of oil, an hour apart, I wet sand with oil and 600 grit wet & dry to get a nice smooth, polished surface on the fretboard. I then use a utility knife to scrape the dust and oil gunk out of the slots before adding the frets:

I then use a resin mallet to hammer in the frets. A few tips on this:

1. Hammer in the fret wire from the centre outwards

2. Cut the fret wire after you've hammered in into place

3. If you aren't able to hammer the fret wire in place (one side is raised, for example), first check your slot is deep enough. If it is, use a soft jaw clamp to hold the fret in place and move on to...

4. Once the fret wire is seated to your satisfaction (i.e. flat across the surface of the fretboard), allow a small bead of superglue to wick into the bottom of the fret slot on either side. This should keep things steady while you dress the ends:

When dressing the fret ends, I use a good quality flat file and simple run it lengthways up and down the sides of the neck, first at an angle, then flat. This gives a consistent bevel on the sides of the frets, and takes those sharp edges off. Keep checking with your fingers until they've all gone. I finish up the job with sandpaper, starting at 80 grit and going up to 600. The fret ends should now be super smooth, and the higher grade sandpaper will give a bit of polish to the fret ends.

A fret end dressing file is useful to take off the tiny sharp bits on the corner of the frets. I think I saw someone mention using an emery board to do this. I haven't tried it but it sounds a good idea!

On to part 3!

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Tags: how to, neck


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Comment by Jim Morris on July 22, 2014 at 4:19pm

Ahhh Richey.... it's the circle of life!

Comment by Richey Kay on July 22, 2014 at 3:36pm
Cheers Jim, it was my pleasure. How odd that instead I learned a lot of this from you!
Comment by Jim Morris on July 22, 2014 at 3:06pm

Well Richey, I wish you had posted this 5 years ago then I wouldn't have had to figure out so much on my own! These 3 posts will be a great help to new builders and also to folks like me who've made a few but are open to new ways of doing things. Thanks!

Comment by Glenn Watt on July 19, 2014 at 9:26pm

Numero dos is well written. You explain your approach clearly. Excellent images.

Great stuff!

On to post three.

Comment by robert jones on July 17, 2014 at 1:13pm

LOL Holding the bare ends makes my fingers cramp, easier for me with the blocks attached.

Comment by Richey Kay on July 17, 2014 at 1:02pm
Just beautiful Bob. And infinitely more complex than mine, which is just a long strip of 60 grit which I hold at eother end :-)
Comment by Ron "Oily" Sprague on July 17, 2014 at 1:01pm
I do the same thing, sorta, but flip my belt sander upside down in my Workmate, using 80 grit, then run the neck through a few passes until I get the shape roughed out. Takes me maybe 10 minutes from quarter to there. Then I rasp out any high spots, rasp out the heel and headstock curves, then start in with a rubber block sander with progressively finer grits to about 320. Then steel wool it, one more pass with the 320, and it doesn't even really need stain. I use two pieces of laminated 3/4" plywood, with the lams standing up.
Comment by robert jones on July 17, 2014 at 12:44pm

Well then here's a pic of the tool in all it's complexity. :-)

Comment by Richey Kay on July 17, 2014 at 12:41pm
Yup, that's a good tip Bob, and a technique I use myself... didn't want to go into to much detail for the purposes of this guide, but I may add that one in.
Comment by robert jones on July 17, 2014 at 12:34pm

A handy "tool" to get rasp and file marks off the roughed in neck can be made from a piece of sanding belt and two scraps of wood.

Clamp the neck to your bench with full access to the rounded portion, brace the head stock against your body.

Use a shoe polishing action while moving up and down the neck. Use a light touch and check progress frequently.

Finish sand with the grain to remove any cross grain marks.

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