Hey everyone. I used to be a very active poster and mod on here, but I fell off the wagon, as they say.
I don't even know if there's anyone here I still recognize who's posting
In any case... I was always a huge DIY gearhead, and last week, while looking online for a project guitar, saw a DIY Telecaster kit on Ebay. Specifically, it was a lefty
DIY kit - as a left handed guitarist, I'm constantly getting the shaft when it comes to cool gear.
I got to thinking - actually, no, I didn't. I just bought the damn thing without a second thought. I mean, a hundred bucks... I won't remember spending that in a few weeks, right?
The more I thought about it, the more the possibilities entered my mind. Altered contours. Custom headstock shape. Oh, the neck radius! I can shave that down. Pickups. Potentiometers. Wiring. YESS!!! This is gonna be awesome.
So, I figure that I'll go ahead and post some of the progress on here as I go forward with the project.
1. The Goal
I've always loved the look of Fender's Custom Shop rosewood Telecasters.
Sometime around 2006, I was in a bathroom stall at work and thought to myself that a rosewood Telecaster would look exceptionally sick with a black-red-black pickguard from Warmoth. Why I thought this while using the bathroom, I'm not sure; however, I think I read somewhere that Einstein came up with the theory of relativity while doing his business, so it doesn't surprise me.
The main hurdle between me and this guitar is about $2000. Well, I could call Warmoth up and have them make me a body and neck, and this would set me back about $1200 or so, not including additional parts and all that. Although the kit I found is an alder body and maple neck, I can go ahead and stain it to get a similar aesthetic and appearance at about 1/10th - 1/20th the cost. Furthermore, I get the panache of saying I finished, built, and wired the thing myself!
With this project, I'm not looking to create something that I can claim sounds "every bit as good" as a Custom Shop Fender, or anything like that. Furthermore, I am not creating this guitar to be used for a traditional "Telecaster" sound - no, I'm dropping a DiMarzio Tone Zone in the bridge, and wiring it to a 2meg pot so I can run it insanely hot. Basically, I want something that will be good for some driving metal gallops, some blistering leads, and some searing rythm playing. With the hot electronics and some really aggressive gain from my amp, it doesn't need to be a holy grail piece of tone wood.
2. The Kit
When the kit came in the mail, this is what it looked like:
The kit has "everything you need" to build the guitar: neck, body, pickups, pickguard, bridge, jack, pots, selector, etc etc. All of the pots and switch are prewired and have solderless connections, so actually, you don't really
need to bust out your soldering iron, though I will. Something to do with manliness: doing your own oil changes, brewing your own beer, upgrading your own computer's RA-I mean, throwing your computer at a wall when it gives you a hard time.
Now, truth be told: the pickguard is wavy and scratched from out the box. Lame. The pickup cover is scratched. Lame-er. The bridge is a toploader, rather than a string-through, which I knew in advance from looking at the pics. Not necessarily lame, but the bridge looks as cheap as it is. I knew from the gate that I would likely not be using these parts.
The body was obviously intended to have a lacquered, opaque finish rather than a stain: the body is made of two pieces of alder, and the grains don't match up that well. Fine, whatever: it's gonna be stained pretty dark anyways. It's EXTREMELY lightweight, but still nice and hard. It resonates pretty well when tapped; we'll see how it is once it's all done.
The neck is super-solid and cut from a really good piece of maple. It has one dark spot, but it's not noticeable when you run your finger down the neck. It's also a 22-fret with an extension on the fretboard to accomodate the extra fret - pretty cool!
The guitar came with a pretty medium sanding and was still a little rough all around.
I used a 400 grit sandpaper to sand it down smooth, and then an 800 grit to the point that it basically felt like satin all around. It took about twenty minutes by hand.
The neck was a bit thick - I prefer my necks to be very, very slim. So, out comes the 100 grit! If you notice in the photo, I sanded down the contour between the headstock and the neck so that it's a very natural glide down the neck. I actually sanded it a little bit more after I took that picture so it's even smoother.
As I did this, I got a couple millimeters off the neck, so it feels like a much more aggressive Jackson or ESP than a typical Strat or Tele. I went ahead and spent another 45 minutes sanding down the neck with an 800 and then 1000 grit, so the thing basically feels like a pool cue
When you hold it up to the light, it actually shines a bit and you barely see the woodgrain.
It came out so good that I'm somewhat rethinking my initial plan to stain the neck rosewood, and may just move straight to a tung oil finish.
After this, I test fit the neck, and remembered one of my primary gripes with the Tele-style body, which is one of my favorites: that lower cutaway sucks.
I never liked the way that my hand hit it, and basically was resting on a right angle to give me access to the upper frets.
So, out comes the 100 grit and about another hour of sanding. I sanded it down a pretty good amount on the rear of the body - no alterations to the top of the guitar, but you've got way more room to play, and your hand basically slides into a groove rather than into a wall.
Aw yeah. The reeeeeeeeeally fun part.
I've wanted to try finishing a guitar for years, but I'll be honest, it's a daunting task, and one I've shied away from since I have basically no experience in. But, that's part of the reason that I've been more excited to do the finishing than the other parts of the project!
I went ahead and got a bucket of Minwax in a color that seemed to match what I had in mind, as well as some tung oil. I've played a Les Paul that had a tung oil-finished neck, and loved the way it felt. I've also seen some custom guitars that are finished in tung oil as well; I'd like to still feel the grain of the body and neck, and so that's the plan.
Since I started the project two days ago, I've applied four coats of Minwax, each of which has set for about an hour. You let it soak in, wipe off the excess, and then give it a quick, light sanding with some 600 grit, and reapply. This was how the guitar looked after two coats, with the neck and original pickguard and bridge test-fit (not bolted together).
And, after two more coats and a more thorough sanding with the 1000 grit:
close to what I imagined, though a little less reddish. I'll have to go ahead and pick up a different pot of stain that's slightly more reddish-tinged. FTR, a small pot of stain will be more than adequate for one guitar - I now have enough Jacobean brown Minwax to make a dresser... maybe two. Durr.
You'll also notice the black-red-black pickguard from Warmoth. I opted to leave out the neck pickup, which I never really use much on my Telecaster, and certainly don't intend to use on a more dedicated metal/hardcore guitar. Sort of like a Nocaster from hell.
Well, that's basically where we're at right this second! I will be working some more on it over the next couple days and will report on the progress.
Considering that I'm about maybe 3 or 4 hours into working on this guitar, I am VERY pleased with the results, and amazed at how easy the whole process has been up to this point.