Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jay Turser JTA-Flag300 - Wichita Lineman

I know I need a small vacation.

At the beginning and end of April, I took two well-needed vacations from some of my responsibilities at work and at home. Besides enjoying a visit from my sister, spending quality time with the wife and kids, and making a trip to Binghamton, NY, I spent part of a weekend on the LeSpork Prototype build.  I even found time to pick up and play a couple of the guitars in my growing herd, and buy some guitar parts through eBay.

Having already taken steps to design and build a full-on acoustic Flat Top Tele, it was time to make some room by cutting one loose from the flock.  I'll share more on that choice another time.  My Jay Turser will be with me for awhile yet.  Already well into the month of May, it was time to get back to the shed and finish up my repairs on this JTA-Flag300.

When I left off last time on this project guitar, it was clear that the action was very high.  It was so high, it made most of the neck unplayable.  To fix this meant adjusting the neck set angle.  To allow for future adjustments, I decided to adjust the angle by adding a small shim in the joint.  After making and trimming two shims, removing and replacing the neck numerous times, and restringing This Old Guitar just as many times, I ended up with a shim that was just the right thickness.  The thickness tapers, between about 1/16-inch nearest the neck bolts to about 3/32-inch towards the bridge.

Since there is nothing at the rear of the neck pocket for it to rest against, I glued this shim to the block.  After clamping, I left the glue to dry overnight, and moved on to sanding the neck.

When I had reattached the fingerboard, the edges of the binding strips stood proud of the neck wood just enough to be noticeable.  With some #150 paper, some light block sanding and hand sanding is all it took to get the surfaces to align.  When I was satisfied with the way it felt, I roughed up the rest of the back of the neck with #150 grit paper, in preparation for applying a couple of coats of clear lacquer.

After restringing and tuning one more time, I checked her 12th-fret intonation.

The compensated tusq saddle I'm using does not give perfect intonation on all of the strings.  But, for something off the shelf, it's pretty good.  I'll put a compensated bone saddle on her and tweak it later on.

I like a very flat fingerboard, so I tweaked her truss rod to get just barely enough relief to avoid fret buzzing.  With that done, it was finally time to put that truss rod cover back on!

Her 12th-fret action measured just over 3/32-inch on the low E and just under 3/32-inch on the high E.  With a set of D'Addario EJ15 strings, that's a very comfortable setup for me to play finger style on an acoustic guitar.  Expecting another hot and humid few days, I brought her back in to the air-conditioned house.  My son and I will be playing her for a few days, allowing her to acclimate and settle into the lower-humidity environment for awhile, before touching up her neck finish, reinstalling her black plastic heel plate, and giving her a good cleaning and polishing.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Flat Top Tele - 1983

Oh, if only my life was more like 1983
All these things would be more like
They were at the start of me
Had it made in 83.

It was in 1983 when I was putting the finishing touches on my first hand-built guitar, a copy of a Torres style classical.

This was an art independent study project I completed as a student in Binghamton.  After roughly 30 years, some repair projects, and a recent prototype solid body build, I decided to take the plunge and build another acoustic guitar.

Well, most of it.

It's a lot easier to buy things like this now than it was 30 years ago.  Instead of ordering blindly from a mail order catalog, it's also a lot more assuring to see pictures of the actual slabs of  wood you're paying for before committing.  A couple of weeks ago, the Honduran Mahogany rear/sides and Engelmann Spruce top I purchased online arrived at my dorrstep.

One thing I won't be building this time is a neck.  This project is to be a true flat-top acoustic-electric interpretation of a Telecaster.  So, I'm going with this used bolt-on Fender Strat-type model I found on eBay:

Over the past few years, I have amassed a collection of extra parts.  Some of these parts were intended for one project or another and ended up being replaced by others.  Some were purchases I made because I had found some deals that were just too good to pass up.  The rest are the usable parts I salvaged from project guitars and replaced with new parts.  Before bidding or buying anything else for the Flat Top Tele, I pulled from my parts boxes for the rest of the major components, including this preamp with a built-in tuner and 4-band equalizer, and a set of gold-plated 6-inline tuning heads.

I put some thought into how I could bend the sides for this guitar.  My first thought was to build some body-clamping forms from plywood or chip board, and to use my Wagner Steamer to power a steam box, like this one:

Thinking about the sharp radii at the cutaway and where the body meets the neck, I realized I'd have to come up with something else.

After  some research, I ended up with a more conventional luthier's tool, a bending iron.  When I built that Torres 30 years ago, I used a piece of 4-inch diameter steel pipe with an acetylene torch.  This time, thanks to some designs and demo videos shared by others on YouTube, I'll be using a commercial heat gun to warm up some 1-inch steel pipe.

For now, I'm focusing on some the design aspects of this project, and construction is on the back burner.  No rush, as I suspect it will be a year-long project at This Old Guitar.  As soon as I get to finishing off some smaller, lingering projects on the bench, I'll be back to this build and will post some progress pictures of my Flat Top Tele.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Epiphone LP Junior - Father and Son

It's not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.

A few years ago, I gave a Fender Squire Stratocaster Junior to my son and an Epiphone LP Junior to my daughter.  As it turned out, my daughter preferred the ukulele over the guitar.  After awhile, she gave the Epi back to me in exchange for something else.  At the time, I was not at all interested in spending any time playing an electric guitar.  Fortunately, my son was already outgrowing his baby Strat, and he had grown enough in size and muscle strength to handle the Epi's longer scale length and relatively heavier body.  After another horse trade, my son took possession of his second electric guitar.

For the price, I'd say the Epi LP Junior is a good value.  Although it has some quality issues off of the shelf, it is a more-than-adequate instrument for a beginner to learn on and grow into for a few years.  One thing that sticks out in my mind as a quality issue is the height-only-adjustable bridge. After playing this low-budget LesPaul-esque axe for a couple of years, my son had reached the point of being able to tell that her intonation was just not right.  So, it was time to make a change, and replace the stock compensated bridge with an adjustable model.  And, since the guitar had a combination bridge/stop tailpiece, my options were somewhat limited.  Instead of drilling holes in the body to install a separate stop tailpiece and upgrade to a Gibson ABR-1 Tune-o-matic Bridge, I did the next best thing.  After some searching on eBay, I picked up an adjustable bridge/stop tailpiece from one of my favorite sellers.

After replacing the bridge, it was time for new strings.  Considering that the strings on this axe had not been changed in years, I'm guessing a set of Ernie Ball Nickel Regular Slinky, 10-46 gauge, is what I had removed.  Having a set of Dunlop 9's on hand meant it was time to try a relatively lighter set of Dunlop 9's on the Epi and see how she rocked and rolled.

I spent the next half hour or so trying to set up the Epi, and made two discoveries.  First, I found out she has a one-way truss rod.  This would not be a problem for some players on some guitars, but I could not get enough relief on the neck with such a low-tension set of strings.  Second, I found that the new bridge had just a little more height than the stock bridge.  So, I had taken a guitar that suffered from string buzz on some of the lower frets that also had terrible intonation and no way to adjust it, and made it into a guitar that could be intonated with high action.

At this point, a novice player with access to Allen wrenches could destroy a guitar neck quickly and easily, by over-torquing the truss rod in an attempt to adjust the neck angle.  It's important to understand that a truss rod is something that can make neck curvature adjustments only, and only at the lower-frets of the neck.  This adjustment, combined with the proper nut height, bridge height, fret crowning and neck set angle, can be made to produce desirable string action.

The only way to possibly make a set of 9's and the new bridge work on This Old Guitar was to change the neck set angle.  By slightly angling the neck towards the back, I could use the bridge height adjustment to get the 12th fret action into the playable range.  If the string buzz was still an issue after the neck settled, I could look into replacing the truss rod with a two-way model, but that would be even more work than installing a stop tailpiece and separate lower-profile bridge.  More likely, if the neck set angle didn't solve the problem, I would just switch back to a set of Ernie Ball Nickel Regular Slinky, 10-46 gauge strings.

Noting the country of origin on the neck plate, I removed the plate and braced myself for some poor quality craftsmanship.

A tell-tale production fifth hole in the neck was the first thing that caught my eye.  Not an issue, everything looked fine, so far...

It was nice to find that Epi actually made an attempt to adjust the neck angle with a spruce shim.  Yet, it was an incomplete attempt.  I recall that the guitar had some fret buzz in the first five or so frets from day one.  Without a way to torque some relief into the neck, I now knew all too well why the frets buzzed.  On the brighter side, the four neck bolts and their receiving holes in the body were in good shape.

Another quality problem is this poor finish job in the neck pocket.  The finish is rough to the touch, leaving lots of gaps between the neck and body.  There is also an area at the production hole that did not receive any paint at all.  I decided it would be best to address all this with some sanding and clear coat, to help keep moisture from finding its way into the wood, after getting the set angle close.

To increase the neck angle, I made a new oak shim.  From this picture, you can see that the new one, on the left, is about twice the thickness of the one on the right that had been installed at the factory.

With the new shim in place, I re-assembled the neck joint to try out the set angle.  Although it played better, the angle needed to be brought back a touch more to get the bridge up slightly off of the lowest adjustment.  It was getting late, so I decided to first see if how comfortable my son was with the feel and the slight buzz of the 9's.  Ssanding and re-finishing the body side of the neck pocket could wait for another day, after deciding what gauge strings to go with on This Old Guitar.