Fulks Run, Virginia:
Where the river is clean and there's chicken on the que!
Semi-Hollow Arch Top Electric: Under
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Design begin: February 1998
Status Spring 2000: Hope to get this baby boxed up and ready for
electronics before the summer humidity sets in!
Primary materials: Sitka Spruce top with center wedge of curly red
maple. Curly spalted red maple sides and back. Three piece neck, mahogany
sandwiching East Indian rosewood, integrated with mahogany sustain block.
What's Unique About this Design: In simplest terms, a modified Spanish
footer integrated with the sustain block to create a thru neck-sustain block
system. Hopefully, pictures will tell a thousand words. For the
guitarist first understand this, the neck is not dovetailed or bolted to a
footer block. Next understand that a "sustain block" running through the center of
the "box" is commonly used in semi-hollow electric design to help firm
the soundboard to reduce or eliminate feedback. In my design, the neck
is glued on top of the sustain block and carved at the footer to accept the
sides as described below. The neck wood is continuous from the scarf joint at
the head to just behind the mounting area for the string stop piece. The
footer is carved with a slot on one side to accept the
bass-half of the sides and a "ledge" on the treble side to accept the
treble-half of the sides. This design makes a little extra room for your
left hand under
the area of the fretboard beyond the 14th fret.
Future pics will reveal a "thousand words" about this design.
For now, some pics of early construction stages. Sorry, I wish I had a camera as
sharp as my #5 Record Plane. You should at least be able to understand the
"essence" of this instrument:
Sequence: Molds and jigs:
- Sides and primary mold system. Features
include upper half that detaches from the base in order to use the base as a
holding cradle for carving the top and back. Base is two layers of particle
board thick, with cutout in the center to allow for top or back to lay face
first while carving out inside of top or back. Notice the ledge upon which the
sides rest. Plus, left/right side removable cutaway supports for cradle so
that it may support both the top or the back for carving. Threaded rods
and spool clamps will probably be added to the mold for clamping the sides to
the top (facedown)...and then clamping the back to the sides.
- The top half of the mold removed with
sides intact. Thus, allowing the bottom half of the mold to be used as a
carving cradle. Thermometer and hydrometer accompany the storage area.
- A mold to help shape purflings for the
f-holes. F-hole template at top.
Sequence: Carving the arched back:
- The back blank is made from
1" bookmatched halves of highly figured, spalted, curly, red maple.
- Arching templates from
the Benedetto book were used to map contour lines (see picture of top with
- Before drilling a gazillion holes. The router
was used to cut the depth along the outside edges of the back.
- The drill press was used to
drill a gazillion holes to specific depths within each set of contour lines:
- Back and faceplate. Spalted curly red
maple I purchased through a friend locally (Rockingham County, Shenandoah
Valley, Virginia). I got wood for two more like this!
- After some time spent chiseling and planing away the gazillion holes, only
the bottoms of those holes along the contour
lines remained. Getting close. Notice that the holding cradle is the lower
half of the mold system for the sides mentioned above.
- The exterior of the back is carved and moved
to a holding board so the top can be held in the holding cradle.
Ooops! Tape in the cutaway reinforces a crack that developed and that will
be reinforced later from the interior, maybe to be seen by only the most nitpicky
craftspersons (like me and the guys I learned from)! Focus your attention
rather to the beauty and wild patterns starting to show in this highly
Sequence: Making the carved arched top:
- Contour lines were mapped to the top
using the arching templates from the Benedetto book..
- Having gained
great confidence in the hole drilling technique, a lot of time was saved in
carving the top by first drilling only one set of holes along each contour
line. No holes were drilled in the area between the lines. Then, between
drilling each set of contour lines, the router
was used to cut the contour shelf to depth.
- Six ledges at 1/8 inch increments result.
Note in the area of the cutaway two wood screws holding the removable
support for the cutaway area. For carving the back, this piece will be
removed and a symmetric match installed on the other side.
- Violin and palm planes are the
main tools used to produce final contours. The bottom of the holes makes an
excellent reference point in the planing process. Use a steel bit and watch the
hole decrease in diameter as you approach the bottom of the hole. Note the curly maple
centerpiece sandwiched between Sitka Spruce.
- Very critical for this design is accurate planing of that area of the top
upon which the end of the fingerboard will rest (from 14th to 21st
frets). As the top will be "inlaid" onto the top of the neck-sustain
block, the slope of the top under the fingerboard must be as close as
possible to the same angle of the neck. To help we use some basic
geometry. The sustain block with wedge cutoff
to later accept the neck, is
inverted and used as a guide to help finish plane the top.
- A depth stop jig is used to
drill holes to consistent thickness in order to begin carving the inside of
the top. Another helpful hint from the Benedetto book.
- Strapping tape is used to hold binding
strips for gluing into the f-hole.
- Top is now ready to cut out holes for
control knobs, jack, and 5-position switch.
Sequence: Neck-sustain block
- Neck and faceplate (not attached).
Note the three piece neck, two 1/8" by 3/8" epoxy graphite
reinforcement rods, and custom selected bookmatched curly maple faceplate. A
scarf joint attaches the head to the main length of the neck. A mirror was
used to select a pattern in a piece of curly maple that would yield an
interesting bookmatched figure for the faceplate. The faceplate is not
- The sustain block begins with a block of wood roughly the length of the
body. A wedge is cut from the top of the block at about a 4 degree
angle to accept the neck. The joiner is a big help making a square
- After gluing the neck onto the block, the neck-block
system is fitted into the sides. This is what I call the "modified
Spanish footer" for those of you familiar with classical guitar
construction. A slot accepts the bass side and a ledge accepts the
- Next, the top of the system is carved
to match the underside of the top.
- "Wings" are added to the
block to widen the areas where hardware (pickups, bridge, stop piece)
will be mounted through the top.
- The neck and sustain block now carved to
match and accept the underside of the top. Soundholes cut to help
reduce weight. I expect these holes will also affect sound in some
unknown, but hopefully positive way! Yes, this is experimental and I
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