Building the body – Day 1 of 4

by Chris Bewick

It’s been a few months since I made any Project Telecastle updates. This was partly due to a dependency on tools which I did not have available to me at home and partly because I got distracted enjoying the Summer! However, the days are now getting shorter, the hangovers have faded and the project is very much back on.

A pile of tools and materials on the workbench

Today I was back in my Dad’s workshop for the first day in a long weekend of full-time guitar building. Last time I was here, back in June, I was building the guitar neck. This time I will be focusing purely on the body.

At this point I’d like to thank my Dad for his tremendous generosity in both knowledge and tools alike. Much of what follows uses ‘I’ for consistenty of writing style but a few of them should definitely be ‘we’s. Thanks Dad.

The first job for the day is to plane the one-piece, swamp ash body blank to ensure that it is both evenly thicknessed and more importantly flat!

Planing the body blank

Next I decided which part of the blank I wanted to use to make the guitar and drew around the 6mm mdf template. I put the most attractive grain to the back of the guitar because the top will soon be covered with flamed maple and hidden from sight.

Positioning the template

Once the shape was drawn, I moved over to the band saw to do a rough cut of the body within a few millimetres of the pencil line.

Rough cutting the body on the band-saw

A few minutes later I was done. I decided to keep the ash offcuts to test stains and lacquers on later in the build.

Rough guitar body and ash offcuts

Next I attached the mdf template to the ash using a few screws. To ensure the body didn’t split I drilled small pilot holes for the screws. For this project the position of the screws was not important as the top will not be visible. If this was not the case the screws could have been positioned within the neck pocket and bridge pickup where the affected wood will later be removed by the router.

Screwing the template to the ash

Next I moved over to the router table and used a pattern bit to cut the body to the shape of the template. Note the use of ear protectors and safety glasses, very important!

Routing the body

Generally speaking the routing went well but there was some superficial burning of the wood around the neck where I was moving the work too slowly.

Router burn around the neck pocket

In addition to this there was some router tear-out on the upper horn where I probably moved the work too fast. There is definitely an art to routing which I have not yet mastered.

Router tear-out on the upper horn

The pattern router bit I used was not long enough to cut the full depth of the body so an uncut lip of wood remained all around the back of the body. At this point I switched to a panel trimmer bit and flipped the work over. This enabled me to trim the remaining work using the already cut parts as a template for the rest.

An unrouted lip around the back of body

A few moments later the body shape was cut. It was at this point that I noticed the patterning along the top edge of the body. As the grain was running diagonally through the edge of the blank the deeper I cut into the waist the higher the grain lines went. This resulted in a wavy, contour line effect which I really rather like.

Wavy swamp ash wood grain

The next job for the day was to cut the control cavity. This was the point at which my telecaster plans and I parted ways as I had decided not to go for the conventional cavity and chrome control panel.

The controls for this guitar, volume, tone and a three-way switch, are going to be positioned in a gentle curve which follows the shape of the body. They will be mounted directly into the maple top which will act as a sort of wooden scratchplate.

To mark out this cavity I used a panel gauge to draw a line parallel to the body’s edge where I wanted the controls to be positioned. I then drew a further two curves equidistant from the first, one inside the line and the other outside. I then used some random washer which happened to be the right diameter to connect the ends with a smooth radius.

Marking the control cavity with a panel gauge

I then used a forstner bit on the drill press to remove much of the excess wood.

Removing excess wood with a forstner bit

Next I made an initial shallow pass with a hand-held router to finalise the shape of the cavity. This ended up being slightly larger than I intended but it was a fairly arbitrary shape in the first place and it will not be visible on the finished guitar. I then used a chisel to remove a majority of the wood through the remaining thickness of the body. The less work I have to leave for the router to do the better.

Extending the control cavity with a chisel

Next it was back to the router table with the aforementioned panel trimmer bit to finish cutting the control cavity to its final shape. In a similar way to the rest of the body shape I could use the already cut thickness of the body as a template for the rest.

Routing the control cavity

By the end of the day I was left with a rather attractive telecaster shaped chopping board complete with an ergonomic carrying handle.

An unfinished swamp ash guitar body