Project Telecastle

Documenting the build of my first solid-bodied electric guitar

Project Telecastle!

Today marks the launch of this blog! To find out a bit of background to the project I would first recommend heading over to the about page.

Not much has happened so far. I have read a lot of forum posts, watched a lot of youtube tutorials and bought (and read) Make Your Own Electric Guitar by Melvyn Hiscox based upon the recommendation of local luthier Julian Mullen.

I have also ordered some full-scale Telecaster plans form eBay which should arrive shortly.

Special delivery

The full-scale telecaster plans arrived today! Thanks to John Anthony Guitars on ebay for a speedy delivery.

Full scale telecaster plans

The first sawdust is made!

Today Project Telecastle officially kicked off. It was a gloriously sunny day so I decided to set up the workmate in the garden and put tool to wood for the first time.

The first task was to make use of some scrap marine ply and a chunk of pine to make a workmate extension that could be used as a stage on which to work with the coping saw.

Next up was transferring the body template to the 6mm mdf from which I planned to make the template. To do this I simply photocopied the plans and stuck them on with spray adhesive.

Next I cut around the template with the coping saw, doing my best to stay within a millimetre or two of the line. It will need sanding to fine-tune the template shape but I will probably wait till I next visit my dad’s workshop to do this properly on the spindle sander.

Next job is to make a similar template for the neck pocket rout, maybe next weekend!

More templates…

Today was another gloriously sunny, Sunday afternoon so I decided to get the workmate out of the shed and set to work on some more templates. My first task was to add the control cavity to last week’s template. First I drilled a hole inside the marked area big enough to pass the coping saw blade through. Then I proceeded to cut along the line.

Telecaster control cavity router template

Next up was the neck template. A large majority of the neck consists of long, straight lines. I plan to cut these details directly into the neck blank using a band saw and a carefully positioned fence. For the headstock, which is considerably more intricate, I’m making another router template.

Step one, as with the body template, was sticking a photocopy of the full-scale plans to 6mm mdf with spray adhesive.

Telecaster headstock print out glued to 6mm mdf

Once the glue had dried I used the coping saw to cut out the template shape by hand.

Telecaster headstock cut out from  6mm mdf

Both templates will need sanding back to the line but this can wait until I next visit the workshop and have access to the spindle sander.

Shopping spree at David Dyke’s

Yesterday I drove 97.3 miles to visit David Dyke, the owner of a fantastic luthier supplies workshop in East Sussex. After the hugely enjoyable two and a half hour visit I came away with about 90% of the materials and hardware for Project Telecastle, which I find very exciting!

The workshop, located in some beautiful countryside and complete with amazing stained glass windows, is like a sweet shop inside. Each nook and cranny is filled from floor to ceiling with exotic woods and every guitar part imaginable.

Tonewoods galore

The first challenge was to pick the neck wood and the fingerboard blanks.

Shelves of guitar fingerboard blanks.

Then onwards to body blanks and decorative tops.

Decorative woods for acoustic guitars

Once the woods were chosen it was time to pick out hardware. We started with truss rods.

A large selection of truss rods

Followed closely by machine heads.

A vast array of guitar machine heads

A short while later the plans were covered with almost everything I was going to need.

Telecaster plans, covered in guitar hardware.

After picking out binding materials and fretwire, there was little left to do but pay the bill and load up the car.

The office featuring lovely stained glass windows

After an interesting chat, a couple of oatcakes and a cup of David’s delicious secret blend coffee I was back in the car with a boot full of wood, a beaming smile on my face and another 97.3 miles to drive. Thanks for a hugely enjoyable morning David.

Details of all the purchases made can be found on the expenses page.

Tonewood gallery

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so, as promised, here are the photographs of the wood I bought a couple of weeks ago.

Body — One-piece, swamp ash.

One-piece swamp ash body blank

One-piece swamp ash body blank from the end.

Decorative top — Book-matched, flamed maple.

Book-matched, flamed maple guitar top.

Neck — AAA maple.

AAA Maple neck blank.

AAA Maple neck blank from the end.

Fingerboard — Macassar ebony.

Macassar ebony fingerboard blank.

Now really looking forward to getting down to the workshop at the beginning of June and starting the build!

A tour of the workshop

Today I finally managed to get down to my Dad’s house in South Devon which, very conveniently, includes a spacious and well-stocked workshop. Over the next 4 days I am hoping to make significant progress with the build of the TeleCastle neck but first I thought I would give a tour of the workshop.

The first part of the workshop is a floating room which is built into a large agricultural barn. It is heavily insulated and has well regulated temperature and humidity. On your left hand side as you enter the room is the grinding/sharpening station, my Grandad’s old tool box and the primary work bench.

The left half of the workshop

On the other side of the room is the drill press, the door to the big boy tools and my work station for the next few days, or as my dad calls it, “the guest bench”.

The right side of the workshop

Going through the door will take you to the second section of the workshop which houses all the serious tools in a series of converted horse stables.

A collection of power tools

In the farthest corner is the chop saw which should speed up jig making.

chop saw

Just along from that there is the planer/thicknesser, shown here in planer mode.


Next up is the circular saw bench, probably a bit extreme for guitar making but a useful addition to the line up none-the-less.

circular saw bench

Last but not least is the bandsaw, this should save lots of time trimming the neck blank and fretboard!


Back in the main room, and definitely worth a mention of its own, is the drill press. I am hoping to use this tomorrow to sand the mdf templates and later to drill the fret dots.

Drill press

First thing tomorrow I will be coming out here to get started with the build… can’t wait!

Building the neck – Day 1 of 4

Today was my first proper day in the workshop and it was awesome! Seeing a block of maple slowly turning into a guitar neck was very exciting and extremely satisfying.

Last time I posted about the neck template I had made a small template for just the headstock. However, after reading numerous posts on the TDPRI forum 2011 telecaster build competition I decided that this probably wasn’t the best approach. With that I mind I spent a rainy afternoon last week making a new mdf template for the whole neck.

The first task for today was to tidy up the new neck template which was still covered in coping saw marks. I used a plane on the straight edges and the spindle sander on the curves.

Tidying up the neck template

This worked out quite well.

The finished neck template

The next step was to plane a face side and face edge into the maple neck blank.

Planing the neck blank

Next I thicknessed the blank to 21mm.

Thicknessing the neck blank

At this point I decided to create a secondary neck blank from scrap pine on which to practise the various stages of the build. This turned out to be a very good idea!

The pine and maple neck blanks

To create the truss rod channel I screwed the neck blank to the workbench and ran the router fence along the face edge. At this point it didn’t really matter exactly where the channel was cut as long as it was parallel to the face edge.

Routing the truss rod channel

Next I laid the template onto the blank positioning the centre line along the freshly routed channel and drawing around it with a pencil.

Marking the neck outline

Then I used the bandsaw to cut out the rough neck shape. The pine practice neck is shown below, note the off centre truss rod channel… oops!

Here is the original template and both rough cut necks.

Template and two rough cut necks

Next I attached the template onto the rough cut blanks using a screw at each end. One screw went through the tuner hole for the high E which will later be drilled out, and the second went into the truss rod channel, which will later be full of truss rod. In addition to this I added a small piece of double-sided tape along the neck to stop any movement.

Routing the neck shape to the template

Unfortunately I got a small amount of tear out on the maple neck blank. Luckily this was considerably less noticeable once the final shape had been cut and the small amount of damage that was left will be completely hidden deep within the neck pocket of the body.

Router tear out on neck

At the end of day one I was left with a crude but unmistakeably telecaster shaped piece of wood. A very satisfying sight indeed.

The final neck shape and truss rod channel

Building the neck – Day 2 of 4

The first task for day two was to drill the holes for the machine heads. I marked these from the back at 25mm intervals along a line parallel to the top of the headstock. By drilling from the back and only going three quarters of the way through the headstock I could ensure a clean entry point for the drill and remove the risk of tear out on exit. The remaining quarter thickness of the headstock would be removed in the next step and theoretically leave perfect holes.

Marking up the machine head holes

By carefully adjusting the fence on the back of the drill I could then slide my headstock along it and ensure all six machine head holes would be in perfect alignment.

Drilling the machine head holes

Looking good!

6 holes all in a row

Next I took the neck over to the bandsaw and reduced the depth of the headstock to 13mm.

Bandsawing the headsock

The holes turned out really well, but only just as shown by the removed slice.

The new, thinner headstock profile

The next challenge was to drill an access hole from the headstock into the truss rod channel. This turned out to be considerably harder than I expected and the free hand attempt made on the pine practice neck went quite badly wrong. The hole was too low, it was off centre and the top of the neck split. It was at this point that I really appreciated the extra effort I had gone to to do everything twice.

Damaged pine practice neck

For the maple neck I decided to make a drilling jig. First I created a perfectly square block from some scrap oak. Then I set the drill press table to an angle of nine degrees and drilled a hole though the block. Next I planed the bottom of the block until the exit hole from the drill was at the bottom of the block.

The jig was then positioned along the centre line of the headstock and clamped in place. An additional piece of scrap maple was clamped on top of the neck blank to prevent tear out.

The drilling jig clamped in place

Thankfully there was no tear out this time, but once again the hole was a little low and a little off centre. After a few moments fiddling with a small circular file I was able adjust the inner side of the hole enough to allow easy access to the truss rod with an allen key… disaster averted.

Truss rod access hole viewed from the inside

The next challenge was to create a thin maple fillet to cover the truss rod channel using the block plane.

Trimming the truss rod cover fillet

After numerous rounds of testing the fit and making further adjustments I finally got the perfect fit.

Fitting the truss rod fillet

The fillet was then glued and clamped and left overnight.

Clamping the truss rod fillet

The final task for day two was to get the fingerboard planed and thicknessed. Due to the small dimensions and the hard, brittle nature of macassar ebony this was done by hand on a custom made shooting board. This process involved lots of careful planing and regular checking of the width with calipers. By the end of the day the edges were square, the sides were parallel and the thickness was a uniform 5mm. That’s all for today!

Planing the macassar ebony fingerboard

Building the neck – Day 3 of 4

The first task for day three was marking out the fret positions. Three years ago when I first considered building a guitar it was fear of today’s challenges that put me off. Having now done it I can confidently say that with a bit of planning and a lot of patience it wasn’t all that bad.

To kick things off I made a simple measuring jig. This consisted of a strip of beech the same width as the steel ruler and the same thickness as the fretboard blank, less the thickness of the ruler. These bits were stuck together, and to the bench itself, using double-sided tape. Then I taped the fingerboard next to it, this way nothing could move at all during the whole marking out process.

The fret measuring jig

Using a square I was then able to mark the nut position and all 21 frets at an exact right angle to the fretboard. The telecaster plans I have had the fret position measurements from the nut given in milimetres. Rather ridiculously the measurements were given to two decimal places which initially caused some confusion with rounding errors. I decided to cross out the original measurements and make a new list to just one decimal place. The steel rule had half milimetres marked on it so measuring to this accuracy was much easier than I expected.

The marked up fretboard

Once I had measured and marked all the fret positions from the nut I went back and measured the distance between each adjacent pair of frets. Using the original dimensions I could then work out if what I measured was what it was supposed to be.

For example — if fret one is 36.3mm from the nut and fret two is 70.6mm from the nut, the distance between them should be 34.3mm. Once I had done this for all frets I circled any discrepancies that were greater than 0.1-0.2mm and remarked them. This was the reason I had initially decided to mark the frets with a propelling pencil and not by scribing a line with a marking knife… phew!

The next daunting task was to cut the fret slots. This presented several challenges. Firstly, all the cuts had to be perfectly parallel to each other. Secondly, I had to ensure all cuts were vertically straight down into the fretboard. Thirdly I had to do all the above 21 times without making any mistakes and scuffing the fretboard! Time for another jig…

Fret slot cutting jig

The fret slot jig consisted of a fence the same thickness as the fretboard which was screwed onto a meticulously planed and squared block of beech. I then set up a clamp which would lock the jig and fretboard firmly in place. Whilst cutting the slots with a Japanese cabinet-making saw I used my left hand to reach over the saw and push the blade against the jig. I also rubbed some candle wax on the left side of the blade to make the saw run smoothly against the block.

To start with I tested the process on a dummy fingerboard which I created from beech before moving on to the macassar ebony.

Cutting slots in the macassar ebony

About half an hour later I had cut all the slots with no mistakes, this was a big relief and I finally started to believe that I might actually be capable of building a half decent guitar.

The slotted fretboard

Next up was drilling the fret dots. Once again I started this process on the dummy beech fingerboard using a 6mm drill bit in the drill press. The paua shell inlays (which were 6mm in diameter) unsurprisingly, fitted perfectly.

Drilling practice fret dots

With that under my belt I lined the drill press fence up with the middle of the fretboard and proceeded to drill the real ones. To mark the position of the dots I drew two diagonal lines between each pair of frets and drilled where the lines crossed.

Drilling the real fret dots

Compared to cutting the frets this was easy and didn’t take long at all.

The slotted and drilled fretboard

The next task was to glue the fretboard to the neck. In preparation for this I drilled a miniscule hole in both the first and last frets using a tiny fretwork drill bit. Next I aligned the centre line on the fretboard with the centre line on the neck and hammered some tiny panel pins through the drill holes to make locating marks in the maple neck below.

Pinning the fretboard to the neck blank

Using these holes I was then able to quickly and accurately realign the two parts once they were covered in slippy, slidy glue.

Pinning the first fret

I removed the fretboard and applied a generous layer of titebond glue to the neck.

Gluing the neck

Working quickly, I realigned the pins in the fretboard with the holes in the neck and clamped the pieces together with a series of clamps. Using a wet toothbrush and a damp rag I cleaned away all the excess glue that oozed out of the joints and left it overnight to dry.

Clamping the fretboard

That was that! I had accomplished in a day something that I had been worrying about for many weeks and it had all gone extremely well. I headed off to the house for a well earned beer and an awesome BBQ with the neighbours.