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Non-Kit Original Guitar Builds #1: The "Highway 51" Pecan Top series electric guitars

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Blog entry by David Grimes posted 936 days ago 5974 reads 1 time favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Non-Kit Original Guitar Builds series no next part

This blog will include various build pictures and/or information for the three nearly simultaneous first builds of this new body style and the pecan tops that they will all share. There are planned differences in each of the three as they are the proto-types (even though two are sold and the third will not be sold).

The name: Highway 51 bisects Memphis, Tennessee North to South. Graceland is on Hwy. 51. Memphis is the “birthplace of the Blues”. I like the name.

The original body shape: This body shape is a morph (but in no way a copy) of lines from the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Telecaster and the Dean Cadillac.

The highly unusual (but very comfortable to tune) headstock shape is my take on what the Peavey Wolfgang should have looked like. Just my humble opinion. A last note of interest (maybe) is that the angle of the upper bout, the lower bout, three of the string ferrules and the rake at the end of the headstock are all 51 degrees +/-.

Hardware layout and discussion:

Pickup Switch: This series of guitars will all have the 3-way pickup selector toggle switch not exactly, but more akin to the Les Paul upper bout location (instead of the Telecaster lower middle control plate location). I hate top control plates.

Pickups: This series will all have two pickups, however Number 1 will have a PAF style humbucker in the neck position and a slightly overwound telecaster style in the Bridge position. Number 2 will have the bucker in the neck position and a Stratocaster style single coil in the bridge position. Number 3 will have two humbuckers.

Electronics: This series will all have a single master volume 500k pot, a single master tone 500k push-pull pot that will split and unsplit the humbucker… and finally a rotary tone switch (with chicken head knob) that will be much like (but better than) the Varitone circuit that Gibson uses on a very few high end guitars (namely the BB King Lucille and the Alex Lifeson 355, etc. semi-hollow body guitars). The tone capacitors are old school oil and paper. The tone and volume wiring circuit is “50’s style” which is felt/heard by many to be more tonefull than modern configurations. The Lucille I owned for several years had the most combinations of useful tones (without even adjusting the tone knob at all) of all the other guitars I have owned (dozens). I believe this entire scheme will give me 25 unique and useful tones from one guitar. Adjust the tone knob for each of the 25 circuit paths and it is arguably infinite. For the record, the factory made Les Pauls usually provide three. The factory made Fender Telecaster three. BTW, this is all passive circuitry… no batteries required. :=)

Bridge: This series will all have Tune-o- Matic style bridges (like Les Paul models), but will have roller saddles and no tail piece. The six strings will load from the back into the larger ferrules, escape to the top through smaller top ferrules, then over the tune-o-matic. This has been done before, but is somewhat rare to see. Kind of a boutique thing, but I like it. I hate Fender plate mount bridges (for the record).

Tops Wood: This series will all have pecan tops. #1 is seriously spalted and mottled front and back as well. Number 2 and 3 (tops only) are highly figured, but little or no spalting.

Other Woods: Necks will be maple, finger boards will be maple or Rosewood. I may dye one or more of the Rosewoods to Ebony as desired (that turned out wonderfully on the Les Paul replica build). All maple necks left natural will be “aged” with amber. Bodies will vary as I experiment, but these are #1 basswood, #2 Alder and #3 Mahogany. (see pic)

Thickness: #1 is a Fatty (on purpose) at 1 7/8 thick” (close to Les Paul thickness). #2 and #3 are more Fender typical at 1 9/16”. When complete I will weigh each, but I am as interested in balance as I am overall weight. I hate neck heavy guitars and the way they seek the floor as if they are divining rods. ;=)

Nuts: All light colored nuts will be Tusq synthetic bone and/or natural bone. Black nuts will be graphite. I hate plastic nuts.

Tuning Keys: Gotoh style 4+2 configuration.

Binding: The thickness of the pecan tops allows for the double angle micro-beveled edge to be used as is in lieu of binding. Later series (curly maple, flame maple, cherry burl, camphor, etc.) may have binding as needed aesthetically. These do not.

Color: All transparent and translucent color will be from aniline dyes. Some will be hand applied to the wood and some will be sprayed with the lacquer as needed. Solid colors (#2 will be white back and sides… #3 will be black back and sides) will be opaque pigment from Stew Mac and/or ReRanch. I have both.

Control Cavities: This series will have rear control cavities and covers in a custom shape/location. This will allow me to place all of the electronics exactly where I want them and will allow me to have knobs only on the top side (pots through the back) since I hate pick guards. A seasoned guitarist will never scratch the face of his/her guitar with a pick during play (while sober).

Okay, enough (too much) information for one night. I’ll post pics as I go.

Also, I chose LJ for the blog, but I will link to the luthier forums so maybe Martin will get some new breed of traffic ‘round here. Got to keep the gene pool varied, you know…

Thanks for stopping in.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia



12 comments so far

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15684 posts in 2844 days


#1 posted 936 days ago

Looks like you’ve got yourself a new obsession, David! :-)

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Grandpa's profile

Grandpa

3074 posts in 1301 days


#2 posted 936 days ago

A fortunate man if you can take a hobby and make a living. That is a beautiful guitar I must say. No pick guard huh….ever look at Willie Nelson’s. He has a hole in the front of it from the pick…..oh, I see you said when sober. That does clarify doesn’t it.

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#3 posted 935 days ago

@CharlieM1958, I’ve had the guitar bug since I was 11. I have repaired, modified and hot-rodded some of the many I’ve owned, so I already know the parts, and possibly more of the history (and real differences) than most casual players. I have had a set of framed patent applications from various Fender and Gibson patents and designs lining the top of the stairwell going into my studio. I am just amazed it took me this long to realize I should combine the hobbies of guitar and wood working by actually making them.

@Grandpa, Believe me when I tell you that I am not quitting my day jobs. And believe me when I also tell you that I’ll never have a large unsold inventory of anything. These may be the only three… or maybe the next three, I don’t know. I’m just having me some fun and learning / doing a few new things along the way.

Willie’s guitar (an acoustic) is legendary. He and it have experienced a long life together, proudly displaying the knocks and dings from that. Yet… with no detraction from the sounds of the guitar or the voice.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#4 posted 935 days ago

Update:

The necks (still unleveled and unpolished) do now have their headstock shape and holes drilled for tuners…

The unfinished necks. The one on the right does have one tinted base coat of very light amber and tobacco brown applied. It was identical to the raw maple one in the center. BTW, fancier (more difficult) fret position inlays will be incorporated into later series (when my skills and tools allow it), but the dots are fine for now.


The front of #2 (pecan)

The stepped control cavity routing in the back of #1

The chunk of mahogany that will be #3 just got laminated and rough cut on the band saw.

That’s it for tonight.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View YBNORMAL's profile

YBNORMAL

45 posts in 1056 days


#5 posted 934 days ago

David,
Just a thought, I have some fossilized masterdon bone and tusk peices,, along with some dinosuar bone that would make some VERY interesting nuts for a guitar,,, they will be very HARD, but neverless COOL. I think they could be cut on my diamond tile saw if you are interested in something different!

Like I said before,,, YBNORMAL!

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#6 posted 933 days ago

Kevin, (the source of all the pretty pecan I have)... :=)

That might really be interesting. It will all boil down to whether or not it breaks or crumbles cutting the blanks… and/or especially filing the six slots from smallest .010 to .046. Hmmm… Little wheels spinning to turn the larger ones… ;=)

Lets sneak into Chehaw Park with a Japanese saw and see how many fresh ones we can get before one of us gets trampled !?

Oh!!! (He remembers how many real ivory keys are on the 1850’s square grand piano). Now THAT would be blasphemous !

Hey, look at this SICK bookmatch… drool city !
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Buckeye-Burl-Electric-Guitar-Bookmatch-Set-TS-21-/110815767257?pt=Guitar_Accessories&hash=item19cd226ad9#ht_500wt_1200

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#7 posted 933 days ago

Update: #3 mahogany back is now sanded to shape and routed on the back side. It is now almost ready for its pecan top (after routing some channels before I cover it up. I’m playing catch-up to get it as far along as the others.


-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View Grandpa's profile

Grandpa

3074 posts in 1301 days


#8 posted 933 days ago

a very ambitious project. Thanks for the posts and updates. beautiful work going on here.

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#9 posted 933 days ago

And then there were three…

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#10 posted 867 days ago

It has been awhile, but finally back to these pecan topped guitars. Never really stopped, but I paused on these three so I could jump ahead on the next batch of bodies. It took awhile to get the mahogany body wood and maple tops that I need for the next batch. They will be vacuum pressed. Goodbye clamps (on gluing the tops to bodies, anyway). I have one slab of poplar, too… but the mahogany is the best stuff I’ve worked with so far.

Here are the three necks (one natural maple shot almost clear, one natural maple shot light amber, and one rosewood fingerboard masked and shot gloss white) drying for 5 days.

You might notice that these necks have had the nuts cut off. I have decided that I will be using roller nuts on all guitars instead of bone or plastic. Less string breakage and just as good resonance and sustain. Just ask Jeff Beck (or me if you can’t reach him). ;=)

Next up: Bodies will finish next (over the next several days).

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#11 posted 857 days ago

Necks are now finished and drying, but will get buffed on a guitar finishing buffer (new tool) after another week or so of dry time.

A few more of the progress pics:

The back with the string-through holes, the 3-way switch cavity and a custom electronics cavity. I will be making my own cover plates for these. I made the ones for the completed LP build as well.

The body and neck are completely sprayed, but not buffed out yet. the top, back and neck are lightly stained with a mix of amber and tobacco brown. The body sides are many coats of a blend of tobacco and medium brown.

The neck has 3 left and 3 right locking tuners. The “G” tuner breaks tradition and sticks out of formation, but by design works great and is memorable if nothing else. The nut is a roller nut (also breaking tradition) that stays in tune better even for non-tremolo guitars because us Southern boys are string benders as soon as we get weaned.

The necks for the next two bodies are completely sprayed and are drying for a couple of weeks before they get buffed out. These will also get roller nuts. Black with natural maple and white with Rosewood is also a bit non-traditional. It would usually be seen reversed. Good !

Thanks for stopping in.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2072 posts in 1265 days


#12 posted 854 days ago

Not done yet. It still needs to be buffed out, set intonation, dress and polish frets, solder the circuits, etc. But, I am aligning everything so it was time to “dry fit” all of the hardware. Protective plastic is still covering several items so it’s kind of dull looking yet. Shine comes last.

Here are a couple of pics tonight:

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

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