Guitar-building #3: Fretting the neck, routing the pocket

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Blog entry by kenstonge posted 03-25-2011 02:41 PM 3388 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Cleaning up body Part 3 of Guitar-building series Part 4: Neck-Carving »

After three months of once-a-week woodworking, my Les Paul Jr. project is finally starting to look like a guitar. I spent the first hour of my class installing frets on the guitar’s neck, a process that involves fretwire, a fretting hammer, a few clamps, flush-trimming pliers, some CA glue and a file. The basic process is to cut the fretwire — which had been radiused to 10 inches — for each fret, leaving an extra quarter- to half-inch on either side.

Cutting the fretwire

Next, I clamped the neck to the bench and began hammering the frets in one-by-one, working each fret from the sides toward the middle. Since the fingerboard is ebony, I was careful to avoid chipping out the wood.

Laying out frets

Once that’s done, I checked each fret by sight to make sure they were properly set into the fingerboard. Then I dropped a little CA glue to down the side to ensure a tight fit.

Frets, installed

I used some accelerant on the glue to make sure it was dry, then used flush-trimming pliers to cut down the ends of the fretwire. Once that was done, I used a file on the sides to ensure everything was nice and flush.

Filing the frets ends

Once that process was finished, I routed the neck pocket. This operation involves using a template and a bearing-guided template bit to cut a mortise for the neck. In essence, the pocket is akin to a sliding dovetail in that it tapers slightly at the top to keep the neck in place.

The template, customized for this neck

I worked with Ryan to build a template, which was basically a chunk of plywood that we taped to the body. The only key part here is that it aligns with the center of the guitar — which we had already marked off — and that it’s set in far enough so that the bottom of the fret board is just inside the body.

Lining up the template

Once that was done, and the template taped in place, I used the router to mill out the pocket. It’s a fairly straightforward operation, although I needed to swap out the bit for a longer one to get far enough in to the body.

The neck pocket, completed

Finally, I test-fitted the neck. I’ll probably have to clean up the pocket and bottom of the neck a little, but it’s really starting to come together.

Test fit: finally looking like a guitar

Next week, I’ll start carving the neck. Should be lots of fun — check back next Friday for more details!

For a photo history in progress, check out my Flickr page

8 comments so far

View CampD's profile


1658 posts in 3479 days

#1 posted 03-25-2011 02:48 PM

Good read, nice detail with the pic’s
I’m starting one myself and will follow along

-- Doug...

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3738 days

#2 posted 03-25-2011 03:15 PM

Nice blog on this subject. When I made my first neck, I was worried about shaping the back of the neck, but it turned out that getting the sides of the frets smooth was the most work. Right after that I found a surplus outfit that had 4 unmarked Fender necks for $40 and couldn’t pass it up. I’m planning on making a bass soon, so I’ll make that neck from scratch. Thanks for the post, looking forward to the rest.

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3280 days

#3 posted 03-25-2011 04:01 PM

Looking good. I have 2 bass bodies glued up. I can’t seem to find time to finish them.
Maybe this will inspire me to get back to work on them.

Thanks for the info.


View Ripthorn's profile


1458 posts in 2978 days

#4 posted 03-25-2011 04:54 PM

I just fretted my tele neck the last couple nights (fretting, levelling, crowning, dressing, etc.). I have found that a fret press insert in a block of wood with a regular old hammer makes installing the frets so much easier. My only question for you is about the neck pocket. That seems really shallow for a set neck, I would expect it to extend into the body further. Were you using a schematic or template of the Jr., or kind of doing your own thing? The only Jr-style guitar I built was a neck-thru, so I don’t know what the neck pocket size should be, so you could be dead on, I’m just curious.

Looking great, by the way. Keep up the good work.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

5851 posts in 3188 days

#5 posted 03-25-2011 05:21 PM

Hi Ken,
Vey good blog on the build, and the guitar is looking good. You’ll be proud of it when it’s finished, cause YOU built it….... keep on keeping on…. Rick.

Isn’t building a guitar a lot of fun? I’ve never built a solid-body, but years ago I used to build resonator (DoBros) guitars….We couldn’t call them Dobros, cause that name was patented, so they were resophonics.

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....

View jumbojack's profile


1676 posts in 2617 days

#6 posted 03-25-2011 11:29 PM

What kind of wood are you using for the neck? My son and I have built some cigar box ukuleles and have so far used oak. On this newest build, an electric, cigar box ukulele we used oak again, but I am not too happy with it.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View kenstonge's profile


17 posts in 2622 days

#7 posted 03-26-2011 04:16 PM

Thanks for the comments and questions! See below

Ripthorn: A lot of the dimensions and technical details for this guitar (neck length, pitch etc.) are taken from a schematic for a ‘59 Les Paul Standard, which is a very sought after guitar. The ‘59, however, was not a double cutaway so we had to modify and add a second cutaway. We also modified the top of the neck to improve on the Gibson design. In a nutshell, we slotted the truss rod in a way that left a lot more wood around the nut, where snappage is common on Les Paul’s. We are also using high-end versions of replica parts. For instance, the LP Jr.’s had single-action truss rods; this one has a double, which is much better. The goal was to create a hot rodded version of what was, in essence, a very nice student guitar of generations past. The slot looks a little shallow, but it’s basically to spec. It’s kind of exaggerated because of the second cutaway. The rest of the group are making single cuts, and the pocket looks almost too big! Should be good, but you’re right: It’s definitely something I’m keeping an eye on.

Rick Dennington: Thanks! And, yep: Building guitars is pretty much the coolest thing around! I would love to build a resophone. I think my next project when this is done will be a lap steel. But, hey, the resophone could be cool too!

jumbojack: I saw your pics! That looks really cool. Can you post a video playing it? I would love to hear how it sounds. The neck and body for this guitar are made out of 8/4 mahogany, which was a huge, beautiful hunk of wood we ordered from Irion in Pennsylvania. Here’s what the guitar body looked like when it started….

View Chefshep's profile


121 posts in 2676 days

#8 posted 03-26-2011 07:03 PM

I play both guitar & bass. Just started building a wood shop in my garage a few months ago. Man! this blog has me really excited!. I was not even considering making my own necks. Even though it appears to be a bit involved, it doesn’t look extremely difficult. I am becoming inspired & will be looking for more…

Thanks Man… really cool!!!

-- Chefshep :) "When we allow our present to quarrel with our past, we risk jeopardizing our future.” - Winston Churchill

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