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Guitar-building #4: Neck-Carving

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Blog entry by kenstonge posted 04-01-2011 02:08 PM 3403 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Fretting the neck, routing the pocket Part 4 of Guitar-building series no next part

I spent most of last night carving the neck for my Les Paul Jr., a process that is somewhat tedious, but also a lot of fun. The carving was done with an oscillating spindle sander, files, a spokeshave and a card scraper. The first step is to rough out the height of the neck. First, I took measurements of the heigh of the neck using a caliper, which I measured against the plans for a ‘59 Les Paul. In this case, I used the first, seventh and twelfth frets as reference points.


Using a caliper to measure final heights

I transferred those measurements to the sides of the guitar neck and then used a straight edge to draw a line the way down.


Setting guidelines for shape of the neck

Then, I shaped a volute using a piece of rubber to mock up a rough shape.

I also drew on the heel using a tape roll as a rough guide. Believe it or not, the approximates the shape of a Les Paul’s heel very well.


Drawing the heel

Then it was time start making dust. I started off by using the spindle sander to rough out the shape of the volute and the depths at the frets from above. That sets up a few locations to work with the spokeshave.


Roughing the shapes with a spindle sander

I clamped the body to the bench, and then using those guidelines for depth, I began working the spokeshave. The basic process is to even out an line in the center of the neck that connects the depths at the three spots I measured. Once that’s done, I started working the sides at a 45-degree angle to cut the depth. (Note: I made sure the lines are straight and even by frequently checking with the edge of the ruler from a combination square.)With this method, I took it down to about 2/32 of an inch from the fingerboard. I then simply used a few files and card scraper to even out the shape into a circle that felt comfortable on the hand.


The spokeshave worked well at initial shaping. Props to Joe for letting me try out his new, low-angle veritas

I then used a 45-degree file to cut an angle on the sides of the frets. This should have been done earlier, when I was fretting the guitar, but I didn’t have the file handy.


Filing the ends of the frets

At this point the neck is basically done. I dry fit again in the body, and worked the heel and volute into shapes that I like.


Dry fit looked good

A quick note on the body: Some of you might notice a thin resurfacing on the top of the body. Ryan has a special planer at home that he used to feather down the top third of the body. It’s a very thin cut, but helps to reveal the fingerboard a little better. It could be done by hand, but it’s easier and cleaner on the machine. Because of this, I needed to re-radius the edges using a router table and 5/8” round over bit. This is a 20-second operation. It also means I’ll need to re-do some pore-filling and sanding.

We’re planning on painting next week, so a lot of the guys who were a little farther along went ahead and glued up their necks up — which had also been pore-filled and sanded. I’ll be doing later this week. Since I probably won’t the chance to take photos, here’s what it will look like:


Applying glue to the pocket


Clamping up



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