DIY Tips & Tricks

Finishing The Body & Neck

Although the overall tone and playing characteristics of the instrument will not be affected, a high quality finish will be a real source of pride. The more time you spend on the finish, the better the final outcome. Usually we find that the desired outcome is not exactly as you might have imagined before the project begins, but the end result is still always something to be admired.

Both the neck and body of your Electric Guitar Kit have been sealed, sanded and are ready for final finishing. If you would like to do further sanding, please use a light abrasive sand paper. We factory apply a fine coat of sanding sealer to avoid warping whilst in transport. If you would like to add more you can do so but it is not necessary. If you are airbrushing and you find the wood is absorbing the paint before it has a chance to dry, then you may want to consider adding more sanding sealer.

First you will need to decide whether you would like a natural finish or a paint finish (see here for more info) on the body.

Blackbeard's Den Seal FretboardSeal The Fretboard Before the application of the finish, the fingerboard should be masked off to prevent the finish from adhering to the fretted surface. A screw can be inserted temporarily in one of the four holes at the heel which will later be used for attaching the neck to the body (Bolt-On Neck only). Secure a wire or cord to that screw so that the neck can be hung during spraying. The fretboard should be free of paint or sealant at all times. The only product you should ever apply to the fretboard is Lem Oil which is used to nourish the fretboard and prevent cracking.

It is also recommended to use masking tape to seal the neck cavity of the body (where the necks fits in) as well as part of of the neck that fits into the body. The build up of sealant may prevent the neck from sitting in the cavity as it should. It is ok to stain these areas though as stain is absorbed into the wood and does not form a layer on top of the wood.

Option 1: Natural Finish

With a natural finished guitar you can see the grain of the wood through the finish. With a colour finish you lose the effect of the grain once its painted over. In order to achieve a natural finish, you would:

1. Need to decide on the colour you would like the wood to be

2. Seal the wood to avoid any UV/Water damage as well as protect from bumps and dents.

If you are happy with the colour of the supplied wood then you can skip straight to the clear coat The clear coat will add a gloss to the current state of the wood and will most likely darken its appearance as well as pop out the grain.

Blackbear's Den Clou Colour ChartIn most cases customers elect to change the colour of the wood to a Mahogany as an example. You can choose a variety of different colours. The product we recommend is a wood stain produced by CLOU. You can find it here. There are a variety of different colours you can choose from. To apply, you simply follow the instructions on the back of the packaging, then apply the mixture generously to the wood using a sponge or old rag. You will immediately see the colour of the wood change. If you use less water then advised you will achieve a darker shade and with more water, a lighter shade. Its best to practice on a scrap piece of wood with a similar tone before moving to your guitar.

Sealant:

Tru-Oil SealantThe sealant is used to lock the finish in and protect your guitar from UV, Water, Bumps & Dents etc. The sealant is the last step in the process. Move to it only once you are happy with the look of your guitar because you cannot undo or re-do the finish once the sealant is applied. The best finishing product we can recommend for a natural finished guitar is Tru-Oil (find it here). It is an American product manufactured to finish the butt stocks of guns, Like butt stocks a guitar is also only wood. Tru-Oil is hard to find and certainly one of the best products on the market (a good alternative is a Danish Oil).

Tru-Oil is liquid product applied directly to the wood. It runs smooth, had a gloss finish and dries hard. It also hardens over time. You can get away with using a 90ml bottle for 1 guitar (should get about 2, max 3 coats) but a 240 ml is recommended if you’d prefer more coats. The more coats you add the glossier the guitar will become. There is no wrong or right though, only personal preference.

*Note: There are a variety of products you can use i.e the Woodoc range is also very good. The above are only the products we recommend. Chat to someone at any good hardware store to get an idea of whats available.

Option 2: Colour Finish

A colour finish guitar is where you paint over the wood thus losing the effect of the wood. This will give you a broad range of colours to choose from and you can also get creative with the finish. You will need to first decide on your finish, and then the sealant used to lock it all in and protect the finish. Here are just a few creative ideas being explored in the guitar world:

 1: Swirling

 2: Decoupage

 3: Sunburst

“Forget your guitar is a guitar, treat it simply as a piece of wood”

There is a vast variety of different paint types and brands that you can use to finish your guitar. For the colour coat your first stop is a good hardware store. We recommend DIY Depot or Jack’s Paints but any will do. An acrylic lacquer is particularly well suited to your needs. In addition to providing a full range of colour choices, acrylic lacquer is extremely durable and resistant to cracking.

Chat to the paint specialist, tell them what you are looking to do with your guitar and they will advise accordingly. Decide whether you want a brush applied or spray applied. Spray applied is prone to drips and runs whereas brush applied is prone to brush marks. Either works though. Cost wise, brush applied will be cheaper but only marginally.

Great spray brands include Chem Spec, Rust-Oleum & Spray Mate.

A primer is not necessary although it is more professional. It will be required if you plan on doing any pencil artwork on the guitar before sealing. Primers are available in either white or pink and will ensure the true colour of the paint you choose is reflected on the guitar.

Choose your colour from the many available shades including metallic options.

Before you begin, ensure that both the part of the neck that fits into the body, as well as the cavity on the body that the neck fits into are both completely sealed off with masking tape. You don’t want any clear or colour lacquer or any other material on these sections. They must fit wood-on-wood. The reason is, the fit is already so snug, that any lacquer might prevent the neck from fitting into the body properly and if it is a Set-In neck, the wood glue will have a far better bond on wood rather than on lacquer.

You do not need to worry about covering the pickup cavity’s or knob-holes as a rounded file will aid you later in the unlikely event that components do not not fit as a result of the lacquer.

Hang the body as shown in Figure 1 below. Begin each spray (or brush stroke) in the air on one side of the body and continue until you reach the air on the other side. Overlap each stroke by one half, and every other stroke spray crosswise, then length wise. This technique will provide an even colour distribution.

 Blackbeard's Den Spraying Guitar

Although lacquer dries quickly, and successive coats may be sprayed in a short period of time, attempts to spray too much in one coat can result in runs or bubbles in the finish. Spraying should not be attempted on excessively humid or rainy days.

One or two coats of colour should be enough. It should not be necessary to sand between coats unless there are drips, runs or bug feet to be levelled. All exposed surfaces should be dead level and have a nice satin gloss.

Spray all exposed surfaces evenly. The neck of your Guitar has been sealed so it should not be necessary to sand between coats unless the paint runs, orange peel or drips appear. Use the same procedure that you followed on the body – again, two or three coats should do the job. Final rub out and polishing takes place about one week later when the lacquer has cured.

Sealant:

It is advisable to also choose the sealant manufactured by the same company who’s paint you chose for the colour finish. They often work well together. Sealants are usually available in matt or gloss depending on your preference.

*Note: Avoid using wood varnish as a sealant as it generally quite sticky and needs to be re-applied every 1 to 2 years or so. Look for a permanent solution i.e a wood sealant.

The clear coat is applied to the body (once the paint is dry) using the same technique as described for the colour coat. Two or three coats of clear should be adequate. You can use as many as you like though.

For best results the body finish should be allowed to harden for one week before the final rub out and polish.

*Note: The Bindery on the guitar body must be taped off to prevent overspray from the finish. To avoid runs and drips, hold the spray can 6-10 inches from the guitar surface. For the best results follow the directions on the spray can.

Final Rubbing & Polishing

After allowing the clear, lacquered surfaces to dry and harden for at least one week, sand lightly with non-loading #400 sandpaper. During sanding be sure to place firm material behind the sandpaper. A large rubber eraser works fine. The eraser is flexible enough to sand the gradual curves but is stiff enough to prevent the sharper edges (of the headstock, for example) from being rounded off. Be sure to sand with the grain of the wood.

All sanded surfaces should now be a bit dull, indicating that the finish is flat and level. Now repeat the sanding process with very fine #600 sandpaper using water and a small amount of dishwashing detergent as a lubricant. This will remove any sanding marks left by the previous step and leave all surfaces a dull gloss.

The finish can now be rubbed out using a medium grade rubbing compound (Dupont White Polishing Compound is a good choice). The compound should be used sparingly with fair pressure at first –– as a high gloss develops, pressure should be diminished. An extra fine grade of polishing compound may be used to get that final bit of gloss. You should now have a professional quality finish. You can protect your work with a light wax – Dunlop Polish is a good choice.

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Shaping a DIY Guitar Headstock

Shaping Guitar HeadstockThe peg-head of most of our DIY Guitar Kits have been left extra-long to allow you the chance to express your individuality and make a guitar that is truly your own. If the peg-head looks a little irregular shaped, then you are welcome to re-shape however you wish – but this is not compulsory. First, decide on the shape of the headstock that you would like to use and with a pencil draw the outline on the sides of the peg-head. We can also supply you with templates of original head stock shapes should you wish. You can print these, cut them out, stick them on your headstock and then cut around them. Please contact us if you would like the templates.

 

Using a band saw or simple coping saw, cut out the shape of your headstock (see Figure 2). A half round file or high grit sand paper can be used to level the top edge of the peg head. Finally, the edge should be sanded smooth with fine fine grit sandpaper. It will be easier to achieve straight edges with a manual coping or band saw, for more rounded edges we suggest an electric coping saw.

Make sure you don't cut too close to the tuning peg holes! For best results, shape the headstock prior to any paint or clear sealant being applied to the neck.

*Note: Some headstock shapes are protected by trademark restrictions and we do not recommend that you use them.

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Colour vs Natural Finish

The long standing truth about finishing a guitar is that the end result is never quite what you envisioned in your mind when you started the project, but either way the end result is always something you are proud of.

At some time you are going to be faced with the decision of Natural or Colour finish & here we'll attempt to outline and understand the differences between the two. Each method has different product types you should & shouldn't use. We say product 'types' because there are countless products or brand names on the market & you can use a variety of any, but the product type is important to ensure you get the right result.

Natural Finish allows the grain of the wood to show through beneath the sealant. It has a more classic look to it. You can choose to change the colour of the wood before sealing by using wood stains. We recommend CLOU Wood Stains which we do have for sale. They're water based, cheap and really easy to work with. You simply mix the contents of the sachet in with water and then apply to the wood. They also come in a variety of different colours.

If you like the look of the wood as is then there is no need to stain the wood & you can jump straight to the clear coat sealant. The clear coat is always recommended. Its a sealant that protects the wood from UV, bumps which cause dents, liquid spills etc. A sealant is a lot like a varnish although we don't recommend using a varnish as a varnish leaves a sticky finish once dried and also needs to reapplied about once a year, which you want to avoid.

Arguably the best sealant for a Natural Finish that we have ever come across is Tru-Oil which we also sell. Tru-Oil is wood sealant traditionally designed for the butts of guns but works wonders on a guitar. It has a semi gloss finish and hardens over time. We sell them in 90ml and 240ml bottles. If 90ml is used sparingly you can complete one guitar, but if you are looking to do more then about 2 or 3 coats then you'd want to look at either 2 x 90ml bottles or 1 x 240ml bottle.

The general rule on number of coats is, the more you do the glossier the finish becomes. There really is no wrong or right number but rather your preference.

A Colour Finish is a finish where you paint over the wood thus loosing the wood effect of the guitar. Here you could pretty much have any colour in any brightness or shade you could possibly desire. 

The best type of paints to use are polyurethane based lacquer paints. Again though there is no wrong or right but rather what your preference is.

We do add a fair amount of sanding sealer to the wood before selling the kits to stop the wood from warping whilst being transported. If you're serious about getting a quality finish then you could add some grain filler, then sanding sealer then a primer before starting your colour coat. Once the colour coat is applied and you're happy with the result you would then apply a sealant to seal it all in and again protect the paintwork from UV, bumps which can cause dents & liquid spills.

Paints can come in either a tin where you would use a brush to apply or a spray can format. If using a spray can avoid spraying too close to the wood that the paints runs and if using a brush avoid heavy brush strokes that leave streaks. You'll figure out the best method (-:

Most paint finishes will be either matt or gloss & you can choose as per your preference. We'd advise that where possible use the same brand of sealant as you do paint. They usually compliment each other well!

If you're nervous you might get it wrong an stuff up your guitar, you probably want to practice on a scrap piece of wood before moving to the real thing. Some good advice is to forget that its a guitar, however you would want a piece of wood to look once you're finished with it, is exactly how you should go about finishing you DIY Guitar Kit (-:

Feel free to contact us for any help you might need.

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Where to Drill Holes for Bridge & Tailpiece (Set-In Neck Guitars)?

(Pictures to follow soon)

A major requirement of this process is to make sure that the neck & fingerboard are in their final position i.e the neck has been glued into the pocket of the guitar body, all the way down the pocket as far as it can go.

Because the Set-In Neck is glued into the pocket of the body instead of bolted (more on that in this blog post), we are unable to pre-drill these holes for you & thus you will need to manually determine where to drill these bridge & tailpiece holes. Set-In Neck guitars are known to be a harder build for this very reason.

Step 1:

You're going to start by placing a long ruler (the longer the better) along the side of the fretboard & down the body of the guitar. Draw lines with a pencil along the inside of the ruler thus creating an extension of the neck. Do this on both sides of the fretboard. If you have already finished the guitar then put some masking tape on the body before adding the pencil lines. If the wood is still raw & you plan on painting it, then there is no harm in drawing on the wood itself.

Its also good to note that the effective part of a guitar sting is the part between the string nut at the top of the guitar neck & where the string bends over the bridge saddle towards the bottom of the guitar. This length is essentially your scale length. We do not measure the string length though because there might be slight variances due to saddle positioning. Instead we measure along the surface of the guitar.

Step 2:

In order to place the bridge saddles in the exact right location, you're going to have to hold the ruler on the 12th fret (on the actual metal, not in between the two) & then measure the distance from there to the inside of the guitar nut at the top of the neck, where it meets the wood. This number (commonly converted to inches) & doubled is essentially your scale length. The 12th fret is essentially the 1/2 way mark between your nut and where the bridge needs to sit.

If this length from the nut to the 12th fret is say 32 cm's (12.59 inches), then measure 32 cm's from the 12th fret down the body of the guitar and place the bridge at the end of the ruler in its correct position & with the saddles as close to the end of the ruler as possible. This is where the strings will bend over the saddle.

The saddles of your bridge piece allow for some play in both directions to account for any variances once installed, so its important to make sure that the saddles are positioned to the middle so that when installed you can have some movement both ways.

The bridge should also be proportionate to the lines you drew earlier, thus dead inline with the neck. You can do this by eye.

Step 3:

Once you are satisfied that the bridge is in the right location, you can mark the holes with your pencil. This is where we will drill.

If you are installing a Tune-O-Matic bridge, it is often tilted up slightly on the bass side, by roughly 3 degrees or so. If you decide to angle to bridge, mark the new holes with the bass side (thicker strings) tiled slightly down towards the butt of the guitar.

Step 4:

Now its time to drill the holes. Make sure you correctly identify A) which size drill piece you need & B) what depth you need to drill so to avoid going through & out the back of the guitar body. It can help to measure the stud that you'll eventually knock into the holes against the drill bit & mark off the depth with some tape so you know when to stop drilling. You'll also want to rather drill a hole thats slightly too deep then slightly too shallow, to avoid the stud not going in all the way.

If you're using a press drill, a good way to make sure of depth is to align the pickup cavity under the drill & with the drill turned off, drop the drill head into the cavity. It should fall into the cavity & not have too much movement left over that it would go out the back of the guitar.

Make sure the guitar is clamped or held down well. A mistake here could be costly!

Also if the guitar has been finished with a lacquer or custom artwork, its recommended to break through the paint layer with the drill spinning slowly in reverse. Once you've broken through the paint then you can continue to drill like normally into the wood.

Step 5:

Before you knock in the studs, rather test the holes depth because its extremely difficult to get the studs out once they are in.

For the same reason as above, some guitars are required to be grounded via the bridge stud. If this is the case (usually guitars with back electrical cavity's & Tune-O-Matics bridges such as Les Paul's, SG's etc)  make sure you do not knock in the stud before first grounding.

If you do need to ground: You will need to drill a small hole from the back electrical cavity of the guitar connecting to the bottom bridge stud hole. You will see that its not much of a distance. You will then need to feed a piece of electrical wire from the cavity to the bridge stud hole, fray the end that pops out the hole, wrap the copper around the stud and then knock it into the hole. The other end will ultimately be grounded with the components.

 Step 6:

Once the bridge stud is knocked in you will now need a tailpiece. The tailpiece does not need an exact distance from anything as it only feeds the strings, but it can't be too far back that the strings can't reach the tuning pegs. The usual distance is normally 2 inches behind the bridge piece. Follow the same drilling instructions for the tailpiece & voila! In no time you'll have your bridge & tailpiece set & ready for mounting.

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The Difference Between Bolt-On & Set-In Neck?

For the music enthusiast purchasing his first guitar with wild dreams of one day playing along Clapton or other legends, you are usually faced with a daunting question - Set-In neck guitar or Bolt-On neck guitar? Let me answer this question upfront & then elaborate further on. Answer: There is no wrong or right.

The general trend is that a Bolt-On is cheaper & thus perceived to be of a lower standard whereas Set-In is the premium of the two. But truth be told if you were purchasing a R10,000 Set-In neck guitar there is no reason to say that it will be a better guitar then a Bolt-On of the same price. Reason being it is a lot simpler to make a mediocre Set-In neck guitar then it is to make a highly functional Bolt-On. Each will produce its own tone & will also have its own process for maintenance.

It is known that Fender were the first to start producing Bolt-On necks. Prior to that everything for every other guitar manufacturer was Set-In. So Set-In referred to every other guitar except Fender. The debate of which is better or worse was bound to spark eventually but there are only opinions, no wrong or right.

What exactly is a Bolt-On neck versus a Set-In neck guitar?

Good question! As the name suggests a Bolt-On neck guitar physically has (usually) 4 screws that go through the neck & into the body to hold it tight against the body.

A Set-In neck guitar has no screws and instead is physically glued into the body of the guitar with wood glue leaving the back of the guitar flush.

The noticeable benefit of a Bolt-On guitar is the ability to easily remove the neck when need be. Its a simple task of unscrewing the screws whereas as with a Set-In neck you'll need to remove the paintwork, hold a heat gun to the back of the joint & wait for the glue to melt inside the pocket before removing the neck which is seldom a job well done.

It is believed however that a Set-In neck carries a better sustain for the simple reason that it is one with the body. It has the ability to transfer resonance between the body & the neck more freely then does a Bolt-On which usually results in a little more warmth. But in the same breath this results in a more twang for a Bolt-In.

Not all guitarists are after the same tone. Tone is in the ear of the beholder! There is no such thing as a wrong or right tone, there is only a tone that your prefer or dislike. Generally guitarists who use a Bolt-On construction do so because they don't want their guitar to sound like a Set-In does.

There is also a lot more at play to achieving tone to just the neck construction. Other aspects to take into consideration include the headstock, shape of the joint, string gauge, neck angle, shim of the neck etc.

How should this impact your choice of DIY Guitar Kit?

This is an important question to answer before purchasing your DIY Guitar Kit. Here at Blackbeard's Den we offer both Bolt-On guitar kits as well as Set-In neck guitar kits. Currently we have 2 Set-In necks the EG LP 20s & the EG ES 10s, the rest being Bolt-On necks. We are working on more Set-In necks.

Set-In necks are the more difficult of the two to build because of one simple reason. With Set-In necks we do not pre-drill the bridge or tailpiece holes into the body of the guitar because we cannot be sure how the neck will lie in the cavity.

With a Bolt-On, because the neck is being screwed into the existing screw holes we know exactly how the neck will lie and thus can calculate exactly where we need to drill the bridge & tailpiece holes but with a Set-In neck, if the neck is glued even a few mm away from the bottom of the cavity it will impact on the positioning of these holes, so these holes will need to be positioned and drilled after the neck is glued in.

In a nut shell, the additional steps required when building a Set-In neck guitar would be to calculate the exact distance for the bridge & tailpiece holes once the neck is glued in, & then drill them yourself. This is all explained in the assembly guide.

If you're after an easier build go for a Bolt-On. If you're confident in your ability & would like a bit more of a challenge, go for a Set-In neck.

* The product we supply is of an outstanding quality. If you choose to assemble the guitar yourself, we will not be held responsible for poor workmanship as a result of a bad build. We are however here to guide you. It is not a difficult process to do, but does require some TLC. If you require help with any part of the assembly, your local music shop will be willing to help, maybe for a small fee. But its worth it.

Paint. Assemble. Play

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