U.S. Guitar Kits | Cutaway | Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Kit #5295 Assembly Instructions

Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Kit #5295 Assembly Instructions
Acoustic Guitar Kit
#5295 Assembly Instructions
Table of contents
Getting started
Welcome to guitar building! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Recommended tools and supplies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Kit parts list . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
Side Assembly
Assembling the sides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Making a body mold . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5
Installing kerfed linings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
Squaring the neck block and tailblock . . . . . . . . . . .6
Leveling the kerfed linings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
Soundboard bracing and fitting
Installing the soundhole rosette . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Installing the soundboard bracing . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Bridge and shoulder brace clamping cauls . . . . . . .9
Fitting the soundboard to the sides . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
Opening the dovetail joint . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11
Installing the soundboard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11
Back bracing and fitting
Installing the back bracing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12
Fitting the back to the sides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12
Installing the side reinforcing strips . . . . . . . . . . . . .13
Installing the back . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13
Routing and binding
Trimming the top and back overhang . . . . . . . . . . .14
Routing for the plastic body bindings . . . . . . . . . . .14
Shaping end trim and heel cap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
Installing the end trim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
Installing the bindings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
Fit and fill the truss rod channel
Fitting the truss rod . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
Fill the channel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
Peghead shaping and drilling
Peghead overlay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Shape the peghead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Making a fretboard
Trimming the fretboard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
Inlaying the fretboard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
Installing the fretboard side dots . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
Installing the frets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
Installing the fretboard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Neck shaping and fitting
Shaping the neck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Installing the nut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Fitting the heel cap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23
Understanding the neck joint . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23
The neck heel sets the neck angle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
Fitting the neck to the body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
Neck adjustment: side-to-side . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
Neck adjustment: tilt the neck back . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
Neck adjustment: tilt the neck up . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26
Tightening the dovetail joint . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26
Installing the last frets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26
Introduction to finishing and materials . . . . . . . . . .27
Sanding the body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27
Filling the fret ends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
Sanding the neck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
Spray handles and hangers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
Masking the neck and body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
Staining . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
Applying a washcoat to seal the wood . . . . . . . . . .29
Filling the wood grain pores . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
Lacquer spraying schedule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
Sanding and rubbing-out the finish . . . . . . . . . . . . .30
Final assembly and setup
Prepare for neck installation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Install the neck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Prepare for bridge installation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Installing the bridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .32
Fitting the bridge pins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .32
Fitting the bridge saddle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33
Installing the tuning machines. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33
Seating the strings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33
Understanding neck relief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34
Adjusting string action: nut slots & saddle height 34
Leveling the frets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
Installing the pickguard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36
Installing the endpin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36
CONGRATULATIONS! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36
Getting started
Welcome to guitar building!
You are about to build a truly great guitar! We designed this
kit with the small shop builder and a modest tool budget in
mind, with the exception of a few specialty guitar making
Please read these instructions before building your guitar.
They were written to include all variations of our Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Kit. Options include dovetail or
bolt-on neck, and back and side woods of either mahogany
or rosewood.
Also, it’s very important to acclimate the wood to your building environment. The ideal building environment temperature is 70-80° Fahrenheit (21-26° Celsius), with a controlled
relative humidity of 45-50%. The kit wood should be laid
out and allowed to “equalize” for one week in your shop.
Flip the wood daily to neutralize excessive warping. Depend-
ing upon your location and the season, you may need to
humidify or dehumidify your shop to maintain the desired
relative humidity. It is advisable to purchase a thermometer/
hygrometer to monitor your shop’s climate. If you’re unable
to control the relative humidity in your shop, we discourage
building the guitar during the transition from dry to wet
seasons, or vise versa. The radical change in humidity can
cause warping, splitting or other serious complications.
Throughout the assembly of the kit you’ll need a flat
workboard of 3/4" plywood approximately 24" long and 20"
wide, big enough for your guitar’s body assembly.
Be safe when using tools, glues, and chemicals. Wear
eye protection and gloves when needed, and always
use proper ventilation.
Recommended tools and supplies
The following tools and supplies are recommended to assemble your kit. Though all of these tools aren’t necessary
to build your kit, they make many assembly steps easier
and more professional. Where applicable, item numbers for
ordering from Stewart-MacDonald are included.
For binding installation, you have a couple of different
options to choose from depending on the tools you already
own. If you plan on using a laminate trimmer or router for
binding channels, we suggest our Binding Router Bit (#1298B) and bearings (#1298-060, 1298-200). It is our preferred
method. If you plan on routing your binding channels with
a Dremel tool, our Precision Router Set (#5263) ships with
everything you will need.
Electric hand drill
Coping saw
Stewart-MacDonald has
Center punch or awl
an easy-to-order list of
Glue brushes #4167
6" Steel rule #4894
tools that kit builders
1/2" Chisel
find most useful. See our
File set #0842
easy ordering options at
Mini-rasp set #3064
Fret Leveler #0862
Dressing stick #1826
Fret cutter #0619
Deadblow fret hammer #1296
18" Straightedge #3850
.020" gauged saw #3598
Scraper blade #0654
4mm Allen wrench #6113
Nut-slotting files: 0.016" width (#0827) and 0.035" width (0832)
1/4"-diameter brad point bit (in #0023 set) Bridge pin reamer #3227
Peghole reamer, standard #0344
Fret dressing file, medium # 1602
Radius-sanding block, 16" radius #0413
Small cam clamps (at least 2) #3723
Large cam clamp (2) #3723
Spool clamps (24) #0684
Clothes pins (50)
Medium bar-style clamp (2)
X-Acto knife
Small carpenter’s square
Feeler gauges #1811
3/4" plywood workboard 24" x 20"
Titebond glue #0620
Weld-On Cement #1975
Super Glue (#0010 thin and #0020 medium)
Double-stick tape #1689
Draftsman’s tape (low tack)
Masking/binding tape (high tack) #0677
Rubber binding bands #1274 (option to using binding tape)
Sandpaper (80, 100, 150 and 220-grit)
Wax paper
White pencil
Felt-tip marker
Capo #4571
Clean cotton glove
Finishing materials (for aerosol nitrocellulose lacquer finish)
Guitar Finishing Step-By-Step book #5095
Fre-Cut® sandpaper 150, 220, 320, 600, 800, and 1200-grit at least 2 sheets
of each grit (included in Finishing Paper Sampler Package #5562)
ColorTone Concentrated Liquid Stain (tobacco brown #5034, red
mahogany #5032)
ColorTone Grain filler
ColorTone Clear Gloss aerosol nitrocellulose lacquer (6) #3881
Blush Eraser #1313
Stewart-MacDonald Polishing Compound medium #1202 and fine #1203
Stewart-MacDonald Swirl Remover #1204 (optional)
Foam Polishing Pads (2 or 3) #3414 and electric hand drill
Naphtha solvent #0775
Paint stripper
Masking supplies: brown paper, masking tape, cardboard and
rubber balloon (or newspaper) for soundhole
Kit parts list
1 Bent sides, rosewood or
mahogany (2)
2 Slotted fretboard
3 Mahogany neck, dovetail
or bolt-on
4 Kerfed lining (8)
5 Neck block, dovetail or bolt-on
6 Tailblock
7 Purfling (2), herringbone or
8 Sitka spruce soundboard
9 Back, rosewood or mahogany
10 Black pickguard
11 Building an Acoustic Guitar Kit
12 Blueprint
13 Bracing pattern
14 Cardboard body form (2)
15 Fretwire (3)
16 Herringbone rosette (3 pieces)
17 Rosewood peghead
overlay veneer
Maple bridge plate stock
Binding (2)
Back brace set (9 pieces)
Reinforcement strips (3)
Hot Rod truss rod
End trim, heel cap
Dot fret markers (8)
White side dot material
Bone saddle blank
Bone nut blank
Bridge pins (6), cream
or black
30 Endpin, cream or black
31 Shim stock
(not in bolt-on kit)
32 Top brace set (11 pieces)
Not pictured: this assembly
instructions book, scrap wood,
and large rubber band.
Side Assembly
Assembling the sides
Save the cardboard box your kit came in. Cut away the
sides of the box and use the large top and bottom to create
a double-thick cardboard surface on your workboard.
Each bent guitar side has been formed from a tapered piece
of wood. One of the longer edges is straight (the guitar top)
and the other is slightly curved (the back). Place the sides,
straight edges down, on the cardboard and butt the ends
together. The sides shouldn’t rock on the workboard surface.
Pencil accurately measured centerlines on the neck block
and the tailblock, and align these marks against the inner
seams of the adjoining guitar sides. The open top of the
neck block must face downward against the workboard,
and both blocks must be flush with the sides at the top and
Dry-clamp the two blocks to the sides, place a piece of wood
across the waist, and rest a weight (a couple of bricks worked
for us) on the piece of wood (pictured) to keep the sides
flat against the cardboard. Now readjust the neck block and
tailblock while the sides are weighted down.
Clamping caul with
curved face
paper to
Use four
5° taper for back
Cut the
board to fit
the angled
face of the
neck block
1-1/2° taper for top
downward to make clearance for the 1-1/2° taper of the
neck block as you press it down against the flat surface of
the cardboard. Viewed from the side, in cross-section, both
ends of the neck block are flush where they meet the sides,
but are higher than the sides as they taper up toward the
interior of the guitar.
KIT TIP: Dry clamping
It’s important to try fitting and clamping the kit
pieces before you use glue. Practice a “dry run” to
make sure you have all the clamps and cauls needed
before glue is applied. We found that using a little
brush (like our Glue Brush) helps to apply the glue
evenly on the surface.
The neck block is beveled on the surfaces which will contact
the top and back of the guitar. The back side of the neck
block has a fairly steep 5° angle to match the arch of the
back; the open top of the neck block has a shallower 1-1/2°
taper. Trace around the neck block onto the cardboard, and
use a sharp knife to cut along that line through the first layer
of cardboard. Don’t cut the edge where the block meets
the guitar sides. This allows you to compress the cardboard
The side of the neck block that touches the guitar sides is
curved. A clamping caul with matching curvature (illustrated) should be prepared from scrap wood and placed
against the outer side seam. The same caul will fit both the
neck block and tailblock areas.
KIT TIP: Cauls
You’ll need scrap wood to make cauls that will be
used throughout assembly. Cauls are used to apply uniform pressure while the glue dries, and to
protect the guitar’s surface from the clamps.
Remove the clamps and, one at a time, apply Titebond glue
to the inner block surfaces. Reclamp using four clamps per
block. Wipe off the excess glue with a damp cloth and let
the assembly dry overnight before unclamping. Use waxed
paper to prevent the wooden parts from being glued to the
cardboard surface.
Making a body mold
Using the two heavy cardboard body forms (supplied with
the kit) create a guitarmaking form which supports the body
during the early stages of assembly.
First, place two scraps of 3/4" plywood onto the work surface
inside the guitar. This will lift the cardboard form up to make
room for the kerfed linings which will be installed later. Lay
the first cardboard piece onto the 3/4" plywood inside the
guitar body.
2" block
Next, glue a 2" thick block of scrap wood onto the cardboard,
centered about 4" from the smaller end of the guitar mold.
Then glue a second 2-1/2" piece of scrap wood, centered
about 4" from the bottom (larger end) of the guitar mold.
Glue the second piece of cardboard onto them. Now the
two cardboard forms are fastened together with blocks of
wood between them, creating a three-dimensional form for
supporting the guitar sides.
Make a U-shaped waist clamp from 3/4"-thick plywood,
using the waist clamp measurements (illustrated). The
purpose of the waist clamp is to hold the guitar's waist tight
to the inner cardboard mold, maintaining a constant shape
until the back is glued on.
Waist Clamp
Made from 3/4"-thick plywood
Use a file to round the two inner edges of the waist clamp
to remove edges and protect the guitar sides.
To start out, install the waist clamp from the back side of
the guitar. (Later, after the top is installed, you'll switch the
waist clamp to the top side) When sliding the waist clamp
on, hold the guitar sides tight against the cardboard form
to keep from cracking the sides. If the fit is too tight, remove
small amounts from each side of the U-shape until the waist
clamp slides snugly onto the waist (but not so snug that it's
hard to remove).
Installing kerfed linings
Eight kerfed (notched) wooden lining strips, or “kerfing”,
are supplied for reinforcing the glue joints between the
soundboard, sides and back. Refer to the blueprint; dryclamp (no glue) the kerfing strips to the top edge of the
side assembly using ordinary spring-tension clothespins
(pictured). Each side of the guitar requires two strips, which
should be accurately trimmed where they meet the body
blocks. Use at least four or five dozen clothespins. The top
(gluing) surface of the kerfings should extend 1/32" above
the edge of the guitar’s sides, on both the top and back
sides. The kerfing is left slightly tall so that you’ll have a little
wood to sand off until the kerfing comes perfectly flush with
the top edge of the sides, and to make up for any possible
misalignment during glue-up. Disassemble, trim the linings, glue them into place with Titebond, check the 1/32"
clearance and reclamp. Let the glue dry for 4 hours. Install
the kerfing strips on the back edge of the side assembly in
the same manner.
Squaring the neck block and tailblock
Although they work quite well, the waist clamp and cardboard inner body mold still allow some movement. Handle
the rim assembly carefully, especially until the top and back
are glued on and the assembly becomes more rigid. Lay the
rim assembly topside-down on the plywood work surface,
weight it down again, and use a square at each end to see if
the neck block and tailblock are square to the plywood surface. If either end is slightly out of square, use a thin tapered
wedge pressed between the cardboard inner body mold
and either the neck block or tailblock as needed, to force the
blocks and sides into square (pictured). Having the sides
properly squared up at this stage is important.
Stewart-MacDonald’s tool recommendation
Franklin Titebond Glue Item #0620
The luthier’s favorite aliphatic resin glue, for joints that are stronger than the wood.
Water soluble, it cures overnight, sands easily, and resists thermoplastic “creep” better
than ordinary white glues.
Leveling the kerfed linings
Prepare a “sanding board” from a straight flat piece of wood
about 3-4" wide, at least 1" thick, and 24" long (illustrated).
Add a wedge on each side of one end of the sanding board.
These wedges will tip the sanding board to match the angles
of the top and back as you sand the kerfed linings, neck and
tailblocks. The wedges should be approximately 8" long, and
as wide as the sanding board. Make one wedge 5° for the
back linings, and the other 1-1/2° for the top linings.
Rest the side assembly, with the straight top edge down,
on the flat surface of your workbench. The front shoulders
should overhang the bench, so that the waist clamp can be
fastened to the edge of the benchtop with two wood screws.
If you’re unable to screw the waist clamp to the bench, clamp
a board flush to the bottom edge of your bench, and clamp
or screw the waist clamp to the board.
1-1/2° wedge
for sanding top edge
on both sides
5° wedge for
sanding back edge
Sands the kerfing
at the angle
of the tapered
Draw a white pencil line on the edge of the guitar sides to
serve as an indicator of your sanding progress. Stop sanding
when the line is gone and you begin to graze the sides. Using double-stick tape, attach 80-grit sandpaper to the side
of the sanding board with the 5° wedge. Hold the wedged
end of the board against the tailblock as a pivot point, and
begin sanding the neck block and the front shoulder area
first. Work around the sides to the tailblock, moving the
pivot point frequently, until the sandpaper begins grazing the white pencil marks on the top edge of the sides. It’s
easy to oversand the sides and the kerfed linings, leaving the
neck block or tailblock higher than the sides, and causing
a “hump” in that area later. Keep this in mind, and give the
blocks a little extra sanding. White pencil them several times
and use a straightedge to be sure they are flat.
Move the waist clamp to the back side of the rim assembly,
and refasten the clamp to the bench with the top kerfed linings facing up. Repeat the sanding process, using the 1-1/2°
wedged side of the sanding board. The top kerfed linings
have a slighter bevel and are easier to sand than those on
the back of the rim. When your sanding reaches the white
pencil line, the linings are ready for the guitar top to be fitted.
KIT TIP: Back kerfing
The back kerfed linings can be level-sanded AFTER
the top is glued to the sides. The rigidity added by
the glued top makes the sanding easier and more
accurate. If you choose this option, level the top
kerfed linings first (pictured), and sand the back
linings just before removing the cardboard inner
Soundboard bracing and fitting
Installing the soundhole rosette
Three bent wooden purflings form the soundhole rosette.
The two narrow rings composed of parallel black and white
strips install in the inner and outer rings of the rosette, and
the wide decorative ring goes in the middle channel.
The purflings are longer than needed, to enable the removal
of the straightened ends on each ring left from the bending
process. Dry-fit the three rings in their channels. Trim the
ends closely at a slight angle to compensate for the curve of
the channel. The outer and center ring joints will be hidden
under the fretboard, so you don’t have to be too critical with
the fit of the ends. However, be careful to trim the inner ring
accurately, as it will be exposed. Trim the outer and center
rings first for practice, and then concentrate on the inner
ring. A few extra minutes of careful work here will make a
big difference in the appearance of the final instrument.
Glue the purflings in place with Titebond and press them
firmly into the channels. A flat clamping caul covered in wax
paper will seat them well. After drying, scrape the purflings
flush to the surface of the soundboard, using a sharp scraper
blade. Flex the scraper slightly as you work, and trim the
purflings until the tool begins to pick up bits of spruce.
Installing the soundboard bracing
Using the bracing pattern, pencil the soundboard bracing
pattern (pictured) on the inside surface of the soundboard
(cut small holes in the pattern at the corners and intersections of the braces, lay the pattern on the soundboard,
transfer the hole positions in pencil, and “connect the dots”
on the soundboard when the blueprint is lifted away). The
pattern MUST be correctly centered along the soundboard’s
center seam, with the soundhole properly located. Note that
the soundboard and the back have been trimmed to allow
about 1/8" overhang all around. This offers a little freedom
when assembling the top and back to the rim, and will be
trimmed away later.
The two long X-braces (T-1 on the blueprint), the tall front
shoulder brace (T-5), and the tone-bars (T-2) are radiused.
The flat shoulder brace and the four small braces (T-3) are
not radiused.
With the soundboard face down on your workboard, place
these two X-braces on the penciled lines and mark where
they cross. With a razor saw, notch the radiused T-1 braces
so they interlock. Using the rigid workboard, dry-clamp the
ends in place, flat to the soundboard (pictured). Clamp
the center of the “X” down, using one or two long cam
clamps. The combination of the curved braces and the rigid
workboard will produce the proper soundboard arch (a 28foot radius) when the clamps are removed.
As shown in the blueprint, the ends of the T-2 tone-bars,
the four small T-3 braces, and the maple bridge plate tuck
under the X-braces. File these notches in the X-braces at a
45° angle (pictured). Using a sharp chisel, carefully shape
a matching angle on one end of these braces where they
tuck under. Reclamp the X-braces onto the soundboard and
workboard. Check the fit of the tone bars in the notches.
Disassemble, apply Titebond to the braces and tone bars,
reclamp, and let the glue dry overnight. This work can be
done in stages, depending upon the number of available
clamps. Use two flat clamping cauls for each pair of tone bars,
with the soundboard resting on your workboard to keep it
flat at this stage (pictured). Cut the three flat soundhole
reinforcement strips (T-4) to length and glue them into
position on the soundboard.
Transfer the outline of the bridge plate from the blueprint
to the flat maple bridge plate stock. Saw out the plate and
true its edges against a piece of sandpaper taped to a flat
work surface. Don’t drill the bridge pin holes yet; this will be
done later. File a 45° bevel at each end of the bridge plate
and check for proper fit in the X-brace notches. File off each
pointed end of the bridge plate so that it can slide forward
as it tucks under the X-braces. Prepare a wooden clamping
Bridge and shoulder brace clamping cauls
While the braces are accessible, prepare a bridge clamping
caul and a shoulder brace caul that will be used in the “Installing the neck” and “Installing the bridge” sections. The bridge
caul (illustrated) is 7-1/2" x 1-3/4" x 3/4". It must be relieved
to contact the bridge plate and the soundboard, and have
sufficient relief to clear the X-braces and the tone bars. The
easiest way to create this relief is to glue scrap corners from
the bridge plate itself onto the corners of the caul. This way,
the caul’s center portion is relieved by an amount equal to
the thickness of the bridge plate.
The shoulder brace caul is 2" x 2-5/8" x 1-1/4", with relief to
clear both shoulder braces. Use a saw and a chisel or router
to make these cauls.
caul to fit snugly over the installed bridge plate between
the X-braces, and glue the plate onto the soundboard
with Titebond or hide glue. The lower clamp jaws should
contact the back of your workboard to protect the spruce
Bridge clamping caul
These surfaces must contact the soundboard;
the notches
not contact
the braces.
These surfaces must contact the soundboard;
the notchesThis
not must
contact the braces.
be relieved to contact
the maple bridge plate.
This surface must
be relieved to contact
the maple bridge plate.
Shoulder brace caul
Shoulder brace caul
Fitting the soundboard to the sides
To fit the top, the ends of the X-braces and the tall shoulder
brace must be notched into the kerfed linings. The remaining smaller braces will be tapered to nothing where they
meet the kerfing.
a pencil mark on the centerline, on the underside of the
soundboard. Measure 20" from this mark to the tailblock
end, and make a mark. This is the body length. During gluing, these marks must align with the sides and blocks. The
soundboard will overhang the sides a little, which will be
trimmed away later.
KIT TIP: Trimming soundboard overhang
KIT TIP: Tapering smaller tone bars
The blueprint shows the ends of the T-2 tone bars
notched into the kerfing, but we now suggest that
you taper them before they reach the kerfing. The
choice is yours. Tapering these braces to nothing
will let the top flex a little more.
For this fitting, leave the side assembly clamped to the
workbench if you’re able to work around the assembly comfortably. You can unclamp the side assembly and the waist
clamp from the workbench if it makes fitting the top easier,
but be sure to handle the assembly gently. Don’t bend or
twist the sides as you fit the top.
An option to leaving the top overhang is to remove
it in the neck block and tailblock areas only. This
gives you an opportunity to re-check the squareness of the sides to the top in these areas during
gluing. If you trim the overhang flush, then during
gluing, you can butt the top and sides at each end
until they are flush to ensure squareness. This way,
the top fits the sides, neck block and tailblock accurately, and you can ensure that the body measures
20" from end-to-end.
Using a 3/4" x 2" x 3" scrap wood caul and two cam clamps,
gently dry-clamp the top to the neck block. Next (if necessary), pull the sides and tailblock into the body length
pencil mark (look at the mark on the underside) and gently
dry-clamp that end. Don’t use excessive pressure, since the
braces to be notched will be resting on the kerfed lining at
this point. On the guitar’s sides, use a white pencil to mark
Chisel the ends of the X-braces and tall shoulder brace down
to a thickness of .100" (pictured). Follow the pre-machined
taper of the braces as you chisel.
To find the guitar’s accurate length between neck and
tailblocks, first measure 3-15/16" from the top edge of the
soundhole, towards the neck block (illustrated). Make
Body length: 20"
the end positions of the X-braces and the large shoulder
brace. Remove the soundboard and trace the brace positions
onto the kerfed linings with a straightedge, using the marks
as reference points. For the X-braces, be sure to hold a long
straightedge between the reference points at the proper
angle shown in the blueprint. The positions of the tone bars
should also be marked if you choose to notch them. The tone
bars don’t notch in as deep as the other braces, and only a
slight filing will be needed.
With a knife and/or file, remove wood from the linings and
the sides in the penciled areas to accomodate the ends of
the braces. These notches should taper toward the interior
of the guitar to match the taper of the braces (pictured).
When the notches are cut correctly, the top will fit into place
and be ready for gluing.
Opening the dovetail joint
Before gluing on the top, remove the side wood covering
the neck joint opening in the neck block. With a sharp stiff
knife or a saw, score through the sides until the waste wood
can be snapped off up to the scored line. Follow with a sharp
chisel and a file to smooth the sides flush to the inner walls
of the dovetail.
Installing the soundboard
With the waist clamp still in place on the side assembly, and
with the assembly resting top-down on the flat plywood,
recheck the squareness of the neck block and tailblock to
the sides. Make slight adjustments if necessary by adding
or removing a wedge of wood between the blocks and the
cardboard. Turn the guitar over so the top faces upward.
Handle the assembly carefully now, until the top is glued
When gluing the soundboard and the back onto the sides,
use C-clamps, or cam clamps as pictured, at both ends,
with plenty of spool clamps in between. Carefully prop up
the backside, on each side of the waist clamp, with small
boxes, blocks of wood, or anything that will lift the waist
clamp clear of the table, to allow clamping access at each
end. When the neck block and tailblock are clamped, and a
few spool clamps are in place, you won’t need these props
anymore. The body won’t rock on the waist clamp, nor will
it lose shape from the weight of the clamps or the clamping
process. PRACTICE gluing the top in place by dry-clamping
it in the order of the steps numbered below. After doing a
dry run for practice, we suggest that you remove the clamps
— and do it again! It pays to be able to move quickly and
surely when glue is applied.
1. After aligning the centerlines and the body length pencil
lines at the neck block and tailblock, first apply two clamps
with protective cauls at the neck block end. If you trimmed
the neck and tailblock overhangs earlier, align both ends
until flush.
2. Begin installing spool clamps at the neck block, using four
clamps on each side up to the waist clamp. By gluing the
neck block and shoulder area first, the angle of the “neck set”
won’t be affected if you need to pull or push the tailblock
to the 20" mark.
3. Align the sides at the tailblock end with the body length
mark, and clamp as you did the neck block.
4. Start installing spool clamps at the tailblock; use seven on
each side up to the waist clamp.
5. Remove the waist clamp and install final spool clamps
there (pictured).
Mark the spool clamps from 1 through 12 on each side, remove them, and lay them out in order for quick reclamping.
Apply glue to the kerfed linings, align the soundboard and
repeat the clamping process.
KIT TIP: Spool clamps
It’s helpful to number the spool clamps during the
dry run so they can quickly be reapplied during the
gluing process. Spool clamps can be made using 8"
all thread rods, wing nuts, drilled wooden spools
and cork or leather lining pads. They’re also available in our catalog.
Back bracing and fitting
Installing the back bracing
Choose the less attractive side of the joined guitar back as
the inside surface, and transfer the back bracing pattern from
the blueprint to this surface. Place the four braces in position
with their curved surfaces contacting the back, and notice
their more extreme curvature (a 20-foot radius). Unlike the
top gluing setup, a flat surface is not used as a gluing caul for
the back braces. Instead, make a radiused outer gluing caul
by tracing the outer curve of the longest back brace onto a
20" piece of scrap 2" x 4" wood (illustrated). Saw and sand
it to shape. You can make four cauls if you want to glue all
the back braces simultaneously.
As was done with the soundboard braces, follow the taper
and shape of the pre-machined back braces and chisel the
ends of each brace to .100" high at the points where they
will notch into the kerfed linings.
KIT TIP: Back brace caul
A notched gluing caul, made from 20" x 3/4" x 11/2" scrap wood or plywood (pictured), can be
placed to one side of the back’s centerline, half
Trace the curved brace onto a 2x4 and cut
on a bandsaw for a curved back-brace caul
After applying glue to a brace, place the caul on the outer
side and clamp the caul and the brace ends first (spring
clamps are useful for this). Add two cam clamps to reach
the center of the brace.
When all the back braces are installed, trim the spruce center
strips into five pieces of accurate length to cover the centerseam between the back braces. Glue and clamp the center
strips into place and allow to dry before unclamping.
the distance of the spruce center strips. This keeps
the reinforcing center strips in a neat, straight line
from end to end. Use scrap wood cauls and two
cam clamps for uniform pressure on each spruce
strip. Avoid glue squeeze-out that might stick to
the notched caul!
Fitting the back to the sides
If you haven’t yet leveled the back kerfed linings, do so now.
Use the 5° wedged sanding board.
at the neck block. Be sure the penciled back outline at the
tailblock end is also exactly 20" from the neck block mark.
When correctly installed, the guitar’s back will have an arch,
with curvature both longitudinally and laterally, and will
have a slight overhang of about 1/8" around the outside.
Double check that the outside distance of the sides from the
neck block to the tailblock measures the correct 20" body
length. If it doesn’t, the lower bout and tailblock end may
have “stretched” out of shape a little. This can happen if the
assembly sits too long without a top or back, or as a result
of high humidity in your work area. The assembly can be
pulled into length as the back is glued on.
Place the guitar’s back assembly onto the rim assembly,
align the center seam with the side seams, butt the trimmed
spruce reinforcing strip up against the neck block, and dry
clamp lightly. Next, carefully and lightly dry-clamp the
tailblock end of the back, making sure that the body length
pencil mark aligns with the sides, and that the centerlines
match. If the sides at the tailblock don’t align with the body
length pencil mark on the back, gently push the sides and
tailblock slightly until the body length mark meets the sides,
and lightly dry-clamp. You may find it easier to have a friend
help in case you need to manipulate the neck block and
tailblock into shape.
At the neck block end, trim the back’s spruce center strip
until it butts up against the inner edge of the neck block.
The pencil mark should line up at the front edge of the guitar
Use a white pencil to mark the positions of the ends of the
back braces on the sides. File .100"-deep notches in the
kerfed linings and the sides to accept the braces, as you did
for the guitar top. Now, chisel the spruce center strip so it
butts against the tailblock.
When the back assembly fits correctly, cut the cardboard inner mold into pieces with a sharp knife and remove them.
Installing the side reinforcing strips
The blueprint included with your kit illustrates the positions of vintage-style cloth side reinforcing tape. We have
supplied 1/4"-wide spruce for this purpose, as commonly
used in many modern guitars. Transfer the centerlines of the
reinforcement strips from the blueprint to the inner sides
of your kit. Measure, mark and cut eight strips for each side
from the three 20" spruce strips supplied with your kit. Each
strip should fit snugly between the kerfed linings. You can
taper the ends and round the two long exposed edges of
each strip for a cleaner look.
Before gluing, dry-clamp each strip to make sure it lies flush
with the guitar side. You may want to make a small caul to
help hold the strip and spread the clamping pressure, with
an accompanying outside caul for backup. Experiment with
C-clamps, spring clamps, or cam clamps until you find a combination that works for you. Apply a thin bead of Titebond,
clamp the strips in place (pictured), and allow at least an
hour before unclamping.
Installing the back
In the waist area of the soundboard, trim away the 1/8"
overhang so the waist clamp will fit. Install the waist clamp
from the front of the guitar to hold the sides in shape while
gluing the back.
Clean up the inside surfaces of the body to remove dust and
glue. Dry-clamp the back into place with spool clamps and
cam-clamps or C-clamps, as you did for the soundboard.
Check and correct the fit if necessary, according to the
centerline and the body length marks. Unclamp, apply
Titebond to the kerfed linings and reclamp, starting at the
neck block. Follow the same clamping order as you did with
the top (pictured). Let the glue dry overnight.
Stewart-MacDonald’s tool recommendation
Spool Clamps Item #0684
Traditional spool clamps are more economical and less cumbersome than most other
types of clamps for gluing soundboards and backs. Cork lining on the hardwood spools
helps protect the instrument.
Routing and binding
Trimming the top and back overhang
With a saw, chisel and file, remove the section of soundboard
that covers the top of the neck joint cavity, and smooth the
edges. Routing for the body bindings is easier if the excess
top and back overhang is removed first. You’ll be able to see
the router bit better, and there’s less chance of wood tearout.
You can trim off the overhang with a sharp knife and a file,
or get in close with those hand tools and flush-cut with a
ball-bearing router bit.
Routing for the plastic body bindings
Use a small straightedge to examine where the top and back
meet the sides. Look for dips, rises or other imperfections.
Scrape and sand the wood flat and smooth for at least 1" on
the sides and 2" or 3" on the top and back. This will provide
accurate surfaces for your router base and ball-bearing
cutter. Be particularly careful in sanding and smoothing
this area because imperfections will result in an uneven
binding channel.
Regardless of the tool you use to rout the body for binding,
a straight-cut router bit must be used to produce a rightangle ledge. You can use a Dremel router with our adjustable
binding router attachment and 5/16" bit, if you approach
the final size slowly. We used a more powerful laminate
router of manageable size and a relatively small-diameter
baseplate. The baseplate didn’t extend far enough out on
the arched guitar back to tip it out of proper alignment with
the sides. We also used our ball-bearing Binding Router Bit
and bearings.
To keep wood dust and chips out of the shop in our video,
we moved outside and rested the guitar body on the open
top of a rectangular plastic garbage can. Hold the body
securely with your elbows as you rout. For more stability,
secure the guitar body to your plywood work surface by
screwing several close-fitting wood blocks onto the board
around the body. Thin strips of veneer or heavy cardboard
can be lightly wedged between the blocks and the body
to hold it fast. You can also use the waist clamp fastened to
your workbench for most of the routing, and remove it to
rout the waist of the body.
Begin at the centers of the top and lower bouts on both
the treble and bass sides (illustrated), with the router base
moving in the direction of the rotating cutter (clockwise).
Rout up to the areas indicated by the arrows. When all four
climb cuts have been made, you can move the router in the
opposite direction (counterclockwise) cutting into the wood
rather than climbing (illustrated). Make one continuous
pass around the guitar. When you reach the areas that were
already climb cut, the router will pass without tear-out.
Use a dial caliper to set your router cutting dimensions, and
make a few test cuts on scrap wood until you get the proper
height. Test-fit your bindings on these practice cuts. If you
can, test on scrap that is curved similar to the shapes you
will be routing on the guitar.
Wood tear-out is always possible when routing, but especially with long-grain, quartersawn tonewoods. Therefore,
start with four “climb cuts,” so-called because the router
is “climbing,” or being pulled along as the bit grabs the
Interior strip: Fine black/white or herringbone trim
KIT TIP: Router base compensation
Outside strip: 7/32" tall for black or
white binding
Here’s a tip for routing the top and back more accurately: The arch of the top, and especially the
back, will change the router alignment. Coupled
with any irregularities in the wood, this can cause
the routed channel to be too deep or too shallow.
You can avoid this by wrapping several layers of
1/4"-wide masking tape around the ball-bearing
for the first cut, and peeling them off gradually for
successive cuts. Measure the depth of cut for each
pass until it’s correct. Likewise, lower the router bit
gradually in several passes to reach the final correct
channel height.
Kerfed lining
Guitar side
Kerfed lining
Guitar back
Outside strip: 7/32" tall for black or
white binding
The first pass is for the interior strips (herringbone or black/
white, depending on your kit) and is made with the appropriate bearing on the cutter bit. The router bit should be set
to cut a shallow ledge and a width to accommodate both
the interior strip and the outside binding (black or white,
depending on your kit). Make practice cuts on scrap wood,
check the fit of the trim strips before routing the actual channels. Once starting the routing on the guitar body, check the
fit before going very far to be sure both the depth and the
width are correct.
The second pass is for cutting the recess for the outside binding (black or white, depending on your kit). For a traditional
appearance, route this slot no taller that 7/32". Again test
this cut on a piece of scrap wood, preferably the same piece
where you adjusted the first cut. When the cut is adjusted,
dry fit both pieces of binding in the stepped slot to be sure
they will both fit. The outside strip of binding will extend
slightly above the level of the top to be scraped flush when
the glue dries.
After routing the top and back, use a file to smooth out any
irregularities in the routed channels, especially around the
back of the body.
Unlike the slightly radiused top, the significant 5°
back arch makes it more difficult to keep the router
square to the sides for an accurate vertical cut. Make
a 5° wedge the same size as your router baseplate
5° wedge
router base
and back
of guitar
and attach it to the baseplate with double-stick
tape (illustrated). You’ll use this wedge for routing
from the neck block area all the way to the last brace
in the lower bout. You’ll stop there, remove the
wedge, readjust the height of the bit, and finish the
cut to the center of the tailblock before stopping
again. This will be repeated on the opposite side of
the body. With the router unplugged, practice with
the wedge and try to keep the router bit square to
the sides. It won’t be perfectly square everywhere
at all times, but should give excellent results.
You’ll need to swing out as you reach the first shoulder, swing in as you near the waist, and swing out as
you approach the last brace. This isn’t easy if you’re
also trying to make the climb cuts to avoid tear-out.
If you ignore the climb cuts and rout the entire back
in a counterclockwise direction you’ll have more
control. In that case, lower the bit in several passes,
and use tape on the ball-bearing to make shallower
cuts in stages, to eliminate tear-out.
Shaping the end trim and heel cap
Cut off 2-1/4" from the rectangular blank, to be used for
the heel cap material. On the remaining 6" piece, draw a
center line from end to end. On one end measure out from
center 3/8" each way and make a mark. On the opposite end
measure out 3/16" from the center line each way and make a
mark. Connect the marks from end to end with your pencil,
now you have your shape.
Clean up the cut edges with a file. Take care to file along the
whole length of the piece, so you don’t lose the straightness
of the edges.
Attach the piece to a flat surface using double sided tape. Lay
a straight edge along the outer angled lines and cut along
the straight edge with a razor knife. Make several cuts until
you are completely through the material.
Installing the end trim
Install the waist clamp, and screw it to the topside of the
workbench, with the tailblock end of the guitar facing the
ceiling, to hold the body firmly while you work. Center
the tapered plastic end trim at the end seam of the guitar,
about midway from top to bottom, wide end toward the
soundboard (see the blueprint, upper left). Hold the end
trim firmly and use a sharp knife to score the outline of its
edges onto the guitar body. Gradually deepen the scored
line in several passes with the knife or a thin razor saw, and
chisel the area between the lines to the thickness of the end
trim. Check the fit of the end trim in the channel, and glue
it in place with Weld-On cement. Clamping should not be
necessary, but use waxed paper to protect your hands. After
24 hours drying time, trim the ends to match the routed
binding ledges. Level the end trim flush with the guitar sides,
using a sharp scraper blade tool.
Installing the bindings
We prefer our high-tack binding tape to hold the bindings,
but you can also use cloth tape or long rubber bands. Before
gluing, prepare by tearing many pieces of tape in 2" lengths.
For the rosewood kit with herringbone trim, apply Weld-On
glue to a section of the routed soundboard channels, from
about six inches to one-quarter of the distance around the
guitar from the tailblock seam. Set the herringbone trim in
place; the pattern should point toward the neck block. Apply a little more glue on its edge, and set the plastic binding
strip against it in the outer channel. You can glue both strips
simultaneously. Secure them tightly with tape and press
the herringbone trim down firmly. Repeat the procedure to
complete one side of the soundboard, and allow 6-8 hours
drying time before binding the other side.
Remove the tape by warming it with a heat gun (or a hair
dryer) held at least 6-8 inches away. Pull the tape off at a
45° angle (pictured). When warmed, the tape will lift easily
without pulling out wood fibers.
Glue and tape the back bindings in place. The binding joints
at the neck block and tailblock must be trimmed for a close
fit. The solvent-based glue, such as Weld-on, will melt the
joints together. Allow 6-8 hours drying time before remov-
ing the tape.
It’s best to wait at least two days before scraping the bindings flush to the wood, because the plastic will shrink
slightly as the glue solvent evaporates. Use a scraper blade
to smooth the bindings flush to the guitar’s sides, back and
top. Scrape in the direction of the wood grain, and avoid
digging into the wood. Practice on scrap if possible.
Fit and fill the truss rod channel
Fitting the truss rod
The neck block has been drilled to allow access to the truss
rod’s adjusting nut, but the rod is not designed to extend
beyond the neck (pictured). This allows for neck removal,
should it ever become necessary (this is normal on a dovetail
neck reset).
The neck channel at the heel needs to be enlarged to accept
the truss rod's adjustment nut. Mark the position of the adjustment nut on the face of the tenon, nut side down. Mark
the length of the adjustment nut on a 17/64" drill bit with
masking tape to act as a depth stop. Run the bit in reverse
to start the hole, and then drill open the truss rod channel
to accept the nut.
Now slide the Hot Rod Truss Rod into the neck channel from
the heel end, with the adjustment nut down. Set the neck
into the neck block. Using a 4mm Allen wrench, check for
sufficient access to the adjusting nut. Adjust the hole size
if required.
Fill the channel
Before the peghead overlay can be added, the space between the truss rod and the peghead face needs to be filled
with the included channel filler plug.
Dry-fit the plug, abutting the end of the truss rod. The truss
rod adjustment nut should be flush with the end of the neck
joint tenon (illustrated). Glue only the filler plug into the
channel. Once the glue dries, trim off the excess so the filler
plug is flush with the peghead.
Align adjusting nut to the
end of the neck joint tenon
Trim flush to peghead face
Peghead shaping and drilling
Peghead overlay
Align the nut end of the fretboard with the break angle,
where the peghead begins. Pencil a mark on the peghead
face 3/16" from the nut line. Align the peghead overlay with
this mark. This will leave some extra overlay wood to be
trimmed away when the nut is fitted later.
Using Titebond, glue and clamp the rosewood overlay veneer, grain running lengthwise, to the face of the peghead
aligning it with the pencil mark. Use at least four C-clamps
with protective wooden cauls, and prepare a V-shaped caul
to fit around the “diamond” contour below the nut area
(pictured). Unclamp when dry, and trim the overlay flush
to the sides of the peghead with a knife and file.
Shape the peghead
You can round the upper corners of the peghead according to the blueprint, design your own shape, or leave them
squared in the vintage style. Shape the bottom later, when
you work on rounding the neck.
Enlarge the pegholes to fit your tuner bushings. Depending
on your tuners, you could use a standard peghole reamer
(pictured), or our Peghead Bushing Reamer (if you are
using Waverly tuners, we recommend #2062). Ream until
the collar of the bushing is about 1/32" from the face of the
peghead; at this point the bushing should press in with a
snug but not too tight fit.
KIT TIP: Drilling tuner holes
As an alternate to reaming, you can drill out the
bushing hole. Place a smooth 1/4" diameter steel
pin in the chuck of your drill press. (You can use
a drill bit, but there is no drilling. This is for alignment only). Lower it until the pin enters one of
the predrilled peg holes. Clamp the peghead in
that position. Raise and lower the pin and check
for accurate positioning by rotating the chuck to
see if the location is right all around. Reposition if
needed. Without moving the peghead, change to
the proper size drill bit to allow the bushing to be
pressed in gently (practice on scrap wood). This
secondary hole should be drilled only to the depth
of the bushing. Relocate and clamp the peghead
for each of the remaining holes.
Press in the tuner bushings and set the tuners in place.
Line up the baseplates of the tuners with the edges of the
peghead, and centerpunch the mounting screw holes. Use
a small drill bit of the appropriate size for the screws, with
masking tape as a depth-stop on the bit. Install the mounting screws, and then remove the tuners and the bushings.
Later, during finishing, the mounting screw holes will fill
over but will open easily with a light drilling. By installing
the tuners at this stage you’ll lessen the chance of chipping
the peghead finish.
Holes for non-tapered press-in bushings may require a
countersunk hole, or careful filing to enlarge the reamed
tapered hole. After you have fit the first bushing, use the
peghole as a reference and wrap tape around the reamer
as a depth stop for the remaining holes.
Making a fretboard
Trimming the fretboard
The fretboard needs to be tapered, starting at the nut slot.
The nut supplied is preshaped to 1-11/16" width.
On the slotted side of the fretboard, measure and mark the
center of the nut slot, then measure 27/32" (half of 1-11/16")
out from the center mark on each side.
Then at the 14th fret, measure and mark the center, then
1-3/32" (half of 2-3/16") out from the center mark on each
side at the 14th fret.
to lift it off the work surface for sanding. Clamp the fretboard
so one side hangs over the edge of the shim, and sand it
with the shooting block. SAVE YOUR SAWDUST! The fine
wood dust can be mixed with super glue and used to fill
fret ends later.
KIT TIP: Shooting block
A shooting block is a long, square-edged sanding
Using a straight edge draw a line from the nut mark to the
14th fret mark and let the line continue on to the end of the
fretboard. Do this on each side of the fretboard.
Tracing onto the curved (slotted) side of the fretboard allows
you to cut the board on a bandsaw with the flat side down
on the saw table. The fretboard can also be cut with a coping
saw or a hand plane. Cut the sides along your pencil lines,
leaving the lines visible. With a plane or sanding block you
can remove saw marks and smooth the edges, removing
the pencil lines.
True the cut edges of the fretboard with a “shooting block”
using 80-grit sandpaper, followed by 120-grit. Clamp the
fretboard flat-side down onto a piece of wood about 1/4"
thick and as wide and long as the fretboard — this is a shim
block for creating smooth, straight surfaces. We
used a carpenter’s level and fastened the sandpaper
to it with double-stick tape (pictured).
Inlaying the fretboard
Mark the location of the dot fret markers on the fretboard
using the centerline that you made earlier.
The largest marker will be inlaid at the 5th fret; middle-sized
markers will be inlaid at the 7th and 9th frets; smallest markers at the 12th, 15th, and 17th frets (two markers are inlaid
at the 7th and 12th frets).
For single fret marker positions, make marks on the
centerline midway between the appropriate frets and
centerpunch them for drilling. For fret locations inlaid with
two markers, make a line at a right angle to the centerline,
midway between the frets, and then measure to each side
of center to make the centerpunch marks.
Use brad-point drill bits if possible, and always start the drill
in reverse to get the hole started on center. Measure the
thickness of your inlays, and don’t deeper than the thickness
of your inlay. The goal is to keep the inlay just proud of the
fretboard, allowing it to level perfectly with the fretboard
without being below the fretboard surface.
CAUTION: Unless you clamp the work and use a stationary
drill press with a depth-stop, it’s easy to drill too deep, tear
out the wood, or drill completely through the fretboard by
mistake. Be careful, and practice on scrap!
Use just a touch of super glue to permanently set your inlays.
The dots are a tight fit, so you may need to press them flush
to the surface of the fretboard using a hard, flat object. Use
wax paper placed between the them—you don't want to
have the object glued to your fingerboard if there is any glue
squeeze-out. After you press the dots flush in the center of
the fretboard, they will be raised slightly at the edges, since
the fretboard is radiused. Use a smooth mill file to level the
dots, and then smooth the board from end to end using
a hardwood block wrapped with 220-grit Fre-Cut (opencoat) sandpaper. Try not change the radius of the fretboard,
Installing the fretboard side dots
Clamp the fretboard to a board, rest that board on its side,
and clamp this assembly to your benchtop with the bass
side of the fretboard facing up. Measure midway between
the appropriate fret slots, center carefully on the fretboard
edge, and lightly centerpunch for the side dot position
marker holes. Two evenly-spaced dots will be installed at the
12th fret. Drill all these holes with a 1/16" bit. One at a time,
touch a drop of medium-viscosity super glue to each hole
and insert the end of the plastic side dot rod. Snip it close to
flush. Level the dots with a smooth mill file (or the 120-grit
edge of the carpenter’s level used earlier). Use a light touch
in sanding so you don't alter the fretboard edge.
Installing the frets
With a flat block (or a 16" radius block if available), stroke
the fretboard lengthwise a few times, uniformly with 220grit sandpaper, as a final smoothing to prepare for fretting.
Do your fretting on a flat hard surface (we used a slab of 11/4" thick marble). The fretwire is curved, and must be cut
to length for each fret slot, but leave 1/8" overhang on each
side. Keep the cut frets arranged in order.
KIT TIP: Gluing the frets
There’s no need to use glue on a new fretboard, but
the choice is yours. Glue keeps the frets tight and lubricates the slot for possibly easier fret installation,
but also may produce an occasional loose fret end.
Set the first fret in place and hold it so that it can’t tip, to
prevent wood chipping (pictured). Seat the two fret ends
with one sharp hammer blow each, then hammer back and
forth across the fret. Since the fretwire is more curved than
the fretboard, the fret straightens as it’s hammered in. This
causes the barbs on the fret tang to move sideways in the
slot, tightening the fit. Avoid tipping the hammer face so that
its edge hits the fret, or you’ll dent the wire. Hammer from
your wrist, in short crisp blows (pictured). A scrap piece of
fretboard has been included with your kit, as well as enough
fretwire to practice fretting. Measure out the frets you will
actually use on your fretboard, then use the leftover fretwire
to test your skills on the scrap.
As you progress down the fretboard, the compression of
the fret tangs will cause the fretboard to backbow a little,
so be sure to hold the fretboard flat as you hammer. Install
the wire up to the 14th fret and stop. The remaining frets, in
the fretboard extension over the body, will be installed later,
after the neck is “dry-fitted” to the body. We do this because
the fretboard extension will curve slightly from fret compression, making sighting and fitting the neck more difficult.
Test the tightness of a couple of fret ends by prying up a little
with your fingernail. The fret ends should be seated tightly
(pictured). To ensure this, you can rest the fretboard on
edge and run a bead of water-thin super glue into the slot.
Let it run through the slot and out the other side. Loose frets
can be clamped using a 16"-radius sanding block as a caul
before running the super glue into the slot. Use wax paper
between the caul and the fretboard.
With flush-ground fret cutters, nip the fret ends close to
the edge of the fretboard (don’t dig into the wood). Use a
smooth mill file, or sandpaper on the carpenter’s level, to
bring the fret ends flush. Then, holding the fretboard flat
against your work surface, use the mill file to bevel the fret
ends at about 60°. Work slowly — you can always add more
bevel, but you can’t put the metal back. Lightly round over
the sharp upper edges of the fretboard so they’ll feel comfortable to your hand. Our Fret Beveling File makes this job
quick and uniform.
Installing the fretboard
Gluing cauls can be made to match the radius and length of
the fretboard, and notched to rest over the frets. However, a
simple method that works well for gluing and aligning the
fretboard is to wrap it onto the neck with a large rubber
band. You may need two rubber bands, but one worked
for us.
With the truss rod installed, clamp the peghead into a
swivel- jawed repair vise or to your benchtop, with the neck
overhanging. Cut a broomstick or a scrap of wood as a prop,
and wedge it under the neck heel with just enough force to
push the neck into a slight upbow, or “relief,” of about .012"
or .015", as noted using a straightedge. This will be approximately the same amount as the slight backbow the fretboard
probably took on during fretting. The two curves, upbow
and backbow, will cancel each other as the fretboard is glued
on, resulting in a straight neck and an unadjusted truss rod.
Lightly spread Titebond glue evenly on the neck surface.
Leave the edges of the truss rod channel almost dry, the glue
squeeze-out will spread right up to the edge of the channel.
Be careful not to get glue in the channel. Set the fretboard on
the glue surface, and align the nut end with the nut line on
the neck. Tie the rubber band at the nut end, and start wrapping (pictured). The fretboard will align itself as you wrap,
and can be easily moved if one edge is off-center. Stretch
the rubber band tightly as you wrap toward the neck heel,
go around the neck joint and the heel, and then wrap back
to the nut. Even with a light glue application, you’ll probably
get a lot of glue squeeze-out. Wipe off excess glue and let
the neck dry overnight.
Stewart-MacDonald’s tool recommendation
Essential Fretting Tool Kit Item #3125
Our fretting experts compiled this kit of tools you’ll need for the fundamentals of fret
work: installation, removal and dressing. Our photo-illustrated book, Fretwork Step By
Step, is the most complete work ever published on the subject, and it is included FREE
to get you started!
Neck shaping and fitting
Shaping the neck
When the glue is dry, remove the rubber bands. The neck
must be trimmed to meet the edges of the fretboard,
without removing any of the fretboard edges or filing deep
marks into them.
To complete the peghead “diamond” a little carving is necessary. Visualize the back of the neck shape continuing right up
to an imaginary line at the end of the fretboard. A chisel or a
file is best for establishing these lines, as well as for carving
the diamond into a more delicate shape (pictured). Follow
with a half-round bastard file or a smooth mill file (pictured).
Finish with 150, then 220-grit sandpaper and a couple of
small sanding blocks for smoothing. Always switch to the
next tool or sanding grit just before you think you need it,
to avoid overdoing it with any one tool.
KIT TIP: Neck sizes
Although the neck has been machined to reasonably close tolerances, plenty of extra wood has
been left to accommodate different neck sizes and
shapes. You can make tracings from the blueprint,
and cut out neck cross-section templates for checking the shape of the back of the neck if you like. We
penciled the entire backside of the neck and used
our files at a slight angle along the length of the
neck (pictured). When the pencil marks were removed, or left evenly and slightly below the grain of
the mahogany, we switched to finer grit sandpaper.
Using a rasp, followed by a half-round bastard file, shape the
neck’s heel. When the heel is close to the final shape, stop.
Finalize the shape later, when you add the heel cap.
Installing the nut
The guitar peghead tilts back 15° from the fretboard surface.
This angle must be filed and sanded onto the bottom of the
nut. Leave the top surface of the nut untouched for now.
From a scrap of wood at least 1/2" thick, 2-3" wide, and long
enough to clamp to the peghead face, make a “saw fence” by
beveling the thin edge at 15° (pictured). Hold the nut blank,
beveled side down, firmly against the end of the fretboard,
butt the saw fence against it on the peghead, and clamp it
in place. Remove the nut and use the fence’s 15° edge to
guide your razor saw to cut through the peghead veneer.
Stop just short of the mahogany! Chisel away the peghead
overlay between the sawed line and the fretboard to expose
the mahogany, creating a slot for the nut. The nut should
fit snugly.
Lightly glue the nut in place with a couple of drops of
Titebond in the mahogany slot, and a couple of drops on
the end of the fretboard. You can sand the edges of the nut
when you final-sand the neck.
Fitting the heel cap
Rough-cut the shape of the heel cap from the plastic sheet
provided, leaving a little overhang to be trimmed with a
file after gluing. Attach the heel cap trim to the flat bottom
of the heel with medium-viscosity super glue, and let it dry
thoroughly. Carefully and gently file and sand the material
flush to the wood, and avoid tearing it loose. Now continue
final-shaping the heel with your half-round file and sandpapers. The neck should be final-sanded to 220-grit.
Understanding the neck joint
Ideally, the neck block has remained square to the side assembly. The neck will meet the top at a subtle 1-1/2° angle.
When they are square, a minimum of hand-fitting is needed
to get the proper neck set (the angle of the neck/body joint).
However, it’s not uncommon to find that some adjustment
is needed in setting the neck. Use the following information
to adjust the angle of the neck in any direction.
The neck joint is a mortise-and-tenon joint. The tenon is
the precision-cut extension on the end of the neck, and
the mortise is the neck block recess which fits it. A dovetail
joint is glued together using a tenon with angled sides; the
bolt-on joint has a straight-sided tenon and requires no glue
(except under the fretboard where it extends over the body).
KIT TIP: Understanding neck angle geometry
Here’s the way to determine how much wood must
be removed from the cheeks for the correct neck
angle at the bridge. Always remove wood gradually
and check your progress frequently. A little adjustment goes a long way! Our example measurements
below are based on the scale length of this guitar:
25.4 inches.
The measurement we want is X — the amount of
wood to remove from the heel to change the neck
angle so that a straightedge laid on the frets will be
flush with the top of the bridge.
A = How far the straightedge falls below the top of
the bridge. In this example: 1/8" (.125").
B = The heel length from the fretboard bottom to
the heel cap. In this example: 3-13/16" (3.812").
C = The distance from the neck/body joint to the
saddle. In this example, that’s at the 14th fret, and
C = 11-5/16" (11.312").
X .042"
In this case, those numbers are .125" x 3.812" ÷
11.312" = .042". So in our example X = .042" which
is between 1/32" and 3/64". This is the amount to
remove at the bottom of the heel.
The neck heel sets the neck angle
The neck angle is controlled by the shape of the neck heel as
it contacts the sides of the body. It is not determined by the
fit of the mortise-and-tenon joint. (In fact, correctly setting
the angle on a dovetail neck actually loosens the dovetail
joint, which is later re-tightened by using a wooden shim.)
Removing wood from the top or bottom of the neck heel
tips the neck forward or back. Removing from either the
bass or treble side changes the neck’s angle in relation to
the center of the bridge.
Fitting the neck to the body
The two roughly triangular surfaces on either side of the
tenon are called the “cheeks” of the neck heel. These cheeks
are machined flat, but the guitar sides they contact are not
flat: the guitar has a slight curvature at the neck block. Most
of the handwork in fitting a neck is cutting away the inner
part of these cheeks to fit this curvature. Only the outer
edges of the heel make contact with the body , and these
edges set the neck angle (illustrated).
Remove from shaded area
The contact area of the heel is an area about 1/8" to 3/16"
wide around the outer edges of the bass side, treble side,
and bottom of the cheeks. Mark this area on the heel with a
pencil. Using a sharp chisel, remove wood from the remaining inner area up to the tenon (pictured).
After under-cutting the cheeks this way, you should have a
neck fit that is very close. Still, you may need to remove a
little wood from the outer contact edges to adjust the neck
alignment. Removing wood from the upper part of the neck
cheek edges will raise the neck (decrease the angle), removing from the bottom will lower it (increase the angle). Taking
wood from either side will move the neck in that direction.
It’s important to note that removing wood from a dovetail
neck will move the neck toward the bridge slightly. This will
loosen the dovetail joint, and introduce a slight side-to-side
play. You want the neck to be in the same position each
time you check it for fit, so firmly hold the dovetail against
either the bass or treble wall of the dovetail socket. It doesn’t
matter which side, as long as you always use the same side
during fitting.
wood here
Leave edges intact
wood here
Removing wood from the top
edge tips the neck upward
Tape the bridge to the soundboard (guitar top) using low
tack draftsman’s tape. Center the bridge on the soundboard
so that it is square to the centerline. The center of the bridge
saddle should be 11-3/8" from the neck end of the guitar.
(Since the neck block has an opening for the neck joint, you
can measure from the center by laying a flat object across
this opening.)
wood here
Neck adjustment: side-to-side
The first area that may need to have a small amount of
wood removed is the treble or bass cheek. Wood removed
Bolt-onhere controls the “side-to-side” alignment of the neck to
neck the centerline. If the neck is misaligned side-to-side, one
of the outside E-strings will be too close to the edge of the
fretboard. A tiny amount of wood is all it takes to make an
Dovetailadjustment here. Remove this bit of wood uniformly across
neck the contact area on one cheek to tip the neck in the proper
direction (this won’t change the neck angle when viewed
from the side of the body). Use a straightedge laid against
both the treble and bass sides of the fretboard to check the
wood here alignment: it should extend out the same distance from
center on either side at the bridge (pictured).
the side. To check the angle, lay a straightedge on the frets
so that it extends to the bridge. Ideally, it will just graze the
top of the bridge (without a saddle). If it falls above or below
the top of the bridge by more than 1/32", an adjustment is
needed at the heel.
You may not need to make an adjustment at this stage. If
the neck is off-center by only 1/32" or less, don’t try to correct it. Remember that a tiny bit of wood removal makes a
big difference in the neck’s relationship to the centerline!
The top edge of the cheeks is the pivot point between the
neck and body. This controls the neck angle as viewed from
Neck adjustment: tilt the neck back
emoving wood from the top
common adjustment is removing wood from the
edge tips theThe
bottom of the heel cheeks. Removing wood from the bottom
of the heel on both the treble and bass sides equally will tip
the neck back (illustrated). Remove the wood in a wedge
shape which tapers to zero at the top edge of the cheeks.
Use the formula in “Understanding neck angle geometry” to
determine how much wood to remove. With a sharp pencil
and a straightedge, mark the area to be chiseled away in a
straight line from the bottom of the heel to the zero point
at the top. Continue this line across the heel cap and up the
opposite side. These lines may be tricky to draw, because
they must taper away to nothing — to the zero point at the
top of the heel.
With a sharp chisel, remove about half of the measured
amount of wood. Don’t overdo it: set the neck into the body
and check the fit. You’ll finish the shaping with sandpaper —
preferably 100-grit emery cloth (cloth-backed sandpaper).
Loosen the neck joint and slide a strip of this sandpaper or
emery cloth between the heel cheek and the body with the
abrasive side facing the cheek. Slide the strip almost — but
not quite — to the top edge of the heel (this top edge should
be left intact). Be sure to angle down to keep the heel cap in
contact with the sides. Hold the heel against the guitar body
and pull the strip out toward you (pictured). This removes
a little bit of wood while conforming to the shape of the
guitar body. Shake the sawdust off the sanding strip and
repeat the procedure on the opposite cheek. Sand equally
Removing wood at the bottom
edge tips the neck back
from side to side. If you need to remove a lot of wood, make
two or three passes before changing to the other cheek. The
fit will change rapidly, so check your progress frequently.
A small ledge of unsanded wood will remain on the bottom
of the heel between the sanded cheeks. Either “pull-sand” it
with the strip, or use a sharp chisel to remove it.
Neck adjustment: tilt the neck up
Wood is seldom removed from the top of the heel, but if
the neck block was mistakenly tipped forward when glued
in place, the neck may be “overset” too far away from the
body. In this case, the straightedge laid on the fretboard will
extend above the bridge. Removing wood from the top of
the heel on both the treble and bass sides equally will bring
the neck up so the straightedge comes down to the top of
the bridge (pictured).
Removing wood from the top
edge tips the neck upward
Use the formula in “Understanding neck angle geometry” to
determine how much wood to remove. With a sharp pencil
and a straightedge, mark the area to be chiseled away in a
straight line from the top of the heel to the zero point at the
bottom. Repeat this line on the opposite side.
The sandpaper strip described above won’t work here
because the fretboard is in the way, so you’ll need to use
a sharp chisel to remove the long taper of wood on each
cheek. Cut in the direction of the top edges. A final light,
downward pull of the sandpaper strip will clean up any
marks left by the chisel.
Tightening the dovetail joint
When the cheeks fit accurately and look good on both sides,
fit a piece of the supplied shim stock into the loose side of
the dovetail. (A bolt-on neck doesn’t require a shim, and is
not intended to fit tightly like the dovetail.) Hold the dovetail
neck into the mortise and rock the heel. It will most likely
be looser at either the top or bottom of the cheeks. File the
shim stock in a wedge-shape to fill the gap. You may need
to make more than one shim to get it right. When the shim
is fit properly. The dovetail will pull the cheeks in tightly and
the neck will stay in the body on its own.
Installing the last frets
Now that the neck is fitted, it’s time to install the remaining
frets in the fretboard extension. On your workboard, butt
the tenon against the edge of something sturdy and tall
enough to meet the underside of the fretboard extension
(we used a brick). The entire neck and fretboard must be supported when you hammer to avoid breaking the fretboard
extension. Nip the fret ends, file them flush, and bevel them
as you did earlier; keep the extension supported here, too.
Introduction to finishing and materials
We recommend finishing the neck and body separately,
for a better job of sanding and buffing. When the neck is
attached, it’s more difficult to fill the grain, sand, and buff
around the neck/body joint. Also, lacquer tends to build up
in that area, and unsightly air bubbles may become trapped
The quality of your finish work is certainly important to the
appearance of your guitar. A thin “nonprofessional” finish
won’t necessarily harm the sound of your guitar, however.
If the following instructions seem beyond your skills (we
assure you they’re not), or to be more work than you’d like,
you can simply apply a low-gloss “wipe-on” finish by hand,
consisting of a couple of coats of waterbase lacquer or
freshly mixed shellac. This will seal the wood and protect
it from the elements, and you’ll be playing your new guitar
a lot sooner.
The following instructions, for spraying an aerosol nitrocellulose lacquer finish, are relatively foolproof and don’t
involve an investment in shop spraying equipment. Aerosol
lacquers require no thinner, or course, but it’s nice to have
thinner around for cleanup. Feel free to apply the finish of
your choice, however, according to the manufacturer’s di-
rections. If you decide to use spray equipment, always thin
nitrocellulose lacquers with nitrocellulose thinner only.
KIT TIP: Aerosol Lacquers
Aerosol lacquers have a tendency to “spit” if the
spray tip gets clogged. Wipe the tip clean often.
Also, you can clean the tip by turning the can upside
down and spraying until the spray stream stops. We
recommended doing this each time you are done
spraying, to keep the tip clean.
There are many gallons of finishing information in our book
Guitar Finishing Step-By-Step, and we know of many customers who are glad they studied the book before finishing their
first guitar. In brief though, here are some pointers and a
finishing schedule to follow.
KIT TIP: Finishing
ALWAYS practice on scrap wood until a finishing
method has been perfected. Scraps of wood are
included in each kit so you can practice all the
finishing steps. If you’d like your guitar to look as
good as it sounds and plays, DON’T RUSH!
Sanding the body
All the wood surfaces should be fine sanded up to 220-grit
using Fre-Cut® paper on a sanding block. Start by sanding
the back and sides. Mask the soundboard with brown paper
and masking tape, to protect it from the darker wood dust.
The sandpaper should be no coarser than 150-grit, and
you should switch quickly to 220-grit. Sand in the direction
of the grain, not across it. After the first 220-grit sanding,
dampen the entire surface lightly with a water-dampened
(not soaked!) cloth to raise the grain. Let it dry, and sand
again with 220-grit. Blow-off and vacuum the wood dust.
KIT TIP: Sanding
Always use a backing block or pad when sanding
the guitar body. It will help maintain a level surface.
On round surfaces, use a flexible rubber backing
pad, a thick piece of felt or leather, or fold the
sandpaper three or four times to give it firmness
with flexibility.
Unmask the top, and sand it just as you did the back and
sides. Don’t use the same sandpaper you used on the rest
of the body. Blow-off and vacuum the dust from the open
grain pores.
Stewart-MacDonald’s tool recommendation
ColorTone Aerosol Finishing Kit Item #1850
Even if you’re a beginner, you can achieve beautiful results you’ll be proud to show off.
You’ll get professional guidance from the best instruction book available too—included
FREE with the kit.
Filling the fret ends
Before sanding the neck, “drop-fill” the small fret slot spaces
under the ends of the frets. Blend super glue with some fine
wood dust, reserved from when you shaped the fingerboard.
We brushed super glue accelerator on the openings first,
waited five minutes, then used a toothpick to apply the
super glue mixture. After thirty minutes we added accelerator again, and filed the small mounds of glue flush before
sanding the neck (pictured). If you don’t fill the ends of the
fret slots, holes will remain which the lacquer finish won’t fill.
Sanding the neck
The neck needs extra sanding and grain raising in the endgrain areas of the heel, and the “ears” and the end of the
peghead. Sand up to 320-grit, dampening to raise the grain.
Do this several times, so the endgrain pores will absorb stain
more uniformly for a better appearance.
Finish the wood preparation by wiping the neck and
body with a rag, dampened (not soaked) with naphtha, to
degrease all the surfaces to be finished. Handle them with
clean gloves from now on.
Spray handles and hangers
To fasten a spraying handle to a bolt-on neck, drill two holes
in a scrap wood handle to match the bolt spacing (pictured).
Tape over the exposed nuts to protect them from lacquer.
You can add a spraying handle to a dovetail neck by installing one or two small drywall screws in the butt-end of the
dovetail tenon. Or, as an alternative, simply hold the neck
at the center, spray the peghead, the heel, and a good
portion of the neck up to where you are holding it. Loop
an S-shaped wire hanger through a tuner hole and hang
the neck for spraying the center area. You can also rest the
neck fretboard- down on a riser block and spray it in the
horizontal position.
If you have a bolt-on neck, use the two holes in the neck
block to bolt a handle onto the guitar body (pictured). For
a dovetailed body, a handle installed with a couple of small
drywall screws in the neck block won’t harm anything.
Masking the neck and body
Apply masking tape to cover the areas that won’t be stained
or finished. This includes the fretboard playing surface, the
sides of the fretboard (to be unmasked after staining), the
nut, the dovetail gluing surfaces on the neck and body, and
the underside of the fretboard extension.
Mask the interior of the guitar by stuffing newspaper into the
body, being sure to tuck it completely into the soundhole.
For a more professional seal, prepare a 4-5/16" diameter
cardboard disk, hinged in the middle with tape, and insert it
into the soundhole. Hold it in place against the inside edge
of the soundhole with an inflated rubber balloon.
Mask the soundboard of the mahogany body when staining
the back and sides.
Wear plastic gloves when handling stains! The neck, back
and sides of the mahogany kit should be stained. For the
rosewood kit, only the neck should be stained (the back and
sides don’t require staining).
We recommend our ColorTone water-soluble stain in an
equal mix of tobacco brown and red mahogany. Add 25
drops of each color to each ounce of water to produce a
warm dark stain. For a lighter, redder color, you can use only
the red mahogany at 50 drops per ounce of water. Test these
stains on sanded scrap mahogany first.
Four ounces of mixed stain is plenty for a neck and body;
one ounce is enough for a neck. Pour the stain into a shallow
bowl. Wet a soft clean cloth with stain and apply in long uniform strokes in the direction of the wood grain. It shouldn’t
take more than a minute to stain the neck, nor more than
three minutes to stain the body. Stain the peghead veneer,
too — it’s easier than trying to mask it.
Let the stain dry. Unmask the sides of the fretboard, sides
of the nut, and the soundboard (if the body was stained).
Everything else should remain masked.
KIT TIP: Stain or not to stain
You can also use colored grain fillers to slightly color
the bare mahogany or rosewood while filling the
pores, and skip the stain entirely. Test this on scrap
mahogany and see if you like the somewhat lighter
Applying a washcoat to seal the wood
Wear clean cotton gloves whenever you touch the wood.
Lacquer is highly flammable — always work in a dry, wellventilated area, away from open flames or sparks. Be sure to
wear an appropriate respirator while spraying.
Spray one uniform “washcoat” of clear lacquer on the neck
and body. This is a coat that’s not so heavy as to cause runs.
The washcoat seals the stain or the natural color in the wood,
and keeps the upcoming coat of paste filler from producing a smudged look. Sealed in this fashion, only the open
pores of the wood accept the filler. Let the neck and body
dry overnight.
Filling the wood grain pores
We recommend using a grain filler for leveling the rosewood
and mahogany grain pores. Let the filled wood dry overnight
after application. Light sanding with 320-grit Fre-Cut® will
remove any remaining buildup of filler on the sealed surface.
Try to avoid sanding through the washcoat into the stained
mahogany. If a sand through does occur, touch up the area
with matching stain and wipe off the excess.
Lacquer spraying schedule
Day One: Never apply more than three coats of lacquer per
day. Spray an initial light misting or “tack” coat, followed
several minutes later by a heavier wet coat. The tack coat
gives the wet coat better adherence and lessens the chance
of a run or “sag” in the finish. Spray three wet (not runny!)
clear coats on the neck and body, an hour between coats,
and let them dry overnight.
Day Two: Lightly “scuff-sand” the neck and body with 320grit Fre-Cut® paper to knock off the high spots in the finish
(on flat areas, be sure to use a backing pad on the sandpaper). Sand just enough to “open” the finish; don’t try to sand
out every shiny spot or sunken area in the lacquer. Clean off
all the sanding residue. Now spray the neck and body with
three uniform coats of clear lacquer, one hour between
coats. You now have SIX coats. Let the guitar dry overnight.
KIT TIP: Running
If you get a “run” in the finish, let the surface dry
for 24 hours and level-sand the problem area. If you
touch wet lacquer, you’ll leave a deep impression
which will be much more difficult to fix.
Day Three: Lightly scuff-sand the finish with 320-grit paper
again, and clean off all the residue. You can be slightly more
aggressive in flattening the sprayed surface now, but be
careful on the curves of the neck, and on ANY of the edges
of the neck and body (it’s easy to sand through the edges).
Don’t try to sand out all the shiny spots yet. This sanding will
release solvent from the finish and help it to cure. Let the
finish dry for two more days.
Day Six: Once again, spray three wet clear coats, one hour
apart, on the neck and body. The guitar now has NINE coats.
Let the finish dry overnight.
Day Seven: Scuff-sand the finish with 320-grit again.
This time most of the shiny spots will disappear, leaving
a uniformly dull look. Spray three more clear coats, one
hour apart. You now have TWELVE coats. Allow overnight
KIT TIP: Blushing
Buy a can of aerosol “blush eraser” for lifting the bluish haze which can occur when moisture is trapped
in the lacquer finish. Blushing can result from humid
conditions, or if the coat is sprayed too heavily.
Day Eight: Lightly scuff-sand the finish with 600-grit FreCut® paper, to help the solvent escape. The neck and body
should now be left in a warm dry location for TWO WEEKS
to let the finish harden and shrink.
Sanding and rubbing-out the finish
Dry-sand the neck and body to a flat, dull sheen with 800grit Fre-Cut® paper. Clean the residue from the paper often
by wiping on a scrap of carpet or a brush.
KIT TIP: Wet sanding
“Orange-peel” texture caused by lacquer shrinkage as the
solvents cure out of the finish should be removed, but don’t
oversand. When all the little shiny low spots in the lacquer
have been removed, you’re ready to go to the next step.
Soak the micro-finishing paper in water overnight
before use. It will scratch less, and last longer. Always keep it wet from then on. Using soft cloths,
or an electric hand-drill with foam polishing pads,
rub-out the fine wet-sanding scratches to a final
gloss with medium and fine polishing compounds.
Wet-sand with 1200-grit micro-finishing paper and water,
to bring the finish to a smooth satin surface that’s ready for
final polishing. Excess water and residue should be wiped
off the finish with a clean dry soft cloth as you work. Rinse
the sandpaper in soapy water often, to remove hard specks
that can scratch the finish.
Use a separate pad for each compound. You can follow this
with swirl remover if desired. Clean off the residue left by
the polishes, remove the remaining masking tape from the
neck, and remove the soundhole masking materials from
the body.
Stewart-MacDonald’s tool recommendation
Foam Polishing Pads Item #3415
Your instrument finishes can have a more professional look when you use these fiber-free
foam buffing pads. The gentle polishing action helps avoid swirl marks, fine scratches
and burn-through, leaving a beautiful mirror-gloss surface.
Final assembly and setup
Prepare for neck installation
Be sure that the gluing surfaces of the neck joint and
fretboard extension are free from dirt, finish and buffing
If your neck has a dovetail, press it, with the shim on the correct side, into the body. The joint will be a bit tight due to the
thickness of the lacquer. If the neck and its shim go all the
way down into the neck block, you can ignore the lacquer
on the sides around the dovetail opening and glue the neck
right over the finish. If they’re too tight, file a tiny amount of
wood off the shim until the neck seats correctly.
You’ll need a 5° tapered and padded wedge to protect the
back of the body and to provide a clamping surface, and the
shoulder brace caul you made earlier (in “Bridge and shoulder brace clamping cauls” section). Place it inside the guitar
between the tall shoulder brace and the flat shoulder brace
as a surface for clamping through the soundhole. You’ll also
need a clamping caul for the fretboard extension; we made
one from a 16"-radius wooden sanding block, and notched
to fit over the frets. Clamp the neck into the body (pictured),
and use a sharp razor knife to cut through the finish around
the fretboard extension. Don’t cut into the soundboard!
Remove the neck. The lacquer finish on the soundboard inside the scribed line must be removed with a chemical paint
stripper. You MUST be careful when applying and removing
the stripper — don’t get it outside the scribed line!
Mask the soundboard to protect the lacquer finish from
accidental splashing. Use low-tack drafting tape to fasten
clean paper on the soundboard around the area. Keep the
tape away from the line by 1/16" so the stripper won’t touch
or overlap the tape. Stripper will soften the solvent in the
tape’s adhesive, which will cause a permanent wrinkle in
the new finish.
Apply stripper with a small artist’s brush. Allow sufficient
time for the stripper to loosen the finish, and then slowly
remove small bits of the finish with a 1/2" chisel used as a
vertical scraper. Always pull the stripper inward from the
edge of the line to the center of the area to be stripped. After
each pull, wipe the residue from the chisel with a scrap of
paper towel, which should be carefully lifted away from the
area for disposal. When all the old finish is removed, wipe
the exposed wood carefully with a damp cloth to neutralize
the remaining stripper, and let the surface dry.
Install the neck
For the dovetail neck, apply Titebond glue to the underside
of the fretboard extension, the two sides of the dovetail,
and if you wish, add a small amount on the interior walls of
the neck block dovetail mortise. Be sure glue contacts both
sides of the shim, too.
Slide the dovetail neck and the shim in place and apply
your clamps and cauls as you did when “dry-clamping”
before stripping the lacquer. Wipe off the excess glue for
about five to ten minutes as it squeezes out, using a clean
damp cloth.
For the bolt-on neck, glue is needed only under the fretboard
extension. LIGHTLY clamp the neck and the fretboard extension down onto the body, and then tighten both neck
mounting bolts firmly through the soundhole. Now apply full
clamping pressure, using clamps and shoulder brace cauls as
you did when “dry-clamping” before stripping the lacquer.
Wipe off the excess glue for about five to ten minutes as it
squeezes out, using a clean damp cloth.
Remove the clamps after the glue has dried.
Prepare for bridge installation
The bridge was positioned earlier when fitting the neck,
and the process will now be repeated. Place an accurate
18" straightedge on the centerline of the fretboard, butted
against the nut. Mark on the straightedge the position of
the center of the 12th fret. Add an additional 7/64" (toward
the bridge) to this distance and mark this position as well.
This is the necessary “compensation” added to the actual
scale length that will provide accurate string intonation at
the saddle.
Staying on the fretboard’s centerline, move the end of the
straightedge to align with the center of the 12th fret, letting the straightedge extend over the bridge. The second
(compensation) mark on the straightedge should rest over
the center of the saddle slot’s thickness, midway between
the 3rd and 4th string bridge pin holes, when the bridge is
positioned laterally on the soundboard’s centerline. Mark the
bridge’s front edge location with a small piece of masking
tape on the soundboard.
To determine the correct lateral bridge position, place the
straightedge against each side of the fretboard, extending
over the bridge. Center the bridge pin holes between the
straightedge positions, and mark the bridge’s side locations
on the soundboard with masking tape. To “square-up” the
final location, be sure both sides of the bridge’s front edge
are equidistant from the last fret.
Prepare three small wooden clamping cauls to fit over the
center and sides of the bridge (pictured). Use a hand plane,
file or sandpaper to match the bridge’s contours, and glue
sandpaper to the bottom of each caul to help keep it steady
when clamped.
Align the bridge with the tape on the soundboard. Dryclamp it with a deep-throat clamp to the internal bridge
clamping caul you prepared earlier in the kit assembly,
and the center exterior bridge caul. Using a sharp X-Acto
knife, carefully scribe tightly around the bridge’s outline
(pictured). The knife blade should cut only through the
lacquer finish, in several light passes.
Remove the bridge and the masking tape, and mask the
soundboard around the bridge. Strip the lacquer from inside
the scribed outline, using the same cautions and techniques
you used for the fretboard extension. When the finish is removed, wipe the exposed wood carefully with a damp cloth
to neutralize the remaining stripper, and let the area dry.
Installing the bridge
Apply Titebond to the bridge, and reclamp the bridge in
place on the soundboard. Use at least three deep-throat
clamps with your exterior and interior bridge cauls (pictured). Clean up the squeezed-out glue with a damp cloth,
and allow at least 24 hours drying time.
Fitting the bridge pins
When the glue has dried, remove the center clamp to expose
the bridge pin holes, leaving the outer clamps to hold the
interior bridge caul in place. The caul will act as a backing
block to prevent wood from splitting out as you drill.
Drill the holes through the soundboard, and into the caul,
with a 3/16" drill bit (pictured). We recommend using a
bridge pin reamer for tapering the holes to fit the supplied
bridge pins.
Use a section of coping saw blade or jig saw blade, with the
teeth cutting on the upstroke to avoid tear-out, to form slight
notches in the bridge, soundboard and bridge plate. These
slots will accommodate the strings, and should be no deeper
than 1/3 to 1/2 the diameter of the string, just enough so
the strings don’t pop out (the remainder of each string will
fit in the bridge pin groove). The slot widths should match
the diameters of the strings. Clean the saw marks with a
needle file, and file a slight “ramp” at the upper edge of
each bridge pin hole to soften the angle of the string (see
the blueprint).
Fitting the bridge saddle
The slot in the bridge is 2-29/32" in length and 3/32" wide.
The saddle must be thinned and ends trimmed to fit.
Thickness sand: Attach two pieces of sandpaper, 100-grit
and 220-grit, to a hard flat surface with double-stick tape.
Sand the flat sides of the saddle blank back and forth on
the papers. Check the thickness frequently by attempting
to slide the saddle into the slot. Work slowly and test often.
You can remove a little more, but once you've gone to far,
it's impossible to add it back on!
Trim the length: Mark the center of the saddle. From the
centerline, measure and mark 1-1/2" out from each side.
Equally from each end, saw off excess to make a 3" wide
saddle (slightly larger than the slot). Using the same sanding
method to thin the saddle (above), sand equally on each end
to reduce the saddle length, test fitting often. You’ll feel the
saddle “click” into the slot when it reaches the bottom. The
taller side of the saddle radius is for the bass strings.
You'll adjust the bridge height later during setup.
Installing the tuning machines
Lightly twist your reamer in the bushing holes on the
peghead face, just enough to clean the lacquer and polishing
residue from the edges. Carefully press the tuner bushings
into the holes. Take care not to crack the lacquer finish (heating the bushings with a soldering iron can help if needed).
With the tuners in place on the peghead, mark the mounting
holes with a scribe or an awl through the small holes on the
baseplate. Remove the tuners, and drill the holes with the
correct size drill bit. The tuning machines and screws can
now be mounted.
Seating the strings
Use either medium or light gauge strings. Install each string
so that it seats into the bridge pin hole notch. The groove in
the bridge pin should hold the string as well, and the ball end
should snug against the bridge plate under the soundboard.
Align the ball end with the string (pictured). Thread the
strings loosely into the tuners.
Understanding neck relief
Neck “relief,” the upward curvature of the neck in the direction of the string’s pull, is adjusted with the truss rod. You
should set the neck relief before final adjustment of the
nut and saddle heights. Although the truss rod will affect
string height, it shouldn’t be used to do so. It’s intended to
control the relief, which can affect “buzzing” in the lower
frets. Depending on your playing style and the accuracy of
the fret heights, the neck should have anywhere from zero
(straight) to 0.012" of relief. A straight neck tends to play better, but few guitars end up with no relief at all, and several
thousandths or more is perfectly normal.
KIT TIP: Feeler gauges
Unwound guitar strings make excellent feeler
gauges for measuring relief. Turning the truss rod
nut clockwise straightens the neck and reduces
the relief.
Turning it counterclockwise bows the neck upward, adding
relief. Always adjust the truss rod with care — a little bit
goes a long way.
Turn the truss rod nut
counterclockwise to bring
the neck up, adding relief.
Start with the nut and saddle roughed out to height, and
the guitar tuned to pitch. With a straightedge resting on
the frets, along the centerline of the neck, use feeler gauges
between the seventh fret and the straightedge to determine
the amount of relief. The heavier you strum, the more relief
you’ll need. Bluegrass players may need more relief, fingerpickers less, and the majority of players will be somewhere
in between.
Turn the nut clockwise
to pull the neck back,
reducing relief.
Adjusting string action: nut slots and saddle height
The first stage of setup will produce a medium-high action
(this may be suitable for bluegrass players, but can be lowered for other playing styles). The heights of the nut and
the saddle should be adjusted together; changes in one will
affect the other. Adjust the truss rod to make the fretboard
playing surface as straight as possible. If your neck has uneven fret heights, you must level them in order to “read” the
frets accurately (see “Leveling the frets”).
Install the two outside E-strings to establish the string clearance over the first fret and the saddle height above the top
of the bridge. The latter two measurements determine the
action height, judged by measuring string clearance at the
12th fret.
Install a guitar capo behind the first fret and tighten it just
enough to pull the strings down for clearance between the
bottom of the strings and the top of the first fret. Set this
clearance at about .020" below the treble E-string, and .030"
below the bass E-string. Use .020" and .030" guitar strings to
measure the clearance as the capo is tightened (pictured).
Now measure the overall string action at the 12th fret. A
comfortable medium action is about 3/32" to 7/64" under
the bass E-string, and 1/16" to 5/64" under the treble E-string.
Go slowly and carefully — a little
adjustment goes a long way.
Your bridge saddle may be too tall. Decide how much each
string must be lowered at the 12th fret. Twice that amount
must be removed from the saddle height (this is a proven
formula for lowering or raising the strings accurately).
The top of the saddle is already shaped, so we recommend
you remove material from the bottom of the saddle. Remove
the saddle and measure up from the bottom the required
amount to be removed. Use the same sanding method as
recommended in “Fitting the bridge saddle.” sanding evenly.
Work slowly and test often. You can remove a little more, but
once you've gone to far, it's impossible to add it back on!
Install the remaining strings and tune to standard pitch.
Using a small razor saw and several nut-slotting files, lower
the strings, one at a time, until they’re close to the desired
clearance over the first fret as measured with feeler gauges.
Here are good clearances: E (1st), 0.012"; B (2nd), 0.012"; G
(3rd), 0.014"; D (4th), 0.014"; A (5th), 0.016"; E (6th), 0.016".
When filing the nut slots, angle the file downward toward
the peghead, and toward the appropriate tuning machine
string post (pictured). The bottom of each slot should be
slightly rounded, so each string will fit without binding.
When the slots are correct, remove the nut by gently tapping
it from the front and back sides to unseat it, and then pry
it upward gently. Place the nut in a vise, and file down the
top surface until the slots are approximately half as deep as
their string diameters. Re-contour the upper edges of the
nut, using a file, sandpapers and polishing compound.
Leveling the frets
Reinstall the nut (without glue) and play the guitar. Check for
false notes or string buzzes caused by uneven frets. Buzzing
is corrected by leveling the frets.
Remove the strings and the nut, mask the soundboard
around the fretboard, and the fretboard between the frets.
Adjust the neck perfectly straight.
KIT TIP: Use your truss rod
Remember that you have a two-way adjustable
truss rod that can help you straighten the fretboard
in either direction for fret leveling! You will need to
readjust the truss rod if you changed the adjustment during leveling.
Using a flat fine-tooth mill file, gently level the tops of the
frets with long full-length strokes down the fretboard. Restore and polish the rounded crown on the top of each fret
with a fret crowning file and/or 400 and 600-grit finishing
papers. Work along the length of each fret to remove any
scratches left by the leveling file.
Unmask everything. Lightly glue the nut in place with
Titebond, and restring the guitar. The strings will hold the
nut in place to dry.
KIT TIP: Ink the frets
Ink the top of each fret with a felt-tip marker pen;
the frets will be level when all the marks begin to
Installing the pickguard
Place the pickguard in position on the soundboard. Be sure
it fits and looks correct, and trim it with scissors if necessary.
Sand the trimmed edges with 400-grit paper to remove
the burr. Practice placing the pickguard in position before
removing the backing from the adhesive surface.
KIT TIP: Pickguard placement
Mist the guitar top with a mixture of water and a little dishwashing soap. Remove the backing from the
pickguard and carefully place the pickguard on the
guitar top. The soap and water mixture will allow
the pickguard to slide a little for exact placement.
Working from the center of the pickguard, carefully
squeegee out the water to remove bubbles and
air pockets from beneath the pickguard, and let it
dry overnight.
Installing the endpin
Mark the centerpoint of the endpin on the guitar’s end trim
strip (see the blueprint, upper left), using a centerpunch
or an awl. With a 1/4" brad point bit, carefully drill a perpendicular hole completely through the tailblock at this
location. Enlarge the hole with a tapered reamer until the
endpin fits snugly.
Now that your guitar is complete, we hope you enjoy playing
it for many years. Protect it with a quality case, keep it away
from extremes in temperature and humidity, and install only
medium or lighter gauge strings.
And start building another guitar! You can’t stop now can
Stewart-MacDonald staff
21 N. Shafer St • Athens, Ohio 45701 • USA
USA & Canada call toll-free: 800-848-2273
9am-6pm weekdays Eastern time
24-hour fax: 740-593-7922
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