To start off with Xiao and I corresponded a lot about what the Guitalele would look like and the sizing of the components, especially the size of the nut and string spacing. So between the two of us we did some research onto what would be appropriate dimensions for these two critical components on such a small instrument. There seemed to be a fair bit of variation out there between the few people that build these instruments and in the end we settled on what seemed to be a suitable size. Then it was time to draw up a plan to get an idea of where I'd be going.
Then onto some more familiar territory of book matching the top and back, and gluing them together. The back was thinned down to 2.0mm and a cross grain reinforcement strip of Zircote off cuts from the same piece. The back will have a 15' arch built into it so all the bracing is glued into place using go-bars and a radius dish.
The sides were dimensioned and then run through the drum sander to a finished thickness of 1.8mm. The parts are starting to take shape.
The neck is larger that on a tenor ukulele to accommodate the extra strings. This required me to laminate 2 pieces of my regular neck stock in order to make up the extra width.
After the glue has set overnight the faces are cleaned and squared on the jointer, and it's ready to machine into something that resembles a neck.
First up the slots are cut into the neck block to accept the sides. This tells me where the 12th fret body join will be in relation to the rest of the neck, and I can then do the rest of the layout on the neck blank.
While the blank is still square it's easiest to then route slots to then laminate a pair of 1/8" X 3/8" carbon fibre truss rods into the neck with epoxy resin. This greatly increases the stiffness and stability of the neck. I added 2 to this neck because of the extra tension that 6 strings will have over the usual 4.
The next order of business is to cut the profile of the neck on the bandsaw, then clean up the edges with the spindle sander, block planes etc. And then it's on to the fret board, as it's used to get the final taper of the neck.
First off the fret board is cut to the correct width at it's widest point. That happens to be 58mm so the rip fence is sent to that after one edge of the fret board has been planed smooth.
Then the fret board is ripped to correct width.
The next step is to cut the fret slots while the fret board is still square. I use a template and a specially sized blade for this operation that cuts a precise 0.023" slot to accept the fret tang. The slots that are machined into the perspex template fit over a 2mm pin that is set into the cross slide fence. You can just see it lined up with the saw blade.
Next comes the tapering of the fret board. I use a little jig to do this. I want the nut end of the fret board to be just a hair under 48mm, and the widest end is at 58mm. Therefore a jig that cuts 5mm off each side of the fret board will get me the desired result.
First up we cut the 5mm taper off one side.
Next we cut another 5mm off the other side. You will notice that all I did was just roll the fret board over. Not end for end. The jig has 10mm spacing on the second cut.
That is to account for the first 5mm that has already been cut, and the other 5mm that we need for this side of the taper.
The the fret board is positioned onto the neck and a 1mm hole is drilled through the 1st and 11th fret slots so that a brad can be installed to align the fret board to the neck though out the rest of the build process. The neck has been rough cut to the proper taper, but now it's flush routed using a special router bit and the fret board as a guide.
Meanwhile the top has to have the rosette installed and the sound hole cut, before any of the bracing can be glued on. As this instrument is going to get a rather flash scratch plate, the rosette is understated in order not to be too distracting.
The head stock veneer was also installed using the nut that will be used for this instrument as a spacer between fret board and veneer. Makes for a very precise fit. Later it will get bindings applied.
The back gets its braces. They are a bit over size right now, and will get further shaping when the back is ready to be attached to the body.
The top gets a Carbon Fibre bridge patch. It's glued with epoxy resin in a vacuum press. The work board has a dish in the lower bout so that the soundboard will conform to this under the pressure of the vacuum. Once dry the top will hold this shape.
After that then the rest of the braces are glued on then the top is voiced. All the bracing is some very fine grained spruce that is cut dead on the 1/4.
Bit of work has been completed over the last week. It goes quick once all the components are ready. The neck is by far the biggest job, and the head stock has been bound, and the slot head has been completed.
The sides are a rather easy affair using a Fox Style bender and then touched up on a hot pipe. Everything happens really quick when I'm doing this, so don't have a chance to take photo's. But once they are bent to shape and cut to the correct length I attach the tail block and inlay the end graft. In this case, as the instrument is getting a MISI pickup as well I took the opportunity to drill the hole for the end jack while I had good access to the drill press in order to make a really clean and neat hole.
The end block is made from some high quality marine plywood with a veneer of the Zircote on the show face inside of the instrument. Once the sides / end block are overnight dry I then glue them to the soundboard and neck. These then dry overnight again before I add the linings to give the top and back a larger gluing surface.
And once dry I sand a 15' radius on the back of the sides to accommodate the same radius that was built into the back itself. Then a couple of coats of shellac on all the inside surfaces.
I add a builders label and notch the linings for the back braces. Now the back is ready to attach to the rest of the body.
The back goes on very easily once all the hard work of lining it up and notching linings has been done. It now will sit overnight to dry before the back and top are flush trimed and the instrument is prepared for the bindings and per flings we will be installing.
After drying overnight the top and back have been flush trimmed, and I've made up some figured maple bindings with some b/w/b purflings attached to one edge using hot hide glue. They need to dry overnight before they can be bent, so it was on to the fret board next.
The fret board gets a radius on it. I usually go with a 12" one on ukuleles, but this fret board being as wide as a guitar needs a shallower one at 16". I use a alloy beam that has been machined with this profile and a jig to hold the fret board in the appropriate plane.
Fret dots are then installed and levelled, and then comes fretting. It's one of the most critical parts of the entire instrument and takes a fair bit of skill to get right without having to do a lot of corrective work later.
The fret wire I've chosen for this instrument is a little larger than what I use on ukuleles, but smaller than guitars. The reason I chose this size is that we are going to have 3 wound strings that are a bit harder on frets, wearing them down quicker. As well a larger fret helps with the sustain of the instrument.
The frets tangs are nipped off so that they are just short of the edge of the fret board. This allows me to give the fret board a "bound" look by not seeing the fret tangs on the edge. It's a fair bit more work, but I much prefer the finished look to the fret board, and is one of the niceties of getting a custom built instrument. I tap each end of the fret in place, then press them home with a 1ton arbour press, insuring that the frets are flush and true to the fret board. It also means that there will be little to no work needed to the frets later when it comes time for set up.
The bindings are bent over a body mould using a heat blanket and press, then allowed to dry overnight. The binding channels need to be routed to accept the trim and then a lot of very careful trimming of ends needs to be done for a good fit. Here is a piece of the b/w/b purling that will be installed next to the top and the mitres are trimmed on the end of the binding. Lots of trial fitting before everything is ready to glue up.
Then the bindings and purflings to the top are glued on first. The Cedar top is so delicate that it needs to be protected by the bindings as quick as possible. I use hot hide glue and a little tape to hold things in place, and then use twill tape to wrap everything tight. Letting dry overnight.
After all the bindings are installed they are scraped flush and sanded smooth. Then the fret board and heel cap are glued on. From there the neck can be shaped, the bindings given a slight round over to take off the sharp edges, and the entire instrument is sanded smooth and given a thorough inspection prior to having the first session of epoxy pore filling done.
You can now get a sense of what the instrument is going to look like under a high gloss finish.
The last couple of weeks have had absolutely perfect conditions for applying a finish. After a couple of sessions of the epoxy pore fill the body was silky smooth and ready for the lacquer.
4 coats were sprayed on the first day with about an hour between each coat. Then the next day I sanded that finish back to level it out and applied another 2 coats. The following day I sanded that finish back with P400 grit paper and allowed the instrument to hang and dry for a week. Sanding allows the trapped solvents to escape faster. Then there are a couple more thin finish coats sprayed on. It will be at least another week before its ready to buff. Longer is better, but even now the finish is very smooth and shiny.
Well, this instrument is now complete. It has a MISI pickup installed and strung up with Saverez Corum strings. The tone is what I'd describe as much more guitar than ukulele. It's got the warmth and expression of Cedar, a lot of volume and sustain.