On a hot summer night would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
Years ago when I started up my electric guitar journey again I bought a Cort copy of a
Stratocaster. I enjoyed playing it, but it wasn’t long before I started upgrading bits of it here and there.
Long story short, but after a friend upgraded his Ibanez Iceman with EMG Active’s, I modified the Cort with his old pickups (dual humbucker with split coil config) and I was hooked on the humbucker sound.
Shortly after that my paths crossed with a very pretty and awesome sounding (and playing) Epiphone Les Paul. Dark red with the wood grain showing as it should be.
I fell in love with that guitar and it has been my workhorse as well as my joy regarding electric guitar duties going on 15 years now.
Shortly after that time the above-mentioned friend decided to lend me the Ibanez Iceman on a very long term basis, so now I found myself the proud custodian of 3 awesome humbucker-equipped electric guitars (I know, right ?! Awesome !)
I have however found myself occasionally wondering the past couple of years if I didn’t maybe ‘need’ a pure single coil type electric guitar in addition to the Les Paul, the Iceman and the (now very modified) Cort.
Somehow my online clicking habits landed me on the Blackbeard’s Den website: https://www.blackbeardsden.com/
I have been wondering about this and putting it off or dismissing it for a long time and then one day a friend of mine announced that he recently bought and finished a Telecaster.
His review of the process and the result was very positive, so on his recommendation I decided to get me one of these:
3 Days after I ‘added it to cart’ it arrived at home and the journey officially began.
I had a couple of ideas rattling around in my noggin, but being someone who literally have no experience in wood or paint finishing I did quite a bit of reading on the subject, as well as spending a LOT of time and bandwidth on luthier related Youtube channels (will add a couple of links to them at the bottom)
I also firmly believe that you can get an electric guitar in any colour, as long as it is deep red or black
Seeing that my Les Paul and bass guitar (a budget Cort action bass) are both deep dark red with showing off the grain there was really no contest: Dark red stain with a clear coat.
The more I read up and watched videos on the subject the more I realized that a clear lacquer finish over the stained wood would probably not be the best idea for a complete novice/beginner.
The Blackbeard’s documentation and how-to guides agreed, so I got me a bottle of Tru-Oil from their shop.
This is the 1st paragraph in the finishing guide from Blackbeard:
“Usually we find that the desired outcome is not exactly as you might have imagined
before the project begins, but the end result is still always something to be admired”
I had the exact same experience.
We had almost a week holiday planned at a friend’s family holiday home where we were looking forward to sitting on the veranda drinking coffee, sitting on the veranda reading, sitting on the veranda just drinking and sometimes just sitting on the veranda
So this would end up to be the perfect place to kick-start this project.
I deliberately only took the body and stain along with sand paper and finishing materials as I wanted to only focus on that during the time and not feel rushed or have my attention divided.
The 1st step was spending about an hour with sanding paper and a sanding block making sure that the body was properly smooth and all the blemishes and nicks and dings were sorted out. Not that it came in the kit unfinished, mind you, but I just wanted to make sure for myself.
Every single site, document and video that I checked out had one theme: You cannot have too much preparation, so this was what I was gonna do.
The wood that is used for the body is called ‘Paulownia’ – a type of wood that is readily available in China that is widely used for musical instrument construction, being a popular stand-in for Ash and Basswood. This wood is very light in weight (surprisingly so). The upside is that the guitar end up being light.
The downside is that the wood in its naked state tends to be a bit fragile and very susceptible to dings and nicks, so care has to be taken to not bump it into things or drop it.
When starting the stain process I also found another challenge regarding the less dense and lighter wood: The grain is very ‘open’. People who know what they are talking about call this ‘raising the grain’ – when water comes in touch with the wood the fibers swell and the grain start to ‘stand up’.
This makes it rough again.
You sand that back when dry to get it smooth again, but then some of the colour is gone, so you end up applying more stain (that raises the grain again).
People who actually know what they are doing can deal with this, but a ‘moegoe’ like me decided that the next project that involves stain will use a non-water based variety for this reason.
This brought me to my next lesson regarding staining wood:
Depending on whether the stain is wet, dry or clear coated the tint and colour of it varies quite a lot.
To be fair – In the documents from Blackbeard they do suggest testing the process on a scrap piece of wood so you at least know what you are in for, but in typical fashion I jumped into it head 1st and found these things out as I went along.
At this stage I also saw what a couple of sites and videos warned about.
There might be knots, blemishes and bits of glue that only becomes visible when you apply the stain. You have to look at these individually and decide if you need to sand it back, try and apply more stain or leave it as is.
Yes that is a guitar body hanging from a microphone stand on the front lawn of a house in Natures’s Valley
At some point it started getting a bit of a purple tint to it.
That is where I decided I might have added enough layers of stain
I was seriously worried that the colour would not be close to what I wanted, but that fear turned out to be unwarranted as applying Tru-Oil brought some of the deep red back
When I started I had visions of a deep red burst finish, but I mixed the two tones too similar and ended up having a more even red across the surface. (I tried to make an already dark red darker and that just didn’t work properly. To be fair adding black to the darker one would probably have done the trick, but I only had the red stain with me).
The ‘open’ side of the grain is on the guitar’s edges, so it ended up absorbing more stain there and as a result the edges ended up being way darker than the rest. This was a very happy coincidence as I love the look, but can take no credit for planning it like that.
My advice after the limited experience I now have with using water-based stains:
– Test on scrap wood before you start
– Use it on harder or less ‘open’ wood if it is water based (or learn how to deal with it)
– Don’t mix the stain in an open ‘cut in half’ plastic coke bottle and then leave it outside overnight like I did. Mix it in proper bottles that you can close and put away.
– Keep what is left of the stain – you never know when you need a bit of a touch up.
– Don’t be too specific in exactly how you want the end result to look (especially when doing this for the 1st time). Follow the guidelines and let it take you where it wants to go.
I took the Tru-oil with, but ended up spending too much time just sitting on the veranda, so I had two or three days of just ‘applying stain, letting it dry, sanding it back, repeat’, but decided it was probably better to not start applying the Tru-Oil to give the body time to properly dry.
When I started on the Tru-Oil application I also found that that was an immensely satisfying process, as every time you apply a new layer/coat it just ended up looking better.
I started off with applying the 1st coat quite generously (in retrospect I was waaaay to generous)
I applied it, working it in on every part of the surface and then just as it started to get ‘gummy’ I removed the excess.
Then I took it to the garage to let it dry.
The following day I applied the next layer with sanding paper. The logic is that the sanding paper creates saw dust that mix with the Tru-Oil and become a grain filling paste that, when dry, creates a smoother surface.
In retrospect I should have spent more time on this step and used a finer grit (800 or 1000).
I totally don’t know if it would have worked, but I would also try (next time) to mix a little bit of the red stain powder into the mix to also add a bit of the colour back to where it is sanded off accidentally (I wouldn’t try this if I were you though – it might cause more damage than it does good).
At this stage the normal ‘wood finishing’ rules apply that you read everywhere:
Be extremely careful at corners when sanding. The pressure that is more focused on the smaller surface of the corners/tight radius’s combined with corners not soaking up the finish as deeply makes it very easy to sand through the colour.
On the photos you can see two spots where I stopped just in time to be able to fool myself that I can try and convince other people that it looks like a design choice instead of me being a bit careless (the edge of the arm cutaway curve on the front, as well as the edge of the recess at the back where your belly goes against the guitar).
After the ‘wet sanding’ with oil stage I hung it up in the garage to wait for it to dry properly before continuing.
When it dried I ended up continuing by adding very light coats of Tru-Oil (applying it lightly with a rag so that there isn’t excess to wipe off afterwards).
I found that if I did one at about 18:00 and hang it up I would be able to add another light coat at about 23:00 before I left it ’till 18:00 the next day, giving it time to dry properly.
After about 5 days of doing this (in total adding about 10 light coats of Tru-Oil) I sanded it back a bit with 400 (lightly) and then with 800 grit.
I was constantly checking the sandpaper surface to make sure that I wasn’t seeing red dust on it (if ever I saw only white dust I assumed I was still sanding Tru-Oil and haven’t gone through and into the colour)
If you look at the photo below this is probably where I had the biggest missed opportunity regarding improving the finish.
This is from a screen-grab of a video that I took while sanding and as you can see there are clear lines where the sanding dust was ‘settling’ in.
What I only realised afterwards was that those were along the grain lines and clearly lower than the surrounding wood. If I wet-sanded at this stage with Tru-Oil I would probably have filled in all those lines with ‘grain filling’ paste.
But instead I cleared that dust out and applied another layer of Tru-Oil after making sure it was gone.
Live and learn.
I did end up doing another version of this a couple of days (and layers) later, but it didn’t have that accented lines as it did in this session.
Ah well. No use crying over spilled sawdust.
While still working on the body I also started thinking about the shape and design of the headstock.
While drinking coffee on the previously mentioned veranda my wife and I chatted about options for logos and what I should call it (if anything).
I didn’t want to be too ‘serious’ about this and end up looking ridiculous, but I also thought it would be cool to have a fake ‘brand name’ and model name that I can put on the headstock.
Ever since my wife and I started seeing each other she had a wolf related nickname for me. The intro of Meatloaf’s ‘You took the words right out of my mouth’ also became a running joke over the years, so we both thought that a wolf related theme would be the right choice.
She found out that ‘Valko’ is a Bulgarian name meaning ‘Wolf’ so that would without a doubt work for the ‘brand name’ and seeing that I was aiming for a very dark red colour ‘Crimson Wolf’ would end up being a good ‘model’ name.
I found a wolf graphic that I liked online, pulled it into Inkscape and modified it a bit to follow the curve at the bottom of the headstock and then added the name and the ‘model’ with a font called… wait for it… Wolfsbane
I turned the ‘V’ into a vector object as well and then added the notches to allow gaps and flow into the look of the ‘mane’ of the wolf as well as the cutout for the ‘A’
This is what I ended up with:
For a fleeting moment I thought about doing it in the Fender logo style, but seeing that I also roll my eyes with conviction at seeing a BMW 316 with a ‘M’ logo stuck at the back I decided to break away from any Fender logo styling altogether.
This is also why I decided to shape the headstock different to the typical Fender design (that is anyway trademarked)
I traced the blank, scanned it and then did a couple of rough designs on it.
I settled on the following:
I scanned and printed that again and then cut it out and taped it to the headstock’s top so that I could easily trace it onto the headstock while lifting it up to check without it moving away from the spot.
Afterwards I just did a bit of freehand darkening.
I found out after shaping it that I made that bottom curve a bit sharper and longer than what I originally wanted, but it is what it is and it came out looking stunning anyway, so who am I to complain.
As I don’t have woodworking tools apart from a power drill, I bothered a friend of mine who has a workshop one Saturday to make use of his band saw and ‘sanding drum’ (attached to his drill press it works like a bobbin or spindle sander), along with his hand-held belt sander.
He gave me a test run on a piece of scrap maple that he had and then let me loose on the headstock blank.
Here I found that in following the shape if I wanted to accentuate a curve (or make it more gentle) the best way would be to cover the entire path (and not just the part with the issue) and regulate by speed rather than pressure. So if there is a part in the middle that needed a deeper curve, I would start at the edge of it, moving quicker across the parts that was already like I wanted it, but then (while applying the same pressure) just do a gradual slowdown for the part that needed the attention and then gradually speed up out of it again. This seemed to work very well in not creating ridges or visible ‘boundaries’ between where I modified something and the neighboring areas.
Jacques also created this working surface for turning his drill press into a spindle sander by making a hole slightly bigger than his largest sanding drum and then clamping that onto the drill press’s bed. This enabled him to lower the lower edge of the drum sander to below the working surface and thus completely negating the risk of sanding a hard edge at the bottom of your piece.
This also then give you a flat surface to work on making sure that you are sanding a right angle into whatever you are working on.
The only downside to this is that you need to be careful (especially if you are paranoid like me about the angle you are sanding at) that you don’t push down too hard, as any debris or particles then makes patterns and shapes into the bottom of the wood as you are moving it past the sander.
Not totally sure that a handheld belt sander was made to be used this way, but it worked very well for smoothing the the curves and accenting the edges.
This process was very satisfying and surprisingly easier than expected, yielding spectacular results with not much effort at all.
The only thing that wasn’t perfect was due to the drill attached sanding drum not oscillating like a ‘real’ spindle sander. This created some grooves on the edges where the sanding surface on it had a bit of an ‘unevenness’.
However, after about 20 minutes with 180, 360, 400 and 800 grit sandpaper and a bit of elbow grease when back home it was restored to silky smooth awesomeness.
If you don’t have access to power tools like this the headstock could be shaped just using a rasp, file and sandpaper, but I was lucky to have friends who does, so that made it easy and quick.
Thank you Jacques for letting me hijack your workshop for a bit and to you and Elvin for the assistance and advice (and moral support).
After the headstock was shaped I started looking at options for applying the logo to it.
I went back to Youtube regarding ways to transfer prints onto wood and a couple of options jumped out (again, links will be below).
The 1st was to use a water-based polyurethane and an inverted print from laser printer onto normal paper.
You paint the water-based polyurethane thinly on the headstock, then put the (horizontally flipped) logo on that, rub it in, let it dry and then use water to take the paper off.
This worked on my test (I actually did test it this time), but failed miserably on the headstock (more on that later).
The second option was to use a product called ‘Mod Podge’ (or an equivalent of it – called a transfer gel medium).
Basically the same process as above, but with the logo (also reversed) printed on the smooth part of a sticker backing (the part you actually pull off from the sticky side and throw away).
In testing this also worked, but somehow it didn’t want to print properly on the version that I got that was big enough, so I was on to option #3.
Option 3 was printing it normally on a regular piece of paper (also using a laser jet) and then using clear packing tape (what we call ‘Sellotape’ here), sticking it over the logo, rubbing it with firm pressure using something like a spoon to make sure that the tape has properly stuck to the entire logo and that there are no bubbles or creases and then putting it into lukewarm water for 3-5 minutes.
Then you gently rub the paper from the tape by gently rolling your thumbs over the paper.
When all the paper fibers are gone, you wet the area on the wood where you want to apply it and then put the logo down, sliding it around a bit to get to be precisely where you want it to be.
When you are happy, while holding it down you use a paper towel to wipe away the water and bubbles that might be trapped underneath, applying firm pressure as you go along.
More on the sequence of events and their importance in the final finish a little later.
It really sticks down like anything after it dried (I had to remove a couple of times – reasons will become clear).
The result is something that looks and works like a ‘water slide transfer’ decal and if you take your time with the final clear coats it really does look awesome.
Here’s a lesson I learned regarding the ‘transfer from paper directly method’ using a printed page and water-based polyurethane:
I printed the logo on our work printer and found out afterwards that although it does look perfectly serviceable for what we use it for, it does print in a bit of ‘economy’ mode (or at least not in ‘art’ or ‘graphic design’ mode).
That means that there is very little excess toner in the print and as a result it doesn’t transfer that well using this method.
Another lesson learned.
The difficulty I had with the packing tape transfer was for a couple of reasons.
The 1st time I used the prints I still had left over for the polyurethane transfer method.
After sticking it to the tape and clearing the paper from it I realized that it was printed in reverse and hence the logo ended up the wrong way around, or on the wrong side of the stickiness.
The 2nd time I did a successful transfer onto the raw wood and I was very chuffed until I sprayed the 1st coat of clear lacquer over it and let it dry.
I found out (and it is so irritatingly obvious in hindsight) that the lacquer changes the colour of the wood a bit – it brings out and pops the grain and does a little bit of ‘ambering’ to the colour of the wood.
All sounds awesome.
Except that it doesn’t do that under the area where the logo is…
So there it was me again with 180, 360, 400 and 800 grit to not only get rid of the logo and the sticky gunk it left behind, but also two coats of clear lacquer that I added over it.
After that I added two clear coats of lacquer to the clean headstock and then waited for that to dry properly before making and adding another logo, only to find out that in the ‘rubbing the paper off in the water’ process I rubbed a corner of the main ‘V’ off also.
Did I mention that I found that out only after I applied it ?
So again: Me and 180, 360, 400 and 800.
It was slightly easier this time as I didn’t have to take the base layers of lacquer off.
Then I made another logo (again), making sure about the quality and that all the bits are showing before it went on, loving the result, but then I wanted to add one last (unnecessary I might add) firm rub across the face of it with the paper towel. (Almost exactly like doing that last bit of a turn on the spanner to make sure that the nut is indeed as tight as it can be and then ending up stripping it)…
I didn’t watch what I was doing, so my thumb was too low and I ended up cutting diagonally across the entire logo with my thumb nail.
So, you guessed it: 180, 360, 400, ….
Apart from being irritated with myself I also then found out that I didn’t have any printed logo’s left.
Seeing that it was Sunday afternoon and I only have a bubble jet printer at home, I went off to the PNA at the local mall with my memory stick to have a couple printed.
They printed two pages (6 logos on each – by toutatis I wasn’t gonna run out this time) and with those two pages and the brown paper bag I bought to put it in, I paid R1.80 in total (that is 13c in US currency equivalent)
The amazing thing (and the satisfying with the irritation) was that the print quality was amazing. The black was pitch black.
This ended up looking way better than the previous version I had with the ‘regular printed’ variety and I am convinced that the direct to wood polyurethane transfer method would have worked perfectly with these.
Making sure that the clear coats of lacquer base on the headstock is still in tact I then prepared, cut and applied this logo and without incident it was on and sorted.
I left it ’till I was sure that all the water have evaporated and all was dry before continuing.
Lucky the day was sunny and dry, so I didn’t have to leave it in the lazy afternoon sun for too long before I could continue.
Happy that the previous step(s) was behind me I continued on to the next step: Building up the clear coat thickness by rattle-can.
I employed the same strategy as what I used with applying the Tru-Oil:
One coat when I get home at about 17:30 and then another one the same night at about 23:00. Let it sit overnight and then another coat tomorrow at 17:30 and 23:00.
On the 2nd day I would sand it ever so slightly back using 800 and 1000 grit and then I would add another two days of two layers each before sanding it a bit back again.
I did this for about 4 days, adding about 9 layers of clear lacquer in total to the headstock (the Sunday I had time for 3 layers instead of two).
I figured if I couldn’t get a decent looking finish with 9 coats then maybe a rattle-can clear coat lacquer finish wasn’t meant to be for me.
This is what it looked like after the last clear coat was applied and dried.
Two things to notice here:
The 1st is the obvious orange peel, but the 2nd is that the build up of the clear coat still accentuating the edge of the clear tape logo.
When using this logo application technique you need to make sure that you have enough layers of clear coat so that you have a thick enough build-up so that you can sand that edge down while still not sanding down into the actual logo.
I took a normal rectangular eraser and then started wet sanding with 800 grid, covering the entire headstock area, but focusing on the edges of the label.
Using the eraser as a sanding block at this stage is critical to a good result. You want to have an even flat sanding with pressure firmly distributed, but you also want it to have a little bit of flex for the edge that curves up over the truss-rod opening towards the nut.
I also added a couple of drops of water. I didn’t soak everything, but I could definitely feel the difference is the ‘abrasiveness’ when you just know you need to add a couple drops of water again.
I really took my time here as I was paranoid to go through the clear coat and I did not want to sand onto the actual logo.
I mostly sanded in the same direction (along the length of the headstock), but I focused more around the edge of the logo. I also would alternate sanding along the edge of the logo with complete full length strokes in order to bring the edge down, but not create a bit of a ridge, or a very shallow concave recess between the edge and the rest of the headstock.
After about every 10 ‘sanding strokes’ I would wipe it clean, look at it under a bright light, add a couple of drops of water and start sanding again. I wanted it gone, but I also wanted to not sand down more of the clear coat than absolutely necessary, hence my caution.
It sounds like a schlep, but before I knew it that edge was a distant memory.
At that stage I switched to 1000 grit and covered the entire headstock in broad even strokes, occasionally focusing on the edge area.
With 9 clear coats on I am sure I would not have gone through to that level, but I sanded it up to where I really had to concentrate hard to see a glimpse of it (and also only under very harsh lights shining very close to it).
Then I did a twice over with 2000 grit (still wet sanding) and called it.
I suppose at this stage I could have gone back to the rattle-can and add a final 2 or three layers of clear coat again before bringing it slightly back with wet sanding for the last time, but I figured if I had to get my special glasses, put it directly under the right bright light at exactly the right angle and then very dimly (while adding a little bit of imagination) make out a faint edge, I would consider that good enough for me. Especially if you consider that this will never be viewed in that circumstances and besides – there will still be strings and a string tree over it to draw attention away.
And this was after polishing it a bit with car polish (they call it ‘scratch removal polish’ that have a type of rubbing compound included):
As you can see the edge is not visible and the colour of the wood is perfectly matched under the label and next to it. I think this came out better than I expected and was well worth the effort.
In retrospect I would have preferred the polyurethane transfer method as it would be less effort, but in the end I think it doesn’t really matter in therms of the look of the finished result.
Due to the amount of toner that was printed on the page there was also another happy accident: You could actually see a relief (kinda like a very low embossing) of the print under the clear tape after I stuck it over the printed logo and rubbed it down.
That translated very well onto the headstock – especially due to it sitting on top of two layers of clear coat and under another 9, even with the surface being smooth and perfectly flat, if you change the angle that you look at it there is a faint illusion of depth to the logo.
If I have to do this again I would experiment with adding even more layers under it before applying it and covering with at least the same amount of layers on top to see if that increases the ‘depth illusion’.
I didn’t spend so much time with the back of the headstock, so there is a more visible edge on the QR code at the back, but overall I am very happy with how the headstock and the logos came out. The QR code on the back is also square, so the edge doesn’t bother that much.
This is what it ended up looking like.
If you came here because of that QR code I am impressed and I tip my hat to our shared geekiness.
If you arrived at this blog in some other way, you will probably be a little dissapointed if you go through the effort of getting a QR code scanner and go where it leads…
This brings me to the final bit of finishing work:
From the beginning I liked the way that the smooth bare wood neck felt, but I obviously couldn’t leave it like that as any sweat or moisture would stuff it up.
What I decided on was to make sure that every inch of it was properly smooth, clean and prepared and then I would apply two or three light coats of Tru-Oil: The 1st one to seal the wood, the 2nd to add a little bit of satin sheen to it and then the option of adding a third coat if need be.
I didn’t need it to be built up nearly as thick as the body coat and after only two layers I got the exact satin feel and finish I was hoping for.
I wanted to use that edge between the back of the headstock and the neck as the ‘boundary’ between the hard clear lacquer and the satin Tru-Oil finish.
(The line pointed out by the red arrows in the picture below).
I did not know how the transition would go, but after carefully hand-sanding (meaning no sanding block and ‘cupping’ the neck with the sanding paper) the area lightly with 400, 800 and then 1000 grit (dry) the transition over that ridge and between the lacquer and Tru-oil ended up to be just about seamless.
Again – I cannot take credit for something that I happen to stumble upon.
The blue arrow points to the edge of the headstock that is finished in Tru-Oil.
My thinking on doing it this way was that it had a couple of advantages for me:
– There was going to be no ‘seam’ or edge from the neck going onto this area as it flows directly from the one to the other.
– This gave me the freedom to not have to worry about masking the edge of the headstock to protect against spill or overspray from applying the clear lacquer to the front and back, as I sanded it right off.
– This also freed me from having to worry about the edge between the front and the sides and sanding through the clear coat on those corners, as by hand sanding (without a sanding block) it also beveled the clear coat (that at this time was 11 layers thick) from the front to the edge perfectly.
When all was done I also ended up liking the contrast between the clear gloss front and back and the satin finish edge all around it.
After wet sanding the front and back in the previous step I waited for everything to dry off completely and then sanded the entire edge around the headstock back to smooth. Because the edge was unprotected it did raise the grain a little during the wet-sanding of the front and back – even with maple being a hard wood with ‘closed’ grain.
At this stage I also carefully hand-sanded and accentuated the aforementioned bevel on the edge all around, being very careful and using a circular sanding motion with light pressure. There was no easy coming back from what I was changing here, so I was very careful to be as smooth and even as possible.
After that I fitted the neck into the pocket on the body to mark out where the neck goes into it (the instructions says not to apply any finish apart from sanding sealer to any parts that is touching the pocket).
I masked that area off and then applied a single thin layer of Tru-oil to the entire neck, including up to the edge of the fretboard.
I went slowly and methodically being very careful to not colour outside the lines (especially on the fretboard’s side).
I also didn’t want to slap a lot of oil onto the sides of the headstock on the edge of the clear lacquer and then risk finding out afterwards that the Tru-Oil went into the wood far enough to show up under the edge of the clear lacquer.
On the neck I always started in the middle of it when I got another ‘dab’ from the bottle and then worked it in circular motions slowly towards the edge of the fretboard. If there was going to be a drop running it would then be in the middle where I can easily catch it with the rag and not have it spill and run over the side and onto the fretboard.
Because it was applied very sparingly this layer dried within minutes, so I applied another layer and then I let the neck lie down on its fretboard on an old towel so that the back and sides would be exposed but not touching anything while drying.
While that was drying it gave me a chance to go back to the body to start assembling the electronics and mechanical bits.
When I decided on a colour scheme way at the beginning I wanted to replace the standard white scratch-plate and tremolo spring cover with a perloid one as I thought it would look better against the dark red natural wood finish.
I think this ended up being a good decision. It certainly would still look good with the standard flat white, but in my mind it looks way better with the perloid.
At the time I ordered Blackbeard was out of stock on the perloid ones, so I bought it from Thomann (a music shop in Germany that is awesome).
I knew there was a strong chance that the holes would be in different places as the original, but it ended up being not that bad, and nothing that a toothpick and a bit of wood glue couldn’t sort out.
About three screw holes were completely misaligned on the front, but due to the softness of the wood with the scratch plate in place and those that did aligned screwed in I pushed a slightly smaller phillips screwdriver through the hole onto the body and while pushing down ever so slightly I turned it to break through the finish and into the wood.
This created a pilot hole that the small scratch-plate screws had no problem biting into.
At this stage things started to look very cool and things came together at quite a pace.
First I attached the bridge/tremolo block:
Then I put the scratch plate in, threaded the wires where it needed to go (earth and signal to the jack cavity and the other earth/ground to the back cavity)
Then I soldered the signal wires to the jack and mounted the plate.
I needed to loosen the jack, turn it through about 90 degrees and then tighten it again as the position that it was in had the contact a bit too close to the side of the cavity. It wasn’t an issue, but I didn’t like the sharp angle that the wire had to bend to reach. It is now a more relaxed fit and shorter reach.
Next I added the spring claw and the springs (leaving them quite loose due to the absence of strings pulling on them)
And then all of a sudden it started looking like an electric guitar…
The next night the neck was sufficiently dry so that I could lightly sand the bits back that wasn’t totally smooth or where the Tru-Oil caused a bit of a roughness due to dust and other airborne atrocities settling on it (again with light pressure, cupping the neck and doing 1000 grit followed by 2000)
Again I was very careful and made sure that there was no naked maple showing through at any spot.
Very pleased with the results I started adding the tuners to the neck:
This was a big moment for me as for the 1st time after spending so much time with the individual parts I could stand back and look at the sum of them.
At the risk of sounding a little ‘boasty’ about it I really liked what I saw.
It wasn’t totally as I envisioned when I started, but man, what a gratifying feeling when it comes together like this and it isn’t altogether bad to behold.
It may even be a little pride-inducing…
Very satisfied this is where I left it for the night.
The next day I added strings (the kit comes with strings, but I am very specific when it comes to type and gauge, so I decided to rather go with regular store-bought).
When putting on the strings and while winding them to pitch I found out why you need a string tree on a flat headstock like this.
I knew when I started thinking about a logo that the string tree would not be able to go at the exact recommended location due to the position of the logo, but I saw varied reports on where it should and could be, so I decided that I will put it as far back as possible but not be ridiculous about it.
I loosened the strings a bit and then put the string tree plate on top of the 1st and 2nd strings and moved it back and forth, eyeballing it to where (in my inexperience) I thought it looked good. So then I pushed it straight down and (while making sure it was straight and aligned) I used a smallish screw to make a dent in the surface where the screw should go in.
I used a very small phillips screwdriver to ‘turn’ a little pilot hole through the lacquer with light pressure and then added the string tree plate and the spacer/cylinder to the screw and then carefully screwed it in. I knew I was taking a bit of a shortcut and a risk here, but it was late at night and I didn’t have a small enough drill bit, so I tried to feel it as I went ahead.
Lucky that screw is so small that it didn’t even feel like biting and it didn’t cause any cracks. In fact – I couldn’t believe that it went into maple with so little force/resistance.
I also think what helped was the clear lacquer coat that was only 3 days old (and although dry) it still hasn’t cured to be totally as hard as what it would be in a week or two.
I went to plug it in to make sure there is sound and even with intonation and action not set yet I ended up noodling about with it for about an hour and a half, grinning all the way.
I decided to leave it overnight to settle and then the next day I set the string saddle heights (getting the string heights as they should be and to follow the curvature of the fretboard) as well as setting the intonation.
Surprisingly it wasn’t that far off.
I also fiddled a little bit with the tremolo springs to get the floating bridge to ‘settle’ where it looks fine. I am going to block the tremolo off though. Not completely, but on the ‘spring’ side so that I could still use the arm for going down, but so that the upwards movement is restricted. I’ve done this to my Cort ‘strat’ as well and I like the better tuning stability that it gives while still having enough tremolo movement if the spirit takes me in that direction (doesn’t happen often though, hence my need for the modification).
I will have this settle for a couple of days and then revisit all the settings, using a printout from Fender’s ‘Stratocaster setup guide’, but so far and with little intervention it is already easy and fun to play.
On the kit quality and the experience dealing with Blackbeard’s den:
I must say Dean and Blackbeard’s Den was very helpful and quick to respond to queries and shipping. Also very helpful regarding sending links, documents and general advice.
I would recommend the company without hesitation.
Regarding the kit itself – there are of course room for improvement, but one have to seriously remember and remind yourself that this is the cheapest kit that they have in their catalogue and even then if you compare what the entire kit cost vs what you would pay for individual parts it is a serious bargain.
I am also very positively surprised by the playability and sound of the guitar. If you consider that the entire kit was less than what you would pay for 3 replacement pickups (even entry level from a company like Seymour Duncan) I am genuinely surprised at how good this guitar does sound. I was looking for a versatile single coil strat type sound and I got exactly that.
Everything comes pre-drilled and with the documentation and what you get in the box there is no doubt as to what goes where and how you set it up.
The neck (being the most difficult thing to do on an electric guitar build) is as far as I can see spot on – the fretwork and the general construction is in my mind exactly as it should be.
The kit is exactly as advertised and if you are in a hurry to get it going and you want a natural look to it, you can order it on a Monday, start on Wednesday by slapping 3 or 4 coats of Tru-oil on the wood as is, put it together and take it to a gig on Friday.
And it will still look awesome.
It really is that simple.
The ‘would have been nice to have’ section:
I would have liked to have a tool included that fit into the saddle height adjusters.
All the other tools you need to adjust are ‘regular’ (phillips screwdriver and a normal sized allen key). The tool you need to adjust those are so small that many normal households would not have something that you can use on those. This is a small issue though and I feel that I would happily pay a couple of bucks more to have that available to me.
Although the wood that the body is made of is perfectly fine (and some people love the weight of it) I found that I would have liked to have the option of paying more and having one or two other options regarding the body type. On the site the two cheapest models are the two strats (dark and light necks) and it is priced perfectly for a 1st timer, but seeing as there are much higher ended options also available it would be cool having another option for the strat type than ‘entry level’.
Again – not a big thing at all, but choice would be good.
As I am typing this I am finding out all the items on my ‘what I would have liked’ list have to do with options and choices. This brings me to my last one:
I know it is very difficult to have options on kits like this regarding how much stock you carry vs what you might get stuck with, but having ‘swop out’ optional extras would also be cool.
If I could buy the kit but pay a little more to get a fixed bridge, or gold hardware, or do an upgrade on tuners etc. at the time that I head over to ‘checkout’ it would really be cool.
I do appreciate that holding stock for the multitude of upgrade and aftermarket options and permutations will probably be next to impossible, so for now I’ll conclude with wanting a higher-end stratocaster option in addition to this one.
What a cool project this has been.
I have spent quite a lot of time through the years on guitar electronics so I am relatively comfortable with that part of guitar modification, but I have never been involved with wood finishing and applying stain or lacquer. Just in the short time and little exposure that I had regarding this build I have learned some new skills (even if it might be just to get me to level ‘dangerous’) and expanded my own horizons. I am not going to go to the nearest tool shop to go and buy me a spray gun and half a ton of wood (yet), but I am going to keep my eyes open for opportunities to dip into this a bit again.
There is also something infinitely cool about slinging a guitar around your neck that you received ‘naked’, unfinished and as parts in a box that you then took from ‘spare parts’ to completed instrument while just happening to also be something that you are actually proud of.
Regarding the future for this specific model – I will probably use it and live with it for a while before I decide what I will be upgrading (if anything at all). Realistically I can see that somewhere down the line I will start trawling the local classifieds for better pickups.
The other upgrades that I can see happening that will be worthwhile will probably be better tuners and a bone nut. But there is a very good chance that I decide after a couple of months that things are perfectly fine the way they are.
When the time comes, the next guitar project from Blackbeard’s Den will probably be the Floyd Rose kit and after that the 5 string bass.
There is nothing official on the horizon, but let me just say that I have started poking around on DIY cajon percussion building websites…
If you are still here after the huge essay, I salute you.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my journey and if you are still making up your mind weather you think you should do it or not, let me help you in getting clarity about the decision: Just do it !
Even if you don’t play guitar that well (or not at all) just having this mounted on your wall as an exhibition piece and the experience of finishing it and putting it together is more than worth while.
I am also working on a video that I made about the process that I will upload to Youtube and put a link here when done.
So long and thanks for all the fish.
P.S. here are the links as promised:
One more time the link to Blackbeard’s Den DIY kits:
Do It Yourself Guitar Kits
This a link for Fender’s setup guide.
Although this isn’t a Fender I still think this applies:
Youtube channels on guitarbuilding and finishing worth while checking out:
Brad Angove does modification and specializes in guitar finishing and spray painting.
He has a LOT of videos on rattle can finishing and I really recommend his channel.
Crimson Custom Guitars are more geared towards building, but they have a couple of videos on staining, oil finishing and articles about guitar mods and set-up
Another luthier site with very cool ideas and howto’s:
Videos about the transfer methods and decals:
This is where I got the idea from to use the sellotape decal creation method:
And some other options: