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Building a Telehawk


OK, I'm going to share with you how I build a guitar. It's not the only way to do it, it's just what works for me. For this essay I'm going to build a Telehawk, just because I need to build one anyway(seems I may never get the prototype back ;^). This method of construction is easily modified to suit almost any style of guitar. As this is a hobby job for me, I will do the work and update this section on an approximately weekly schedule.

A little about tools:

I have, or have access to a full shop with all the tools, but almost everything here can be done with a few simple tools. To me the essentials are a small band saw or scroll saw (can be done without), a belt sander (can be done without), an orbital palm sander (can be done without), a good med. weight router(probably can be done without), a small drill press, and a small table saw (10" preferred) that's about it. Where other methods are usable Vs the method/tool I'm using I will try to point out alternatives.


The first thing we need are templates. I built these throughout the process of building the prototype, so I have a bit of an advantage here. However, you can simply trace and "assemble" templates from an existing guitar. (You might note the fancy body template, that's what happens when you work until 4am in the morning ;^) I recessed the wrong side of the top when building the prototype.) You can make your templates from tempered hardboard, 3/8" thick, or glue up too layers of 1/4". I recommend the latter, and if you plan on using them more than once, you may want to treat the edges of the templates with thin superglue. The glue will be absorbed and harden the edges further so they will wear less.

The neck template is already marked with all critical information to include fretboard start and stop points, nut placement, centerline, trussrod location, where the body line crosses, and because this is really a neckthru, bridge location and correct bridge angle for the 25" scale length. (You may also note there are 7 tuner holes, you probably can't read the big "wrong" marked on it ;^). The template is also labeled "front" and "back".

Beginning the project:

First, I select a board suitable for the neck. (I build most of my guitars with cherry, so other than the top and fretboard, all wood for this project is cherry. All the wood I'm using was aged, cut and kiln dried to 6% moisture, and then acclimated to the shop) I look for a nice straight quartersawn board of suitable size. I think quartersawn is the only choice if you want the greatest strength and reliability, but you don't usually get any figure in quartersawn. (flatsawn may be as reliable with a good finished neck, but I'm not going to go through all this to find out I have an unstable piece; besides, I want to be confident for years to come) I chose a piece of 4/4 (7/8" thick) for the blank as it is approximately the right thickness (believe it or not a bolt-on neck minus the fretboard is approx. 3/4" thick at the heel, thinner where contoured) I will be using a straight headstock due to it's simplicity and inherently greater strength.

Next I will profile ONE side. I used an inexpensive (approx. $100.00) table top bandsaw. You could also use a scroll saw, a jig saw, a saber saw (leave a lot of extra), or if you really want to do it hard, a coping saw /hand saw. On all cuts, "leave the line" to allow for final fitting/shaping.

It is important to only profile one side as the straight side will be used to run against the fence on the router table to rout the trussrod channel. The straight side needs to be parallel to the neck centerline. Now, boldly mark both sides of the neck blank as "front" and "back". I neglected this step.

I now thickness the headstock, first marking the location of the nut. I cut off the excess with the bandsaw and then use an oscillating spindle sander to sand the face. I clamp a board to the table as a fence, and run the flat side of the neck blank against the table.

I make multiple passes until I get the correct thickness (5/8"), and the drum leaves me a nice curve meeting fretboard level where the nut location was marked.

OK, remember where I noted I neglected to mark "front" and "back"? That's right, I just made my blank into a left handed neck to go with my left handed top from the prototype! (eventually I'll have a complete lefty ;^)

You will note it's not perfect, but it is very close. Before I came up with the setup for the oscillating spindle sander. I did this freehand w/ a small belt sander. Of course, rasps and sanding blocks can do the job with enough work. Another option is to use the router which will leave a square lip. (Use other boards surrounding the blank for the router to ride on.)

Well, I've now redone all previous steps and have a right hand blank.

The next logical step would be to rout the trussrod channel, but since I can't get to the router table right now I'll let it wait and move on to making the body.

Select pieces of wood of suitable thickness for the body (I'm using slighty over 1" as I will have 3/8" thick top and back caps. A strat type is typically aprox 1 3/4- 1 7/8"s thick. This body will end up aproximately 1 5/8" to be a little thinner/lighter) At some point prior to continuing I need to have cut the sides of the neck blank to width, without taper, where it will be joined to the body wings.

I simply align the center line of the neck and body templates to determine the joining point I desire (based upon fret access, adequate bolting surfaces etc) and mark the neck template w/ the line and then transfer that line to the neck blank. Then, from the edges of the neck outline at the joining point to the butt end of the neck blank, straight lines are drawn parallel to the neck centerline, and cut on the tablesaw (leave the lines to allow for planing the joining faces later). Before moving on cut a piece of body wood to the same width.

Select suitable pieces for the "wings". This arrangement/ method of construction is very similar to that used by Jim Jaros and McNaught. This method has the advantage of not having any of the seams line up. The top and back cap seams fall along the centerline resulting in much stronger construction, similar to a brick wall. Guitar building is the only form of construction I know where someone will tell you it's ok to have seams line up in multiple layers (it's not ok in cabinetry or carpentry or masonry or......) I don't buy it. It may be adequate, but it certainly is not ideal. Additionally, because all significant parts of the vibration path/ tone path are directly attached to the neck (nut, bridge, pickups, etc) it acts like a guitar carved entirely from one piece of wood more than any other multi-piece design.

The neck could be done as a complete neckthru; however, I typically use a 2 piece heel just for comfort and cosmetics (I could do without it, but it would leave a sharp transition from neck to body) A two piece neckthru would likely have a visible glueline and misaligned grain at the butt end (it is very difficult to get the grain on a two piece glue up to lign up well at both ends. I want the best possible alignment of the grain at the heel)

I could go with a board which is the full thickness (plus some) but that is more costly, and the wood has a greater chance of moving when the neck is shaped.(Either right away, or over a period of days or months). That could be disastrous!

I next arrange and mark the pieces. Mark a centerline down the neck blank, and extend that line to the end of the body blank. Draw a centerline on the body template and align it over the body pieces with the neck centerline, Trace the body outline, and mark for cutouts. Doing it this way makes certain the body is centered on the neck centerline, and not on glue seams or other less accurate/ relevant guides.

The Telehawk is a thinline design with the pickups mounted to the body and stringthru contstruction(I'm considering installing a Jaguar type tremolo...any opinions?).

I make sure to draw the cutouts to allow the bridge posts, string ferrules, pickup screws etc. to mount into the full thickness of wood, and I allow a bit extra (exact spacing was determined/learned when I built the prototype. A bit more wood could be removed here and there, but you need to leave enough that the guitar doesn't become neck heavy)

Also note the small gap between the sound chamber and the control cavity in the lower bout. This will make it easy for me to install pickups by simply drilling through the side of the pickup routs into the chambers. I work in this order as I find it much easier to cut the chambers on the bandsaw(scroll saw, jigsaw etc.) before gluing it all together Vs routing the chambers in the assembled body.

The entry cut is small and is made at the end of the neck (on the INSIDE of the wings) to allow maximum continuous contact for vibration transfer and strength. For more of a hollow body design, wood can be removed from along the neck to body seam. With this design all wood of the wings centers can be removed as long as you leave wood for the bridge and string thru ferrules to contact and for mounting the control cavity backplate to. It will still balance well (the prototype was built that way). Removing more wood along neck to wing joints also has the advantage of having less wood to join, making seams easier to get very tight.


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