fit and finish

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Having produced the basic guitar it is now time to fit those parts required to turn the creation into an instrument.


To keep the “retro” theme on this guitar I had decided on using black pearlescent plastic, reminiscent of 1960s Italian guitars.

A template is created based on a photocopy of the full sized drawing/photocopy. (The Strat-style jack plate was mounted onto the body and the shape of the template fine-tuned to provide a perfect fit). This is then spray-glued onto the protective coating on the plastic sheet. The slot for a five-way switch should cut before the main shape so that the router has plenty of flat surface to sit on. A simple template can be made from ply, then a laminate trimmer and 2mm cutter used to cut the slot.

The outline is then rough-cut on the bandsaw, and cleaned up. The chamfered edges can be simply produced using a sharp craft knife scraped along the edge at an angle. The edges are then cleaned up with 240 and 400 grade wet-and-dry paper (used wet) and polished with Brasso, or similar. The neck joint and jack socket areas should be cut to fit last, and the scratchplate then test fitted.


Having fitted the scratchplate the pickup slots can be cut. These can be rough-cut with a coping saw, and then opened out with files. Even “standard” metal pickup casings can vary in size from one to another so test fit each one in the appropriate hole. Finally the screw holes are drilled and countersunk using a hand drill, and the finished plate mounted onto the body.

Holes for the strap buttons are drilled with a hand drill, and the holes for the string ferrules drilled into the back having set the depth stop on the pillar drill.


Danish oil is an ideal finish choice for the amateur luthier (Rustins is my preferred brand). Over well-prepared timber it is easy to apply, moisture resistant, durable and (as has been proven) easy to repair. If care is taken to avoid and remove and dust when preparing the surface, it provides a lovely, soft, semi-gloss sheen, enhancing the grain figure and ageing beautifully.

Before the application of the finish the body and neck should be rubbed down with progressively finer grades of sanding paper. A final ‘burnish’ can be carried out with 00000 grade steel wool. This prepares the wood so effectively that reflections can clearly be seen in it.


Application of the finish should be done in as dust-free an environment as possible. In this case the neck and body were suspended from a clothes rail using bent wire hangers in a little used room in the house (basically, well away from the workshop!).

The fingerboard must be neatly masked off, pushing the tape down along the edges of the frets using a thumbnail. The nut area is also masked to allow for gluing the nut. Any dust should be removed with a soft tack cloth, then oil applied using folded squares cut from an old 100% cotton t-shirt, using long, even strokes in the direction of the grain. Any excess is then wiped off immediately. Each coat should be left to dry overnight then 00000 steel wool used to gently flat the surface and remove any settled dust. This is repeated until five coats have been applied. For a more closed grain finish the final few oil coats can be wet-sanded using 600 grade wet and dry, the slurry formed filling the pores of the grain.

For this guitar the body was stained using spirit-based wood dye. The first coat went on beautifully, and was left overnight to dry. Applying a second caused me to sweat a little as it started to remove areas of the first. Unfortunately there was no going back and I had to even the finish up as best as possible. Application of a third coat helped, and I managed to get the black quite even. It does not hide the grain of the mahogany, and any unevenness remaining actually helps the ‘retro’ look, suggesting that this brand new instrument is, in fact, well played (“relic-ed”!?). Phew!

The body is Danish-oiled in the same way as the neck, and when left for a day or so to fully dry can then be waxed. My preferred choice is Renaissance micro-crystalline wax (as used by none other than the Conservation Department at the British Museum!). This is very easy to apply and almost eliminates the finger mark problems associated with most finishes. Not cheap but is worth every penny.

All that remains now is the job of wiring and final assembly, allowing the finished product to be seen (and heard!) in its full glory for the first time.


This guitar was fretted and set up by Julian Clarke at the Sevenoaks Guitar Centre.