In 2014 I had the idea that I could build an electric guitar (my first) and raffle it off for charity through my company’s holiday party band, the LCA. This resulted in the LCA SG Jr. guitar which raised over $2,100 for Make-A-Wish Illinois. Last year this was repeated with a Lospennato-inspired “Radio star” clone, though I entirely failed to blog about it. That guitar, thanks to a very generous company match, contributed over $5,000 to Make-A-Wish. These guitars were nice, but I really want something special for electric guitar – and charity raffle – #3.
On a recent trip to a local bookstore, I came across Tony Bacon’s The Ultimate Guitar Book and decided it would look nice in my music room. There were some great photos of classic and modern guitars that made for a cool coffee table book. On a whim, I packed this book up with my stuff for a recent week-long camping vacation…and read it.
That’s where I first set eyes on the beautiful Charvel Surfcaster. Built in the 90’s this semi-solid electric featured a retro look with large pearloid pickguard and shiny, sleek, lipstick-style single coil pickups. I knew instantly this would be the 2016 charity guitar.
I initially drafted the surfcaster shape on the computer using CorelDraw and a pretty good, large, top view photo from the ‘net. This came out looking great, but I thought it seemed a little undersized. I had carefully scaled the photo up to a scale length of 25.5″ but the body wound up measuring only a bit over 16″. Clearly my photo reference wasn’t a precise top view, resulting in a bit of a skew. So I did some further searching and found a nice drafting of this guitar, including dimensions. The drawing was a bit too small to simply print out – it was far too pixelated when blown up to use at full size. I was, however, able to scale it up in CorelDraw and then adjust and tweak my original drawing to match by overlaying it on top.
I now had a full-size vector drawing of the guitar, including the sound hole, pickguard, and electronics cavities. (Download the PDF here).
Back from Camp, Down to Work
I returned from camp to find a box from StewMac.com waiting. This first parts order included 18:1 Grover tuners I’d picked out and a couple different bridges to try. I’d decided against installing a tremolo, but am planning on through-body stringing. I also ordered a couple other top-mount bridges just in case I change my mind.
First step for any new guitar project is making templates. The base body template was cut from 1/4″ MDF. I also cut the resonating cavity out of the template. I figured I after pattern-routing the body I could route this cavity before removing the template.
With this first template, crafting the body was fairly simple. I had some 8/4 Ash in stock for the base and my last (gulp!) wide piece of birdseye Maple would be resawn and applied as the top.
The Ash blanks were jointed, glued, and drum sanded to thickness. I didn’t have an exact measurement for the body thickness of the original surfcasters. They certainly look like fairly beefy guitars in the photos and there’d be quite a bit of weight removed from the body when I route out the resonating cavity. I figured they were likely somewhere between 1.75″ and so I’d probably go with around 1-7/8″ to 1-15/16″ finished thickness. I surfaced the Ash blank down to just under 1.70″ and attached the template with double-stick tape and a couple screws. Since the top of the Ash would be hidden under the birdseye, the small screw holes could basically be anywhere and would ensure the template wouldn’t slip during routing.
I cut the basic shape out on the bandsaw, staying as close to 1/16″-1/8″ from the attached template as possible, being careful of course not to cut into it. Turning to my router table, I installed one of my longest flushing bits and began carefully routing the final shape. This is where I ran into that very common and annoying snag – as I rounded the lower bout the Ash tore out pretty bad. This is end grain routing, where tear out is almost inevitable, but I had hoped I’d cut close enough to the final shape, and held the block firmly enough, to avoid it. I was wrong. A better strategy here (next time) would have been to route a portion of the full thickness at a time with the template and bearing initially at the bottom, and then cleaning up with the long flushing bit. The fix for this was to fill the gaps with some sawdust and CA glue and then sand the rest of the body to the final dimension.
Next up: finishing off the body and making the birdseye maple top…