Monday, July 27, 2009

Website update.

Hey folks, just thought I let you know I have updated my website. All my links and pics of past and present guitars are in one convenient spot. Got a little sale running until the 30th of July. All new guitars are just $999 shipped, with case.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Moving up in the world.

I am very proud and happy to announce that WCS Guitars are now available, exclusively, through Yes, folks, I took a chance and sent a guitar to the owner of BirdlandMusic, a fellow by the name of William Trotman. I sent him the flame maple Gates of Hell, and to put it mildly, he was very impressed.

The following are in Bill's own words:

Regarding the strip built laminate construction/sustain:

"Yes, you are on to something.....Minirak guitars...has that concept, however, I do not believe they ring anything close to yours...nor does a thin line is the first thing you notice about the guitar plugged into a tube makes me want to play some Stevie Ray blues...and really make the thing sing..!!!!!"

Regarding the action and set-up:

"frets are perfect....Action was fine for me out of the case....some players get really fussy with closer and closer action...which this guitar could handle .....[string]spacing is great....radius of fingerboard ....and feel makes you just want to play....this guitar just puts me in the comfort zone and groove after the first note."

Regarding plans to take it into the studio with his band:

"I will be interested to hear Dave(rock guitarist) play it as well....on bass, when I am singing it gives me a nice position in the band to hear all the parts and feel the guitar and its....ability....Actually, my guess is that it will out perform his Stratocaster and Dean..."

There you have it, folks. From a fellow who has been selling some of the finest guitars available for years and years. But, that's not all. WCS Guitars are now front page/top billing on Really couldn't ask for anything more than that. Hope you'll swing by and check it out.

To read a review of my first sold guitar, check out Harmony Central for a full rundown on my first Eat Your Heart Out. The new owner of this guitar has been kind enough to demo it for us also: check out this vid.

The new guitars are finished!

TAH DAH! The new guitars are done. For more pictures you can check out my new Fan Page on Facebook. Sign up as a fan to enter my raffle for a free WCS Stash Box.

First, we have Eat Your Heart Out, 2. The flame maple gets a nice vintage look from the amber shellac. Once again, Manlius Guitar has come through with the awesome Fat Diane pickups. Rainy Day Daisies gets it's name from the spalted beech top. Assembled thus, it always reminds me of rain running down a window pane. The Chicago Blues pickups are just what I hoped for.
The Gates Of Hell, need I say more? Amber shellac, once again gives a vintage look and the Goat's Growl p-90's take you from a country twang to a grinding metal shred.

This one is my favorite. The flame maple Gates of Hell. Goat's Growl p-90's and a nice thick neck make this baby a rock and roller's dream come true.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Finishing up the little stuff.

So at this point the guitars are almost done. Lots of little tasks to take care of to get them set up.
The wiring on these four is very straight forward. I have been amazed at how the sets of pickups, bridge/neck, from ManliusGuitar have such distinctive sounds between them. Getting that neck pickup up nice and high on the body, thus the 21 frets, and the bridge one set back further increases the tonal differences between the two even more. So, for these I decided to keep it simple with just a volume and tone circuit each, with a 3 way selector switch.
Pickup cavities are lined with copper, each piece has a grounding wire. The bridge pickup shield grounding wire extends into the bridge bushing hole to ground the bridge. It is trapped by the bushing upon insertion.
I complete the wiring on a scrap of veneer with holes to match the pickguard.Pickguards get laminated on the underside with copper sheeting and the controls are transfered to it.
Pickup mounting rings get finished with height adjustment screws and springs.All the holes for the rings and pickguards are drilled very carefully with a flagged bit.Screws are dragged across a wax candle prior to driving into hardwood.Salvaged leather, from an old purse, pads the strap buttons.I turn the knobs on a midi lathe leaving a little tenon on each one.Marquetry discs are inlaid and cut to size. Note the blocks for glue up.The holes allow room for the tenon while laminating the caps in place.The tenon is then chucked in the drill press to finish sand the cap flush.I leave the tenon on for polishing as it makes a convenient handle.When they are all done it's safe to remove the tenon and drill the hole for the pot shaft.I make the nuts out of cow bone. I let Heidi's dog, Bea, clean up the bones then allow them to air dry for, well, years. When I first started building these I got a handful of leg bones and they just last forever. The dozuki makes a nice clean cut in bone and I saw the rough blanks by hand.
The blanks are cleaned up and start to take shape on the belt sander.The various grits are sprayed and stuck to a sheet of glass. This give a great polishing surface for finely shaping the nut. It must be a firm press fit in the slot.I leave the top quite high for set up, marking off the 1st fret with a half pencil ala Cumpiano.
The files for resharpening the dozuki are very fine and narrow. I use them to scratch very fine grooves for the string locations. Then I string up, check the string spacing and work the grooves down in a bit. At this point I still have enough room to make substantial lateral adjustments.
Using the 2/0 blade that I prefer for marquetry, I saw straight down for each notch.

The kerf alone is wide enough for the high E string. Various implements are used to widen and polish the notches. Feeler guages are used with sandpaper and for the bottom largest strings I use a specially shaped piece of veneer wrapped with sandpaper to get just the right sized slot.
Once it checks out with just a bit of "nut action"......the excess top material is filed off at a level that lets the base side strings sit down in about half way.
All that's left is to make notches in the saddles,

And polish them out nice and smooth.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fretting over polish and polishing the frets

Once the bodies, necks and other parts are finish sanded it is time to polish everything with shellac. I am hesitant to call my finish a French Polish, mostly because the technique did not truely arise in France (shellac is from the Far East), but also because I don't use pumice. But, here's the process I have come up with to get a nice shiny surface without the use of sprays or volatiles. Shellac, being the excretions of a beetle disolved in grain alcohol, is an organic, non-toxic and renewable resource. Applied thus it is the thinest possible finish and, if you believe the nuts, a tonaly superior finish.
A small piece of old wool sweater is dunked in the cut. I can't give you exact proportions, but the canned shellac is cut about 1-1 with alcohol to start. Along the way I add more alcohol for a thinner mix as the polish builds.

The rag is squeezed between two pieces of veneer to remove as much of the cut as possible.

The rag is then wrapped with soft cotton cloth.

This forms the rubber or tampon with which the shellac cut is applied to the wood. The object of this operation is to obtain a rubber that is almost dry. In this way only the tiniest amount of shellac is applied with each pass.
The process of polishing takes many, many hours, over several days. The shellac dries quickly, though, so by the time you make a pass over every thing, the first pieces are dry and you start all over. Rubbing, and rubbing and rubbing.

In between 'sessions' when the shellac has had a chance to cure, 1000 grit paper is used to buff out the surface. I think this is where the pumice came in for the original formula. I used to use 600; going to 1000 is new on these guitars. The upgrade is quite noticable in the finished gloss.At a point in the process things just start to shine. Towards the end you lubricate the rubber with a bit of linseed oil to keep it from sticking. There are several points at which you may stop. Satin sheen or soft gloss. These I took out all the way, high gloss. Probably the shiniest I've achieved to date, partly for the finer grit, but you get a little better every time you polish, a little stronger too.

I shellac the necks and oil the fingerboards prior to installing the frets. This provides the necks some protection against scrapes and dings during the rather violent fretting procedure. I reapply oil several times during fret up and polishing. The oil acts as a cleaner, removing debris and each application improves the finish. I use a three part oil, the same as for my furniture. It consists of one part each linseed oil, turpentine and fast drying polyurethane. It penetrates, rubs out nicely and drys in 24 hours.

The first task in fretting up is to clean out the sawdust, oil and dried glue in the fret slots. This is painstaking work, akin to a dental hygenist's trade, no doubt. I use the sharp edge of a flimsy metal rule and a straw to blow out the debris.

The frets are then cut to size and the nippers are used to undercut the ends to seat over the bindings.A flat file is used to clean up the undercut while holding the fret upside down in a block grooved to fit the crown. You need a really strong grip for this and even my fingers get sore after the 2nd or third neck.Using a shaped caul with a groove for the tang, I hammer the fret to shape.The objective is a curvature that is a bit sharper than the fingerboard radius as this will aid in keeping the ends down. Some folks advocate bending the whole piece of fret wire to radius before cutting. It is easier to file the ends if the wire is still straight at that point, however, and there is something to be said for hammering the frets into shape. By pounding on them they give up a bit of their "spring." Thus when they are pressed into place they have less energy to pop up at the ends. At least it feels this way to me.The saw I fashioned to cut the fret slots produces a slot that is very tight. The frets will stay put without glue, but they are much easier to drive when a bit of white glue is used. It acts as a lubricant for one, and there is some talk of a better tonal connection from string to neck when the slot is well sealed with the glue. The ends are hammered down first and with small gentle blows the fret is driven into the slot. Once driven far enough to cause glue squeeze out the excess is removed with a damp rag.If you wait just a minute for the glue to take effect, the fret can then be fully seated with the use of this specially shaped caul. That and a huge amount of brute force. By pressing in the final bit and not using the hammer, I ensure against any over driven frets.The ends are trimmed flush with the nippers, and the fret is carefully inspected all around under bright lights, repressing if needed to get a perfect seat. The ends are given a few taps to just slightly bend that overhanging piece down into the binding.Dressing the fret ends requires a great deal of patience. Each fret is masked with tape and a flat file is used to start the bevel.I've ground one edge of the file smooth as a safe edge. This edge is run against the fingerboard and the end of the fret is shaped round.Since I do each fret individually, I don't see any point to taking off such a severe bevel as you see on most factory necks. Instead, I endeavour to keep the crown all the way out to the end with a rounded bullnose shape just over the binding. Somewhere I read about a guy who "dressed frets all the way out to the end, to keep from falling off," this is my take on that idea. Once the shape is filed, I buff the ends out with 400, 600 and then 1000 grit.

Up until this point I have maintained a very sharp edge on the neck at the binding. I will now go over the edge with 400 grit and up; in between and around the end of each fret to produce a chamfer on the binding. This final shaping of the neck brings the dressed fret ends right to the edge and the neck has a nice broken in feel.

Leveling the frets at this point is pretty easy. My necks are nice and flat, and the extra care in fretting pays off. Instead of just filing down all the tops of the frets in one swoop, I work up and down the neck with a straight edge looking for high spots. It takes a bit longer than leveling with a stone, but it's not so messy, and not much material needs to be removed anyway.By lining with 200 grit, the same caul that I use to press the frets in, I can remove the tiniest amount of material from a single fret while maintaining the crown. Once they all check out, I line the caul with 400, 600, and then 1000 grit paper and polish the frets one by one. All the while checking against the rule. This is, once again, painstaking and tedious work. When you find a high spot at the finer grits you have to stop and repaper the caul and take that fret all the way out again.

Once the frets are dressed completely they get a final polishing. Now you may have noticed that I do things my own way. No exception here. I've seen all kinds of gadgets and mess making devices to polish up the frets, but none of them compare to what I have come up with. Check this out.

The day before polishing I smear some white rubbing compound on a piece of wood. It is allowed to dry. Using a wooden caul, shaped with a chainsaw file, I scrape some of the now powdery compound into the groove.The groove is blackened and smooth from previous polishings and the soft cherry is worn to the shape of the fret crown. Using a flat file, I continuously maintain the edges to just touch the tape on either side of a fret.With the frets taped off the caul is vigorously rubbed back and forth, initially scraping up the powdered compound as you go. Pressing very hard the compound impregnated wood polishes the frets to a high gloss. Rounding over the edges the fret ends get polished as well. The trick is to scrape off a little fresh powder for each fret. As the polish blackens it also gets finer and looses it's 'grit.' Starting fresh each time is the most effective.

Once the fret are polished the fingerboard is oiled a final time and allowed to dry. The shellac is then buffed out with the rubber eliminating any scratches and sealing up the chamfered edge of the binding. Drilling for the screws that secure the tuning machines and truss rod covers is all that remains.