Friday, June 22, 2012

'Bigfoot' -- The Build

For several months, my sons have been saying, "Dad, you should make a guitar of your own design, you can do it!"

After kicking the thought around in my head, I decided to try it, thus 'Bigfoot' came to be.

I've been building three-, four-, and six-string guitars (sixty five in two years, so I guess it's time to venture into the unknown) out of cigar boxes and silver bowls, so why not something more conventional?  If a guitar in the shape of a foot is conventional.

Where to start?  An idea of course.  I didn't want to go the route of the Strat or Tele design, which, by the way, I really like.  And, the dreadnaught or concert style acoustic seemed a bit boring, and also beyond what I am comfortable attacking (but, I love my Martin and Ibanez guitars), and the tools are not in my shop.

So, I settled on a plank (a solid body).

After returning from a brisk morning walk, I removed my shoes, and staring back at me were my gnarly feet, and that's when the light went on and the body of my guitar was envisioned.  Ya, ya, I know, I got an unusual imagination.  I searched the web for possible ideas, and saw a photo that I liked of a similar build, so I gave it a go.

I like the Strat style neck, so off to the web to search for the perfect item, and I managed to find it, but it hurt my wallet a bit.  And, then there is the other necessary stuff, magnetic pickups, bridge, output jack, tone and volume controls, and string ferrules to hide those nasty looking metal anchors attached to the ends of the strings.  Oh, well, it's just the kids inheritance, right?

The body blank was a 1-3/4" thick piece of bass wood cut to 14" x 22" dimensions, which was supplied by my friend Art at Carrousel Works, the greatest carrousel producing company on the planet.  Why bass wood?  Because it is easy to carve, doesn't splinter, and has a nice even grain to it.  The perfect basis for an novice carver.

So, now came the drawing of a 'big' foot to fit the plank.  I didn't want just a foot, I wanted something that is a little different, which wasn't tough to pencil out -- it took me only about five minutes for the basic design, and another ten to pencil in the toenails and top relief design.

Now, to the technical stuff for the drawing.  Determine the desired neck position and shape.  Mark the center line on the body, so the bridge can be properly placed.  Then the pickup locations fall into place, because I used only the neck and bridge positions.  Once that was done, the pots and jack was easy.

Thanks to a well equipped shop, I was able to easily cut the necessary openings and recesses with Forstner bits in my drill press, and finish off the openings with a chisel.

Of course, the cavities had to be covered, so it was time to draw a scratch plate design, which was simple -- I had the other drawing to use as a reference.  The design was transferred to a 1/8" sheet of maple and cut on the trusty band saw, along with the body.  Voila, I got the preliminary makin's for a guitar body.

It's time to start carving.  I found the little Millers Falls carving tools I purchased at a swap meet years ago, sharpened them, and went to work. Little did I know that long ago that I would use them first for a guitar, truthfully, I don't even know why I bought them.  Tools acquisition is a guy thing, just like collecting guitars -- ask my friend Ty who owns GuitarFuel, who coined the phrase G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome).

Carving the front and the back of the body took me about 15 hours.  I think if I do another, it will be a smoother go, because I learned a few things and I feel a lot more comfortable with the whole process.  And, there will be another, probably not a foot (unless someone has enough long lean green), but certainly something interesting.

The carving and sanding is finally done, and the fitting of pieces is complete, so it's now time for the finishing. I chose golden oak stain for the body, leaving the toenails to be a bit lighter in tone (mineral spirits with oak stain added to reach just the right color).  Mahogany stain provided the desired contrast for the flame-like relief on the top.  And, the maple scratch plate got a diluted mixture of the oak stain.  The logo and hand painted name were added to the headstock, to complete things. Once I was satisfied with this, it was on to six coats of poly sanded with 1000 grit paper between each coat.

Parts were assembled and polish applied, and it's now time to fire it up on the amp.

Wow, it sounded great and played as smooth as butter.  I got lucky, I guess.  But, maybe my boys were right.

If you're interested in seeing shots of the finished guitar, click on the link below.

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