I recently revised my Brian May Red Special guitar neck design to correct some original sin errors and incorporate a significant number of improvements (‘kaizen’), most notably to the thickness of the mahogany in the main section and the headstock. I also reinterpreted the region where the headstock lozenge shape meets the elliptical profile of the main section to improve the fidelity. Having improved my TurboCAD techniques in the five years or so since I began this project, I also took the opportunity to simplify the methods I use to design each part of the neck (tenon, main section and headstock) to achieve a better result.
I sourced more mahogany timber (from Manuel Angelini in France), prepared it using my Makita table saw and CNC cut the neck over several sessions in August 2021, over four years since I made my original neck. I recorded highlights of each session in full HD, 60 fps, speeded up the sequences and mixed them into a 13 minute long YouTube video illustrating each stage of the process. This is embedded below; further details are available in the YouTube description with time indexed titles.
I took every opportunity to improve the cutting and drilling processes including CNC cutting two large 2 degree and 4 degree wedges for drilling machine heads holes in the headstock and fixing screw and bolt holes in the tenon. I also made an extended bed for my mini drill press from 19 mm plywood to accommodate them. To maintain precise axial alignment for both the upper and lower side toolpaths, I fitted a “L”-shaped alignment bracket water-jet custom cut from 20 mm thick aluminium to the T-slot machine table. Credit to Jon Underhill for providing this. This was the first cut in which I deployed direct dust extraction by means of a Delta dust shoe and Dyson DC39 Animal vacuum cleaner.
To make subsequent assembly easier, I CNC cut a slot for the brass plate which the truss rod tensioner bolt butts up against and corrected the position of the rebate which accommodates it. I also drilled six dowel locating holes to mount a perspex template which I will use to align the fretboard precisely to the the mahogany.
I generally did not film any of the work involved with building my Red Special replica at the time, other than some of the early CNC routing attempts. This footage was neither edited in a way which best illustrated the processes nor contained any spoken commentary. As and when I have time, I will address this shortfall by publishing a series of videos with distinct segments and narrative to demonstrate key processes and offer tips for building a Brian May Red Special replica guitar from the perspective of an amateur luthier.
The first of the two embedded videos below illustrates some aspects of mahogany timber preparation for making the neck while the second entitled “Fretboard Techniques” covers making a stencil to paint the fretboard side marker dots. I also compare and contrast the side marker dot pattern on my 2004 Burns Red Special and Guyton RS Transporter and show two techniques worth considering for ebonising the oak fretboard: Liberon spirit wood dye and black cyanoacrylate superglue. Future videos will cover other important techniques including veneer work, grain filling, staining and working with Rustins Plastic Coating.
In the third video I demonstrate using a 5 mm diameter brad point wood auger to drill the short section from the underside of the tenon through into the main channel routed out to accommodate the truss rod itself. All wood routing was previously done using my Stepcraft 2/840 CNC machine. This neck cutting was recently completed and the cut object remains attached in its surrounding frame. I took the opportunity to rout a rebate for the auger shaft to pass through.
The fourth video illustrates all the equipment required, and processes involved in making a single action compression style truss rod for a Red Special replica guitar with only basic workshop equipment and limited facilities.
The next video is an introduction to a series of videos which illustrate all the techniques required to finish the Red Special body including veneering, grain filling, staining and lacquering with Rustins Plastic Coating (RPC).
The second video in the series on finishing the guitar body covers the process of veneering.
The third video in the series on finishing the guitar body covers grain filling and staining the mahogany marquetry veneer with black Jecofil and Rustins red mahogany wood dye.
The fourth and final video in the series on finishing the guitar body covers all aspects of Rustins Plastic Coating (RPC) including making up batches, applying it to mahogany veneer, flatting back with graded abrasive papers then burnishing/polishing to a gloss finish.