Ambler Guitars course

#21
If you look for walnut there, the best place is probably in the unfinished planks at the back, where they have several different depths. I don't know if you have a planer/thicknesser, but if not perhaps they can plane them down to a good depth for you.

Any pictures of those three builds? ;)
 
#23
Day One Report

So today was Day One of the course. We kicked off at 9am but spent the first hour or more taking a look at a couple of guitars that I'd brought along (one to show, one for him to help me with a couple of problems) and talking about options / design for the build. I decided to go along with John's suggestion of a simple, Les Paul Junior style body, with a 25" scale neck. Eventually, we actually got down to work, and today's goal was to get the main pieces tidied up and glued together, where needed.

John also tested my bits of wood for moisture levels, and they were all ok so we discussed the various options for the neck. If you recall, I'd taken along four different neck blanks, and I also have some purpleheart that I bought on Friday. We decided to go for a relatively simple option, just a 3-piece laminate with a piece of padauk on the inside flanked by two pieces of Indian rosewood. The final selection of woods to be used, therefore, is the ones in the picture below.
Woods (final).jpg

The first job was to prepare the joint and glue the top together. This was fairly simple, although we had to avoid a mark in the wood. This was quickly glued up and clamped, and - like the other pieces - is sitting overnight.
Top 1.jpg

Next we turned to the body, and firstly had to decide how to orient the pieces. There's some interesting colouring that should show on the edges of the guitar, and so we decided to use this - the pattern in the middle should show up around the strap button.
Body 1.jpg

So that's been glued up, and next we worked on the neck. The only job today was to cut out the required pieces, and glue them together. I decided how thick I wanted the padauk stripe to be, and we used various machines to get them down to size and properly prepared for gluing. These are the finished pieces:
Neck 1.jpg

And here it is, all clamped up!
Neck 2.jpg

Lastly, we took my fretboard, sanded it to the right thickness (using a massive sanding machine that they have because the workshop is also - and mainly, in fact - used for making kitchen cabinets), and then cut the slots, which he does using a table saw.
Fretboard 1.jpg

Before we knocked off, I asked to see John's showroom and had a look at some of his finished guitars (a few are for sale on his website) and a couple that are in progress. Beautiful stuff!

That was it for today. I'm not sure how far we will get tomorrow, but it should start to look vaguely guitar-shaped. I'll post another update and more piccies then!
 
#24
Day Two Report

So today was day two of the course. We started off by unclamping all of the bits that had been glued up overnight - the top, the body and the neck. They all generally looked good, so we tidied them up (removing the excess glue etc.) but in the process noticed that there was a nasty crack in the body blank. We filled that up with some superglue and clamped it to solve the problem (hopefully!), and once that had set properly we prepared the top and glued it onto the body, screwing it in place to make sure that it couldn't move out of alignment. The body and top were put into a large press for clamping, and it won't come out again until tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, John asked me what headstock I wanted. I took a template of his and slightly adjusted it to make my own version. It was drawn out on paper first, then cut out, stuck to a piece of MDF and later made into a template that we will use for cutting out the headstock
Headstock template 1.jpg

After that, we spent some time working on the neck. It came out pretty well from the gluing but needed a bit of work to ensure that it was 100% true in all directions, particularly that the laminates were perpendicular to the face of the neck and everything was at exactly 90 degree angles. This was important because we needed to cut a piece off and glue it back on with a scarf joint to make the angled headstock.
Neck 3.jpg

That was then glued up, and then we turned to the only piece that was still available for work - the fretboard. We drew up a scale diagram of the neck and strings, to make sure that we get the right width and taper on the fretboard, and everything looked good.
Scale mockup.jpg

I spent much of the afternoon making my 12th fret inlay, which is my usual oak leaf. This time, because I hadn't thought to bring along any inlay materials and John didn't have anything else, we just used a bit of spare maple. I cut it out using a scroll saw, which is the first time I've used one so that was interesting. I've been considering buying one for myself at home, but I think I will stick with a manual jeweller's saw, because it doesn't really take much more time and I wouldn't use the scroll saw enough to justify the expense and the space it takes.
Fretboard inlay 1.jpg

The last job of the day was to glue extra pieces onto the side of the headstock for the wings. Nearly all guitars are made this way - we used an offcut from the neck, so it's the same wood, and we lined up the grain so it should be barely noticeable on the finished guitar, if at all.
Neck 4.jpg

We ended up being perhaps a little behind schedule at the end of the day since John said he would have liked to have the veneer glued onto the headstock too, but it wasn't really possible to do that today anyway and it shouldn't take long to get that done in the morning. Tomorrow we will dig the body out of the press and there will be a lot of routing, to make the body shape and then probably routing out various cavities, the truss rod, and I guess we will glue the fretboard onto the neck.

I'm pleased with the progress so far, and I really think this guitar is going to look great. By the end of tomorrow, I think it will look a lot more like a guitar and we will have a better idea of that. I'm looking forward to that, but for now I'm quite tired so now the plan is a relaxing evening and a good night's sleep!
 
#25
Day Three Report

Today was the day when it was supposed to start looking like a guitar. Did this happen? Read on! :)

We started by gluing the veneer onto the headstock, as mentioned yesterday. This sounds like a simple job, but it actually took quite some time to prepare everything to perfection. The photo below shows a late stage in this process, with the glue applied to the headstock although not yet spread out.
Headstock veneer glue.jpg

While that was clamped up and drying, we took the body out of the press and checked that everything looked OK, which it did.
Body 2.jpg

Another quick job was sanding down the inlay on the fretboard. The result is below....it's my usual oak leaf, although done with a piece of maple because we had nothing else suitable to hand (I hadn't thought to bring something along, which was a bit silly). I'm vaguely wondering about staining it green or something but we'll decide not to do that later on!
Fretboard inlay 2.jpg

My main task this morning was turning the body blank into a guitar shape, first with the bandsaw (he has a very large and evil bandsaw that you do not want to argue with!) and then with a router. This was going fine until...
Body 3.jpg

Yes, a router screw-up! Easily done...but fortunately this was fairly easily remedied, by cutting away the body (on both sides) according to the pencil line that goes behind the hole. Actually, since the original template is a bit chubby, I think it might look better for this small and well-planned (ahem!) modification. In fact, this is how it looked afterwards, with some of the hardware and the fretboard put in the right places (note that the fretboard has not yet been cut to the right width, and the neck is missing here).
Guitar mockup 1.jpg

And here is that missing neck, once the clamps had been removed from the headstock and the truss rod channel had been prepared. After this, the fretboard was glued on, but that's staying clamped up overnight so you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see that!
Neck 5.jpg

The last job of the day was the initial preparation of the control cavity. Having decided where to put the controls, I drilled out a lot of the wood for the cavity. It will be cleaned up tomorrow.
Body 4.jpg

So by the end of the day I think it has indeed started to look like a guitar. There's still a lot to do, but we have four more days. Wednesday will be another very busy day!
 
#27
Day Four Report

I'm exhausted! It's been a long day today, and things have progressed steadily. Most of the day was spent on the neck, shaping the headstock, installing the side dots and doing the carve. We also made the neck pocket, for which John has an interesting jig that I will copy when I get home. A couple of other little bits were done, like the roundover on the front and back of the body.

There aren't many photos today, just two, and in fact I will link to them on Facebook since the photos still don't seem to be showing up on here.
The photos are of the neck carve, and another mockup of the whole guitar.
 

shreditpenfold

Well-Known Member
#28
Looking good!

I have next week off work, so will hopefully get around to finally posting a progress thread about my builds. It's only taken...um.......2 years. If I can wrangle one back off my brother in law I'll get a family photo too.
 
#29
Day Five Report

Well, the reports seem to be getting shorter and shorter, and I'm afraid that there are no photos today because I left my phone behind in the rush to get out this morning. We were starting half an hour earlier because John had to leave early for an optician's appointment this afternoon.

In any case, not that much changed visually today, apart from the fact that the frets are now installed. In the morning I finished routing out the cavity for the electronics and drilled the holes for the tuners, and then most of the rest of the day was spent installing and working on the frets. I think they are pretty good now, and the last thing we did was gluing in the neck, so that's clamped up and drying overnight.

All being well with the glue-up, tomorrow we will rout out the pickup cavities and drill the holes for the bridge and tailpiece. Then there will be a lot of sanding, followed by a lot more sanding and probably finishing off with some more sanding.

We're looking good for finishing the guitar on Saturday now. I promise not to forget my phone tomorrow, so I should be able to post a photo or two in the evening!
 

bad alice

Easily distracted and...OHLOOKAGUITAR!!!
#30
Day Five Report

Well, the reports seem to be getting shorter and shorter, and I'm afraid that there are no photos today because I left my phone behind in the rush to get out this morning. We were starting half an hour earlier because John had to leave early for an optician's appointment this afternoon.

In any case, not that much changed visually today, apart from the fact that the frets are now installed. In the morning I finished routing out the cavity for the electronics and drilled the holes for the tuners, and then most of the rest of the day was spent installing and working on the frets. I think they are pretty good now, and the last thing we did was gluing in the neck, so that's clamped up and drying overnight.

All being well with the glue-up, tomorrow we will rout out the pickup cavities and drill the holes for the bridge and tailpiece. Then there will be a lot of sanding, followed by a lot more sanding and probably finishing off with some more sanding.

We're looking good for finishing the guitar on Saturday now. I promise not to forget my phone tomorrow, so I should be able to post a photo or two in the evening!
This is looking to be an awesome LP @GloopyJon
Quick question: do you feel you’re benefitting from this course in the ways you’d hoped?
I’m keeping my fingers crossed...
:)
 
#31
Quick question: do you feel you’re benefitting from this course in the ways you’d hoped?
Funnily enough, my mum asked me the same question a few minutes ago when we had a chat on Skype. It's a hard question to answer.

Certainly, John Ambler uses some different techniques, tools and jigs, and I have quite a few new things to try out. I think this is pretty much what I was expecting - there are many ways to perform a lot of the tasks in guitar-building, and it's good to see and practise some different ones.

Another good point is the guitar, which so far is turning out quite nicely. Hopefully, I will end up with a nice, custom-level guitar that I designed and mostly made myself, without the flaws of the guitars that I have designed and wholly made myself!

On the other hand, the whole week is pretty expensive, and I'm fairly sure that this is the last one that I will do. It's nice to get away from my normal job for a week but maybe I'll actually go on a real holiday next time! :)

Ask me again after the course...
 

ScutMonkey

Well-Known Member
#33
Day Five Report
Then there will be a lot of sanding, followed by a lot more sanding and probably finishing off with some more sanding.
This is the problem which has murdered my guitar building escapades. My hands are just always a bundle of pain after a short while sanding so I have problems getting anywhere.
 
#34
Day Six Report

Well, the forum still seems to be having problems with uploading and showing photos, so this report will be text only BUT I will put links to my posts on AVForums, where I have also uploaded all of the photos (but with less blurb). They can also be found on Facebook if you are one of the privileged few who know how to find me on there!

Here are the links to the posts on AVForums with the photos: Day One - Day Two - Day Three - Day Four - Day Six (no photos from day five).

The first thing to do this morning was to unclamp the neck and see if it had glued in okay. Fortunately, everything looked hunky dory and I think we have a perfect neck joint! Then we got on with a few miscellaneous tasks before the big task of the day. We made the cover for the control cavity from another spare piece of black limba that John had lying around, and it matches quite nicely - enough differences to be interested but enough similarity that you have to look twice to see that it's actually a different piece of wood. We also spent quite a lot of time working out exactly where and how to drill the holes for the bridge and tailpiece, and then routed out the pickup cavities and drilled a couple of other strange holes (bridge ground etc.).

Then we couldn't put the major task off any longer...after lunch, I embarked on the adventure of sanding the guitar, which took the whole of the afternoon until about 5pm! I sanded everything at 180, 240, 320 and 400 grits, and then the top and back at 600. Most of the work was done by hand, with the larger areas done quickly using an orbital sander. Honestly, I don't know how my right arm was still attached by the end of it! I told John that at some points I was standing there and wondering why the hell I had paid money to be doing this....

After drilling the hole for the jack socket, the last job for the day was to apply a coat of oil. John uses something that is very gloopy, called Odie's Oil. Fortunately, it only requires a single coat, because it's incredibly expensive (I've just checked on Amazon, and it's £90, including delivery, for a small pot, about the size of a jam jar!). That's been left overnight to harden, and tomorrow we will polish it and then probably apply a coat of wax on top before installing the hardware.

John says that the guitar is basically the same quality as something that he would make - everything looks perfect at the moment. I'm very happy with it, and really looking forward to seeing it finished tomorrow - and hearing it too, of course!

After we finish tomorrow, I shall have a 2-hour drive down to Luton where I'm staying the night before diving back under the Channel and getting home on Sunday. I shall report back tomorrow evening, and then probably give some final thoughts on the course at a later stage.
 
#36
Day Seven Report

Or, All's Well That Ends Well! The course is over, the guitar is finished and everything works. Installing everything and getting it all properly set up still took pretty well all of the day today, and then I had a 2-hour drive to my hotel for the night. I stuffed myself silly in the Harvester and here I am :)

Today's jobs included buffing the finish, soldering up the electronics and installing all of the hardware. The mounting rings didn't come with screws so we had to use normal ones that I will have to replace with gold ones when I get home, but that's not too difficult.

There was a bit of cleaning up on the fretboard, and it was nice to see it again after it had been hidden under masking tape for a couple of days. I like the way that all of the woods work together on this build - most of them are woods that I haven't used before, so it's nice to expand my wood repertoire!

I still can't post photos here, so here's a link to my Day 7 Photos on AVForums again. As before, you can also find them on Facebook.

I will post a little review of the course itself after I get home, when I've had a chance to recover and reflect upon it. The most important thing is that the guitar is great, and I certainly picked up a number of great tips. Thank you for enduring my ramblings in this thread! :)
 
#38
Well, a week after getting home, some small news and reflections. On the guitar itself, I sorted out the little issues with the pickups - the screws on one of them were standing proud, so I snipped off the ends and now they are fine. I also put some foam under the pickups so that now they don't wobble about in the cavities. I've ordered the gold screws to replace the chrome ones and they should arrive this week, and that's just a two-minute job to replace those. I still want to sand the edges of the fretboard - the one thing I was expecting that we didn't do was to round (or 'roll') the edges of the fretboard, and they are still a little bit too square for my liking. I will have a gentle go at that with some sandpaper one evening.

Regarding the course itself, would I recommend it? The answer is yes, but with a little bit of a caveat. John Ambler doesn't have a formal education in luthiery; now, that isn't a problem per se, and he certainly still makes lovely guitars, but the week is very much just focused around making one relatively simple guitar (my one complication was the oak leaf inlay, which took two or three hours, and he was concerned that this had put us behind schedule). Hence I think that this course is great for either someone who just wants to make a nice guitar as a one-off, or someone like me who already has a reasonable base of knowledge and wants to broaden their experience and see some different techniques. For someone who wants to get more of a grounding in the process of building guitars, I'd recommend the Crimson course instead, or possibly something like the course in Germany that Poseidon (? can't find his name again - Dutch guy here) did a while ago, although that's two weeks long and twice as expensive.

Plus points: firstly, I came out with a very nice guitar that was made to a really high level of quality - it's my best build yet. I learnt some new techniques and different ways of using tools and jigs (he has a good solution for necks and neck pockets!). He's a nice guy, and his dog is friendly too! The village is in a very pretty area, and I was able to find good accommodation fairly cheaply.

Negative points: because he works in a corner of his father's workshop, where they make kitchen cabinets, it was often very noisy with his father or brother using other machines like the table saw, band saw etc. That got quite annoying by the end of the week, so I would definitely recommend taking some ear plugs/defenders or closed headphones. On that subject, they are all pretty lax about protection - none of them wore ear protection, and so students should take the initiative to wear ear protection and a dust mask when necessary.

Also, because he's just working on his own, he doesn't have large stocks of bits and pieces - for instance, we didn't find the right screws for my pickup mounts. I think that his preference for the course is for him to provide the materials, but if you are bringing your own hardware it may be good to either make sure that you have everything, or check with him beforehand. The little things like screws are important!

On the facilities, they have a very small kitchen with no microwave or anything, but there are shops nearby where you can buy sandwiches and the like. I was on a diet so I was just having protein bars and protein shakes during the day, but even though they make high-end kitchens, don't expect to find one in the workshop!

I hope this doesn't sound more negative than positive, because it was a good experience and the negative points are only niggles. If you're thinking of doing a guitar-building course, this one is certainly well worth considering. I'm happy to answer any questions on the two places where I've done courses, or discuss what might be good for anyone (of course, based on my own limited experiences). Regarding the price, it's in the same ballpark as the Crimson courses. I won't put prices here because they might change; suffice it to say that the whole week in either place, including the course, accommodation and materials, is likely to set you back around two thousand pounds (obviously depending on how much you spend on the various things!). That's quite a lot of money, but as to whether it's worth it, I think that's an individual decision based on your own interest and finances.

I'm not really expecting to do any more guitar-building courses now, unless I decide to go and do the one in Germany at some stage although since that's two weeks long, I don't think I would do it before I retire (or semi-retire; I might keep working but reduce my number of days at some point). Since that is still some years away, it might not be particularly useful by then (or I might have given up making guitars). In terms of my own plans, I've ordered a drum sander which will be my new most expensive tool, so it appears that I've decided to carry on with this silly hobby. I decided that the drum sander was worth the investment because it will enable me to do some things that I can't do at the moment, such as pinstripes in laminate necks.

For now, I need to do the final touches on the cocobolo bass (I ordered new machine heads because I broke one of them) which should have been finished a month ago, and I will carry on with the pencil tele. After that, I think I will plan a new build using some of the ideas that I got from the course. I'm trying to subtly persuade a colleague (who wants a flying V) to ask me to make a guitar for him, and my daughter has shown some interest in me building her a bass, but I'm also open to other requests - there have been a couple of vague feelers but nothing concrete yet.

One final note: you will see this guitar in action in at least one of the RCF jams that are currently in progress, so keep an eye out for that! :)
 
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