Walnut Bass - Shaping The Neck

As with all my builds, I'm using bolts and threaded inserts to attach the neck. After placing the neck in the body and carefully marking the positions of the holes, each one is drilled and countersunk ready for the steel insert to be installed.

Moving on to the least enjoyable task for a lot luthiers, myself included... radius sanding.

Before doing any sanding, I set my low angle jointer plane to take a very fine shaving and plane the fingerboard perfectly flat. I then clamp the neck in my Workmate, and align the centre marks of the neck with the marks on my radius block. Finally, I clamp two pieces of wood either side to act as guides, ensuring that I'm sanding straight.


The next step is often overlooked, but it's very important to achieve low action...

At this stage the fingerboard is flat and has a 20'' radius along the length of the neck. If you place a straightedge down the centre line, it will be dead level. However, as a guitar neck is tapered, the strings don't run parallel.. therefore, if you place the straightedge along the actual path of a string, then you'll see that it rocks on a high spot in the centre (more noticeable on the outer strings).

To correct this, I use a levelling beam with some sandpaper attached and sand in line with the strings. With this being a fairly flat radius, it doesn't take much sanding at all to achieve a perfectly level surface along the pathway of each string.

With all the sanding complete, the last job is to shape the end of fingerboard behind the nut. To do this I simply use a sharp chisel, followed by some sandpaper.

Now it's time for one of the more enjoyable parts of building guitars (for me at least), neck shaping. I start at the headstock end, using a large round Microplane rasp to roughly carve out the shape, followed a smaller rasp and finally some 80 grit Abranet sandpaper.

At the heel end of the neck, a shallow channel has been previously routed when the neck was attached to the body. I use a bullnose cutter with an oversized bearing, which follows the shape of the body. This gives me a nice defined line to carve up to. I start with a chisel and then switch to the rasps and sandpaper.

With the neck roughly shaped at either end, I clamp it to a piece of wood placed in the vice, which allows me to shape the whole length of the neck without any obstructions.

To do the bulk of the shaping, I use my Veritas spokeshave. I set the blade to take quite a heavy cut to begin with, and start working on removing the excess wood.

With the neck getting closer to the final shape, I remove it from the piece of wood, as I need to constantly check the thickness with my digital callipers. The shape is finalised with a Shinto saw rasp, a small scraper and then, yes you guessed it.. a lot of sanding.