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MAKING an ES 335 Style Guitar
BY KEN MCKAY
Many guitar players might be interested in making an electric archtop guitar similar to a Gibson ES 335 but don’t know where to begin. There is quite a bit of guitarmaking information to be found on the internet, but I am not aware of anything on making this thinline, semi-holowbody guitar that has survived almost 50 years and countless styles of music. The Gibson ES 335 is a real survivor! It is well balanced, versatile, good looking and cool! But I am sure I don’t need to convince you...that is why you are here. So lets begin.
You could draw your own plan by borrowing an existing instrument from a friend and copying it, but it turns out the work has been done by Jamie Uniden at www.guitarplansunlimited.com. He has drawn the full scale plan and that is what we will use, because his plans are excellent. Go to the site and purchase the ES 335 type guitar plan. The plan is listed under “Gibsonish styles”. It is not an exact copy but seems pretty darn close. We will be making a few modiﬁcations as we go due to the fact that Jamie drew the plan without being aware that there is a source for laminated plates. I laminate my own top, back plate and sides by using vacuum bagging technology and have found that it is not really economical to make your laminated plates in low quantity. It can be done though and I will provide a tutorial in case you are interested. This will come later though. For now I will assume that you will be purchasing the plates from me or another source. I am not aware of any other source though. You can see my plates and price list by downloading the ﬁle lamplates.pdf in the ﬁles section of the http:/ /launch.groups.y ahoo.com/group/electricarchtop/ yahoo group that I created called electricarchtop or by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org. While you are at it why not join the group? And please share this information by mentioning it in any forum that you participate. www.Guitarplansunlimited also has a link with my brochure. Lets get started with making the templates and mold. The ﬁrst thing to do is copy the full scale plan, I made 2 extra copies at the local Kinkos. You will need at least one copy of you want to keep your original intact.
email@example.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only, not to be sold.
Cut out this part of the plan that includes the body. With a straight edge and an X-acto knife, cut along the center line so you have a left and right half pattern. Don’t be tempted to cut the center after it is glued, that won’t work. Read on...
Cut some 1/ inch luan plywood into sections for 4 the half patterns.
Glue it down with spray adhesive...
So you end up with two half patterns like this.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. not to be sold.kenmckay@hotmail. The linings are at the edge of the template . Cut on the bandsaw. This one is sanded to the inside line. following the outside line of the sides for the one half pattern and the other using the inside line. Sand them exactly to the line.
we will clamp it into the negative space at the neck area and the mold will function as the clamping caul..1/8 thick rib . a neck side template and a peghead template if you plan to make more than one instrument.mold. When we make the center block.. While you are at it you can make a ﬁngerboard template. It is very important to make the mold exactly to the shape of the template. . This is because the laminated sides are pressed to shape and are not ﬂexible at all.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. Plywood for making the mold. not to be sold. So we have the neck block .kenmckay@hotmail.
By placing the center line on the exact edge like this. .. Here’s how..the one with the sides. Cut 2 rectangles from 3/ inch ply4 wood 24 inches long and 11 inches wide. Make an outside mold like this.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. not to be sold.kenmckay@hotmail. Trace the template .
ﬁles to get the template to ﬁt inside perfectly like this. rasps. Use rasps and ﬁles in the ﬂat area at the top where the neck attaches to get it perfectly ﬂat. Cut to the line on the bandsaw and ﬁnish with sanders. not to be sold. .com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. This is critical.kenmckay@hotmail. Use a machinist angle to check your work.
. Here. not to be sold.kenmckay@hotmail. . It ﬁts like this. the area where the pencil is pointing and the ﬂat both need a little sanding so .com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. This line is essential to be ﬂat and 90 degrees to the centerline..
Cut the 1/2 inch plywood or MDF 5 inch wide... not to be sold. Unscrew it and bandsaw to the line. . Now add a 1/2 thick block to the area corresponding to where the center block is to help clamp the sides to the center block.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only... The total thickness will then be 1 1/ inch. Screw it down with counter sunk screws. This photo shows it cut already but is showing the screws Flip it over and trace the line.kenmckay@hotmail. which is the exact width 4 of the sides.
Flip the mold over and add some strips of 1/ inch luan plywood as a spacer. And the mold looks like this. Now cut a 3 inch piece to help clamp the tail block to the sides..com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. Get the straight line perfect.. so the 4 center block sits below the mold bottom enough to shape it and chalk ﬁt it. not to be sold. Two thicknesses is perfect. Use a pattern sander or ﬁle it ﬂush with the plywood mold.kenmckay@hotmail. One more thing and the mold is done. . Two hours labor so far.
.ready to build a Guitar? Here are some computer animations that I drew to help you imagine the possibilities. but the centerblock is lower by the thickness of the spacer strips. The block will be shaped and glued to the under side of the plate after the sides are glued to the block. they bottom out against the strips. Glue them down. the strips are well out of the way. The ﬁnished mold! .com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. I do have veneer of these types in stock ready to be made into plates. which works out perfect for us.kenmckay@hotmail. and 2 of them 4 4 is about 3/8 inch. These are drawn as single cutaway so you will need to use your imagination a little for a double cutaway ES 335. 1/ inch luan is not 1/ inch. You can clearly see that when the center block goes in. When the sides are put in the mold. .. not to be sold. And the ribs have a “ﬂoor” in most areas.
Indian Rosewood with mirror pickguard and silver trim. not to be sold.... You can go fancy or plain.com . Email kenmckay@hotmail.. Burl woods.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only..kenmckay@hotmail. one of my favorites.. whatever suits you. Quilt maple. Curly Koa. Now is the time to order a set of laminated plates for your guitar. Curly Maple...
. I’ve got some thinking to do. Finish with little ﬁles so the rib slides in with a slip ﬁt. a slot I cut it with a hand saw.well. a dot neck replica with the good hardware and electronics...kenmckay@hotmail.... That should be nice.. the plywood chips right out. but curly koa would be cool in a Trey Anastasio kinda way. Two cuts for each slot leaves a little wedge that I chiseled out with one whack.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. not to be sold... I think I will make one from good old curly maple and ﬁnish it kinda vintage looking with a perloid pickguard and aged pickups... BUILDING THE GUITAR Before we do though we need to make a space for the excess ribs stock to go.
The bottom of each rib is ﬂat and they are (should be) slightly wider than 1. Use a pad so you don’t mar it. Cut the ribs at the centerline at the tail and remove the sides and cut to the line. not to be sold.. Insert the ribs into the slots at the top Clamp at the c-bouts and at the “Mikey mouse” ear tips. Also cut the ribs at the neck end so only about 1/ inch goes into 4 the slot..25 inches.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only.kenmckay@hotmail. Cut a tail block according to the plan. Shape is so it ﬁts and glue it in. That way they sit on the mold “ﬂoor” and they are slightly taller than the head block and tail block clamping blocks. That makes it easier to get out when time comes. .
5 inches wide. .. Cut a centerblock out of 2 inch thick maple. Put your template down.mark a point that thick thickness and draw a line perpendicular to the centerline. You might need to laminate one but I have stock at hand. Measure the thickness of your sides and . cut it out on the bandsaw. Draw a center line all around it. not to be sold. the one without sides and trace the firstname.lastname@example.org copyright Ken McKay For personal use only..
but it did ﬁt well enough. As I push the block into its place it stops here and I need to sand/ﬁle more. Well I guess i didn’t get a shot of the perfect ﬁtting block. Try for a perfect ﬁt..email@example.com needs some work. A sanding drum makes it easy.. Nothin’s perfect by the way! . Push the block in place again and try to clamp it in . take my word for it. You could use a pattern bit. but I am doing it by hand.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. not to be sold.
not to be sold. Another trick is to put the block under the plane and it helps “bottom out” the plane.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. Plane down to the line.. Be sure to push the rib so it bottoms out while you trace.25 inch wide. The curls come off the plane easily. Not the best way I am sure but it worked.25 inch. This little block is 1/2 inch thick MDF and the writing on it means nothing. The plywood mold is 3/ plus the 1/2 inch MDF 4 makes a perfect 1.. I just set the pencil on the block and trace around. More planing.kenmckay@hotmail. It is a spacer for the pencil to sit on. Here is the clamping operation. . pretty simple huh? One clamp! The next thing is to plane the ribs to exactly 1.
inside the lines. Trace the template on the inside of the plate so you can draw the area where the block will go. A a shot of the plate inside. Here is the block glued to the ribs. not to be sold.. And have a good look at the contours. It is a ﬂat slop where I marked it.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only.. Draw a half line.25 inches as I did all around. I am marking the rib height here at 1.kenmckay@hotmail. Measure the depth here by spanning a ruler across the plate from ﬂat to ﬂat. .
not to be sold. Do the same at the end of the block and mark make a note of them. .com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. Transfer the lines to the block (left). Above showing the template we will make. Now make some arching templates by tracing with a compass and sanding to ﬁt. Here is the long template (right) And here is the way I did the cross templates.kenmckay@hotmail.
I suppose a belt sander would be a good tool for this...kenmckay@hotmail. The assembly is turned over compared to the photo above. and we are ready to shape the block. . Take the rib assembly out of the mold and carefully cut the rib ends ﬂush with the end. I love to carve. The arching templates will help us along. Me carving.. Here I start working on the front slope at right.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. I check the line by placing the template on the block.. follow with a block plane. not to be sold.
.. don’t be in a hurry.kenmckay@hotmail... .plane...check. not to be sold.. Carve. Now chalk up the plate inside the lines And take a “rubbing”..com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only.a long process. Progress. Do the same with the cross templates at their respective lines.
com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. Scrape the high spots and chalk again. Not essential though.kenmckay@hotmail. Now tape some sandpaper down and rub a lot. Try for mostly sanded but not perfect.. Here is that “ﬂoor scraper” a Veritas tool. A close up of the block so far. Save your best for the show work. not to be sold.nothin’s perfect. It works well for this sort of thing. . ..
. For the individual blocks sand them with a little concave radius by placing sandpaper on a bottle of the same radius. 1/8 inch is about right. This photo at right is showing that I use tape so the fragile veneer face on the underside of the plate doesn’t tear out with the bandsaw. Fit the linings. and It is done! Put it back in the mold and put luan spanners to press the block in and the C-bouts out. Or sand convex on a ﬂat board with sandpaper.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only.kenmckay@hotmail. not to be sold. Trace the template on the plate and cut it out slightly oversized. . my glue bottle worked ﬁne..I needed to put a couple individual blocks where turns were tight.
My go bar deck in action. the spanners are in place to keep it spread against the mold during glue-up Note the caul that is helps distribute the pressure more evenly so less bars are needed. place the plate in place and do a trial clamp job with a go bar deck. . not to be sold. Note.firstname.lastname@example.org copyright Ken McKay For personal use only.
not to be sold. above the line will need to be shaped to ﬁt inside the guitar top plate. Since the plates are identical both top and back have the same shape. At this point you will need to make a cradle to hold the guitar body while you work on it.kenmckay@hotmail. This part of the block. I use the plate mold and you will need to think of something or fashion something from materials you have at hand With plate belly side up. we can use the same templates to shape it. . Now the back is glued on and we can proceed to shape the front side of the center block. place a ruler on the edges and draw a line on the block like this. Once the glue dries. check all the edges to make sure they are stuck and if not use a spool clamp to press them with some fresh glue applied with a little piece of veneer or a spatula.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only.
shape from side to side.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. maybe 30 minutes of dusty work. Start with the area from the ﬁrst line to the end in a straight slope. not to be sold. Grind the other end now keeping in mind the shape of the template.kenmckay@hotmail. grind the block. Using a belt sander this time with a coarse grit belt like an 80 grit. . or just be careful with the belt sander. So you have a slope from the two lines toward each end and a ﬂat in the middle.. Remember the end of the block is not as thick as the half line where it is maximum.. Follow up by ﬁnally rounding the “humps” until the long templates ﬁts like this. Create a slight slope from the half line down to the end. Be careful not to touch the ribs. Use a block plane to get it reﬁned if you wish.
Note that it is sitting on the mold for this. You will need to make a form to keep the rib assembly from deforming somehow. ﬁrst trace the template on the end. Don’t shoot for perfect 100% just so they touch in most of the mating area. Glue the linings into the top side by placing the ribs into the mold this time the other way. There is no room for error here and if you gouge into . Now you can grind across the block. The mid line along the block hardly gets touched while the sander skips over the middle to sand a slope either on one side or the other. It should ﬁt. You probably don’t need to use spanners since the back is glued. Remember the end gets more grinding since it will eventually be thinner. Grind away in a rocking motion keeping control all the time. Tape some coarse grit paper on the inside of the front plate and take a “rubbing”. Using your cross templates as on the back.kenmckay@hotmail. Note that the bearing is just below the plate to avoid mishaps.80% for example is good. 70 . And certainly no humps. Remember it is ﬂat from the ﬁrst cross line to the top and domed from there to the end. It is barely visible here.com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. not to be sold. It will take several passes. Saw the f-holes and carefully sand them smooth before you glue the top on. I took a little liberty and disigned my own shape. It is not really productive to use it as a sanding block other than to do the ﬁnal ﬁtting. This is a good way to trim the overhang ﬂush. Keep checking those templates.
dark sunburst. not to be sold.paint.022 inch thick. you will need to go to plan B .kenmckay@hotmail. ..com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only. the face veneer that is 0..
com copyright Ken McKay For personal use only.kenmckay@hotmail.. The Box! It has a surprising tap tone or resonance when bonked around the bridge area with my thumb. More to follow. It looks good and solid inside and out. not to be sold.. The block is glued in and seems to ﬁt just ﬁne. .
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