On the Bench

The Battle of the hands, Update

Both builds are now well underway!

Construction

As you can see, I went with the thin-line type build in the  end, opting for a hollowed out upper wing, rather than the 335 type, construction as owing to the small size, I figured that this will be a little stronger, also, it gets me using my router some more. First I took excess material out with Forstner bits, then using a new template, I cleaned up the cavity with my trusty Elu router. Ive left a some material in the wing for the pickup cavity and a forearm cut-away.

The lower body block, I have left solid (apart from the control cavity) but i have capped it, with a sandwiched veneer, as with the top wing, so we have some symitry in the design. This will also form the roof of the control cavity.

 

The wings will next be planed and dowel jointed to the body.

 

Body Profiling

I’d tossed with the idea of whether to pitch the body away from the neck. This is something I usually do as standard to about 2/3 degrees for comfort, but as this guitar has a large overlap between the body and the neck, this does throw up some new design and construction issues. The bridge I have picked out however is a Schaller Hannes bridge.  There is a few reasons why I have picked this bridge, but I will got on to this in a minute. The bridge has a minimum string height of about 10mm, the fretboard and frets usually sit around 7mm at there highest, if I don’t raise the neck block above the body, this would mean that the lowest I can have the string height is 3mm, which is not acceptable on a high performance guitar. For this reason, I think that the best combination is to raise the neck joint up a little (this shouldn’t weaken the joint, which is my main concern) but also pitch the neck to around 1 degree, to raise the string height as it hits the bridge.

Hardware

For this build I have selected this glorious Hannes bridge from Schaller, and a set of 3×3 gold Gotoh mini’s. The machines are pretty standard, but I have always wanted build a guitar with gold hardware! The bridge though, is a truly modern bridge. Sturdy and simple, the saddles are pretty much in direct contact with the body, each saddle has a grub screw to indevidually raise the string height, while keeping the bulk of the saddle in contact with the body. The bridge also has a solid base plate for mounting the strings through the body, the real key to this design as I understand it is the saddle material. As quoted from the Schaller website;

“The saddles were developed in close collaboration with Graph Tech. They are made of a special compound material. Teflon is one of the materials used in this special compound. In being a highly effective lubricant material (one of the most effective in the world), it dramatically reduces saddle-related string breakage, since no sharp edges can form on the saddles due to wear.

“This patented saddle material measurably increases the instrument’s sustain by up to 25% compared to brass and steel.

“Your guitar will sound much more harmonious. This is characterized by singing high notes and quick response, not to mention a well-defined, powerful and even tone.”

Bold claims. But even the design of this bridge looks fantastic, everything anchors on the  back, giving strong support with no screws or fixings to hinder the hands.

That’s about it for now, but in the meantime, I’m going to give my electrics a think about. But I gotta say, I really like the look of the Lace Alumitones…

The Battle of the Hands Part II

Following on from Battle of the Hands by Steve Hobson.

Lines are drawn, although more so straights and arcs, rather than lines in the sand. Supplies are rationed (we have selected our preferred neck blocks) but rules of engagement are yet to be agreed…

First off, I want to state this is not a competition! At least not in the true form. As Hobs previously states, this started out as a conversation, one day, sat in his flat drinking coffee and discussing some cool things to do. The design (at least in its 2D form) has been a process of collaboration, although a lot of the leg work was my own, the outcome was a process of deliberation, discussion and refinement. This was ticking along nicely behind a wall of manufacture and building business structure, until we got some good news, it looks like we will be doing at least one guitar show this year (exciting!), so we decided to press on with the battle of the hands! Ultimately the aim is to have two new guitars to showcase, (a lefty and a righty, of course) for the 2018 Guitar Show in Birmingham and possibly further shows.

SB7; The design

As Hobs says in the previous post, the  design, pictured below, rightly follows the SBC ethos, small light, high performance, through body construction, aesthetically striking.

The guitar follows a similar setup to our existing SB3, with a 23.5 or 25” scale as standard (although we intend to offer this at a varying scale and fanned fret option). As you can see, this is our most compact guitar yet, but further than weight reduction, the key to this design is intended to be a combination of good balance, hyper versatility, and super comfort!

The Rules

Both guitars must;

  • follow the same template for the outside (2D) shape of the guitar
  • use the same scale and have the same amount of strings and frets
  • for simplicity, have the same headstock (although this could be discussed in more detail

 

Some considerations for the guitars could be;

  • Pitched body (this could affect set-up and comfort)?
  • Pitched headstock?
  • Neck profile?
  • Heel and Volute?
  • Body thickness (and how this will affect balance over weight)?
  • Contours and shaping (not affecting the 2D/top down shape of the guitar)?
  • Materials?
  • Binding?
  • Neck width/depths?
  • Cavities and hollows?

 

The Outcome

As previously stated, this is not a competition designed to find a better builder/engineer/designer, this is a friendly competition designed to push each other to be the best that we can be. But the outcome will be two brilliant guitars, that will give us a handful of choices to derive a production model and to recommend customers on, for custom orders.

Predictions and first thoughts

Well, I can’t speak too much for Hobs, but I think our visions are shaping up quite differently even just in terms of materials. For simplicity, we have both selected 3 part necks, at a chunky 50mm depth (to allow for a 2 degree neck pitch, if required). Hobs has selected, some nice woods to form a sort of compound body block that works well (visually) with the cherry/maple/cherry and sandwiched veneers neck he has selected. I suspect Hobs will keep his build quite straight forward and opt for some interesting switching options to give a versatile sound.

              

My neck block is similar but replaces the cherry with sapele. It needs a bit more work which is part of why I have selected  it, the grain is unflashy and uniform, so although not beautiful to behold, it will be strong with an even temperament, for adjustment. I’ve kept my body wings quite plain as well, so far I have selected two bits of my grandads wood (I’m told It’s English yew, although, it looks quite different to the other English yew I have), it’s old, full of knots and figures, not to mention some long dead wood worm tunnels (has since been treated). But in the sun, it shines like gold! As the build is small, I’m planning to keep it simple, but I can’t seem to get this voice out of my head, telling me to make it semi hollow…

Battle of the Hands

It’s spring. I’m back out of hibernation, and SBC have embarked on an exciting new project. What was originally intended as a collaborative project has quickly warped into a competition.

Stu’s been working on a new design, the SB7. From a throwaway comment of “I really like the Gibson Thunderbird. We should do something that kind of shape.” the design has evolved to fit the SBC ethos. Super-light. Super-balanced. We’ve ended up with something nothing at all like a Gibson Thunderbird and completely different to what we originally imagined.

We’d intended to work on this one together, but looking at all our neck blanks ready to go, we’re now building one each – a lefty and a righty.

Let the Battle of the Hands commence!

2016, All Wrapped-up

Let’s face it, it has been a mixed bag  of a year.

Internationally it has been a farce, since the UK did a brain fart and decided to leave the EU. Parts costs from the continent have already gone up, although as an interesting turn, my order book has also gone up a little as well.

I also set up this year as a business (although, I had been building as a hobby since 2012). This is as much for my other job as for this one. But it’s nice to feel ready to be a business.

The rest of the world aside, there have been some great moments this year though, a personal highlight being; we have completed 7 guitars, (we should have completed 8 but, sadly there was an error with the seventh) -I know this may not sound like much, but when you’re building and designing everything (not to mention marketing, selling, admin and all the other hats I must wear!) with little more than hand tools and the odd power tool, this is a great feeling! My target has always been to build 12 guitars a year, but the problem with setting a target is that this tends to cause rushing, so it’s not something I adhere to, too strictly.  In truth, I’d like to be able to build much more than this a year (with some levels of batch production and automation, and you know, other people). But I love working with my hands, feeling a guitar come to life and watching as a beautiful bit of wood grain reveals itself. I suspect that even if one day we had near full manufacture automation, I’d still be hiding in a corner, shaving bits of yew and walnut with a seventy-year-old plane.

I digress, but there have been some great moments, as well as a few rubbish ones, in and out of the workshop, I’ve listed a few below in a vague chronological order.

First bass and a New Face

Hobson & Robson

2016 started strong for me (sad news of David Bowie and Lemmy aside). I had left a job that I really enjoyed but was making me miserable and found a job that I don’t greatly enjoy but pays the same for 3 – 4 days a week. I was able to build a guitar in about five weeks, which was pretty staggering. It also had lots of tricky binding, which I chose to do in wenge which is a nightmare to bind with! Feeling confident, I  started a new build using a new, updated template for 2016 of our SB3 model. I’d bounced some ideas for this model off on my friend and SB3 owner, Hobs. One day when setting off for the garage after a disappointing morning of other job, I texted Hobs, to see if he wanted to come help me out. He did. Then, he kept coming back, and it was good. So I asked him if he wanted to join me. He did.

We had talked about building a bass guitar for a while and I was

The Firebass (Not Yet On Fire)

keen to add a new body shape to our repertoire of original shapes, so one day, after a little market research I thought, ‘F#%k it’.

The simple design of the first prototype is based off of the SB3 design but with the top wing reflected, and using only three pieces of wood, for the body, combined with a short scale to give a punchy integrity to the sound and feel of the guitar. To celebrate the new model, we thought, new finish – lets set it on fire!

SB3 2016 shape, Modern and Traditional Models

The Green machine, with turned knobs

The model shape has been fairly set since 2012 and the first SB3, but as goes the gradual process of R & D; build a guitar, note some issues, tweak the design, print some new templates, get a request for a guitar with different hardware/scale length/amount of strings tweak, print more templates. This is generally the process of development. We have built up a stock of templates that tweak the design for all sorts of reasons, but the body shape is largely unchanged. We wanted to consolidate the tweaks in to one or two easily modifiable templates, which is what we did with the 2016 body. The 2012 body shape was designed for 27 frets, which meant if we built it for 24 frets, for which there was more demand for, we had to either build the guitar with an extra deep cutaway or redraw the body shape. The extra deep cutaway was quite popular (and still available as a custom) but we decided we would draw in the fretboard, still allowing easy access to the high frets but increasing the material around the heel for a strong joint and integrity of sound, allowing the best possible, natural, degradation of vibration through the body. We made a few changes to the body shape (mostly aesthetic) to give a slightly more traditional shape, we broadened it overall (which helped a little with the weight balance) and gave a s lightly more comfortable ergonomic to the guitar, when combined with a forearm cutaway. The new body still features a tight 25” scale and low action as standard. We kicked off the updated shape with the three standard option guitar builds, a Junior (single pickup) built by Hobs, a modern (twin P-rail with epic switching options- currently on loan) and a Traditional (S/H with scratch plate -Available at Wild Guitars) both built by myself.

Full spec available to order or as a custom

The Seventh Guitar

Oh, the dreaded Seventh guitar… This guitar should have been finished and with the customer, but sadly has been put in to stock while I work on the rebuild. This was a custom variation to our 2012 (extra deep cutaway) with the leg rest cut, moved to fit the customer. Sadly owing to a flaw in one of my templates that I didn’t see until too late, the neck joint started a little far in to the body.

This sounds all bad, I realise, but it’s not. The upside is, I get to rebuild the guitar, with the experience gained, from the first, and I have a better guitar for the client and a really-nice guitar for some lucky soul!

The new build is cleaner, with neater cavities, it hasn’t come together as quick as I would like (although I have been urging myself to take more time) but, the new build process has been a vast improvement, I’ve identified several issues with the original build that were going to cause me troubles further down the line, cavities that would have been much easier had I routed them before fitting the top (now done on the new build). Anyway, hopefully a build blog coming soon.

The Viking Funeral in Kielder

This is really just a personal high point, early autumn me, Hobs, Emmie (my partner) and some friends went away to go hiking around Kielder, a dark sky reservation in the north of the UK, nearish Newcastle. This was a magical location, conifers, the milky way and near perfect darkness. The nearby town of Kielder and the surrounding nature reserve have no street lights, barring security lighting. I grew up in the countryside, but I had

Photo by Hobs

never seen stars like this. So many stars, and I’d never seen the milky-way -it’s amazingly bright with the lights turned out.

We had taken a guitar body with us, an early 7 string SB3 Prototype, of which I’d never been happy with the finish. I’d stripped it down and taken the hardware out and roughed it up for good measure, then in true Viking funeral style, on our last night, we stuck it on the fire, Hobs got some great shots of the weekend!

 

Project 92

I’d meant to blog this out some more, this was a very personal build, this guitar was built from wood reclaimed from my childhood house, built by my grandad. The section I had bought from the present tenant was the mahogany porch. It was a beautiful bit of Mahogany, comprising a mix of well-seasoned and well looked after long planks, perfect for neck blocks and some body sized boards, the wood was largely undamaged from its long stint as porch, no damp or kinks in the wood!

The first build seemed fitting to be another SB6 prototype, short scale, jazz friendly. I wanted to make this guitar, like the memory of childhood, friendly and fun, and like the house, solidly built, largely unflashy but with moments of pure flair!

The guitar is crafted of mainly 3 blocks of wood; one for the neck through, two for the body wings, with accent fillets of tulip and a bound spalted beech fretboard. Being the grandson of a carpenter and furniture builder, it only seemed fitting to accent this guitar further with some veneers, including a 4 ply headstock cap of fumed and grey stained oak. The guitar is finished with a subtle sonic combination of Seymour Duncan Jazz/59 pickups running through some warm 500k CTS pots and coil-taps.

Guitar available to order.

Lessons Learnt

Overall, this first year (in business) has been a year of experimentation, trial and error and learning lesson in patience (of course, every day is a lesson in patience!). We have made some great contacts and hopefully friends who share our passions for all things guitar! I think the main lessons learnt is one of having patience, to do things the right way and perfect our finishing.

Looking to the new year

For the coming year, we plan on investing in our build process and skilling ourselves up, hopefully upping our speed of build without compromise of quality, or better still, upping our quality as well. At the point of writing, we have been looking at to new shared workshop felicities, including CNC routers, metal working tools, spray booths and laser cutters, complete with skilled staff, available to offer additional training.

We also have a new model planned for this year and a second headless design in the works. The new model will be a little bigger than our standard sized guitars, with greater contact between the upper body wing and the the neck joint. This guitar will be built as a standard scale initially, but will be designed, ultimately as a well balanced guitar, more than suitable to be built as a long scale (extended range) guitar or bass but still smaller and lighter in weight than many similar guitars on the market, with our usual, ergonomic contours.

Investing in the future

This year we have already spent more on marketing our product than last. We have agreements with several shops who sell our guitars, to build relations with them and encourage sales for both parties.

But it doesn’t stop there. Last year we upgraded to this website, part of this logic is so as we can one day add a guitar builder to the site, to give instant quotes and more accurate price guides. But this, new work space and new tools, it all takes funding, so we will be looking at investors, loans and people who can add value to our business in different ways.

I think it’s fair to say that this year, will be different to last, but, hopefully at this point in 2018, we will be able to look back, and see how far we have come. The future is hopeful.

“I’ve got a few little jobs you could help me out with. Or you could start building a guitar of your own.”

That’s how I came to be involved in Scatterbrain Concepts. Stu’s boredom of solitude in a poorly lit single garage, and my over-caffeinated lack of something to do of a Sunday afternoon. That was about six months ago, and though the ice-cream guitar’s not quite finished, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot. Some of it’s been a process of monkey-see monkey-do, some of it a case of monkey-see, monkey-think-about-it, monkey-do-different. Some of it’s been supported by hours of fastidious research, and some of it trying out an idea at the moment of fruition. Some things I’ve got right first time. Some things I’ve cocked up, almost to the point of wanting to scrap it and start over. But for all the accidental features of the ice-cream guitar – it’s Strat-like slim neck, it’s ultra-thin semi-carved body, it’s weird goose-neck headstock – I kind of like this quirky little freak. I think it’s shaping up to be a first build to be proud of.

It looks like a guitar… It feels like a guitar…

I’ve got a few projects in the pipeline, about which I’m not going to reveal too much at the moment, but they’ll be up here on the site in due course. The ice-cream guitar is nearing completion. It looks like a guitar. It feels like a guitar. It doesn’t yet sound like a guitar, but it’s not far off.

In the next few days I’ll be posting retrospective build reports on this ugly-duckling of an axe. I’ve been regretfully lax with bringing my camera to the workshop, but with the new site up and running I’ve now a reason to be more motivated to keep a more comprehensive photo-journal of my progress.

Hobs

Taking a Little More Time

The Green Machine in its original state
The Green Machine in its original state

So I have decided to re-fret ‘The Green Machine’ SB3 00007 I don’t know that this warrants a full blog post but I had been apprehensive about selling this guitar for a while, for a few reasons; I had an idea about making a sister model using the other five piece neck we had in stock (which is now well underway) and using them as demo models, the sister being the modern two pickup, and 00007 being the more traditional styled guitar. The problem I had more over is that the guitar never played as nicely as I would like, I ended up spending a long time re-leveling the frets and such, to no great success. After some more tweaking, I managed to get the guitar playing smoothly although by this time it was clear that the fretboard was not level and to compensate I had taken off a fair bit of the frets. My fret ends also needed re-doing (sometimes with new guitars, the wood shrinks and moves a little which can mean occasionally needing to redress or re-roll the fret ends). Insight of this, I thought that stripping the fretboard, re-leveling and re-fretting with our new 3mm fretwire would be beneficial.

Decided to thin the neck while re-fretting
Decided to thin the neck while re-fretting

I don’t really want to blog about how I am doing this (although I will upload a video of the re-fret to my YouTube channel) as it is not the point of this post. I guess the point I’m getting at and it is something I have been working on in my personal growth as a guitar builder for a while; taking my time. It seems basic I know, but whenever I have had a project I deeply cared for, it has always been a problem for me to not rush the project, and worse yet, when a project is done, I need to take my time to properly revisit problems, in the long run it’s usually quicker.

Further more this has got me thinking about direction, it has always been my plan to grow SBC in to a self-sufficient company, more over, I would love to grow SBC in to my only job. But this gives me a problem with direction. We have started batch producing guitars (or rather Hob’s has, while I work on the customs and business stuff) to help us up production and keep end costs down.

But we find ourselves at a fork. We are very reasonable for handmade guitars (don’t believe me, check out our SB3 pricing guide) but sadly, this competitive pricing is based on getting ourselves known, which kind of leads me to the ultimate point. I’ve never wanted SBC guitars to be in the 3-4k plus market, preferring to stay more accessible, without compromising quality. but that is hard to afford to offer in the UK, without living off of beans and mouldy bread at least, so…

Do we;

1, Look at something like the Chapman Guitars business model, UK designed but not built. This would probably mean some fairly terrifying business loans, or selling our designs to someone, but this would keep us to a similar mark-up, albeit, customs which we so enjoy would probably be out of the window.

2, We find a UK business partner to make the rough bodies, and we continue with the customs, and put together the batched guitars. I like this idea, and I think I  am leaning towards it. My worry is that this may compromise quality on some of the lower end models, without someone who knows what to look for in the wood, when making the blanks.

3, We keep doing what we do, but we dramatically up our price. Yep. Its a completely hypocritical thing to do, in mind of where we started the conversation on affordability. But in terms of accuracy, and taking our time to produce great guitars it makes sense. This works well for many great UK builders, but the problem with this is SB3. We realized something, our core concept for SB3 has shifted in its development. We realized recently that SB3 is not just a aesthetically tweaked Tele, but an ergonomically updated workhorse guitar with modern engineered parts for session musicians, touring artists and all round passionate guitarists, with an emphasis on comfort/playabilty, reliability, and versatility (and sound, although I would class that a s part of the versatility). It is the sort of guitar a working musician may invest 1-2k on, particularly if it can be provided to his spec (or a passionate player may splurge out on) but it is not (in my opinion) a 3-4k plus guitar (although, I don’t believe there are many guitars truly worth this, save for maybe Strandberg and a handful of other fantastic builders) and was never designed to be manufactured as such.

Ultimately, I think we will head somewhere between 2 and 3. This realisation has completely up-ended my business plan.

The Ice-Cream Guitar – Day 26

I’ve got a freakishly long truss-rod access slot, for which I need a freakishly long truss rod cover. I tried recessing a rectangular cover, it’s alright, but not quite a good enough fit. So instead I’ve gone for a spikey/curvy affair to fit around the first tuning peg. It kind of works.

I’ve made up a control cover plate, and I’ve been working on a router template to suit. In the long run, it would make sense to make up matching internal and external templates, and that’s probably what I’m going to do next time.

The Ice-Cream Guitar – Day 24

Everything I’m doing on this guitar is a first for me, but the rear cavity is a first for Scatterbrain Concepts, and something I’ve figured out for myself. Stu’s a fan of the front-mounted control plate, but it feels wrong to cover up the spalted beech with anything else.

I spotted through the control positions from the front, and drilled holes to suit. I could have done a better job of spacing them out more evenly – the spacing between the push button and the volume pot is a little off, but no big deal. I then flipped the guitar over and opened the holes out with forstner bits to form a “well” for each component, setting the depth stop on the drill press to give me a 5mm wall thickness at the bottom of the hole. I’ve made the wells just big enough for each component. I’m pretty handy with a soldering iron, I don’t need a lot of space to work. I then used a dremel to chip out cable routing between each well.

I’ve got a nice long 6mm auger bit for drilling between the control and the pickup cavity, and into the control cavity from the edge of the guitar where the jack plate is going to go.

The most nerve wracking part was drilling the hole for the jack – I’m drilling a 22mm hole through the side of a 30mm thick guitar, so there’s not a huge margin for error. But it worked out fine.

I now need a control plate cover, and to rout out a rebate for it to sit in. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do that yet.