Chapter 9: The Final Set-Up and QC
The final set-up work is the final touch making a big difference when done properly, not that we mean that the rest of the work has less importance but the final set-up basically comes at the moment where the guitar is supposed to be finished and go out of the workshop. Here again, it is very important not to go too fast and to do all steps properly. At Magneto Guitars we do another Set-Up and final QC just before the guitar leaves our workshop to the new owner.
During final set-up you fine tune the neck relief, the intonation, the nut , the string action, pickup balance etc… you also check all aesthetics in detail. Why checking so many times? Well, your eye could always “miss” something and this is the last chance, we like to think that the guitar just has to be perfect when reaching the musician.
Intonation is a subject we have put time and energy into. It is our belief that the original guitar tone is generated by its traditional equal temperament. The whole guitar language was written on that basis. So it is also our belief that the guitar has to keep this fret system. However, we weight the importance of the guitar’s intonation and tuning in the studio when playing or recording with other instruments.
We put special attention on the position of the frets, specially the first 5 frets as well as the intonation on the 12th fret. Our guitars are conceived and set-up so they pass the test of tuning and intonation in the studio. This of course always depending on what you see as being “the reference” if there is such a thing, however, even an equal tempered instrument can play well with other temperaments like the “well tempered” piano which often comes as a reference.
During final set-up we just make sure that the intonation is all fine, we fine tune the intonation of the high E and B by ear, which gives a more pleasing intonation on the higher frets.
Well, the new Velvet guitar is about to be finished and we’ll show the first pictures here next week. The new instrument will now go through beta-testing in order to see if the theories really turned into practice both in terms of tone and ergonomy.
Chapter 8: The final assembly
Patience is a virtue, probably even more so when you are building a guitar. You must be able to keep self control and tolerate delays. The kind of patience that comes with experience, every step you are trying to achieve too fast would lead to failure. This is all the difference you should see and feel on guitars made by experienced luthiers versus mass produced instruments.
We hit the point where we have finished and received all parts needed to assemble the guitar which just received its black oil finish. So, what is the next step on a guitar like this? Well we have just made a specific nut made out of oiled cow bone which is now mounted at the end of the fingerboard. So now we are mounting the tuners AND making sure the bridge is in the perfect position. This operation needs some experience as there is no room for failure in case you drill the hole in the wrong position. Measure, check and double-check!
Once we are done with this we can start to mount the pickup frames and position the pickups so they are centered to the strings. After that we will add the pickguard.
Once alll additional switches and pots are on the guitar, we can start the soldering work. Connecting pickups, switch and output jacks. As we like to respect one form of minimalism in the tonal chain, we will only go with 1 Volume and 1 Tone which gives way enough tonal flexibility. The pickups are the vintage PAF types handwound for us by Jason LOLLAR. All additional covers have been made inhouse too and are ready for mounting once all soldering work is done.
Next time we’ll do the final set-up, then we should start to see what the final result looks, feels & sounds like!
Chapter 7: The Sum of Parts
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” These are the words of famous French writer & aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery. We very much agree with this.
It is our theory that the more you add parts or features to a guitar, the more you alter its most natural tonal characteristics and vibrations. This also works for its electronics, the less you use pots, the more direct your tone will be.
There are very little standard parts that we use on our Magneto Guitars, even our bridges are specifically crafted to our needs respecting our love for slightly narrower string pitch. Our pickguards play both a protective AND decorative role in our guitars, yes we like to make holes in them!
There is a fascination about parts and features, are they really that important? Yes, in the sense that every single part on a guitar has an influence but we believe that the most important thing is the quality of the construction. At the end of the day, the instrument has to inspire the musician to play new music.
That being said, we like to go for the best when it comes to parts, as an example we use bridges and tuners that are custom made by Gotoh for the quality of their engineering and reliability. Oiled cow bone is used for the nuts. All these parts play an important role in transmission of vibrations to the woods.
Last but not least, yes the instrument has to be better than the sum of its parts…
Chapter 6: Dressing up!
Well to be honest, there is always something barbarian in showing the making of a guitar, isn’t it? The instrument has such an emotional meaning to most guitar players whereas showing bare bodies and parts almost takes the magic away. Well… time to put a dress over this naked body!
While we like to use nitrocellulose or urethane finishes on most our guitars, in this particular case we wanted to go for a different finish with a more distressed feeling without trying to make it look “used”. We chose a special oil-wax finish with a black tint. This finish takes up quite some time and energy to apply. Beforehand, we gotta make sure that the wood surfaces are perfectly clean, this all implies a lot of sanding!
While it is common belief that oil finishes are the best thing for a guitar in order to sound and breath, it is not always the case depending on the approach. If you simply apply oil to a piece of wood, the oil will sink into the wood and ask for more oil which is not exactly what you want for great tone, furthermore some oils will darken the woods within weeks time.
As crazy as it may sound, some of the best oil finishing techniques come out of the gun industry (gun stocks need both protection and great looks!). Back to our guitar, as we use mahogany which is very porous, we will start and apply a sealer-filler. Then we can start with the oils, linseed based oil that is. We will apply about 5 thin coats of finishes over several days as each coat needs time to dry. When the last coat is dry we will wax it.
Voilà! Big advantage of the oil finishing process is that it probably is the most evironment friendly and safest method out there because:
1) the basic materials are all based on natural oils.
2) you will not need any spray booth, mask nor ventlations, just a cloth and a LOTTA elbow grease!
Next step will be to start and mount the bridge and parts.
Chapter 5: The Coupling
That might sound like a funny title but we really mean it! We’ve reached the point where the neck is being joined to the body and it is a fact that the character of each part will influence the other in the complexe transmission of vibrations. Just like humans; when a team of people have an overall positive influence on each other, the group should be stronger than the separate individuals.
So what is the plan? Well basically the idea of a set-neck guitar is to join the neck as tightly as possible to the body in order to make it one single piece. This has proven to be an excellent method as it has been done for over 60 years on those type of instruments, the areas that once were glued together back in the time are still rock solid. The culprit is to have both parts fitting as tightly as possible so they become one.
What is the expected tone? Any suprises to expect? Yes, the concept seems to be standard yet the body is a bit thinner and a tad smaller when compared to other instruments that type, keeping the neck and the headstock on a fair good size. The tone we expect is warm, tight & focussed with nice overtones, snappy midrange and great sustain. As on all our instruments, we go for a nice clean tone with classic output pickups.
What about weight? Well so far we designed the guitar so that we will not have to do any kind of chambering in order to tweak the weight, this also has an influence on tone and we wanted to avoid that. So we are looking to have an intrument around or below the 4 kgs (8lb & 13 oz). Yet it still needs to be balanced when strapped around the body in order to keep the neck in the air, this was also taken care of during design, hence a special design of the body where we have put a bit more mass on the bottom of the guitar.
Now that body and neck are assembled, we will finish the routings of the pickups in order to make sure they are well centered and positioned.
Well so far, considering the carving of the top, the binding, the set-in neck, headstock angle etc… there is no doubt that this construction requires more work when compared to a set-neck guitar.
Next step will be to apply a finish to this new guitar.
Chapter 4: Body Language
So we finally made it to talk about the body of our new guitar. For the specific tone we wanted to achieve, we decided to go for a 1-piece Mahogany with a 2-piece Maple top. The depth of the Mahogany combined to the high midrange flavour of the maple top will give it that focussed and tight tone.
Well, here again, the wood combinations are nothing new and we chose them specifically for their tonal charcteristics. However, what is new on such a guitar type is a slightly thinner and lighter body that would enhance the overall midrange response which is part of our signature tone. This is something we have already achieved on our Sonnet and T-Wave guitars.
We’ll start with wood blanks and tightly bond them together, after that, we will run the body blank through a planer to get it to the right thickness. Then we can start to carefully cut out the general shape using a band saw.
Something special in this type of guitar is the carved top. While we put a strong emphasis on making guitars by hand, this is the only step where we will use a CNC process for the general carving shape. Yet, once the general lines are carved we will still need to go back to a lot of handwork: first we remove the sharp edges, then we will make the top smooth by sanding.
The body will receive a nice cream top binding such as the fingerboard. Back of the body will have a 4mm radius edge.
After all that is done, we can start to rout the neck pocket which is an important moment as it requires precision and respect of the center line. At the same time, we will do all routings on the back of the body for the electronic cavities.
Next step is to join the body to the neck and it shall slowly start to look like a guitar!
Chapter 2: The Neck and its secrets
While you probaby expected that we start exploring the body, we intentionally started to talk about the neck in order to explain its important points.
The neck has a massive impact both on the sound and the overall feeling you have when playing the guitar. In other terms, the neck woods will produce intense vibrations. You cam make the experience by simply playing the open strings on your guitar: simply by feeling with your fingers you will feel more vibrations on the neck area than on the body. Something we rarely do is touching the headstock during the string vibrations, there you will feel even more resonance. It is an obvious fact that the impact of the neck & headstock on the overall tone of an electric guitar is quite important. So,we will basically start with one massive piece of carefully selected and well seasoned mahogany
Another aspect of this new guitar will be the headstock: first, it will have 3 tuners per side and will have a 17° angle to the fingerboard, this to ensure great string pressure on the nut resulting in greater vibration. Nothing new there as this had already been done on vintage guitars and proved to work the best for the tones we wanted to achieve.
The headstock will receive a thin ebony cap in which the Magneto logo and the 3 Velvet stripes will be inlayed using Mother of Pearl material.
Right on the other end, the bare neck will have a long tenon that will be shaped to fit very tightly into the body where it will be solidly glued. It is called a set-in neck and we will use a very traditional Mortise and Tenon joint, goal is to connect body and neck in such a fashion so it becomes one single and tight unit.
Mass? Yes, mass is important but you do not want a neck to be too fat, just fair sized so it feels good to play. And the mass of the neck has to be in a certain balance to the body mass in order to reach the tones we are after.
Next step is glueing the fingerboard onto the neck.
Chapter 1: Design or the search of the perfect curves
“Design” has become a very common word these days. In the field of electric guitars “Design” not only means the actual shape and form of the guitar but it also includes the technical aspects such as mass of woods, scale length, hardware types, pickup types etc… In short, the design of an electric guitar is very much the combination of all these aspects and the anticipation of the final result in terms of tone and playability.
Since the launch of the Magneto Guitar brand, we always knew we would want to have a 3rd electric guitar type that would not only be different to complement the existing line but it would also respect the Magneto Philosophy both in design and tone. We are clearly talking about a set-neck, 24 ¾ scale, 2 pickup guitar. This was our starting point.
Among the many reasons we were looking forward to this new instrument, was the fact that we have some experience in the field and we knew we could stay true to our original concept: redefining a different body & neck balance.Our guitars traditionally have a body design with less mass and fairly sized necks in order to change the basic vibrations of the instrument, clearly making it different to all other instruments out there.
Last but not least we wanted to create an instrument that would require a bit more work with a set-neck, a carved top, binding, angled headstock etc…
Now that we have defined the rules, time to work on the shape, on the body curves, the body mass, the neck mass, the headstock shape & mass. All these parameters interact and influence each other in a complexe way.
The design of guitar can take anything between 1 and 6 months,
How exciting is that?