Operation Plaid Hammer: Buffing One Out

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Operation Plaid Hammer: Buffing One Out

SO! Operation Plaid Hammer has been successfully Taos Turquoised (Turquoisified? Turquoisinated?), plus clear coat, so after sufficient drying time, it's time to make it SMOOOOOOOTH 'n' shiny!

First step - wet sanding! Seems counter-intuitive to soak down a perfectly good guitar, but that's more or less what happens. Using a mixture of water and hand soap in a spray bottle (just a little soap to a lot of water), the painted surface is spritzed down. The water and soap mixture act as a lubricant for the sandpaper, and keep the paper from dragging and scratching. First, I hand-sand the edges with a sanding sponge dipped in the water/soap mixture.

Is Operation Plaid Hammer sponge-worthy? Better believe it.

Is Operation Plaid Hammer sponge-worthy? Better believe it.

Next, the palm sander is run on a high grit, with the body sprayed down and lubricated by the water/soap mixture. The white visible is a slurry of sanded clear coat, water, and soap.

A light touch is key. No digging in!

A light touch is key. No digging in!

Contour touch-ups with a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a pink eraser. You can actually see the suds here!

Contour touch-ups with a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a pink eraser. You can actually see the suds here!

Wet sanding handled, it's time to head over to the buffing station! There are a pair of buffing arbors, each set to run at a different speed and torque. Essentially, each side has a buffing wheel made out of a bunch of flannel circles bolted together in the middle. A buffing compound, which comes in a bar, is applied to the spinning wheel, and then the body is moved back and forth under the spinning wheels. This must be done VERY, VERY CAREFULLY, because the wheels are more than capable of digging in and flinging a fresh guitar body halfway across the shop. I never lost a guitar part, but it yanked the buffing compound bar out of my hands several times. 

Easy... EASY... NO GRABBING...

Easy... EASY... NO GRABBING...

Doug makes a Yoda face, I wear a fishbowl on my head.

Doug makes a Yoda face, I wear a fishbowl on my head.

That whole process puts a beautiful shine to the guitar, and this one buffed out neatly and easily. One final thing we noted, though - Project Plaid Hammer is...

DAVE CAN FRAME PICTURES DAVE DO GOOD CAMERA WORK

DAVE CAN FRAME PICTURES DAVE DO GOOD CAMERA WORK

...EXACTLY the same color as the neoprene pad that lives at the buffing station.

SO! How's it look?

With the original planned pickup layout of two Lollar Regal humbuckers.

With the original planned pickup layout of two Lollar Regal humbuckers.

Heloooooo, you gorgeous thang. The guitar's nice too.

Heloooooo, you gorgeous thang. The guitar's nice too.

Next up? Time for pickups and wiring! Turns out it's really hard to make soldering look cool, so I apologize for the following pictures.

Classy.

Classy.

Ben solders through a tear in an old t-shirt, which keeps the occasional stray solder gob from landing on the guitar's finish. Ben's soldering work is very tidy. Mine, less so. So he did it and I took pictures. Good division of labor.

THREE pickup wires? What could it be...

THREE pickup wires? What could it be...

Time to zip it all up. Custom laser-cut cavity cover, complete with Operation Plaid Hammer logo, serial number, etc.

Too cool.

Too cool.

So what pickups went in it? What's better than two Lollar Regals? THREE CHARLIE CHRISTIANS. That makes me three times as good as Charlie Christian, right? Cap it off with two vintage 'cupcake' knob off a 1960 Harmony, and take a look.

Look at that happy dork.

Look at that happy dork.

So that about does it! That's Operation Plaid Hammer all wrapped up! How's it play? How's it sound? FANTASTIC. It's a HUGE sound, a great tremolo, a fantastic neck, and an outstanding color. Absolutely killer. I couldn't be any happier with it.

On a personal note, I have to offer up a huge, huge thanks to my good friend Doug Kauer. This has been an incredibly generous and kind wedding gift, and fantastic learning experience - and above all, a great excuse to spent time with a hugely talented friend. I have nothing but respect for the art, craft and skill shown by Doug, Andrew and Ben. Guys - THANK YOU.

Last I'll do is leave a few cheesecake shots of the finished product for you to drool over. PROJECT PLAID HAMMER OUT!

-- Dave Segal

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Win the mystery box!

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Win the mystery box!

Did you buy a new Kauer Guitar in 2015?! Guess what, you have a chance to win a free Kauer from us! 

 

UPDATE 12/19: The response to the Mystery Kauer has been so overwhelming that we're going to up the ante:

TWO MYSTERY KAUER's, 1 DRS Rack, 3 Swag packs. That's 6 winners! 

Thats right!! If you purchased a new Kauer Guitar (any model) in 2015 from us or from one of our dealers we've put your name on a list. On December 25th we will draw a name at random and if you win, we will ship you a brand new Kauer of our choosing as a thank you for your patronage. What will it be? That's for us to know and you to find out when you open the box! 

Terms and Conditions:

  • You must have purchased and paid in full any Kauer Guitar between Jan 1st 2015 and December 24th 2015 at midnight PST. 

  • We build around a 100 guitars a year so your odds are pretty good of winning! 

  • Every paid in full purchase puts your name on the list. So if you bought two new Kauer's this year, you're on twice. Buy three, three times. Buy four, we'll send you some beer too. 

  • If you have a custom order that won't complete until 2016 you will be entered for 2016.

  • International winners will be responsible for shipping costs and any incurred taxes, duty, ect.

  • If we pick a left handed winner, we will build a guitar of our choice for you. Same rules apply, it just will not arrive as fast

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Operation Plaid Hammer: Neckin' 4 - Ben and Dave's Excellent Adventure

SO! The Project Arcturus body is off curing so we can get to the point where we make it REALLY, REALLY SHINY - time to get the neck squared away! Well, not square. You get the idea.

As I may have mentioned before, the final fret dressing happens after the neck is sprayed with clear coat, but before it's given the final buffing on the buffing wheel. First step is to get the frets leveled and dressed. First step involves this guy, a fret leveling file from StewMac.

It took three grown men ten minutes to agree on what this thing is actually called. We were all wrong.

It took three grown men ten minutes to agree on what this thing is actually called. We were all wrong.

Up to this point, the frets were just nipped off with a set of flush-cutting diagonal cutters. The fret leveling file is used to put a proper (and matching) angled edge to each one of the frets. 

So many of these could be captioned, "Ben Stares Intently at a Thing."

So many of these could be captioned, "Ben Stares Intently at a Thing."

One trick Ben uses to avoid dinging up the end of the board with the file is clamping a capo across the nut slot, like so.

...which neatly leads us into the next bit - as you can see above, Ben has a razor blade, with which he's scraping the finish off the edge of the fretboard at an angle. We'll do some more of that once we pull the tape.

Now it's time for a second pass to bevel the fret edges, this time with a fret beveling file from Brown's Guitar Factory.

As you can tell from its design, this block puts an even bevel on all the frets down the entire length of the neck.

This picture exists almost entirely to prove that I ACTUALLY DID THINGS other than take pictures.

This picture exists almost entirely to prove that I ACTUALLY DID THINGS other than take pictures.

While the fret beveling file puts an even bevel on every fret, it leaves sharp edges behind. To smooth those out, we move to a fret end dressing file.

This is a process checked by feel, and takes quite a bit longer than you might imagine.

Once the edges are right, it's time to level the entire fretboard. First, we check to see if there are any obvious high or low spots, using a super-accurate straightedge made by Stewart Macdonald for this specific purpose.

Ben Stares Intently at Another Thing

Ben Stares Intently at Another Thing

Next step is to mark the top of all the frets with a Sharpie, which provides as guide line to see whether there are any particularly low frets.

Ben Stares Intently at Yet Another Thing

Ben Stares Intently at Yet Another Thing

Next, we use a leveling block to bring all the frets to the same height. Since I haven't mastered the art of applying EXACTLY the same pressure with the fret press (something Andrew is very good at) we had to take a bit more meat off my frets to get it level than would have been necessary on a normal neck.

Once the frets are perfectly level, it's time to crown them. That process makes sure that the top of the fret is perfectly rounded over, and takes off all the sanding marks from the leveling block. The file has a perfect roundover built into its edge, and leaves a smoother result.

Once the frets are crowned, it's time for a final polish. Ben uses the laser table to cut a perfect mask for the fretboard out of green low-tack painter's tape, and then uses an orbital sander with polishing pads to bring the frets up to a final sheen.

SHINY! I added another piece of green tape once we'd finished, because it's not immediatly obvious just how much stainless steel gets smoothed away. It's there in powder form, though.

Final step - we pull the tape, and Doug takes it to the buffing arbor. This puts a final polish on the frets, and also buffs out the clear coat to a perfect sheen.

Blurry Doug, using the patented Buffing Compound on the Lens for Soft Focus (tm) technique

Blurry Doug, using the patented Buffing Compound on the Lens for Soft Focus (tm) technique

Doug moves way to gat-danged fast, so I thought I'd put 'em all up. Cool!

And that's the frets squared away! Next up, the nut.

...unfortunately, at this point I got all excited and forgot to take pictures, so Ben kindly helped me with a Dramatic Recreation (TM) of what the nut making process may or may not (allegedly) have looked like on the Project Plaid Hammer neck.

First, he starts with a bone nut blank. The nut is shaped on a grinder to the desired curvature and height, which is taller than the finished height for reasons that will become clear shortly.

From this point, Ben uses tool which clamps an array of feeler gauges to the fretboard, which allows him to accurately slot each nut to the perfect height.

The 'creative reconstruction' guitar is a Daylighter, hence the different headstock.

The 'creative reconstruction' guitar is a Daylighter, hence the different headstock.

There are then a series of files an saws, stopped by the feeler gagues, which allow Ben to have the nuts cut to a perfect height and V.

And that's it for the neck! Ready for the body to be cut and buffed, then it's on to assembly!

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Weekend at Bobbies

They say never meet your heros, that it can only disappoint. Whoever said that, hasn’t met Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars, my personal hero in this business. A select group of us spent 12 (yes, TWELVE) hours with Bob and many of his key people at Taylor and I think my admiration blossomed into full on man crush.

 

Before we get started with that, a little back ground. I own a Taylor 710ce. When I was 16 I wanted to buy a Martin, I knew I wanted a Martin and no one could convince me differently. I just hadn’t found one that I liked (or could afford). One day my Dad and I were guitar shopping and he said “try this Taylor, I’ve never heard of them”. I played a cedar topped 710ce and that was it. I worked all summer for that guitar (better than the summer I worked for a cordless drill! That was working cheap!) and bought it and to this day it’s still the only “expensive” guitar I own.

 

It also opened my eyes to a couple things: The amazing company that Taylor was, is and will continue to be and that it planted a nugget in my brain that other people besides the big G, F and Martin can build guitars too. While it wouldn’t be another almost 11 years after this before I’d build my first guitar, my 710 has always been the benchmark of what a great guitar should be. Well built, excellent sounding and excellent playing.

Ben of Nystrom Guitars and a stack of wood. Lots of wood. More wood than the San Fernando Valley

Ben of Nystrom Guitars and a stack of wood. Lots of wood. More wood than the San Fernando Valley


On the other side of the coin, as someone who grew up around mechanical devices and manufacturing I’ve always followed Taylor’s growth, use of machinery and environmentally conscious attitude. It hasn’t been hard to follow, I’ve been getting their magazine Wood and Steel for 15 years now! I’ve always been a believer that this is a company doing things right. So when the chance to spend the day with Bob I jumped at the chance.

Just a few guitars waiting to go out

Just a few guitars waiting to go out


Organized by Bob and our friend Daniel Tyack of Salvage Custom this all day ‘builders summit’ was attended by an invite only cross section of the boutique industry representing guitars, amps, pedals, strings and more. We arrived at Taylor at 9am and was met directly Bob and went right too it. We spent the first hour or so getting to know each other (or more, Bob to know us). Then we started on our all day tour thru everything there was to see… and boy there was a lot. We covered the warehouse, the milling department, saw robots in action, side bending, lasers, LOTS of CNC’s, finishing and more. We went thru Taylors on site tool machine shop where they make all their own speciality tools, tool repair department that maintains and rebuilds all the heavy equipment, R&D labs for electronics and guitars and more. I mean it when I say we went everywhere.

The wrecking crew at Bob's personal workspace "the man cave"

The wrecking crew at Bob's personal workspace "the man cave"

 

Two things immediately jumped out at me: There’s something like 1000 employees there and Bob knew EVERYONE by name. It was staggering, I was having a hard time remembering the two or three people in our group I hadn’t met before. Not only did Bob know everyone, every single person we met was beyond passionate about what they did there. Every department, every step of the way they all shared the same zeal for the craft and their job that the three of us here at Kauer do. Probably more so. I could go on for hours about what we saw, and size and scope of the operation but if you only take one thing away from this, make it this: Taylor is probably the most passionate factory I have ever seen.

 

There is so much we could talk about but outside of those of us in the business, it’s probably quite boring. As we walked thru the factory I kept oscillating between being excited and depressed at the scope of it all but Bob is the first person to remind you that they just do this overnight, he started exactly the same as the rest of us. They built Taylor one piece at a time, one ad at a time, one person at a time but mostly one guitar at a time. What did I take away from this? I could write volumes about it. For me, personally, it was a reaffirmation that I love what I do and that we build a great product here at Kauer.

IMG_0415.JPG

 

What’s in our future? I don’t know but I certainly know now, I’m looking forward to finding out. All I know is if I approach it with 1/10th the success and thought as Bob and and the crew, we'd be doing A-Ok.

Thank you Bob and the crew at Taylor, you made this fan-boy into a full blown fanatic.

PS: Sorry for the lack of photos, I just didn't want to miss anything! Look for a full photo spread and article by our friends at 60 Cycle Hum

 

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Operation Plaid Hammer: Huffing Paint

Right! So when we last left off, we'd basically done all the woodwork that's gonna happen. Neck carve was done, frets were installed, body was sanded - it's time for paint! Well, technically, sealer first. Before we head to the booth, though, the body and neck need to be mounted for easier spraying, and so they can be painted without being touched. Kauer Guitars uses a proprietary system designed by Doug (although similar to designs used by other companies). The brackets bolt to the body or neck, which can then be put on a rotatable rack that can be set to any angle.

The Plaid Hammer neck with a spraybooth bracket...

The Plaid Hammer neck with a spraybooth bracket...

... and the body on the spinning stand.

... and the body on the spinning stand.

In addition, these brackets can be placed on rolling racks, moved under the heat lamps, and in and out of the booth, depending on where they are in the spraying and curing process.

OK! Now it's time to head to the booth for real! First, time to gear up! For safety, gotta put on a face mask. These protect eyes and lungs from wayward spray - but not leg hair, as I discovered later. I put my mask on, and as I was standing there innocently, minding my own business, hurting nobody, something dropped down into my field of vision. Inside my mask.

HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *pant* *pant* *pant* HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!

HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *pant* *pant* *pant* HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!

Despite any reports to the contrary, I did NOT run around screaming like a little girl after flinging my mask halfway across the shop. What makes this better (and I swear to all the gods of tone I'm not making this up), is that Doug, Ben and I had gotten back from lunch ten minutes earlier, during which the conversation had dwelt in some length over how scary spiders are. True story. Not only that, I was the only one who said they weren't particular scary. Right. Congrats, Daddy-Long-Legs-Face-Hugger, you've made your point.

Where were we? Right! The booth!

A place of mystery, intrigue, strange chemicals, strange odors...

A place of mystery, intrigue, strange chemicals, strange odors...

The back wall is essentially one giant fan, pulling out what remains in the air from the spraying process and venting it outside.

Once we're safely in the booth, Doug pours sealer into a plastic liner made specifically for his spray rig.

Doug goes full Walter White with strange goo and scales and measuring devices.

Doug goes full Walter White with strange goo and scales and measuring devices.

The components in the sealer, primer and paint are all measured by weight, hence the scale. For finer measurements, Doug uses baby syringes to add components drop by drop until the right mixture is achieved.

Collecting the final ingredient for an amber clear coat.

Collecting the final ingredient for an amber clear coat.

Ready to spray! Terrifying.

Ready to spray! Terrifying.

I failed to get any pictures of us spraying the sealer, but I promise I made up for it when we get to the color coat. You'll see. For now, though, here's the body with the first coat of sealer.

The upper part of the body is untouched sealer, and the bottom part has been sanded a bit already (hence the milky white look). The green by the switch and on the lower bout is Bondo used to fill some minor surface imperfections.

One of the goals with this round of sanding is to flatten the surface, leveling out any high or low spots. The next picture, taken at an angle, shows the low spots as a bit shiny. All those must be knocked back until the surface is perfectly level.

The neck gets the same treatment. One more round of sealer, followed by a primer coat on the body, and it's ready for the color coat!

I promised the goods for the color coat, and I deliver - full video of the first color coat! And what a color... full '57 Lincoln-y goodness.

Next up, the neck gets the same treatment with a tinted clear.

And that's it! The body will get another color coat and two clear coats, and the neck will get another 1-2 clear coats, and then it's off to cure. Next time? Make 'em smooooooooooth.

First, though, a teaser of the body in full sunlight. See you next time!


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Operation Plaid Hammer: Neckin' 3 - the Neckining

Right! As of the last blog post, we had the Plaid Hammer neck all fretted, but still square in the back. Let's add some curves! First stop: the ShopBot.

The dust collector does add a bit of a Frankenstein's lab look to this thing. It only makes monsters of tone, though. SEE WHAT I DID THERE?

The dust collector does add a bit of a Frankenstein's lab look to this thing. It only makes monsters of tone, though. SEE WHAT I DID THERE?

The ShopBot is a much smaller CNC router, with an entirely different control program and setup than the big router. This one is specialized just for neck carving. The three different sleds you see are for 24.75" scale set-neck Kauers (Daylighter, Argonaut, Starliner, Banshee), 26.25" scale Kauers (Acadian/Crusader), and 25.5" bolt-neck Kauers (Arcturus). Each requires a different sled, a different program, and different prep steps.

Much like the earlier sanding process for the body, the back of the Plaid Hammer neck gets a coat of rattle-can paint to gauge progress, and then is locked into place in the sled.

Patient sedated, strapped in, and prepped for surgery.

Patient sedated, strapped in, and prepped for surgery.

The ShopBot makes a series of U-shaped passes over the neck to rough out the radius of the neck. The first pass, however, is more of a sighting lap - the program is run too high, to make sure that alignment is all correct. Because it's run higher than the final carve, the first pass leaves some slight shoulders carved, but leaves a wide path of the rattle-canned flat bit in the middle.

ShopBots, much like larger CNCs, the Sasquatch, and Andrew, are naturally blurry. Not because Dave is a crap photographer.

ShopBots, much like larger CNCs, the Sasquatch, and Andrew, are naturally blurry. Not because Dave is a crap photographer.

Alignment checks out good - let's run it!

The router bit making passes on the right. It's controlled via a computer that lives under the table, and was programmed by Abby someone. Abby... Normal.

The router bit making passes on the right. It's controlled via a computer that lives under the table, and was programmed by Abby someone. Abby... Normal.

One pass later, roughing in is done!

Ribbed for your sanding pleasure! SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE, AT LAST I'VE FOUND YOUUUU

Ribbed for your sanding pleasure! SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE, AT LAST I'VE FOUND YOUUUU

Next, the roughed out neck goes to another Doug-designed jig specifically created for finishing the neck carving process.

They fight back unless they're held down.

They fight back unless they're held down.

There's a fiberboard template sitting under the heel end of the neck to protect it. Notice also that the shoulders between the neck and headstock are still sharp - time to bust out the rasp.

PUTTIN ON DA RIIIIIIIITZ! Oh, I mean... DAVE USES DA RAAAAAAASP!

PUTTIN ON DA RIIIIIIIITZ! Oh, I mean... DAVE USES DA RAAAAAAASP!

After the headstock shoulders are roughed out, time to move on to the circular sander with low grit sandpaper to get out the machine markings and smooth out the headstock transition. Note again the rattlecan paint guide coat on the back of the neck.

It's pronounced Fronk-en-sander.

It's pronounced Fronk-en-sander.

"What roundover curves!" "Vhy, sank you, Doktor!"

"What roundover curves!" "Vhy, sank you, Doktor!"

Many, MANY passes of higher and higher grit sandpaper later (including the front and back of the headstock), and we're smooth as a baby's butt. Time to prep for the paint booth!

With the fretboard taped off (but with the ends not trimmed before the picture, because I'M A GENIUS) it's ready to head off to the booth.

Next post, Doug turns full Walter White, I hairspray my leg hair, and shenanigans ensue.

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Operation Plaid Hammer: Neckin' 2 - Laser Boogaloo

So at the end of the last entry, I promised LASERS! and SHARKS! Frickin' sharks with lasers attached to their heads! Thought I was kidding, didja?

Complete with the coolest warning sign in history.

Complete with the coolest warning sign in history.

THAT, my friends, is an Arcturus neck sled mounted up in the Epilog Zing 24 Laser (a computer-driven engraving and cutting tool), which is one of the most all-around useful tools in the Kauer shop. Best way to think of it is kinda like a giant printer that uses LASERS TO BURN THROUGH STUFF instead of toner and paper. SWEET. Doug uses this device to cut the Kauer logo into headstock inlays, to cut inlays, pickguards, and control cavity covers, to engrave serial numbers and model designations into the back of headstocks, to make bottle openers or balsa wood airplane kits with the Kauer logo on them... the list goes on and on. It can also, it turns out, be used to cut fret slots. 

For all other Kauer models, Doug cuts fret slots using the CNC's cutting abilities with a special fret-slotting circular saw blade, and adds binding afterward. For the Arcturus model, Doug wanted to create a neck with pocketed fret slots (i.e. hidden tangs) but no binding. The laser can cut slots to a specific depth, and can start and stop inside the width of the fretboard, unlike a traditional fret saw. 

Note the lack of a sharks-with-frickin'-lasers warning sign.

Note the lack of a sharks-with-frickin'-lasers warning sign.

Keen-eyed readers will notice that neck sled is missing its warning sign at this stage - minor disaster was about to befall us. Unfortunately, a misguided cycloptic colleague attempted to use mutated ill-tempered sea bass instead of the industry standard sharks, and because of the ensuing damage, this neck had to be scrapped. Really.

Ok, not really. What actually happened was this; because the laser table gets used for so many different things, the mirrors (used to transport the beam of the stationary laser) can, over time, get dusty or encrudified (technical term), which slightly reduces the focus and power of the laser. As a result, the laser burned fret slots that were too wide to be usable. We attempted to salvage the neck by filling the channels with super-thin cyanoacrylate glue (CA, also known under trade names like KRAZY or Super glue) and wenge dust, but it was not to be. End result was Doug feeding the neck to a table saw to retrieve the truss rod.

After that, we disassembled the laser table, removed and cleaned the mirrors and the rest of the assembly, and got it up and running again. First test was an etching of the warning sign seen in the first picture above; ONLY USE SHARKS WITH FRICKIN' LASERS ATTACHED TO THEIR HEADS, NO SEA BASS - MUTATED OR OTHERWISE - ALLOWED. And that's the last Austin Powers joke I'll make in this post. Probably.

So now what? Time to make a new neck. What was that like, you ask? Go back and re-read the entire first Necking post and the beginning of this one, up to the point where we put the neck in the laser table. And now...

If you had told 8-year-old me that in 25 years I'd be using a laser to make a guitar, I'd have told you to grow up. Well, kid...

Stage One: Laser Cutting Beginning (ok, that was the last Austin Powers joke)

Stage One: Laser Cutting Beginning (ok, that was the last Austin Powers joke)

This time around? Perfect. The laser leaves charred wood behind, so I used a Japanese fret slot cleaning saw, also from Stewart Macdonald, to clean out the slots.

Charbroiled goodness.

Charbroiled goodness.

Now that the neck is all slotted and cleaned up, it's time for frets!

What's that? Your guitar neck WASN'T slotted by lasers? We won't look down on you. Much.

What's that? Your guitar neck WASN'T slotted by lasers? We won't look down on you. Much.

Kauer uses Jescar FW47095-S fret wire, which is .095″ X .047" stainless steel. Jescar precuts the frets to length for each individual fret slot, and the tang (the bit that comes down and grabs the wood) is inset so the fret slot never reaches the edge of the fretboard, for a cleaner look.

Pre-cut fret wire also removes the necessity for my personal mortal enemy, a horrific profanity-inducer known colloquially in the shop as the Fret-F*cker 4000 (tm). This is much, much easier.

First step in the fretting process is to use another Stewart Macdonald tool, a fret crimper, to add a little extra wiggle to the end of the tang for the best possible bite.

Biting and tangy? Who am I, swearing enthusiast Gordon Ramsay?

Biting and tangy? Who am I, swearing enthusiast Gordon Ramsay?

Next step is to apply a layer of cyanoacrylate (CA) glue into the slot - these frets are not going anywhere.

Stage Two: Warm Liquid Goo Phase (Ok, THAT was the last Austin Powers joke.)

Stage Two: Warm Liquid Goo Phase (Ok, THAT was the last Austin Powers joke.)

Next, the fret is seated by hand into the slot.

Right in the groove. Groovy, baby! (OK, ok, that's the last one. I promise.)

Right in the groove. Groovy, baby! (OK, ok, that's the last one. I promise.)

And finally, the frets are seated with the fret press, which has a channeled brass insert the same radius as the neck.

Smashing, baby! (OK, I give up. Mike Myers, I'm so sorry.)

Smashing, baby! (OK, I give up. Mike Myers, I'm so sorry.)

Lastly, the bits of the fret that hang over the end are cut with fret nippers specifically designed for stainless steel frets by FastCap. Final fret dress will come after the finish.

That's that - all fretted! The neck is still square, though. Next step: neck carve!

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Operation Plaid Hammer: Necking in Public

Y'know, I was going to title this blog post "Three Hairy Men Neck on Camera" just to really mess with Doug's website traffic stats, but I'll behave. (#BEARS) Ok, I'm done now.

Where was I? Right! Necking! So as you saw in the last blog post, the body for Operation Plaid Hammer is pretty much wrapped up, which means it's time to get the neck dialed in. As mentioned before, the neck is going to be maple with a wenge fretboard. So how do we kick off? The process begins, (surprise) with one big hunk o' maple. First step - rip* the board to useful length.

*I have been informed that ripping is cutting with grain instead of against. In the interests of maintaining a fart joke at Andrew's expense (see caption below) I have opted to retain the error. HAPPY NOW, ROBERT?

Andrew rips one in public

Andrew rips one in public

This piece of maple is wide enough for two necks (unfortunately, that became important later). First step is to take the blank to the CNC to route the truss rod channel, and drill holes for the fretboard alignment pins.

Chocked, docked, and ready to... what means route and rhymes with rock?

Chocked, docked, and ready to... what means route and rhymes with rock?

The truss rod channel has to be juuuust deep enough for the channel to accept the truss rod with the fretboard on top. Careful measurements are important.

Andrew holds the board while an off-camera Hairy-Armed Northern Sasquatch checks the channel depth

Andrew holds the board while an off-camera Hairy-Armed Northern Sasquatch checks the channel depth

When attaching the fretboard, there are a few things of great importance. First is getting the fretboard lined up exactly on the truss rod. The second is making sure none of the glue used to hold the fretboard seeps into the truss rod channel and binds it up. The alignment issue is handled by drilling matching holes in the bottom of the fretboard and in the neck, and using rounded steel pins for alignment. The glue issue is solved by using a thin strip of packing tape over the entire length of the truss rod channel.

Simple. Elegant. Tape.

Simple. Elegant. Tape.

Artsy pre-glue under-the-hood shot

Artsy pre-glue under-the-hood shot

A tight fit is super important, but instead of clamping with clamps, Kauer Guitars has a home made vacuum table! This thing sucks - but that's a good thing. It provides an even solid pressure over the WHOLE piece, instead of just certain pressure points from clamps.

Not, in fact, an air hockey table

Not, in fact, an air hockey table

The channels in the base are for removing air across the whole table. The vacuum table is used with rubber mats, not to protect the piece being clamped, but to protect the vacuum bag from being damaged by sharp edges.

I swear there's a neck in there.

I swear there's a neck in there.

RIGHT! All glued up? Next step - to the CNC to cut the neck and headstock outline, and to put down the headstock inlays. Want pictures?

... TOO BAD! 'Cause Doug and Andrew did all that over the weekend while I was gone. Thanks, guys. *shameface*

Skipping lightly over the NO PICTURES for that section - time to add inlays!

The tackle box of many inlays and a Kauer logo!

The tackle box of many inlays and a Kauer logo!

The inlays are the small pearloid dots in the bottom right of the tackle box pictured above. They're superglued so they're just at the surface of the fretboard, and then they're leveled and radiused along with the rest of the fretboard for a smooth playing surface. Speaking of leveling and radiusing...

Radius block party

Radius block party

This is the radius block, a chunk of aluminum with a perfect cutout of a 12" radius circle running its whole length. With a piece of sticky-backed sandpaper applied by Andrew and some furious stroking by me (there go Doug's website stats again) the fretboard is radiused and the tool marks from the CNC are removed.

Do NOT grab this stuff instead of TP. Don't ask me how I know this.

Do NOT grab this stuff instead of TP. Don't ask me how I know this.

"Commence to rubbin', you just keep on rubbin' on that same old thing" - John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, "Rub-a-Dub"

"Commence to rubbin', you just keep on rubbin' on that same old thing" - John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, "Rub-a-Dub"

To make sure of the success of the 'leveling' part of leveling and radiusing, Andrew uses a super-accurate straightedge (made by Stewart Macdonald for this specific purpose) to look for high or low spots. 

Andrew does MORE SCIENCE

Andrew does MORE SCIENCE

Last step involves a final rubdown (heh) with a fairly fine piece of sandpaper and a sanding sponge.

SO! Radiused and leveled fretboard, but on a square neck with no frets.. Next step? Fret slots. You'll have to wait for the next installment - it involves SHARKS and LASERS. I'm not even making that up.

Sharks with frickin' lasers beams attached to their heads

Sharks with frickin' lasers beams attached to their heads

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Operation Plaid Hammer: Makin' Sawdust

The plan for Operation Plaid hammer is as follows; alder body in Taos Turquoise (a '56 Lincoln color), a maple neck with a wenge fretboard, a Mastery trem, and Lollar Regal humbuckers. The starting point, though, is a block made of two pieces of alder.

I got wood!

I got wood!

An alder blank and an Arcturus template! And indecent enthusiasm! Not the first time. Or the last. I regret nothing. Where was I? Oh yeah! The template is used to visualize where on the blank the body will be cut. In this case, there was a nasty knot to be worked around, so Doug had to measure the edge of the blank for an extra spacer to get the CNC router to cut closer to the edge.

Yes, Dave, it's wood. Settle down.

Yes, Dave, it's wood. Settle down.

The blank in its original condition needs smoothing and thinning. First stop: the wide belt sander.

The blank is run through the sander multiple times on both sides to level the block and get it to the correct thickness. Arcturi with Mastery trems can be run a bit thinner than those with Strat-style trems - that's the case here.

Making use of the Persuasion Stick

Making use of the Persuasion Stick

At this point, Doug left to do many important things, and Andrew took over. Next stop: CNC router.

Dave isn't a crappy photographer, the CNC is blurry in real life.

Dave isn't a crappy photographer, the CNC is blurry in real life.

There are a series of programs that must be run for each body. Each part of the process has separate programs for the controls, control cavity, neck pocket, trem, and so on. Andrew calls up and runs each of those programs, stopping to measure progress after each step, occasionally re-running a program with minor depth adjustments as necessary. 

Andrew does SCIENCE!

Andrew does SCIENCE!

About halfway through the process, the blank looks like this.

Making a guitar is easy - just take a piece of wood and cut off everything that doesn't look like a guitar.

Making a guitar is easy - just take a piece of wood and cut off everything that doesn't look like a guitar.

Next step is a table router with a flush trim router bit to take off the flashing around the body. I completely failed to take pictures of this, but I did take some artsy-fartsy macro shots of the rough arm contour cuts looking all art deco.

Looks like a modern art museum. Made of wood.

Looks like a modern art museum. Made of wood.

Next comes another table router with a roundover bit. I did the routing for the flash removal and nearly all of the roundover, but Andrew stepped in to do the bits closest to the neck pocket.

Andrew "ten-fingers" Rascher demonstrating router safety.

Andrew "ten-fingers" Rascher demonstrating router safety.

And now? TIME TO MAKE SAWDUST! As Doug says, lutherie is 10% inspiration, 9874% SANDING. There are three different air sanders, an dual action orbital sander for the face and back, a square sander for the sides, and a detail sander for the contours. The guitar is carefully sanded with three to four different grades of sandpaper. To make sure the whole guitar has been worked evenly, it's hit with quick-drying spraypaint between each grade.

That does have a certain amount of rat rod charm. Taos Turqouise is gonna be better.

That does have a certain amount of rat rod charm. Taos Turqouise is gonna be better.

Workin' them contours. Ladies.

Workin' them contours. Ladies.

After the rough sanding has been done, it's time to drill for the output jack. For this, a Shopsmith is rigged to be a side drill, and a clamping template holds the guitar in place. Like most Kauers, this guitar will have an Electrosocket output jack. One bit cuts a lip for the socket to recess into, and another bit cuts through to the control cavity.

Drill, baby, drill!

Drill, baby, drill!

After many, MANY hours of snading (it's actually more fun than it looks), what's the result? Grab a handy neck blank, and...

Great Googly Moogly, that thing looks like a guitar!

Great Googly Moogly, that thing looks like a guitar!

Not a bad batch of work for day one - stay tuned for day two: Necking in Public!

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Operation Plaid Hammer: Origins

Hiya, Kauer fans! My name is Dave Segal, and I'm here to detail the process of building a Kauer Arcturus from beginning to end, one that I GET TO BUILD! How did I get so lucky, you ask?

Doug Kauer and I go way, way back. We met years ago, well before Kauer Guitars even existed. We mutually geeked out on guitars, blues, bacon, and Top Gear. One day, Doug showed up at one of my gigs with an enormous case that contained the very first Banshee prototype. Somewhere, there's a picture of me playing it that night with an extreme case of BluesFace (tm), and the first words I said to Doug when I got off stage were, "I NEED ONE OF THESE!"

I can't find the original Dave-With-BluesFace(tm) picture, so have a Doug-With-BluesFace(tm) picture instead.

I can't find the original Dave-With-BluesFace(tm) picture, so have a Doug-With-BluesFace(tm) picture instead.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Kauer guitars has become the powerhouse of tone that it is today, I own a Banshee and a Daylighter, and I get married. (That's gonna be relevant in a minute, I promise.) I also get the opportunity to do an externship through the school district where I teach! I teach in an engineering and design academy, which teaches a lot of the same design, CAD, and programming skills used in the Kauer shop. We've taken our students here for field trips on multiple occasions, and Kauer Guitars seemed like the perfect place to go for a district backed externship. On my wedding day (told ya I'd get back to that) Doug sent me a text saying he'd figured out not only what I'd do for my externship, but what my wedding present would be - I'd build my own Arcturus, and document the process for the Kauer Guitars blog!

So that's the plan! Courtesy of the mutual love for plaid, hammers, (bacon, Jeremy Clarkson...) we chose the name Project Plaid Hammer. It's not a hammer, it won't be plaid - but you can follow #plaidhammer on Instagram as well. Dig!

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