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!

Dave SegalComment