Q418C Roland’s headless build

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RolandRoland Frets: 2170
edited September 11 in Making & Modding
I’m in. Autumn’s coming, and that always a cue to get back in the workshop.

For me the decision making process is always always an important part of the build. At this point I don’t know what I’m going to make. In another thread I said I’d make a Klein, but maybe it’s time to make a tenor guitar for my granddaughter, or a bass for me.

Decisions, decisions.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170

    Decision 1. It’s going to be a Headless Guitar

    Right. It’s going to be a headless guitar. Two reasons. First, I’ve been wanting to make a headless for a while. My guitar making journey has seen lighter bodies through the use of lighter timber (cedar), and heavy chamfering. I’ve also reduced the hardware weight, with a short bridge, no scratchguard, and no metal control cover. As a result my latest Telecaster verges on neck heavy. I don’t want to extend the top horn to move the strap button because then it wouldn’t hang like a Tele.

    Secondly, as a band we’ve changed out stage positions, and I’m now standing stage right. I’m happy with this because it’s where I used to stand with previous bands. Happy as Larry, until Friday’s rehearsal where I twice clouted our singer with my headstock. A headless will give him, and his shiny guitars, an extra six inches.

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  • PlukkyPlukky Frets: 276
    Looking forward to seeing where you go with this.  One of the necks I got from you is destined for a headless, if I ever get around to it...
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170

    Decision 2. Which Kit?

    A quick search show four types of headless kit: 

    1. The Klein I linked earlier.
    2. Plenty of Steinberger cricket bats.
    3. 80s Steinberger GM  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mxfans-Guitar-Rosewood-Pickguard-Humbucker/dp/B07DX5CB5N
    4. What looks like a GM with shortened horns https://www.amazon.co.uk/ammoon-Electric-Unfinished-Basswood-Fingerboard/dp/B077G6J6ZS

    I’ve tried cricket bats before. The minimalist approach appeals to me. In practice the lack of a body screws my playing. When I lift my fingers the fretboard follows them, and the notes don’t come out cleanly. So it’s either Klein or GM, and I think the GM will be closer to my normal playing position than the Klein, particularly if I have the one with horns. 

    The GM kits all come from China. Some of the Chinese stuff is good, but then I’ve had Chinese necks where the frets are badly out of place. If the kit neck is really bad, and not worth rectifying, then I’ve got a replacement ready. Looking at the kit pictures on Amazon I can see uneven body routing, and grain tear out. So this could be interesting. 

    Plukky said:
    Looking forward to seeing where you go with this.  One of the necks I got from you is destined for a headless, if I ever get around to it...

    I’ve been thinking of getting around to a headless build for over a year. One of necks I acquired through the forum, but not from Graham, has had its head chopped off for a headless prototype. It’s the tuners which have been holding me back. All of the kits come with the Overlord style tuner bridge. It’s best described as clunky. At least you don’t need to find an Allen key in the middle of a gig to adjust the tuning.

    Anyway, decision made, kit ordered. Now the long wait for delivery from China.

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  • PlukkyPlukky Frets: 276
    I have a Steinberger Spirit which is GM style. It's surprisingly good (after I dumped the EMGs) but the neck is too slim for me and I would much prefer a hard tail...


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    Plukky said:
    I have a Steinberger Spirit which is GM style. It's surprisingly good (after I dumped the EMGs) but the neck is too slim for me and I would much prefer a hard tail...
    That’s what I’m aiming for: Steinberger with a hard tail. I’ve only ever played hard tails. I often play with my hand on the bridge, and use palm muting to control volume and tone. That tends to push a floating bridge out of tune.

    All of the Chinese kits come with the Overlord style tuner bridge. It’s a clunky piece of metal, and nowhere near as nice as the Steinberger. At least you don’t need to find an Allen key in the middle of a gig to adjust the tuning. I’m torn between tightening it down, so it doesn’t float, and replacing it completely. It’s one of those decisions which I can’t make until the kit arrives.
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  • DrBobDrBob Frets: 1775
    J Custom used to make a really nice drop in hardtail replacement for Steinberger 
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  • PlukkyPlukky Frets: 276
    Roland said:
    Plukky said:
    I have a Steinberger Spirit which is GM style. It's surprisingly good (after I dumped the EMGs) but the neck is too slim for me and I would much prefer a hard tail...
    That’s what I’m aiming for: Steinberger with a hard tail. I’ve only ever played hard tails. I often play with my hand on the bridge, and use palm muting to control volume and tone. That tends to push a floating bridge out of tune.

    All of the Chinese kits come with the Overlord style tuner bridge. It’s a clunky piece of metal, and nowhere near as nice as the Steinberger. At least you don’t need to find an Allen key in the middle of a gig to adjust the tuning. I’m torn between tightening it down, so it doesn’t float, and replacing it completely. It’s one of those decisions which I can’t make until the kit arrives.
    The trem on the Spirit (R-trem?) has latch that locks it in position to block it in case of string breakage. It's an ok second best solution, but there's an awful lot of wood missing especially if you didn't want a trem in the first place...
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    If I decide to replace the trem bridge then I’ll square up the gap, and fill it with a wood block. I’ve got a variety of woods which could do the job.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    The postman has just delivered a box. That’s a lot quicker than I expected, so I need to get on with making decisions and ordering parts. No time to start that now because I’m taking my mum out for lunch, but I’m expecting an interesting evening.
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  • TTonyTTony Frets: 15135
    Roland said:
    The postman has just delivered a box. That’s a lot quicker than I expected, 
    Is that delivered from China already ???
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    Kit Review

    First off, for @TTony's benefit: the postmark is Heathrow. Either it was warehoused near there, or it was flown in as part of a regular shipment. This will make things easier if I return it, which is one of the options.

    Let's start with the good news. The body shape is the same as shown in the Amazon advertisement. Surprisingly it's single bound in white. The neck has a slim elliptical profile, and is 41mm wide at the nut.



    The fretboard has a nice grain pattern, and the fret slots are in the right positions. This wasn't the case on the last neck I bought from China.



    Now the bad news, and there a lot of it.

    Neck. The neck is dirty: blue ink, finger prints, and what looks like a burn mark. The heel is badly routed in two passes which didn't follow the same line, and there's router burn on the wood. It doesn't fit correctly in the neck pocket. 

    The frets are poorly fitted. Some fret ends haven't been filed down, and some have been filed so radically that up to 1mm has been sliced off the fret board width at the nut. Some of the frets are too short, and don't reach the side of the neck. The fretboard surface is rough, so a re-fret might be the best answer.



    The body routing is really rough, as you can see from this picture of the control cavity. The cavity cover is too small for the routing. The bridge routing is too wide and too short for the Overlord bridge. The neck and middle pickup cavities are too narrow for the single coils, and the bridge pickup cavity isn't long enough for the humbucker. All of that is fixable, but I'm surprised that it is as bad as it is.



    However the Overlord bridge/tuner is faulty. The A string claws fall off the tuner screw before its been extended far enough to allow a string to be loaded. The screw is the same length as the other tuners, so it's likely that the claw has been wrongly drilled and tapped, or the thread has been stripped. I haven't opened it up yet to look, but I did swap two tuner screws to prove that it wasn't the screw's fault.. Did I mention that it's also rusty, particularly on the tremolo knife edges.

    I was expecting to replace the pickups, so in a way i'm pleased that they are cheap and nasty because I'll be throwing away little value. The single coil pickups have bar magnets beneath, with six metal rods poking through the coil. They measure around 6k each. There's no strain relief on the hook up wires. The humbucker, and I assume it is that rather than a wide single coil, is a solid block of resin. It measures 10k.



    Summary. A couple of years ago we did a challenge based on Harley Benton kits. They were good value, could be assembled straight out of the box, and improved by upgrading the hardware.

    In comparison this kit can't be built without substantial corrective work, and replacement of at least one major component. If I were buying it for myself it would be going straight back for a refund. As a challenge it comes close to breaking @WezV's instruction not to throw away all the bits.

    Time to sit down with a beer and cogitate.
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  • WezVWezV Frets: 9144
    I think I would return it on those grounds.  

    It’s fair to expect a bit of work on a cheap kit, but that is too much, and likely beyond the spirit of the challenge.  The theme is not “polish a turd”.

    still plenty of time to organise a plan B 
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  • TTonyTTony Frets: 15135
    Roland said:
    Kit Review

    Now the bad news, and there a lot of it.

    Neck. The neck is dirty: blue ink, finger prints, and what looks like a burn mark. The heel is badly routed in two passes which didn't follow the same line, and there's router burn on the wood. It doesn't fit correctly in the neck pocket. 

    Could it be a previous reject & return?
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    If so then it has been re-boxed because there's only one layer of tape on the box. The annoying thing is that the supplier is selling an item which is not fit for purpose, and must be aware of that from previous customers.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    This is the guts of the tuning system. The claws are lined up with the tuning screw threads just engaged.


    You can see that the claw of the A string tuner, 2nd from top in the picture, is 5mm short of the others. This is because its thread has been stripped internally to a depth of 5mm. The rest of the thread turns too freely as though it is damaged. It feels like a manufacturing fault where the thread cutter was forced straight in. When you cut a thread manually it should be repetitions of half a turn in, quarter turn back, to release the swarf and avoid stressing the metal.

    Actually this is fixable. I could cut a new claw. In fact I could dispense with the rest of the bridge/tuner, and fit a plate over what you see in the picture. The new assembly would screw straight to the guitar body, probably at an angle, leaving room for a roller bridge. That's almost 1lb of weight saved.
    WezV said:
    I think I would return it on those grounds.  

    It’s fair to expect a bit of work on a cheap kit, but that is too much, and likely beyond the spirit of the challenge.  The theme is not “polish a turd”.

    still plenty of time to organise a plan B 
    None of this is complicated. There's just a lot of it to do. The question is whether I'd end up with a guitar I want to play. Let me think about that overnight.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    Do I return the kit?

    So, I’ve thought about it, particularly the challenge objectives:
    WezV said:

    This aim of this challenge is to build a usable piece of musical equipment from a kit that is available to purchase.   

    This accords with my personal objective: to build a headless guitar which I can gig with. 
    WezV said:

    There is no budget.

    There are no limits to how much you mod your kit, but don't bin it and build from scratch - make the kit work for you!

    Mmm. The basic work with any kit is assembly, wiring, and finishing.

    We’re looking at a few modifications. The inevitable ones are:
    - Replace the pickups
    - Replace the pots, selector switch, and jack socket

    My desirable modifications are to:
    - Fit strap locks. I won’t gig without them
    - Fit a spare strap button below the tuners so that the guitar can stand on its tail
    - Fill the Tremolo cavity and fit a fixed tuner/bridge
    - Round the bottom corner of the heel, and fit a curve edged neck plate
    - Fit plates that I can screw the pickups into

    Then there’s the remedial work:
    - Re-fret the neck
    - Tidy the neck joint
    - Tidy the neck cavity
    - Re-route the pickup cavities and tidy up the control cavity
    - Make a control cavity cover which fits
    - Mend the damaged tuner claw
    - Fill the router tear out, particularly around the binding.

    The basswood body is very soft. It feels more like balsa. It might need a non-traditional finish to harden the wood so that it doesn’t dent too easily. I could veneer the top to make it look more interesting. A harder wood for the veneer would provide protection, but would mean replacing the binding.

    You can see that I’m leaning towards keeping the kit, despite its deficiencies, simply because of the challenges it presents.

    There’s also the question of replacing the tuners with something else. Low sales volumes mean that quality headless tuners are expensive, with a lot of them being made to order. The Hipshot tuner/bridge is nice, but costs more than twice as much as the kit. I could disassemble the Overlord bridge, and just use the tuners. The crux of of that decision is whether I can make the tuners work. That’s not about whether I can make a new claw, but whether the tuner will actually be useable in a gig situation. At home it’s not difficult to use a screwdriver, Allen key, or pliers to turn a stiff tuner. I feel the need to build a test rig.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    Decision made. It’s going back. I took the E and A tuner screws out for a closer look. 



     You can see that the thread on the A tuner screw is damaged, presumably by turning against the incorrectly cut thread in the claw. I can make a new claw, but I don’t have the tools to make another tuning screw.
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  • paulnb57paulnb57 Frets: 1187
    I think you made the right decision...
    Stranger from another planet welcome to our hole - Just strap on your guitar and we'll play some rock 'n' roll

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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    For those with a sense of humour, the supplier is currently playing out a version of the Norwegian Blue parrot sketch. So far we’ve had “I can’t see your pictures”, “our manufacturer says it’s not faulty”, “you can fill the holes with glue and sawdust”, and “please check that you’ve assembled it correctly”.
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  • @Roland ;
    you could win this challenge without even building the kit, or even still owning the kit - we're judging based only on entertainment!
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  • I was tempted to enter this challenge because I haven't built anything for ages, but building things has landed me with far too many guitars so I thought I'd better leave it.  Then I saw this and "remebered" how much I've always fancied a headless and, you know, it's not that expensive and won't take too long...

    But now I think I should thank you for this reality check.  I think I'll wait until the time is right to get back to the next proper build I have in mind.

    I will, of course, be following along and be suitably envious and wishing I'd done one too by the time you've finished. =)

    Good luck with the return and whatever you do moving forward.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    edited September 26
    While this is being resolved I've been thinking about the value of buying a kit for a headless guitar project. The parts of the kit which I'll definitely use are the body, neck, neck plate, bridge (well, part of it), and head piece. I might also use the volume and tone knobs, and the 5-way switch. If I were to buy a better quality kit I'd get better quality wood, maybe an Ash body, but I'd still be replacing most of the hardware.

    Economically it would make more sense to source each of the parts individually. The bridges are on eBay for around £30. I've already got several cheap necks, and the wood to make a body. However ...
    WezV said:

    ... don't bin it and build from scratch - make the kit work for you!

    To keep this build on track I’m going to promise myself that, once it’s finished, I can build a second headless guitar without using a kit. 
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170

    Plan B

    After a series of tortuous emails we have agreed that the manufacturer will provide a new bridge, and the retailer will make a sizeable refund to cover the cost of remedial work on neck and body. The refund should come through over night. 

    The supplier hasn’t tried to be difficult, but their understanding of English is limited. So lots of pictures and explanations on my part. It also became clear that they are out of their depth, and don’t understand anything about guitars, or big ticket items. The guitar kit is by far the most expensive thing on their web site.

    ... I saw this and "remembered" how much I've always fancied a headless and, you know, it's not that expensive and won't take too long...

    But now I think I should thank you for this reality check.  

    This situation arose because, knowing I would throw away pickups most of the hardware, I chose a cheap kit. If I’d gone for a more expensive one from a named supplier then I expect that things would have been different. If what you want is a cheap headless then it makes more sense to go for something ready made. Kits aren’t the cheapest option. There are several headless guitars with good reviews. 

    If you really want to make one then I’d be tempted to buy a Telecaster kit, cut the head off, and fit a headpiece and tuner/bridge. Why a Telecaster? It has a nice big flat area behind the bridge where you can fit headless tuners. Previous forum experience is that the Thomann kits are reliable quality, and @FriskyDingo has made a good job of his Gear4music Knoxville kit. Both are half the price of the headless kit. 

    So there is no Plan B at this point. We’re still on plan A.

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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    WezV said:
    It's October.    The build phase has officially started ...
    It hasn’t started here. This month I’m busy with autumn pruning and digging the veg patch. On the guitar side it may be some time before the replacement bridge arrives from China. I’m loth to start working on any part of the kit until that happens. So nothing to see here for a while.
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  • WezVWezV Frets: 9144
    Good job I added that extra month ;)
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  • DrBobDrBob Frets: 1775
    This thread makes me want my Mini V back 
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    Today my back needed a change from gardening so after an hour’s digging I grabbed some time in the workshop. First off, preparing a safe working environment. Last week I turned a yew bowl, and a dish from hawthorn. Hawthorn is an irritant. Yew is classified as poisonous. I cleared the shavings as I worked, but this morning it on with the dust mask and out with the vacuum to remove any remaining dust.Then a few hours with the air cleanser running to remove the particles I’d filled the air with.

    At the end of the afternoon I spent an hour looking at whether I can convert the Overlord tuners to fixed bridge by replacing the massive casting with a backing plate. 



    Top left is the casting that’s being replaced. Top right mild steel plate which is replacing it. The casting is 4mm thick at this point. A 1.5mm plate would be strong enough, but 3mm means that I won’t have to shorten or replace the original machine screws. 

    You’ll notice it’s blue. I don’t have any engineers blue, so I use blue wood dye. That same dye may appear on the body later on.

    This is where it’s going to fit on the guitar.



    You can see In earlier pictures that the cavity isn’t square, or even regular. It looks as if it was routed freehand with a blunt bit. My current plan is to square up the hole, and fill it with a block of wood. Then screw the tuner plate to the wood. Actually I might bolt it down using the threaded inserts which I bought them for body mounting the pickups.


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    The “kit” is just about here. At the top are the parts from the original kit which I expect to use. The five way switch will stay if it works cleanly. If not the it will get swapped. The strings will get used during initial setup, and then replaced.

    In the middle are the parts I’m adding:
    • Stonetone single coils, made by @TheGuitarWeasel. I think I bought these from @richardhomer, but it’s so long ago that I’ve forgotten.
    • M3 inserts.
    • Straplocks, jack socket, pots, and a Solar Flare tappable humbucker from @Alegree’s recent sale.
    • Roller bridge and curved neck plate from Blackdog Music.
    • Not shown - Jescar fretwire. 
    At the bottom are the parts which will be scrapped. I might keep the jack socket and neck plate. Everything else is not good enough to be passed on, even for free.



    This is what it will look like. I can live with zebra pickups, but I’m thinking of staining the body face blue, and leaving the back and sides natural.


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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2170
    Received wisdom is that the bridge requires a break angle of about 15 +3 degrees. I’ve drawn up a diagram to check distances and angles. This showed that the tunematic roller bridge needs to be inset by 5mm to avoid shimming the neck. 5mm buries the bridge pillars, and puts the bottom of the bridge flat against the guitar top. That’s the theory. We’ll see how it turns out, and I’ll adjust bridge and/or neck at build time.

    I checked my calculations with a test rig:



    Another reason for the test rig was to check how the tuners worked under string tension. They’re stiff because they use a standard M3 thread. They really need a finer thread. They are not consistently stiff as they rotate. That’s because the tuners aren’t squarely aligned with the screw thread.

    Then looked what happened. The plastic washer broke. I don’t know whether it’s a consequence of the uneven pressure, poor design, or cheap materials. Either way another challenge.



    I like challenges. It beats crosswords and sudoku.
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  • Andyjr1515Andyjr1515 Frets: 1860
    Wow - that's a lot of fixes, @Roland !   Makes for a fascinating read, though :)  Great detailed photos too!
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