Friday, October 17, 2014

Building the H6082 Heirloom Guitar Kit #1 Curly Maple

I purchased the Grizzly Curly Maple Heirloom Guitar Kit H6082 on 11/28/2013.  I completed construction and played it for the first time on 10/15/2014.  I am very pleased with the results.  I made a few minor mistakes along the way, but I was able to compensate for them each time.  My next one will be even better!
What's in the kit.
The first thing I did was dress the frets and slightly round the edges of the fret board.  The fret work is done well, but the ends of the frets were a little sharp and not comfortable to slide against your hand. I had to so some minor sanding to the neck joint to get it to fit.  Being a little too tight from the factory is better than being too loose.  The neck joint is shaped so that it will only go in at the proper position.  That is a plus.

I attempted to do a high contrast finish by staining the top black, sanding off most of the stain and then adding a color dye.  This is when I learned that the curly maple is just a thin veneer.  I caught the problem before it was too big, and did my best to camouflage my mistake with some artistic application of wood dyes. Looking at the cross section of the body makes one think that the maple top is at least 1/4 inch thick, but this is not the case.  Had I known that, I never would have tried the two tone color technique with all the sanding.

Stained and masked, ready for lacquer.
I had hoped to apply lacquer slowly over the winter months, but the garage was too cool for lacquer most of the time, so the project went on hold until summer.  I had pretty good results by hanging the guitar and the neck outside on the back porch and spraying it there.  Another mistake I made was failing to fill the open grain mahogany on the back and sides of the guitar.  It looked very smooth after sanding, but the grain opened up quite a bit as the finish went on.  The porous surface looks nice, but it is taking a lot of scrubbing with water and a tooth brush to get all the polish and wax out of some of the pores.

Lacquer is starting to look good.
This was my first lacquer project.  I wet-sanded the guitar starting with 400 grit and working up to 2000.  I used a little too much water during the final sanding and some seeped in through the bridge mounting holes and raised the surface with some slight swelling.  I noticed it right away and stopped, and the swelling went down after I hung the guitar back on the drying rack for a few days.
The final assembly went very fast after all the finishing work was done.  The intonation did not require much adjustment at all, and so far the truss rod has not needed any attention.  The guitar has been tuned up for several days now as I fiddle with the setup.  I plan to put new strings on it as soon as I have the setup close to where I think it will stay.

Starting to wet sand.  Note the visible pores in the wood.
The nut is close to perfect.  I may take it to a luthier to have the slots filed down just a tiny bit.  (I would do it myself but the files cost $90.) It is close enough to specs to be played as is. 
My only complaint so far is the bridge.  The hardware did not exactly match the spacing of the posts on the guitar body and was difficult to install.  The tight fit makes adjustment a little challenging, but still possible.  It does not look like a high-end bridge.  I also noticed that the string spacing does not match the pole spacing on the pickups, but they still seem to work well.
After wet sanding and polish it glows.

The instructions had a couple of places where they didn’t match the kit.  I knew it was going to take a while to build, so I did an immediate parts check when it arrived.  The parts list indicated a set of screws that I didn’t have, so I sent an email to Grizzly and they sent them to me right away.  Well, it turns out that the instructions were wrong, and those screws are not used anywhere in the kit.

The other disagreement I had with the instructions was the ground wire to the bridge.  The instructions tell how to install it, but the hole for the wire is absent, and there is no wire included for this.  I remember the ground wire being important on other guitars I have had, so I drilled a hole and added the wire from the tailstock post to the ground on the electronics.  That was a simple addition and it works.
The finished guitar in its happy home!

The pickups sound great.  This is my first humbucker experience, and so far I think they are real sweet sounding.  They have more drive than the single coil pickups on my Stratocaster.  This guitar also has excellent sustain.  It is really noticeable at high gain that the notes will ring for a long time.

Grizzly’s description says that this guitar can be played professionally when finished.  I would agree.  I paid $395 for the kit ($459.93 with shipping).  Finishing products probably cost me another $170, and I paid $108 for an Epiphone case. My total investment was $738.  If I could have done a little bit better job on the finish it would probably be comparable to a guitar of that price range in the music store.  However I have the added pleasure of knowing I play a hand crafted one of a kind instrument that I made myself!