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Empress V build report

Back in 2008 I was making a lot of 3D models of guitars and after making almost all possible combinations of the big brand guitar models I wondered if I could manage to come up with a new design. It had to be different enough that it wasn't an obvious copy of something, but I didn't want it to look too "different", it had to look as though it could be a factory model from Jackson or ESP. I like "metal" styled guitars, pointy guitars, so those were the brands I liked the most at the time. So I came up with a couple different designs and eventually settled on this one:

3D preview with Jackson PS-4 neck

It's obviously inspired by the King V, and also some elements of the Kelly. I thought one day I could actually build it, so I modelled it with the intention of using all the hardware from my Jackson PS-4, that's why it has the inverted headstock. The name "Empress V" came up while brainstorming with my friend Paul Foster who came up with it. I think it suits it.

3D preview with Jackson PS-4 neck

Fast forward to a few months ago. I bought some American Ash and found a local shop that could glue and thickness the wood so I could make the guitar body out of it. I made all the templates out of some mdf boards, using my Stepcraft CNC. I decided to route the body manually because once in a while the CNC will misbehave and I didn't trust it to actually do everything correctly. It would also take forever to mill the whole thing using CNC. I rough cut the wood to match the body template.

Rough cut body and templates.

The body shape is also made to fit ergonomically when playing sitting down.

I think it's important to note at this point that I hadn't had any previous experience in woodworking. There's a steep learning curve to overcome and there were some mistakes made and I had to also manoeuvre around a general lack of proper tools to do the job. And I had to buy some new tools.

I have an Einhell router but something isn't right with the collet, as the router bits seemed to be tight but would slowly slide out while in operation. this led to a few mess-ups when routing around the body that I had to spend a lot of time fixing later. I also built an overhead pin router (using the Einhell router) that I planned to use, but turned out not to be reliable enough (mostly because of the router issues), so I decided to order a router bit from StewMac so I at least could properly route all the body cavities. But I still had a problem with the router. If I couldn't use the Einhell router and wasn't very interested in buying a new router, could there be another solution? Then I looked at the CNC router. Could I use the Stepcraft spindle as a hand-held router? Time for some CAD and 3D printing! After a few iterations I came up with a design. It's made of two parts, an inner cylinder that holds the spindle and an outer part that I can open and close to move the spindle up or down to set the desired cut depth. I 3D printed it out of Zortrax Z-ABS and it's ridiculous how well it works.

Home made 3D printed hand-held router

So, I had a router and I had the StewMac router bit. But as I was reading the description on their website, it said that i was fragile and that I shouldn't use it to remove all the wood from the cavities. Hmm, so I started thinking and looked at how it was made, looked at the bits I had that came with the Einhell router and started looking for some bearings that I could use to do the same.

Router bit. From StewMac's website.

I managed to order the correct bearings and 3D printed some tubing out of Polymaker Polyflex filament to use as the tubing to keep the bearings in place.

Modified router bits with bearing and tubing and the StewMac bit at the bottom.

So now I had a set of router bits I could use to follow the templates. I would start with the StewMac bit until the hole was deep enough to switch to the other bits, and occasionally finish with the StewMac bit for the sharper corners.

Routing began and I was pretty happy with the results. Had to get used to being alert at all times, if you get just a bit distracted the router can go crazy when it bites too hard into the wood and you might end up with some tear-outs. Also it's best to be patient and go down in smaller steps, a couple of millimeters at a time. I will eventually have to get new router bits as these leave some burn marks, but once in a while I run them through a wet stone and they get better for a while.

Routing of the pickups and Floyd Rose.

Routing of the control cavity, Floyd Rose and battery.

Mockup with pickups and Floyd Rose, to make sure it looks ok.

After routing for the pickups, Floyd Rose and for the controls, it was time to route the neck pocket. I was a bit worried about this one, because there were some shims in the Jackson PS-4 body, so I tried to match the angle with the shims with the routing angle. It all worked out and the neck fits so snuggly in the body that you can hold both by the neck and the body doesn't fall off.

Test fitting the body with the Jackson PS-4 neck.

The jack plate hole had to be routed by hand, I used a Dremmel tool and a smaller router bit. It's a bit scary, it actually jumped out and made a few dings in the body, which I had to fill in with CA glue and wood dust.

Jack plate routing.

Nice fit! The actual jack plate will be black.

With all the routings done, time for the manual labor. Now it's all about rasps, files and sand paper. Started working on the bevels. I kept using the drawings as a guide, but I was more concerned with it looking and feeling right, than just following the 3D model. What works in the computer doesn't always translate to real life as well as one would hope.

Starting work on the bevels.

On the fins I had to go back and make them deeper a few times over. I was a bit scared of going to far, and that made be shave too little away and they didn't look right. Once I was happy with the overall shape it was time for another step I wasn't too ready for. I knew nothing of how to prepare wood for painting. I knew I had to fill in the pores, but here in Belgium I wasn't able to find in local stores actual pore/grain filler. I found sanding sealer, which I used, but that wasn't enough to fill in the pores. It did give the body a smooth as silk finish after sanding. But I will just have to order some grain filler to move forward.

Drying off the sanding sealer.

Drying off the sanding sealer.

Mid way through sanding the sanding sealer.


To be continued...

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