Watson Guitars
California, USA

Custom 6-string guitar, active/passive, 30-fret (Serial 08G018)

Materials: Figured Purpleheart top and back, Ebony and Brazilian Satinwood core.
Fingerboard: Purpleheart with custom inlays
Pickups: Watson Humbuckers (another first!)
Electronics: Aguilar 3-band active/passive electronics system
Bridge: Schaller Floyd Rose tremelo
Hardware: Gold
Tuners: Grover (Gold)
Finish: High Gloss Polyester Resin

This is a custom guitar project requested by one of our customers. It is a show-stopping instrument as we are using a figured purpleheart for the outer surfaces of the guitar and further enhancing it with a custom core section fabricated from Satinwood and Ebony. This is not something we usually do because of the amount of labor involved, but the results will be well worth the effort! The instrument is definitely not for the feint-hearted guitarist. By virtue of its mass and the density of the selected woods it is relatively heavy (at least for one of our own instruments) but just about strong enough to survive a deirect hit with a tactical nuclear weapon!

This guitar has a preamp built into it, an Aguilar 3-band which suited the instrument best, allowing the user to select active or passive output. We also installied dual coil humbucking pickups switchable between series and parallel.

Highslide JS
Nice shot of the entire instrument. Very purple and all naturan wood.
(1/12/09) We are now very close to completing this very unusual instrument. Neck has been carefully fitted, hardware has been painstakingly attached, electronics have been meticulously installed and everything seems to be working well together. The active electronics in this guitar give it many more tonal options than the average guitar. Quite an experience!
Highslide JS
Sligthty closer-in shot showing how well the gold hardware compliments the purple wood.

Highslide JS
The purple of the wood really shows now that we have the Polyester Resin finish on the body and neck. The purpleheart will only get darker and more dramatic over time.
(12/29/08) this guitar is now finished with a soper glossy coat of Polyester Resin. The purple color of the wood is just starting to show - and as expected with Purpleheart the grain has an incredible iridescence. We'll post more photos of this instrument in the coming days when we have the neck ready also. The challenge now is to clean up all the overspray and get the parts to fit nicely together. Watch out for more photos right here in this page!!!

Highslide JS
The headstock was designed to accommodate the bulldog inlay which was planned early in in the construction process. Gold and purple paua shell.
(12/21/08) These shots were taken just before going to finishing. The purple of the wood has not yet fully come out - that will happen naturally over the next few days. because of the 30 frets, the two pickups have to be slightly closer together than for a 21 fret instrument. We'll still get plenty of tonal options so not much loss there. These colors will pop when finished!
Highslide JS
The top of the guitar is all Purpleheart. 5 knobs for the active electronics.

Highslide JS
Here's a view of the back and neck joint of the guitar. We shaped the transition of the neck joint to maximize access to the higher frets and make the fit more comfortable for the player.
(12/21/08) These two photographs show the back of the instrument. The neck/body joint is scalloped to make the transition more comfortable. The big hole in the center of the body is for the springs of the Schaller tremolo unit. We'll have to cover that with a plate when we're finished. On the left you can see the cavity cover is part of the body design.
Highslide JS
Another photo of the back of the instrument. The neck is held on by four screws using gold pressure washers.

Highslide JS
Here we see the overall effect of the purpleheart. The fingerboard looks really nice with its Gold Mother-of-Pearl inlay.
(12/15/08) I had to take a trip to Scotland so some of the work in the shop and the subsequent updates to this site are running a little behind. In these two photos we can see the current status of the instrument. On the left - the top surfaces of the neck and body showing the Gold Mother-of-pearl inlay. On the right - the various decorative laminates.
Highslide JS
The back of this guitar will be quite a conversation piece. The black and yellow tapered wood laminates will continue through the neck and the body. The purpleheart on the back is divided into tapered sections too.

Highslide JS
The black and yellow borders of the two body halves have been completed. We're in the process of assembling the rest of the body.
(11/5/08) We have been busy working on the body of this guitar. Due to its construction it is pretty work-intensive, but all worth the effort in the end. The Black and yellow perimeter has been completed and now we are cutting selected pieces of purpleheart which we will be using to create the top and back of the guitar. All these little sub-assemblies will soon combine together in one completed body. Once that's done we'll cut all the cavities.

Highslide JS
here we see the cores of the upper and lower body halves. We're waiting for some of the epoxy to harden so that we can move on to the next operation.
(10/30/08) We are almost finished with the task of gluing all the yellow and black pieces to the body core pieces. In the photo you can see both the upper and lower halves in vises while the epoxy that holds the assemblies together cures. Once there are completed I can trim them down to size and match the cores up with the Purpleheart top and back pieces. After that things will take shape quite quickly and you'll see the guitar take shape!

Highslide JS
These are the components of the black and yellow fabricated border that will run around the edge of the body of this guitar.
(10/10/08) Now we are busy working on the body of this guitar. Much of the initial work is with the black and yellow border which will be a major feature around the edges of the body. These are comprised of alternating blocks of Gabon Ebony and Brazilian Satinwood, each separated by a white veneer as an accent. This will look very dramatic on the finished guitar. They are glued together in long strips and then epoxied onto the body core.

Highslide JS
This photo shows the slots for the 30 frets that will be going into this guitar. We are also getting ready to put inlay into this neck.
(10/6/08) We had a few days' delay but today we were able to get the fret slots (all 30 of them) into the opurpleheart fingerboard of this guitar. I use a .023" (.06 mm) end mill to cut the slots. I'll cut the slot for the nut tomorrow while the setup is still on the CNC and then we can move on to other tasks. While this fingerboard work is going on I have been assembling the black and yellow blocks that are part of the core of the instrument body.

Highslide JS
The fingerboard for this guitar is now in progress. First task is to machine the compound radius on the top surface.
(9/30/08) Time to start working on the fingerboard. here we see the Purpleheart fingerboard on our small CNC. We have machined the top surface of the board with a ball end mill to create what we call a compound radius. In other words, one end of the fingerboard has a radius of 10 inches and the other end has a radius of 16 inches. The CNC combines these two radii along the length of the fingerboard creating a perfect transition between the geometry of the two ends.

Highslide JS
This is a shot of the back of the neck showing the Ebony, Satinwood and Purpleheart contrasting woods..
(9/23/08) Here is the current status of the neck. I have rough shaped the headstock and the neck profile and I have also cut out the Purpleheart blank for the fingerboard. I will do some more shaping to the neck then move on to the fingerboard work. Most of that work will be done on the CNC. I have ordered some custom shell inlay material from Maui for the bulldog inlays requested by the customer. End result should be dramatic!

Highslide JS
The two body halves are currently being assembled and glued together. This will result in a very rigid core which will be sandwiched between purpleheart.
(9/17/08) While the work continues on the neck of this guitar we switched our attention to the construction of the body. The two body halves are made from cedar cores, around which blocks of Ebony and Satinwood are attached. These have to be fabricated in such a way that they follow the outer shape of the guitar. When they are all attached we will trim the entire assembly down to the finished body shape and attach purpleheart tops and backs.

Highslide JS
Here we see the neck blank being machined. We're cutting around the perimeter of the neck to give me a final shape as a reference for further operatiopns..
(8/25/08) Now that we have the blank for the neck on the CNC we can start machining finished surfaces. First I machine the joint surface of the neck. After that I cut the headstock top surface at the appropriate angle. Then I machine the perimeter of the neck to its final size. Finally we cut slots for the two carbon fiber rods and the truss rod. Once all these operations are complete the neck can come off the CNC for further work.

Highslide JS
This photo was takes right after we machined the top surface of the neck on the CNC router. Now that we have that cleaned up we can machine some of the other features in the same setup.
(8/21/08) Now that we have completed the gluing of the various laminates, we are able to move to the CNC router to establish some of the imprtant fatires of the neck. In the phot to the left, we have started by machining the upper joint surface of the neck (the face onto which we will attach the fingerboard). In the same setup we will also machine the headstock angle and the slots for the truss rod and the two carbon fiber rods.

Highslide JS
Here we see additional pieces of Purpleheart being glued onto the sides of the headstock prior to final machining.
(8/20/08) Before we put this neck up on the CNC to be machined we have to glue on the extra material on headstock area to provide adequate material for the headstock shape. We added a piece of matching Purpleheart to each side. This will sit for a few hours in its clamped condition and then I'll have to clean it up to remove some of the extra material. Then it's up on the CNC for facing, profiling and carbon fiber and truss rod slots.

Highslide JS
We're making progress - these are the basic neck, body, wings components which are now ready for machining.
(8/18/08) In this photo we can see that the basic components of the guitar have been created. It looks a bit chunky right now, mainly because there is a lot of extra material on the core sections of the guitar that will soon be machined off. The neck is just about ready to be set up on the CNC to be shaped and have its truss rod and carbon fiber rod slots cut. Also - we're ready to start the laborious process of building the black and yellow perimeter of the body halves.

Highslide JS
As you can see, the colors on this guitar were chosen for impact. We are using Ebony and Satinwood, each piece separated by a white pinstripe. Looking good.
(8/12/08) Right now, we are in the process of gluing the numerous neck and body laminates together. In this case we are assembling and gluing laminates of Ebony and Satinwood and those will be frames by outer laminates of Purpleheart. This will obviously be a rather colorful guitar! As soon as the gluing is complete we will set the body and neck assemblies up for machining of some of the critical surfaces. We'll start to see the guitar take shape once that happens!

Highslide JS
here we have two of the Satinwood laminates on the Ornamental Mill and we have just finished milling them to the correct taper and thickness.
(8/3/08) For this guitar we have 14 laminate strips which we have to machine to a specific taper. 7 for the neck and 7 for the body. This taper gets machined on our ornamental mill. We secure the pieces to the floating table on the o-mill and cut until we reach the pre-determined thickness. In the photo to the left we are cutting the taper on the two Satinwood laminates for the neck section. All these laminates then go to the vacuum press for veneer application.

Highslide JS
The neck and body core are both made up of 7 laminates each. These are the natural wood colors.
(7/31/08) We cut two sets of seven wood strips. One for the core of the body and one for the neck itself. Each of these comprise of three strips of ebony, two strips of Satinwood and two strips of Purpleheart. These will all eventually combine to create a spectacular set of laminates. Having rough sawn all these laminates on the bandsaw I now have to sand them and transfer them to the ornamental mill where they will each be machines to a taper.

Highslide JS
We used the CNC to cut material for the core of the body from a nice slab iof Idyllwild Cedar
(7/23/08) I decided that the best foundation for the complex Ebony and Satinwood perimeter of the body halves was to create a solid core out of a lightweight wood. I used local Cedar which will add very little weight to the final assembly. These two core pieces will support the matrix of alternating woods. These two pieces are approximately one inch thick. I will cut them from the parent material tomorrow and post more photos.

Highslide JS
These are the 3 main woods in this instrument. Purpleheart, Gabon Ebony and Satinwood.
(7/7/08) In this photo you can see that we have started the sawing of the materials for the body. The black material is the Gabon Ebony and the Yellow material on the right is the Satinwood, both of which will be used in the construction of the center core of the body and neck. I still have to calculate a correct lower bout cut to allow access to the upper end of the 30-fret neck.

Left: (5/24/08) This is the proposed body shape for the customer's guitar.

There may be some minor changes to the shape before we start cutting wood. One of the considerations we need to make is that this guitar will have a 26 inch scale and 30 frets. This makes it necessary for us to cut a little more out of the lower bout of the instrument to allow access of the player's hand to the upper frets.

We will make several more calculations before beginning the work, placing the neck joint, neck angle and bridge position accurately so that everything works out when we are finally done!

Right: (5/24/08) This is the Figured Purpleheart that we recently acquired for this and a couple of other forthcoming instruments.

Our customer specifically requested Purpleheart as the main material for his guitar and this piece should look spectacular when the final finish is applied.

The Purpleheart will be used for the front and back faces of the guitar, and also the fingerboard. Between the layers of purpleheart, we are going to create a custom core using alternating laminates of ebony and satinwood, separated by a highlight veneer (yet to be decided).

Last update January 12, 2009