Bull Buffing To Fretting
After a week or two stint in a climate controlled room, the guitar and neck are removed and sent off to our bull buffers. Bull buffing is the first of two main buffing operations. The "bull" buff is a very coarse buff which removes the natural "orange peel" of the finish after curing, but does not bring the guitar to a high gloss. The area around the dovetail needs to be buffed before the neck can be glued on. If the neck were to be glued on before this stage the quality of the buff would be dramatically reduced and the fit and finish of the guitar altered dramatically.
We start this process by sanding the body with two different grits of ultra fine micron paper. Traditionally this stage has been called wet sanding, as builders who spray lacquer use water to lubricate the sand paper. The polyester finish we use is so hard that it needs to be sanded with a special ultra durable Micron sand paper that is used dry. The bull buffers sand the entire body of the instrument very carefully so that they do not burn through a complete layer of finish.
Sanding the back just before buff buffing
Once the sanding is complete, the bull buffers in turn coarse buff the guitar using the highest grade Menzerna buffing compound.
Jose and Luis bull buff D-60 Sunbursts
With the bull buffing now complete, we again acclimatize the guitar and neck for 3 more days this time in our small climate room. This acclimatization is done so that the guitar is at it's "neutral" stage (neither expanding or contracting) before the neck is glued on. Most people know that you can roughly check next angle by running a straight edge down the frets and seeing where it intersects the bridge. Well, considering that the top expands and contracts greatly (which raises and lowers the bridge), we need need to get the instrument to neutral position before we can measure the neck angle and set the neck.
The final fit position in the shop is filled by two highly skilled wood workers. The neck is not fit to the guitar using any tools other than chisels, files, sandpaper, and glue. The final fit process starts by cleaning the dovetail on the neck and body - no matter how well you mask it off, there is always some paint left.
Pete chisels away at the heel of an OM-09
The neck is then fit, and the angle and tilt set to perfection. We then sand the bottom of the neck to eliminate any gaps in the neck joint. The neck is then glued on and left climatized for 24-72 hours.
Necks are glued on, and left to sit for a few days.
After final fit the new "Guitar" is ready to be fretted. Our standard models have a basic micro-dot inlay which is put in right before the guitar is fretted, however, our higher-end models all have fretboard inlays. These inlays are all cut on our CNC machines. Below you can see the jig we use to hold the guitar in the CNC and a deluxe fretboard cavity being cut.
Cutting the deluxe fretboard inlays on an L-09CE
The inlay pieces are then glued in, and the guitar is "Railed". Railing is the process by which we provide a curvature to the fretboard. Our railer uses a CNC cut platen which has a compound radius cut into it. Our radius starts at about 16" at the nut and ends at around 20"- 21". This creates a flatter fingerboard as you play down it. As far as we know, we are the only major guitar company to use a compound radius on our instruments. It is not traditionally done anymore because of the large amount of skill and labor involved to perfect it. The difference between a standard even number radius and a compound radius are immediately felt though - The fretboard of a guitar with a compound radius often feels more comfortable, and is easier to play in the higher frets.
Larry rails an LSV-11
Once railed, the guitar is then block sanded and steel wooled by hand. This operation takes great skill to maintain the newly cut radius. The frets are then hammered in one at a time.
Richard hammers in the frets on an LV-05
Once hammered in, the edges of the frets are trimmed off with a pair of flush cutters and the edges of the frets dressed with a custom made file. Starting in late 2005 we changed our fretting process to include two new stages: "Leveling and Beveling". This new process is what you would find on guitars in the $8000 - $10000 Range as it requires MAJOR labor and time to do correctly. The guitar is loaded in a jig which simulates neck tension. We level the frets which eliminates any high spots and crevices in the frets and eliminates almost all potential buzzes in advance of the strings being put on.
Crowning a fret after the first of several levelings.
Larry levels the frets on an L-05
Once the frets are leveled, the edges of the frets are beveled - We call this stage "cutting the corners" and "Finishing of the frets". Both ends of each fret are hand filed & rounded, then polished to a shiny finish.
"Cutting the corners" with an ultra fine file.