F-hole guitar with floating bridge assembly project

 Lutherie blog

Hi everyone!

     Here is a cool project that I recently completed. A friend was building her first acoustic guitar and ran into some problems after she had completed the box and carved the neck. Too much material was removed from the heel of neck and the dovetail joint was not fitting together as planned. I agreed to take on the project to finish the rest of the guitar for her. Here is what I encountered:

Gap between neck heel and body, so what's the problem?

      As you can see the fit is pretty rough here. Way too much material has been removed from the neck heel. This is a tricky situation deciding where to shim things to end up with a tight fitting dovetail and the correct neck angle to project properly to the bridge, which in this case is a floating arch-top style bridge. I take some time to ruminate on the variables presented to me and work on other more straight-forward aspects of this project. I begin with the location and drilling of the post holes for the tuners.

Planning for the placement of the tuners
     Planning for the placement of the tuners is more work than most people realize. If the symmetry is off just a tiny bit it's quite noticeable aesthetically. Then the functional aspects have to be taken into account (i.e. will the strings have a clear path past the other posts etc).

Drilling the post holes
      The fingerboard inlays also need to be drilled and installed. She has chosen simple abalone dots. I begin by locating and marking the center of the frets to be inlayed. After drilling the holes I make a paste of medium superglue and ebony dust and fill the holes with it. The abalone dots are then floated into place on the liquid dust and glue and allowed to set before cleaning them up.

Abalone dots floating on ebony dust and superglue liquid before cleanup
Inlay cleanup and board planing in one step

      OK now it's time to tackle that dovetail joint, I can't really stall anymore. I begin by shimming the dovetail joint with thin mahogany pieces. I periodically test the fit of the neck as I plane the shims thinner and thinner in my thickness sander.

Mahogany shim planed to about 1/32"
Placing the shims
     To glue the shims in place i used the neck as a glue caul to get a good even pressure along the length of the shim. I placed waxed paper between the new shims and the neck to prevent the neck from becoming glued in place because i still have other fitting to do once the shims are in. Here I use regular old Titebond wood glue.

Gluing the shims into the dovetail
          Turns out that the dovetail wasn't cut completely squared to the center-line of the neck and fingerboard either! this complicates things a bit more. It's not too far off though so I use a piece of a business card to further shim one side of the dovetail to to get the neck to project properly. Now I need to shim the heel of the neck to get it to fit nicely to the guitar body. To do this I take two more small pieces of mahogany and glue them along the sides of the end of the neck heel.

No need to shim the entire face of the neck heel so I just shim a thin layer on each side with mahogany strips.
Trimming the edges of the new shims with a razor blade
     Now it's time for the final fitting and sanding process. I tape 120 grit sand paper down where the heel will contact the body and slowly sand the new shims by moving the neck back and forth in tiny movements.

Final sanding and fit of neck heel
     Now since I'm planning on a floating fingerboard tongue over the body, I need to install the frets past the body joint before joining the neck and body because hammering on the unsupported floating fingerboard will likely result in damage.

Installing frets on the fingerboard tongue before joining the neck to the body
     Now to join the neck and body, drum roll please! If finish work was to be done on the guitar this would preferably be the time to do it, but in this case we're leaving it bare wood. I score up both sides of the card stock shim that I'm adding to one side of the dovetail joint to get a good bond.

Gluing the dovetail joint
     Now I finish the rest of the fret work, make the nut, fit the bridge and do the final setup work.

Filing the fret edges after installing

I mask off the body of the guitar with thin steel sheets to prevent an unfortunate slip of my file from gouging the guitar during fretting
I fashion a simple truss rod cover out of spare Camatillo rosewood
     After installing the tail piece and some final setup details it's time to string it up.

She came out looking and sounding very nice!

     All in all, I would say my expectations were exceeded on this project. I'm going to deliver it to her in San Francisco next week, I hope she likes it.

     Thanks for reading everyone,

     Shane Dooley

For more information about me both as a luthier and musician visit me on the web at


email me at


or come see me in my shop in Longmont, Colorado
Inside Guitars Etc
460 main st
Longmont, CO

Thanks again, see you soon!

Converting a 5-string bass to a fretless

Lutherie Blog

Converting a fretted 5-string to fretless

     I had been wanting a fretless bass for a little while and recently a friend was selling this fretted 5-string bass for $50. I decided it was time for a little project and picked it up with the intention of pulling the frets and filling the fret-slots to convert it to a fretless.

Not bad for $50

I purchased the bass sight unseen since it was cheap and I planned to do a lot of work on it anyway. Evaluating the setup it was pretty horrendous: The action was crazy high with the saddles bottomed out onto the bridge, the neck had upwards of .050 relief, the nut needed a dressing, the electronics were scratchy and the output jack needed to be replaced. It also turned out that the truss rod was nearly maxed out already and the relief pattern was very strange, almost live a big "V" bottoming out at the 11th fret. These instruments sell for under $300 new and with the amount of work this one needed I'd say that it was worth just about $50. To correct the relief in the neck fret-removal and planing of the board would be required so it's lucky that I was already planning on doing it I guess.


After taking detailed notes on all the set-up aspects I've observed, I remove the strings and remove the neck from the body and find this in the neck pocket.
Nice! just what I wanted to see- a bunch of crazy shims...
 That's always a good sign, right? Finding more than 1/4" of various shims in the neck pocket and still having high action is a bit alarming but let's see how everything turns out. Lets get a list of what I need to do to convert to a fretless:

  1. Remove the nut
  2. Mask off or remove tuning machines closest to the nut
  3. Pull the frets
  4. Clean the fret slots
  5. Plane the board
  6. Fill the fret slots
  7. Sand board to 320 grit
  8. Re-attach neck
  9. String and setup

1. Removing the Nut

I use a quick, sharp blow with a hammer and a piece of wood to crack glue bonds and loosen the nut

2. Removing necessary tuners

Remove the tuners closest to the fingerboard to prevent sanding scratches on them

3. Pulling the frets

To remove the frets I use this solder tip that I've modified to have a little crescent shape at the tip
The crescent shape allows me to heat the frets without slipping off of them to melt any glue that might have been used in installation
Once I've heated the whole fret I begin at one end of the fret with my fret pullers and follow the soldering iron across the fret gently squeezing the pullers to coax the fret from the slot
Check out the difference heating the fret will make: the top fret I didn't heat long enough to melt the adhesive in the slot and it pulled checks of the board with it, the bottom fret pictured came out nice and clean after I applied more heat to it

All frets removed!

5. Planing the board

I've removed all the tension from the truss rod and Yikes! not the flat board that we'd ideally like to see

     Ok now we have all the frets removed and at this point I clean out the fret slots with my Japanese saw. Now we want to evaluate the neck. I remove all tension from the truss rod and see how the board looks. As you can see above it's not a pretty sight. For a fretless bass I want the option at least of setting it up with a completely flat board or no relief. To achieve that here we need to do a lot of work on this fingerboard. So I grab my glass block and some 80 grit sandpaper because I want to remove a lot of material. I decide that I'll have to remove material from both ends of the fingerboard to achieve the straightness I need. I spend the next hour or two sanding and checking the progress with various straightedge lengths repeatedly.

I separate a sheet of sandpaper into thirds and simply wrap them around the glass block

Did I mention I had to remove a lot of material?

 6. Filling the fret slots

     Finally! I've reached a result I believe I'm happy with, though its not perfect. After cleaning out the fret slots again with my Japanese pull saw I prepare to fill the slots with wood dust. I choose to use some Myrtle dust that I saved from sanding the back and sides of the OM style acoustic I built years ago. Its a nice light color that will contrast well with the rosewood board and clearly mark the old fret locations because I'd be lost without them. I pack the dust into the slots as tightly as I can with multiple applications then use a mini pipette to drizzle thin super glue all along the dust filled slot.

Its always a good idea to save different kinds of wood dust whenever possible to use in repairs
Dust packed into the fret slots
Applying the glue

7. Sand board to 320 grit

     In this case I had to repeat the last two steps of packing the dust and gluing again to fill the slots completely. Now I can sand the board again to really make the fret slots and board flush. I work my way from 80 through 120, 220 and 320 and oil the board. 

8. Attach the neck

     I decided to attach the neck with no shims in the neck pocket and evaluate it strung the the new flat-wound strings I picked up. As expected the neck angle is atrocious, so much so that I'm willing to do something that I'd never do and sand the back of my neck where it sits in the pocket on the belt sander. I repeat this is probably the only instance where I will perform this. 

Do not try at home! Permanently changing anything about how the neck fits in the pocket can be disastrous. Shims usually work fine to shift the neck angle slightly, but needing 1/4" or more of shim material and the sketchy joint that might produce lead me to dire measures. Here I've changed the angle on the back of the neck where it fits in the pocket.

9. Stringing and setup

     With the new flat-wound strings and no frets and well as changing the angle that the neck joins the body leave the setup needing a lot of work. I am able to achieve the very small amount of relief that I wanted, but remember how I said that the sanding job wasn't perfect? That's what I get for trying to cut a corner, the neck still has a now more subtle v shape to it which is causing a buzz where the 11th fret would be. So off comes the neck and nut and sanding commences once again. Ah now its actually looking good! I re-assemble everything and oil the board again. This time the setup comes out great and the board is smooth as butter. After changing out a bad output jack I'd say this bass is ready to rock. 

Now that I've done $400 of work to a $50 bass my first impulse is that I should probably put some good pickups in there too. Ah, the addiction keeps feeding...
She actually came out pretty great, I'm going to have a lot of fun

     Thanks everyone for reading! Visit my Shane Dooley Music and Dooley Guitars Lutherie sites here

Happy Music Making!!

Shane Dooley

Acoustic bridge maintenance

Player's blog

 Acoustic guitar bridges

Let's talk about acoustic guitar bridges for a minute. The bridge is arguably the most important part on your acoustic guitar where your tone is concerned. The bridge houses the saddle and allows the tone to transfer from your strings into the soundboard. Bridges are typically made of ebony or rosewood or another suitable dense wood and most aren't finished with lacquer, so they are responsive to changes in the environment. Bridges also need to withstand the 180 lbs (steel strings) of tension that the strings are under when tuned to pitch. Your bridge is important! So take care of it. Here's how to:

1. Oil your bridge. 

You can use the same oil you might use to condition your fingerboard to keep your bridge happy too. Simply remove the strings and the saddle, put a few drops of lemon oil or bore oil on a paper towel, carefully wipe it on the surface of your bridge, wait 30 seconds or so, and wipe off the excess with a dry paper towel.

Ahhhhh that's better!
Avoid getting the oil onto the top of the guitar or any finished surface on the guitar. Please note that some bridges do have finish on them and should not be oiled. Classical guitar bridges are the most likely to have finish on them. Oiling the bridge need only be done once or twice a year in most cases. A dry bridge will generally look lighter in color and dryness can cause the wood to contract and make the saddle not fit properly in the slot and in severe cases the bridge can develop cracks (often between the bridge pins).

2. Don't expose the bridge to extreme temperatures or moisture.

Typical Titebond wood glue is water based and therefore water soluble after curing so that spills, if not cleaned in a timely manner can seep under the bridge and cause the glue to soften and the bridge to lift or release. Temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit will cause wood glue to soften as well. 140 degrees is quickly reached in a car with the windows rolled up on a sunny day. Don't leave your guitar in the hot car for even short periods unless you want to pay me $125 to glue the bridge back on.

3. Install the proper type of strings and do not tune them higher than standard tuning pitch.

If you have a classical guitar, put nylon strings on it. If you have a steel string guitar, put steel strings on. Classical guitars have a bridge like this with with a tie block
If you install steel strings on this bridge it will break the guitar and pull the bridge off eventually because steel strings have considerably higher tension than nylon strings and classical guitars aren't build to handle that tension. If you install nylon strings on a steel string guitar it won't hurt the instrument, but it won't sound good either because a steel string guitar is over-braced for nylon string tension and nylon strings will not drive the top properly. Once you have the right strings installed, tune them properly. Tuning the strings up past E standard tuning is another great way to cause big problems to a guitar, such as what may have caused this:
A particularly nasty situation where the bridge plate has broken and pulled through the top of the guitar

Sometimes, despite proper care of your bridge, it can still begin to lift off of your top or fail in some other way. That's when I recommend that you bring it to a qualified luthier or technician to repair. In the next installment I'll show you what I've recently learned about gluing Martin's newer composite bridges back onto a composite top.

Thanks for taking a look! For more information about Dooley Guitars please visit Dooleyguitars.com or drop by my shop located at 460 main st in Longmont, Colorado inside of Guitars Etc store.

Shane Dooley
Luthier and owner of Dooley Guitars LLC

Correcting some interesting home "lutherie" on a Martin

Lutherie blog

Hey folks welcome to my second installment of Dooley Guitars blog. Today we're going to look at a unique case of this Martin dreadnought and the trauma it has undergone and ultimately its salvation. 

To give you an idea of what has happened to this instrument take a look at this

You are looking at the inside of the guitar at the neck block area. There appears to be 4 wood screws which are much too long wrapped with twine or rope of some sort and then gobs of epoxy dumped all over everything.

A woman had fallen on this guitar while it was on a stand (he actually has a video of it happening, it's cringe worthy indeed) and completely destroyed the neck joint. The owner was advised that about $900 of work could be done only to have a guitar worth a little less than that when finished. He opted not to fix it and a friend of his took the guitar for a week and came back with this.


Amazingly, the guitars plays decently and the projection off the end of the fingerboard is only about 1/32" above the bridge. The reason it came into my shop is that it was playing very sharp compared to the open strings when fretted anywhere on the board. This tells me that the distance from the length from the voicing point off the nut to the crown point of the saddle is too short. By taking a quick measurement of the scale length (measure from the front of the nut to the center of the 12th fret and double that distance) I verified this. I found that the high e string's length from nut to saddle was exactly the scale length and the low e was only 4/32 longer than the scale length. This is not enough compensation to play in tune up the neck. When the earlier "repair" was done material must have been removed from the heel of the neck. The solution is to plug the saddle slot with a piece of ebony and re-cut the slot further back, in this case moving it about 3/32". Unfortunately this would put the bass side of the saddle very close to the bridge pin holes and create too much of a break angle for the string over the saddle. So I compromised and decided to move it 1/16" and hope for the best on the intonation. 

Here I am thickness sanding a piece of ebony on my mini drum sander from micro-mark. This machine is extremely handy for making nuts, saddles and bridges as well as for this job, especially in a shop with limited space. The drum is only about 6 inches wide, but its as accurate as any drum sander I've used.

Here is the plug installed, but not cleaned up yet.

Preparing the jig for the laminate trimmer to re-cut the slot with a straight cut 3/32 bit.

Now the slot is cut, time to re-install the piezo element for the pickup and make a new saddle. Here I found that battery bag for the Fishman pre-amp was attached by Velcro to the underside of the soundboard right next to the x brace. Talk about an unnecessary tone suck! I moved it where it belongs attached safely to the side of the guitar on the treble side where gravity wants to put it while the guitar is playing position and not impeding vibration of the soundboard.

Ok the saddle is installed, time for the moment of truth. 
 Success! The high e intonates perfectly and the low e is still a little sharp but much, much better than it was previously. Importantly, this is also what I expected to happen since I couldn't move the bass side of the saddle slot as far as I would have liked. I'm very pleased by this outcome and most importantly the guitar sounds great! But uh-oh when plugged in the balance of volume from string to string is terrible. What could be causing this? I just re-cut the slot so I know the bottom of the slot is flat and I just made a new saddle so I know it's making great contact with the under-saddle piezo element. Ah, the break angle being so great over the bass side of the saddle combined with the relatively tall saddle profile due to the neck angle means the pressure disbursement is uneven and the result is that the low e string is a few times louder than the d and g strings. I add a piece of thin adhesive copper foil to part of the underside of the saddle to add a slight bit more pressure pinpointed where the strings are sounding dead through the pickup and voila! The balance sounds great again.

This guitar has been through a lot and its a miracle that it plays at all, but it really does have a nice sound to it, albeit a bit bright. Due to the stiffness of the neck joint, the neck set may not inch forward over the years as a typical dovetail joint would and ironically this franken-Martin may outlast others that came off the Martin line at the same time. 

Thanks for visiting my blog, see you soon.

Shane Dooley 
Luthier and owner of Dooley Guitars

My shop is located at 460 Main Street in Longmont Colorado inside of Guitars Etc.

Dooley Guitars New Lutherie Blog - 1923 Gibson Mando

 Welcome to Dooley Guitars new blog!


This blog exists to give information about Dooley Guitars LLC and owner/luthier Shane Dooley. I'll post periodic pictures of some interesting jobs I run into here as well. Dooley Guitars is located inside of Guitars Etc at 460 main street in Longmont, CO. Contact me at DooleyGuitars@gmail.com
1923 Gibson Mandolin with custom ebony bridge

I just hit the three year mark for my business up here in Longmont in April and I thought maybe its time to have a blog. So here it is! I'll post interesting repairs and instruments that come through for anyone interested in Lutherie. The above 1923 Gibson Mando came in a few months ago and needed a new bridge to bring the action where it needed to be. The original bridge was a solid piece of ebony and therefore non adjustable. I fabricated this bridge to match the original as much as possible and now this little beauty really sings! Seriously one of the best sounding mandolins I've ever played. Coming from these great old pieces, how did Gibson go so terribly wrong in the latter part of the century? 

Thanks for checking the blog out. I'll post more soon.

Shane Dooley