To "carve" the top, the first thing I did was visit our local Guitar Center. They let me use a carved top guitar to figure out the contours. I used a straight edge and caliper to figure out countour lines representing 1/16" drops.
I then transferred the contour "map" to some MDF. My son routed the 1st layer - the deepest (outer) layer. Then he cut the template along the next contour line and routed the next layer 1/16" less deep and repeated for each consecutive layer. We did end up having to double the thickness of the last few sections of the template to keep the router bit bearing in contact. If this doesn't make sense, let me know and I can shoot a pic of the template.
To smooth it, we used a mix of a 1/4 sheet sander, a "mouse" sander, and hand sanding with short pieces of various sizes of PVC pipe and cardboard tubing. He started with 80 grit and worked up to 120 so far. The shape is pretty good, but he has some more work to do to refine it. I think if I were doing it I'd use an angle grinder with a sanding disk to get most of the work done, but thought that was too aggressive for my son's 1st attempt.
If it warms up a little, we should be able to get the shaping finished and maybe get the finishing started this weekend. Plan is for a black/black cherry and red stain/dye technique to show off the figure in the wood.