How To Make A Guitar
“Nice guitar, man.” Someone will say and you will reply saying “Thanks, I built it myself. It’s the first guitar I ever built.” How is that for a conversation starter? Let’s find out how to make a guitar.
In the course of this DIY article, we will be focusing on how to make acoustic and electric guitars. With that being said, let us get started.
Pick A Template
To build an electric guitar, the first thing you have to do is come up with a template for the shape of your guitar. You can copy a template from the body shape of an existing guitar or simply draw out one based on whatever design you have in mind to craft your masterpiece.
There is no restriction on how your guitar should look. You can decide to make it look angled or simply stick with the classic Les Paul rounded body. The world is your oyster.
Go Shopping For Materials
Guitars aren’t just made of wood. Several other components are required to make your guitar look and be truly awesome. This is why you cannot leave a visit to the guitar shop out of the process. Well, you could also order then online but where is the fun in that?
Below are general components needed to make an electric guitar:
- A bridge
- Tuning Pegs
- A pickup or more (Just in case you need an extra)
- A nut
- A pickup selector switch
- Volume and tone controls
- An input for a quarter-inch cable
- A fret wire
Depending on how far you are looking to go with this guitar, you can also purchase the following items:
- A truss road
- Strap pegs
- A pickguard
Select The Right Material For Guitar Body
Now that you have a blueprint of what you want your guitar to look like, you should proceed with picking out the kind of wood you would like to build it with. Most electric guitar bodies are usually built with alder, swamp ash, maple or mahogany wood. Birch plywood is also not a bad idea for building a guitar body.
Maple seems to go across the board as it also commonly used for guitar necks and fingerboards too. However, you also have the option of using mahogany for your guitar neck and rosewood for your fingerboard.
Keeping in mind that different kinds of wood provide varying tonal quality and noise. For instance, if you make use of heavy woods like a walnut in making your first guitar, it will provide you with thick, base-heavy tones. On the other hand, using lighter types of wood like alder will leave you with a guitar that produces tinny, bright sounds. Therefore, we recommend that you be sure of what kind of sound you want from your guitar and find out the appropriate type of wood to make use of.
Start Making The Guitar
Sculpt The Body Shape Of Your Guitar
Place the template with your guitar shape on the wood of your choice and trace the pattern onto the wood. Use a jigsaw to cut through the wood, tracing the outline you had drawn previously. Standard practice is to have 3 layers or blanks of the design in varying sizes.
Remember that while using the jigsaw, you need cut to the line, not over it.
Now you have two guitar body patterns. The purpose of the top pattern will be to serve as the point at which your picks and controls will be located, while the lower pattern is where the wiring patterns of your guitar and its control access openings will be located.
Take your time to carve out every opening necessary to ensure that the wiring part of your guitar can be completed without an itch. These openings include:
- The center of the selector switch location (Drill this up to ¼ inch of the blank’s surface)
- the wiring path from the pickups to the controls and switch.
- The control pots
Essential openings that need to be drilled on the top blank include:
- The neck pocket opening (This needs to be done with absolute precision.)
- The pickup locations.
After this is done, proceed to sand the sides of the guitar body. If you would like to give your guitar that rounded off the edge then you have to make use of sander for that.
The next step of this stage is to have those body blanks glued together. To avoid slippage and getting shoddy work done, we advise that you make use of a lot of clamps. Be sure that you use high-quality wood glue for this task. Good wood glue usually has a decent “open” time so you can take your time to do the job perfectly.
Once the guitar body is completely cured, then you can proceed with carving the contours in the body shape. We recommend that you do not rush this process, don’t be scared to take your time because you will be shaving off a lot of wood that cannot be put back if an error occurs.
Ensure that to hold the guitar body in a playing position from time to time. This is to ensure that the ergonomics are tailored to your liking.
Start With The Guitar’s Neck
Carefully pick a neck wood of your choice. After that is done, measure the neck board to provide enough space for the fretboard. Averagely, this can range from 18 to 20 inches. You also need a piece of about 7 inches long by 4 inches wide for the headstock of your guitar.
Ensure that the thickness of these sections is about a three-quarter inch. Keep in mind that you need to thin down the headstock to about 5/8 of an inch once you have it glued in place. Right about this point in the process of making your guitar, you should have chosen what kind of wood you would like to use for your fretboard Y.ou can make use of ebony, rosewood or as a cheaper alternative, maple.
To carve the neck of your guitar, you will need spokeshaves, sandpaper, files and rasps to work the wood into the shape you intend to bring to life.
Craft Your Fretboard
Having chosen the material of your choice, be sure the board is approximately ¼ inch thick by 2 inches by 20inches.
The next step is to work on the fret markers on the board. How you do this depends on how artistic and inventive you intend to get with the design of your fret markers. You could simply make use of simple notes to the piece or work some inlay magic. It all boils down to taste and your vision for your electric guitar.
Note where your markers will go. 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19. Proceed to drill the marker spots to a depth of about 1/8 inch of the fretboard. Fill up the holes with some crushed stones (which you can get a craft store) and some epoxy. Once the epoxy is set, make use of a file to trim down any excesses.
Set Your Sights On The Truss Rod Cover
You could buy this to save yourself some time but it’s easy and fun to make. Pick the material earmarked for the truss rod cover and make sure that you mark 1/8 inches of thickness all around the blank. After which you should cut the plate to the marked thickness.
Draw the shape you want unto the blank then sand the edges till you are satisfied with the result. Test it out to make sure that it fits, then you can proceed.
Make A Truss Rod
After this is done, you will have to craft a truss rod. If you are the DIY kind of person, you might want to make your truss rod yourself and we applaud your energy. But the process of making a truss rod from scratch is worthy of being a standalone article.
Therefore, for the sake of ease in the making of your guitar body, we recommend that you get a ready-made truss rod, these usually go for about $15 on Amazon. Buy your truss rod with the link below:
Go Back To Your Fretboard
Make that you have your inlays in place, cut the fret slots to optimum depth and sand the surface to a minimum of 320 grit (some people go as far as sanding it down to about 2000 grit).
After this is, you need to condition the wood of the fretboard before installing the fret wire. Most woods do not need finishing. However, if you made use of maple wood for your fretboard, make sure that you use high-quality wax to finish the fretboard.
The next step is to drill the holes for where the turners will be installed. Be very precise when carrying this out, you have to make sure that these holes are evenly spaced such that there will be no contact between the backs of the turners. Also, the holes being drilled have to be precisely the exact size for the turners.
The final step towards completing the fretboard of your guitar is applying a finish coat on the fretboard. Mind you, it isn’t necessary to do so. However, if you do decide to apply a finish coat, you can make use of Tru-oil as it contains hardeners which give a waterproof finish to your guitar neck while also leaving no stickiness to the wood.
Finish The Guitar Body
Once you are done with the guitar neck, you want to use some body-fill on the guitar body. We recommend making use of high-quality wood filler. Make sure that you apply several thin layers of the body filler on your guitar and add fillers in places where there are dents and dips on the surface of the guitar body.
After completing the filler job on the raw wood, use some masking tape in the neck pocket and hang the guitar body in an area where you can paint it. Use a high build automotive primer on the guitar body before glazing it and applying spot putty.
Apply A Top Coat To The Guitar Body
This process requires some level of expertise, therefore we recommend that you outsource this part of the job to an automotive paint shop.
However, if you think that you can handle this yourself, you can make use of car paint and some nitrocellulose lacquer on top of the clear coat before adding several coats of carnauba wax to it.
Shield Your Guitar Body
It is recommended that you shield every electronic cavity on your guitar body with a material that will aid in reducing that annoying 60-hertz hum that is connected with the electric guitar. You can make use of copper leaf paint.
Major cavities include the control cavity, the switch cavity and the backside of their cover plates.
Join The Neck And The Guitar Body
Using a 1 ¾ inch screws and stainless steel washers, attach the guitar neck to its body. To start, pinpoint where the screws should go and drill small pilot holes in them. Attach some counter sinkholes at the back of the guitar body then clamp the guitar neck securely before drilling in the screws
And now you have a fully formed guitar body.
Don’t be in a hurry, these aren’t acoustic guitars. You still need to work on the electronic components of the guitar.
Wire Up The Guitar
Pass the pickup wires through the holes you drilled during the initial portion of building your guitar. Place the pickups into the cavities in the front part of the guitar, then proceed to fasten them firmly. Repeat the same process for the tone, volume and pickup selector controls.
You also have to fasten the input of the guitar cord. To get this done, using 3 feet of telephone wire jack should be sufficient, all you have to do is strip down the wire and you are good to go.
Using the schematics from the pickups that you purchased, you should find it pretty easy to connect the controls and the input for the guitar cord to the pickups. To get started with the connections, you need to have electronics soldering iron close by (the basic soldering iron should work just fine).
Make sure to use electrical tape to mask any connections in the guitar to any short circuit from occurring later on. Cover the cavities and screw them shut once you are done with wiring up your guitar.
Add Strings To Your Guitar
We assume that you remembered to buy some strings as we stated earlier. String up your guitar using your favorite string gauge. Try playing your guitar for a bit before plugging it in, tune it as much as possible till it is perfect enough for you – take care to not snap your strings.
Once everything is in order, plug in your guitar and see how your latest creation is holding up. It feels good to create your very own guitar, doesn’t it?
You might need to take it to the nearest guitar store to have some minor adjustments done such as changing the guitar’s bridge pins or it’s saddle height.
It might be a lengthier process than making an acoustic guitar but building an electric guitar can be one of the most rewarding moments in the life of a guitarist. You might even get a liking for it and decide to produces several more for your personal use or sale.
Please be advised that the process of building a guitar requires patience and commitment. Therefore, we advise that you do not commence such a project until you are sure that you will see it through to the end or you will end up wasting your money, time and resources.
We know that the urge to be involved in every aspect of building your guitar will be very strong. However, you should outsource whatever aspect of the process that you cannot handle yourself to prevent yourself from sustaining injuries.
Building your guitar doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be involved in the manual process, you can always commission a guitar maker to get the job done while you focus on other things.
Also, we recommend that you make use of genuine materials when building your guitar, cheaper isn’t always better and striping your guitar after a short period for repairs isn’t something you want to go through.