Introduction: 3 String Slide Guitar

Picture of 3 String Slide Guitar

this is my homemade slide guitar.
its made out of junk and scrap and is pretty easy to make

Step 1: Gather the Bits

materials used:
1. birch board 1x3x30 inches{this is a good size if your going to make a slide guitar as the usual string length for such a beast is 22 inches}.

2: set of tuners from an old junked guitar{you know the kind all three are mounted on a stamped sheet metal bar on those crappy old student guitars that tear out the bridge after a few years in the closet} save the strings too.

3:a magnet and coil of copper wire . i used a coil from a soleniod that came out of a scrapped photo printer but you can make your own out of any insulated{varnished}copper wire . as for the magnet i took the steel magnet from an old stereo speaker.{you can use a real guitar pickup if you have one to spare}

4: a 1/8 phono jack.

5: a couple of pieces of aluminum or brass to make bridges {mine were cut from an old window frame}

6: a couple of those bolt/screws that are used as leg mounts on furniture.

7: various screws and last but not least a powerade cap{its like gatorade}

Step 2: Shape the Board

Picture of Shape the Board

i was a bad boy and didnt document this step as i had no idea it was going to work at all but here is an early photo after it was sort of done and tested.{the copper pipe was added to get an idea of what shape the body should take}
but basically you shape the neck and headstock, drill the holes for the tuners,decide where the pickup goes and mill a pocket, lay out the hardware where it has to go and predrill all holes,

Step 3: Fret Markers

to get an accurate set of fret marks you will need to use a fret calculator.
here is a great online one
while your there check out the whole site its great for do it yourself guitars
be very careful to properly mark the frets then if you want you can cut them in with a fretsaw {i used a hacksaw} and you can fill the shallow cuts with white paint or bits of brass wire or leave them empty like i did

Step 4: Pickup

Picture of Pickup

the pickup is just a copper coil wrapped around a magnet.
a real guitar pickup will work better here but almost any coil of a decent length will work {experiment first before you start}
the two leads from the coil go to the jack located on the lower edge of the board
first use a hole saw to cut a circular pit in the wood where you want the pickup(cut it the shape of your pickup or coil) dont cut all the way through or you will seriously weaken the wood.
run the wires back through a trench cut in the back{should be a nice neat slot . mine looks like a trench} to the pickup slot which should be located past the bridge to avoid too many holes and voids in the stressed part of the neck
after its wired and tested glue the pickup in the cavity and cover with the powerade cap{or any non metallic cover} glue in place if necessary.

Step 5: Locating the Nut and Bridge

Picture of Locating the Nut and Bridge

when you decide what scale length you want to use mark from the nut{up at the place where the strings come up on the neck} the full scale/ string length {22 inches} then mark that place as where the bridge goes.
screw both pieces to the board{predrill or youll break lots of screws in the hardwood} 3 inches behind the bridge drill 3 holes 1/8 inch through the board for the strings to go through.
insert the strings (go from thickest to thinnest) lead them up over the bridge and over the nut then tighten them up with the tuning pegs
you`ll notice at this point that the strings dont come anywhere near the neck like in a regular guitar. that because you dont push in the strings with your fingers to fret the notes you use a bottle neck or a section of steel pipe held across the strings to change the effective lengths of the strings

Step 6: The Body

Picture of The Body

well this guitar doesnt have a real body it has a lower limb which is shaped to fit over your thigh so you can play it sitting down.
mine is made out of a chunk of mdf {medium density fiberboard} two holes are drilled through the end peice and into the end of the board and is held on either with screws of a screw/bolt used to screw legs on coffee tables and such.
its not terribly strong but it could be reinforced with a dowel between the body and the neck up at the point where it curves back towards the neck.
you might depending on your skill level want to bend some hardwood to make it or just use a bit of plywood scrap{stronger than what i did but uglier}

Step 7: Finish

Picture of Finish

varnish the neck to keep the wood from swelling and to pretty it up a bit
get a guitar slide{steel or glass) plug it in to you favorite amp. and torture you neighbors.
seriously if you dont know how to play a slide guitar your gonna make some awful noises but thats not covered here
any questions just ask

Step 8: Finish


madrobot3600 (author)2011-01-18

would a piezobuzzer work?

omnibot (author)madrobot36002011-12-14

Yes and No, the piezo would pick up vibrations from the guitars body instead of directly from the string, resulting in a less than electric sound. If you really want to use one I know Risa uses this method in their uke-sticks. Try placing it in the stall instead of under the strings.

lennyb (author)omnibot2011-12-15

a piezo buzzer picks up the sound of the strings while a magnetic pickup has an electric current induced in it by the steel string moving in its magnetic field.

arcane2rox (author)2010-04-02

This is constructive advice about your Instructions.

you wrote
" you know the kind all three are mounted on a stamped sheet metal bar on those crappy old student guitars that tear out the bridge after a few years in the closet}"
Now on a good guitar that won't happen, but you should never leave strings on (Well don't take them off just loosen them a lot ) a guitar that will sit more than a month or two, because it will warp the neck or damage the bridge. Maybe you already knew this i thought I'd mention it though.

P.S that is a cool looking guitar!

lennyb (author)arcane2rox2010-04-02

quite true you shouldnt leave an acoustic guitar fully tensioned when stored long term,
but everyone still does . i see dozens of cheapo guitars at yard sales every year and 80% of them have a bulged out top under the bridge. mostly its because they are so poorly made that disregarding proper storage is nearly always fatal to them.
as for expensive acoustics i have only seen one or two that had a bad bulge and i suspect that more than being left under tension is the problem {humidity making the wood soft is biggest suspect}
i was mostly pointing out that you could feel free to use the parts from a wiped out student guitar that wasn`t worth repairing anyway.
but you`re right i should have struck a blow for neglected guitars everywhere and pointed out the abuse.
:) also im glad you like it.

mdog93 (author)2009-01-29

so if your making a guitar does the length from the nut to the bridge have to be exactly the same for every guitar or could you shorten it if you didn't have enough space?

plutopia (author)mdog932009-02-01

You can shorten it a little, but to be able to tune the guitar at the same pitch you'd then have to reduce the tension on the strings. Struings have an optimum tension, and if it gets too low the soudn goes off and eventually the string starts to just flop about. That's why a uke is tuned an octave higher than a regular guitar, because its scale is half the length. So within limits you can do it, but not too far.

arcane2rox (author)plutopia2010-04-02

You are absolutely correct plutopia. The word used to describe the 12th fret  being the octave of the open string (so on and so forth) is called intonation.

lennyb (author)arcane2rox2010-04-02

best thing to do if your building the neck too or if you need to shorten a guitar you can recalculate and reposition the frets to match it up but the positioning must be precise or the guitar will never tune up ie the 12th fret must be midway between the nut and bridge.
just slappin the bridge on there anywhere without measuring will not work very well.if you have a neck already just measure from the nut to the 12th fret then measure from the 12th fret down the same distance and the bridge must go there,
if your making your neck and the space is limited use an online fret calculater and get the spacings .
you can find one here

mdog93 (author)plutopia2009-02-02

Ok well the amount i meant was off the top of my head around 10 cm not over, but im guessing that's too much. And just out of interest what do they do on a 3/4 length guitar then do they keep the length of the strings the same but alter the body size or something? cheers mdog

lennyb (author)mdog932009-02-03

a 3/4 length guitar has a scale 3/4 as long as a standard 26 inch. the tension should be almost the same and the frets just get closer together. you can make the fretboard / scale almost any length but as mdog says the pitch will go higher{thats kinda why a bass is longer than a six string} if you pass a certain length then the strings get thinner and you have a uke and the body is usually smaller too

lennyb (author)lennyb2009-02-03

sorry i meant as plutopia said

thefruitgnome (author)2009-10-16

sweet project! i might have a go at 1 this weekend. is that some kind of P90 humbucker!?

lennyb (author)thefruitgnome2009-10-16

naw its just a couple of strat pickups wired up like a humbucker.
 it did work ok but a p90 would work much better .

ClemensY290 (author)2009-05-13

ok this probably applies to this as does with real guitars the space from the nut to the 12th fret has to be the EXACT as the length from the 12th fret to the bridge aka the little moveable sadles they have on bridges, that way you can exact the distance

lennyb (author)ClemensY2902009-05-14

quite true. all guitars have the 12th fret at the exact midpoint. no exceptions{that i know of} if you know the formula it is possible to work out where they all go. but i use a fret calculator because im bad at math.

Hoboman (author)2008-12-23

I would like to build one of my own. Could you please explain how exactly you made the pickup? Extremely nice Instructable BTW.

lennyb (author)Hoboman2008-12-23

in glad you like it.
actually i did a sequel to this instructable .
it was all about pickups it ought to answer all your questions.
here is the link


MattWasser (author)2008-03-10

What is that real guitar in the last picture, looks sweet

lennyb (author)MattWasser2008-03-11

ahh that is my franken gibson its a les paul type neck with strat pickups{one wired up as a poor mans humbucker} ,unknown pots and a solid maple body carved from an old office desk top that i rescued from a bonfire pile{before it was lit}. it sounds ok but i never got the sound i was looking for. alas i no longer have it i traded it for the laptop im typing this out on now.

1up (author)2008-02-16

Nice! Is it easier to play than a regular guitar?

lennyb (author)1up2008-02-17

yes it is but it isnt as versitile. you play it with a steel bar/pipe or a glass tube called a slide{see the bottle neck in the picture]. the guitar is tuned to an open note tuning like open e or open g you play by pressing the slide across the strings while strumming and sliding it to change the note. when you tune a regular guitar that way you use you finger across the whole fretboard its called a bar chord then.

darus67 (author)2008-02-09

Cool. I like the minimalist aspect. I wonder if that improvised pickup is equally sensitive to all 3 strings. Don't real pickups usually have a coil for each string?

lennyb (author)darus672008-02-09

thanks im glad you like it the minimal scrap heap nature of this guitar appealled to me too even though i suck at playing it. as for the pickup im sure it probably isnt but each of the strings sounds reasonably loud so im happy with it. as for real pickups some do have a magnet for each string while others have one magnet and a pole beneath each string which i guess adds up to the same thing.

Mark Rehorst (author)2008-02-08

This is great! If anyone wants to know what you can do with a 3 string slide guitar, listen to some of Mark Sandman's 3 string slide bass work on Morphine discs. Bravo! TD

DrStoooopid (author)2008-01-25

WTB sound clips

cylver (author)2007-07-03

If someone else is planning on making one of these, or if you decide to have another go, lennyb, might I suggest a way to make a trussed neck? Two steel L brackets the length of the neck, bolted together to make a T cross section could add significant stiffness, and a 2x4 sawn down the length, with notches to clear the bolts could be glued on for comfort. Then just shape the back of the neck as usual, glue on a veneer (say, 1/4" thick) of whatever wood you'd like for the fretboard, and you're done! Of course, if you'd prefer to countersink some holes and bolt it together, or weld the T bracket, you could do that too, if you have the materials and equipment. Or you could use a dado blade to create a channel for the T bracket to sit in, and chisel out the bolt pockets, but that's really up to you.

taylor100593 (author)cylver2007-11-22

what in the world is a slide guitar?

lennyb (author)taylor1005932007-11-22

a slide guitar is an instrument that is very similar to a regular electric guitar except for these points 1 the strings are higher above the fret board 2 it is tuned to an open tuning{ open E or open G to name a couple} 3 it is played with a slide made out of glass or steel instead of fretting the notes 4 it is usually but not always played on your lap 5 the sound it makes can be .. well just listen to the sponge bob theme music or pink floyds song shine on you crazy diamond and there youll here it in the middle if you need more info google it theres no shortage of info on the subject

lennyb (author)cylver2007-07-13

thanks for the suggestion. seems like you have done this yourself. if you have post it id like to see it.

cylver (author)lennyb2007-07-13

Nah... I don't really have the necessary time, money or tools to do much in the way of projects... I just lurk around here and make suggestions. Ideas are free, and pretty easy to make with the right inspiration.

lennyb (author)2007-05-06

for those of you who have asked me how to play slide guitar i offer this link instead.
im gonna give this a try myself
although it means restringing this guitar with smaller strings

lennyb (author)2007-05-02

i think i could paddle a canoe with mine also. hafta snap off that lower limb tho

lennyb (author)2007-04-15

heh heh now thats doing it the hard way man. i dont think id have thought of doing it that way.and i doubt my ear is good enogh to do it right.

can you post any thing on how to play it?

sorry man i absolutley suck at playing it. which is why i built one instead of buying. i kind of suspected i might

edukdu (author)2007-03-25

Man.....i really loved this instructable....i will made one of these to me right now.... and the poor man´s pickup, i love the idea...tnx man See ya Edu Gomes

lennyb (author)edukdu2007-03-25
heres some more el cheapo pickup ideas. enjoy
thanks for the good comment

edukdu (author)lennyb2007-03-29

hey...i made an pickup with a wall clock coil...and two hard drive magnets... and it works great...but i don´t have a amplifier, so i have to use the computer to amplify the sound...but it stills great... tnx for this instructable.... See ya Edu Gomes

lennyb (author)edukdu2007-03-29

i use a little cheap amplifier i got at a yard sale. its the kind that has inputs for microphones and is intended for voice but it works well enough. you could also take an old walkman and wire the headphone jack to the play head and have a private portable amp that wont annoy your neighbours too much

Ibanezfoo (author)2006-12-23

This is a great project! Do we get to hear how it sounds?

lennyb (author)Ibanezfoo2007-02-25

i been meaning to make a short mp3 of it and post it ...but theres that hippy slacker again..i will do it soon and let you know.

Squire_Bullet (author)2007-02-25

So I suppose you can do the same thing, except form the body differently.

lennyb (author)Squire_Bullet2007-02-25

oh ya you can make the body anyway you like. that limb was a hunk of scrap cut out of M.D.Fleft over from an experiment i did making a les paul body{i only did it to piss off a buddy who said it couldnt be done. he was half right it could be done ..but it shouldnt} so half the curve was already there and that appeals to the hippie slacker in me that wants to use stuff i already have

lemonie (author)2007-01-28

Why three strings (i.e not four)?

lennyb (author)lemonie2007-02-25

well this guitar does not have a truss rod so the more strings you put on it the faster it will warp. also i was looking at some sites about cigarbox guitars and they usually have 3{ya i know ive seen em with 4 and even 6 before too} i am gonna make a 6 string version with frets when i get around to it.

skautistic (author)2006-08-27

Excellent lennyb. I love the way you made the lower limb/body - it really makes this project stand out. For those of you who really want to make this project out of "nothing" get old strings from a friend, boil them and re-use the strings on your new guitar.

lennyb (author)skautistic2006-08-27

lol as it turns out the strings on that guitar are on there third use first on my kent then on my franken gibson and now on the slider boiling does ressurect them nicely but it only works once or twice

dan (author)2006-04-20

hmm, how about some details on shaping / drilling / milling the board? tips? lessons learned?

lennyb (author)dan2006-04-20

well i just whittled it out with a pocketknife.finished with a spokeshave and thined the headstock with a band saw the curves were eyeballed from an old 60s kent guitar i salvaged from a dumpster. so no math or anything. i think the next one i do ill document the carving too.

About This Instructable




Bio: i am a photolab technician and an incurable packrat. i have made swords ,chainmail, crossbows.cameras,bike trailers,kayaks,guitars{slide and electric},knives,various ... More »
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