Step 1: TOOLS, PARTS AND SUPPLIERS
Plunge Router and Router Bits
(I use a Skill router with a 1/4" bit, a 1/2" bit with ball bearing guide and a 1/2" round over bit)
Drill and Drill Bits
(A basic electric drill and bit set with an optional 6" sanding disk for carving down the body, and a 1/2" Forstner Bit for counter sinking the neck ferrules.)
(Any good jig saw and fine tooth blade for cutting the plastic control covers)
Belt Sander (optional)
(For carving down the top back body contour)
Mouse or Orbital sander (optional)
Dremmel tool (optional)
(Use with a sanding attachment for hard to reach areas that need to be sculpted)
Drill press (optional)
(I wish I had one, it makes drilling perfectly straight holes much easier)
(Good to have if you need to laminate your own body blank. A small one is good to have for holding the neck inplace when you attach it)
Soldering Iron and Solder
Flux and Wire
(Both for the electronics)
Basic Parts and Electronics
(Trying to build your own neck is difficult and requires more tools that you might be willing to buy.)
(Make your own out of Birch Plywood or buy a blank from a retailer)
(I tend to go with a hard tail type bridge since it can be easily bolted on. Not much to it.)
(These are used to hold the string in the guitar and are placed in small holes drilled in the back. You won't need these if you decide to go with a Gibson style bridge and tail piece.)
(It's a good idea to get high quality tuners since the cheaper one don't stay in tune as well)
(You will need pick guard screws for the control cavity cover and other various size screws for pickup rings and truss rod cover. Your bridge should come with screws but check and make sure in case you need to order any)
(For the neck and strings. You can use a neck plate instead of ferrules but I like the clean look and tight fit that you get with the ferrules.)
(This depends on the type of sound you want and how much you are willing to spend. Shop around for good deals.)
(Most come with screws when you buy them but if you decide to go with all gold hardware you might want to buy gold screws separately.)
(You can get a sheet of black plastic from Stewart MacDonald and use it to cut the cover for the control cavity.)
(These can be bought from many online retailers. Get the style that best fits your guitar design. Shop around for the best deal)
(Uses for volume and tone control you typically need between two and four depending on the type of sound you want. They come in different sizes and values so the best thing to do is look up a wiring schematic online for the set up you want to see what kind to use. Seymour Duncan has great schematics.)
(They also come in different values so find out what you need from your schematic)
(I like to use a long shaft input jack. All you have to do to install it is drill a hole. Pretty easy)
(These come in different styles also. Fender Strats use 5 way switches while Les Pauls use 3 way ones.)
Parts and Suppliers
Seymour Duncan Pickups
Guitar Parts USA
Guitar Parts Central
Guitar Jones USA
Guitar Parts Online
There are tons of different online retailers and ebay stores that you can find a great deal on parts and supplies, but those were just some of the ones that I have purchased on and been satisfied with their service and parts. NOTE: Do your research when it comes to parts and the quality of the parts you buy. I like to get feedback and reviews from Harmony-Central. You might not be able to get reviews on everything, but it helps you out allot.
Step 2: DESIGN AND PLAN
SCALE LENGTH What is a "Scale Lenght?" The scale lenght is the lenght the string travels between the nut at the top of the fretboard and the bridge at the mid section of the base of the guitar. To determine the scale length of your guitar you would measure from the front part of the nut where it meets the fretboard to the center of the 12th fret on the neck and multiplying that by 2. Add about 3/16" to that on the low e string and taper that to about 1/16" added to the high e string. This is called compensation and that is why you see that tapered line on a bridge. Go to Stewart MacDonnaldfor more info. They also have a Fret Calculator that helps you determine your particular scale length in addition to a page dedicated to helping you out with tons of free info for your guitar building projects.The fret is the metal of nickle wire that is raised up off the fretboard. I would suggest buying a neck that has been pre made from a manufacturer that fits the design concept that you want to go with. I bought mine from Guitar Parts USA for about $70. You can pay anywhere from $50 to $300 for a neck at online retailers, but surf around and make sure you are satisfied with what you get. Guitarpartsusa will tell you to buy an expensive neck if you are building an expensive guitar, not a $70 neck. But for mine the $70 neck works just fine. Once you get the neck in and you determine what the scale length is you can lay it all out on paper. I recomend buying all your hardware, pickups and knobs before you draw your final template. This will allow to place everything where you want it and know what size holes to drill for the electronics and how big the cavites will need to be for them and the pickups.
DESIGN AND PLANNING It is best to pre-plan your design concept so you can correct any mistakes on paper before you get to the wood and can't go back. Sketch out some design concepts on paper then, once you have decided on something,lay out a couple of pieces of poster board to draw the body shape out on. You can let you imagination go wild or if you perfer stay with a more traditional design. For this particular guitar I built, I chose to go with a PRS style body design. To get the measurment correct, I pulled a picture of the guitar I was modeling it after from a guitar catalog that was taken straight on and not from the side. I then scaled up the guitar by marking out a grid on the picture and transposed it to some poster board that I had drew a larger grid on. I knew that the pickup rings measured 3 1/2" by 1 1/2" and thats what I used to scale the picture up and get the proportions correct. Another method is to project the image on a wall and trace it to the poster board if you happen to have a projector but I like to draw my template out freehand. You don't have to use this method for the design if you want to come up with you own unique style. Just make sure that take all the parts that will go on to your guitar into consideration first like the neck postition, pick ups and knobs.
PLOTTING OUT THE PEICES Once you have drawn out the shape of the body you can then locate and draw the cavaties that the pickups and electronics will go and set you bridge placement. It is good to know wher the center of the guitars boy is so you can make sure that the pickups and bridge are in good alignment with the neck pocket. I like to take a piece of poster board and trace the fretboard of the neck on it and cut it out, that way I can properly place my bridge according to my scale length.
For the neck pocket you will want to trace the heal of the neck where you want it to be placed. For this guitar I had to extend a peice of the body to attach the neck to since I was copying a PRS which uses a set in neck. I was using a bolt on and didn't have much of a neck pocket to work with.
Next, make sure you give yourself enough room in the electronic cavity to fit all the potometers and switches. Also remember to add about 1/4" of a lip that the control cover will sit on.
After your design has been properly plotted out on the poster board you can cut it out with an exacto knife. Make sure you stay as true to your lines as possible so you have a nice clean line to trace once your ready to. Then lay out the template on body blank and trace away. I like to cut the piece of poster board the same size as the body blank I am using. It makes it a lot easier to line everything up that way. Now you're ready to move on to the next step.
Step 3: ROUTING THE BODY AND CAVITIES
MAKE YOUR OWN BODY BLANK Another neat trick to create your own body blank for $10 is to get a 3/4" thick peice of Birch Plywood that comes cut into a 4' by 2' board. Simply cut out two rectangular sections of the board that will accomodate your desing and wood glue them together. Be generous with the glue to make sure there aren't any spaces between the boards when you press the two together, clamp and stack weights on top of it so the two peices are joined firmly and let dry overnight. This gives you a a 1 1/2" thick body blank that is rigid and works great for electric guitars. You will have to go with a solid color paint when you finish it but you won't be able to tell the difference between it and the solid wood blank. Plus you'll save a good chunk of change that you can use towards good pickups and hardware. If you want to make the body a little thicker, you can get a 1/4" peice of birch and glue it between the two thicker peices. It's also a good idea to prerout any wire cavities in that 1/4" peice before you glue them together. That way you don't have to worry about drilling them later and ruining the top of your guitar body with the drill.
MAKING A TEMPLATE Once you have traced out your design to the wood you can start routing. I recomend making a template first for the body rout out of 1/4" hard board or something equivalent to that. The professionals use cnc machines to carve and rout the bodies but smaller shops will use templates made from acrylic. The hard board works just fine, but might not last as long. You can also rout the body by hand and forget the template but if you mess up there's no going back so be carefull if you do.
I cut my template with a jig saw and a fine tooth blade to make sure it kept a straight edge. Then i mounted it to the body blank using small screws in the ares that would be routed out later like the neck cavity area and where the pick ups would be. You will want to start routing a bit outside your line or the edge of the template so you can get you router bit to the depth it will need to be at for the ball bearing to follow the template. I use a 1/2"x1" bit with a ball bearing guide on top.I make several passes around the body, lowering the router 1/4" at a time for smooth easy cuts. Once you have made your pass were the bearing runs along side the template, it is much easier to rout and you will end up with a nice squared edge to the body.
ROUTING THE EDGE I like to use a 1/2" round over bit on the edge of the body to give it a nice even curve. You dont have to do this butit is good to round the edges of the body a little bit at least. It's easier to polish the body after you gloss it and you don't risk burning through on those sharp edges.
THE NECK POCKET The next step is to rout the neck pocket and body cavities. For the neck pocket I like to use a 1/4" bit and leave the scrap wood edge around the body to give the router the extra support it needs when routing the neck area. To find out how deep you will have to rout the pocket measure the total thickness of the heal of the neck. Then measure the hieght of the bridge from the bottom to the top of the groove the string will sit in on the saddle and add about 1/8" to it. That allows for the string clearence over the frets. The subtract that from the overall thickness that you came up with when you measured the heal of the neck. That will give you a pretty accurate depth that you will need to carve the pocket down to. Be very careful when you rout the neck pocket! You don't want to make it too big otherwise you end up with gaps between the neck and the body and you don't want to go too deep because it can be impossible to fix. Rout a little bit at a time, and set the neck in each time to make sure you get the proper fit. It shouldn't fit to tight and the pocket should be slightly lager than the heal of the neck because you will have paint accumulation in it which will shrink it a little.
PICKUP CAVITIES Same basic thing here. Be careful routing as you don't want to go outside you lines. The pickup rings tend to be thin along the outter edge, so if you go outside you lines it will look like there is a hole in the body of the guitar once you fit the rings on. Determine the depth that you will need for the pickups you are using. This is usually based on the length of the mounting screws. You will need enough room for them to fit. I use a 1/4" bit for this as well. You can use a template if you want but I do it free hand because any imperfections will be covered by the pickup rings.
THE CONTROL CAVITY Routing the control cavity is just as important as the neck pocket but with a couple more steps. The best thing to do is to cut out the plastic cover. Trace the pattern that you came up with for it on the plastic then cut it out with a jig saw. Use a fine tooth blade to prevent the plastic from chipping and will also yeild a smoother cut. Once this is done, take your template and reverse it, trace the patern on the back side of the body. Next set your router to a depth that is the same as the thickness of the plastic plate and rout the cavity working out to the line you drew. I do this free hand since the first cut is too shallow for a template. Be careful when you do this and test fit the plate you cut to make sure you get a goo fit. Then you will draw another line about 1/4" along the inside of the cavity you routed out, leaving extra room in areas for the screws you will use later on to secure the control plate. Rout this area out in the same way, working out to the line you drew. When you start to get close to the half way point in the wood start to think about how much wood you need to leave at the bottom. Usualy 1/4" is good but make sure you are careful! I miscalculated once and ended up going all the way through the body. Bad experience.
Step 4: DRILLING THE HOLES AND SHAPING THE BODY
DRILLING THE NECK HOLES ON THE BODY Before you do this you can carve down the back of the neck area if that is something you were going to do. If you are just going to leave it flat then that's ok too. The first step if you are using furreles is to map out where you want to place them and then mark the center of the hole where the screw will go. Then take your forstner bit drill enough to fit the furrele inside. Usually you can tell how deep to go if you drill a little at a time, and place the furrele in it to see if it is just low enough in the hole not to see the top of it if you look at the body horizontally or it is flush with the wood. After doing this you can drill the holes for the screws. Use a bit that has the same circumference as the screw including the threading so when you put the scre into the hole it just passes through with out you having to screw it in. Drill in the indention that was left by the tip of the Forstner bit, keeping the drill as straight as possible.
ATTACHING AND DRILLING THE NECK For this you will want to use a clamp to hold the neck firmly in place while you dril the holes. Attach the neck to the body and clamp it lightly so you can set it in the right possition before drilling. Make sure you have some protection between the clamp and the body so you don't leave any indentions in the wood. A soft piece of plastic or a soft rag will work nicely. Use a long ruler to allign the neck to the position of the bridge. Do this on both sides of the neck to see that you get it centered. Tighten down the clamp a bit more until the neck doesn't move. Drill the holes as straight as possible with a smaller bit that you used on the body. If you can't reach all of the spots that you need to drill at because the clamp is in the way, take a couple of the furreles and neck screws and screw them into the neck. Once you have done this you can finish drilling the other holes with out the clamp.
SHAPING THE BODY This is totaly up to you. You can carve down the body however you want. For my project I chose to carve down the body as close to the way the guitar I was modeling it after was. I used a verity of different sanders. I used a belt sander for the arm contour on the top back of the guitar, a dremmel tool with a sanding attachment for the small carve down under the neck, a 6" sanding disk attachment on my drill for the body contour on the back of the guitar, and a Black and Decker mouse sander for the neck area and smoothe down of all the other areas that had previously been carved. One rule of thumb is to only sand with a 220 grit when carving the body down. This will prevent any deep scratches any lower grit will cause. Don't use any electric sander on the falt parts of the guitar either, like the top or the back. Use a 220 grit paper with a sanding block to smooth out those areas. You can also run a slightly dampened cloth along the surface of the body and let dry before the final hand sanding. This will raise the small grains in the wood so they can be cut by the paper easier. Sand in the direction of the grain.
FINISH DRILLING THE HOLES After you have shaped and carved the body and the neck holes are drilled and the cavities routed out, you can preposition all of you parts and drill the last of the holes. Start with the pickup rings. It is good to assemble them first and then drop them into the cavity so you can line them up and mark where you will need to drill. Make sure they aren't crooked when you line them up. I like to have the neck bolted on so I can line them up with it. I do the same thing with the bridge. Be sure to check that the scale length is correct and that it is lined up with the neck as well. Drill the holes for the mounting screws and then the string through holes. Try to keep the drill as straight as possible when you do this because you will be going all the way through the body and if they aren't straight you will see it on the other side. This is the time that I wish I had a drill press.
Next you can move on to the holes for the control cavity. Use the washers that come with the electronic components to find out what size bit you will need. I use the 1/2" forstner bit that used on the neck to drill the input jack hole. It makes it straight and smooth.
TEST FIT It is a good idea to go ahead and test fit all the parts on the guitar before you move on to prep and paint to make sure that everything is in the right spot and that there is nothing that needs to be corrected.
Step 5: PREP THE BODY
Stewart MacDonnald has a great finishing schedule that I would recomend reading before you start the painting process. You shouldn't need to fill any pores on the neck because necks are usualy made from maple which is a tight grain wood. All that's need for it is a sanding with 220 grit paper unless you want to leave the neck natural and unfinished. I recomend using at least a few coats of sanding sealer of clear gloss laquer to protect the wood fromdirt and grime that comes from playing.
Step 6: PAINT AND POLISH
I use a coat hanger wire to hang the body and neck from when I paint. It keeps the guitar from touching any thing and makes it easier to move from one place to another. I like to dedicate one place for painting and another for drying to avoid any free floating particales from landing on the wet paint. I use a shed for painting and hang the guitar to dry in my garage.
SPRAYING TECHNIQUE Spray the body holding the can 6 to 8 inches away, moving either up and down or right and left depending on how you have set the nozzel. Start spraying from 2 inches outside the body and finish the stoke the same way. Don't stop or start the spry right on the body because you will end up with an uneven build up or paint drips. It is also good to spray a light "tack" coat first and let that dry for 45 min before laying on the thicker coats. This lets the paint adhere to the body better. You can also mount the guitar body to a square wooden stick that will fit inside the neck pocket so you can hold the guitar flat while you paint the top of it. This lets the coats build up thick and even, but watch for drips on the side.
After you have good coverage, let it dry for a few days or until it has hardened up enough. Inspect the surface for and runs or imperfections. If there are any runs them you can wet sand them flat with 800 grit wet sand paper and a sanding block. Usualy you will be able to see if there is any grain showing that you might not have filled up when you preped the body. If there is them apply a few more coats to cover it up and wet sand it to make it level.
RACING STRIPES Once you have checked out the color coat and are satisfied with the results and have let it dry completely, you can move straight to clear coats or add some racing stripes... or any other design you feel comfortable painting on. I did a paint splatter on the guitar I'm currently working on and it looks awsome. Plus it was realy easy. I just sparyed some black laquer paint in a pan, dipped a brush in it and splattered it on to my liking. For racing stripes make sure you get auto masking tape so you don't get any bleed through when you paint. Decide where you want you lines to go and tape them off. Use a garbage bag to cover the rest of the guitar and make sure all the other areas of the body are covered and taped off to prevent any unwanted spray from getting on the guitar. Spray just enough coats of paint to cover up the base color. You don't want it to be too thick because you will lay daown a clear coat on top and wet sand to level out the finish. If it is too thick it will take much more coats of clear and more sanding than you will want to do just to level it out.
CLEAR COATStew Mac sells nitrocellulose lacquer that works realy well for guitar finishing but if your like me you can't afford $10 a can for paint. Or you can check out reranchthough I haven't used any of their products they are a little cheaper. I use Deft spary lacquer. You can get it at Wal-Mart for under $5 a can and it works great. Use the same basic steps that you used when you sprayed you color coats, keeping in mind that you want enough coats so you don't cut through the clear top coat when wet sand and polish it out. Now comes the waiting. The paint has to set for several days to a month to let the solvents that are in the paint to rise to the top and harden. The paint will feel dry but you will notice that it might feel a little sticky or soft when you touch it. I like to do a "nail" test on mine. I use my finger nail and push it into the painted area in the neck pocket to see if it is still soft. No one will see the inside of the neck pocket so it's ok if you scratch it. Once it has cured completly you shouldn't be able dent the finish. It could take longer than a month for certain finishes to harden completely but trust me, you will be glad that you waited. For more information about all the different types of lacquer or clear coats products that are out there and how to choose what may be right for you, check out the drum foundry they have some great info.
WET SANDING You can wet sand with 600 or 800 grit wet sanding papers that you can get from the hardware or auto body shop before you apply the clear coats. You can get precission paper from Stewart Mac Donald that are suppose to cut better, last longer and yeild a better result, but I have never tried them so that's up to you. When wet sanding there are a few things to keep in mind. First you will need to soak the paper overnight in water. You can add a little Murphy's Oil soap to it. It will act as a lubricant and help it cut better. You could even soak the paper in a solvent if you use a laquer finish but I use water because it cleans up easier and dosen't smell. Next be sure not to overly soak the areas that you have drilled holes in. If the water get in the wood it can cause a lift in the lacquer that could lead to cracks in the finish. This is why some people choose a solvent to sand with because it is more forgiving in that area. Start wet sanding with a 600 to 800 grit paper and gradually work your way up to a 2000 plus grit. If you use water you may experience a condition in you finger tips that comes with a prolonged exposure to it called "raisoning". Just let them dry out for a while and get back to work!
POLISHING Once you have completed the wet sanding you wil have a pretty smooth surface that is almost a dull shine. You can either hand polish the finish or use a polising attachment to buff it out. Stew Mac has a polishing pad that attaches to you drill. Or you can get 6" foam bonnets from an auto parts store that will fit over the sanding disk attachment you may already have. It is best not to use any thing made from cotton because it will cut through the finish. Stew Mac also has polishing compounds that you will use in order working you way down to the swirl remover. It's on the expensive side so I use McGuires polish that you can get from the auto shop. If you use a buffing attachment make sure that you uae a different attachment for each grade of polish. Don't use the same pad for each one. Also remember to wait 10 minutes after buffing before you wipe off the surface. The lacquer gets hot and soft after buffing so give it time to cool. You will have to hand polish the cutaways, don't attempt to use the buffer on the edges of the guitar or cutaways because you will burn though the finish.
I finished my last guitar in this pattern:
Wet Sand 800/1000/1500/2000 grit,
Buff Down using an orbital sander that had a "hook and loop" base or velcro that I had attached a polishing pad that Gator Grit makes and McGuiars step 1 cleaner polish
Hand Buff with McGuiars step 2 swirl remover
It took less time than previous finishes and looked awesome.
Once you have finished polishing, clean off the residue the polish left behind with a clean cloth ie: an old t-shirt, look closely to admire the shine and get that piece of broccoli out from between your teeth.
STAINED FINISHES Check out the master Dan Erlewine put a stained finish on a guitar with out the use of spray equipment or buffing arbor.
Step 7: ASSEMBLY AND WIRING THE ELECTRONICS
SHEILDING Sheilding is good to use if you want to minimize that annoying buzz you can get from surrounding interference that electronic components such as amps can produce. You can use sheilding paint that is a bit more expensive but easier to apply than copper tape. All you do is paint it on and let it dry. It also gets into the areas tape can't reach. To install the tape you basically just apply it to the inside of the control cavity and solder up any seams that might let the interference through. The soldering can be a little tricky since you have to lay down a long bead of it along the seam. Kind of like welding. Here are some futher instructions After this is done you can install the pots and switch. Be careful when tightening them down not to scratch the finish. Add the knobs and get out your schematic for wiring it up.
WIRING Lay your beautifully finished guitar on a soft towel so you don't scratch it and cover the back with a cloth as wel so you don't splatter solder on it. How you wire you guitar up depends on the layout you have chosen. Mine was a simple one tone, one volume and three way switch set up. I have gone with the Les Paul set up on other guitars which is a two tone and two volume before as well. What ever set up you go with just follow the schematic that either came with you pickups or get one from Seymour Duncan. They also have instructional videos that are done by Seymore Duncan himself on Strats and Les Pauls. I recomend watching these if its your first time wiring a guitar.