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In this instructable I will show you how I made the body for my carbon fiber acoustic guitar, part of a workshop at Techshop. It was made laying layers of carbon fiber and fiberglass over a cardboard mold, then hardening the fibers with marine grade epoxy. The mold was modeled after a 1940 Gibson L-00

This is definitely an unconventional technique, but there are several examples of carbon fiber guitar makers - one company close to me is SF based Blackbird Guitars. They use carbon fiber to form the entire instrument; body, top, neck, fingerboard, etc... Mine definitely isn't as polished and professional as theirs, but it was a great challenge that introduced me to a lot of new materials and methods. I'd like to share the new skills I learned along the way with anyone who's interested. Considering this was my first time making an instrument of any kind, and my first time working with carbon fiber, I'm very happy with how everything turned out.

One note before I start, though - there is probably a lot of room for improvement in this process. The workshop was designed with complete beginners in mine, and therefore ignored advanced techniques such as vacuum bagging in favor of simple, intuitive methods. The whole body was laid up and finished with brush and gloved hands. For a very different approach using vacuum bags (which I hope to try in the future) see this other instructable - A Carbon Fiber Violin.

It's really hard for me to estimate the time and money that went into making this, because I was working on so many project at once I wasn't keeping track very well, but I estimate it took me a bit over 1 week, working nights ,to finish the body alone. I'll break down costs later when I list the materials.

I worked on the entire guitar project most nights for several weeks - making and assembling the mold was done in one night. Making the body took another 3-4 nights - it probably could be done in 1-2 nights, but I had trouble with one coat of my epoxy drying - explained later. After taking a break to work on the other guitar components, final shaping, finishing and installing the other components took another 3-4 nights.

Here is my first attempt at a 3D 'catch' model of my guitar. Click the 3D view button on the left to activate the viewer.

Step 1: Why Carbon Fiber?

Carbon fiber isn't going to replace wood body guitars anytime soon, but for those who want something different there are some definite advantages to using carbon fiber. As I understand them, the main reasons to use carbon fiber over wood construction (besides looks) are acoustics, durability, and ease of construction.

Acoustics


I don't know a lot about the science behind guitar construction, but I'll point you to Blackbird Guitars and Rainsong Guitars, two carbon fiber guitar makers that do a good job explaining the logic of using carbon. But my understanding is that properly constructed carbon fiber guitars have a very clear sound and loud volume. More importantly, once one finds a good design for a carbon fiber guitar, it's much easier to repeat success than with a wood guitar. Every wooden component can vary slightly - grain direction, moisture content, knots or defects, etc... - there is a lot less variation between sheets of carbon. So it's easier to crank out duplicate models with reliable sound qualities.

Durability


In addition to the stability of the materials, carbon fiber is just plain durable and strong. Carbon fiber (and other composites) are not affected by weather and humidity the same way that wood is. Improper storage of wood guitars can seriously damage the joints between components, whereas carbon fiber wouldn't bat an eye traveling from the dry desert to the tropics in an instant. Carbon fiber is also just plain strong - before I installed the wood components, I could easily lean my whole body weight into the guitar shell. I didn't test it, but I might have been able to stand on it without a crack.

Since my guitar is a mixed carbon fiber - wood construction, I don't get all of these benefits, but it's still darn strong. I don't worry about hurting the body, and if any part of the guitar gets damaged down the road, I feel it would be a lot simpler to patch it up or even re-build the entire top than with a traditional wood guitar.

Ease of construction


The second half of this project, installing the wood components and strings, was exactly like making a traditional guitar. But compared to a traditional guitar, making the body was dead-simple. I think the skills involved are more accessible for beginners compared to wood construction. In just one night I went from a bottle of epoxy and a pile of fabric to a nice guitar shaped body ready for finishing. 

That same ease of construction made customization a lot easier. Instead of buying or making multiple special guitar jigs, clamps and tools, one need only change the mold to whatever shape is desired. I chose to make the standard design given to us by the instructors, but others in the workshop chose to customize theirs a lot - from making cutouts and sound-ports in the side, to making a bass guitar.

That customization does come at a price, of course. While spruce and other standard guitar woods can be pretty cheap, carbon fiber is definitely not cheap. And while the laser-cut mold came cheap to me as a member of Techshop, I don't know what the same service would cost from a third party. But these costs might be reduced with some creativity - making a non-laser cut mold out of foam should be possible, and perhaps other composites besides carbon fiber could work as well.

Step 2: Tools and Materials Used

Design software used

  •    Autodesk Inventor - used to design the 3D model of the guitar, based on printed plans
  •    123D Make (Free!) - converts 3D model into cardboard (or other) mold
  •    Adobe Illustrator - Used to laser cut the mold files generated from 123D Make

Tools used

  • Epilog 60 watt laser - used to cut the cardboard mold pieces
  • Vise - used to hold the guitar mold steady during layup
  • Disposable containers and brushes - epoxy will infuse anything it touches. I think there are solvents for cleaning tools, but for beginners or for one-off projects it's best to get cheap dollar store tools to apply the epoxy.
  • Gloves - I used disposable latex gloves to spare my fingers
  • Dust mask or respirator - Carbon fiber and epoxy make some nasty dust. Use a dust mask or respirator when cutting or sanding.
  • Disposable scissors - used for cutting the "wet" carbon fiber and fiberglass during layup
  • Hacksaw - used for cutting off small parts of the dried and hardened carbon fiber
  • Cutoff wheel or dremel - used for cutting off larger pieces of the dried and hardened carbon fiber
  • Sanding block - used to keep sandpaper level on flat areas
  • Rag or polishing pad - Used for final buffing of the body after sanding

Materials used

  • Cardboard - Used to make the positive mold for the guitar body
  • Carbon fiber - I used plain weave, because it was cheap and available locally for a decent price, but there are other styles of carbon fiber that might be better
  • S-Glass - Not necessary, but it's a much cheaper filler used between layers of carbon fiber
  • Coremat foam - A highly absorbant foam sheet, cut into strips for reinforcing the inside edges and neck of the guitar.
  • Epoxy - TAP Plastics Marine Grade premium 314 resin & 109 hardener. Long open time, low odor, few bubbles.
  • Black pigment - Designed for tinting plastic resins, bought from TAP Plastics
  • Plastic wrap - Used as a mold release, separating the cardboard from the epoxy. Better commercial products can be found, but this was cheap and worked well for cardboard molds
  • Auto putty "Bondo" - for smoothing sharp curves on the positive guitar mold
  • Painters tape - Used to protect components during assembly, and also used to mark cuts clearly
  • Scrap wood - Not part of the body, but used to lift and mount the mold for the guitar during layup
  • Waterproof sandpaper - 180, 220, 320 400, 600 and 1000 grit. Also used 80 grit dry sandpaper sparingly
  • Turtle Wax auto polishing compound - used to polish the body after sanding

Material costs


It's hard for me to come up with an exact price tag, since I completed this project over the course of two months and bought materials as needed - also, some of the materials and tools were provided by Techshop specifically for the workshop. Here's the costs I can figure out:

  •    Carbon fiber (2 yards): $90
  •    S-Glass (1 yard): $17
  •    Coremat (1/2 yard): $5
  •    TAP 314 Marine grade epoxy resin, 1 qt: $26
  •    TAP 109 Marine grade epoxy hardener, 8oz: $16
  •    5 minute epoxy (2 tubes): $6
  •    Sandpaper, various grits: ~$10-15
  •    Disposable materials: Gloves, scissors, brushes: ~$10-20
  •    Total materials for body: ~$180-$200

Notes on materials


These materials were simple to work with, but I see room for improvement. Here are some possible alternatives to the items described above.
  • Carbon fiber weave - I used "plain weave" carbon fiber, because it was available locally for a decent price. But this is the worst choice for doing 3D objects like a guitar - I would have been better off choosing "twill weave" or "Harness-Satin" weave, which flow better over complex curves, without tenting or folding.
  • Epoxy - I was very happy with my choice of epoxy, but it is one of the more expensive options. To save some money, one could use a cheaper epoxy, or even use polyester resin. But beware that polyester resin has a MUCH stronger odor than epoxy - the instructors said that anyone using polyester resin would have to use it outside.
  • Mold materials - the cardboard was cheap, and it was fun and easy to assemble the mold using 123D Make - but sometimes it was awkward to work around the sharp angles between layers - for example I had to use auto-body putty to make the curve between body and neck flow smoothly. Some alternatives that come to mind are lightweight wood, expanded foam, clay and plaster.
    • For those without access to a laser cutter or CNC machine, foam and certain woods also have the advantage that they can be carved by hand or hot wire cutter into precise shapes much easier than cardboard.
  •  More durable materials would also be a better choice for those wishing to reuse the mold. My mold actually came out okay, but others' molds were damaged or destroyed during extraction.

Step 3: Designing the Guitar

The 3D models were provided for me by the instructors, so I can't comment on the process of making them. If I ever pursue this type of modeling further, I may update this step. I've included the 3D model and original plans that this guitar was based on - it was modeled after a 1940 Gibson L-00. The sides of the guitar were rounded like an Ovation style guitar, because carbon fiber doesn't bend well around sharp corners.

I chose to use the stock design provided by the instructors, but others in the workshop chose to customize their instruments - adding cutouts, changing the size and scale of the body, etc... One of the advantages of working with carbon fiber is the ability to make shapes that would be difficult to achieve with wood.

Step 4: Making a Laserable Mold File

Once the 3d model was created, it was transferred to Autodesk's free 123D Make program, which is capable of slicing the model into layers to make a cardboard mold.

Making a mold


  1. Open 123D Make. Use the button on the lefthand side to import a 3D model, open the Guitar.stl file
  2. Now the model should be displayed in the center of the window. On the left there should now be an option for "construction techniques." Select "stacked slices," this will create layers of vertically stacked slices, which is perfect for our cardboard construction
  3. Next, you need to set the dimensions for the object being made, and the material it's being made from. The program automatically sliced the model into 0.177" slices, which created 56 parts spread over 23 sheets of cardboard.
    • My model size was ~935mm (36in) long X 358mm (14 in) wide X 111mm (4.37 in)
    • My material size was 24 in long X 18 in wide X 0.177 in thick pieces of cardboard
  4. Inspect the model and sheets for any errors. If everything looks fine, go to the bottom of the lefthand menu and select "get plans."
  5. Select the desired format at the bottom of the window. Exporting .EPS files will allow the sheets to be opened in Illustrator or CorelDraw, where they can be sent to the laser cutter.

For those without personal access to a laser cutter, you can still use the model by sending either the 3D model or the exported files from 123D Make to outside fabrication services that can create and ship a mold to you.

Step 5: Lasering & Assembling the Mold

The mold files were exported from 123D Make into Adobe Illustrator, which was used to print them out using an Epilog 60 watt laser. I have a short video of the process below.

The process

  1. Print the mold files in order using settings appropriate for cardboard (I used 70% power, 90% speed, 500 hz frequency on the epilog 60 watt laser).
  2. Each part should have numbers showing how to assemble them. I suggest dry-fitting the parts together to make sure they are all present and printed correctly.
  3. Now assemble the parts with a little glue between each layer.
  4. I chose not to clamp my mold parts together, because I didn't want to risk shifting the pieces, and they seemed to hold well on their own. Others clamped their molds, which worked as well - do whatever feels right. Clamping probably helps keep the mold a little more compact.

Step 6: Preparing the Mold

Before laying up the carbon, we have to do a little prep work to the mold.

Soften edges


Carbon fiber does not bend well over sharp corners, especially the cheaper plain-weave fiber that I used. On this design, since the sides are all rounded, there is only one problem spot - the joint between the body and the neck. This sharp corner would cause the carbon fiber to pull away or tent in ways that don't look very nice. To ease the transition I used Bondo auto body putty to make a smooth curve. This could also be fixed by adding some more bulk here to the original mold file.

Make a handle


I nailed some pieces of scrap wood to the bottom of the mold (top of the guitar). The wood gave me a firm handle for the mold that could be put into a vice. The vice elevated the mold and kept it rock steady while I worked. I also suggest wrapping the vise in plastic wrap to keep it clean.

Mold-release


To avoid the epoxy bonding with the cardboard, we need some type of barriar. There are commercial mold release products that chemically separate the mold from the epoxy, but that won't work well with the cardboard molds. For this workshop we went with a low-tech solution - wrapping the entire mold in packing plastic - a thicker, tougher cousin of cling-wrap. There's no "right" way to wrap the mold - but try to aim for long, smooth motions to avoid tangling and bunching of plastic. Make sure everything is covered.

If you use another mold material with a smooth surface, such as foam or plaster, then commercial mold-release agents such as TAP Plastics' "PVA mold-release" are probably a better idea - because they ensure the mold can be reused.

Step 7: Laying Up the Carbon Fiber

Unfortunately I don't have detailed pictures of this step, because as you can see it's quite messy. I had to rely on passers-by to help me take pictures. But it's pretty self explanatory, and I'll do my best to explain the process in writing.
  1. Neatly arrange EVERYTHING before starting. Once you mix the epoxy together, things will start to get very messy very fast. And every pot of epoxy  has a hard time limit before it hardens - mine had a 20-30 minute pot life. If you are familiar with cooking, think of a "mise en place" style work space.
    • Protect the workspace by laying down some more plastic wrap or tarps over the floor, table and vise 
  2. Cut the sheets of carbon fiber and S-glass to size by laying them over the mold, cut them just a little longer and a little wider than the mold (I had ~1/2" on each side). You don't want too much material, because the extra weight will cause it to drape in funny ways.
  3. Save one special layer of carbon and set it aside. The first few layers can be as messy as you please, but the final layer will be your show-layer. You want it to look as nice as possible, without any warping for fraying.
  4. Once the materials and tools are ready, mix up the epoxy. Carefully follow the mixing instructions of whatever epoxy you are using. In my case, it said to mix 4 parts resin to 1 part hardener.
    • I started mixing it by eye in a measuring cup - 8 ounces resin, then pouring in 2 more ounces hardener for 10 ounces of epoxy. This worked okay, but it's not the best method. A better way is to use a scale to measure out be weight. I always weighed later mixtures.
    • Epoxy likes it warm - so be aware of the work room temperature. This workshop was held during a cold-spell and it took several hours longer for the resin to dry than it should have. The epoxy instructions should include a minimum recommended temperature.
  5. Lay the first layer of carbon over the mold, then load up your brush and start spreading epoxy around the surface. Once the epoxy hits the fiber, it will instantly start to hug the curves of the mold. The large curves are easy, but once you get into tight areas it can get tricky -
    • Tight corners like around the neck will make the carbon fiber tent and pull away from the mold. If you are using plain weave fiber like me, you can't win this fight. Instead, cut some relief slits down the middle of the area that is pulling away,then over-lap the two sides of the fiber. Don't worry about how this looks, since this is only the first layer.
    • You want all the carbon fiber to be thoroughly coated with epoxy, no dry spots or bubbles. It can be hard to tell with pure black carbon fiber, but just examine each section carefully and look for differences between wet and dry spots.
  6. Put down a layer of S-glass in exactly the same way. It's easier to tell when fiberglass is fully epoxied, because it becomes transparent when wet. If the S-glass also tents or pulls away in tight curves, cut relief slits just like with the carbon. If necessary, cut some extra scraps of S-glass or carbon and bulk up the sharp corner to soften the curve.
  7. Finally, lay another layer of carbon down. By now the sharp corners should be softened, so try to lay these lay these layers down without cutting relief slits.
  8. When it's time to lay your show-layer down, be as careful as you can not to pull or tug the carbon out of place. Everything you do now will show on the surface.

Overall layup tips

  • I mixed one batch of epoxy per layer of carbon fiber / S-glass - this ensured I was always working with fresh, easy flowing epoxy and it gave me time to relax and get the details right.
  • Use your brush to apply the epoxy, but don't be shy about using your (gloved) hands. Tug, push, smooth and reshape the fiber by hand, especially on the under-layers.
  • Try to get the final layer of epoxy looking nice, but don't over-think it. The final step in my whole guitar building process was to go back and sand the body smooth before applying one more gloss-coat of epoxy.
Once you are happy with the result (or the epoxy has started to set) step away from the mold and just let it dry for as long as it takes. Don't touch the drying epoxy - any fingerprints or dents will become part of the final product - possible to fix later, but much harder than getting it right the first time.

After drying, the epoxy will be firm, but the surface may still be sticky. My epoxy took much longer to dry than it should have, partly because of my imprecise mixing method, but also because the workshop was colder than it should have been. In the end I used Techshop's powder coating oven set on low (under 120* F) to make sure it was fully cured. If you are at home, just keep the room warm - maybe use some space heaters.

Step 8: Releasing the Mold

There will be a lot of excess carbon and epoxy fringe handing off the bottom of the mold. Be VERY careful when removing this fringe - the little spikes can be as sharp as knives, and make some pretty nasty splinters when broken. I suggest using gloves, and definitely use a dust-mask, or better yet a respirator.

Cut away all the extra material to just above the cardboard mold. Some people used an angle grinder or dremel tool, but I preferred to take it slow and use a hacksaw. When hacksawing I tried to saw off large sections at once, giving the saw a lot of material to bit into, instead of sawing each small part, which caused the saw to flex.

After the extra material is cut away, you can either tear up the mold from the inside out, or try to pop it out in one whole piece. To pop the mold out, it really helps to have a second set of hands. One person can hold the guitar body steady while the other tugs on the mold. Carbon fiber is very tough, so don't worry about pulling on it - but don't go crazy either, it is possible to snap thinner parts right off.

Once free from the mold, examine your handi-work - the hardest part is now over, the rest is just details.

Step 9: Reinforcing the Body

The role of the guitar body is to be solid and steady, without too much flexing - any energy spent bending the guitar body is energy taken away from the sound of the instrument. I went around the instrument and looked for any areas that were flexing too much.

Most of my body was very solid - but the edges flexed just a little bit, especially at the "hips" around the center of the guitar. Also, some parts of the neck were a little less stiff than I wanted. The neck in particular must be very strong, to withstand more than 100 lbs of pull from all the the strings.  A traditional guitar has a "truss rod" - a strong threaded rod that can adjust the neck stiffness. It's probably possible to make an adjustable truss rod for this style of guitar, but we chose to just make a very stiff neck, reinforced with coremat.

Coremat is a super-absorbant foam that sucks up lots of epoxy, making it very hard and stiff once it dries. I put a layer of coremat all along the edges of the guitar and down the center from the neck. The coremat by itself does not stick well to the carbon fiber - so I put a strip of S-glass under the coremat to help secure it. This application of the coremat also has a secondary benefit, which I'll discuss in the next step.

It's not pretty, but nobody will see these parts anyway.

Step 10: Flatten & Shape the Body

The next step is to prepare the guitar for the wooden components.

The coremat


While the coremat from was dying, I put the guitar upside-down on a plastic mat and let the epoxy drip down and form a "lip" around the entire edge of the guitar. This lip will make a nice surface for mounting wooden components later. I also weighted the neck and body down so that they would dry flush to the table together.

Flattening the body


When laid flat on a table, the neck and body of the guitar should be flush. If either the neck is higher or lower than the rest of the body, it will cause problems with the action (pathway) of the strings. In my case, my body was very flat with just a few high spots. To flatten it I put some 80 grit sandpaper on a flat 2X4 section that was longer than the guitar body was wide, and then sanded the edges until they were flat.

If you're not so lucky, then you can always carefully measure / mark down a flat line just under the edge of the body and cut it down with a dremel or angle grinder.

Make space for the soundboard


Finally, with the overall body flattened, I cut a space for the soundboard to fit underneath the fretboard.
  1. Measure the thickness of the soundboard precisely (mine was 2.6mm thick)
  2. Using painters tape (or other contrasting material) mark off a line down from the top edge of the guitar body. The goal is to make a lower lip where the soundboard can sit, allowing the strings to run straight off the fretboard to the bridge.
  3. Use a Dremel or angle grinder to cut to the line of the painters tape. I wasn't confident with this part, so I got the instructor to cut my lip for me.
    • Instead of measuring, you can also put your soundboard next to the body (turned upside down) and draw a line directly onto the body using the thickness of the board as a reference.
  4. See the last picture. This is the goal - a nice pocket where the soundboard can sit.

While cutting the body, also take time to look at the size of the neck. In my case, I haven't played a guitar in years - I had no sense of how thick the neck should be for my playing and hand size. I left the neck thicker than it needed to be. My fingers are long enough to reach around it, but I have a feeling it will be annoying when playing for an extended time.

If I could do it over again, I would cut both the neck and body down thinner. I would go to a music store and get a feel of some commercial guitars.

Step 11: Install Wooden Components

All of my wooden components are basically glued directly to the body with 5 minute epoxy. First the soundboard is attached, then the headstock, and finally the fretboard and bridge.

There are many important details about installation, and I'm not confident in my ability to explain them yet. So I strongly suggest finding a professional guide to guitar construction - such as the book I used, Build Your Own Acoustic Guitar - by Jonathan Kinkead, which I found at my local library.

The soundboard


  • Spread 5 minute epoxy around the perimeter of the guitar, using the lip created by the coremat reinforcement.
  • Press the soundboard flat against the body, making sure it is centered.
  • Make sure the bracing on the back of the soundboard is not touching the sides of the body
  • Since the body doesn't have a flat back to clamp against, I turned the guitar upside down and placed a heavy lead weight on top.

The headstock


  • I cut the headstock portion of the carbon fiber to fit my wooden headstock using a dremel cutoff tool.
  • I spread 5 minute epoxy onto the coremat inside the headstock and neck
  • I fit a ~2" inch piece of the headstock wood inside the neck
  • I test fit the fretboard, to see if the end of the headstock was sticking out above the neck.
  • There was a little piece sticking out - I sanded it down with 80 grit sandpaper until the fretboard rested flat

The fretboard


  • I cut the fretboard to fit the neck and circle around my sound hole.
  • I spread 5 minute epoxy over the coremat inside the neck then installed the fretboard
  • I firmly clamped the fretboard, with F-clample placed every couple inches. I also used a long-reaching C-clamp inside the sound hole to clamp the bottom of the fretboard.

The bridge


This is a key part to get right - the bridge must be centered and it must be JUST the right distance from the nut at the top of the fretboard. The model my guitar is based on calls for a 63cm distance from bridge to nut. For custom designed guitars, there is also a formula to determine the proper distance, and how to combine that with a proper fretboard layout. This is the type of thing where a professional guide is essential.

MISTAKE ALERT
In the picture of installing the bridge, I simply weighed the bridge down on the soundboard and glued it with 5 minute epoxy. This worked for ~1 month, but then the bridge started to separate - pulled up from the force of the strings. Lucky for me it was a clean break and nothing else was damaged. I will update the instructable when I repair this - using wood glue and a proper clamp.

Step 12: Patching Holes & Gaps

Before finishing the body, I went back to fill in some small (and not so small) gaps between the guitar body and the other components.

Small gaps / holes
  • Mix up a little epoxy (5 minute or slow cure, as you prefer)
  • Add some black pigment to match the carbon fiber
  • Use a toothpick or other fine tool to poke the epoxy into the holes

Larger gaps / holes
On my guitar, I only had one larger gap to fill - a space between the top of my headstock and the bottom of my fretboard. I used the same method as above, but I also stuffed some loose carbon fibers in with my black epoxy to give the patch some body and hold the epoxy in place. I later sanded this patch flat, flush with the neck.

What is perfect?
You can spend a lot of time filling every little hole and sanding everything flat, but at some point you have to call it a day or think of other strategies.

In my case, I plan to go back later and make some kind of trim (like purfling on a traditional guitar) that covers the edges of the body and soundboard. So I only bothered filled the largest holes, and areas that might not be covered by the trim like the above headstock-fretboard joint.

Step 13: Sanding, Finishing & Polishing

At this point, you should have a nearly functional guitar. Make the frets, put some strings on and it'll be ready to play. Trouble is, all the cutting, sanding and scraping can make the body look awful looking. And residual stickiness from the epoxy will attract all kinds of dust, lint, trash and stray carbon fibers. One person in the workshop called his guitar "Urban Blight" at this stage.

But, with some sanding and polishing, you can turn that all right around. Here's what I did to make my guitar look pretty again. You may notice some blemishes in the final photo - I think something touched the final coat of epoxy while it was still wet. I could have added yet another coat to fix these spots - but at this point I just wanted to finish, and it wasn't worth another day of drying. I can always fix it layer if I want.

Protect wood components


My method of finishing uses wet sanding - this can damage un-finished wood components. I suggest finish coating the wood top and protecting the other components - I kept my bridge and fretboard covered with painters tape for this step.

Level sanding


I had some big ridges of un-evenly dried epoxy on the bottom of my guitar, as well as many small drips and runs. I sanded these down with a sanding block and 80 grit sandpaper.

Use this corse sandpaper sparingly - epoxy isn't easy to break, but it can easily be scratched away. I only used this for the highest of high spots, and frankly 120 or 180 grit might be a safer choice. Once you get everything mostly even, move up to a higher grit and start wet sanding.

Wet sanding


Wet sanding is exactly what it sounds like, you use waterproof sandpaper (black or grey, as opposed to brown or red) and frequently rinse the area being sanded with water.

Wet sanding is good for hard clear-coats like epoxy because it keeps dust from settling into the surface and makes the sandpaper more efficient.
  • Using waterproof sandpaper, I started with 180 grit, then moved up through 220, 320 and 400 grit papers
  • The surface always looks PERFECT when wet (very deceptive). So between grits I wiped away the muddy dust with a damp rag and let it dry a minute.
  • Once dry, I wiped away any remaining dust with a tack cloth and looked at the surface. I was looking for the scratch pattern - a uniform grey with evenly spaced and sized scratch marks.
    • Larger, deeper scratches remaining after a thorough sanding, they are left over from a lower grit of sandpaper. You may have to drop down to a lower grit to remove these before continuing
    • Shiny spots are areas that have not been sanded. You want to sand everything evenly before moving to higher grits.

Hopefully the surface is starting to look good at this point, but there are probably some flaws. In my case, I had tiny tiny air bubbles trapped in my finish - millions of them. This made the finish beautiful in some places, but very cloudy in others. To fix this I thoroughly cleaned the surface of the guitar, then added one final gloss-coat of epoxy. I carefully measured out the epoxy with a kitchen scale, then brushed it on with a foam brush, and I let it cure one whole day in a warm room.

In addition to epoxy, you can also use other finishes I saw one person use polyurethane, and another use black tinted epoxy for a matte-black finish. But I wanted the carbon fiber weave to show through on mine, so I just used the same marine epoxy I had used to form the body.

Continue wet sanding


After the new layer of epoxy dried, I started sanding again with 400 grit paper, then 600 and 1000 grit. At this point, it had a semi-gloss appearance, which is all I needed. For a glossier look, keep using higher grit papers, then polish.

Polishing


After sanding I used some auto-body rubbing compound (Turtle Wax). I rubbed it on thoroughly with a buffing pad, then gave the guitar a wipe-down with a damp rag.

The last thing I did was rub on a little paste wax, let it dry, then hand-buffed the body to a semi-gloss shine. I don't even know if this is appropriate, but it's what I've done with lacquer finishes on wood, and I like the look, feel and smell of the wax, so I'm glad I did it.
<p>was the neck cf, or wood? </p><p>have you considered buying a 1/16&quot; thick carbon fiber plate for the soundboard?</p><p> interesting project!</p>
Neck was CF, with extra material and resin inside to add stiffness. I did this as an experiment with a group of people at my makerspace, one person pursued using a cf soundboard, but unfortunately they got side tracked - i didnt get to hear itnif they finished.
<p>was the neck cf, or wood? </p><p>have you considered buying a 1/16&quot; thick carbon fiber plate for the soundboard?</p><p> interesting project!</p>
Not familiar with the 123Make software, but if there's a tool or way to slice the guitar vertically vs. Horizontally you might have a better resolution as far as your mold goes&hellip;Also by using slices tht equal the thickness of Cardboard you used i.e 1/8&quot;, 5/32nd&quot; ect then simply Glue &amp; stack them in order and fill in the void w/Bondo to make your mold.
Yeah, you can slice it up any way you want. I hadn't thought about playing around with the orientation like that, but perhaps I'll try and see if it makes a difference next time I try to make a mold.
Another note for you to keep in mind is I see you used Elmers type Glue on CardBoard which probably caused the paper on CardBoard to expand due to the water content in the Glue, It might be better to use a contact cement though alittle more costly but IMO would have been better to keep the cardBoard from expanding from Water Content.
It did expand a bit - and on top of that I did nothing to clamp it down. In this case, I wasn't too concerned about the exact final dimensions - I made the body first and everything else was designed around it. I mostly do simple woodwork, so glue is my go-to solution. But that's a good tip for future projects, I'll keep it in mind.
Don't wanna sound like I'm picking your work apart here but I hope you take in a Constructive manner. Instead of using CardBoard wouldn't it not have been better to use say Balsa wood for the rib construction vs. CardBoard material just form the standpoint of strength ?
No worries, I love criticism of this type. <br> <br>I used balsa because this was part of a prepared workshop, and they were using cardboard, so I just followed along - if I do this again I'll do my own research and definitely alter some of the methods - for instance I'm very interested in vacuum forming the CF instead of just laying it up. <br> <br>That said, I'm curious what advantage balsa would provide in this application over the cardboard? It seems it served its purpose by providing the shape for the mold - unless one is making a reusable mold it doesn't need to be that strong, from my understanding.
Actually not too bad for your 1st attempt, I bet after you sleep on all the steps involved you could refine yoru work and make a guitar just as good as some of those &quot;Pro's&quot; Look's Good !!
Thanks. I mostly do woodwork, and this was my first time trying composites. I'll definitely be returning to this type of thing in the future, maybe even another instrument - but taking it slow for now
What kind of carbon fiber cloth did you use? You mentioned that you used some inexpensive cloth - would you advise someone to use a different kind? <br>
<a href="http://www.tapplastics.com/product/fiberglass/carbon_specialty_fabrics/graphite_carbon_in_stock/97" rel="nofollow">This is the specific carbon fiber </a>I used, straight weave. It worked fine, but it was a bit hard going around tight corners. <a href="http://www.tapplastics.com/product/fiberglass/carbon_specialty_fabrics/standard_carbon_twill/98" rel="nofollow">This twill-weave carbon fiber</a> is supposed to be better than straight weave for wrapping 3D objects, but I can't say anything from personal experience.<br> <br> <a href="http://www.tapplastics.com/product/fiberglass/fiberglass_fabrics/s_2_glass_4522/88" rel="nofollow">This is the other material</a> I used, called S-glass. It's a type of fiberglass. The only reason I used it was to add bulk and stiffness to the shell inexpensively. Fiberglass is pretty strong, but not as strong as carbon fiber, and it also looks strange with epoxy - the moment it soaks up the epoxy it becomes translucent, and you can't see the pattern anymore.<br> <br> I did this as part of a workshop, and it was my introduction to composite materials - so I can't say a lot about the different options.
Impressive! Would be nice to hear a few chords played on it so we can hear how it resonates.
I've had some experience in building lightweight boats using carbon fiber (CF) and I notice some flaws in your construction that will almost certainly result in less than perfect harmony in the tone. It is almost essential to cure CF in a vacuum. Imagine a plastic bag 23 feet long with a sailing boat hull in it having a vacuum pump draw all the air out and You'll get an idea of what I've worked on. You can buy vacuum bags at hardware and department stores. They use them for compacting clothing into small bundles for storage, evacuating the air with a domestic vacuum cleaner. <br> <br>Think now about assembling your guitar over a concrete form. Yes, concrete! and putting the whole lot into a plastic bag after you've saturated it with resin. Use a vacuum cleaner to evacuate the air and the flaws I see in this example will not be there. If you can't find a ready made bag large enough for your guitar, try making one using sheet plastic and swimming pool liner repair glue with the valve from a cheap storage bag. <br> <br>I applaude your enthusiasm in experimenting and hope you continue to develop a technique that will suit this product. I think myself that harmony in a box depends 60% on the shape, 20% on the material used for construction and the remainder split up between how you hold it and the design of those pieces of material that support the strings. I think this shape is most likely to work but if the CF has pockets in it that prevent continuous sound reflection at the same energy, the overall tone of the instrument will suffer. Excellent try. I'll be very impressed if you keep developing your molding techniques and actually produce an excellent guitar.
No pic of the completed guitar? Oh, come on!
Haha, i did all the parts as separate instructables. Didnt think to add finished pics here. But thats a good idea, ill add them later.
looks like a good job...waiting to hear it also.
just wonder how does it sound?
Beautiful work! Congratulations
This is fantastic. Better than an Ovation to me. How does it sit against your body? I always found Ovations sat oddly or rolled away from me when I didn't want them too.
Very cool. Carbon fiber and traditional fiberglass can be a messy frustrating experience. Good on you for giving it a go on a complex build like a guitar.
I was unaware that Gibson ever made a round back guitar. The diagrams don't show it, either.
Sorry if it wasn't clear - first the dimensions were taken from the plans, then later the computer model sides were rounded over. This is because the type of fiber being used doesn't tolerate sharp corners. <br><br>I could have made the back and sides as two pieces, but since I was doing this as part of a group build workshop I didn't want to go too far in my own direction - I'll leave that for my next project.
Looks like an Ovation
Is this a heavy guitar compared to the wood original?
Good question, I haven't compared them side by side, but I'm not sure - but I think they are probably comparable. In general I think carbon fiber guitars are lighter, but the method I used requires more carbon and more epoxy to set strong, so it balances out. A properly vacuum formed one is probably lighter.
Very, very nice!
Thank you!
<strong>RESPIRATOR!!!</strong><br> carbon filings will give you just as nasty <strong>Permanent</strong> lung infections as fiber glass will!!&nbsp;<br> even small particles from a hand file or saw can lead to alot of pain!&nbsp;<br> of course dremel and other powertool cutting of carbon and fiber are far more dangerous<br> but if you dont want to be on a ventilator in later life wear a&nbsp;proper&nbsp;mask whenever using tools on composite materials<br> and no a paper one will not do!!&nbsp;<br> <br> other than that its an awesome project!&nbsp;<br> personal&nbsp;id of made a mould of the guitar body and&nbsp;vacuum&nbsp;infused the resin for a cleaner stronger finish! but thats alot more work!<br> i seriously love the inlay work wow that is something i need to practice<br> <br> finally&nbsp;.. how does it sound? alot of people say that carbon has unique acoustic&nbsp;propertys!?
You're right, I wrote respirator once, but it bears repeating. The first time I cut it I just had a paper mask, and quickly stopped and ran for my respirator. The guy pictured cutting it is an experienced shop guy who just doesn't always take those precautions - but maybe I'll add a safety warning there. <br> <br>I love the idea of vacuum infusion, but felt it was too much to take on for my first project. I'm looking into it for the future, though. <br> <br>I'll let you know how it sounds soon. My first tests were promising, but I got too excited and did a poor job mounting the bridge and it started to separate, today or tomorrow I'm going to do a proper job of clamping it down.
Great job! <br>I started making carbon fiber ukuleles about four years ago...it's a hobby. Mine look very similar to your design with rounded body /bottom/back with concave neck back so my thumb stays back. <br> I've completed 7. I vac bag them in a female mold so the outside looks almost perfect when it comes out. <br>I'm now working on steam pressed arch top for them. <br>
Very cool! Looks beautiful. I was actually thinking about a ukulele - I have a bunch of smaller carbon pieces from my own project and abandoned by others at the end of the build. Maybe I'll try your method.
Do you make them for sale
Now that's the approach! A female mold is the way to go!
yeah, I concur with tridrles, using a vac bag is essential for a strong finished result. stops redues the formation voids, bumps and the like. cool job over all wood work makes a nice contrast to the fiber <br> <br>Why didn't do a carbon top and neck ?
This was my first time ever working with carbon fiber, and it was part of a workshop that only covered this method. I'd like to try this again in the future, and if I do then I will definitely look into vacuum bagging. <br> <br>Two people in the group went for the full carbon instrument. I haven't seen either completed yet, but one of them seemed promising.
You could also use my old method for making fiberglass and carbon fiber OOAK RC airplane fuselages. Sculpt the form in Styrofoam then completely cover in the glass mat or carbon mat. I use epoxy resin (reason will be clear by the next sentence) to impregnate the mat. Then when the resin is dry and set, I drill a hole where needed, then I pour a solvent that will melt the Styrofoam (gasoline works fine, but I use Acetone in a well ventilated area) and not the epoxy.
Interesting. I imagine that generates quite a lot of fumes. That won't do for my current workspace, but I like the idea.

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Bio: I'm a long time tinkerer and lover of Instructables, but recently I joined Techshop in San Francisco, and decided to really get creative. Right ... More »
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