Introduction: Custom Electric Guitar

Picture of Custom Electric Guitar

This is a step by step guide on how I built my Custom Electric Guitar. I designed this guitar for my dad as a Christmas present. This is my first instructable, so go easy on me. This is also the first time I have ever built a guitar, so if you notice something I'm doing wrong please leave a constructive comment. If you have any questions or suggestions, please post them or message me. In my conclusion, I discuss things I would have done differently and things people have suggested to achieve a better end result. You may notice several mistakes in the photos as you read this instructable. Those problems are addressed in the conclusion. 

MANY tools are required to complete this project, but in many cases alternative tool options are available to complete a job. I used a cnc machine I built on this project, however alternative methods can be used to cut out the guitar and parts. I only listed major tools and I'm sure I missed a couple things. The prices are pretty rough and vary depending on the supplier. Most of my parts were ordered off of Warmoth. The stains and such came from StewMac. 

BE SURE TO WEAR YOUR PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT WHEN WORKING WITH POWER TOOLS AND PAINTING! I have worked in a lot of different shops, and been both a victim and witness to a few serious shop accidents. If something makes you nervous, you probably shouldn't be doing it. I almost lost my left index finger doing something seemingly straightforward with a drillgun, it was stupid. Don't be stupid. Its hard to make cool stuff or play guitar if you are missing fingers. 

Swamp Ash Blank (14 x 19 x 1.75") ~$90
Pickguard Material w/ Red Tri-layer (12 x 16") ~$10
Warmoth Neck (V-1) 25.5" Scale Length ~$220
Copper Tape
Tracing paper

Tune O Matic Bridge ~$20
Tune O Matic Tailpiece ~$20
Seymour Duncan SH-1 Pickup ~$80
Seymour Duncan SH-5 Pickup ~$80
Gotoh Tuning Machinges x6 (three left, three right) ~$7 ea.
Electrosocket Jack ~12$
Neck and Pickguard Screws 
Push-Pull Potentiometer (500k) ~$10
Potentiometer( 500k) ~$5
LP Switch ~$12
.047 uF Cap ~$1

CNC machine w/ various end-mills
Sandpaper (100, 150, 220)
Wet Sanding paper (800, 1000, 1500)
Foam Polishing Disks (for screw gun)
Drill Press
Screw Gun
Forestner Drill Bits
Soldering Iron
Screwdrivers (phillips and flathead)
Wire Strippers
Helping Hand
Heat Gun
Exacto Knife
Cutting Matt

Polishing Compound (ultimate compound, and scratch x)
Microfiber Cloths
Paper Towels
Alcohol (for staining)
Gloves (for painting)
Ventilator (for painting)

Step 1: Design Your Guitar

Picture of Design Your Guitar

I designed my guitar in Adobe Illustrator CS6. This was useful because I was able to export the drawing paths as a .dxf file which can be interpreted by the CAM software and cut with a cnc machine. My design was inspired by my dad's old guitar, a Gibson Marauder. One of the main design features I wanted to include was the iconic dragon from the Welsh flag. I decided to engrave the dragon into the pick guard and define its shape based on the dragon's body. I recommend printing or drawing out a full scale version of the drawing to be sure that the dimensions of your drawing are accurate. 

When designing a guitar, there are two basic pickup setups that are the most commonly seen. The Gibson Humbucker setup and the Fender Stratocaster setup. For this guitar, I wanted to use the humbucker style setup because it lends itself to my dad's playing style. 

In this guitar, I used a Gotoh Tune O Matic Bridge and Tailpiece setup. In order for this to work correctly the neck must be mounted to the guitar at a slight angle. Gotoh recommends between a 1.5 and 3.0 degree neck pocket. I designed this guitar to have a 2.0 degree neck pocket angle; the process used to achieve this angle is described in step three. 

Selecting the wood you are going to use has a major impact on the tone of the guitar. The selection of the parts is also critical to determining the sound of the guitar. Selecting parts to achieve a desired tone is an entire instructable of its own, and one that should be written by someone more experienced than myself. I bought by neck pre-made from Warmoth guitar parts online. This is also where I got most of the rest of the parts I used. 

Step 2: Cut a Prototype (Optional)

Picture of Cut a Prototype (Optional)

I'm brand new to guitar making, so I decided to make a prototype body to dry fit the parts and neck to be sure that everything fit correctly. This was also excellent practice for making the real thing. I was able to check the scale length of the final design by dry fitting the neck and measuring the guitar. 

I decided the back pocket was not necessary so I omitted it from the design. 

Step 3: Cut the Body

Picture of Cut the Body

I cut the body out of a wood called swamp ash. I chose swamp ash because it is a lighter alternative to mahogany, but still has the sound qualities that I would like this guitar to have. 

I milled a 1.9 degree neck pocket by raising one side of the alignment table .95 inches. This measurement was attained using trigonometry and measuring the base of the alignment table. By cutting the neck at a slight angle, the tune o matic style bridge and tailpiece will work correctly. The angle also improves the comfort and playability of the guitar. 

Step 4: Drill the Tuner and Bridge Holes

Picture of Drill the Tuner and Bridge Holes

Be sure not to scratch up the body too much, or you will have to sand it out later. I used a shop towel on the drill press table to prevent any scratches or dents. The alignment of these holes is imperative to the fit of the bridge and tailpiece; be confident that you have the proper alignment before you clamp and drill. If your body hasn't been predrilled by machine, be sure to use a center punch to get the desired hole position. Also, be certain to set the depth of the drill press to drill the required depth of the tailpiece and bridge inserts. I am using Gotoh Tuno Matic Bridge and Tailpiece setup, so the depth was ~.944 in.

Step 5: Sand the Contours

Picture of Sand the Contours

I used a dowel wrapped with sandpaper to sand the sloped bevel to the edge of the guitar. Using a longer dowel allows you to better see the angle at which you need to be sanding. With the dowel, you are able to sand a more consistant edge around the circumference of the guitar body. I use pencil marks to to mark where I need to sand, or in the case of the top and bottom, not sand. I wanted to wait to sand the top and bottom of the body until the bevels were complete. I started with 100 grit sandpaper, then moved on to 150 grit to finish the shaping. I finished with 220 to obtain a smooth flat finish, which is the preferred grit for the lacquer I plan to use. 

Step 6: Stain and Lacquer

Picture of Stain and Lacquer

I stained the body with an airbrush and a can of compressed air. After, I moved to a painting booth and hung the body to paint full coats over the entire piece with colored and clear lacquer. I decided to go for a plain red stained finish. 

I used stain dissolved in 200 proof alcohol and sprayed on a couple coats to get the desired base color. I painted the top and half of the sides, then flipped the body and paint the bottom and other half of the sides. 

I used Seagrave Guitar Lacquer (gloss) and Seagrave Lacquer Thinner along with ColorTone concentrated stain (Cherry Red and Red Mahogany)

Then I proceded to add the lacquer: 2 washcoats. Then 4 color coats. Then 3 clear coats. To do this, I hung the body in a paint booth with a ventilation system. This makes spraying the lacquer much easier. Be sure to wear a ventilator while spraying the stain and the lacquer, because breathing this stuff is extremely bad for you. Be sure and let the lacquer dry for an hour or so between coats. You don't want to do too many coats in a single day, so do 3 or 4 a day. After all the coats are complete, allow the body to cure for at least four days before wet-sanding. 

Washcoats: 50:50 Lacquer-Thinner. 2 COATS.

Color Coats: Add thinner to lacquer to get the desired viscosity for spraying. Then add ColorTone Concentrated Stain to get the desired color, I used Cherry Red with a couple drops of Red Mahogany. 4 COATS.

Clear Coats: Add thinner to lacquer to get the desired viscosity for spraying. 3 COATS.

Allow to cure at least four days after spraying the last clear coat. Then its ready to be wet sanded. 

Step 7: Wet Sanding

Picture of Wet Sanding

I started wetsanding the guitar with 800 grit sandpaper and water. I did this until the surfaces were completely rid of all bumps, then moved on to the higher grits. You want a flat matte looking surface. At first, it will feel like you are ruining the sprayed finish, but dont worry, the polishing compound will make it glossy again. I completely went over all the surfaces again with 1000 grit. I then went completely over the entire thing again with 1500 grit sandpaper. At this point, you should have a totally flat surface, with no shiny spots left. 

Step 8: Polishing

Picture of Polishing

Once the body has been completely wet-sanded with 1500 grit sandpaper, I moved on to the polishing compounds to create a nice glossy finish. To do this, you begin with a medium grained polishing compound. I used McGuire's Ultimate Compound for this. I polished it with a screw gun with a foam disk attachment. After all the surfaces have been polished with the Ultimate Compound, I moved on to a McGuire's Scratch X to remove all of the remaning scratches and give it its finished glossy look. If you get any compound into any of the holes a q-tip works well for getting it out. 

Step 9: Drill Holes

Picture of Drill Holes

Before the neck is attached and the guitar becomes much more cumbersome, I decided to drill the holes for the neck, pickups, and the tuning machines. I did this with a screw gun, being sure not to scratch the finish. I also drilled the pilot holes for the strap buttons very carefully using a screw gun.

A piece of tape on the drillbit can be useful in keeping you from drilling too deep through the headstock or body. Sometimes with smaller drillbits you can choke down on the bit and set the drilling depth that way. In this case, the piloting bits were small enough to be chucked in at the depth I planned to drill. It is important to use some method of preventing yourself from drilling too far, while making sure you drill the fill depth of the screw. Drill presses are useful because most of them can have some kind of depth stopper jig. 

Step 10: Bolt the Neck

Picture of Bolt the Neck

In this step, I will bolt the neck into place on the body. To make sure the neck is completely lined up perfectly, I stretched a thread across the center line of body and neck and clamped the neck into place. I also clamped the neck pad and plate into place on the body. I checked the neck again to make sure the neck is comletely straight, then I drilled the pilot holes for the neck "bolts."

Unfortunately, two of the screw heads snapped off. To fix this, im going to add two additional neck bolts neck to the ones with the snapped heads. This is to ensure the neck is secured tight enough. 

Step 11: Press in Bridge and Tailpiece Inserts

Picture of Press in Bridge and Tailpiece Inserts

Using a drill press, I pressed the bridge and tailpiece inserts into their holes. Use a towel under your guitar on the drill press, to prevent any unwanted scratches. I chucked an aluminium dowel into the drill press to compress the inserts into place. Take care that the dowel doesn't scratch an insert while you press them into place. I used a couple pieces of painters tape on the aluminum rod to prevent scratches. 

Be careful when moving the guitar around and what you put it on. It would be sad to put in a lot of work to only put a huge ding in it putting it together. 

Step 12: Copper Shielding

Picture of Copper Shielding

This is an important step. It helps ensure a clean sound when the guitar is complete. Basically, it shields the pickups from electrical distortion. 

You want to make a complete Faraday cage around the pickups and electrical hardware. This means you want to make sure you overlap the copper and leave no gaps. If there are gaps in the cage, the shielding effect will be much weaker. 

To complete this step, you will need:

Copper tape
Tracing Paper
Pencil or Pen
ballpoint pen

First, I traced the pickup and cavity pockets on the tracing paper. Second (optional), I cut the traced pickup and cavity shapes out. Third, I put the copper tape over a soft flat surface and traced it out with a ballpoint pen. I actually just traced it on my leg, but cardboard works too. Fourth step, I trimmed out the copper tracings with the scissors. Next, I measured the depth op the pocket plus about an eighth of an inch and made a long strip, long enough to go all the way around the pocket. I put the copper in around the walls first, then put in the one cut to fit the bottom. Make sure everything overlaps well, then press it all in and flatten it out. 

Step 13: Wiring

Picture of Wiring

I decided to go with a 2 knob, 1 switch setup. More specifically, a push-pull pot, a regular pot, and a 3 way switch setup. The push-pull switch is going to create a coil tapping effect. To space everything out, I put everything on a printed card stock print of the pick guard. I used a wiring diagram from the Seymour Duncan website. They pretty much have every arrangement you can imagine. 

For this step, you will need:
soldering iron
wire strippers
heat gun
some solder
some wire
heat shrink
Push-Pull Potentiometer 500k
Potentiometer 500k
.047 uF Capacitor

I am not going to go into depth on soldering because that is an entire instructable in itself, and there are already quite a few on this site. 

Step 14: Install Parts

Picture of Install Parts

After all the pockets and what not are made, installing the hardware is pretty straight forward. Just screw everything in! 

At this point I attached: the tuners, the electrosocket jack, and the strap buttons. Pretty much everything else attaches to the pick guard.

Step 15: Conclusion

As I am sure you can see in the photos, I made a HUGE mistake when I milled the bridge pickup, bridge, and tailpiece pockets. What happened? I opened the wrong file when I originally milled out the body. I was pretty upset when I realized I made this mistake, but I decided to finish anyway, because it was  all covered by the pick guard. My solution was to just reload the correct file and just re-mill the correct pockets and holes. 

You might also notice that I snapped the heads of the neck bolts. This was also pretty frustrating, because it seriously compromises the strength of the connection between the neck and the body. My solution was to add two bolts next to the broken ones. Also, glued the heads back onto the broken screws to make it more aesthetically pleasing. I could have also injected some epoxy into the crack with an hypodermic needle, but  decided this would not be necessary.  


AbyT2 (author)2017-01-29

Will you be able to add a whammy bar to your guitar if u want to?

19golfer55 (author)2016-01-29

I have been researching home built guitars for several months. This is without a doubt the best looking one that I have seen. Everything from the assembly to the finished product projects nothing but pure quality. Thank you for sharing your build with us! I plan on assembling my parts list in the next few weeks and move on the design. Thanks again for the photos as well. They really help a person such as myself who has never built anything like this.

Raduken (author)2015-06-17

Duuuuuuuuuuuuude that guitar is so sweet I would definetly buy it if you sold it. Does it sound good?

Nice job!

zkamauf (author)2015-04-19

hey will the guitar work with just one pickup and a amp plug in spot

bulldawg13 (author)2015-01-27

Could I do this without a CNC mill and just do it with a router

Hey! My friend asked me to paint this type of rainbow design on his SG electric guitar. I have not done this before,I've only drawn on my brother's guitar. I know that I should prep the guitar body before painting with a primer and such,I don't have the best materials to work with but I saw that you could use acrylic paint on the guitar. I just want to know if the paint would be able to stick to the primer,and if a normal wood varnish would work,because I think the varnish would 'eat' the paint. Can you also please give me a few pointers to help me? I know I can do this,I just need to prepare the guitar in the right way,thanks!

Does the guitar body you are painting already have a finish or is it raw wood?

If you are using raw wood, you usually want to start with a grain filler to make sure the finished product comes out glossy smooth. On this build, I used swamp ash, which usually needs to be grain filled. However, I skipped grain filling because the players preference was to see the grain through the finish (which is unusual). Some species of wood don't need grain filling, because the grain is much smoother. Like maple, for instance.

After grain filling there are several options for finishing depending on the look you are going for. But most guitar finishes are lacquer. The one I used I bought clear and dyed transparent cherry red with a bit of transparent mahogany.

Since you want to paint a design onto the guitar the process is a bit different. I would say paint your design on after grain filling (If necessary). Then, clear coating over it with Instrument Lacquer. This would allow you to wet sand and polish your design, which would give it a glossy professional look. You can also make sharpie designs or distressing(scuff marks) permanent this way.

Hope that answers your question?

That_Guitar_Girl_ (author)2014-09-16


motherprune (author)2014-06-14


cobbledbeard (author)2014-06-13

This is beautiful.

mousepaper (author)2014-06-12

Thats extraordinary...

Christopherhenson88 (author)2014-06-11

Thats brilliant

gorgeddamp (author)2014-06-09

Its wonderful :)

illrings (author)2014-05-26

Its interesting :)

airbugger (author)2014-05-22


williamsjavellana (author)2014-05-19


headlymph (author)2014-05-08


tealrink (author)2014-05-08


grousebandit (author)2014-05-05

Thats cool

harechubby (author)2014-04-28


clapfilk (author)2014-04-07


cheshirecorn (author)2014-04-04


NumerologyAnswers (author)2014-04-03


spongeraffle (author)2014-04-02

Thats helpful

workexaminer (author)2014-03-28


Danmo Ma (author)2014-02-25


sepperson1 (author)2014-01-09

Bad ass

mrmerino (author)2013-10-10

That's cooler than a polar bear wearing sunglasses.

Mariska Botha (author)2013-09-04

Love this, super cool.

BunnyRoger (author)2013-09-03

Very cool indeed!!!

Amanda Culbert (author)2013-09-02

Wow! Nicely done!

MAApleton (author)2013-08-29

This really is so so cool!!!!

bricabracwizard (author)2013-04-07

Great build! I don't know if you are aware of this but you can get bolt/screw extractors. The way they work is you use a small drill (good quality that can drill through steel) to drill a small hole, you then screw in the extractor which cuts into the hole in the bolt anti-clockwise and the bolt comes out as you are screwing the extractor in...I hope that all made sense.

Thanks! Im going to look into that for sure. Thanks for the tip!


curbowman (author)2013-03-15

I'm a luthier, and I have to tell you this: BRAVO! Excellent work, my friend!

charlieCG (author)curbowman2013-03-15

Thank you. I recently finished the pick guard and guitar. Ill be updating this soon with some more pictures.

tonyvelour (author)2013-02-23

Question: Why did your bolts snap, and why do you think other people had the same experience? If I want to build out a guitar like this, how could I avoid that problem? Thx, cool guitar!!

charlieCG (author)tonyvelour2013-02-23

I should have drilled the pilot holes slightly larger. The screws would require less torque to sink all the way in. Also, screwing them in by hand for at least the last inch would help prevent putting too much torque on the heads. My screw gun has a clutch, but I didn't set it low enough. Thanks!

hertzgamma (author)2013-01-28

I know nothing about guitars, but I like how you made it! It looks like off the shelf, nice work.

friger (author)2013-01-27

Nice build, and as far as snapping neck bolts off, been there done that. What I ended up doing was to remove the neck and was fortunate enough to be able to grab the end of the broken screw with a pair of vise grips and back the bolt out of the neck then replace it...after a drilled the hole to the proper dimension.

I'm curious about your CNC machine. What horse power is the router and how thick was your blank. I am just finishing up the body of an ash Stratocaster and I've managed to destroy 2 very expensive Freud router bits and I think one of my routers may have pooped the bed over the job.

charlieCG (author)friger2013-01-27

My router is an old Dewalt. 2.5 horsepower, 25,000 rpm. I like it because its pretty compact, but has got a pretty serious amount of power. I used a swamp ash blank from Warmoth guitar parts which was 1.75 inches thick. I cut with a lot of passes, never went deeper than a quarter inch per pass. I used 2 flute end mills, at about 30 ipm.

JohnnyD77 (author)2013-01-25

"I snapped the heads of the neck bolts"
Ah, I had the same problem when I built my tele, but with just the one screw. Nice looking guitar.

abadfart (author)2013-01-25

very nice i have been thinking of building a new guitar and slapping one of these on it

burnok100 (author)2013-01-24

Very nice !!!...

charlieCG (author)burnok1002013-01-25


technovative (author)2013-01-25

Nice design, I like the finish and Welch dragon pick guard. I appreciate your careful planning and attention to detail. I've never seen copper foil used as EM shielding around guitar pickups before, it's piqued my interest to look futher into it. Well documented project, and well written ible.

charlieCG (author)technovative2013-01-25

Thanks! I appreciate the complement!

About This Instructable




Bio: I got started making remote controlled airplanes from scratch as a kid. I really like building my own stuff!
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