Introduction: 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
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)
Forestner Drill Bits
Screwdrivers (phillips and flathead)
Polishing Compound (ultimate compound, and scratch x)
Alcohol (for staining)
Gloves (for painting)
Ventilator (for painting)
Step 1: 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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Pencil or 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
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:
Push-Pull 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
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.