Introduction: Custom Guitar Case (DIY!)
You know how pros always have to coolest cases? That kind that you can't find anywhere? Maybe you have a super cool guitar and it's in a 15$ gig bag because you're broke from buying yourself a super cool guitar. Wouldn't you like to keep it in some a little more secure and way way cooler?
Well now you can! In three or less weekends and some gadgets you can buy at Lowes, you can have your fancy pants (or not so fancy pants) guitar safe and sound in a case that's both beautiful and incredibly functional. So here's a step-by-step tutorial on how to build the case your instruments deserve... and look like a boss.
Step 1: Measurements and Math
Before you do anything else (even go to your hardware and craft store of choice) you've got to measure your guitar. Length and width are all you need. My Fender Squier HSS, for example, is 39" x 13" (approximately). After you've done this, add one inch of clearance on both sides. (For my case, I've chosen to add two inches, as it's not for this particular guitar.) My clearance marks are on the tape in the picture above. REMINDER: not all guitars are the same size as my Fender. Use your own measurements and math.
Now for the math. The cases for almost any solid body electric guitar are going to be four inches tall. My dimensions, therefore, look like this:
41" x 15" x 4"
When you build a box, you need six pieces. Two long sides, two short sides, a top, and a bottom. Your long sides will be:
41" x 4"
Your short sides will be:
15" x 4"
And of course your top and bottom will be:
41" x 15"
After you've figured all of that out, you need to decide how much fabric you'll need. Calculate the surface area of the box, then double that. (Trust me, you will need that much fabric.) This doesn't have to be super precise, but it does need to be close. For the example box, I purchased four yards of outer materials and two yards of the short fur that I use for the inside.
Step 2: Invest and Investigate
The first part is pretty easy to understand. You'll need:
4 Case Latches
2 Lid Support Hinges (one left, one right)
Whatever kind of actual hinges you like
2 Different Fabrics (one to cover it, one soft one for the inside)
Plenty of Plywood (use your math and measurements to determine how much)
Dry Erase Markerboard sheet* (available at Lowes Hardware and other hardware stores. Should be approximately 3/16ths" thick.)
The second part (investigate) is easily explained. By investigate, I mean go to an antique store! Preferably a cheaper one. At this point, you could go find a handle of your choice somewhere new, or you could go purchase an old briefcase. If you do buy a briefcase, you might also find one that comes with corner brackets! Corner brackets are really what gives this a nice touch.
So hit your local hardware store and crafts shop and maybe even flea market! The average budget for this is $100 dollars, depending on what fabric you use and how much plywood you already have.
*You can use plywood, but that makes the case really heavy. This is for the top and bottom of the case.
Step 3: Determine and Design
Determine what glue you're going to use, along with how you'll form your glue joints. There are pictures of how I did it, but there's plenty of different ideas. Also, I stapled the joints to hold them while the Gorilla Glue set. If you use Gorilla Glue, don't get it on anything. I cannot emphasize that enough :) (There is more glue joint explanation to come!)
Then determine how you'll cut your wood. Try to do as little as possible by hand. We use a gate on our table saw and lots and lots of hand-built saw-stencils, even just for the rectangles. The box is your canvas and it needs to be as pristine as you can get it. It doesn't need to be beautiful wood or amazing glue jobs, but your cut lines need to be straight.
And now for the fun part!
Step 4: Cut and Construct Part 1
You're going to need eight pieces. "But Tiggs," I hear you saying, "You said that all boxes have six parts." Well, yes. Also no. This is a real life box. An ideal box would have six parts: a top, a bottom, four sides. This is not an ideal box. It needs support.
Note: we are not making a top and a bottom. We are making one complete box. The final step is to cut it in half, which prevents us from having to make a top and a bottom that match up, which is a lot of extra trouble.
So here are your eight pieces with example measurements:
Two strips of plywood: 40 1/2" x 4"
Two strips of plywood: 15" x 4"
Two strips of plywood: 14 1/2" x 4"
Two markerboards: 41" x 15"
Here we go, explanation time. Match the formatting with the explanation. These are 1/2 an inch shorter lengthwise because my wood is 1/4 inch thick. This way, everything fits together. So when you cut your long sides, their length needs to be [Length - 2(width of wood)]. These two have the same logic and equation applied. They will go in the middle as per the sample picture.
Now what we did for the first four strips of plywood was we cut our board down to length, then cut it into four inch segments. After this, we left two of them long and cut the other two down to 15".
Now, this is the gluing and stapling part. Lots of glue, lots of staples.
Step 5: Cut and Construct Part 2
So now let's talk about glue joints again. For the corners of the box, we took one little block of plywood and covered it in traditional clear packing tape. Then we clamped it to our first long board as per the picture. After that, we put glue on the edge of our first short board (15" x 4") and put it against the edge of the long board (see picture 3). After that, we stapled the short board to the long board. Every joint is just like this one.
After that, we took the shortest boards (the ones that are 14 1/2" instead of 15") and put them in was was approximately the middle of our box (see picture 5). Make the same kind of glue joint there. (Glue the edges of the short boards to the inside of the long ones, then staple from the outside in.)
Now you have a weird looking box-skeleton! You're nearly there!
Step 6: Cut and Construct Part 3
Now, let all your joints dry. Go make cookies and eat them. You deserve it.
Then come back and put glue all along the outer edges of the box-skeleton and put plenty on the short boards in the middle (see picture 2). Once you've done that, line up and place your whiteboard/plywood top and bottom on your box. After that, staple the top and bottom down to the box skeleton. This should be done carefully, as you want your staples to bite into the plywood skeleton and not miss entirely.
Now you have a full box! Nice job! Go make brownies, eat dinner, sleep, then come back. Your glue should all be well set and dry.
After all your glue is glued and all your staples are stapled, take your box and sand (or grind) off the sharp corners and irregularities along the edges. (see Picture 4)
The last part of basic construction is to cut the box in half, or rather, not quite in half. Measure precisely and cut the box, not in the middle, but at the one inch mark. If your box is 4" tall, cut it so that you have a 3" bottom and a 1" top.
Again, cut as little as you can by hand. Use stencils, gates, whatever you need. Now you have the top and the bottom of the box, and you're ready for hardware!
Step 7: Hinges and Hardware Part 1
Now that you've cut your box into a top and a bottom, tape it back together! Yes, you heard me right. Make it into one box again using Duct Tape, Gorilla Tape, whatever. This is what you want it to look like when it's done, right? This just simplifies all the appliance application, honestly.
Take your lovely hinges and do them first. You might have a hinge that goes the full length of the box. Good for you. If you do not, place however many hinges you have at equal increments along one edge of the box. Tape them down and make sure they line up with your cut lines. Then take a fine drill and drill where the nails will go.
If you have corner brackets, place them and drill their holes too.
Note, you can screw in the hardware at this point, to prevent yourself from losing screws. We did this for that very reason. However, you still have to cover the box with fabric, so not securing them yet will save a little bit of time. (You MUST drill the holes for the screws before you cover it, however.)
Step 8: Hinges and Hardware Part 2
Okay, now we have to measure for the latches. Hopefully you've gotten your latches already.
Measure the full length of your box, and divide it by five (yes, five). Now you should have four lines down the side of your box, which is where your latches will go. Then measure your handle assembly. Find the center of the handle and install it so that the center of the handle goes over the second to last line (where a third latch would go). Screw holes for it accordingly. A lot of handles will be set up like Picture 6 above: screw, washer, cap, pin, handle.
Before you install your handle, decide whether or not to cut a second longboard to reinforce that part of the case with, as per Picture 5.
Then place your latches over the remaining division lines (there should be three) and drill holes for them, lining up the latches' centers with a piece of hefty paper (we used a business card).
The reason that the handle placement is off-center is that your guitar isn't going to be an even weight in the box. Your guitar body weighs more than the neck, so an asymmetrical handle placement will balance the box as you carry it. The first time we did this, we put our handle in the center of the case, which you can do, but let me tell you, the fifth time you almost fall down the stairs because of the uneven weight, you'll be ready to build a new case and start everything over.
The last parts of your hardware are your lid supports, and these generally come with instructions. If not, check out Pictures 8 and 9 above.
Step 9: Cut and Cover
This is what I believe to be the fun part.
Now you have a lid and a body of your box. We started with the lid, and measured six inches of clearance on the covering material on all sides. So basically you'll have a rectangle of fabric thats twelve inches longer and twelve inches wider than the dimensions of your lid.
Now, wrap your rectangle around the handle of a broom, so that it is unroll-able. Then spray glue the back of the lid thoroughly. Quickly, while the spray glue is still wet, roll out the fabric (right side up) over the sticky surface. press it down and rub any bumps out quickly before the glue cements. then flip it over and do the long edges. Just smooth them out and make sure they're glued down well. Then, to do the short edges, spray glue, and fold it like you would wrap a Christmas present. Then, fold down the overlap and staple it down into the inner corner edge of the lid.
Do about the same do the base of your box, but make the fabric clearance around 8 inches instead of six, as your lid and base should be different sizes. Use lots and loads of staples and voila! A covered box.
You can go ahead and put on your corner brackets, if you like.
Step 10: Form-Fitted Felt Part 1
Since the outside now looks amazing, we need to make the inside safe for the guitar. As you can see in the first photo above, there's a lot of air space inside the box, and what we want is to fill that space with as little as possible so that we are not adding a lot of weight but we are adding velvet-y softness. To keep weight to a minimum, we are going to use corrugated cardboard for the form of the liner (with a little bit of foam), and we are going to cover it all with the fuzzy felt we purchased when we also bought the fabric for the exterior of the case.
In the second photo above, you can see the basic design for the interior of the case -- because once we cover it in black felt, it's hard to see details in the photos! We are using a very traditional design for a generic case which provides support of the neck of the guitar, space for two mini cases which can be used to store picks, cables, or tuners, and ample space for the headstock and body. If you are building this case for one specific guitar, you could easily modify this design which custom-cut foam to lay your guitar down into for a very snug fit.
For these large spaces, we too some packing boxes which were made of 1/4" corrugated board and made cuts as you see in pictures 3 and 4 above. On the body side of the case, we also added a foam bumper that as a hole in it to receive the strap pin in the bottom of the body.
Step 11: Form-Fitted Felt Part 2
After cutting the head and body spaces, we wrapped them in felt using a similar technique to how we wrapped the exterior -- we sprayed on heavy-duty adhesive and then wrapped and smoothed the cut felt onto the sticky building material. When those were dry enough to handle, we sprayed the bottoms of the forms with glue and inserted them into the case.
Step 12: Form-Fitted Felt Part 3
The next part is either very easy or very hard, depending on how patient you are. We're going to build the neck support out of 1/2" foam squares. Our method was to cut 18 squares out of 1/2" foam, use a 2-3/4" circle cutting saw on our drill press, and cut all the squares with a recess to receive the neck. Then we glued them together, covered them with felt, and inserted them so that they matched the neck spaces cut into the head and body spacers in the previous step. This gives the neck a semi-firm support which is also soft enough to allow for some cushion to keep your precious instruments safe and sound.
Step 13: Form-Fitted Felt Part 4
The last part of building the interior is to build the storage boxes. In the first photo above you can see the measured cuts we made to assemble the box we constructed in the second photo. You will notice that the total linear measurement is 15". We used simple duct tape to secure the joints, making sure that the lid joint was flexible while the corner joints were not. Notice that we are building this without sides as we will use the sides formed by the head and body space to close off this box. We're doing this to make the felt wrapping of the interior easier that trying to form fit a solid 3D box.
Then using the 15" length as a rule, we cut 25" x 10" of felt to wrap the box in. On the lid end of the felt, notice how we cut away some of the overlap. This is because we wanted to avoid having a flap on the outside of the top of the lid. You will see how this works as you scroll through the photos of the glue-up of the felt. Photos 4-15 show how the box was wrapped with the felt. Keep in ming that when we glued the lid, we did not put glue on the side of the box under the lid so the flex would not bind the lid and prevent it from closing.
You're going to have to do this twice (once for each case), and it works best if the cases are identical in measurements so that they will force the neck foam support to center-up in the case.
Photos 16-17 above show what the interior of the case looks like when the two smaller wrapped boxes are installed.
Step 14: Hinges and Hardware (Final)
So the very last step is to find all those holes you drilled before you covered the box with material. Re-attach all the hinges, hardware, and corner brackets. And woo-hoo! You have a complete guitar case! Now place your fancy (or not so fancy) guitar inside, fasten all your latches, and off you go! Now you look like a professional with less than half the regular cost.
Give yourself some more cookies and clink milk glasses with your building buddy (or your cat). Nice job!