Introduction: Customizable Electric Guitar / Design Process

Overview:

Hi and thanks for checking out my instructable!  This instructable is twofold.  I’d like to explain a design process from a styling point of view of making something real using a computer aided process as well as the actual build process.  I chose to design a guitar as it is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. Keep in mind, the design process part of this instructable is relevant to anything that you might want to create. 

Don’t care about the design phase and just want to make the guitar?  Please skip the Design Process Phase 1-4 and go right to Make it Real! section.   I have also created a time-lapse video that documents the project and the construction for a better visual on how I made the guitar.

For this instructable, I wanted to give you guys a choice of either making this by hand the old fashioned way if you don’t have access to CNC tools, or use my digital files and make them by milling them out using CNC machine.  I chose to build this first one old school to prove out the process for the instructions.  If you choose to build this and go the CNC route, you can skim ahead to Surfacing and Sanding of each step.

As for the guitar that I have designed, it has more modern, angular shapes and it also features removable “wings” in which you would be able to swap out with a different design or color to suit your mood.  Feel free to use the wings I designed or design your own!  I’ve provided some templates that you can use to sketch over to create your own custom look. 

If anyone decides to make one of these guitars please post a link in the comments as I’d love to see what you guys come up with!  Please don’t make this guitar with the intent to sell them or to use in a commercial setting without my permission.

Step 1: Design Process

Design process Phase 1. Research

Overview:
Ok, so you’ve got an idea for something you’d like to create.  In my case it was an electric guitar.  I can “sort of” play guitar but I’ve never designed or built an electric guitar before.


First Step: Learn
Learn as much as you can about what ever it is you are going to design.  Find as many reference materials as you can that will give you inspiration for creating your new object as well as any technical information you might need to learn to make the thing work.  The internet is great for this first step.  Download lots photos, or take images out of books and magazines of things that will inspire you to create an awesome design.  They don’t have to be images of the exact same object you are creating either.  You can get inspiration from just about anywhere.  Architecture, animals, bugs, cars etc, etc.  Field trips are great as well.  Go out to the local store that sells similar things to what you’re designing and have a good look and feel of similar products.  If you are going to make your object out of materials that require a choice such as types of wood, plastic, paint colors, fabric types and patterns etc, you can start collecting samples of those as well. 


Second Step: Imageboard
Once you have a pile of images and materials that you like you can create an image board. Pick out the best ones that describe the look and feel you are after and stick them on a piece of poster or illustration board and hang it somewhere close to your work area.  You can refer to it while you are creating and check that what you are designing fits in the realm of the photos and materials you selected.  You don’t have to stay in this realm if inspiration takes you somewhere else but it’s a good starting point.  You might even want to come up with 2 or more image boards to give your designs many different looks for you to choose from.  For example, say you had an image board with a lot of cool architecture and minimalistic product designs and the other image board was based on plants and bugs.  Depending on the images selected, I would imagine that you would come up with two totally different looking designs.  One with hard edges and a clean look whereas the other would be soft and organic in nature.  One might work better than the other but it’s alway good to try as many options as possible.   

Third Step: Background Research
On the technical side, learn any new skills that you might need to know to create your object.  In my case, I had to learn how a guitar was made so I read a book that I bought probably 10 years ago, which was very helpful. How to make an electric guitar by Melvyn Hiscock and also check out some sights on the internet on building guitars. The one that I found that was most helpful and fun to watch is Sully’s Guitar Garage on youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA6D01D66C9D6B4B9&feature=plcp

Fourth Step:  Off the shelf componentry
If your design uses “off the shelf” items, research those and choose what you want to use.  I designed the guitar in the computer so I needed dimensions of all the parts that I chose. I needed to 3D model them and make sure that everything would fit.  Again the internet is great for this.  Many manufactures of parts provide detailed, dimensioned drawings that you can use and sometimes they even provide 3D models of their parts for you to use.  In my case, EMG, and Schaller provide pdf files with drawings and dimensions for most of their parts.  The PDF files can be loaded into 3D programs and you can build the parts from them, for sizing reference.  McMaster.com is a great place to find 3D models of actual fasteners and other parts.  I downloaded the 3D models of the nuts and bolts from them to see what fits best and ordered the actual parts from them so I knew they would fit as planned.  Grabcad.com is another great site for free downloadable models that individuals have created of actual objects.  For other parts such as the knobs etc, I bought the parts and dimensioned them by hand with a caliper and built 3D models of them. 

Once you have a general look and feel of your design from your image board, finished all the technical research and have or found all the parts that you want to use, it’s time to go to the next phase of designing your object!

Step 2: Design Skeching

Design Process Phase 2.  Design Sketching

Overview:
After going to the local guitar shop and looking over a huge wall of guitars, I noticed that  there are only a few different shapes to choose from.  Not that those shapes are bad, many are beautiful classic shapes that still look great today but for this project, I wanted something different. 
I searched online for custom guitars and the ones I saw were either variations of those classic shapes or just plain weird.  I also wanted something that was easily customizable.  To somehow be able to change it’s shape or color over time if I got board with it.  Size wise, I wanted something between two different guitars.

First Step:  Choose your Method

There are several ways to go about this design phase.  If you have use of a computer and design software then it is always more efficient but certainly can be done without.  If you do not use the computer for this phase than you would want to create your ‘sketch underlay’ or package drawing by using a reference image of the object or similar object your designing to sketch over.  If the object your designing doesn’t exist then get all the off the shelf parts, if feasible, that you plan to use and lay them out full size on paper or in a computer 3D program with general sizes, in some meaningful manor and rough in an outline of the general size you want to make it.  This is called a package drawing and you can sketch over this.

The Method of choice:
I used the computer for the design phase.  I overlaid two reference guitars in photoshop and turned down their opacity to create a ‘sketch underlay’ with the correct size and proportions of what I was designing.  Try not to let the ‘sketch underlay’ influence your actual design or you will end up with something that looks the same as your reference. More or less, use it to capture the general size and correct ‘off the shelf’ parts size and location if pertinent. By doing this in the computer, I had something to sketch over either by printing it out to sketch by hand or to continue to sketch it out on the computer.
If you plan to continue sketching on the computer, you will need a drawing tablet such as the one made by Wacom. They come in different sizes and I recommend getting the biggest one you care to pay for.  I used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro software due to its simple interface and it has all the tools needed for design sketching.  There are several other design softwares that are available such as Photoshop and Painter, so use whichever you prefer.  

Drawing in the computer has some big advantages to sketching on paper. It’s very easy to modify your sketches and save a version without having to re-draw the same thing over and over like you would on paper.  It’s a huge time saver!  In the beginning of your sketch phase, try to keep things rough without to much detail and draw them fairly quickly so you can create as many ideas as possible.  Don’t fall in love with the first sketch you do, keep sketching and try something completely different  Sometimes I do the rough sketches with pen and paper or directly in the computer. It doesn’t really mater, whatever works for you. 

Second Step:  The Design Selection

Once you have a rough sketch of something you like, refine your sketch by creating variations of it and start adding more details.  Refine the shapes until you are happy with them.  At this point you can start to think about color and material placements.  Take your time with this phase.  It’s really cheap and easy to make sketches but difficult and often costly to change your design when you’re half way through building something.  Once you’re happy with your design, if you haven’t already, draw one or more flat, straight on views.  In my case the front view was good enough but if your design is more detailed and has details that you don’t see from the front view, you might want to draw a top,side or end view as well. These will be used to import into your 3D program of choice to convert your sketch into a 3D object.

Step 3: Design Modeling

Design Process Phase 3.  Design Modeling.

Overview:
Before you start to build your 3D model, take some time and think about how you are going to physically make your object.  As stated earlier, I wanted to be able to build this by hand as well as with CNC so I needed to design it to be made using a hand router, common saws and hand tools.  This limits the type of surfaces I could use to available router bit sizes, actual drill bit sizes etc.  If you design for exclusive CNC, your surfacing options open up quite a bit.  You can do some free form surfacing for a handmade object but just keep in mind your physical modeling skill level and how much time you’re willing to put in while actually making it. 

First Step: Creating the 3D Surface

I’m not going to go into any specifics of 3D modeling because everyone seems to use something different and there are plenty of tutorials for all of them.  I use Autodesk Alias for modeling but any program that creates surface suitable for CNC is fine. 

Start by outlining the straight on views you sketched up with your 3D curves and create a rough 3D surface.  Also, start to lay out some of the off the shelf components that must fit into your design so that you can make sure to leave enough room for them.  Try not to get caught up in rounding all the edges and spending a lot of time with the small details at this point.  Just get something roughed in that’s fairly blocky.  Spin it around and look at it for a while.  Look at it from all angles and see if anything looks weird.  Sometimes what you sketch in one view might not look that great in another. Take your time and adjust your design so that it looks good in all views.  Put a few details in place and maybe do some screenshots or quick renderings of your rough shape. At this point if something still doesn’t look quite right, you can do some more sketches over your 3D screenshots or renderings.  Try some different sketches to work out the problem areas and plug them back into your 3D program and make the changes. 

Second Step: Finalize the Design

Once everything looks great from all views, its a good time to add any final details and make some renderings of your object.  This is kind of the last verification that everything is looking good and when you’re happy with how it looks in the renderings, you can start thinking about making a real prototype.  Still not happy?  Take the time and make the changes to the model.  It’s always easier to change it now than in a physical model.  Also double check that all your measurements of the off the shelf items fit in their places as well as the overall dimensions are correct.  It really sucks to mill something out only to find that something doesn’t fit.

Step 4: Design Prototyping

Design Process Phase 4.  Mockup and Prototype.

Overview:

Now that your 3D model is pretty much complete, It’s a good idea to make a quick mockup out of cardboard or foam so you see that the actual size and proportion is going to work in the real world.  Sometimes when you model something in the computer, you kind of loose track of any kind of real world scale.  Especially when you are making something big like a car or boat etc.  When you look at something small on your computer monitor or printed on paper it often looks a little different when it is blown up to full size. 

First Step: Mockup

For the guitar, I got some full size prints and spray mounted them to some white foam that I had from some packing material.  I taped this to the neck and had a good look at it to see if I was happy with the size and how the shape felt on my leg when sitting etc.  If anything’s not right, go back to step 3 and fix it in the model and re-test with another mockup.  Once all looks good with the mockup, it’s a good idea to make a rough prototype. 

Second Step: Prototype

The prototype can be made out of cheaper materials to what the final object is going to be made of and in my case was a practice run of the way you should make the final.  This way, if you make any mistakes, you can learn from that and maybe change the order in which you do things or try to come up with easier ways to make it.  I made the the prototype from MDF as it’s fairly cheep, easy to work with, and could use the same tools on it as I would on the hardwood final.  I made plenty of mistakes in the prototype and was really happy it wasn’t with the final piece.  Learn from those mistakes!  You could take this prototype as far as you want.  You could take it all the way and paint it, put all the parts in it and make it look real if you want to verify that everything that you designed, including the colors, were right.  In my case, I was mostly worried about the order of the cuts and needed some practice with the router and to check that everything fits so I took it to the level of being pretty much finished but not painted.  Once you are happy with the design, the mockup and the prototype, It’s time to make it real!

Step 5: Make It Real!

Overview:

I chose to use African Mahogany for the body of this guitar and Maple for the removable shapes which I’ll call the wings.  You can do some research on different types of tone wood as they all produce differences in the tone of the guitar.  I also learned that some exotic woods used in making guitars could be toxic!  Please do your research and take the necessary precautions. This is a great site that has many types of wood and their characteristics http://www.warmoth.com/guitar/bodies/options/bodywoodoptions.aspx http://www.wood-database.com/wood-identification/  Also, please review and know the safety requirements for all of your tools.  There are many tools that I've used in this instructable that could easily cause an injury if improperly used.  Know your tools and use common sense.

If you’ve decided to build this guitar and want to CNC mill the body and wings, choose the wood that you would like to use and mill the body and wing shapes. Rejoin this instructable on each Surfacing and Sanding Step.  For the hand builders, I designed this guitar to be made with templates that are the same size as the piece of wood that you are going to create the guitar body from.  This way it will be easy to line everything up for the different steps involved in creating this guitar.

Materials List

Template Prints:

Print out the 5 PDF template files.  Be sure to print out template 1 a total of 3 times.  Print out the Misc. template and the wing template file.
Verify dimensions are full scale and correct with the dimension key located on the templates.


Supplies List:

Spray Mount (3M Super77 -recommended)
80, 120, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1500, 2000 grit sand paper
Pencil
1/4” and 1/2“ tape
X-acto Knife
Body filler
High fill automotive primer, Black
Painting prep spray
Tack cloth suitable for automotive paints
Wood Stain, Black (Ebony Fretboard Stain)
Automotive Paint or Guitar Paint, Satin Black
Clear Coat, red base tint added
Polishing or buffing pad
Foam polishing pad glaze by 3M
Foam sanding block
Small window squeegee
Lacquer thinner
Zpoxy finishing resin
10 Dry Wall Screws
Respirator
Safety Glasses
Disposable dust masks
Latex gloves

Template Materials:

4  7‘‘x18’’ MDF 1/2” thick -Template
1  2’ x 2’ Masonite Sheet 1/8” thick - Spacer Board
1  2’ x 3’  MDF 3/4” thick -Router Bridge Board


Final Guitar Materials:

1  13.75”X20”X1.75”  African Mahogany (or other tone wood) - Body Blank
1  19” x 12” Black or Clear Acrylic 1/16” thick  -Pick Guard
1  7 1/4” x 40” Maple (or other hardwood) -Wings
Bone or Tusq Nut
Vinyl cut sticker

Tools List for Hand Build:

Drill Press (Highly recommend)
Router (Mandatory)
Router Table (Optional but recommend)
Belt and Disc Sander (Optional time saver)
Table Saw (Optional)
Circular Saw (if you do not have a table saw)
Band Saw (Highly recommend)
Hand Saw
Drill press sanding drum (Optional)
Chisel
Custom shaped MDF Sanding block
Straight Edge
Scale Ruler
C-Clamps of various sizes
Forstner drill bits set and/or Brad point drill bits set
Digital Caliber (Optional but Recommended)
Various Screw drivers
Wood working files
Scroll saw or Jig saw
Spray Gun
Random Orbit Polisher

Off the Shelf Parts List:  (stewmac.com)

Guitar Neck (Blank Peghead)
Guitar tuners
Strap buttons
Guitar strings
EMG 81 pickup (guitar center)
EMG 85 pickup (guitar center)
Schaller Hannes Bridge (lmii.com)
Mini switch
3 Volume and tone knobs
Neck mounting plate and screws
Long Panel Jack
8  1/2” Black Washer (Ace hardware)

Hardware:  Mcmaster.com
91251A349 1 Pack
Black-oxide Alloy Steel Socket Head Cap Screw, 10-32 Thread 1-1/4" Length

90945A741  1 Pack
300 Series Ss Nas 620 Flat Washer, No. 10 Sz, .36" Od, .06"-.07" Thk, Dash No. C10

92114A079 1 Pack
Brass Flat Head Phillips Wood Screw, No 2 Size, 3/8" Length

5503A42 1 Each
Ball-point L-key, 4mm Hex, 4-5/16" Blade Length

91581A345 2 Packs Black-luster-coated Stl Nylon-insert Locknut, Thin Hex, 10-32 Thread Size, 3/8"w, 11/64"h

Step 6: Build Guitar Body Blank

I.  Guitar Template Build Step:  Templates, Router Bridge  (See Video)

Overview:

To save time, you can also use the pdf files to have these laser cut.  If you are making the templates by hand, take your time and do a good job.  Your final part will only look as good as these templates.  Be sure to watch the video for additional tips on how I made these.

Templates:
Cut out Template 2-4 with the X-acto knife. If using a router bushing: see notes on template.

Spray mount each template on each of the 4  7” x 18” MDF boards.

Drill inside corners of cavities on all templates to specified dimensions with the drill press, clamping down as needed with the c-clamps.

Cut close to outside line of templates, sand to final shape.

Router Bridge:
Cut out Router Bridge board- 2 pieces at 2 5/8” x 24” and one piece at 13 1/2” x 24”  with a circular saw or table saw.

Screw small pieces on opposite ends of larger piece so that the small pieces are end up.  Use 5 screws per side to fasten.  This forms a bridge to use with the router.

II.  Guitar Body Build Step 1:  Body Blank (See Video)

Using the body blank (African Mahogany):

Cut the body blank (African Mahogany) down, making sure to be accurate, to a size of 7” X 18”.  I used a circular saw but a table saw would be handy here. 

Draw an accurate centerline lengthwise down the middle of the cut body blank. The centerline should be down the front, top, end and back.

Cut out all of the paper Template 1’s with the X-acto knife on the dotted lines and cut out the slots on center so you can visually lineup the centerlines to the body blank (African Mahogany) centerline. Spray mount one of the templates directly to the body blank (African Mahogany).  Make sure to line up the centerlines to be accurate. Take care to line everything up perfectly.

Guitar Body Step 2:  Front side holes and pockets (See video)

Overview:

I strongly recommend using a drill press for all the holes that you are going to be drilling on this guitar. I clamped the workpiece down at this point with the c-clamps so it wouldn’t move while drilling.

Start with the outer wing attachment holes. Counterbore hole with a 3/8” forstner bit to a depth of .56”.

Switch the drill bit to the 7/32” bit to drill the through hole.  You only need to drill down to a depth of 1 1/4” as the back side is going to get shaved down to 1” depth.   

With a large forstner bit you can remove the center material in the pickup and neck cavities.  This will make routing the pockets easier as there is less material to remove.  Just make sure that the tip of the forstner bit does not go below the final depth of 5/8” for the neck pocket and 3/4” for the pickup pockets.  (See image)

Finally drill the holes for the volume and tone knobs.  Double check the dimensions of the actual parts that you are going to use but in my case I drilled the Volume and Tone control holes with a 5/32” drill bit and used an 1/8” bit to drill the switch. These holes only need to be drilled down to a depth somewhere below 1/8” as we’ll bore out the backside to 1/8” of the frontside surface.

Guitar Body Step 3: Routing the pickup and neck cavities

Use your C-clamps as needed.

Starting with Template 2 (Pick Up and Neck cavity) route the pickup cavities using a 1/4” router bit and a router bushing.  These cavities will be routed down to a depth of 3/4”.

Next you’ll need to add some clearance to the sides of the pickup cavities for the pickup mounting screws.  Check their locations and route these 4 pockets down to a depth of 1 3/8”.

Next to route out the neck pocket, I had to add an 1/8” spacer under the template as we’re only routing down to a depth of 5/8th” I used masonite and just rough cut but backed away from the router openings by about 1/4” or so.


Guitar Body Step 4: Finding the location of the bridge

Use your C-clamps as needed.

With the neck in it’s pocket, true up the centerline if needed and find the location for the bridge.  With a long strait edge, place it along each side of the neck and draw a line projecting from the neck through the whole body.  Measure the distance between the projected lines and this will be the true centerline to line up the bridge.  Follow the directions for the bridge that you choose to use to find it’s exact location.  I chose to use the Schaller Hannes bridge and it came with a template to follow.  Double and triple check your dimensions for this step.  It’s critical that the location of the bridge is exact.  If this gets messed up, the guitar may not be able to intonate and may not be able to play in tune.

Once you’re happy with the location of the bridge mark the location of the holes with a sharp pin or the tip of a brad point bit.  Take your time and look at it from all angles before marking them. 

Drill the holes for the strings and mounting locations per the template.  Take your time drilling and back out often as you are going to drill through the full 1 3/4” of the body.
Counter sink and route any additional hardware that came with your bridge.


Guitar Body Step 5:  Control Cavity

Use your C-clamps as needed.

With your Control Cavity -Template 5 in place, draw the cavity outline to the backside of the guitar.

With a forstner bit, bore out the cavity close to but not all the way to the line.  Bore the cavity down somewhere less than 1 5/8” deep.  Don’t let the tip of the bit go below the final route depth of 1 5/8”.

This router operation is going to take 2 steps as it’s to deep for the bit to do in one shot. I used a 1/2” bit with a template bearing. 

Use your template for the first go and take the sides of the cavity down about half way or as deep as your router will go.

Next remove the template and use the surface you just routed as the template for the bearing to ride on to mill out the rest of the
cavity.  Mill it down to within 1/8” of the front side surface.

Guitar Body Step 6:  Start of the rear cover recess

Use your C-clamps as needed.

With your Template 3 (Rear Cover Recess), we are going to cut the front edge of the recess for the plastic control cavity cover.  We don’t want to recess the whole cover area yet as we need the rear edge of the body to be full height for the next step. We are going to only route down to the depth of the plastic cover which is 1/16” thick.

Because of the shallow cut, I needed to add a 5/8” spacer below the 1/2” template.
Use a 1/2” router bit and cut the front edge of the cover recess.


Guitar Body Step 7:  Wing Offset

Use your C-clamps as needed.

Align Wing Offset Template 4 and draw it’s outline on the backside of the guitar.

With a large forstner bit, bore the sides of the guitar to less than 3/4”.  Don’t let the tip of the bit go below the final route depth of 3/4”.

Re-Align and double stick tape the Wing offset template 4 to the back of the guitar.  With a 1/2” router bit, route around the template to clean up bored out edge.  Also, if you can, clear out some of the material at the neck end of the guitar to have some free space available for the next step. 

Use the router bridge that you created and set the depth of router bit to your previous cut of 3/4”.  Double stick the guitar directly to the bridge.  Make sure it’s solid as there isn’t room to clamp it down. Place a clamp on the side that you are cutting on the bridge but outside the rails. This will act as a stop to keep the router from eating the center section of the guitar.  Adjust it’s placement so that the router bit can’t move to the center section and so that the router bit is about halfway into the previous cut you made with the template.  Make sure the clamp is tight!  Also notice in the video, I clamped the rails down to the table in a location that didn’t allow the bridge to move forward into the “Y” section of the guitar.

Mill down both sides and use a rail clamped down to the top of the bridge rails to act as a stop so you can mill down the end section.

While you still have the bridge set up, reset depth of the router to cut the remainder of the rear cover recess.  Use the rail clamped to the bridge rails to prevent you from going to far into the center section of the guitar.
 

Guitar Body Step 8:  Wiring passage and truss rod adjustment slot. (See Video)

Use your C-clamps as needed.

Using a long 1/4” drill bit, drill a hole from the center of the neck pocket horizontally through both pickup cavities.  This will be the passage for the pickup wiring.  Also drill a hole from the bridge pickup to the control cavity.

The neck that I chose to use had a truss rod adjustment at the base of the neck rather than at the head of the neck so a recess was needed for it’s adjustment.  Skip this step if your truss rod is adjusted from the neck.  Route a pocket 3/8” wide and about 1/8” inch from the neck pickup out through to the neck pocket.  Cut to a depth just above the hole you drilled for the wire passage.  Use a rail and some blocks to limit the router and cut freehand.

Guitar Body Step 9:  Plug Jack (See Pictures on Video)

Overview:
If you are using the EMG active pickups this jack will need to be a stereo version for it to work properly.
Double check the dimensions of the jack that you purchased as they are all a little different.
Use your C-clamps as needed.

Spray mount the second copy of Template 1 directly on the body blank and carefully align to the centerline of the guitar.

With a band saw, cut just the rear profile edge.  This will give us a little more room to drill the hole for the long panel jack.  Do not cut whole body blank out yet.

Using the long panel jack.  On the body blank, find the center of the rear profile edge that you just cut, mark center and drill a countersink and a through hole for your jack.  
 
Guitar Body Step 10:  Angle below neck.

Overview:
On my old guitar they have an angle below the neck to thin up the body a bit around the neck so I chose to add this.  You can skip this part if you want as it makes drilling the holes a little bit harder but I think it looks better this way.

In side view, mark a 5 degree angle from the front edge of the wing offset out through the front of the guitar.

Use a belt sander to sand this angle.  Or tool of preference.

Guitar Body Step 11:  Cut and sand the profile.

Finally, we can cut the profile of the guitar out!  

Use a band saw and cut close to but not on the line of the body blank.

Use a belt sander to sand the body to it’s final profile line. Or tool of preference.

Guitar Body Step 12.  Bevel the front and side edges. (See Video and Pictures)

Overview:
I put the router in a table so I could get a better grip on things and maybe be a bit more accurate. You will want to be able to make one constant sweep across the whole side without stopping.

Use a large 45 degree router bit that has a 7/8” cut to start to shape the front side bevels.    Set the height of the router so the wide end of the bit is flush with the table. It’s a little awkward to hold so so give it a few practice runs before actually cutting it.

Use the router to cut both sides of the guitar.

Take the third copy of Template 1 and cut out with a X-acto knife on the bevel lines. Attach this third copy of Template 1 to the top surface of the guitar body blank that you just beveled.

With some 1/4” tape, draw a line on the outer side of the guitar lined up to the wing to body intersection.

Use a belt sander and hand sanding to sand down to the 1/4” tape line and to the bevel line on the top template.  This is going to make the bevel a little bigger than what the router bit could give us.  Also rather than sanding it flat, give this bevel a little bit of a crowned surface.

With the bevel template still attached, layout the location that we have to remove to create the front bevel at the neck intersection. 

Draw a line on the top surface of the guitar that extends the side bevel to the front.  Study the image that shows how to lay out the front bevel and project a line along the beveled surface that connects the line you drew on the top surface to the most forward corner of the guitar at the height of the 1/4” side wall we created with the tape line.  Project the 1/4” side wall straight across in side view to the front.  (See Layout front bevel location in video).

Not really an easy way to cut this out so we have to do it by hand.  Use a hand saw, chisel, and a sanding block to remove the material for the front bevel at the neck intersection.  The video comes in handy for seeing how to do this.

Using the Side view neck area template from the Misc. Template file, mark the side view cutout and cut the shape with the hand saw and use sanding blocks to clean up.

Guitar Body Step 13:  Neck mounting holes.

Use your C-clamps as needed.

Using the neck mounting plate as a guide, center it on the guitar body and mark the 4 mounting hole locations.

If you created the 5 degree angle on the bottom side of the neck area from step 10, you’ll need to adjust your drill press table so that
the holes drill perpendicular to that 5 degree surface.  Place your guitar body on the drill press table and place a square on the angled part of the guitar and rotate the table until the drill bit is square to the square.

Drill the 4 holes in the body.  The neck I purchased recommended a 1/8” bit.

Put the neck on the body and double check it’s alignment to your centerline.  Once aligned properly, clamp the neck to the body so it doesn’t move and mark the 4 holes you drilled in the body onto the neck.

Drill the holes in the neck.  Make sure you place the neck in the same orientation as you drilled the body since we have the table set to an angle.



Guitar Body Step 14:  Sanding

Sand the entire body to 220 grit paper to prepare it for finishing.  If you chose to do a clear finish with a tint do your best to make everything nice and smooth.  Sand the wing attachment holes with some sandpaper spray mounted to a dowel.  If there are any mishaps, you can take some sanding dust and mix it with a bit of thick super glue and pack it in.  After it dries you can sand it down and with a little luck you won’t even see it.  Take your time and do a good job and everything will look great in the end.  Now the body is ready for finishing!






Step 7: Guitar Wings

III.  Guitar Wings Step 1:  Design (Option)

Overview:
This a great opportunity to change the look of the guitar with your own designed set of wings or you can use the ones on the template.  I’ve provided an image that you can print out that has the body and neck on it with a very light outline of the headstock paddle shape that was on my neck and a light outline of the wings I designed for reference.  Print out a few sheets and use this as an underlay. Sketch out some cool designs!  Once you have a design you like you can print it out full size to use as the wing template. If possible, make a pdf file to load into a drawing program, or use the 3D .STP or .IGES files and build your own design on the computer.  What ever suits you best.  You will just want to keep the shapes that directly mate to the guitar body, the rest is whatever you can imagine!


Guitar Wings Step 2: Cut and shape the profile

Print out the Wings Template and spray mount them to 3/4” hardwood (Maple).

Cut the outer shape of both wings close to but not on the line.

Sand the outer shape with a belt sander.  Use drill press sanding attachment for the inside curves.

If your design is asymmetrical skip this but if it is symmetrical like mine, double stick tape the two halves together and start to sand them as one unit.

My design has holes in the wings so drill out the inside corners of the holes and saw in between the holes to remove the material.

Using files and sanding blocks clean up the holes.  It’s helpful to make a sanding block with a rounded edge that can get into those tight corners.  This part isn’t much fun but take your time and do it right.  If the holes are off or a little wobbly, it will stand out like a sore thumb.  The drill press sander comes in handy for truing up these holes and for the small corners, I got some sandpaper with a sticky back to it and wrapped it around a drill bit.

After the edges and holes nice and clean, separate the two halves.

Guitar Wings Step 3:  Mounting holes

Use your C-clamps as needed.

From the back of the guitar, place the wings on the body and align the line of the wing to be parallel with the lines of the the body.  Tape the wings into position and flip it over to the front side. 
Mark the attachment holes onto the wing through the holes on the body.
Drill a 1/4” through hole and a 5/8” counterbore to a depth of 1/4” on the marks you created.

Guitar Wings Step 4:  Wing shaping

Mount the wings to the body and sand the wings to fit flush with the body.
The 3/4” wings look a little blocky as they are now so we need to give them some shape.  With the wings still attached, on the top surface, draw an outline of the body onto the wings.  The area of the wings that’s under the body must remain flat and not to be contoured.
With some 1/2” tape, draw a line down the outer edge of the wing.  Also tape off the area that is under the body that we can’t profile.  We’ll sand the a section across the wing between the untouchable part and the 1/2” tape on the edge.  On the back side you can profile all the way to the inner edge but just be careful not to let the wing get lower than the center section of the body.
I roughed in the section with a belt sander but you could do it with files and sanding blocks as well.  Be careful if using a power sander, as it can take a lot of material away in a hurry.  Keep things moving but watch your fingers.
After the rough shaping, I used some files and sanding blocks to finish the shape.
When you get close to the final shape spray a light mist of matt black spray paint over the wing and sand.  You will easily see the problem areas and low spots.  Keep sanding until it’s all nice and smooth.  If you’ve gone to far or nicked something, you’ll have to use some filler. 
Do a final fit to the body and make adjustments if needed to get the interface between the two looking nice.
Sand everything down nice and smooth to 220 grit sandpaper and radius the edges.

Guitar Wings Step 5:  Final shaping

I decided to paint the wings rather than leave the wood visible so I cleaned the wood and primed them with an automotive type high build primer. Give it a few coats, let dry and sand with 320 or 400 grit paper.  The first couple of coats you are going to probably sand through the primer to the wood but that’s OK.  We’re still finding low spots in the surface.  If there’s a big low spot you can use a body filler to fix it.  I went through about 2 cans of primer before I was done.  On the last coat, you can sand it down with 600 grit sandpaper.  You don’t want to sand down to the wood at this point. Be careful around the edges as the paint tends to be a little thinner there. If all looks good, you are ready for paint!

Step 8: Guitar Neck

IV. Guitar Neck Step 1:  Design.

Since this is my first time building a guitar, I decided to not build the neck and purchase a pre-built one.  I purchased one from StewMac.com that they call a blank peghead which has extra material on the headstock so you can cut your own design.  This is another area where you can either use the one I designed or design your own!  If you’ve designed the wings, just be mindful of the kind of shapes that you used on the wings and try to come up with a headstock that has a similar design.

Guitar Neck Step 2:  Cut and shape the headstock.

Draw your own headstock template or use the template provided. Spray mount it down to the headstock.

Tape and wrap the neck to protect it while you are cutting, shaping and sanding.

Cut out the shape by hand or use band saw.

File and sand to blend the shape, you just cut, into the existing shapes on the neck.

Sand everything smooth to 220 grit sandpaper.

Guitar Neck Step 3: Staining the Neck (See Video)

Overview:
I wanted to stain the neck black rather than paint it to keep the natural feel of the wood.  The neck has a clear coat on it, so that all has to come off for the stain to take hold.

Mask off the fret board (front face) of the Neck to protect it while sanding.

Sand the neck to 220 and be sure to remove all the clear.

Remove the masking from the fretboard.

Stain the whole neck and headstock.

Once stain is dry. (2days)  Mask front of the headstock and 1/8” or so of the sides for paint.

Prime the headstock and sand up to 600 grit.  Until smooth.

Paint the headstock with the same paint that will be used on the wings, satin black.


Step 9: Guitar Details

V.  Guitar Finishing Step 1:  Pore filling the body blank.

The Mahogany I used for the body has a very open grain to it and the pores must be filled before painting or clearing.  I chose to use Zpoxy finishing resin to fill the pores.

Mix the Zpoxy to the instructions and use a squeegee or a credit card to spread the Zpoxy across the grain to fill the pores.  Keep working the resin across the surface to help push it into pores. Use a small brush to get into the tight areas and cover the whole top half and sides of the guitar.  When it’s dry enough to handle repeat on the other side.  Let the Zpoxy dry overnight.

Sand the surface with 400 grit sandpaper and a sanding block until smooth.  You don’t want to go all the way to wood and want to leave a thin layer of the Zpoxy over the whole guitar body.  As you are sanding you’ll notice that there are still some pores that will need to be filled. 

Repeat the application of Zpoxy and sand again the next day.  For me, the second coat was all it needed.  Everything sanded out flat.  Final sand to 600 grit sandpaper.

While you have the Zpoxy out fill a scrap piece of the mahogany as well that you can use as a paint sample.  Fill and sand it down the same as you would your guitar so you can get a good read on the colors and finish.

Guitar Finishing Step 2.  Painting and polishing

Be sure to wear a proper respirator and goggles.

Overview:
Mix up some of the paint you plan to use and shoot a sample on your test block that you pore filled.  I elected to use an automotive catalyzed urethane as I was more familiar to the car stuff over the guitar specific paints.  For the body I wanted a red tinted clear so I went down to the local paint store and picked out a red base that could be added to the clear.  The Clear mixed up 4 parts clear to one part hardener and I added about one part of the red base to it before I was happy with the color. Check the tech sheets that you can get or download with whatever paint you use as the mixtures can be different to mine.

Spray your sample block and make sure you’re happy with the mixture before you spray your guitar. I spray painted this by using a big airbrush.  It worked really well so I ended up spraying the whole guitar with it.  It was good for getting into the tight areas like the holes in the wings etc.

All looked good with the sample so I sprayed the body with 3 coats of the clear / tint mixture.

The wings were sprayed with a satin black and are done at this point!  Hang to dry.

Let the body dry over night and sand the entire surface with 600 grit sandpaper.

After sanding, clean the surface let dry, and spray 3 more coats of just clear without the tint.

The spec sheet says you can sand and buff the clear a few hours after spraying but I put on quite a bit more clear than you would a car in a repair shop, so I left it to hang dry for about a week before any sanding.

I wet sanded the whole body with 2000 grit on a foam sanding block to remove the orange peal until it was completely flat.  Don’t bother to sand the edges as the buffer will smooth them out.  If you do sand the edges you run the risk of burning through the clear.

I used a random orbit polisher with a foam cutting pad and 3M Foam Polishing Pad Glaze polishing compound to buff out the clear.   Keep the buffer moving and let the machine do the work.  There are a lot of edges on this guitar so be mindful of them and be careful not to burn through to the wood.

Keep buffing with less abrasive pads until the finish is very shiny!

Step 10: Final Guitar Assembly

Guitar Details: Pick Guard and Rear Cover. (Laser cut plastic parts) 
Overview:
The pick guard is kind of a complex thing to route with the thin tapering ends.  It’s most likely possible to do but in this case I opted to have it laser cut to save the time and aggravation.  If you’d like to try to make it by hand you will find the outline and screw locations in the file MiscTemplates.pdf.

Send the file Pickguard.pdf to a laser cutting supplier and have it cut from 1/16” acrylic.

The edges of the laser cut parts have some small ridges on them that will need to be sanded down.  Mask front side and sand edges with 400 grit sandpaper.

Scuff backside surface with 600 grit sandpaper and prepare for paint.

Paint the backside surface of the pick guard and rear control cavity cover with the same paint used for the wings if using a clear
acrylic.

Final assembly!

Now for the fun part.  To see something finished that you created from scratch is always a special thing.

Clean all the sanding dust and polish out of the cavities and mounting holes.  Some of the holes may require a little sanding if they filled up with clear coat.  Take your time and do a clean job.

Study the instructions and wire the guitar.  The EMG pickups were pretty easy as it is mostly a solder-less system. Only parts that needed to be soldered were the plug jack and the switch.

Attach the bridge and bridge hardware per the manufacturers instructions. 

Install the tuners to the neck per the manufactures instructions.

Bolt the neck to the body.  Carefully line up the holes you drilled.  I used a clamp with a protective soft towel to hold the two together
while screwing them together.

Make a nut or buy a pre notched nut.  A good overview that I used to make the nut can be found here.. http://www.stewmac.com/freeinfo/Nuts,_saddles.html and I found a template to help with the string spacing here.. http://www.tdpri.com/forum/tele-technical/109915-compensated-nut-layout-tool.html

Screw the pickups to the pick guard and carefully align the pick guard to the body. The switch shaft will pass through the pick guard and help hold it in place.  Mark the holes on the body and drill a 1/16” starter hole and screw down the pick guard.

Attach the wings to the body.  Use the socket head cap screw with a small washer on the front side and the black nylon insert
locknut with the 1/2” washer on the back side.  Bolt it together firmly, but don’t over tighten.

String the guitar and clip the loose ends at the head.

If you like, add a graphic to the headstock to give it a finished look.  I’ve included a file for the graphic.  The illustrator graphic was sent to a graphic company that can cut vinyl graphics.

You are now finished building your guitar!!


Comments

author
alehnhar (author)2012-06-18

Wow!! Thank you Instructables and thanks to all that voted for me in the woodworking challenge!!!! Congrats to all the other winners and entrants as well! There are so many amazing projects in this contest! Thanks again!!!!!!

author
good devil (author)2016-03-27

Boss you have done a great work !!!! I am planing to do dis as a summer project ,i need a small help frm u can u tell me what size shld i print d templates and which size paper shd i use (A4or A3)??

author
alehnhar (author)good devil2016-03-28

Cool thanks! Let me know how it goes! Everything should fit nice on Super A3.. 13"X19"

author
good devil (author)alehnhar2016-04-09

sir can u please tell me size of d pieces of wood u used before and after d project (please tell me d height too)

author
alehnhar (author)good devil2016-04-10

I purchased this chunk of wood for the body and cut it in half.. http://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Bod...

For the wings, I used 3/4" maple from a local hardware store. Each wing is about 19"X6"

author
good devil (author)alehnhar2016-03-28

thanx alot sir... :)

author
digitalboytn (author)2015-06-11

Hi..This project looks great..Very inspiring..What is the weight of the guitar please ? Thanks..ajw

author
spazhands (author)2015-01-06

Thanks very much for this. It really opened my thinking towards modularity. I am working on some template schematics now!

author
alehnhar (author)spazhands2015-01-07

Awesome! Glad you liked it and let me know how it goes!

author
pdullano (author)2013-11-17

hi thank you for this instructable, upon seeing this, i'm totally inspired! i always wanted to make my own guitar too but i don't know how to start, i have photoshop and illustrator, i have some questions for you:

1. How did you make the neck measurements, frets spacing, distance between the neck, bridge and pickups? where can i find an accurate template for this? is there a downloadable template with accurate measurements? the distance between the nut to the 12th fret must be equal to the distance between the 12th fret and bridge right?

2. do you know any freeware for 3d modelling which can also print pdf files with actual measurements?

3. i'm gonna try this by hand first and maybe with cnc later, can you recommend the cheapest cnc router?

4. where can i find free downloadble, ebooks, tutorials about guitar making?

thanks, great post!!!

author
alehnhar (author)pdullano2013-11-17

Great! Glad you liked it and feel inspired!

1. I purchased the neck already made because you really need to be accurate with the measurements and for my first time making a guitar I wanted to make it a little easier on myself. I might try to make my own next time though. I purchased mine from here.. http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Bodies,_necks,_wood/Electric_guitar_necks/Blank-peghead_Guitar_Necks.html

You are right with the measurement from the 12th fret to the bridge. The bridge that I purchased came with a template or you can download it here.. http://guitar-bridge.com/download/CY57c7da5bX13d640142f8X2b8d/GuitarBridge_Hannes_InstallationTemplate.pdf You should be able to find similar for others on the manufacturers sites.

To calculate the fret distances, I found this calculator.. http://www.stewmac.com/fretcalculator?gclid=CL_s7bqp7boCFUVp7Aod900AWw

2. Not sure what the best freeware software would be. Maybe google sketch up or blender.. http://www.blender.org

3. Again, not sure what's best. For the cheapest.. probably do a search on instructables and maybe make your own!

4. The best info I found while working through this project was Sully's Guitars youtube channel.. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA6D01D66C9D6B4B9 There is an amazing amount of awesome tips on there! Everything from start to finish.

Good luck with your guitar and let me know how it goes!!

author
inexperiencednoob (author)2013-05-14

did you use solidworks or rhino?

author

Neither .. I'm using Autodesk Alias.

author
ovalball (author)2012-12-29

That is a really great looking axe. I'm planning to build a guitar but your build is way out of my league. Would quite like to have seen it with a headless bridge - I think that would go really well with the design concept.
Fantastic instructable and brilliant build quality.

author
LiftAndLove (author)2012-06-09

Dude you rock! This is probably the best thing I've seen on Instructables ever! I'll make sure to subscribe to you, and when I make my guitar I'll post a pic. :D

author
alehnhar (author)LiftAndLove2012-06-10

Thanks, and glad you like it!!! Can't wait to see your guitar :)

author
LiftAndLove (author)alehnhar2012-11-27

Sorry, one last thing. How much did this cost approximately, minus the wood and paint. And do you know any ways to get cheap but not to crappy pickups? Im on a really low budget!

author
alehnhar (author)LiftAndLove2012-11-28

That's Awesome.. Can't wait to see your guitar! The parts minus the wood and paint were about 750 bucks (including the neck). Maybe try ebay for the pickups. Think if I did it again and was on a tighter budget, I'd go to guitar center and buy a guitar within budget that has cool hardware / neck and gut it. Buying the guitar parts individually is kind of expensive.

author
LiftAndLove (author)alehnhar2012-11-30

Actually i talked to my band teacher, and hes going to ask his friend who ones a music shop for a guitar we can get the internals from! So other than stuff like fret wire and probably a newer truss rod, i get most stuff free!

author
LiftAndLove (author)alehnhar2012-11-27

Just an update on that, i know i said that a long time ago, but me and my girlfriend are making a guitar in shop. it should be done sometime in the next month, so i will post its pic. Still love this one!

author
jwilliamsen (author)2012-07-29

Wow! A truly beautiful piece of work. Your attention to detail is sick - in every aspect from design to execution - a rare gift (or curse). Thanks so much for sharing your design process - I always enjoy seeing how others think through their process. This makes me want to build a guitar ... or at least add it to my bucket list - lol.

author
alehnhar (author)jwilliamsen2012-10-02

Thanks jwilliamsen! This has been on my bucket list as well for quite some time. Well worth the effort!

author
flegge (author)2012-10-02

What program would you suggest for creating these designs in a CAD machine?

author
GreatClownKing (author)2012-08-31

Blown away by this you did a truly amazing job on this, its been a dream of mine to build a custom guitar and now after seeing this i know i can. Thank you and keep up the amazing work.

author
ArtisanEclectic (author)2012-06-18

Congrats on your Grand Prize Win!! Awesome Instructable!!

author
gigin (author)2012-06-14

Nice loking guitar, well done!!

author
alehnhar (author)gigin2012-06-15

Thanks gigin!

author
crackHacker (author)2012-06-06

all i can think of is that i would want my Floyd Rose and locking nut on there

author
alehnhar (author)crackHacker2012-06-06

I have another guitar with a Floyd Rose and roughly eyeballing, it looks like you could get it in there but I think you'd have to move the neck volume knob. I'll take a look at the 3D model and see if it could be adapted.

author
crackHacker (author)alehnhar2012-06-06

does this one get good enough resonance without the wings? if it does i would suggest maybe making the wings out of ABS or some other plastic. it looks great i have just always wondered what one made with some plastic would sound like.

author
alehnhar (author)crackHacker2012-06-06

So far, I've only played it with the wings on but I've wondered the same thing. At one point I was thinking of water jetting the wings out of a thick rubber to have a cool material breakup but thought it might deaden the tone a bit. Would be fun to experiment with different materials to see if you can get a different sounds out of it. Overall, with the wings at least, the guitar seams to be quite a bit more resonant than my ESP strat. I'll give it a try without the wings and see if there's much difference.

author
crackHacker (author)alehnhar2012-06-08

of course if your like me resonace doesnt really matter when your pluged in and distortion is set to 12. if it aint metal it aint right! i do love the look of this. maybe sell these. custom jobs usually alwas go for a good amount.

author
alehnhar (author)crackHacker2012-06-15

Didn't know the knob went below 12 :) I did a test with and without the wings and didn't really notice any difference. If anything, the wings might make it slightly brighter but not enough to say either version was better. I think one would be safe to make the wings out of any material they wished.

author
alehnhar (author)crackHacker2012-06-06

Here's a quick look of the model with a Floyd Rose tech drawing on it I think it could work but you would have to rearrange the control cavity for the whammy bar, probably move the front tone knob towards the rear and maybe move the switch as well.

Floyd.jpgFloyd2.jpg
author
Zivile (author)2012-06-08

Hi! Nice job ;) I found one good place where is more 3D models. Check this out! www.cgtrader.com

author
alehnhar (author)Zivile2012-06-08

Cool.. Thanks for the link. I haven't seen that site before.

author
Honus (author)2012-06-07

Beautifully constructed and extremely well written- awesome job!

author
alehnhar (author)Honus2012-06-07

Cool... Thanks Honus!

author
LucDaRocka1 (author)2012-06-06

two words...... BAD-ASS

author
alehnhar (author)LucDaRocka12012-06-06

Thanks!!

author
LucDaRocka1 (author)alehnhar2012-06-06

i love where u but the input jack, this guitar reminds me of this bass i almost bid on on ebay!!! it has the input jack and knobs in the back also!!!

cool bass.JPGcool bass2.JPGcool bass3.JPG
author
alehnhar (author)LucDaRocka12012-06-06

Cool thanks! I didn't really have anywhere else to put it but it worked out to be kind of cool feature. Thanks for sharing the pix. That's some wild paint!

author
LucDaRocka1 (author)alehnhar2012-06-07

yeah, its hand painted with oil paint. are u planning on making another guitar? or even maybe a bass? i play bass btw, but if u were to make a bass and sell it for the right price, i might buy it from you....

author
alehnhar (author)LucDaRocka12012-06-07

No plans anytime soon but a bass would be fun to try. I'll let you know if I ever plan to make one. Thanks for the interest :)

author
LucDaRocka1 (author)alehnhar2012-06-07

thanks, btw, i subscribed to you on youtube, check out some of my videos!!!

author
ilpug (author)2012-06-06

Amazing build and outline of the design process. I can't play any instruments, nor do i have anywhere near the capabilities to do this, but it's still a great build! Wicked guitar!

author
alehnhar (author)ilpug2012-06-06

Thanks!! Glad you liked it.

author
alehnhar (author)2012-06-05

Thanks guys!! I really had a lot of fun doing this project!

author
Danielk (author)2012-06-05

You sir, are amazing.

author
Marcaine Art (author)2012-06-05

Very cool. I'll be watching for more.

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