Guitar Project

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Introduction: Guitar Project

So I have been planning on building a guitar for quite some time now.  I play some and I like to make things quite  a bit, this seemed like a fun project so I got started.  A few friends asked for pictures so here they are.

Please note that this is just a summary of the way I did things.  It is in no way the only and in some cases not the right way to do things.  If you use power tools be careful and follow all the safety instructions.

Step 1: Planning

You have to start some where.  I sketched out a very detailed full-scale plan of exactly what I wanted to do on the back side of some old wrapping paper I found in the closet.  I put every detail I could think of, having a reference made things down the road much simpler and also pointed out some potential problems.  I had some guidance from a book on guitar building I found at the library.

Step 2: Materials

So after a short trip to my local hardwood store I found that wood is very expensive.  Seeing that the maple tree in my front yard was half dead and my parents were having it taken down, I was able to harvest some for my project.  One of the guys on the tree removal crew was nice enough to cut me a good sized slab right out of the trunk.  Since it was green I had to dry it out in my basement for about a year.

Unfortunately the wood started to end check really bad and I had to cut it into smaller pieces.  There is white paint on the ends to help prevent the end checking as well since the moisture runs out the ends faster than the faces.  After it was done drying I sawed it up on my dad's table saw.

Step 3: Squaring Up the Pieces

The table saw did a pretty good job of cutting the wood into workable pieces, but since the rough pieces weren't very square going into the table saw they didn't come out perfectly square.  So, I took all the pieces to my uncles house and squared them up on his joiner.  When the pieces were finished It looked like I bought them from a wood store!

I test fitted them up to see how they would go together.

Step 4: Joining the Pieces

I biscuit joined the individual pieces together.  Basically slots are cut into the sides of each piece and a sliver of wood is glued between them.  This makes for a much stronger joint but is not exactly necessary.  Care has to be taken when picking the placement of the biscuits so that when the profile is cut out none of the biscuits can be seen.  I then glued the two halves together instead of making one big slab.  This is so that I can run it through my uncle's plainer.  It wouldn't fit if I tried to run the whole thing through at once.

I tried my best to keep the pieces flat however even with the biscuits some pieces still ended up askew to their neighbor.  This will be taken care of in the next step.

Step 5: Finishing the Slab

Pretty self explanatory.  Plained the pieces, glued them together.

Step 6: Finishing the Body

I cut out the shape with a scroll saw and bandsaw.  The slab was pretty thick and the saws were fairly small and didn't like it much.  But after a bit of trial and error the blank got cut out.  I smoothed the sides with a drum sander attached to a drill press.  Unfortunately I never did get a photo of that.  Anyways, once the blank was done I glued some pieces of wood to the top to make a pattern for a router to follow.  I used a straight fluted router bit and ran the shank against the pattern cutting the cavities for the electronics into the top of the blank.  Once this was done I drilled out the mounting holes for the bridge and tail piece.

Now that all the critical cuts have been made I took to the top with a little jack plane and rasp to give it a nice arched top.  Once that was done I sanded the whole body down to 320 grit sand paper.

Step 7: The Neck

I made the neck out of piece of walnut.  It was pretty straight foreword.  Since the piece I had was not wide enough for the head I built it up by glueing some pieces to the side.  The seams will be covered up by a thin veneer.  Probably the hardest part was cutting the angle at the top.  This was done using a band saw to get the rough angle and then running that face over a joiner.  Probably not the best way to go about it but it worked for me.

Next the slot for the truss rod was routed out with a router table.  Unfortunately I let the neck wander away from the fence at the end and messed up the slot.  The good news is that this will be covered up with the veneer as well.

The rest of the shaping was done by hand.  It was to late at this point to call one of my uncles and see if they would let me use one of their power saws and I was much to impatient to wait until the next day. (I did this project while I was home for christmas break and had only three weeks to do it)  The bulk of the roughing out was done by hammer and chisel.  After this I took to it with an array of hand planes and rasps.  I finished  it off with some sandpaper and moved on to the fret board.

Step 8: The Fret Board

I did go out and buy a nice piece of cocobolo for the fretboard.  It is a really nice variety of wood and looks really sharp.  The spacing for the frets were found with an online fret calculator.  You can just search google and find a decent one.  Then with a dial caliper and square the individual positions were scribed and cut with a thin saw.

While perusing the home depot I found some hardwood screw caps and used them to make the dots out of.  Just drilled a bunch of small holes, glued them in, and sanded them flush.  Finally the top of the fret board was rounded with a home made radius sander.

The sander is a pretty simple device.  I saw one at a store and decided it was to simple and useful to shell out $35 on, so I just made it on my table saw.  Its a pretty simple concept.  Take a short length of 2x4 and saw a wide channel.  The thickness at the bottom should be about a 1/4" glue some sand paper to the bottom and use some nuts and bolts to expand the top and change the curvature of the bottom.  It does a surprisingly good job.

Step 9: Gluing the Neck Together

I glued everything together with conventional wood glue as suggested by the book I got from the library.  Unfortunately upon tensioning my truss rod the fret board popped off.  This may have been partially my fault seeing as I am no professional, but I followed all the suggestions given by the book and thought it should have held.  It was really unfortunate since I had put the finish on at the time it came off which resulted in a LOT of extra work.  So round two I went for broke and got the strongest two part epoxy I could find. (No problems yet!)

I used about every clamp I could find in my house for this step.  Just a note quick grips work pretty well for quick non-important clamping needs but supply nowhere near the force that regular c clamps can supply.

Step 10: Test Fitting

Okay, so these may be slightly out of order since I did a lot of test fitting along the way.  Just make sure that everything lines up right before you spend a week on the finish and find out that you have to recut the neck pocket.  (No, I did get it right the first time just making the point that that wound not be fun)

This is also a good time to get a pack of strings and see that they will run from the bridge over the pole pieces and to the neck.  Also take a look at the action over the fret board and ensure that the neck is at the proper angle.

Step 11: Finishing!

Definitely the most time consuming part of this project.  I put about 20-25 coats of high gloss poly-acrylic finish. I realize that this is over kill but I wanted to build up the depth and added a few unexpected coats to cover up the fact that the fret board popped off.  Make sure that you try all the finishing products on scrap pieces of wood to make sure that you get the result you are looking for.

But before the gloss finish was applied the stain was added.  I tried out a lot of colors b4 deciding on the red and amber.  The sun burst was achieved by using wood dye or tint.  This threw me off for a while because I was looking for different stains.  They don't make stain in the colors I wanted and was told that maple does not stain very well.

Making the fire-burst was actually a lot easier than I thought.  I did it completely by hand, no spray gun or anything.  If you are planning on doing something like this I would suggest going to youtube and looking up "hand rubbed sunburst guitar" there are a bunch of videos that will demonstrate the process much better than I can describe.

The only thing that I do advise is that if you use water based stan and finish be careful when applying the finish.  The color may run and result in brush marks.  Apply the stain from the lighter color to the darker for the fist few coats to seal in the dye.

Step 12: Finishing Continued

Next the body is attached to the neck and the finish is polished.  In between coats the finish was steel wooled with 5-0 steel wool to get rid of the brush marks.  Next it is wet sanded with soapy water and 400, 1000, 2000 grit sandpaper.  Next a car wax was used to buff it and furniture wax applied to give it a very fine finish.  It isn't quite a commercial quality glass finish but it is pretty shiny.  You probably could get it glassy looking but it would require quite a bit of buffing and polishing.  That pretty much finishes it.  Screw the hardware on, bang the frets into their slots and string it up.  I didn't get a whole lot of photos on that.  Its pretty easy but you would be much better off getting a book with very detailed instructions.

Thats about it.  It play really nice and I'm very happy with the way it turned out.  Thanks for looking.  Feel free to ask any questions, sorry if I'm not too quick at responding.



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Great Instructable! I do have 1 question: how did you measure the placement/angle of the bridge? Thanks!

This is probably too late to help, but the placement is determined by the scale length of your fingerboard. Generally, Fender-style guitars are 25.5", Gibson-style are 24.75", and PRS-style are 25". Whatever length you're using, the bridge should be placed so the saddle break-points are as close to exactly the scale length from the nut.


Yeah, I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out the proper placement. There is not a whole lot written about it. I can't exactly remember how I did mine (an article somewhere on stewmac) as its been a while; but, I found this calculator for you:

Once you put your info in you can scroll down and find placement instructions for a number of different bridges.

Hi There ...... a great first guitar project.

Gibson LPs typically have a 4 inch long tenon that is 1.5 inches square. Dont bolt and glue as the tightening of the bolts will crack the glue.

Some constructive criticism if you dont mind. Ive built about 12 of these so far. The timber harvested from the tree is a combination of both sap and heart wood and is likely to shift and shrink unequally. I would be a bit concerned about its dryness as well when you started the project. Gibson uses Honduran Mahogany which is available in the US. I get mine in Australian from Fijian plantation stocks. African Mahogany is also good. When I buy this locally I am spending about $55 for the body and neck timber which is a great price given the real value of the guitar is the work I put into it. Try and find yourself a 4" x 4" piece of Mahogany for the neck as you will get the whole LP shape out of it without having to joint the headstock. The body should be a plank 14" x 2". Top wood should split book matched maple. You dont have to spend a real lot of money to get a pretty piece of this and 8 x 2 plank 14 long will be good for this.

The geometry of a LP is a very important thing. The neck is set back at 4.5 degrees from the body and the headstock is 16 degrees from the neck face. Stick to this as it allows for the right string tension when fretting and it makes bending a string easier than if you dont stick to these angles.

Stewart Macdonald at has a plan of a LP 59 model which is a complete construction plan for doing your next project. If you follow this plan faithfully you will make a guitar that plays great and will last a lifetime and be worth some real $$$$. Sticking with the right woods is also very important because of the resonant qualities. Glue is also important. I often use Tightbond III or Techniglue water based two back. It makes for neck joints to be super strong and a good transmitter of sound vibrations along the neck and body.

They also have every bit of hardware for making a guitar you will ever need. Their pickups are ok but I tend to like seymour duncans on my guitars these are well priced at Blue Star Music. If you need any further help please ask. Mal


I'm not sure the wood on the body is really such a big deal, especially on a LP. A big part of what made the LP unique when it was invented is that it was essentially based on the principle that the electronics are what makes the sound.

The wood of the neck will have some effect on its stiffness, and what frequencies are damped, so will have more of an effect on the overall tone of the guitar, but I think this is often overemphasised.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with sticking to the proper traditional woods, but you can also build a pretty awesome guitar out of a pretty wide range of woods that meet the general requirements.

Usually you'll want a fairly stiff wood for the neck. Mahogany is good, Maple and ash (not swamp ash) are good frequently used choices as well.

Body wood you've got a pretty wide selection that will work just fine. Everything from basswood at the light end of the spectrum to maple, or exotic hardwoods at the boat anchor end.

The geometry of a LP is important if you're trying to make it feel like a LP. Really, though, you're not going to be able to deviate too far from that and still end up with a working guitar anyways. If the neck isn't set back far enough, you'll have an enormously high action, and no way to correct it, and if it's set back too far, you'll be rattling your strings across the frets. Do some math ahead of time, and you'll see what's necessary. Keep in mind that your neck may have some bow to it. it's hard to measure directly, but you can measure the neck relief on guitar made with similar materials by fretting the first, and last fret.

If doing a bolt-on neck, it's a little bit less important to get it right from the start, since you can always either shim or sand the neck or pocket to correct the angle after the fact. If you're doing a set neck (like a standard LP) or a neck-through, you don't really have much lee-way. You could end up with an unplayable wall decoration, or at the very least end up resorting to routing a recess for your bridge (or raising it somehow, if you're on the other extreme).

Pickups really are the biggest factor on the sound, both in the choice of pickups, and in their placement. I won't say much about that, because it's really entirely subjective.

My son built an LP using Jarrah from western Australia for the body wood and another WA timber called Marri which was chosen because of the exceptionally good fiddleback and spider grain it has.

It has produced a guitar with an exceptionally big body weight which he is OK with, great sustain and and a very pleasing sound. The sound is however different from a Mahogany LP but sweet in its won right.

There have been many LP knock offs over the years using all manner of materials for the bodies and necks. I have seen this range from fiberglass to perspex to carbon fibre to MDF and probably every species of timber that is commercially available. Why is it that Gibson and other quality manufacturers try and stick to Mahogany ........ well it works and gives the right tone. As I said above different woods will work and provide a different tone and this is a whole world of experimentation within itself particularly as traditional sources of Mahogany have pretty much ended and we are mostly reliant on either old stocks or plantation timber. While I have seen many guitars that rely on their electronics to provide the sound and got cheap on their woods I am yet to see any one of these match the faithful good sound of an LP.

Likewise bolt on necks are problematic as they need to be exceptionally well fitted and remain that way for the life of the guitar otherwise the gap of a poor fitting neck will break up the harmonic ring of a guitar producing a flatter sound all over. Sometimes a design is just great from the outset and if you want to have a guitar that will work first go off the plan then stick to what Gibson has done. Experimentation is fine also but just be aware of the fact that your experiment may fail.

I agree with Arx that pickups are an important factor but we must remember that a pickup does not make the sound it READS the sound that the instrument produces. Unless that pickup has some form of built in sound signal processor it merely produces a changing current of certain wave amplitude that is then processed by the amplifier and other effects. The ability for the guitar to create its own sweet sound remains an important aspect in the design and construction of the instrument.

Many aspects of the construction come into play such as the type of bridge and nut ........ the way the strings sit in these ........... the type of wood used and the fit of the neck all come into the formula. You need to stop thinking that a guitar is based on just a string vibrating between two points that might be suggested by simple harmonic theory and think of the strings and the body as acting as the whole harmonic system. Once you get the whole thing vibrating in unison rarther than a confused mess of competing Doppler effect frequencies then you will start getting really good tone from the instrument

This is not something you need to lose sleep over as Gibson pretty much did all the work in 1959 and this can be gotten off the Stewmac plan. Remember however would you ever want to use say a large piece of plywood or MDF for the body of a guitar ..... or Douglas Fir or Radiata Pine for the neck? ....... for the amount of work that goes into doing this I'd prefer to remain sensible in my choices of wood for these projects


I also forgot to mention in my previous post that the bit about the pickup only "reading" the sound made by the instrument is somewhat flawed. The pickup and its placement are just as much a part of creating the sound as the woods in the body. (probably moreso IMO)

Using the same logic, one could say that the body can not make the sound, but can only filter the vibrations made by the strings.

I'm not disagreeing that the woods can have an effect, but would argue that the filter created by the pickup's electrical properties, and the comb filtering that occurs due to the pickup's placement is just as much a part of the instrument as the choice of materials.

Hi Arx

Something I noticed about 40 years ago when I had a really well made left hand Ibanez LP copy. I would put the h guitar on my knee and play a note and I could feel the vibration of the string moving through the wood of the neck and the body with out any out of phase signals. Of all the guitars I have seen since the ones that can achieve this are the best sounding ones. Pickups are important as well as is every part of the machine. When one part doesn't work well the whole thing stops working well.

As I said before if the vibrations in the instrument are out of phase due to poor materials and poor manufacture then the pickups will generate a less than perfect tone ............. whatever you do with the signal after that is a totally different thing all together. We keep going around in circles here. How about you build a guitar out of rubbish materials and manufacture and see if you can get it to sound as good as a well made instrument purely by virtue of the pickups.

When you make the claim that pickups only read the sound is somewhat flawed what else is it you think the pickup does? It is a device that takes mechanical vibration energy and converts it into a fluctuating electrical charge. It is a transducer no more or less. Some of these transducers are better made than others. What all of them have in common is they take the vibrations of the strings on the instrument as a whole and converts them to an electrical signal that can be described graphically as having a start point, an amplitude and a duration. Positioning the pickup in one place or another simply means you are using a place where the string vibrates differently to another place on the length of the string ....... thus the tonal difference between the bridge and the neck pickup. The vibration of the string however is a function of its diameter, its length, its tension, its type and the sympathetic or opposing vibrations of the structures it is connected to. For the wood and construction method of a guitar to have no effect on the string vibrations then the strings would have to exist outside of the connected structure that is the guitar ........... Einstein and Newton taught us in physics that this is just impossible ......... unless there was a wormhole where only the strings existed ........... but then there is the magnetic field of the pickup ............ you know where I'm going with this


I never said thst pickups were the only factor in the sound of a guitar, just that i think they're the largest factor on a well made guitar.

When i throw a guitar on my lap, I really couldn't tell you the phase of the vibrations, and I couldn't tell from the sound what wood it's made of.


Once again. I'm not talking about screwed up instruments made out of junk wood, or improperly built, or even inappropriate wood, for that matter.

I'm just saying that there's no specific standard wood that will give objectively better or worse results than any other appropriate wood. Different, probably, depending how similar the stiffness, density, etc are, but (for example) a maple lp is not automatically inferior in any way just because it's supposed to be mahogany according to some.

I'm not going to argue about it, since it's been replayed a million times over on any instrument building forums i've ever looked at.

To summarize my opinion on the matter : Use good materials which are reasonably appropriate for the instrument and make sure you don't screw up the geometry and you'll end up with a good sounding instrument.

I just finished building a bass guitar out of a piece of a maple plank a friend gave me and a couple of cherry shorts from the lumberyard down the street ($7 IIRC)

I chose the wood I did for 2 reasons. I wanted reasonably dense and hard, and it cost me almost nothing. it sounds pretty awesome, so i guess I made a good choice.

I just think many people get too hung up on it. Do you think if someone grabbed 3 well made LP clones, one of maple, one of mahogany, and one of ash, that you could tell from the sound which wood is which?
I certainly don't think I could.