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Guitar Project

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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.
 
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Step 1: Planning

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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

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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.
DIYFTW1 year ago
Great Instructable! I do have 1 question: how did you measure the placement/angle of the bridge? Thanks!
rwm9 (author)  DIYFTW1 year ago
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:

http://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator/

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 www.stewmac.com. 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.

Arx Arx2 years ago
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.
Maybe you might not hear the difference between 3 LP clones but it doesn't mean that there would not be a difference or that others would not hear it.

Nearly 40 years ago a friend of mine bought a Gibson SG that sounded great........ he spend $400 on it.............. another friend bought a Sakai SG for $20 ....... he said he was so lucky because he couldn't tell the difference in sound. Sadly for him everyone else could and thoroughly disagreed with his assessment of the tonal qualities of his guitar.

I note both guitar owners were happy!

I agree with your contention that if you choose good appropriate wood and proper manufacture you will get good results. The original statement I made was that using wood that was a combination of both heart wood and sap wood from a recently milled tree in the front yard that had not been properly seasoned would result in trouble. I also content that a single piece body sounds better than a laminated one ......... and that given time the laminated body with heart and sap wood will bend and twist.

I further contended that if you wanted something that sound like a Les Paul original then build it like a Les Paul original.

My point being for all of this is if you are going to put so much work into making the thing do it right the first time or get used to the idea of getting variable results depending on how much you deviate from the original plan. when you make something to specification you can expect to get results that are within the range of the specification. When you deviate from the specification it is called experimentation and you will get experimental results...... which may be good or bad.

My sons LP made out of WA hard woods and sounds great but its sound is different to mine built out of mahogany and maple. Both instruments have excellent build quality and both instruments have different tonal qualities.

You are right that you dont need to go over because the facts remain that if you use quality materials and a quality build then you will get a quality instrument.

If you use crap materials and a quality build you will get a crap instrument ...... likewise if you use quality materials and a crap build you will also get a crap instrument

I think that pretty much nails my position on the matter.
Then thats the difference ................ find a guitar that is really well made and feel the difference in resonance throughout the body and neck. Pickups are only one of the quality components needed for a great guitar. Likewise dont think that every Gibson made is a great instrument they've made their fair share of average guitars also.

I have a friend with an SG that is about 10 years old and the body is made of three pieces of wood ....... or in other words workshop scraps. While another guy locally had a black LP that he thought he would sand back to turn into a nice wood grain instrument only to find that it had nicks and gouges all over it and was filled with body filler ........... then there was the other guy here who ordered a specific model from the USA via the local dealer and it had the bridge pins drilled in the wrong position and it could never maintain the tuning......

An average guitar is just that and can have its output signal amplified and modified to sound pretty much like anything you want but when this is compared to a quality instrument that uses quality materials, great design and expert craftsmanship then you notice the difference.

When you make your own guitar you have the opportunity to make the best in the world if you so choose. Once you start compromising on materials and build quality with the false belief that the pickups are the major tonal factor anyhow you are already heading down the road of having a mediocre instrument. Like I said before with the amount of work it takes to get the woodwork done in the first place the cost of quality materials is nothing by comparison.

The cost difference to me to buy a seasoned piece of Mahogany from the wood yard as opposed to the cheapest piece of anything else that is the wrong timber but the right size represents about half of 1% of the total selling price of my Guitars. While I experiment with other materials freely I do so with no expectations of performance. This is measured against the bench mark of quality that exists in my products using a known design.

One of my clients is a left handed player like me. He understands just how hard it is to get a good quality LH instrument. He currently has a Chinese LP with good pick ups in it it sound flat and dead compared to all one of my LH Les Pauls that I have built for me to use. He already has the great hardware and electronics so why is the instrument sounding so bad. it is the compromised design and material choices made by the manufacturer. Another friend has a semi acoustic with Bigsby style tremolo. It can never stay in tune. Why? Well firstly the Bigsby knock off never works properly so the strings just end up anywhere but also the neck is a poor design and crappy timber so it moves every day of the week .............. BTW he also has a good brand of pickup in it.

The simple story in both of these cases is that if the guitar is wrong then it cant be right until it is made so. If you are going to pull a badly made guitar apart and rebuild it you might as well recognise that there will be not much cost saving from buying a good one in the first place. If you are going to build one from scratch then why not just do it properly and forget this notion that the pickups will fix it.
I agree with you for the most part, including the possibility that experiments may fail for one reason or another. And to further that, the further you stray from conventional wisdom, the more chances there are for "failure".

Clearly Douglas fir, or Radiata Pine would be unconventional choices for a neck, and likely wouldn't work too well. I may try it sometime, just for curiosity's sake, but I won't be expected if it turns out a bit wonky.

I do think, however, that too many people put too much weight into the specific woods, and even construction techniques used on well known instruments. To me, there's nothing magic about a Les Paul, an SG, a Telecaster, strat, etc. Yes, they're good instruments, yes, they have their own unique sounds, but no, I don't think there's anything particularly special about those unique sounds. There's an entire spectrum of unique sounds out there, and sticking to a couple well known designs just seems a little dogmatic for my taste.

Get the 2 points with a string between them correct geometrically, and play with the rest.

There's really very few rules that will influence your instrument in a negative way. Move your pickups around a bit, Put a Strat style neck and a Tele bridge on an SG shaped body made out of basswood if you feel like it.

It'll sound great. It might even sound better than an original 59 LP. Maybe it won't, but there's really no reason to expect it to be any better or worse.

I'm not saying slap it together at random, but think about why things might be done the way they are, and what might be different if you change them. 

If you think hard about it, and read about it, and none of the reasons you find convince you, go ahead and change it.  You'll find that many things are done a specific way because that's how they've always been done.

If all the guitar designers followed "conventional wisdom" all the time, we probably wouldn't even have solid body guitars. ;)

well not much to disagree with there. I think the consensus we are arriving at is all the parts are working in harmony. A friend of mine has built a number of SGs and he always put the bridge pickup 17mm forward from the original position ....... does it work? I suppose so. where I buy my wood there is a guy came in and bought all of these strips of so called tone wood to laminate together to make a neck. His rationale was that it made for a better sound. It ended up sounding no better or worse than a single piece neck but the craftsmanship of the woodwork was also excellent. I think to keep my view consistent I would say good quality materials and good construction and assembly will give a good instrument. I am yet to see a guitar built of unsuitable timber or composite boards ever make a good sound. Likewise I am yet to see a poorly constructed guitar made from bad materials ever become an ace guitar by putting in a great set of pickups.

A friend bought a Chinese LP knock off and then did everything to it ............ new frets .......... and all Gibson hardware and pickups ................ Its still a dog of a guitar and the only difference is the headstock angle ..... the wood of the build and the build itself .......... without pulling it apart we will never know exactly what is under that heavily lacquered finish.

I agree that guitar builders should push the envelope and come up with innovation but it depends on exactly how many guitars you want to build before you come up with something that plays well. If you know the type of guitar you actually want to play then get a plan and build that.

With the prototype building that I have done in my own business we have been heard to say that with the power of hindsight we might have done things differently but it is often the case with the power of foresight we wouldn't make mistakes either........... we already know certain things aren't great because they have been totally tried before. Using unseasoned timber for example will not suddenly deliver a stable manufactured part. Likewise cheap poor quality pickups might give you that sweet 1 in 100 that sound brilliant but unless you want to search through boxes of them until you find that one gem why not spend the small amount of extra money and get the high quality part.

Likewise like Arx says above try and build a neck out of Radiata Pine as an experiment. I saw a piece in the timber yard yesterday that would be perfect for trying but in the end that perfect piece was more expensive than the Honduran Mahogany I normally use and given the amount of work I put into making a neck I can be bother doing out of radiata just to prove I can cut pine to the same size as mahogany ...... particularly if that neck started shifting out of place in the future like I expect it will
rwm9 (author)  Zaragrunudgeyon2 years ago
No, I don't mind, thank you. Those are good pointers, I am thinking of making another because this was a really fun project, but that will be well down the road.
Hi again

It appears you have all of the wood shop tools at your disposal so my suggestion is start soon and take your time. My first one was done as and when I could get to it. There is a real benefit in taking the slow build approach particularly with the neck as wood tends to want to move each time you take a bit off it. My neck took a year to finish due to other commitments and is absolutely stable. It just hasn't moved since I finished it.
Arx2 years ago
I suspect the problem might be the oiliness of cocobolo weakening the glue joint. I don't have any experience working with it myself yet, though I do have a nice chunk of cocobolo sitting on my shelf for a future guitar project.
Normally wood glue will be strong enough that you'll tear apart the wood before the glue will separate.
IIRC, I've read that repeatedly wiping the to-be-glued surface down with a well-drying solvent until it stops colouring your rags orange/yellow will prevent that problem. I think naphtha was being used when I read it, but I suspect acetone, or maybe even alcohol would work as well.
friger Arx2 years ago
That does work, I've laminated a teak veneer over a plywood transom and it held beautifully. And believe me nothing is much oilier than teak. Great tip.
hehinckley2 years ago
Very nice job! Would you comment on where to get the hardward, etc? About how much did the guitar cost to make?
rwm9 (author)  hehinckley2 years ago
Just a local hardwood supplier. I went to Owl Hardwood, Its a bit of a drive but they have a good selection. Any wood working store usually has a pretty good selection too. I spent about $50 on the walnut and cocobolo, only the maple came out my tree and they only had pieces larger than I needed. When your there try looking in the scrap bins for bargins if they have them. A little over $200 on the hardware. Most of that went into the pickups, bridge, tuners. I got all of that online at stewmac.com Its kinda tough because you cant ask about any of the stuff, but there are reviews you can look at and they have specs for everything. Overall I am pretty happy with everything they sold me.
Ortzinator2 years ago
Is the neck tapered? It doesn't look like it.
rwm9 (author)  Ortzinator2 years ago
Only slightly. I made it so that the string spacing was a little wider, I find guitars with really close string spacing annoying because I am always muting the adjacent strings.
flie7272 years ago
Amazing work!

I just wanted to point out that cocobolo has some toxicity from the oil & dust.

This is usually seen from turning, but it might also be present when sanding & so you should consider using respiratory protection when working it.

Here's a link to a page that lists the toxicity of some of the exotic woods: http://hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/_@_toxicity.htm

I hope it plays as great as it looks!
rwm9 (author)  flie7272 years ago
Hmm . . . thats very interesting, I never really thought of dust as toxic It makes sense tho. I am kind of sensitive to wood dust so I usually use one of those paper dust masks when doing something that generates dust, It really helps a lot. As far as this project goes I thought the walnut dust was much worse, the cocobolo seemed just to clump up because it was oily.
Firebreed2 years ago
WOW! Your finished product looks like a very expensive guitar! I'm seriously impressed that you were able to do that. I've been wanting to buy one for a while now, but I might just try to make it myself. Thanks for the inspiration!
genghistron2 years ago
You may want to consider putting a couple bolts in the neck just to be safe. Typically glued in or set necks have much longer tendons that extend 6-8" into the body to allow for enough surface area to safely glue it. Not sure what string length scale is used but regular strings could put upwards of 100lbs of pressure on that joint.
Wouldn't want to see it pull itself in two after all that great work!
Fantastic!!
kyleslab2 years ago
Nice! This is a really great project.
Keep it up!
friger2 years ago
I am impressed with your work. And, it being your first Instructable, I am even more impressed with the the details you provide. Meant in a constructive way, I would highly recommend using image notes to add to clarification of your processes. This will also cut down some on the narrative on each step.

I'm sure you have realized by now that it can take almost as long to make an instructable as it does to make the actual product. Also you did a little gluing trick I haven't seen in many moons, the news paper under the template blocks. It is these little things that offer so much to everyone that they deserve a bit of an explanation. That is where image notes are great.

Once again, Excelent work!
rwm9 (author)  friger2 years ago
Thank you, I appreciate the feedback. Yeah I learned the gluing trick from a carving instructor a while back, It really comes in handy.
rwm9 (author) 2 years ago
Sure I will do that! Thank you very much.
mikeasaurus2 years ago
I would be happy to feature this project if you put the picture of the final project (like the one in Step 12) as the intro picture!
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