Introduction: How to Build an Electric Guitar.
While I acknowledge there are many instructables on building, modding and hacking guitars of all sorts; it is my intention to demonstrate how you too can achieve professional like results when building your own instruments. I am also going to take you through the more daunting task of building the guitar neck from scratch, something many builders avoid by re-purposing old or using "store bought" necks. And lets face it, if you play guitar then you know the neck can make or break an instrument, so why not make one to your own liking.
I hope some of you will find some inspiration from this Instructable and try building your own electric guitar. Also, if you would be so kind as to vote for this Instructable in the Epilog challenge.
Step 1: Shaping Things Up.
OK, so you've decided to do this, now you need to decide on a body shape. Whether or not you decide to copy an existing body style or create your own masterpiece you will need some templates as building guides. I chose a Les Paul single cut away shape because I want one but could never convince my wife to let me spend several thousand dollars to buy one!
Step 2: Body Building
OK folks, there is a lot going on at this stage of the game so look to the image notes for the fine details. To begin with I need to make it clear to all the guitar experts out there that this build is strictly a working proof of concept and by no means the only way to do things.
Choose your lumber. For me, I had on hand enough good quality 3/4" birch plywood to do this in 3 layers. I am saving the solid mahogany and flame maple for the next build. So, let's look at the process.
Step 3: Body Sculpting
You should now be ready to glue the body blanks together. Use lots of clamps and pay particular attention to avoiding slippage. Use a good wood glue that will have a decently long "open" time so you can take your time here. I used good strong spring clamps for this step and I didn't try to do all 3 layers at once. Do 2, let things dry overnight then do the third. Once the body is fully cured you can start the really fun part, carving the body contours. It really helps to go slowly here because you will be removing a lot of material that cannot be put back on. During the process hold the body in the playing position every now and then to be sure the ergonomics are to your liking.
Step 4: The Neck
Choose your neck wood. I have picked a beautiful section of figured maple however you could use mahogany, ash, or any such dense tone wood. Allow enough length for the fret board, in my case 18 inches will do. You will also need a piece for the head stock, this should be about 7 inches long by about 4 inches wide. All these sections are 3/4 inch thick, however the head stock will get thinned down to about 5/8 inch once it is glued in place. This would also be a good time to choose the material for the fret board. I have a liking for walnut over maple for the contrast and relatively low cost compared to rose wood or ebony.
Step 5: The Neck 1.0
Things get quite involved over the next few steps so pay attention. In this step I'll show you how I install the truss rod. You will be using your router with the straight cut bit again, a good quality painters tape and epoxy. Also, you will have already partially completed your fret board, so you need to kind of move from this step to the next and back again. The truss rod itself was made following another web site (http://www.veddermountainhardwoods.com/2009/03/30/how-to-make-a-guitar-truss-rod-video/) so I won't repeat that process. You could also buy a ready made one if you want to, they are not very expensive.
Step 6: Neck 1.01 Making a Fret Board
In the previous step we covered the truss rod with the fret board, in this step I'll take you through the process that I used to make the board. It's assumed that you have already chosen the material you want to use and have either purchased it already cut to the thickness you need or you re sawed it yourself from thicker stock. Either way start with a board about 1/4 inch thick by about 2 inches by about 20 inches. What is more important here is how we will radius the top of the board. You don't, strictly speaking, have to radius the fret board but if you do, you will have a much nicer playing, and professional looking guitar.
A word of caution here, I will be using my table saw in an unconventional manner with all safety guards removed. If you are not comfortable with this then by all means ask a professional in your community to do it for you or research alternate methods.
Step 7: Neck, 1.02 Carving the Back.
Did I mention the neck was going to be a long drawn out process? At this point I will demonstrate how I carved the back of the neck. Using rasps, files, spoke shaves and sand paper work the neck to the shape you like. I am shooting for a cross between a Fender and Gibson profile, a flattened "C" shape in cross section.
Step 8: Neck, 1.03, Fret Markers.
What I love about building guitars is the many opportunities for personal artistic expression. Fret markers can be over the top works of inlay magic or simple and elegant notes to the whole piece. For this build I have taken inspiration from another instructable on how to do crushed stone inlay,https://www.instructables.com/id/Bent-Wood-Rings/ .
Step 9: Neck, 1.04. Truss Rod Cover.
Taking a break from working on the fret board, turn your attention to the little plate that covers the access to the truss rod screw. I made mine from some lace wood I had on hand, or you could simply buy one for about $6.00. I like making as many of the parts as I can so I made my own.
Step 10: Neck 1.05. Fret Board Finishing and Fretting.
Back to the fret board, you have your inlays done, the fret slots cut to depth and the surface sanded to at least 320 grit, personally I go to 2000 grit. Now you need to condition the wood and install the fret wire. If you go with a maple fret board you will need to varnish the surface, most other woods should not be varnished. Use a good quality wax for these.
Step 11: Neck, 1.06, the Final Touches.
Nearing the end of the neck build. Drill the holes for the tuners, always take care when doing this step, you must make sure they are evenly spaced, that the backs don't interfere with each other and the holes are the right size for the tuners you intend to use. You will also need to decide what you will use as a finish coat on the neck. I chose a wipe on Poly because it goes on in thin coats and, therefore, not prone to runs and sags and dries fairly quickly. Also, done with care, you won't need to mask off the waxed fret board.
Step 12: Body Work
This is the part of the build where care and attention to the little things make a huge difference to the quality and look of the final product. The initial body fill I used on the raw wood was a high quality wood filler. Apply it in multiple thin layers sanding out between each layer. Use a strong light to look for dents and dips in the surface and add filler where needed. This will take a careful eye and bags of patience. When you are satisfied with the filler job on the raw wood, tape off the neck pocket and hang the body in your painting area. I used a high build automotive primer and followed with glazing and spot putty. You will also drill some pilot holes for the components.
Step 13: Top Coating the Body.
At this point the color coat can be applied. You could farm this job out to your friendly neighborhood automotive body shop if your pockets are deep or do it your self. Since I have an 'I can do this my self' attitude that's what I did. I did consult with my body man though. I used car paint and clear coat for this, but I did use a Nitro cellulose lacquer over top of the clear coat followed by several coats of canuba wax.
Step 14: Shielding
Even though I will be using humbucker pick ups, I still need to shield all the electronic cavities with a material that will help reduce the 60 hertz hum associated with electric guitars. I will be using a copper leaf paint as a first attempt. I only hope there is enough copper metal content to make this work.
Step 15: Neck Meets Body
I chose early on in this build to do a bolt on neck instead of a set neck. I will be using 1 3/4" #12 screws and stainless steel finish washers.
Step 16: Installing the Electronics.
At this point it is time to wire the guitar. I am going to follow the wiring diagram from Stewmac for 2 humbuckers, a three way switch, one master volume and one tone control. If you get a a hold of about 3 feet of telephone jack wire you will have all the wire you will need to do this, just stripit down and away you go.
Step 17: Adding the Bridge.
For this guitar I am going to reuse an old bridge I got from a friend (thanks Mike). I needed to dismantle it first and clean and oil all the parts first, then simply screw it down to the location we already established.
Step 18: Some Times You Feel Like a Nut
We're getting close now by gum. I am making a bone nut from a section of beef shank bone. The first thing you need to do is go to your local butcher and have him or her cut you a piece of beef shank about 3 inches thick. Then, pop it in the slow cooker and make a wonderful meal. The marrow will cook out and the bone should be clean. Then just follow the image notes to make the nut. Do this step before your start the build because you will need to let the bone dry for about a month.
It is important not to rush this job, and it is tempting to because you are so close to the end of the build. The nut is a critical part of your instrument and requires an eye for fine detail. So take your time and get it right.