Introduction: Make an Electric Guitar
For my leaving cert project we were told we could make whatever we wanted as long as it was inside the rules. I did a little brainstorming and some research and figured hey why not make a guitar. It was something i had been wanting to do for awhile and this just seemed like the perfect time.! So after some questions and conversations i was given the go ahead by my teacher.
Because this was a school project and im a poor student. This had to be done on a serious budget. I shopped around in shops and online.! The whole build cost be just about 80 euro which i was over the moon with.!
This was my first ever experience with building a guitar so if i can do it so can you.!
and i am sorry for the long instructable but there's a lot to cover.
Now before you start to do this there is a bit of research involved. Your going to want to understand a couple of things.! so do what i did ask my good friend google.!
- Get some plans.!
- Find out about Tonewoods.!
- Do research on guitar types.
- Do research on guitar components.
- Get your components first.!
So plans are essential here.! I found this website to be very very helpful.! as well as there website the youtube channel which helped A LOT. You can also get printable plans here or if your really serious about it you could just design your own.! complete custom! They have a couple of articles to so i suggest reading these as well. But don't just depend on this site do some research of your own and let us all no what you find.:)
Components i needed
- 2 Hum buckers
- Set of machine heads
- 2 Potentiometers(pots)
- Control Knobs for pots
- 3 way switch
- A guitar nut
- Neck plate
- Neck screws
- A bridge
- Truss rod
- Output jack
You should get all of these before you start the build. That way your not guessing measurements as you go along and there is less chance of messing up the build.!
Here are some handy places to get most of these
Check out the sites and on top of that check out your local music store they could have parts or just keep an eye out for a broken guitar or second hand one that you could salvage most of the parts off of.
eguitarplans are also really good for tutorials and check out youtube aswell theres a couple of channels that go through the building of a guitar.
Just a note-In my opinion you should probably have your guitar neck first whether you make it yourself or you buy it. Its important later on when your making the body.
Step 1: The Neck
For the neck i used a piece of mahogany and and a pre-made maple fret-board. I ordered the maple fret-board from stew-mac. If you looked into it you could probably make a fret-board out of whatever tone-wood you wanted.! (look into it there are some pretty awesome looking woods out there that you could use.) I decided to order one that was professionally made as these have to be perfectly made in order for the guitar to sound correct and play in the correct notes. Again i would advise to get all the components that's needed for the neck before you start and to do a bit of research.
- Fret board
- Tuning Machines and screws
- Truss rod
There are a lot of different types of each of these so again looking into it yourself would help tons.!
When connecting the neck the screws should pull the neck tight so leave the holes on the body side a bit bigger so that its pulled tight. Also less chance of splitting.!
The Neck- The Angled Head-stock
In my belief you should start with the neck as its important when you rout the cavity that the neck sits into. If you have the neck already finished its easier and safer (no potentially destroying the project) to create the neck and then use it as a template on the bosy so that the cavity is a perfect tight fit.
I decided to make my own neck for the guitar so i could truly say that the whole project as a one of a kind custom.:) TONE-WOODS also become important here so choose the wood carefully, I opted to go with mahogany as i had plenty of it hanging around the house and some of the grain in this specific piece looked really cool. I carved the neck first and then cut the fret-board.
I started off with a piece of mahogany large enough for the measurements on the plans. I kept it a longer to avoid any mistakes i might make and so i could experiment with the head-stock more.
There are numerous ways you can go about making the angle on the head-stock. I have a few pictures up of some of them just to give you the option. You can even go for a flat head stock-like you see on fender guitars. I chose the angled as i believed it looked a lot nicer and could be more freely designed in a way that i liked.
I made the angle by gluing shorter pieces on the end of the main one and cutting the angle out on the band saw. Some of the pictures should clear this up. I found this the easiest method because it was all straight cuts and with the band saw this was easy. If you don't have access to a band saw there are other methods that you can use and again the pictures should give you an idea on how to do this.
I glued all the pieces to the end and clamped them and let the set overnight. To get the angle i used the plans and marked a 13 degree angle on the head-stock and used the band-saw to cut it out.
I scratched each piece on the side it would be glued so the glue would get a better grip.
The Truss rod slot
The truss rod helps correct the any bow or cupping in the guitar neck due to the tension of the strings or any other force that might bend the neck. The truss rod i used was a steel rod with a bolt on it that could be adjusted.
Get the truss rod first before you make the slot as each truss rod could have different measurements.
I used a mortise machine to create the slot for the truss rod. If you don't have one you can just use a router and a guide. Its easier to do the truss rod at this stage of the neck because the sides of the neck are not shaped or contoured yet so the straight edge can act as a guide.
The adjustable nut should be at the headstock end. It can be the other side but this is the way i did it due to the angled headstock.Onesi
Shaping the neck
After i had the truss rod slot cut I then cut out the template so i could use them as a guide. I marked out the the neck and used the band-saw to cut out the shape of the neck checking the plans to make sure i was doing it right.
Before you start to carve the neck its important to mark out the heel of the neck. This is the part of the neck that sits into the body of the guitar. This has to be flat and the right thickness so that it doesn't raise the strings to far when you finally wire up the guitar. The bottom of the heel has to be flat so that it sits straight when its connected to the guitar body.
At this stage i had the angled head-stock cut and the shape of the neck. Now i had to curve the back of the neck (the part where you run your hand) i did this with a rasp some files and electric sander and some handheld high grit sandpaper. On my plans there where templates to check at certain frets and to act as a guide but i mostly did the carving and shaping just by judging with my eye using the shadow and light to see any uneven areas.
Remember you must shape the neck but you cant expose the truss rod slot because there is no going back after you do.:)
You don't want to go to thin when shaping the neck so its a guide idea to use digital calipers to check the thickness. you also want to get the thickness of the neck to gradually reduce in thickness as it gets closer to the head-stock
Try to keep the edge corners that the fret-board will be sitting on untouched so there are no gaps when you get the fret-board on.
I then cut the neck so that it was the right length cutting it across the heel.
Once you have the neck shaped you can start on the head-stock. You can use the head-stock that came with your plans or you can design your own. If you design your own take into account the positions of the holes for the machine heads. Cut out or draw a template from the plan and transfer it onto the head-stock.
My head-stock wasn't wide enough so i glued extra pieces on (There is room for creativity here different color woods maybe.?) The head-stock also has to be thin enough that the machine heads can screw on, if its to thick they wont fit. Follow the thickness of the plan or the dimensions on the machine heads and cut the head-stock to the thickness. I used the band saw to do this. If you plan on adding a veneer to the head-stock dont drill the holes just yet, if not you can go ahead and drill them just follow the measurements given on the machine heads. Its a good idea to test it on scrap wood first.!
Fitting The Truss rod
I fitted the truss rod into the slot to make sure that it was a good fit first. I then made sure that it was the right way around in the slot. I squeezed silicone into the wood. This helped to stop the truss rod vibrating and rattling when the guitar would be played but also allowed the truss rod to do its job when needed.
I used the band-saw to cut the fret-board to fit the neck using the measurements on the plan. I cut outside the line leaving some to spare so that i could sand and plane it down to a perfect fit when i had it glued. I then spread the glue on the neck. DONT GET GLUE IN THE SLOT OR ON THE TRUSS ROD! this would make the truss rod useless because it wouldn't be able to do what it was intended for. Use plenty of clamps when you glue on the fret-board and i mean as many as you can fit. wipe off the glue squeeze out. The more clamps help to reduce the gap between the neck and the fret-board.
When it had glued and set i used a small plane to plane the edge of the fret-board and then progressively finer sanding blocks to smooth it down. Then give the whole thing a sanding just to smooth everything out.
Veneer the head-stock
I wanted the head-stock to stand out more than it did so i decided to add a veneer to it. I had some zebra-wood veneer lying around and decided to use that. For this stage i used contact glue to fix the head-stock veneer. i spread the glue onto the head-stock and the placed the veneer onto the head-stock and and used a bit of MDF just bigger than the head-stock and clamped everything down. Again use loads of clamps.!
When its set i used a sharp knife to cut around the head-stock and then some sandpaper wrapped around a dowel to sand the veneer smooth.
Step 2: The Guitar Body
I wanted the guitar body to really stand out.! As hard as i tried i could not find a single piece of wood to suit for the guitar body, so i improvised. I decided to use a couple of pieces instead.I had some mahogany off cuts lying around at home and figured i could glue those together to get one large piece. but after some research i came to the conclusion the guitar wasn't quite what i wanted it to look like.
After some debating i went rooting through the scrap pile again and pulled out a couple of maple floorboards i had collected. I put them side by side and bam...i had the pieces for the guitar body.
I took each piece and examined it to find the nicest looking side and grain. I wanted to get the front to be as eye popping as possible. I numbered each piece and planed them to the width and thickness that i needed. i cut out the template from the plans and made sure that it fit. I glued up the pieces and let them set for a day or two. Some of the pieces had slipped while i had them clamped so when they dried i ran it back through the thicknesses to smooth everything out.
I cut out the template from the plans and the transferred it to the body blank. I used the bandsaw to cut out the body shape leaving some room to work with and to allow for sanding. I sanded the whole thing with 80 grit just to smooth everything out.
- Neck plate
- Neck screws
The Neck Pocket
To route the neck pocket i found the center line of the guitar body. This part is vital if its off center your neck will be crooked. I found the center line by using a sheet of plywood with two screws in it, one at either end. I suspended a sting tied between each screw and fit the body under the string. The string acted as a straight line and i could lift it up and down. I fit the neck under the string and the body and inspected the guitar to see if both where straight. When they where i marked everything and made a template for the hell of the guitar neck. Refer to your plans here as its pretty important.
Use the heel of the neck to make the template and cut it out. I used a router to make the neck pocket. I did a lot of testing at this stage as it was so vital. If i messed up here i might have to scrap the body of the guitar. (which i really didn't want to do.!!!) When i was happy with the fit in scrap woods i lined up the the template on the actual piece clamped it down and routed the neck pocket to the required depth. I then drilled the four holes for the neck plate
The Electronics Cavity
This is located at the back of the guitar body. Look at your plans or other guitars. Again i made a template for the router to use for the cavity here. Sadly Mahogany is really hard and when i went to route this out i actually set of the smoke alarms..whoops..After we had the alarms sorted i decided to drill out the cavity first and then just use the router to tidy things up. Check the required depth of the cavity on the plans before you start routing. This will be covered later on when we make the cavity cover.
Step 3: Fitting the Components
On an electric guitar there are a number of components that you need. There are a couple of places that i mentioned before that you can buy these at but you should probably have these before you start to make the guitar.!
Im not sure how to wire the guitar internally. Everything else is done just not that. If anyone has any tips or ideas to show me how or sources to teach me it would be much appreciated.!
- Hum Buckers
- Machine Heads
- 3 way switch
- Guitar nut
The amount and type of components will vary depending on what type of set up you want on your guitar or the type displayed on your plans so study them and see what you need.
Hum-Buckers - I started with hum buckers. I found the measurements required for the cavity and followed the plan for the position of the hum buckers. From what i have seen on other guitars the cavity for the humbuckers follows the shape of the humbuckers but sadly my router would not let me do this, so i improvised and just routed out a rectangular hole that would the be covered by the pick guard to cover all the space up. I had two humbucker cavity's so i followed the plan to position these. Again these need to be centered on the guitar body so they line up with the strings. Then i used the screws to fix the hum buckers in there positions.
Bridge - Next i decided to do the bridge. I didn't want a to complicated bridge so i just wanted on that would sit on top of the guitar body that wouldn't require any routing so i got on that screwed onto the top of the body. All this required was six holes for the screw. I drilled pilot holes here as i wanted the screws straight and also because the mahogany was seriously hard.! (Remember centered on the body.!!!)
Pots, Jack & Switch- The next component were the pots and the jack. All these required was a hole drilled into the electronics cavity. I drilled a series of test holes to make sure that i was using the right sized drill bit. i followed the plans for the positioning of these but you could experiment with it, just make sure that they wont be in the way of the hands when your playing.! Each of these fit into the hole and are then tightened with a bolt on the other side to hold in place.
Machine heads - Check the size required for the machine heads and then drill from the veneered side of the headstock so you do minimal damage to the veneer. When you have this done you may want to drill pilot holes for the screws that keep them in place.
The main cavity and the hum bucker cavity are all connected to allow for the wires. I did this by getting a really long drill bit and drilling through to each chamber to connect them.
When you have everything done. Unscrew everything and take it off. These will be the very last things you install on the guitar when you have everything finished.
I used the hole for the jack to get access so it might be a good idea to take that into account when your positioning the jack.
Step 4: Custom Pick Gaurd,cavity Cover and Truss Rod Cover.
I wanted the pick guard to really bring the project together so i decided to match the head stock veneer with the veneer i would use for the pick guard. I used three layers of veneers with the grain going in opposite directions. I used zebrawood as the face veneer then maple and then walnut. I had a pick guard shape on the plan and had originally planned to follow that but i decided to get creative and change it around a bit.
I got two pieces of Mdf just bigger than the piece and put glue between each layer. I used newspaper to stop the veneer sticking to the MDF. I clamped The pick guard between the MDF and used alot of clamps once again. I then let it set overnight.
I cut the shape out using a scroll saw and a coping saw along with a very sharp knife. When i had the shape i proceeded to cut out where the hum buckers would be showing through. I drilled out as much as i cut and used the knife and coping saw to tidy it up. Its a good idea to screw in the hum buckers so you can see what and where the pick guard would be going.
I sanded of the edge of the pick guard with sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. I got creative again and sanded at a 45 degree angle to show each color of the woods and so there was a striped effect all around the pic guard. I drilled holes in the pick guard and then pilot holes where the screws where going so that i would hole the whole thing down. This meant that the pick Guard could be changed in and out whenever i wanted. You could also glue it down or use double sided tape to fix it in place.
The cavity cover was done the very same way. With the three layers of veneer. I cut out a shape that followed the curve of the guitar and them drilled holes for the screws that would keep it down.
Again the truss rod cover was done the very same way. Just make sure that its the right size to cover the truss rodd access bolt.
These where both finished the same as the actual guitar.
Step 5: The Pick
This was a very simple way. It was done by using the left over bits of zebra wood and glueing the veneers with grains going in opposite directions.
I also finished this the same way as the guitar.
Step 6: Finishing the Guitar
Sorry but i don't actually have a lot of pictures of this stage as it was done as quick as i could. (The deadline for the project was looming large at this stage)
DO NOT finish the fretboard this way. Cover the fretboard with masking tape before you do this. There are special oils that can be used to finish the guitars fret board.! This is because of the oils in your finger tips.!
I used a spray on lacquer in a can to finish the guitar. I have about ten coats on the whole of the project. Start by sanding the guitar to as fine as you can get it. All over.! Wipe the guitar to get rid of dust and oils.
Start by applying very light coats letting it dry and cure and then sanding VERY VERY lightly over the finish to remove the shine. Wipe the piece and do over building the finish up and up.
I finished all parts of the guitar this way.!
I see this as the most important part of the build as it really brings the project to a professional look and its the part most people comment on the grain, or the shine of the finish. It really fills you with a sense of pride when you see the finished guitar.!
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