Introduction: Make Your Very First Guitar!
Hey guy's my name is Adam and this is my very first large scale project and instructable. My background is in stage design and prop making, however I am fairly new to everything, from woodworking to smithing to instruments in general. I'm learning, and my goal is to take on more and more projects and hopefully get a few of you out there some ideas at how to get started making stuff. I had some work done on this guitar by other people and I had a lot of parts bought, the only real self made part on this is the shape of the body, but attaching parts, making tweaks, and learning more guitar basics will be included.
-Block of tonewood (The average size you generally see for a guitar is 14" (wide) by 21" (tall) by 1.25" (deep), common tonewoods include Mahogany, Ash, and Alder. The wood has a huge effect on how your instrument will sound, and for this project I used an African Mahogany, because of the smell of the wood (sweet cocoa) and the details in the lumber itself. I went to Warmoth.com and ordered a Stratocaster replacement so that I could have the holes prerouted, this ended up causing a lot of trouble (especially with the neck) but if you lack a router, this is an astronomically cheaper option.)
-Neck (this can be hand made, however it requires a much higher level of woodworking beyond my talents. There are guides out there that will tell you how to make one, for my guitar I bought one off of GuitarNecksUSA. In my case, the fretboard is rosewood and the neck itself is Maple.)
-Pickups (I had the help of a guitar collector on this one, it generally depends on what sound you want. I decided I wanted an older era sound, so I chose a single P90 humbuckler Pickup, the less pickups you choose the less complicated the wiring becomes later on)
-Bridge(this holds the strings in place at the end of your guitar, should be highly adjustable, especially if this is your first guitar. I chose the Fender American Flat Mount)
-Potentiomaters (probably butchered that spellings, commonly referred to as "Pots", make sure to get the ones that your Pickup recommends, you are not smarter than the manufacturer)
-Knobs (Make sure they match the same markings as your pot's. There are 16 line knobs for 16 line pots and 24 line knobs for 24 line pots. They don't mix)
-Stereo or Mono jack (In my case I chose a mono jack)
-various wiring (the wiring is all identical, except for the wiring of the pickup. The pickup should always be insulated.)
-Tuners (those little nubs at the top of your guitar, make sure you get the ones that match your neck, I.E 6 in line means 6 in a row and you need to make sure that the dimensions of the tuner match your holes, this is especially important with a pre-made neck.)
-Screwdrivers (You will need a set of jewelers screws for smaller stuff, and a ratcheting standard will make your life easier for the big stuff)
-Various saws for cutting the block (I used a Jigsaw with a standard single sided woodcutting blade. I made a small jig using a ruler to cut straight lines, I am most comfortable with a jigsaw, but this is easily capable with a tall scrollsaw or a bandsaw)
-Paper (you want to draw out the shape of your guitar until you think it's perfect, I spent a few weeks drawing out the shape until I came up with something I was happy with)
-Time (This project alone took me two months)
-Pizza (Because why not?)
Step 1: Planning
I did a whole ton of research on the guitar players that I liked before hand. I ended up combining a bunch of shapes into one that felt unique to me, I did it on the standard size which is 14" by 21". I cut out the pattern with an exacto knife and traced it to my block of wood. You want to spend time on this part, you can't go back once cuts are made!
Step 2: Cutting the Body
I used a jigsaw to cut the body once I had traced the design to the wood. You have to be extremely careful with preexisting holes NOT to cut into any of them. If you cut into your electronics hole then no amount of glue and woodputty will fix your mistake. Be careful, this process took me over 5 hours. After I had cut it, I spent around 7-8 hours sanding it, starting with a low 60 grit and working my way to 400 grit. Use the back of one of your fingers (nail side) and brush it around the shape of your guitar. If it feels rough, you haven't sanded enough. It should be buttery smooth, don't slack on this step!
Step 3: Staining and Shine
Once your guitar is sanded, you want to do a quick run through over the top the top and bottom of your guitar and make sure it's smooth. Start with a 255+ grit, as any rougher can damage the wood. This is the point where I beveled the edges of my guitar, this is a step that you want to be careful with, too little sanding and your guitar is sharp and it'll bite your hand when you hold it, too much and your stain won't hold to it very well. You should bevel it with 60 grit at first, and make a curving motion with your hand as you do it. You want an even bevel, front and back. You will also want to fill in any errors with wood putty at this point. Make sure to pick one with a similar color to your wood, and make sure that it says "Stain-able" on the title.
I picked a redwood stain and a satin Polyurethane paint at Home Depot. I chose redwood because I wanted to bring a darker color to the wood (and walnut was too similar to the initial color of the wood), Follow the directions on the tins, but the jist is to take a paint brush, brush the wood with the stain, quickly wipe it off with a paper towel, repeat until the entire piece is stained. Try to steer clear of staining any ports or holes, as they will expand slightly, which will ruin your day when you get to attaching the parts. Same thing goes with the Polyurethane. I chose a satin finish because I wanted to let my wood breathe, and it is one of the lighter finishes you can put on your piece. Letting your wood breathe will increase the longevity of the piece and give a warmer tone to guitar.
Step 4: Neck and Electronics
I ran into a major problem with my neck at this point, so ignore that it is attached. Essentially my neck pocket was cut 1/4" too shallow, and I failed to check this when I got the wood. My neck was extremely high, and I had to sand down this pocket by hand. It took 3-4 hours of sanding to get it in the right spot.
Your neck screws shouldn't grab your body, they should only grab the plate they are attached to and the neck itself. This is all to do with tone, and damaging the wood itself. Make sure your screws are stainless or at least a higher grade. I bought some cheap screws from a company that rhymes conspicuously with Bro's and they shattered inside my neck, causing all sorts of drama and forcing me to hull out a broken screw and replace the hole with a cut dowel. You also don't want to overtorque your screws. Steer clear of drills, and focus on handturning your screws with a screwdriver. Ratcheting screwdrivers will spare your palms.
If your necks holes are too large for you to thread (add ribbing for the screws to grab) then you will have to fill them. I filled mine with a wood putty, I compressed it as much as possible and let it dry 24 hours before putting the screws in again. The screws grabbed the neck with easy and it won't budge anymore. Nothing is scarier than a neck that could pop off and punch you in the face! When you get your neck on, you should be able to hold your guitar by just your neck. If you hear any creaking, or if it moves in the slightest, take the neck off and rethink your strategy. You don't want to be that awkward guy walking into a concert and your guitar gets decapitated.
The electronics were done by a friend of mine at a local business called Heatsync. I was fortunate enough to get it done for free, but the electronics behind my guitar are relatively simple. It still took about two hours, so go to your local guitar store or electronics store and see if they will do it for you. Your pickup will ship with an electronics guide, if not, Stewmac.com has almost every possible setup for free. Make sure you distinguish your Volume pot and your Tone pot. Generally, the volume pot is 500k (ohms) and the tone pot is 250k.
The ground that any of the guides say (Ground to the Bridge) is literally a wire that goes underneath the bridge, it runs the length of it and then you screw the bridge on, this is essential, because any extra metal put inside your electronics box can rattle, and it involves more anchoring on a very thin surface.
Step 5: Attach Everything!
This is where the pizza comes in! (and napkins, don't want pizza grease on your guitar, bad juju) Simply attach all your parts in the corresponding holes. Your pickup should have come with two screws and two springs (or two screws and a foam rectangle), place the springs in the bottom of the pickup in the path of the screws, so it goes screwhead - pickup - spring - wood. This is the trickiest part, and a colossal pain in the arse. I am most likely going to switch to a foam piece as I can't raise the pickup very high without ripping the screws out of the wood, but for now, the springs will do; this is a two person job! To top off the pickup problems, the screws I got stripped instantly. I ended up using a hacksaw to cut slots in the top of the heads, and I used a flathead to turn them. If you can't find replacements, that is the last resort option. Attach your neck, get the tuners in your neck, attach the cover to your electronics, whip out your strings, and admit to the badass you have become. I use the game Rocksmith to tune my guitar, however, electronic tuners exist that work fairly well.
I'm extremely happy with my guitar, although I have some slight fret buzz at random points and the action on my bridge is fairly high, it turned out awesome. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!
Cheers, and happy building guys!