Sooner or later,
every child pretends that his tennis racket is a real-life guitar that you can actually play. Imagining endless encores, we all play on the stage of our bunk bed for screaming audiences going wild.
That’s why I made this tennis racket into an electric guitar: as a noisy tribute to the ten year old boy standing in front of the mirror, jamming on air and dreaming of being the next guitar hero.
I call it: the Tennis Rock-it.
Need more puns? Well, okay.
Do you have the balls to play?
Yes! Let's make some racket!
Step 1: Parts List
Wooden tennis racket (picture 1). You can find rackets like this on eBay. Choose a nice one. There’s tons of cool retro sporting equipment out there. Pick one you really love: when you put this much effort in it, it better be great to look at.
Hardware store (picture 2):
- 2 L brackets 40 mm x 40 mm
- 1 L bracket 20 mm x 20 mm x 10 mm
- 300 mm of 20 mm x 20 mm angle iron
- threaded rod Size M8 (or whatever size fits your router bit. It should be around 8 mm)
- Some M8 nuts
- Some M4 flat head screws and nuts
- Some wood screws 14 mm
- A piece of hardwood (or a piece of oak) 400 mm x 4 mm x 35 mm to make a nice hard fretboard.
- Wood glue
- Some chicken wire
Guitar parts (picture 3):
- Machine heads (2 left and 1 right to make the tuning of your Rock-it a little easier, but if you don't mind being totally puzzled from time to time, any kind of machine head will do.)
- a single coil pickup
- 2 string trees
- 3 guitar strings for electric guitar: B string (042), G string (022) and A string (015)
- Some electric wire
Cheap guitar parts can be found all over the internet, but for my first tennis guitar I simply went to the local music store and asked if they had any leftovers. When I finished explaining to music store guy that I was not (no really, not at all) after the lasagna he was saving for lunch, it was quite easy to find all the parts I was looking for. Every music store has a drawer full of crappy guitar parts, because fancy guitar players always want to pimp their instrument with better pickups and leave the old parts in the store. If you are lucky, you might even get them for free.
Step 2: Tools
- Angle grinder
- table saw
- Soldering iron
Step 3: Preparing and Reinforcing the Racket
When I was modifying my first racket I got lucky: it had a handle that could be unscrewed, revealing a nice flat piece of wood. This made the process of gluing the fretboard pretty easy. Unfortunately the next one I built (yes I built quite a few) had a wooden handle (picture 4 and 5) which I had to flatten before gluing the fretboard. I first thought about sanding it, but that would take hours and I didn't have a planer. But luckily I did have a router... So I built a jig (picture 6), which is one of my favourite things to build (I love building jigs!), to hold a tennis racket fixed vertically (pictures 7,8 and 9) while the router shaves the handle (picture 10). Just until it's as flat as the shaft of the racket.
Then I built another jig (which is one of my favou..) to fix the tennis racket horizontally (picture 11) so the router can make a slot (8 mm) for the threaded rod. The threaded rod is an important piece of the construction. A tennis racket isn't built to withstand the tension of guitar strings, without support the racket would snap when tuning your Rock-it. That's why you have to make a reinforcement.
I came up with something called “the T anchor”. It's a simple construction with a threaded rod and an angle iron. The threaded rod gives your racket the necessary stiffness and the angle iron anchors the rod in the head of the racket. The threaded rod is placed in the slot made by the router (picture 12) and the angle iron is perpendicular to the threaded rod (picture 13) making a T shape. Both parts are fastened to each other by two nuts (one on each side of the angle iron).
The angle iron is shaped (picture 14) with the angle grinder so it fits in the head of the racket 8 cm from the edge (picture 15) and is secured in place with 2 wood screws. Be sure to drill pilot holes before screwing in the wood, because old rackets have a tendency to split.
Step 4: Building the Bridge
I've built the bridge of the tennis racket guitar out of 2 brackets (picture 16) fixed together with some nuts and bolts. The tail piece has 3 extra holes for holding the 3 guitar strings and I had to drill some additional holes so that it could be fixed with some screws (picture 17 and 18). Again: don't forget to drill pilot holes. The second L bracket is fixed to the first one (picture 19) with the longest side pointing upwards. This side will be trimmed later to make a perfect string height.
The third L bracket is modified with a shorter side and a bigger hole (10 mm) to hold the jack input (picture 20). It is fixed on the second L bracket with one M4 bolt and a nut (picture 21). Make sure it is angled up a little to make plugging in your guitar cable much easier. To avoid any problems plugging in this magnificant instrument use a cable with an angled plug (picture 22).
Step 5: And Then There Was Sound!
Drill 2 holes in the angle iron to mount the guitar pick up. You will need some extra pieces of metal to get enough clearance from the M8 nut that holds the threaded rod in place. The position of the pickup is important (picture 23). This guitar will have 3 strings. Each string must sit above a magnet of the pickup.
Attach the audio input (jack) to the third L bracket with the special nut (every audio input comes with a special nut). (picture 24) Solder the black wire of your guitar pickup to the ground lug of the audio jack and the coloured wire to the signal lug (picture 25). To prevent any annoying background noises solder an extra wire (the white wire in picture 25) between the bridge and the ground lug of the audio jack.
Note: the wires in the pictures are too long -- they have to be trimmed.
Now you can plug in your instrument and tap the pickup. If you hear the tapping sound in your amplifier, you're almost there.
Step 6: Machine Heads
The “head” of the tennis guitar is 75 mm, so there’s not much place to fit the machine heads. And there’s no room for error, so I made a template in MDF. (picture 26). I used 2 left machine heads and 1 right (picture 27). This makes the strings easier to tune (I will explain this later).
Drill the holes (picture 28) and fix the machine heads with their nuts (picture 29). On the back side there's a little hole in every machine head. If you use the little screw to fasten the machine heads, don't forget to drill pilot holes.
Step 7: Gluing the Fretboard
The size of your fretboard depends on the size of your racket. I used a piece (30 mm) of the treaded rod to make the nut of the guitar (picture 29). The diameter of the rod is 8 mm and the size of the head stock is 75 mm. The distance between this point and the head of the racket is the size of your fretboard (a width of 30 mm and height of 5 mm). Glue the board on the racket (picture 30)
Step 8: Trimming the Bridge
The string height is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. The string height at the nut should be the same at the end of the fretboard (where the body of the “guitar” starts). Place a ruler on the nut and the bridge (picture 31). As you can see in the picture the bridge is too high. Trim the bridge until the ruler is parallel to the fretboard (picture 32)
Step 9: Putting Strings on the Racket
When the glue is dry it's time to put strings on the racket. The top string is the B string (042), the middle one the G string (022) and the bottom one the A string (015) of a regular set of electric guitar strings. Because I used a strange combination of machine heads the strings will sit nicely on the nut when you install them as shown in picture 33. Use 2 string trees to push the strings down on the nut.
My favourite tuning is G (top string), G (an octave higher) (middle), D (bottom).
Step 10: Finishing Touch
To make your brand new guitar look like a tennis racket again you can use some chicken wire. (picture 34). Cut a piece of chicken wire in the shape of the racket and attach it to the racket head with some nylon wire. Spray paint it ivory.
Putting frets on this guitar is not recommended. It increases the tension on the neck when you play a note and the instrument will detune very fast. But it still is handy to know where the fret positions are. Using a ruler to measure where to cut the frets on your fretboard can be very challenging. The Wfret program for Windows (by Jonathan D. Whitney) that can be found on Cigarboxnation.com makes measuring frets easy. Just download the program and install it on your computer, input the distance between the bridge and the nut, the amount of frets you want and the program calculates the frets. It even makes a little template you can print. Mark your fret positions with a box cutter, and your fingers will hit the right notes every single time.
If some steps in this instructable are not clear, you can watch this instruction video... in Dutch. Maybe it will help, maybe it will just make you laugh, it doesn't matter.
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did and let me know if you built a Rock-it!
Update (November 6): today I was invited to play a little song on Belgian radio.
Yes! Now I'm big in Belgium!