3D Printed Electric Guitar

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Introduction: 3D Printed Electric Guitar

About: Educator, tinkerer, maker of things

For my second custom guitar (see my first one here), I was inspired to use rapid prototyping technology rather than materials processing equipment by my students taking courses in my makerspace. This guitar was designed using the Onshape CAD program and 3D printed using LulzBot TAZ 6 printers equipped with the MOARStruder print head.

I am no professional guitar builder by any means, instead just a DIY maker enthusiast and Technology, Engineering, and Design teacher from New Jersey. I've put together this instructable with a beginner's take on the important do's and don't for guitar building, as well as a chance to share my failures and mistakes for you to learn from.

I hope you enjoy, happy making!

Step 1: The Design

Unlike my last guitar which was inspired by the Fender Stratocaster, this one is inspired by the Gibson Les Paul. Initially, I really wasn't too sure where I wanted the design to go, but I knew I was constrained by my printer's build volume and that I wanted to emphasize the 3D printing technology.

To achieve this, I created a hollow appearance by designing the guitar to be mostly open and see-through. The only exception to this are the large areas where the neck, bridge, and electronics attach. I also did not want any wires or knobs to be seen from the front, so they are all hidden in a pocketed panel on the back of the guitar. I also knew I would have to print this guitar in multiple sections to fit on my build plate, but that the neck's mounting point should not be split and printed more solid that anything else from a structural and tuning perspective.

I purchased these plans for the Gibson Les Paul and followed the dimensions loosely, mainly focusing on the neck length and distance from the bridge in order for the guitar to be tunable when finished. I also worked to make the neck angle correct for setting the action, this was something I messed up on my first guitar and had to shim the neck to get the strings at the right height.

Step 2: The Components

There are endless levels of components you can choose for making a guitar. The choice between brands and quality vary extensively, and I am no expert on choosing them. I always figured that my cheap DIY guitars would do just fine with cheap and reasonably reviewed components.

  1. Neck - I used the same neck from my first guitar, great price and quality with a beautify appearance
  2. Pickups - I chose these cheap hum buckers to match the traditional Les Paul style
  3. Tuning Pegs - I went for well reviewed and chrome to match all the hardware
  4. Tune-O-Matic Bridge - Huge fan of the Tune-O-Matic wrap around style bridge for DIY projects, its only one piece instead of a two piece string holder and bridge. This makes install easy and its extremely adjustable for intonation.
  5. Harness and Components - I wanted a simple a vintage sound, this harness is like a classic LP Jr
  6. Neck Plate - I wanted to laser engrave this part so I went for a black anodized plate rather than chrome
  7. Strap Locks - I went for well reviewed and chrome to match all the hardware
  8. Strings - Personal preference really
  9. Glue - Depends on filament choice, I used gorilla glue for T-Glase
  10. Filament - Personal preference, I used T-glase but would recommend PETg

Step 3: 3D Printing

All the parts are cut to fit onto a print bed that is 280mm x 280 mm in X and Y. I chose to use Taulman T-Glase filament because I wanted the guitar to light up and change color based on music being played. The concept was cool, and a track for the LED light strip runs along the back outside of the guitar, however the filament choice was a mistake.

T-glase is a cool product, but its expensive, prints slow, and when you print at a high fill density, isn't very transparent. Looking back, I would have used natural PETg or even PLA. Working with the t-glase proved to be troublesome when trying to glue it all together and the lights don't shine all the way to the front of the guitar as desired.

Choosing the MOARStruder was also a mistake. It did cut the print time down by 60%, but also forced me to print at a layer height of 0.6 which proved to make the meeting points of the different parts riddled with gaps. Looking back, printing with PETg slowly at 0.25 would have been worth the time.

Step 4: Bonding the Sections

Before bonding the sections together, I inserted the bridge nuts so I could use them as an alignment point. I inserted bolts into the nuts and a bar across to hold them in the correct position.

For other sections, I used Irwin quick grip clamps to hold the guitar in position. For the glue, I chose to use standard, clear, expanding gorilla glue because of the large gaps between sections. If I had chose to use PETg that was closer, a loctite superglue would have been cleaner and easier to work with.

In some places, I actually melted and boding the plastic in a sort of plastic welding method using a soldering iron. This worked well for filling large gaps but didn't look too great with T-Glase, again I would recommend a different filament choice.

Step 5: Neck Install

Installing the neck is pretty straight forward if you have your measurements right and take your time. I drilled pilot holes into the body through the mounting plate, then clamped the neck in place while inserting screws.

Same idea for the tuning pegs. Position each peg in place and tighten using the mounting nuts on the top of the headstock. Then drill pilot holes and insert screws through the mounting holes on the back of the headstock.

Further adjustments to the neck angle may be needed once you get the strings on and check action height.

Step 6: Electronics

I installed the pickups into the pick guard, then installed that on the body of the guitar through the front. I then installed all the harness components into the back plate and soldered the wires to the pickups, as well as a ground wire to one of the bridge mounting posts.

Step 7: Strings and Tuning

Now the fun part! Here's where you can see your hard work pay off, or fall apart. String up the tune-o-matic bridge and strings through the tuning pegs. Before tuning, get the string height set because that will change all of your tuning that you do. Rotate the large bridge posts up and down to raise and lower the bridge to a desired action height. If needed, you can unbolt the neck and shim it to increase its angle.

Get the guitar in tune open strum, then move down to the 12th fret. The same note should be played in a different octave. If its sharp or flat, you can adjust the little slides under each string with a screw driver to get the note just right. If all of the strings are off, you can position the entire bridge closer or farther from the neck. This is a tricky process to get just right and its even harder on a plastic guitar.

Check out this video for guidance on setting the action and intonation. Once your strings are set, you can also adjust the height and position of the pickups for optimal sound. I raised mine by almost an inch to get them nice and close to the strings.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

For finishing, I sanded parts of the guitar where I glued and welded the pieces together. I then installed the strap buttons and enjoyed this DIY project.

It sits proudly in my classroom next to my first guitar and serves as an inspiration to my students in our maker space. Overall, I am pretty pleased with this project and already planning for Guitar #3.

Thanks for reading!

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    14 Comments

    0
    NeilRG
    NeilRG

    Question 1 year ago

    Do you teach in the town of Madison or in Madison Township schools? I grew up in Old Bridge. I'm just curious. That was nearly six decades ago. I became a design engineer, and own a small printer farm. This instructable as well as your passion for teaching are so commendable. I also appreciate your presentation of the tradeoffs and issues which arose and how you solved them.

    0
    MrErdreich
    MrErdreich

    Answer 1 year ago

    Madison NJ, Morris County. Northern part of New Jersey about 40 minutes out of NYC. And thank you, much appreciated!

    0
    welderbot
    welderbot

    1 year ago on Step 8

    Let's see here, $1500 for standard onshape cad program, $2500 for the LulzBot TAZ 6 printer and MOARStruder print head which is no longer available but costs around $400.Total is up to $4400. Why don't you make an instructable that plebians can afford? I can buy a descent guitar for less than a grand.

    1
    MrErdreich
    MrErdreich

    Reply 1 year ago

    To echo all the other comments, the cost wasn't really the point. My students saw the wood guitar that I made in my own shop a few years back and wanted to make their own guitars. Unfortunately, my classroom doesn't have the wood working equipment to do this....but we have 3D printers. This instructable was really about finding a way to do a unique passion project out of pure inspiration with the resources available.

    0
    welderbot
    welderbot

    Reply 1 year ago

    My comment wasn't meant to disparage your spirit or teaching devotion to the students. I have all all the tools to build the guitar on a mini scale. Can possibly create the instrument from stainless steel using my cnc plasma. A note to readers that there are affordable tools to build could be included in your instructable.

    Thanks for sharing and giving me the idea to produce with my plas.

    2
    Animiles
    Animiles

    Reply 1 year ago

    I'm pretty sure he didn't buy these things just to make this guitar. I also don't think he expected others to buy these things just to make this guitar. He is just showing the steps he took to create this as well as the things he used to create this. Most instructables are just a step by step showcase of the process to build it rather than a real tutorial on how to most effectively make something. He also never claimed that this would be cheaper than outright buying a normal guitar. But if you own the tools, or you were planning to buy the tools anyways, then you could use this instructable to make it.
    There's one more thing I'd like to add. If you buy a guitar for $1000, then you have a $1000 guitar and your money is gone. If you buy the standard onshape cad program, the LulzBot TAZ 6 printer and a MOARStruder print head, then you have the ability to 3D print stuff, and your money is gone. You still don't own a guitar at that point. So you print a guitar. At that point you have a guitar, and a $4400 3D printer. Then you print another 20 guitars. Now you have 20 guitars and a $4400 3D printer. At that point you could say that each guitar has cost you $220, which is cheaper than any decent guitar you can buy.

    It's all a matter of perspective and willingness to look for alternative methods of reaching your goal :)

    3
    malexand1
    malexand1

    Reply 1 year ago

    Just because those were the tools he had available doesn't mean it can't be done alternatives, such as TinkerCad (free) or Fusion360 (also free for personal use) and a $200 Ender 3 printer with standard printhead. probably just 1 spool of filament $15. so 215 + the guitar components.

    1
    lindgren184
    lindgren184

    Reply 1 year ago

    And what makes you think you need any of those things? You need a printer with a decent size print area, thats it...

    1
    da de
    da de

    Reply 1 year ago

    you can use free software if you dont have any already. and this is for someone who already has a 3d printer. and you dont need the moarstruder.

    0
    Animiles
    Animiles

    Tip 1 year ago

    This guitar looks pretty sweet! I'm tempted to build a guitar like this myself since I like to modify everything.
    I would like to remind you of something though. Guitars are generally built out of wood, which is renewable and natural. PLA is also renewable, but it doesn't break down on its own, so it needs to be recycled properly. Plastics made from oil and all other kinds of plastics which aren't recycled properly contribute to our ever growing problem of plastic pollution.
    I can't tell if you handle things correctly or not, therefore I can't judge. But since plastic pollution is becoming such a big problem it's always best to mention it in case you weren't aware yet. And if that's the case, then I'd really appreciate it if you could put a bit more effort into it. Your future self would also really appreciate it ;-)

    1
    MrErdreich
    MrErdreich

    Reply 1 year ago

    I appreciate this comment. I teach sustainability and renewable energy to my students and this is an ongoing discussion. This year, we designed new filament spools out of recycled cardboard and ways to melt and reuse PLA safely. Hopefully we continue to find alternative materials and methods.

    0
    Wapata
    Wapata

    Question 1 year ago on Step 8

    Is the last picture part of your classroom ??

    0
    MrErdreich
    MrErdreich

    Answer 1 year ago

    Indeed! Madison Junior School (6-8 students) in Madison NJ. If you're interested, here's a walk through I did a year or so ago.

    0
    da de
    da de

    1 year ago on Step 8

    great stuff! for your next one i hope it is a gibson sg design!