Introduction: Bent Wood Lamination Electric Guitar
This entire project was an experiment to see if I could get smooth consistent bends without building an entire outer form. Traditionally you would use an inner and outer form when bending wood. The outer form would compress the layers of wood onto the inner form to create a smooth consistent bend for gluing. I wanted to see if I could get away with not having an outer form, and I'm happy to report that it worked perfectly!
Although this project may look complex it can be made with basic tools found in most small garage woodshops.
1/4 inch Masonite
3/4 inch MDF
African Mahogany (1 3/4 in thick x 5.5 in wide x 19 in long)
Maple Skateboard Veneers
1/8 inch Clear Acrylic
Guitar Hardware + Electronics
Titebond Wood Glue
5 Minute Epoxy
1 inch Nails
Blue Painter's Tape
Step 1: Disassembly
I am basing the design off of one of my all time favorite guitars, the Jackson Kelly. I started by disassembling and stripping the entire guitar down. I'll be using the guitar body to create the templates. The neck and all of the hardware/electronics will be used in the final build.
Note: If you already have guitar building templates you can skip Steps 1-5.
Step 2: Trace and Cut Outline Template
Using a white colored pencil I traced the outline of the guitar body onto a piece of 1/4 inch masonite. I cut on the outside of the line using my jigsaw.
Using a white colored pencil helps the lines stand out against a dark colored object like the masonite.
Step 3: Route Shape and Sand Smooth
With a few strips of double sided tape I attached the roughly cut masonite to the guitar body. Using a flush trim router bit I routed out the shape of the body onto the masonite. This left me with an exact copy of the guitar body outline.
I avoided the area where the output jack hole was located on the guitar body as the router bit wouldn't be able to ride along that edge. I sanded that part down on my belt sander.
Step 4: Drilling/Routing the Cavities Template
Using the router with a flush trim bit I copied the neck pocket and pickup route onto the template. I flipped the body around and used my drill press to drill the string thru holes from the backside.
Locating the bridge post holes was a little tricky because the holes don't go all the way through the body. In order to get their placement just right on the cavity template, I used a transparency sheet to mark out their placement in relation to the other cavities and lined it up on the template and drilled the holes.
Step 5: Finding Center
After all of the cavities were cut, I needed to find the center of the templates so that I could reference to for the rest of the build. Using a pair of digital calipers, I measured the width of the neck pocket and string thru holes, divided the measurement in half, and marked it on the template. I could then connect the lines together to form the center line of the template. I then transferred the center line from the cavity template onto the outline template.
Step 6: Trace and Cut Form
I traced the shape of the outline template onto three sheets of 3/4 inch mdf and cut them out using my bandsaw. The mdf will be used as a form to bend the skateboard veneers to shape later on.
Step 7: Attach Outline Template and Route
After rough cutting the outline on the mdf, I drilled holes and attached the outline template to the rough cut mdf temporarily using screws. These holes will also help to align the pieces together when gluing. I then routed the exact shape of the template onto the mdf. I repeated this to all three pieces of mdf.
Step 8: Glue Bending Form Together
With the mdf cut, it was time to glue them together to form the bending form. Using Titebond Original wood glue I glued the pieces together. The screw holes drilled earlier to attach the outline template were used to line the pieces up as well as to clamp the pieces together while the glue dried. I cleaned up all of the glue squeeze out and let it dry overnight.
Step 9: Sand and Tape
With the glue dry, I removed the screws that clamped the pieces together and sanded the form smooth. I also covered the entire form in packaging tape. This will prevent glue from sticking to the form in later steps.
Step 10: Drill Holes in Bending Form
Using a 1 inch forstner bit in my drill press I drilled several holes all along the perimeter of the form. These holes are what the clamps will grab onto when gluing the veneers in a later step.
Step 11: Route Body Core Outline
For the body core I am using a piece of African Mahogany. It measures 1 3/4 in thick x 5.5 in wide x 19 in long.
I lined the center line of the outline template to the center line of the body core and traced the shape. I cut the mahogany to rough shape using my bandsaw. I attached the outline template to the body core using double sided tape and used a router with a pattern bit to cut the shape of the outline perfectly onto the body core. I took several shallow passes with the router, raising the bit up about 1/4 inch at a time. The pattern bit wasn't long enough to route the full depth so I flipped the piece over and finished the shaping with a flush trim bit.
I attached two scrap pieces of MDF to the edges of the mahogany to prevent blowout from the router.
Step 12: Drilling/Routing Cavities Into the Body Core
Using a pair of calipers I measured and marked the depth that the cavities needed to be on the body core, Using the drill press and a forstner bit I cleared out most of the material in the cavities. I finished the cavities with a router and a pattern bit. I also drilled the string through holes as well as the bridge posts.
Step 13: Cut Strips to Rough Width and Length
The outer shell or rim of the body is constructed using maple skateboard veneers.
I lined one edge all of the layers up as straight as possible. I temporarily attached mini spring clamps to hold the layers in place until I could apply blue painters tape. The spring clamps would interfere with the bandsaw fence so they are removed and the layers are held together with only the tape. The tape with allow me to run the layers through the bandsaw without interfering with the fence.
I am aiming for a final thickness of 1 3/4 inches for the completed body, but I cut the layers to 2 inches thick. This gives me some wiggle room in case the layers don't line up perfectly. I cut them to rough length at the miter saw.
Step 14: Glue and Clamp Strips Into Shape
I applied Titebond Original wood glue to the strips and clamped them to the form. I used small pieces of soft pine so that the clamps didn't mar the surface of the maple veneers. I couldn't get clamps onto the very ends of the strips so I used masking tape to compress the layers together and conform to the shape of the form.
I clamped up one section of the form at a time and let the glue dry for a full 24 hours before removing the pieces from the form.
It was amazing to see how far the veneers could be bent without breaking.To my surprise there was virtually no springback once the pieces were removed from the form.
Step 15: Boil Strips for Tough to Bend Areas
For some areas the veneers wouldn't conform to the shape of the form. In order for them to be bent into the proper shape I cut the layers to rough length, bundled them up with rubber bands and soaked them in boiling water for 15 minutes. I used a hydroflask to soak the pieces, but this was probably overkill and a small metal pot would probably work just as well. Once the pieces were removed they could bend a lot more and could match the tight radius of the upper horn no problem.
I left the pieces to dry overnight. I came back the next day and the pieces retained the bend from the form and I clamped them again, this time using glue.
Some of the bends are hard to get clamps to attach to, so I used masking tape as well as twine to get the veneers to match the curves of the form
Step 16: Smooth Bottom Edge and Cut to Final Length
As expect, the veneers didn't quite line up flush with one another.
Once all of the pieces of the rim were bent to shape and glued up I leveled out the bottom edge using my belt sander. I then cut the pieces to their final length.
Step 17: Glue Rim Together and Reinforce With Nails
Using more Titebond Original wood glue, I glued all of the pieces together to form the rim of the guitar. I felt that the butt joints where the rim pieces were glued together would be a weak point down the line so I reinforced the connections by driilling an 1/8 inch hole in all of the spots where the rim pieces met and inserted a nail with it's head cut off and epoxied them in place. This provided a ton of extra strength to the rim.
Step 18: Sand to Final Thickness
With the rim glued up I could trim it to it's final thickness. To do this I marked out the desired thickness all along the rim and sanded to the line using my belt sander. I originally wanted to use my bandsaw, but I was afraid that the rim might collapse in on itself with the pressure on the bandsaw.
Step 19: Glue Rim to Body Core and Reinforce Connection Points
With the rim and the body core at the same thickness I could glue the two together using Titebond Original wood glue. I couldn't attach clamps to the curved surfaces, so I used masking tape to hold everything together until the glue dried
I also reinforced the connections where the rim and the body core met with the nail and epoxy method from before. Once the epoxy was cured I trimmed the excess flush to the surface.
Step 20: Making a Pickguard
With the sides of the guitar being hollow I needed someplace to mount the electronics and to do this I made a pickguard out of some clear acrylic. I covered it in paper transfer tape so that I could write on it and drew out a shape I thought complemented the body and cut it out on my bandsaw. The bandsaw tends to leave a jagged edge on the acrylic so I made sure to stay proud of the line and used my spindle sander to sand right to the line. I also used my drill press to drill holes to mount the pickguard to the body as well as a hole for the volume potentionmeter.
Step 21: Final Assembly
With all of the woodworking done the only thing left to do was to assemble all of the hardware and electronics onto the guitar. I used all of the same hardware and electronics from the donor body, but I did swap out the original pickup for a Seymour Duncan Dimebucker (One of my all time favorite pickups!)
Step 22: Rock Out
The only thing left to do is rock out!
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