Introduction: Converting a Cheap Acoustic Guitar to a Cheap Resonator Guitar

So I bought a cheap acoustic guitar ($15) from Goodwill and thought it would be interesting project to turn it into a cheap resonator guitar.  After checking online and seeing what others had done, I did pretty much the same with a few adjustments to the process.  The process was a bit sloppy, but in the end it came out alright!

The first picture is the finished resonator, the second is what I started with (I forgot to take a picture of the ACTUAL guitar I used before cutting it up!).  The soundhole covers are drainhole covers, the coverplate is made out of an old metal dish tray, and the bridge covers are two drawer handles.  I wimped out on fashioning my own resonator cone/biscuit bridge and tailpiece, and just bought them cheaply online.  I also bought a cheap piezo pickup so that the resonator could be amplified.

This is by no means an all inclusive guide to the process I took, more of a rough idea.  I kinda just ran with the concept and paid scant attention to precise details...

Step 1: Cutting a Hole in Soundboard, Making the Soundwell

The first step was to cut a hole in the soundboard so that the soundwell could be inserted.  The soundwell is a wooden bowl, about 3/4" thick, that I bought from Target.  I wasn't particularly exacting in this process, but I cut the bowl so that it would fit snugly in the newly made hole.  Rather than removing the back of the guitar in order to fit the soundwell, I cut it in half so I could jimmy it in there.

I cut a few arches in the bottom of the "soundwell" so that some noise could escape into the rest of the guitar body.  After fitting it in, I applied a heavy dose of wood glue to hold it in place

Step 2: Wood Puttying and Sanding Smooth

After the glue for the soundwell had sufficiently dried, I sanded off the tacky blue paint so that the guitar would be smooth and ready for a new stain down the line.  I also applied a heavy dose of wood putty to cover the seams between the two pieces of the soundwell, and the gaps between the soundwell and the guitar body.  For the sanding I used various grits of sandpaper and a trusty wood rasp.

Additionally, at this point I cut a new design in the headstock since I didn't like the original shape.

Step 3: A New Cover for the Old Soundhole, Test Placement of Pieces

I cut a new piece to cover the old soundhole.  The shape of the piece was only a temporary design, and as the project progressed I adjusted it to account for the placement of the cover plate.  The wood I used ended up being too thick, so I had to sand it down later.

In order to make sure this wasn't a complete waste of time, I put the resonator cone in and strung it up for a test play.  It sounded good, but it was necessary to adjust the string height.

Step 4: Cutting New Soundholes and Coverplate

I used a dremel to cut the new soundholes on either side of the base of the neck, having already determined the hole size with the test placement of the drainhole covers.

I used an old metal dish tray (another Goodwill purchase for $2) to cut the new coverplate.  In order to get the correct size, I used a piece of cardboard to cut a circle until it covered the hole in the soundboard appropriately, and then traced the circle onto the dish tray.  To cut the dish tray, I used cutoff wheels on the dremel tool, and then sanded smooth the cut so that there were no burrs.

I also cut a rectangular hole in the coverplate to account for the bridge.  Using a drill, I cut several holes of different sizes in the coverplate.

Step 5: Installing Pickup and Staining

The piezo pickup I bought cost around $15, and it was pretty easy to install.  In hindsight, I should have accounted for the pickup before gluing in the took some maneuvering but I was able to get the pickup input under the soundwell and into the hole I drilled in the side using a piece of dental floss attached the input.

For the stain, I wanted to get a dirty look, so I used a few coats of different color stains.  After finishing the staining and applying a coat of polyurethane, I superglued the pickup to the underside of the resonator cone.  It ended up dampening the tone quite a bit, but it was nice to be able to plug it into an amp.

Step 6: Applying Soundhole Covers and Coverplate

In order to secure the drainhole covers over the new soundholes, I glued two wooden blocks to the back of the guitar so that the drainhole covers cover be attached by a woodscrew to the blocks.  I spray painted the inside black.

I attached the bridge covers (two drawer handles) after drilling holes to screw them onto the coverplate.  I screwed the coverplate to the guitar body after drilling small holes around the circumference, and then I glued on the piece I made earlier to cover what was left of the old soundhole.

Step 7: Finished!

After everything dried, I reattached the tuning pegs and the tailpiece, and strung the guitar up.  All in all in turned out quite nicely, though next time I would probably forgo the attachment of the pickup since it did affect the tone more than I would've liked.  Also, I would pay more attention to details...the intonation for a few strings is off but unfortunately beyond repair at this point!

For a more abbreviated rundown of this process, check out a youtube video I made: