Introduction: Dumpster Wood Electric Guitar (Using Basic Hand Tools)
I built this guitar from wood I pulled from a dumpster, as the title suggests, and used mostly hand tools. I did use two power tools, a drill and a dremel.
It took me over a month to make, spending on average about 8-10 hours a day on it.
I am including many pictures in this guide, just in case my descriptions are not comprehensive enough for everybody or if English isn't everyone's best language. I won't describe all my measurements accurately because if you decide to build a guitar it will be different from this one, and most measurements are not crucial. I made this one using what I had, rather than ideal materials and sizes of wood, plastic, etc.
I worked on multiple parts of this guitar at the same time, so I have rearranged the order of the photographs in some instances to make them easier for reference.
This is my very first six-stringed guitar, but it is a baritone. This means it has a longer neck than a regular guitar, and uses regular guitar strings tuned lower than an ordinary guitar. Picture putting a capo on a guitar, but in the opposite direction, and that's a baritone.
I am inexperienced with playing guitars since I've only been playing for a week or so, so the video above is meant to display the sound of the guitar, not my skill (or lack thereof) when it comes to playing one. In the video there is a makeshift capo on the guitar, to make it easier to compare to regular guitars since most people reading this will not know what a baritone is meant to sound like. I made it with an ice cream stick and some rubber bands.
Step 1: Tools and Materials Needed
To make this guitar, I used the following
- Wood Chisel (Mine was homemade, but a proper one is preferable)
- Wood Planes (I used two sizes of wooden hand planes, both made by a friend of mine. The blade widths were 45 mm and 25 mm respectively)
- Sandpaper (I used 60, 100, 220 and 800 Grit Sandpaper on this project)
- Hacksaw (I used two, one with a 320mm long blade and one with a thinner 150mm long blade.)
- Drill, and a variety of drill bits (I used sizes from 1,5mm diameter to 10mm diameter)
- Screw Drivers (or screw driver attatchments for the drill)
- Dremel Tool and appropriate attatchments (I used the mini angle grinder-like attatchment and DIY sandpaper cylinders, as well as some smaller drillbits)
- Craft/Exacto knife with sharp blades
- Carving Knife (I used the standard knife on my Leatherman Multitool)
- Pencil for marking shapes on wood
- Wood Glue (I used white Alcolin Multipurpose Cold Wood Glue)
- Cyanoacrylate Adhesive / Super Glue
- Hot Glue Gun
- Ruler and measuring tape, T square and/or Set Squares (I am lucky enough to own a 75 cm long T square, which I put to good use in this project)
- Clear Varnish
- Paint Brushes
- Masking Tape
- Electrical (Insulation) Tape
- Soldering Iron + Soldering Wire
- Hand File
- Clamps (I only had four large clamps, but you will get much better results if you have more than me.)
- Rubber Bands (to assist the clamps)
- Pine Planks (I recommend using woods more commonly used in guitars, but I used what I had) Mine were 22mm x 70mm and one metre long. I used about one and a half of these.
- Thin wood for the fretboard (I used offcuts of pine again, but recommend Maple or Rosewood) I had 750mm x 45mm x 7mm to work with. I recommend that instead of 45mm wide, you get wood 50-60mm wide.
- 5mm thick Plywood for the body(I don't know what kind of ply I was using because I pulled it from a dumpster, but it wasn't good quality. I had a board 700mm x 500mm to work with, and another strip of plywood about 500mm long and 10mm across, which I cut down the middle)
- Wooden sticks with a square cross section (I used what I had, which were firework sticks I collected from rivers and roads after one New Year's Eve. All between 6x6mm and 12x12mm. On average they were approximately 700mm long.)
- 3mm Thick Perspex/ Plexiglass Plastic (I used white and black, and a total surface area of about 120mm x 200 mm. I was using offcuts so it's hard to say.)
- 2mm thick steel plates (I cut up part of a door locking mechanism 150mm long and 20mm wide.)
- 3mm thick steel (I only needed a piece 8mm x 16 mm)
- Several hundred metres of hair thickness copper wire coated in enamel (I believe I used something like .33 Gauge)
- 2 strong bar magnets (I used two magnets, 50 mm x 8mm x 18 mm each)
- Brass pipe 100mm long, and with a diameter of about 12mm
- Paint of choice (I used black and red craft paints, then painted over them with varnish to prevent wear)
- Ordinary Copper electrical wire
- Screws (I used a variety, I will describe them in more detail in another step)
- .047 Ceramic Capacitor (I used a 401, but it worked)
Pre-made guitar components needed:
- 2x Potentiometers, I believe mine were 500k ones.
- 1x 6,5mm Output Jack
- Electric Guitar Strings (I used Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Nickel Wound Guitar Strings)
- 6 Machine Heads for tuning the guitar (I used 3 left ones and 3 right ones, not 6 in a row)
- 2x Plastic Knobs for tone and Volume
- Fret Wire (I could only get prepackaged pre-cut Fender fret wire with 24 Frets)
NB: You will need an Amplifier and a lead to plug your guitar into it with. I recommend getting or borrowing one before you build the guitar, so that you can test all the electronics properly before closing the guitar up.
Step 2: Design
After sketching some ideas on my cellphone (I had no paper with me at the time) I designed my guitar on google sketchup and made renders in Kerkythea, to try out different shapes and colours before building the actual guitar. Throughout the building process, though, I made many changes to the 3D model to make it better and to adapt it to the materials I had available.
You can design your guitar as you please, otherwise you can look for existing guitar designs on the internet.
There are many things to consider when designing a guitar of your own, most importantly are the scale length (you want your guitar to be able to have standard strings) the build cost, (i.e. "Will it have a truss-rod?", "will I buy high performance existing pickups or make my own?", etc.) the tools you have available to use (Having a router, table saw and band saw will make this kind of project many times easier and faster and you can have more creative freedom for complex shapes than a hacksaw allows) complexity (if this is your first guitar, keep it simple or there's a good chance you'll find yourself abandoning the project. Show yourself you can build a 'normal' guitar before you try anything too radical.) materials available to you (I used almost exclusively scrap materials, which did make this build more challenging and less visually appealing in the end) and playability, for example it should be possible to connect a guitar strap to it or rest it on your lap while playing it.
Step 3: The Body Structure
In this step I'll explain the basics of how I made my guitar's body, but there will be more on this in a later step, since the body can only be completed once some other key components of the guitar are ready.
In the first picture, I placed two pieces of wood in hot water for a few hours(I regularly changed the water so that it stayed hot) to make them more flexible. The thinner strip of wood was not used on my project, because I tested it against the darker plywood next to it and that turned out to be more flexible.
While the wood was soaking, I got to work on the front face of the body. I do not own a jigsaw, bowsaw, coping saw or scrollsaw, so I had to use a combination of a drill and a hacksaw to cut out my desired shape. To plot the shape onto the wood, I simply drew lots of lines on it (picture two) in the computer model and using those measurements, re-drew the body onto the plywood sheet. It's a time-consuming way to cut it out, but I didn't have an alternative available.
Then, to round off the very rough untidy edges, I stuck a cork onto a drill bit and glued a rectangular piece of 100 grit sandpaper around it with cyanoacrylate glue, and used this like a belt sander with pretty good results.
Then, once this was done, I wanted to try bending the now flexible wood around it. But first, I had to cut the soaked wood strip down the middle to get the correct thickness. using only a hacksaw and sandpaper made this challenging, but I surprised myself with the results. After a little bit of sanding, both halves were pretty straight on the edges.
When I tried to bend the wood to fit the body shape, it just wasn't flexible enough, so I hatched another plan to get around that. I made hundreds of little parallel cuts with a hacksaw (perpendicular to the long edges) and only on the side of the wood that would be inside the body, not visible on the finished product. I made more cuts in the areas that needed tighter bends, so that the bend would look less angular.
I then placed the two wood strips on top of the body and bent them the way I wanted them to be, and clamped them there to dry in that shape. But, knowing that the wood would try "spring" out when I took the clamps off, I bent the curves a bit more sharply than they are on the body. I left this overnight to dry.
After the wood had dried, I took the clamps off, and then put glue into all the little hacksaw cuts I had made, then clamped the wood back to the body as before. The wood glue made the wood strips much stronger, and also helped to make sure it would keep its shape. The sides of the guitar's body were roughly complete.
At this point I had other things to do, so I left my project for a few weeks. The rest of the pictures are from when I returned to work on my guitar. I cut out the back face of the body in the same way that I cut out the front face.
I then marked where the F-holes (or sound holes) in the front face would be, using the same method I used to transfer the computer design onto the wood. Once I was happy with their placement, I used a drill and multiple sizes of drill bits to make the holes, as well as a sharp craft knife to carve the inner edges neatly. A 3-sided hand file also came in handy here.
Step 4: The Neck (part One)
The neck is the most vital part of the guitar's structure, it should ideally be made from the strongest wood you have available to you, and preferably wood free of imperfections and knots.
I used the straightest pine plank I had, also from a dumpster, and it did have one small knot in it but it was small enough to not affect the strength of the wood noticeably.
I started off with a plank one metre long, and cut it down to a length of 750 mm. 640 mm of that made up the head and neck, and the rest mounted inside the hollow body.
I measured the plank and drew a centre line along it, and at either end of the final neck portion measured and marked the correct widths in pencil. I left the last 160 mm of the neck as it was, because it was to become the head later on.
I connected the points I had marked to be widths of the neck at both ends, using a pencil and a long set square, and used these pencil lines as a guide so that I knew where not to cut.
I made cuts into the wood from the sides, using a hacksaw, to the desired depth. I then used a chisel I made from a piece of a desk back in high school, to break off these segments of wood by splitting them off. The pictures explain this better than I can.
Once the length of the neck was done, I used a carving knife on my Leatherman Multitool and a wood plane to neaten up the edges where I had chiseled the wood away, and also started making a rough cross section on the neck. It's important that nothing happens on the head section of the guitar at this point. It must remain absolutely flat.
At this point I decided to try out possible fretboards I could make, with the wood I had with me. That is shown in the last picture.
Step 5: The Head
The way the head of a guitar looks has a big effect on the rest of it. It's also important that the wood is the right thickness and is properly flat, or the machine heads will not fit properly and it will not look nearly as good.
The head of the guitar draws attention to itself, so mistakes here are to be avoided more strictly than in most other areas.
Starting off with the plank I shaped into the neck, I cut off a part of another plank of the same width and height. The length of this block was 160 mm. I then glued it to the back of the existing "head" portion of the neck, clamped it, and left the glue to dry for a day and a half. If there is any gap between the two pieces of wood being glued together, there is a good chance that upon tuning the guitar the head will split and break.
Once this glue was properly dry, I drew on it with a pencil as shown in the third picture. The perpendicular distance between the pencil lines must be between 15 and 18 mm, because this is the thickness that most machine heads are made to fit through. The angle between the front flat surface of the neck and the "bent" head is somewhere between 9 and 12 degrees on my guitar (I didn't have a protractor to measure).
Next, using a set square, I drew lines around the head as shown in picture number four. These lines will act as planes of intersection, so that we can use a hacksaw to neatly cut to an even and flat surface.
Next, I cut along these lines and stopped when the hacksaw was about 1 mm from touching my pencil lines that mark the top and bottom of the head. Pictures 5 and 6 show this much better than I can explain it.
Then, I used my homemade chisel again like a crow bar, to remove chunks of wood outside of the pencil lines. It is VERY important to split the wood "down" the "slope" of the head, because if we were to split it from the bottom up, it would create a split in the wood we need to conserve. This is tough to explain in words, but picture 7 describes what I mean.
Once the majority of the excess wood is removed, it should end up looking like stairs. Now, using two hand planes (I used the smaller one almost exclusively) I worked again "down" the slope, and got rid of the steps in the wood. It took a few hours of planing, and I did also use my carving knife for some stubborn wood chunks that were tough to plane through, but after planing it was smooth enough that the head only required minimal sanding.
At this point it looked kind of like a paddle, so I needed to give it its final shape. I measured my 3D computer model and re-drew the shape I had designed onto the wood surface. I then used the hacksaw and my carving knife again to carve chunks from the sides. I ended up using the knife more than the little wood plane because the sides were too small to access with it. Then, I used the drill with the sandpaper cork on it to make the rounded edges neater and sanded the head with 220 grit sandpaper.
I also marked where the six holes would need to be drilled to be able to fit the machine heads, but I'll explain that part a bit later on.
Step 6: Internal Bracing
To mount the bridge of the guitar directly to the hollow body would not be a good idea because it would rip straight out or break the body. So, we have to strengthen the body from the inside so that the bridge may be screwed in securely. I did this by extending the neck within the body, but below the actual neck-plank. This was to allow space for the electric pickup inside the body.
I cut a piece of wood 330 mm long to use as the main part of this bracing, with the same width and thickness as the neck plank. The end 50 mm of this wooden block was cut to the same thickness as the base of the neck using a hacksaw, and cut to be roughly rounded. I then used a hacksaw and a carving knife to give this shape the rough compound curves shown in pictures 3 and 4. After this, I used the drill and the sandpaper cork again to do most of the neatening up of these curves, and I think it came out pretty well.
Only the end 50mm is visible in the final guitar. The rest needed to be made about 3 mm thinner so it could neatly fit into the existing body. I used much the same technique as I used on the head, with a hacksaw followed by chiseling, then wood planing. This part was very time consuming, but this surface had to be completely flat or it would have been impossible to glue the bottom part of the body to it, which is what needs to happen.
Once I was happy with this piece, I test fitted it to the rest of the parts I had roughly made, and it seemed to fit well so I moved onto the next step in making the bracing structure, attatching this wood block to the neck. I then placed it in exactly the right place, clamped it there, and drilled four holes through the two planks (not all the way through, though) as shown. I screwed in four screws and they held it very strongly. I then used my carving knife and sandpaper to blend the two pieces of wood together nicely so that there was no noticeable seam. Then, I unscrewed the screws and covered the shown area with wood glue, before screwing them back in to hold the pieces of wood together tightly and permanently.
Next, I cut another piece of the same kind of wood to the dimensions of about 130mm x 17mm x 35 mm. I then glued and screwed this piece of wood to the bracing as shown in the last two pictures.
Step 7: Making the Electric Pickup
Making the electric pickup is fairly simple in concept, but it took me a whole day to make this one. I don't want to make this step too complicated, so I decided to simplify it and have it all on this one page. There are also other instructables that show you how to make a pickup, I have found them useful before.
I started off with two magnets. They had to have the same pole alignment, but could not be placed together facing the same way because they would repel each other, so to fix this I cut a piece of steel 3mm thick to fit neatly between the two magnets. This allowed them to be placed together as shown in picture 2, essentially forming one magnet.
I cut the steel door piece (picture 3) in half, and placed the halves together as shown in picture 5.
I then cut the two plastic parts of the pickup frame, the internal one being white and the visible one black. The slots in the centre of the plastic parts are for the steel plates to be wedged and glued into, so they should fit tightly. I used a soldering iron and a hacksaw to cut out the plastic parts. The internal plastic part (the white one) has an extended side so that holes can be made through which we will solder wires later on. The holes must be at least 7 mm from where the outside of the copper coil will be. Make these holes now. Glue the parts together, so that they form a cross section like this: "l--l" The steel plates should be flush with the plastic at both ends.
Next up, comes the winding. I made a basic rig using a cork and toothpicks to temporarily glue the pickup frame to a drill, to make the winding process go by much faster.
Next, I wound up the coil off a large spool of copper wire I had, using the drill. It took a long time because I did it slowly. The copper must not be pulled too tightly or it will snap, and you'll have to make a new pickup. The direction of the winding doesn't matter with a single pickup like this. Before winding, tape about 100 mm of the wire off to the side of the pickup where it is out of the way and can be soldered later on.
I didn't count the winds, I just wound the pickup until it had as many winds as I could fit. I then used a scalpel to scratch off the end 30mm of both ends of the pickup coil wire, to get rid of the enamel coating. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
Wrap these non-insulated edges through the holes as shown. Next, get some ordinary copper electrical wire and cut two lengths, each one about 450mm long. Remove the protective rubber insulation off the end 10mm or so at both ends of both wires. Scratch the exposed copper wire to make it more conductive.
Thread one end of each wire into either hole as shown, and solder it in place in the holes.
Now comes the weird part, the complete pickup must be inserted into a container and be flooded with hot wax, and the air must be sucked out of this container so that the wax is pulled into the gaps between the copper coils in the pickup. This is necessary to prevent something called "microphonics" which is basically unwanted feedback being picked up by a pickup. It also helps to insulate the entire pickup.
I used a mayonnaise jar with a hole in the lid, and a rubber pipe glued into this hole so that the edges were airtight. I broke up two basic paraffin candles and put the wax chunks into the jar. I then put the jar in a pot of water and boiled it until all the wax in the jar had liquefied. I placed the pickup inside the jar, making sure the wires didn't get into the wax. I screwed the lid on and sucked the air out the best I could with my mouth (since I don't have a compressor), and some bubbles came out of the coil, which is a good sign because that meant wax was being sucked in where that air was.
After I did this for about 5-10 minutes to make sure I got as much wax in and air out as possible, I then took the pickup out of the wax. I very quickly wiped the wax off the top black plastic with a tissue so that I wouldn't need to scrape it off later. I did the same to the bottom of the pickup, so that there wouldn't be wax between the magnets and the white plastic/steel. I left the pickup to cool down for a few minutes and allowed the wax to solidify within the coil.
After this, I used black insulation tape around the visible copper coil to protect the copper from being accidentally scratched and short-circuiting. Refer to the last two photographs in this step if you're confused at all.
Then, stick the two magnets to the bottom of the pickup. They should stick there well enough by themselves to the steel, but once they are in place I recommend using a hot glue gun to just keep them from wiggling out of place or detaching if the guitar is dropped.
Step 8: Neck and Head (continued)
Now that the neck is attatched to the structural reinforcement of the body and the shaping of the head is done, the neck must be properly shaped. You can look up guitar neck cross-sections online, there are many variations to suit different playing styles. My neck had to be pretty thick, though, compared to most electric guitars. This is because mine lacks a truss rod, which is an adjustable metal rod that runs through the whole neck to prevent it from bending when the strings are tightened.
I used a carving knife, then wood planes, then sandpaper of 100 and 220 grit roughness to shape the neck smoothly and blend it into the bottom of the head.
Next, I drilled the six holes required in the head for the machine heads to be placed in. I don't have a drill press, so I couldn't do this part accurately in one go. I used a 5mm diameter drill bit and drilled perpendicular to the front face of the head in the six marked spots. I then used an 8mm and a 9mm drill bit to make the holes the correct diameter, but made appropriate adjustments from my initial drilling angles which were slightly off.
I test-fitted the machine heads, and made small adjustments with a hand file until all six could fit snug in the holes. I then removed them again.
I used 800 grit sandpaper to smooth the surface, get rid of any scratches, and prepare it for painting. I did the same to the whole neck and the back and sides of the head, because they were soon to be varnished.
Then, I designed the colour scheme and name that I would paint on the head, and used paper to test it out roughly and have an idea of how it would look. I then re-drew my design onto the wood itself. Once that was done, I painted in the different areas as neatly as I could, and used a scalpel to remove paint where I accidentally painted outside of my pencil borders. This took a very long time.
Once the paint was properly dry, I sanded it with 800 grit sandpaper to make it of an even thickness all over.
Next, I varnished the entire neck and head. I placed some bits of toilet paper in the holes in the head so that varnish wouldn't run from one side to the other and cause drip marks or inconsistent thicknesses in the varnish.
The varnish I used took over 24 hours to dry each time, which slowed my project down drastically.
On my third coat of varnish on the head, I used some thinners with the varnish to make a thinner top coat, so that the surface would be flatter. This seeped down through the other layers and reacted badly with the craft paint and dry varnish I used, so I had to rub off all the varnish and do it again. This time, I did about 12 coats of varnish over more than a week, and after each one I would use 800 grit sandpaper for 40 minutes or so to smooth the surface for the next coat.
Step 9: Body Construction and Wiring
First, I drilled a hole in the centre of the side of the body furthest from the neck. This hole was made for the mounting of the output jack. Do not permanently mount it yet, though. Because my guitar had thin sides, I reinforced this part with another piece of offcut wood and drilled a hole through that, too, you can see this in the 5th picture. This just makes it harder to accidentally rip out the jack and wiring when you try to unplug your guitar.
To do the wiring, I followed the last diagram found on this page: http://www.seymourduncan.com/blog/the-tone-garage...
I have copied this image and put it in with my photographs in this step, just in case the Seymour Duncan website goes down temporarily or anything like that.
I drilled the two small holes in the front face of the body for my potentiometers to stick through, and I loosely placed them in these holes to make soldering them easier. Solder everything in the diagram besides the output jack. Referring to the URL I have linked will help, it explains what is going on in the diagram.
I de-soldered a 401 ceramic capacitor from a motor as seen in the second picture. I then used this in place of the .047 one in the wiring diagram, as it was the closest capacitor I could find at home. I got the motor out of a broken remote-controlled toy car.
Temporarily attatch the output jack to the circuit for testing, I just used insulation tape. There is no need to solder, that only gives you more work to do.
Once all this was done, I tested it. I have embedded a video in this step showing my test, in this test I used a tiny portable pocket amplifier and ran it through my computer speakers, because I didn't have a proper amp at the time. I placed two wooden blocks on an existing acoustic steel-stringed guitar, and put the pickup on top of them, above the strings. When I turned the pocket amp on and plucked the strings, I could hear the guitar very well through the speakers, so it worked. This is also a good time to test your volume and tone knobs.
Once this was done, I cut out a hole in the front face of the body so that the pickup could be fitted from inside with the top black plastic part sticking through neatly. I did this by drilling lots of holes, using a hacksaw blade removed from the hacksaw, and the sandpaper cork on the drill. A hand file and carving knife also came in handy.
After that was done, I glued the sides of the body onto the back of the front face. I did this in 3 parts because I don't have that many clamps. After this was done, I made the remainder of the guitar side areas with little blocks of wood. These blocks were an 8mm x 8mm firework stick that I cut into about 18 equally long pieces, then planed to fit tightly together. After that, I glued them all on as shown. I only did this because I didn't have enough plywood to go all the way around the body. I trimmed this wood until it looked neat, and so that the neck could fit tightly between the sides.
Step 10: The Fret Board (part One)
This step will only cover the construction of the fret board itself, and the inlays. I'll explain putting the frets in in a later one.
Before starting my fret board, I bought some Fender standard fret wire, 24 pre-cut frets cost me the equivalent of about US$10 or so. I would have preferred a cheaper roll of wire, but had nowhere near me to buy it in that form.
I started with a thin pine offcut about 60mm long, 7mm thick and 45 mm wide. I recommend using wood wider than this, though, as it eliminates the need for binding or in my case, wooden "wings" to make it wider.
I used wood planes on the sides of my fret board to taper it slightly towards one end, so that my 'wings' would go all the way to the end, then 220 grit to 800 grit sandpaper for a few hours, to give the top surface of the wood a radius. If you're luckier than me and do not have to make additions to your initial piece of wood, you will still need to taper it to fit flush with the neck. If you're not sure what the radius should look like, look for guitar fret board radius cross-sections online. They vary from instrument to instrument, so choose a radius that you think will suit your style of playing. There should be no bumps or dips in the surface when you look along the top and hold it as shown in pictures 3,4 and 5. The wood is shiny in these pictures purely from the fine sandpaper, there is no oil or varnish on it.
I then cut it to the correct length, in my guitar's case that was 508mm.
Next up, I used two pieces of wood, about 8x8mm square in cross section and 700mm long. I cut them to the same length as the main part of the fret board and used wood planes and sandpaper to taper them at one end, so that they would fit approximately flush with the edges of the neck. I then glued and clamped these wood strips to the sides of the main part of the fret board, using four clamps and a couple rubber bands. Once this glue was dry (about 8 hours later) I added another part, cut from the same pieces of wood, shown in the picture directly after the one showing the clamping, at the wider part of the fret board. The ends of this piece were then sanded down to be flush with the outside wood strips. I didn't worry about clamping it, but I did leave it for a few hours to dry properly before proceeding.
I sanded and planed the strips to all be flush on the surface and underside with the wood, and ensured that the radius remained uniform on both the main piece of wood and the outside strips.
Then, I added some paint. I masked off the main piece of wood, and painted the three parts I had added. I took the masking tape off while the paint was wet, otherwise it would have likely been messed up when I peeled the tape off. I painted over the paint with another layer, just to cover up any patches where it was too thin.
Once the paint was dry, I made cuts in the wood in which to insert my fret marker "inlays". I didn't have any materials suitable for making convincing inlays of a colour I liked, so I cut shapes out of the fret board about 1-2mm deep and filled them with red paint. Before I could do this, I had to know where the markers needed to be. I calculated where my frets would be using this online fret calculator: https://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator
My scale length was not absolutely certain at this point, but as long as you are within 3mm above or below the final position, your markers won't look very out of place. The frets need to be absolutely precise later on, but the markers don't have to be perfect for the guitar to function. I marked only very lightly in pencil where the frets would be and used a plastic stencil I made to assist in making all the markers the same. I centered the stencil for each fret that needed a marker and made a cut for the outline of the shape, then I removed the stencil, cut the outlines a bit deeper, then chiseled the diamond shapes out using the same craft knife.
Look up standard fret marker locations if you're not sure where the markers should be.
I then filled these shapes with paint, but to ensure that the paint dried faster and evenly through each marker, I painted in layers and only once each layer was dry, I would paint the next one over it. Try to keep your painting neat, but you can remove excess paint a little later.
Once all the cutouts have been filled with paint and are flush with the wood surface, Use fine sandpaper to remove the excess that is on top of the wood where it shouldn't be. The last few pictures show how I did this and how it worked out pretty well for me.
When I was happy with the surface of my fret board, I varnished it. I didn't use a paintbrush, I only wanted a very thin layer of varnish that would protect the wood by seeping into it very slightly, and not being thick enough to make it permanently glossy as this would interfere with playing and look awful after some time playing the guitar. I used 2 ply toilet paper (because it holds together well and doesn't leave dust) to apply some varnish to the fret board, then wiped it "off" again. It's impossible to really wipe varnish off, so all this does is removes most of the surface varnish and lets only a small amount stay behind, which will be flatter and more practical for this application. This must be done quickly though, to avoid any ugly smears or bubbles in the texture. Leave the fret board somewhere where it's unlikely to get dust, pollen or hair on it while it dries.
After a day or more, when the varnish is dry, inspect the fret board for any areas that may have defects, and try to fix those at this point. For example if there is a hair stuck in the surface, remove it and if a noticeable outline remains, use some varnish on your finger to lightly patch the area up and smooth it off, and wait again for that to dry. Patience is important with varnish, as I've learned the hard way more than once.
Once the fret board was complete, I marked on the body where I would need to cut out a place for the wide end of the fret board to fit. There is no picture of me making this cut, but you can see the difference in the next step's pictures.
Step 11: Small Parts and Pre-assembly Preparation
A very important part of the guitar is the bridge. It acts like a sort of saddle for the strings, so that they sit neatly in the right place and do not vibrate past a certain point. This is not to be confused with the actual saddle of the guitar, which holds the ends of the strings to the body.
In my guitar, because it has a longer scale length (being a baritone) I made the bridge and the saddle very close together, so they appear to be one piece. They could very well be merged, but I wanted to have a little more room to place the bridge more accurately, even if the saddle was slightly skew or off centre.
Starting off with the brass tube mentioned in the 'Tools and Materials' section, I used a hammer and an anvil to flatten the ends until they made a V shape, as the pictures hopefully show clearly. After doing this to one end, I then measured and cut the tube to to correct length of 90 mm, and flattened the other. I did this very early on in my guitar's build, but for the sake of keeping this instructable flowing from component to component, I'm only talking about the bridge in this step. Hopefully that clears up any confusion about the pictures in this step being a bit widespread chronologically.
Once the pipe had the correct shape, I used a dremel tool and a 1,5 mm diameter drill bit to drill six evenly spaced corresponding holes into both sides of the pipe as shown in pictures 3,4 and 5. The two thickest strings required larger holes, and I modified it as shown in picture 5.
The bridge itself is just a piece of plastic 3mm thick, which I cut to the dimensions of 65 mm by 16 mm. I gave the top a slight radius, but the strings should all be in a relatively straight line when in their final positions. After using a pencil to mark the centre, I measured to the 6 points where the strings should go. The strings were all placed 9 mm apart at the bridge. I used a hand file to make a small but visible mark where each of the strings was to be placed.
I then drilled six holes just below the middle of this piece, directly below each string mark. Pictures 3 and 4 show this. After that was done, I sanded the whole piece, then painted the white plastic black, because I preferred the look.
Next up, I made two little parts to go between the brass pipe ends and the body so that it looked better and would not be able to wiggle. I used wood 3 mm thick, cut it to two 16x16 squares, and used the drill at an angle with a sandpaper cylinder, to shape it to fit the tapered ends of the pipe. I then painted these blocks black to make them stand out less.
To finish up the saddle, I drilled holes as precisely as possible where shown in the 8th and 9th pictures. The bolts I used for these holes were random ones I had, but I think they had a diameter of 4 mm and were about 40 mm long. I drilled corresponding holes in the two black blocks and made sure everything looked neat enough when together.
I then measured as precisely as I could and drilled holes into the body where the saddle had to go. I then screwed it in roughly and tested with fishing line instead of guitar strings, to see how well centred it was. Once that was done, I took it off again.
Now I'll explain something that is already in the pictures but I haven't mentioned yet. Give the body a first coat of your paint of choice. It doesn't have to be perfect, since you will paint it again, but it is important to paint where the bridge is and where the pickup will go, as you won't be able to do final touch ups there neatly. If the body has any scratches on it, use sandpaper on it before painting. The back part of the body doesn't need to be painted yet. Remember, the purpose of this first painting is just to get into the areas you won't be able to reach once the pickup and bridge are installed. The body still needs to be clamped, and this will mess up the paint a bit in the clamped areas.
One more thing I'll cover in this step is the nut. The nut is the second "bridge" located at the end of the neck, and separates the neck from the head. I cut mine from 3mm thick plastic, and cut it to 18 mm x 47 mm. I had already cut a 5mm deep gap in the neck for it to be inserted into, so that is why it is 18 mm tall. Also, I had already cut the gap in the neck to 5mm thick instead of 3mm thick, so I had to glue two 1mm thick pieces of plastic (the kind used in ice cream tubs) to the nut to get it to the correct thickness so it would fit tightly.
Once it was cut and sanded to look neat, I painted it red.
Step 12: Further Preparation and Continued Fret Board
I gave the body a second, neater coat of paint after sanding the imperfections out of the first layer.
I then test-fitted everything roughly together. The neck, the body, and the fret board to make sure everything could fit neatly and without any nasty gaps. After some trimming here and there until I was happy with it, I moved onto the fret board again.
I used stewmac's fret calculator again, to calculate the fret placement for my now final scale length. Here's the link again: https://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator
Once I placed my bridge (temporarily) in its final place and measured the distance between it and the nut, I entered that distance into the fret calculator and entered the number of frets I planned on using on my fret board. Then, from the table of values it generated, I marked each distance on my fret board.
Because the fret board is tapered, these distances should be marked along a centre line, then using some kind of square, lines should be drawn at right angles to the centre line at the point where each fret will be placed.
Because the fret board had already been varnished, I couldn't make a physical centre line on the fret board. So, I used tape at the ends and as long as my long T-square was kept still using the tape, I could measure all the values easily. To mark each point, I very lightly used a fineliner pen because pencil doesn't work well on varnish.
Once your fret positions have all been neatly marked and there are no mistakes, you can proceed onto the next (scary) step, which is cutting grooves for your frets to be placed into.
Take your time here. This step took me about an hour, if I was to make a rough guess. I first cut the slits into the marked places, using a thin serrated knife on my Leatherman multitool.
These cuts were not deep or wide enough, so I resorted to using the thinnest hacksaw blade I had. It was a bit too thick for this job, but I had nothing better. Each cut was about 2,5 mm deep, and this depth followed the curved surface. I had to do this many, many times, making each cut a fraction of a millimetre deeper each time. It is VERY IMPORTANT that the cuts are straight down into the wood and that you don't hold the saw skew at all. My blade became loosened on a couple of these cuts and cut at a slight angle, which I had to correct. Later on I had to fill the corrected ones with a little more glue than the better cut ones.
Once everything is satisfactory and even, it's time to place some frets into the fret board. I did so by placing the frets over their places and lightly using the bottom of a wooden hammer to tap them into place and straighten them slightly from their original curvature, so that they would fit snug against the fret board.
After an hour or two of making sure every fret was level and that none were too high or low, I proceeded to the next step. To check how level they were, I placed a ruler on top of the fret board on its side and looked for any gaps between the ruler and any frets.If it wasn't flat, I either tapped a fret in a bit more, or tapped the ones surrounding it in a bit more. Eventually everything looked good enough to me to continue.
I took each fret out, one by one, and glued each back down into the same place again. I then did some more corrective tapping/light hammering to make them fit properly and neatly again. This also took time, but was much faster than it would have been if I didn't do it the first time round.
Once done with that. I used a dremel tool with a miniature circular angle grinder type blade and cut off the ends of the frets sticking off the fret board. I tried to cut as close to the fret board as possible without touching the wood and messing up the paint. This can also be done with strong wire clipper pliers, but I didn't have any to use.
After this, I used another sandpaper cylinder (I used one on my dremel and one on my drill, each with different roughness levels of sandpaper) to bevel and round the end edges of the frets to make sure they wouldn't get in the player's way or get snagged on something and pulled out. I masked off the fret board with masking tape beforehand, to protect the paint and varnish from getting any metal filings on it, since they are hard to wipe off without just getting them squished into the paint. This took a pretty long time because of how many frets there were to trim, but it looked far better. You could also use a hand file for this step, but that would take even longer.
Next, I made some fret markers on the top side of the fret board, but I didn't have any nice materials for inlays so again I used paint. I drilled holes about 1-2 mm deep into the side of the fretboard at the correct spots, and then filled them in with enamel paint. After this paint dried, I cut the excess off with a scalpel to leave the markers behind. This turned out looking a bit worse than I had anticipated because of the old paint I used, but it serves its purpose.
Step 13: Assembly
This step goes pretty fast if your preparation was good.
I started off by using a hot glue gun to glue the pickup and wiring into place on the inside part of the top face. I then tested the electronics again after soldering the correct wires to the output jack. It worked fine, but I neglected to test the tone and volume knobs, and now that my guitar is glued closed and I can't access them, my volume knob doesn't work. Learn from my mistake. Mine works on full volume and can be turned off using the knob, but everywhere between fully open and fully closed results in a loud buzzing.
I glued on the fret board and glued it in place, I again used white wood glue. I had to make sure I used a lot of foam rubber both on the top of the fret board and the back of the neck, so as not to scratch the neck or deform the frets with the application of clamps.
I left this for about 12 hours before proceeding. When placing the fret board on the neck for gluing, I temporarily put the nut in place so that the fret board would be accurately placed. I only glued it in later though, as it needed to be attatched firmly and I had used all my clamps on the neck already.
I then glued the base of the neck to the top of the body, and screwed the bridge saddle in to assist in clamping the two pieces of wood together.
I then glued the bottom on very quickly, and using my four clamps and some strategically placed pieces of wood, I clamped the top and bottom of the body together and simultaneously glued the neck to both of them on the inside. I used lots of foam rubber sheet here too, to avoid messing up the paint too much or denting the surface. I left this for a day to dry. It is very important that you plan where your clamps will go beforehand, or your glue may not dry when it should. It's also important that you make sure no wires get in the way before you clamp.
After the glue was dry, I used a sandpaper cylinder on the drill to trim the edges of the back face of the body, so that it was flush with the sides.
When this was done, I glued the nut in place and used elastic bands and a clamp to keep it in place until the glue had set. I also inserted all the machine heads at this point. The ones I had, had one screw per head so I used a dremel tool with a 1,5mm drill bit to make the six necessary holes for screwing those into.
I also screwed a screw-bolt about 45 mm long into the base of the neck at the back, with a washer on it, so that I'd be able to attatch a strap there.
Step 14: Finishing Off, Trimming and Stringing
I painted the back face of the body after some sanding to get rid of scratches in the wood. After two coats of paint, and another layer of paint on the front and sides of the guitar to patch up areas that looked different from the clamping, I varnished the whole body. I masked off the bridge, potentiometers and pickup so that they didn't get varnish on them.
After a day, the varnish was dry and I was keen to hear what the guitar would sound like.
I first strung it up roughly using fishing gut, because I wanted to do a final alignment check and make sure I had the grooves in the nut and bridge, in the correct places.
I used a small 3-sided hand file and a thin hacksaw blade to make corrections to the grooves in the nut and the bridge, until the fishing line strings looked evenly spaced and centered on the fret board. I also cut the grooves down to the correct depth, to make for a better "action". The 'action' is the space between the strings and the fret board. Ideally this distance should be about 1 mm above the first fret (closest to the head) and about 2,5 mm above the 12th fret, as this is where the strings wiggle most and are most likely to strike a fret when played.
One more thing I did was cut the grooves in the bridge with the saw blade at different angles, so that the strings could have a better intonation. Basically the top three and bottom three strings follow the same pattern of looking like this at the bridge end:
- \====== To head ->
(If that makes any sense) Otherwise just look up pictures of adjustable guitar bridges online to see the way properly set up bridges generally look on electric guitars.
Once the action and string spacing seemed good (and the grooves for the thicker strings were widened) I strung it up with the real strings. There are plenty of online guides on how to string a guitar, so I won't get into details about that, but for this particular guitar the strings go in the "front" of the saddle and are fed all the way through until the bead eye at the end touches the saddle. Then, the string is brought over the top of the bridge as shown and fed into the correct grooves in the bridge and nut, and then to the appropriate machine head.
Stick the control knobs onto the potentiometers. They should be able to stay on tightly without any glue.
Once each string is in the right place, it's time to tune the guitar. Tune the strings one by one. They will stretch, so you'll have to tune it again a couple more times. Once all of this is complete, your guitar is done! Plug it in and test it out.
Mine has a hollow body, so it doesn't need amplification to be a good "anywhere" practice instrument, but it is primarily an electric guitar and is much better when plugged in.
To see the finished product, there are pictures and a video in the introductory step. Have fun! :D
First Prize in the