Introduction: Make a Scale Electric Guitar
I recently came across a Youtube video where someone made three little guitars out of popsicle sticks. I sometimes make tiny things and I really liked the video and how it was made. I feel like she did a really good job and made it seem super easy (it actually was) and I felt like I wanted to try it. I used a lot of tips in the video to make my own tiny guitar and it came out way better than I had expected.
I had made a few videos and instructables in the past and kind of wanted to build an overhead camera rig to document some of the stuff I've been making so I've done just that. Lets make something cool.
You can make this. Maybe you have a real guitar and want to make a tiny replica. Maybe there is a certain guitar you really want, or maybe you are a huge Green Day fan and you want to make a replica of one of their guitars, or even a bass. Follow these steps and you can totally do it without a whole bunch of expensive tools or equipment. You can probably even do a better job than I did. Continue on to the next step that shows you everything you need to build one. You'll be surprised that you probably have most of it already.
Also of note: This isn't particularly a scale model precisely, as I originally made it whatever size I was comfortable with. Big enough that it wasn't impossible to work with and small enough to be really cool. Technically, its right around 1/6 scale, which is called "Barbie" scale in some circles. This is because Barbie is more or less 1/6 scale.
Step 1: Stuff You'll Need
1/4" thick basswood for guitar body (6mm)
1/8" thick basswood for guitar neck (3mm)
Polystyrene for pickguard/pickups - I used Evergreen brand but you can use recycled packaging if you want.
Metal pins for tuners - I found something called "eye pins" for beading. I got mine from Michaels but here is an AMAZON LINK.
Stick pins for frets
Spray paint - depending on your design
Silver enamel model paint, for screws/metal parts
Black enamel model paint, for detail work
Clear spray enamel - for the clearcoat
Silver metallic thread
Seed beads - silver if you have them, but they can be painted.
Dremel or other rotary tool with drum sanding bits
Small coping saw or scroll saw
150, 300, and 600 Grit sandpaper
1/32 drill bit
Step 2: The Body
I created a template you can use if you want to make a standard Fender Stratocaster shape. Just print it out, cut it out and trace the shape onto your 1/4" basswood. I chose basswood because it is really soft and easy to work with, and they have various sizes and thicknesses available at most hobby or craft stores.
After it is traced on the wood, cut the shape by following the line. I used a hand held coping saw but you can use whatever you have. Basswood is super soft so it wont take you long at all.
After the body was cut from the basswood, it was really rough and full of saw marks. First I sanded around the outside with a Dremel tool fitted with a small sanding drum. You certainly wouldn't have to do this but it sped up the process of cleaning up the saw marks.
If you are familiar with the Stratocaster shape, you are aware of the part on the back and the other area on the front that is sanded down a bit more (see fig). I've learned that Fender calls this the "Comfort Contour Body" If you were wondering. If you are making this or any other model, be aware of these features.
After I sanded down those areas with the Dremel, I switched to hand sanding with 180 grit. Look closely at images of the guitar you are recreating. The Stratocaster has nice rounded edges all the way around the front and back. Everything is really smooth. Use the 180 grit to model those features. Spend some time on this. Even though the basswood is soft, this part is really important. Make sure everything is smooth
Continue with the 320 and 600 grit papers, often looking at the photos of the guitar you are modeling. Look for more pictures taken at different angles. Follow these images as best you can and sand everything until its smooth.
Step 3: The Neck
Making the neck is going to be pretty much the same process as making the body. Cut out the paper shape and trace it onto the 1/8" basswood making sure the length of the neck goes with the grain. This is how real guitars made are and it is important. I cut this one out with an Exacto knife. I had trouble cutting it out with the saw because the straight parts weren't straight enough and the wood is really thin and brittle. The Exacto blade cuts right through the wood going along the grain. Use caution here though because it splits REALLY easy. I suggest making all your cross cuts first. I split the first 3 I made and it might take you one or two to get it right as well. If it does split at the head though, you can glue it pretty easily without having to start all over.
After it is cut out, sand it just like you did the body beginning with the 180 grit sandpaper. Take note though that the back of a guitar neck is usually a half circle. I did round the back of my neck far more than the front, but not nearly half round like a full size guitar. The head is also set back a bit from the neck as you can see in the photo. I chose not to do this but these would be a few things you could do that would be more accurate than mine. After getting it nice and smooth with the 180 grit, move on to the 320 and then to the 600. This shouldn't take long at all.
Step 4: Cutting a Notch Out of the Body for the Neck
Look at a guitar (or pictures of guitars) and notice that the neck and fretboard are just slightly higher than the body to allow the strings to move. Hold the neck of your guitar on top of where it belongs on the body. Use a pencil to trace the shape of the neck that overlaps the body. Use your exacto knife to cut into the body following the lines you traced. Cut down about 1/4th of the thickness of the body and make another cut along the top at the same depth. After you've cut most of the shape, use your exacto or a small screwdriver to pry out the piece to allow the neck to be set into the body.
Step 5: Painting the Body
For this guitar I have chosen to do a "sunburst" type of paint job, although it may not be an exact replica. If you choose to do a solid color, the process will be similar.
The first thing I did was mix up some acrylic paint to the color I wanted. You may be better off using stain, but I didn't have anything close to the color I wanted so I made my own with acrylic. It seemed to work just fine for me.
I used plenty of water mixed with the paint. Not enough that the wood got wet when i was painting, but it was really thin. This allowed me to paint it on kind of sloppy and wipe off the excess with paper towel, similar to staining.
The second part of the "sunburst" pattern is the faded dark part around the outside of the body. To get this effect, I used a small sponge. Pour out some paint, "ochre" in this case, and dab your sponge in it. Then get most of the paint off the sponge by dabbing it further on a piece of news paper or paper plate.
After most of the sponge is dry, carefully dab it around the perimeter of the guitar, using photos for reference. Make sure you get the sides pretty solid and the front and back faded evenly.
Step 6: Clearcoat
The first thing I did in preparation for the clear gloss finish was to glue a piece of scrap to the body where the neck will eventually go. This will help you get a nice even coat of clear that will dry really well.
When the glue on your new "handle" is dry you can move on to painting the clear coat being careful to get a light even coat on both the front and back as well as the sides. Make sure that wherever you choose to paint has adequate lighting and is well ventilated. These steps would be the same if you were painting yours a solid color with spray paint.
After the first coat, allow the paint to dry thoroughly following the instructions on the paint you chose to use. Then, lightly sand the entire piece with the 600 grit sandpaper. This will knock down any bumps or bubbles and make the first coat a bit rough which will allow the next coat to adhere. make sure you are careful to wipe off any dust from sanding with a lightly damp cloth or tack cloth if you have one.
Paint a second layer of clearcoat. You will notice this one is much smoother than the first. Be sure to let it dry thoroughly before continuing.
If you want to take it even further you could continue with a few more coats and polishing them with finer sandpaper or even car polish. There are plenty of youtube videos that will help you learn how to do this.
Step 7: PickGuard
The pick guard for the guitar I am building is black on the front and back with white sandwiched in between. To achieve this effect, I am making it out of white polystyrene and painting it black. If you want a solid color pick guard, you can make it out of scrap plastic from packaging or whatever you have around. The polystyrene I use is Evergreen brand that you can get at most hobby stores. I keep a fair amount on hand.
Cut out the pickguard from the pattern or use your own. After cutting it out of the paper, test fit it onto your guitar body and make any necessary adjustments to make it fit. Then, trace it onto your chosen plastic material and cut it out with an Exacto blade. Test fit it again and make any necessary adjustments. This is in case you've slightly over-sanded your guitar body in previous steps. I had to make a few adjustments on each of mine, so I wouldn't worry about it.
After you have it cut out and it fits correctly, sand the front face with the 600 grit sandpaper. This will help your paint adhere better. Sand the edges a bit too, as you may find the exact blade creates sharp edges that will need to be knocked down. Thoroughly wipe the piece to remove any dust. Tape a popsicle stick or scrap piece of wood to the back of the plastic to use as a handle for painting.
Paint the pick guard with gloss black spray paint. Use two coats if necessary and sand with 600 Grit in between coats. After the piece has dried, sand around the perimeter edge of the pick guard to reveal the white plastic, giving it the two tone look as seen on the real thing. Glue it to the body.
Step 8: Frets and Tuner Pegs
Take the template that you used to cut out your neck. Place it on top of the neck you cut out and use the red lines to mark where the frets are placed on the fret board. Also use your Exacto knife to make tiny marks where the tuning pegs go. Just poke the blade through the paper and into the head just a tiny bit. Then use your Dremel tool and a 1/32 drill bit to make the holes for the tuning pegs, being careful not to drill all the way through (but if you do, its not too terrible. You can fix it.)
Use your diagonal pliers (or side cutter) to cut 6 pieces of wire from your beading needles or whatever wire you chose to use for the tuning pegs. Cut these to about 1/2 inch. I put each of mine in the Dremel and used a small file to remove the sharp points after cutting them. You want these to be smooth. You could also just sand them down with sandpaper or just the file if you'd like. Then cut the rough end down so that when you put them into the hole you just drilled, they stick out about 1/8 of an inch. Test fit these before gluing.
After you have the tuning pegs in, check to make sure they are even. If any of them stick out too far, you can just press them in farther. The wood is soft enough for this.
To prepare the neck to receive the frets, use a razor blade to cut a tiny slot where each fret will be placed. This doesn't have to be too deep. Frets stick above the neck anyways, so this slot is just a spot for the frets to sit and somewhere for the glue to adhere. Put a tiny bit of superglue on a small stick pin and glue one in each slot. Use something hard to press them into each of the slots. The glue will quickly soak into the wood, so after it dries enough to hold in there, put another bead of glue across each fret. I did the several times so that the frets were almost coated with glue. This may take you a few times. Some will fall out immediately and some will fall out in further steps. Just be patient with it and if they come out, just glue them back in.
When the glue has dried thoroughly (preferably over night) cut the extra wire off both sides with your side cutter. Then use a small file or your Dremel tool with a grinding bit to grind them flush to the neck.
Step 9: Pickups
Cut a 1/8 inch (3mm) wide strip of polystryrene or scrap plastic for the pickups. From that strip, cut three pieces 3/8 inch (10mm) long. Use your Exacto knife or a nail clipper to clip the corners from each piece. This will help you to shape it using 300 grit sandpaper. Carefully sand the edge of each of the pickups to a uniform rounded shape. Glue them to the pickguard on the body.
Step 10: Neck and Back Plates
Cut a 7/16 inch (11mm) by 9/16 inch (15mm) piece of polystyrene for the back plate. Round the corners with 300 grit sandpaper. Then cut a 3/8 inch (10mm) by 1/4 inch (6mm) piece for the neck plate. Round the corners for this one as well, then use a toothpick to drop a tiny dot of glue to each corner. These dots will represent the neck plate screws.
Step 11: Bridge Assembly and Tuners
For the bridge assembly, cut a 3/8 inch (10mm) by 1/8 inch (4mm) rectangle and a smaller 3/8 inch (10mm) by 1/16 inch (2mm) one. Glue them together at a right angle to represent the bridge. Then cut six tiny squares 1/16 X 1/16 to represent the saddles, which are the small parts the strings come through. Glue these onto the bridge.
Then, cut six more 3/8 inch (10mm) squares for the tuner bodies and paint each of these pieces with silver model paint.
After all your parts are dry, glue the bridge to the body. Then glue the six tuner parts to the head. Cut six 1/4 inch (6mm) lengths of wire from your beading needles and glue one up against each of the tuner bodies. When the glue has dried, cut them to even lengths. Finally glue a silver bead on the end of each piece of wire to represent the tuners.
Step 12: Body Detail
Glue the neck plate and back plates to the back of the body. Paint six black marks on the back plate to represent the holes. You could actually drill them, but I noticed that they weren't as noticeable that way. Note that they are offset to the right slightly. Then use silver paint to create the tiny screws that hold the back plate on. Note that they are not placed uniformly either.
On the front, use your Dremel tool to cut the hole for the output jack. I used a triangle shaped cutting bit held at an angle and just pressed it into the body to get the shape I was looking for. Use an Exacto blade to clean it up a bit then paint the opening silver.
Use the same fine paintbrush to put six dots on each of the pickups to represent what I believe are called the "slugs" or the exposed metal parts of the pickups. Then create two screws outside each pickup. Finally, create the pickguard screws using an image or real guitar for reference.
Step 13: Neck Detail
Glue a thin strip of polystyrene or scrap plastic to the top of the head to represent the nut. I used a piece of "evergreen" brand half round polystyrene because I had it from another project. If you use scrap plastic, paint it white.
After everything has dried completely, you can glue the neck to the body. I used a glue called E6000. It is thick and heavy and allowed my to make sure I glued the neck on perfectly straight while filling in any gaps I might have had.
Step 14: Knobs
I made the knobs from white polymer clay. This is the kind that you put in the over at a low temperature for a while to harden it.
Roll out two small tubes of clay, one 5/32 inch (5mm) in diameter and another 3/32 (3mm). Use your Exacto knife to slice out three small disks from each. Use the back of the exacto knife or any other flat object to press the tiny disks to uniform circles. Then place one of the small ones on top of each of the larger ones, lightly pressing them together so they will stick. Note that I had no idea about the size the knobs should be. I simply made them to whatever size I thought looked right, and measured them after the fact. 5/16 and 3/6 looks right to me.
Follow the instructions from your polymer clay to bake/cure it. When the pieces have hardened and thoroughly cooled, glue them to the pickguard on the body.
Step 15: Strings
Cut six 8-10" lengths of metallic thread for the strings. Glue one piece to each of the saddles on the bridge paying close attention to the spacing. They need to be evenly spaced so that they will look correct on the neck and across the nut.
After the glue has dried securing the strings to the bridge, you can continue with the tuning pins. Put a dab of glue on the first pin and wrap the first string at least two times around the pin, making sure to keep the tension high. Either hold the extra part of the string until the glue has dried enough to hold it, or you can tape it down.
Continue the same steps for the rest of the strings. After the glue has dried, cut the excess string using a scissors or razor
Step 16: Selector Switch
To create the selector switch, I cut a small slit in the pick guard to represent the switch slot. It actually wasn't a full slot. I just removed a small slice of paint there. Then I heated up the tip of a sewing needle with a torch. Grab a small pliers to hold the needle. Hold it in the flame and wait until it glows nice and red and then use the pliers to stick it into the plastic at the proper angle. No glue is necessary as the melted plastic bonded the needle sufficiently. Then use a nipper or side cutter to trim off the excess.
I also painted some black details on the knobs to represent the text that painted on the full size versions.
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