Introduction: Pearl Blue Vintage Telecaster
In this Instructable I show the world how I've built my first electric guitar.
With "me" I mean me and my dad, who has helped me a lot in the shop, with the planing as well as with moral and mental support through the ups and downs during this project. It was quite the journey and some unexpected things happened along the way.
Buckle up, 'cos this might get lengthy.
I've chosen to build a Telecaster model because the hollowly sound (you know - the Klonk) has impressed me ever-since. Further does the Telecaster feature quite a simple form, no 3D shaped top or any complex features, which I found to be quite more suitable for my first build.
Admittedly, sorry to let you down, the neck was bought from Warmoth. Why you ask? Simply because out of my amateur judgement, the precision of the neck, the alignment of the frets to be exact, is absolutely crucial for a guitar to even be playable/enjoyable. And if I'm going to put such a big effort into making my own guitar, it better be enjoyable. I'm sure you can find many websites on how to build a perfect guitar neck.
All of the steps can be done with simple hand tools, although I highly recommend investing in a hand router and maybe a jigsaw.
- Hand router
- Assortemnt of mill bits
- Wood rasp
- Drill press and some drill bits
Step 1: Choosing the Right Wood
Telecaster bodies are typically built from swamp ash wood or alder. Since neither is locally available where I live (Switzerland) I went for ash wood, figured it should be close enough to swamp ash. A local lumberyard/carpentry was nice enough to provide me with a big plate already planed to the right thickness (46.8mm).
The neck, as already mentioned from Warmoth, is made from maple wood and features a rosewood fret board, which is also typical for Telecasters.
Step 2: Neck Cut-out
Now there I was, got a piece of wood and a neck, what next?
I figured it was best to start with all the cut-outs as long as the piece was still square. More surface area to clamp.
I started with clamping down some straight leftovers to create a makeshift jig. That way it was basically impossible to mess up the cut-out for the neck.
Step 3: Cut-outs for Pickups and Electronics
Since the Telecaster features a very big front plate and bridge, which cover the cut-outs for the pickups, I didn't felt the need to make a milling jig for those. I drew them onto the wood and went to town with the router. Came out quite well, just the two big holes for the potentiometers got a bit black, but they end up covered anyway.
Furthermore, there need to be two holes drilled to connect both the neck and the bridge pickups with the electronics compartment. I forgot to take pictures of this step, but all you have to do is take a thin long drill and a good visual measurement.
Step 4: Holes for Bridge and Strings
The Telecaster features a string-through design, which means that the strings are fed through the whole body and aren't just fixed at the bridge. For this you need to drill six holes. I recommend drilling them from the backside, that way it's easier to line them up perfectly. The front side of the holes will be covered by the bridge, so alignment wont be crucial.
Each string bead will sit in a pressed-in ferrule, which for recesses are drilled.
Step 5: Creating Jig for Outline Milling
This is where things are getting a bit out of hand. While I could have simply gone to a bigger carpentry shop and ask to use their band saw, I decided to create jigs out of medium-density fiber board (MDF) which allow me to use my router to cut out the guitar shape. I used some round objects like the ravioli can and a roll of duct tape together with sanding paper and lots of patience.
Step 6: Milling and Cutting Outline
With the help of my routing jigs I proceeded to mill out the outline of the to-be guitar shape. Since I didn't have milling bits long enough I needed to cut out what was left and proceed from the backside with the help of a copy mill bit. This is a mill bit which features a ball bearing in the same diameter as the mill bit itself. In the end this gave me a close-to-perfect outline which just needed some sanding.
Step 7: Chamfer Edge
To round off the edges of the body I could simply have used a file and some sanding paper. A radius copy milling bit however does the trick even better.
Step 8: File Beer-belly Cut-out
A Telecaster is quite a brick. Not only because its weight, but also because it's quite edgy.
To make it a little more comfortable I decided to file out that distinctive beer-belly cut-out. It was a lot of work, but totally worth it in the end.
I've also filed out some material around the backside of where the neck is mounted. This allows for easier access to the highest frets. It was in this part of the project where I've decided to ditch the screws and using glue to mount the neck to the body. I don't know if this significantly alters the sound of the Tele, but I can't complain at all.
Step 9: Stamping Serial Number
Least important but small lovely design feature is the stamped serial number on the backside of the headplate. I don't plan on building a lot of guitar in my lifetime, but I found it a neat idea. "AES" stands for my initials.
Step 10: Experimenting With Color
The frustrating part mentioned in the introduction now begins.
After some experimentation with different colors (I used mordant dye) I decided to dye my guitar blue. I find it a very elegant color and is not as common as black or red.
Mordant dye is bought as a powder and mixed with water. It's simple to apply with a sponge or rag.
Unfortunately I have lost most pictures of the dyeing process and the clear coating afterwards. But what I have is the aftermath.
Step 11: Masking
Not from importance in the end, you'll see why later.
Step 12: Shameful Outcome
The pictures aren't good enough to really see what all went wrong. I guess you just have to believe me that it was gross.
I believe that something must have happened between the dye and the clear coats, because on the edges of the body, the clear coat began to tarnish and become quite ugly. At this point I couldn't let all the work that has gone into this project end up in something I wouldn't want to look at.
So I sanded it all down again.
Step 13: Sanding Down
Here are some pictures of the sanded down body. You can see how deep the mordant dye has soaked in. At first thought this might never be repairable, but looking at the finished guitar, I reckon it could even have added to the beautiful texture that now shines through the clear coat.
The true disaster hasn't even been found yet though.
Step 14: Repairing Crack
It was probably the excess of moisture from the mordant dye that let the wood swell up and break the tiny bridge between the pickups.
The strain was big, but the fix rather easy. With the help of my hand router and a 45° mill bit I milled out the crack and glued a 90° piece in place. Later evened it out with a planer and some sanding paper.
Step 15: Glue in Neck
Gluing the neck in place is almost as straight forward as you might think. In fact, it being as straight as possible is the most crucial part. Since it's not a good idea to clamp the neck down in its frets, I made this little thingy. It's just a piece of scrap with roughly the same radius as the fret board and some cork. This allows to put even pressure on the neck.
Step 16: Color Coating
After one failed attempt of painting my Telecaster I went to ask a friend for help. He's a professional lacquerer and had access to a filtered spray booth.
We then applied multiple thin layers of my desired blue paint to the masked out body, each coat with a proper sanding, gradually using finer grain.
At last several coats of clear coat were applied.
Step 17: Polishing
To get out even the tiniest scratches and get a mirror like finish, we then proceeded to polish the entire body. The outcome was stunning.
I was so happy that the finish ended up so nice, after all the mishaps beforehand.
Step 18: Installing Hardware
The installation of the hardware was quite straight forward. Inserting the ferrules that hold in the strings was a bit stressful, hoping that the lack wouldn't splinter, but it all worked out fine.
Installing the tuners and the bridge is as simple as framing a picture, no need to go into detail here.
Step 19: Electronics
For pickups I went for the Original Fender Vintage Tele pickups. Same for the wiring. If you google around, there are tons of different wiring diagrams out there. I suggest you play around with it, you can't destroy your guitar nor amp with wrong wiring of the guitar.
There are many different things to consider doing if your guitar hums. I didn't know what is all important so I went all in. The electronics compartment got laid out with sticky copper foil to shield the electronics against all kinds of radio waves. Additionally all the parts made from metal are connected to the volume control potentiometer. Note that the plate that holds the jack and the bridge are also metal and need to be connected to ground.
If you struggle with it, don't hesitate to send me an email, I'd be glad to offer my help.
Step 20: All Done, Enjoy!
Despite all the ups and downs during this project, I can't wholeheartedly assert that I'm incredibly delighted with how it came out in the end.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this instructable and that I have cleared some question about the process of building electric guitars. Of course there are many many more things to know all around this topic, but to consult all this, I'd need to write a book, and besides I clearly lack the knowledge for that too. In summary, I went with what I had, got help with what I didn't, and took one step after the other. With this in mind, I'm sure you can build an even more alluring instrument.
Good luck and have fun!
Step 21: Sound Demo
Since you've been asking, here are some recordings:
- Lead is Bridge Pickup with no Tone
- Rythm is Neck Pickup with a bit of Tone
- Lead is Neck Pickup with some Crunch and a little bit of Tone
- Rythm is Bridge Pickup with a lot of Tone and Boost
- Base is a baritone Guitar
Since I've Been Loving You
- Solo is Neck Pickup with some Tone and a bit of OD, echo, hall
- Method of recording: Condenser mic at 2x12" on Tube amp
- Solo is Neck Pickup, quite a bit of hall, some OD directly from the Tube Amp
Participated in the