Introduction: Swender Barncaster : Chambered Body Tele-style Electric Guitar
Over the years I have owned and played many guitars. I have always wanted a chambered Tele - style guitar and after making my first electric solid body Tele around 15 yrs ago, I decided I would tackle the project this summer, with fewer gigs happening re: Covid-19. The main inspiration for doing the build right then was finding some original redwood lumber that was used in trimming our house that was build in 1987, in the crawl space. I was needing to do some soffit repairs because of woodpecker damage, and literally stumbled on the wood when searching for siding pieces.
The wood had been preserved well in our damp-ish crawl space, and I found 3 pieces with enough length for the body, and that I could place them side by side for the 13+" width that I needed. This Instructable will be a start to finish on the build, with a number of photos to highlight the steps along the way.
Step 1: Sizing the Lumber, Cutting the Shape,and Chamber Routing
The two wings of the body, right and left sides, are from the same piece of lumber. The center block or middle piece was cut to be just wide enough for routing the pick-up cavities and mounting the bridge. I then used the Titebond wood glue on the adjoining pieces and clamped the three pieces together. This stayed clamped for a couple of days to make sure it dried thoroughly.
After unclamping the pieces, I planed the top and bottom to make them as flat as possible. I have a large 2' x 2' piece of glass tile that is nearly dead flat, and I used that to test my planing as I went. Then I traced the outline of the Telecaster template onto the wood, and cut the bottom two-thirds of the body into the shape. I left some at the neck end of the body to be able to clamp and maneuver the wood as I drilled the holes and routed for the chambers.
With my drill press, I drilled 3/8" holes throughout the lower bout on the treble side (right side as you look from the front) of the guitar body, and all along the bass side of the body. I then set my router bit to take off around a 1/4" of material on each pass, and kept routing until I had the depth I wanted, leaving about a 1/4" of thickness on the back side of the guitar body. I later lowered the bit a little more, and cleaned up the routed chambers in photo #6, but didn't take a picture of that step.
Step 2: Selecting the Top, Staining and Clamping Together
For my top panel, I bought a piece of 1/4" Birch panel from Home Depot that was finished on both sides. I moved the template around till I found the desired grain pattern on the Birch panel, then traced and cut the panel with my jig saw. After cutting the top, and finishing the cut around the whole body, it was time for finishing the wood body.
I started with a lighter red stain, Min-Wax Gunstock, and applied that first. The red hues really worked well with the natural red tint of the redwood, and also blended the top in with the main body. Then I applied some darker English Chestnut over the top of the first coat after it had dried. This brought out the grain even more, and gave it more of a weathered or 'rustic' look, which is what I was after. I wanted kind of a relic guitar, but not over the top relic; more of what I would call a 'vintage clean' look. Old, but well cared for.
I then glued and clamped the top to the body, and let it sit for 24 hrs.
Step 3: Fitting the Neck and Laying Out the Hardware
While the glued top and body were drying, I began the neck pocket fitting process. This is probably the most crucial stage in building a guitar. My neck was purchased on ebay, it is a WD Fender Licensed Tele replacement neck, had the fretboard radius I prefer, and was reasonably priced at $100. It had the standard neck pocket depth on the heel, and was 'raw' or unfinished maple, so I could still sand the back of the neck to my feel and leave that unfinished (better movement up and down the neck that way IMO) then finish the fret board with a light coat of Zinssers Amber Shellac for that vintage 'relic' look that I was after.
Getting the geometry exactly right on a guitar build is critical to it's playability and sound, as well as keeping it in tune. My body and top combination was just slightly thinner than the standard thickness, so I had to take some material off the back of the neck heel in order for the action (the height of the strings off of the fret board) to be correct. For support purposes, I didn't want to remove any more wood from the neck pocket itself, and as it turned out, it was fairly easy to just use my belt sander and sand down the neck heel enough to fit.
Since I was going for the relic look, I ordered as much of the hardware in that worn or aged look as I could. I had a left-over black pick guard on hand, and when I laid it on the body with the neck, it just seemed to fit the build. It was starting to look like a guitar!
Step 4: Home Made 'relic-ed' Hardware, Stage Two Finishing
Some of the hardware for the guitar; tuners, strap buttons, screws, jack plate, I couldn't find already relic-ed. So I implemented a process I had previously used on bicycle parts for a custom build to get these guitar parts to 'age'. It is a combination of one part muriatic acid and two parts hydrogen peroxide. I place the mixture in a heavy metal pie tin and then drop in the parts that I want to react in it. It is HIGHLY TOXIC and requires heavy rubber gloves and a mask as well as safety goggles for spray. Do not get this solution on your skin!
After about 1 - 2 mins in the solution, the longer you leave it in the more aged it gets, I pulled out my bright chrome parts and then they looked like those in photo #1 and #2. Instantly they looked like they were 50 yrs older!
My first version of my stain / finish looked too much like furniture; too 'even' and perfected. I wanted a little more flare, so I taped off the middle of the guitar top with painters tape and newspaper, and added a black 'burst' to the outer edge of the top. Then I lightly sanded the edges of the paint to make the fade transition better, and covered the whole top and body with 5 coats of the Amber shellac. I really like the result!
I placed my template over the top and routed out the cavities for the pick-ups and the control plate, as well as the hole for the jack plate on the side of the body. While I was on the body, I decided to spray the sides of the body black as well, to make the transition into the fade on the top.
Step 5: Installing Pick Ups, Wiring, and Finishing Touches; Sounds Good!
I then installed the pick ups, and fit the control plate. My electronics were purchased from a couple of different suppliers, on the recommendation of my friend and guitar tech at the music store I used to work for. We went with a 4 way switch option which really gave the guitar a big range of sounds, and versatility for playing a variety of styles. I sent the guitar off to Jon for a couple of days, and then picked it up. Haven't put it down since!
The birdseye maple really popped with the layer of amber shellac on the fret board and gave it a nice vintage look as well. To top it off, I made up a graphic for my head stock and sent it off to a decal maker I found on ebay. I was really pleased with his work. Fit the vibe of the build perfectly.
The 'proof is in the pudding' as they say, and for a musician, the beauty of the instrument is only part of the attraction. If a guitar doesn't play and sound like you hoped, it's not the right guitar. This one plays and sounds like the guitar I imagined when I was dreaming / designing the build.
Thank you for following along on this build journey. I welcome all questions and comments and hope that you will give it a try yourself. There is something very special about playing an instrument that you have built with your own hands.