Introduction: Tuna-Fish, the Ironing-Board Electric Guitar

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Build your own electric, stringed-instrument from out of household items.


Ironing board, thin gauge copper wire, bees wax, nuts and bolts, cup washers, wood screws, plywood or wood, clothes hangers, phone jack, plastic sheet, pole magnets, wooden ruler, electric guitar strings, drill with 1/8" bit, hack saw, record player, mono phono jack, instrument cable, soldering iron, multi-meter

Step 1: Constructing the Pickup

Ideally, you'll want to work with a spool of thin copper wire. 42 gauge is ideal. Through two matched pieces of rigid plastic, drill a number of holes (one for each string of your instrument) and fit them with magnets making sure the polarities are oriented in the same direction. The drilled holes should be tight enough to hold the pole pieces snug in place. I used dabs of glue to prevent the 6 magnets from sliding out of their respective holes. Now start winding the copper wire around the perimeter of your pole pieces, making sure your start wire remains visible because you'll have to solder it along with the end of the winding to the rest of the circuit. I taped my start wire down to the underside of the plastic so that I wouldn't lose sight of it.

Step 2: One Way to Speed Things Up

You could of course wind your "bobbin" by hand but why not improvise. I chose to spin my pickup bobbin on top of a turntable platter allowing it to draw up the copper wire as it easily unraveled from the spool. Should the copper thread tangle and snap at any time during this operation, don't panic. The broken ends can be mended by soldering and then continuing on. At various points during the spin cycle, take a break to measure resistance with a multi-meter between the start wire and the point at which you've wound up at. Shoot for something over 5K ohms. When you're there, melt some bee's wax in a double-boiler and carefully dunk your finished pickup. The wax will hold the copper together and prevent oxidation.

Step 3: Putting Together a Fretboard

Use a plank of available wood or plywood to construct a fingerboard and groove notches for the metal clothes hangers to sit in. For reference I used a short scale Fender Mustang neck to locate my 22 fret positions. Two anchors with matching bolts and a piece of wood attached to the underside of the ironing-board allowed extra tension to be put on the frets so that they would not slide around during aggressive playing.

Step 4: Wiring the Pickup

Place your finished pickup down on the ironing-board... towards the end of the fretboard. I held the pickup in place with two screws and cup-washers. Locate the two wires, the start and end of the winding. Solder them to the terminals of a mono-phono jack.

Step 5: Adding Hardware

Six turnbuckles bolted to the head of the instrument function as tuners. Crimp the metal guitar-strings to each of the hook ends. At the tail end, drill through the ironing-board and substitute cup-washers in place of string ferrules. At the top of the fretboard, I attached piece of ceramic with notches cut for the strings. Bone or hardwood will do just as well. A long bolt with a set of nuts and washers serve as bridge and with proper alignment provide adequate string spacing. I added a wooden ruler as a means of string height adjustment. In the case of a 24 inch scale guitar, you will then place the bridge down 24" from the back of the nut.

Step 6: Play It Loud

Tighten up your strings by twisting the turnbuckles in turn. Best to choose an open tuning, like open G and play using a slide. Plug the instrument into an amplifier and play it loud.

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