Introduction: DIY Custom Guitar
Although there are many guides to building a guitar, my goal here is to demonstrate, the entirety of the build process, from choosing materials to stringing the guitar and plugging it into an amp. For that reason, I have chosen to create instructions for this project in pieces and continue to upload additional steps as I continue to build the guitar myself. This portion will include a how-to guide for the necessary materials, as well as designing, cutting, sanding, staining, and clear coating the body of a guitar.
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Step 1: Materials
For this project you will need access to the following tools:
Scroll Saw/Band Saw
Drill Press/Hand Drill
Belt Sander and Spindle Sander
Brad Point or other equivalent drill bit to reduce chance of wood splitting
Sand Paper of various grades
You Will Need:
1 piece of hardwood that fits your guitar design ex. 16 x 14 x 1 3/4
Best choices for guitars are alder, mahogany, or swamp ash
1 guitar neck - I would not recommend for someone who is inexperienced to make your own neck. Measurements of the fret board, as well as installation of of a truss rod requires precise measurement and skilled knowledge of the craft. You can find mahogany and other decent hard wood guitar necks for anywhere between 40-60 dollars.
1 can of Brush on wood stain
1 can of brush on polyurethane
1 stain brush
Step 2: Designing the Body
I used the ShopBot that is available for me to use at my school however cutting and routing may be done without one. The best way to begin design the body of the guitar, is to look at different styles and draw from them for inspiration. Then, either hand draw the design on paper, or use a program like illustrator or inventor to create a 2d image of the design. Once the design is complete, you can create a stencil out of thin wood/oak tag/etc. Then cut out the guitar shape out of the wood using either a scroll saw or band saw.I recommend using some cheaper wood such as pine to practice cutting first. I was able to get 4 pieces of pine the same size as my piece of alder for 25 dollars at home depot. If you do not have access to a ShopBot or other similar machine use a hand router to make the pockets for the pickups, and electronics.
If you have a ShopBot available at your school or anywhere else, I would recommend taking advantage of it. To cut the guitar on the ShopBot, simply load the 2d illustrator file into PartWorks and use the path tool to highlight the area you wish to cut. Set the depth and way it will cut(outside/inside/on the line). For the outline of the body, always cut outside the line. For routing, cut on the inside. Make sure you have everything designed into the same file before cutting as removing the wood and cutting another part later will throw off the center point. If flipping the guitar to route on the backside be sure you cut everything on the front first, mark the four corners and line the wood up as close as possible when flipped. Once everything has been cut, you can begin shaping and sanding.
Step 3: Sanding the Body
Sanding and shaping the body to be smooth requires different tools for some areas of the guitar. For the initial sanding use a belt sander for the rounded backside of the guitar, and a spindle sander for the inward curves. Always be sure to keep the wood moving. Never stop while the wood is in contact with the belt as the wood may become uneven or burn. Once the guitar is roughly sanded, use a finer grade sand paper on the spindle sander to smooth the curves and a hand sander for the rest of the body. If you wish to add any curvatures to the face of the body use a hand sander for that as well.
Step 4: Staining and Clear Coating
Staining and clear coating is an important stage of finishing the wood. If done incorrectly it could ruin the wood or make it unappealing visually. Remember that different woods stain differently. If you have any scrap wood, practice staining that first to make sure you like the way it looks.
Use painters tape to cover anything that you do not want to stain/coat. Begin by applying the stain with a brush, covering the entire area fully, then allowing it to dry before applying the polyurethane. For my guitar, I used 1 coat of stain, and 3 coats of polyurethane, giving the wood 1 full day to dry between coats. Currently the neck is completely finished and I will being staining the body of the guitar soon.
Step 5: Coming Soon
In the near future I will update this page to include the finished product with the body stained and clear coated, along with instructions for mounting the neck to the body, installing the electronics (pickups, potentiometer, etc), and proper installation of bridge pieces and tuning machines. I expect to have updates within the next week and the full and complete product finished by the end of the month. Please feel free to message/comment with any questions.