Intro: GuitarToo-D2 (R2-D2 Themed Electric Guitar)
I constructed this guitar a few years ago on a whim, with no previous experience building guitars. There was a lot of learning I had to do, but with a little patience and a steady hand you can use a similar technique to create an electric guitar in a variety of novel shapes. It's sturdy, sounds great, and always generates comments when I take it out in public. Measurements will vary depending on the type of hardware you get for your guitar, so I won't be providing exact numbers, just how to get them.
- Cheap guitar (for parts)
- Guitar Neck, Blank
- 3/4" poplar board, about 9" x 30"
- 2 sheets of 1.5mm thick clear acrylic, cut to about 8" by 14"
- Several (I used about 30) 1/2 round-head screws
- Spray primer
- Spray paint - egg shell white and aluminum
- Acrylic paints (For detailing
- Polyurethane spray
- Masking tape
- Wood Glue
- High-Density Fiberboard (Small piece)
- Soldering Iron (and Solder)
- Copper tape
- Hole press (you might be able to use a drill with a steady hand)
- Hand screwdriver
- Dremel with cutting disk attachments
- Sanding block
- Small Chisel
- Hobby Knife
- Table Saw
Step 1: Step 1: Planning and Gathering Parts
This whole project is based off of a sketch I drew in my notebook. The end product didn't end up looking exactly like this, but that's probably because at the time I wasn't actually planning on building it. Once I made the decision I started doing my research on building guitars. I discovered that practically all of the measurements for a guitar depend on the dimensions of the parts involved. For instance, the distance between the bridge and the twelfth fret must be equal to the distance between the twelfth fret and the nut. Other considerations must be made depending on what kind of pickups, bridge, and other hardware you would like, and how you want certain things like ports and switches to be placed on the body. The first thing I had to do is find parts.
Craigslist - the greatest junk store in the world
If you live in or near a large city, Craigslist is a great resource for finding crappy guitars that nobody wants. I found a cheap beginner's Ibanez, from which I got the pickups, internal circuitry, tuning pegs, and bridge for my guitar. I also used Craigslist to buy a Dremel for 40 bucks from the back of some guy's truck.
Before taking the guitar apart, I was sure to take lots of pictures to document exactly how the wires connect, since I would be disconnecting them and then trying to reconnect them in the final stage.
eBay - the second greatest junk store in the world
I wasn't very happy with the shape of the neck on the Ibanez and wanted something a little more "Sci-Fi" looking. The neck I found on eBay is actually a blank. It's intended to have a large paddle shape that you can cut a design into to create your own unique silhouette. I liked the shape it came in, however, so I just kept it as this strange rectangular robotic shape.
Step 2: Step 2: Blueprints
Now that I had the measurements (the most important being the neck length and the bridge type) I was ready to draw up my blueprints. I didn't end up following this exactly, but it was a great guide. If you're going to deviate, at least have something to deviate from. I removed the legs that I had originally imagined in my drawing because they seemed like they would just just get in the way, and I'm a fan of clean-lined, modern design.
As I said before, the distance between the 12th fret and the bridge needs to be the same as the distance between the 12th fret and the nut, which in my case was 12 1/4". I had to allow for the fact that the bridge sat in the middle of a plate, so the edge of the plate is actually at the 11 1/2" mark.
The placement of the pickups changed slightly from this. I placed them based on where I'm most likely to strum and placing the pickups near, but not directly underneath where my pick would land. This is a personal taste thing, and there are lots of practices when it comes to placing pickups - do your research!
The layout of the switch, nobs, and internal cavities changes slightly as well based on the size of the board and orientation of the switch.
Step 3: Step 3: Cutting the Body
One of the challenges involved in creating an electric guitar is creating a solid body that still has a cavity you can place the inner circuitry in. Most manufactured guitars will have this cavity hidden behind a plastic door or underneath the pick guard. I though either of those things would interfere with the look of my guitar, so I opted to make my body in two parts, on part having a partial cut to create a pathway for wires to feed through to the pickups. This would also allow me to easily create the half-distance cut needed to place the neck.
I wanted a type of wood that would be easy to work with, be nice and solid (not too spongy) and have a fine grain so it could convincingly look like a droid when I'm done. I didn't want to be able to see any grain in the final product. I settled for poplar, which is also not bad priced, for the quality.
Cut it out
After making my marks, modified from the blueprints, I started drilling holes for the corners of the pickup cavities. Then I cut the major straight lines of the two body pieces with a table saw. I cut both pieces at the same time, to ensure that the shapes matched up perfectly. Using a jigsaw I cut out the rounded off "head section, as well as holes for the pickups and neck on the top half, and the hole for the electronics on both halves.
I also used a hole press to drill the holes straight down for the bridge assembly, which fastens the strings on the bottom of the guitar (not pictured). You can probably do this with a drill if you have a steady enough hand, or find a bridge that holds the strings on the top of the guitar and forgo this step altogether.
Step 4: Step 4: Cutting Cavities
Before I went any further I wanted to make sure I had the neck sitting just right. If it's sitting just slightly to the left or right, it can mess up how the strings align with the frets and would be very obviously crooked. If it dipped up or down then the strings would either be uncomfortably high off the fret board or be too low and hit the frets while strumming. I bolted the neck in, drilling larger holes at the top for the heads of the screws, so that they sit flush or even below the level of the rest of the body.
Using a hobby knife and a chisel, I chipped away a pathway from the electronics cavity to the pickups for the wires to run through. This was done on the side that would be joined with the top half of the body, so that in the final product it would be hidden from view. I also created some cavities for the bottom pieces of the pickups, which were sticking up too high. This could have probably been more easily done with a router, but I did not have access to one. A larger hole was also drilled from the outside of the body into the electronics cavity so that the guitar output port could be wired through.
On the top half of the guitar I used the hobby knife and chisel once more to create an inlay at the top of the electronics cavity. This allowed me to cut a small piece of high density fiberboard (You can also use a thin piece of wood) to sit flush with the body an conceal this cavity. Before moving on to the next step, I put everything together to make sure it was all fitting straight and proper. Only after I was absolutely sure did I glue the two halve of the body together with some wood glue.
Step 5: Step 5: Painting
The first thing I did in the painting process was make sure that the shape was as concealed as possible. I didn't want wood grain, or seams, or tiny imperfections in my cuts. I went over the whole guitar thoroughly with a thin layer of fiberglass putty, filling in any cracks or seams. I applied several coats (4 total) of primer, sanding with high-grit sandpaper in between each coat, before finally getting the desired smoothness.
The first layer of paint was an opportunity to make things even smoother. I applied several coats of the egg shell white color, again, sanding in between each coat with high grit sandpaper. After a few coats of this, I taped off the top section and painted it with the aluminum spray paint. I've always favored aluminum to silver or chrome, simply because it dries evenly every time and never seems to give me any trouble.
For the blue sections, I taped off the sections I wanted to preserve with some masking tape. To make things really confusing in the photo, I used blue masking tape and blue plastic to mask off the parts I didn't want to be blue :P
This, for me, was the fun part. There's really no trick in doing this, and it theory I could have painted the entire guitar using just this method, but I'm glad I got the large blocks of color in beforehand. Using acrylic paints, I painted in the details; the dirty panels, vents, and other small touches glean from a lot of reference material and high-res photos of R2-D2. Only now does the guitar start to resemble my sketch.
To protect all of this work, I sprayed the whole guitar, several times, with polyurethane spray. I did it inside. The fumes were... interesting.
Step 6: Step 6: the Acrylic Cover
Now, you can add all the clear coat money can buy, but it still has to stand up to the constant where of a pick. I wasn't about to subject all of my hard work to all that, so I ordered two sheets of clear acrylic, cut to the outside dimensions of the guitar from a local plastics supply shop. I made my marks of where each needed to be cut, and used my Dremel to gently and slowly cut out the desired shape. The rough edges were later beveled, by hand, with the Dremel and sanded down to create a smooth barrier from picks, belt buckles - everything.
I also used the Dremel to cut the holes for the various screws used to hold the sheets in place. DO NOT use a screwdriver for this. Acrylic is very scratch resistant, but not particularly shatter resistant and will crack if you try to drill it.
In order to make the wiring inside accessible for future repairs/upgrades, I kept the back of the guitar open. I marked off where in the back this hole would meet up with the acrylic sheet and I painted a rectangular section to cover the hole. Now, all I have to do to access the inside of the guitar is unscrew this sheet on the back.
Step 7: Step 7: Final Assembly
Connecting the wires
Referring to the pictures I took earlier I soldier the wiring back to it's original place on the circuit board, Taking special care to not damage anything or use too much solder.
One interesting thing I overlooked in the original design was balance. Because of it's shape, GuitarToo-D2 is really hard to play sitting down, and because the body ends well before the 12th fret (a typical guitar's point of balance) it's very neck-heavy. To rectify this, I placed the left strap hang on the back of the neck, instead of at the end of the body like most guitars have it. This allows for the guitar to sit still when you let go, rather than crashing to the ground.
In the end was a lot of connecting the fixtures, such as the bridge assembly, the plate that holds the output jack, knobs and tuning pegs. I made some changes in the final stages of the project, upgrading the knobs, pickups, and tuning pegs from the ones harvested off of the crappy Ibanez to one's found online. I also added copper tape (you can find this in the garden section at most hardware stores, it's made for keeping snails off of things) to the inside cavity to reduce electrical interference. In the end, all the hard work paid off.
The only real downside to this whole experience is that... I'm a bassist.