Introduction: Make an Awesome Electric Guitar With Common Tools
One day, I woke up and thought: "I should make an electric guitar from scratch!"
I have never made one, and I didn't know how to make one.
So I searched the internet for the next 2 months continuously for tutorials, guides and tips on how to make an electric guitar at home.
I found out that many people are making them at home. Some of them are just buying DIY kits that are just to be assembled and painted, some of them are making the body of the guitar by themselves, but the real makers make everything themselves, including the neck.
If I wanted to satisfy my never ending "MakeEverythingYourself" mindset, I said: ALL OR NOTHING! I will make it from scratch and it should be the best guitar that ever existed.And I made just that.
And I wrote the longest instructable of my life to show you what I came up with! It took me 1 month to write this :) The instructable is very long, since I did not record the video of the process, so I couldn't put it on my youtube channel.
(shameless promotion) Feel free to check my other videos of my other cool projects :D Many of them are also featured here on Instructables.
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Step 1: Step 1: Do Your Research and Figure Out What You Want
This is an important step which will save you some time and money if done properly.
I was literally searching the internet for 2 months before I started the actual build.
I stumbled on a great forum:
This forum has a DIY Channel sub-forum with bunch of very skilled people building Fender Telecaster style guitars. I sourced most of my information from here.
And this forum made me decide on the Telecaster guitar body shape. It is fairly simple shape and it looks beautiful.
Then I built a virtual model of the style I wanted in order to get the general idea of what I want.
I used this online configurator:
I went on the design without pickguard, because I liked the clean look. And I liked the bigger p90 pickups. But a guitar without a pickguard is much harder to make because you must drill holes in the middle of the body so the wires from pickups are hidden inside the wood. Also all the holes around the pickups need to be made with more precision as everything can be seen.
Maybe you should start with a design with a pickguard. This way, half less work is needed. You will see in next steps.
Step 2: Get the Plans and Templates
I sourced these plans from all over the internet. I got plans for body, neck, wiring, little details etc..
I went to a print shop and printed the body and neck templates fullsize and cut them out so I had a full size templates on hand.
Also very important:
Watch the forums and other instructables on what other people are doing. Educate yourself on the
build thoroughly. Figure out what you will need along the way and how are you going to make certain parts. Take your time. Do your research.
I was just researching for two whole months before I finally decided to start the build. After all the research I knew what I wanted and what I needed and I did not spend money on tools and parts I would not need.
Step 3: Source the Materials and Hardware
For the wood, I contacted a local carpenter and he sourced me a nice slab of mahogany for the body and a slab of maple for the neck. I paid just 40$ for the wood.
I sourced most of the hardware from Stewmac (you can also buy wood from them):
They have everything you will ever need for making a guitar. I am not affilliated with them in any way, but I bought most of the material from them. They offer reasonably priced international shipping.
You can also find a lot of well priced hardware on https://www.guitarfetish.com/
But on Stewmac you can find more build related stuff.
The only wooden thing I bought premade was the fretboard, because this is a fairly critical part and if you screw this up, guitar will be forever out of tune and if you use wrong thickness saw for the fret slots, your frets will fall out... So I bought pre-cut fingerboard: https://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Bod...
Truss rod is installed in the neck and it keeps the neck from bending forward because of the tension of the strings. This is a crucial part for keeping your guitar playable. This truss rod has two rods and can correct the neck in both direction. But the biggest advantage is that it needs a cut slot of a constant depth all the way across the neck. Because the classic rods need a curved slot which is difficult to make: https://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Tru...
I decided to go with a 5 way super switch which further complicates the wiring but gives you some extra sounds: https://www.stewmac.com/Pickups_and_Electronics/Co...
String ferrules: https://www.stewmac.com/Hardware_and_Parts/All_Har...
String trees: https://www.stewmac.com/Hardware_and_Parts/String_...
Plastic side dot material: https://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Bin...
I even decided to wind my own pickups.
Pickup cover: https://www.stewmac.com/Pickups_and_Electronics/Pi...
But I recommend buying them at first. It will save you a month of your time. You can still upgrade them later with homemade ones.
And because I really like to over-complicate my stuff(and I have a fetish on electronics), I even decided to install a piezo pickups in the bridge, because I wanted acoustic sounds as well.
Acoustic piezo pickups: https://www.stewmac.com/Pickups_and_Electronics/Pi...
Piezo preamplifier: https://www.stewmac.com/Pickups_and_Electronics/Pr...
But again, I recommend sticking to basic bridge and wiring if you are not familiar with electronics so much.
Step 4: Tools
You can make it without too many tools.
Besides the basic hand tools like screwdrivers, saws, files, sandpaper I used:
- Plunge Router - this is THE tool to make guitars. In theory you can get by without it, but one would make your life much easier. Even a very cheap plunge router is worth it. Then you should buy a cheap chinese router bit set and you are ready to go. You will later see how handy those router bits with bearings are :)
- Electric drill - Can be hand-held battery powered one, but you will do yourself a favor by using a Bench Drill Press. it is much easier to control the drilling depth.Even a cheap one is good for the job. But it is not necessary.
- Jigsaw - it is cheap and you can cut wood faster with it than by hand. Good for rough outlining of the guitar neck. But it is not suited for cutting the body outline which is too thick. That is a job for a band saw, which I didn't have and I took it to the carpenter and he cut it for me. And he did not charge anything. He just wanted to see the finished product :)
- Belt sander will save you a lot of manual sanding and filing
And some specialty tools can save you some time.
Some of the tools you will be able to make yourself - like a fret wire bender (you will see in further steps)
Fret file - is not necessary but it can save you a ton of manual work if you get one. https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Types_of_Too...
Step 5: Start Making the Guit...... TEMPLATES!!!
This is the extra step which will take a lot of time, but it will make the finished product much more professional looking.
This is where the plunge router and copying bits are worth their weight in gold.
Instead of just grabbing the router and start massacring the slab of wood, take a good amount of time and slowly make the templates for all your routing work.
First you draw or copy the template on the piece of wood you will use for templates. Then you slowly cut the pocket with a router and hand file it to the perfect dimension.
Then you will be able to use copying bits to transfer the shape to the actual wood.
Templates are cheap and if you make a pocket of the wrong dimension it is much easier take another scrap wood and start again on another template, than buying a new 50$-100$ slab of wood for the guitar body.
It took me almost 2 months to make all the templates, but then the actual work on the actual wood was done in days and it was perfect from the first try.
Step 6: Starting With the Neck
Start by placing the template on the wood and draw the outline.
Then using the router, route the channel across the middle of the neck for inserting the truss rod. This is why you want a "two rod" truss rod, because it needs a channel of constant depth which is simple to make. Make sure the truss rod fits nicely inside.
The headstock should be also routed out to a correct depth as seen from the photos.
Then using a jigsaw roughly cut the outline of the neck approximately 2-3mm from the lines.
And finally glue or screw the template on the wood and route the exact outline with a router (sorry I forgot to take pictures)
Step 7: Glue the Fretboard and Finish the Headstock
First, carefully align the fretboard onto the neck and glue it to the neck. Use as many clamps as possible. I even used rubber band to further compress the pieces together.
When the glue dries, cut the excess fretboard away with a router, saw or a file.
Using a belt sander or a hand file and sandpaper, sand the headstock transition to smooth.
Step 8: Insert Frets and Inlay
At this point you want to insert the inlay - dots which mark the fret positions. Inserting is easy. Drill a hole and glue the dot in with a superglue. Sand until flush. I chose pearl inlay. For the side dots, I inserted some white plastic filament. You want to place inlay before you put frets on because the sanding them flush is much easier this way.
Next step is to hammer in the frets.
When you buy the frets, they come in straight as a ruler and you need to pre-bend them a little more than the radius of the fretboard. For this purpose I made a very basic and ugly fret bender which works as a charm :)
In theory the frets just need to be hammered in. But I used a dab of superglue at the ends which prevented them from lifting out later, since I did not have a proper press to press them in nicely.
Also you can glue in the nut at this point. I suggest buying one that has the slots already cut in for the strings.
Step 9: Shaping the Back of the Neck
This is the tricky part but it is not too difficult if you do it slowly.
Slow speed is the key here. It goes much faster with power tools, but you can also screw up much faster :)
I started with a router. I did three rough cross cuts at both ends and at the middle, in order to mark the correct depth at all critical points. Watch out not to dig too deep and hit the truss rod channel.
Then I put a coarse grit paper on my belt sander and removed the majority of the excess wood.
But I finished with sanding the neck to the correct size by hand. It took forever. I was sanding it for over 2 weeks :) I took it slowly, because one mess-up at this point can cost you a lot of work.
This is the trickiest and the most labor intensive task, but it is also the most fulfilling.
Step 10: Routing the Neck Pocket and Cutting the Outline of the Body
The first thing I did on the slab of wood meant for the body was the neck pocket. But you could also do the outline cut first.
With the routing template already carefully prepared beforehand, this was an easy job.Using two screws, I attached the template onto the slab and routed the pocket of the correct depth according to the plans.
Then I took the wood to the local carpenter who cut the outline with his band saw. He did an awesome job. Very little sanding was needed afterwards.
I also pre-drilled 2 holes at the two tightest corners because the band saw can not make corners so sharp.
Now it is starting to look like a guitar :)
Step 11: "Pro" Advice
You remember previously, when I put a lot of emphasis on the templates? In the following steps you will see their true power and how they can make your work look more professional :)
Step 12: Routing Holes for Pickups
First you need to measure the exact position for the bridge in order to be able to get the guitar back in tune later.
For this type of the guitar the scale length is 25.5". This is the distance from the nut to the bridge - the length of the open strings.
I also marked the positions of the pickups and controls. I have chosen a unique controls layout. Just play around and do whatever you want. Be unique.
I marked the positions with a small drill.
Using the pre-made template for the pickup pocket, the routing it was a piece of cake and all three pockets came out perfect.
Step 13: Routing the Back Cavities
I made quite large cavities, because I wanted to fit in more electronics than standard. You will see later.
Again I had the separate templates prepared for the cavities and the recessed cover. Routing them was a blast.
After I had holes made, I cut the covers from black plexi glass by hand, carefully sanding them to perfect fit.
Step 14: Making It Curvy
Like a fine woman, I want the guitar to have sexy ergonomic curves as well :)
So I made the front contour for the hand and the rear contour for the belly like you find them on Fender Stratocaster guitars.
I sketched it out with a pencil and sanded the majority of the material with belt sander and finished by hand.
Step 15: The Little Things
Then I added another pocket for the wires for my acoustic pickup in the bridge saddles.
I also drilled all the holes for the controls, tuners and everything to the correct size.
I also drilled the holes for attaching the neck etc...
Step 16: Finishing the Body and Beveling the Edges
I used round over edge bit which made a nice bevel all around the guitar.
I also cross drilled all the holes for the wiring. Connecting all cavities together. It is tricky but with a long drill bit is doable. You just need to watch that you don't penetrate the front or rear face incidentally.
Then I finished the body with Tru Oil gun stock oil:
I like oil finishes, but they take forever to dry (days) This gun stock oil is different. It is something between oil finish and regular lacquer. It dries quickly and you need to apply 5 or more layers in order to get a really nice finish to the touch. It is especially nice for the neck as it is non sticky.
Step 17: Making the Pickups With DIY Winder
I went a step ahead and I also wound my pickups. (Yes I am that kind of DIY guy). I told you that this build is over-complicated :)
But I bought pickup kits from Stewmac containing all the parts for the build.
I will not be explaining the whole procedure because it is long and difficult for everybody.
The point is to wind 7-10 thousand windings of extremely thin 42AWG copper wire on the bobbins . For this purpose I made a pickup winder from scratch with a friend of mine because we both wanted to wind our own pickups. (Yes, my DIY drive is limitless :) )
After the wire is wound, I dipped the coils into the wax, which fixes the wire so that the pickups are not as microphonic.
And then assembling them and sticking the magnet behind them..
I wanted to wind my own pickups because I wanted to have pickups with different winding outputs. I made a tab at three different winding numbers in order to experiment with different sound that makes. It is like having three different pickups in one. One normal, one "hot" for rock'n'roll and one very weak which gives much clearer sound.
Step 18: Wiring
I screwed on the neck and covered all the cavities with copper shielding tape to reduce the noise interference.
Then, I installed the pickups and switches, routed all the wires to the main cavity and installed the electronics for the acoustic pickup.I also mounted the battery box. I used control potentiometers with switches inside, so I could select the different pickup winding output I made when winding them. As you can see, I have a weak spot for electronics :)
The wiring diagram for the pickup selector switch is attached near the beginning of this instructable where all other plans are attached.
The wiring for the acoustic pickup comes in the box.
I won't go much more in detail, because I believe not many people over-complicates as much as I do :)
Step 19: Leveling Frets
Now you want to level the frets.
First, mask the fretboard with masking tape.
Then I attached some fine sanding paper on the level tool, but any true straight piece approximately the size of the fretboard will do.
Then color the frets with a black marker. This way you will see where are you sanding.
Start sanding across the neck and every now and then, color the frets again. At the end you want to see them all at the same height - all of them white at the top after a bit of sanding.
Then the fret file comes in very handy, because otherwise you would have flat frets at the top but you want them nicely rounded. Again color the frets and file them with fret file until all the marker is removed and you get a nice round fret. Very useful tool. Worth its money.
Step 20: The Finish Line!
Screw the rest of the little things together, insert the ferrules, string trees, strap buttons, output jack and put on some strings! Tune the damn thing, turn on the amp and play some killer riffs!
Then proceed to make some nice photos of your creation!
Thank you for reading through this massively long instructable!
Consider subscribing to my instructable page and my youtube page JT Makes It. many more projects of all the different topics will follow.
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