Have you ever wanted to build your own guitar? Maybe you thought its impossible or too difficult or even too expensive, I'm here to teach you how to build your own super awesome, super custom electric guitar regardless of skill level. Even better you will do it without purchasing expensive machinery or hardware!
Because of some issues during the build i lost a lot of photos in this project so i'll do my best to explain the steps. The guitar i built and reference the most is a Carve top Guitar with a set neck. If you want to build a fender style guitar you can follow this tutorial along as it has a lot of information on guitar building. You may also want to wait as I'm working on a Fender style guitar build tutorial and hope to finish it soon.
This build was constructed almost entirely with hand tools, the only power tools i used were a handheld router and an impact driver, so you don't need a bunch of fancy and expensive machinery to build a top notch guitar!
Step 1: Materials
When it comes to Hardware on a guitar there are a variety of retailers and websites available. Wood can and in my opinion should be purchased from local lumber yards but you can make a great guitar from Home Depot or Lowes Lumber
- Lumber, quantity depends on the shape of guitar you want the measurements below are for my guitar and they are estimated. Refer to your plans for to estimate the amount of wood needed for your own guitar.
- Body blank was approximately 28" x 18" x 1-1/2" Honduran Mahogany piece.
- The neck blank was 2 2"x 30" x 1" pieces of Honduran Mahogany that I used for a 2 piece neck with a scarf joint.
- My Carved top was a Bocoté Cap measured at 28" x 18" x 5/8"
- For the Headstock cap (not all guitars need one, just ones with a tilt back headstock.) I used a piece of my Kingwood slab.
- 1 nut for the strings, i prefer a vintage Ivory nut but since one wasn't available i used a bone one, Alternatively you can use the Tusq ones or if you prefer not to shape your own nut buy one that is shaped and slotted already.
- 1 Truss Rod buy a 2 way truss rod (you'll thank me later) i prefer the Hot Rod Truss rods from Stew Mac.
- Strings, of course you need strings i like the D'Addario NYXL .9 Strings best.
- Fretboard blank, I milled my own fretboard out of Mexican Kingwood, but you can purchase a blank or a slotted Fretboard from Stew Mac or LMI. I will be talking more about the different types of fretboards in the first step.
- 1 set of tuners. This will depend on the guitar type you want weather its a 3+3 Combination or a 6 in line tuner set. I really the Schaller Locking tuners and that is what i used for the project.
- 1 bridge. Your design will determine they type of bridge needed for your guitar. I used a Tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece, specifically from Gotoh.
- Fret Wire a guitar will use approximately 3 feet of fret wire which can be purchased from Stew Mac. I recommend the Medium type Wire.
- Knobs and additional Hardware you may need will include tone and volume knobs (or you can make your own) output jack plate and strap buttons.
- Pick guard or pickup rings. if you purchase a set of pickups they may come with all the hardware and rings needed if not you can buy the pieces from Stew Mac, AllParts or make them yourself.
- Guitar Pickups. I went with 2 PAF humbucker pickups from Throwbak, and while very expensive i have to say they sound amazing. Your pickups will probably be the most expensive component so shop around and search for a type that you like.
- 1 Wiring Kit. you can purchase a guitar Wiring kit from Stew mac which comes unsoldered or from other websites. Additionally you can piece together the components from different suppliers but to make it easier i prefer the Stew Mac kit. Below I've listed the specifics in the Wiring Kits should you wish to source your own parts.
- A set of Capacitors, the number needed depends on the type of guitar. As mine is influenced by Gibson Guitars i need 2 Capacitors and i chose 2 Mylar Caps, .022 uF for the Neck Humbucker and a .047uF for the Bridge Humbucker.
- Potentiometers I need 4 Pots and i bought 500k Alpha Pots. The lower the Value (250K) the brighter the pots will sound and alternatively a Higher Value pot will sound a bit darker.
If you decide to purchase a Wiring Kit unsoldered or soldered it will come with the Wire, Pots, Caps and the output jack.
Step 2: Tools
Here is a basic list of tools you'll need. Since i am a hand tool woodworker i prefer using just hand tools but power tools maybe faster or more efficient for you. The only power tools I used in this tutorial are a Makita Router, Makita Impact Driver and a Soldering gun from Harbor Freight.
- Templates. I'll go over the different templates you may need but they are necessary and will help you avoid mistakes.
- Pencils and Pens, you will use them for everything and apart from my No. 7 hand plane my pencil is my favorite tool.
- Compass or angle protractor. you will need at least one and i only used my angle protractor a few times but it will become necessary to mark out headstock angle and the neck angle on the guitar.
- 2 Rulers at least 18 inches in length. i use a combination metric and imperial steel ruler that doubles as a straight edge, and a small ruler that measures in 64th of an inch.
- 1 Marking tool, i use a Marking Gauge which makes accurate and square marks, you can use a knife, razor blade or just a regular pencil as a substitute.
- 1 engineers square or framing square can be used. make sure that it is at a perfect 90 degree angle!
- 1 Caliper tool. Electric or Dial it doesn't matter you can find a cheap one at harbor freight
- 1 set of Files, at least 1 large bastard file and the rest can be needle files used for finish work
- 1 Rasp, a file can be substituted for it but i like the Shinto Rasp
- 1 Hand Plane, I actually use a big No. 7 Jointer Plane and it is my favorite tool but you can use a Jack Plane. my no. 7 is used as a joiner, planer and Thicknessing machine so it is invaluable!
- 1 Chisel Set, you actually only need 2 or maybe 3 chisels. I prefer a 1/2 inch and a 1 inch Chisel. I also use a small set of carving chisels but it is optional as you'll only need them if you want to inlay a logo on your headstock.
- 1 Hand held router, I use a Makita Plunge router and i highly recommend using a plunge router as they are safer and you will need to do cuts at various depths. ( I also used my Dremel with a Plunge router attachment but i only used it for inlay work so it is completely optional.)
- Router Bits i use 3. 1 3/4 Round over bit, 1 1-1/2" depth template bit and 1 3/4" template bit.
- 1 card scraper will substitute for sandpaper if set up properly
- A set of saws. I use a Ryoba Hand Saw, a Coping saw and a little .23 kerf pull saw from Harbor freight. If you own a table saw or circular saw rip cuts will be much easier and faster.
- 1 Drill, i used a Makita impact driver and my little eggbeater drill for this project. If you own a drill press drilling holes accurately will become much easier and faster, but with enough practice you can be just as accurate with a hand drill.
- 1 drill bit set, so long as it has 3/64" minimum you should be fine although i like having 1 or 2 forstner bits as well
- 1 set of clamps , you can never own too many clamps but i suggest 2-3 small F style clamps and 3 Bar clamps should be fine for your start.
- Glue, I prefer hot hyde glue but i used Titebond original for this project and i recommend it. you may also need some CA glue for binding, inlay work and small repairs.
The tools below are finishing work tools and electronics.
- Screwdrivers both flat head and phillips may be needed. I have a small jewelers set of screwdrivers that are perfect for the screws used in the guitar.
- Electronics Pliers i use them to trim the electronics wire and for fretwork
- Cutting pliers i use these to cut the fret wire as i don't have have a fret cutter although you can make your own by grinding a flat edge on end nippers.
- Wire strippers for wiring.
- 1 Soldering Gun, i bought a cheap one from Harbor Freight and it works wonderfully. Additionally you'll want some Soldering wire i use 60/40.
- Sandpaper grits 120,220,300,400 should suffice. Use a piece of scrap wood as a Sanding block as sanding with your fingers will not leave a flat surface.
- Steel wool grit 0000 for fine polishing.
- Tape at least 1 roll of masking tape and 1 roll of double stick tape of templates.
- Wood Finish. I recommend Oil finish because of ease of application and it requires no specialized equipment.
- Brasso, for Fret polishing!
- Microfiber cloths, useful for finishing work, making sure your instrument doesn't get scratched and for cleaning.
Step 3: Template and Plan Layout
Here is where you'll want to either design your very own shape or purchase a set of established blueprints. I recommend starting from an established shape if you are a beginner woodworker, but if you like a challenge feel free to create your own design. You will also need to think about what scale length you choose. The scale length is measured from the beginning of the fretboard or first fret to the location of the Bridge. The two most common for electric guitars are the Fender Scale length (25-1/2") and the Gibson length (24-3/4) keep in mind the Gibson scale length has changed throughout the years I used 24.625 or 24 5/8. http://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator.html This website is an excellent resource and will not only give you the correct fret placement if you are cutting your own fretboard but will also give you the correct bridge placement ( I will be explaining this website later on in the tutorial, but for now it is important for you to decide what scale length to use.)
If you are Purchasing a slotted fretboard from Stew Mac or LMI they will come in a specific scale length and this is will be the easiest step. If you are purchasing an unslotted fretboard or are milling your own blank refer to the Stew Mac website to calculate your fret positions and cut the frets either by hand or with a table saw.
After establishing your scale Length its important to cut out and make your templates, these will make the guitar construction easier and give you a better way to use your router rather than freehand. The more accurate the templates the better. I mark all of my templates with the necessary measurements so i don't have to keep checking my plans. In the pictures above i show the templates I made including a neck pocket template, body shape template (arguably the most important as this is your guitar shape!), neck template with the correct neck taper (measurements are off the width of the Nut and the 22nd fret for the correct taper) , pickup template (to rout out the humbucker cavities), and a Control Cavity template.
Step 4: The Neck
The first thing i like to build on a guitar is the neck and here preparation is key for a successful build. Since my guitar is using a Tune-o-matic bridge ands stop bar i have to angle my neck and the headstock for proper intonation. This website http://www.tundraman.com/Guitars/NeckAngle/ is a fantastic resource to find the proper neck angle on your guitar and i highly recommend it. After planning i figured out that my guitar will use a 3 degree neck angle and the headstock will be at a 13 degree angle, once you have the neck figured out its time to make wood dust!
Step 1- Mark out and measure your guitar neck to make sure you don't build a shorter neck. Measure twice and cut once as the proverb says. The dimensions on my neck are 4" x 30" x 1", but to save wood and build a stronger neck i made mine a two piece neck.
Step 2- If you are building a 2 or more piece neck orient the wood grain so it runs vertical to the wood surface of the neck. Then plane the neck pieces dead flat using your hand plane or planer and an engineers square. the flatter the two jointed surfaces are the more invisible the seam and stronger it'll be.
Step 3 - Glue your neck up if you made a two piece or 3 piece neck, it is important to lay your neck with the grain running vertically ( this is known as Quartersawn) as this will create a dimensionally stable guitar neck. Leave your neck blank to dry for at least 3 hours although i like to wait 24 hours just to be sure.
Step 4 - After the glue up mark out and cut you scarf joint to the appropriate angle. Personally i believe that a neck with a scarf joint is stronger and less wasteful than its single piece brother, but if you decide to have a one piece neck cut out the angle for the headstock as well.
Step 5 - If you cut out your scarf joint using your engineers square and a flat edge on the neck mark a straight perpendicular line to the flat edge as close as possible to the scarf ramp. This will be the location of your guitar nut and allow you to visualize the flattening of the joint.
Step 6 - Clamp the neck and headstock together so you can plane the scarf joint flat, taking care that you leave the joint as square as possible.
Step 7 - Once you have achieved a flat joint glue it up and let it dry for at least 24 hours as this is a very critical joint. To avoid the headstock slipping from the glue you can drill two little holes in parts of the joint that won't be used and insert a staple to keep the joints centered.
Step 8 - Time to rout the Truss rod channel! Measure the thickness, width and height of the truss rod and mark it on your neck using the centerline to keep everything centered. There are many ways to rout out the truss rod, personally I have a template that I use with my router, but you can use a flat straight edge to keep your router bit parallel to it or you can cut it by hand using chisels and your marking tools. Use your truss rod for depth and make sure that it fits snug into the channel.
Step 9 - Turn your attention to the fretboard while the Scarf joint dries, if you have an unslotted fretboard or are milling your own you will need to join and plane the board to the correct dimensions. Since i am using a Gibson scale length of 24.625 my fretboard will measure approximately 2-3/8" x 18-1/2" x 15/64"
Step 10 - skip this step if you bought a slotted fretboard. If you haven't slotted your fretboard now would be a good time to do so, and remember to be 100% accurate as a fretboard that has been slotted incorrectly will never intonate properly and your instrument won't sound to good. To slot your fretboard you can use a miter box or an engineers square. What i do is first mark the position of all the frets, then clamp my engineers square close to the line and use my fret saw directly on the line to cut as accurately as possible.
Step 11(optional) - Once slotted you may desire to bind the fretboard if thats the case measure your binding and calculate the true dimensions of your fretboard with your plans, then cut your fretboard so that with the binding it has the correct dimensions.
Step 12 - Once your fretboard has been correctly slotted and the neck has dried you will need to make the tendon for the neck ( if you are doing a set neck guitar). Make sure that you have a centerline established on the neck as this will be very important to keep everything centered. I make templates for the neck tenon and it measures at 1-1/2" x 4 1/2"x 1-1/2" with a 3 degree angle on the sides of the tenon to mirror the 3 degree mortise on the body.
Step 13 - Now would be a great time to glue on your headstock if your guitar will have one, align the grain of the headstock cap to the centerline of the headstock to give a pleasing vertical grain orientation to your headstock.
Step 14 - Measure your tuning machine necks to drill the tuner holes on the headstock. I recommend making a template for your headstock shape and drilling your tuning holes into the template to check for accuracy and to make sure that everything is centered. Once you are satisfied with the tuner layout and shape of your headstock, clamp your template to the headstock and rout out the shape and drill the tuner holes. Also be sure to cut out the truss rod slot!
Step 15 (Optional) - If you are going to have a logo on your guitar now would be a good time to cut it out and inlay your logo on your headstock.
By now you should have a roughed neck with a tenon milled out and headstock shaped. A fretboard that has been cut to dimension and slotted and if desired bound.
You may choose to glue your fretboard to the neck and taper the neck to your fretboards dimensions now if you wish. Personally I like to finish my neck once its been glued onto the guitar, I recommend doing it this way so that you can place your fretboard correctly centered to your guitar once your neck has been glued up.
Step 5: Neck Types in Relation to the Body
By this point you have a Scale length determined and you should have a body type chosen. There are three types of neck types and its important to choose which one you'll go with as they all have advantages and disadvantages. Some of the biggest differences are the types of bridges that can be used on the guitar and how the neck is joined to the guitar.
The first is a Set Neck guitar, this is a gibson type guitar and is seen as the most traditional type of construction and my personal favorite. Some disadvantages to these necks are that they have to be angled at the headstock and where the neck joins the body which can intimidate beginner luthiers due to the potential complexity of the joint. and should the neck become broken or heavily damaged it is much more difficult to repair or replace. The advantages to this type of neck are better sustain to the guitar due to the fact that the wood is joined together and a stronger guitar. The angles vary from as low as 2.5 degrees to about 5 degrees as seen on some Les Paul guitars, like i stated earlier my neck angle is at 3 degrees due to the fact that i took much inspiration from the SG guitars. The higher the neck angle the lower the action will be on the guitar but you can have too low of an action so be wary. The bridges used on this type of system are known as Hard Tail Bridges (Tune-o-Matic, ABR-1 etc..)
The next type of neck joint is the Bolt on neck which is most commonly seen in Fender guitars, these necks are much easier to construct as they do not need a tilt back headstock although they will need string trees in the headstock to give the adequate angle for the strings. Advantages to this type of neck are ease of construction, and ease of repair should the neck or guitar be damaged. The type of bridge most commonly used is called a Floating Bridge.
The last type of construction is a little bit more unique and it is called a Neck-through type, this type of construction is more common on Bass guitars than on regular axe's. The advantages to this system includes easier access to the upper frets since there is no need for a heel on the neck, easier intonation because theoretically the fretboard and bridge are even, and some musicians may say the guitar has greater sustain. Disadvantages include difficulty in repairing the instrument since it is a single piece from neck to body you may have to replace the entire instrument if it's damaged enough. Construction of the instrument will also be much more expensive and difficult as you will need to find lumber long enough for both bridge and body and you will need to glue wings to the instrument, because of this i consider this method to be more wasteful so i never build instruments in this manner.
Step 6: The Body
Unfortunately i lost a lot of photos of the process so i'll do my best to explain the process as i go along.
Step 1 - Rough out and square the body blank. If you are using hand tools cut the body blank to rough size and then using your hand planes, scrapers and square up the body, using your hand plane (the bigger the better as it'll leave a flatter surface) you can thickness the body to dimensions.
Quick Tip - Use a straight edge and winding sticks so you can be sure that your body blank remains perfectly flat. Remember slow and steady wins the race, so be patient!
If you have machines well first you can cut to basic dimensions and square it up on the joiner then planer and then thickness the body to the correct dimension.
Step 2 - repeat the process for your top cap if your guitar is going to have a carve top, if not ignore this.
Step 3 - rout out and shape your body (if you have a body template get a template router bit and rout the body to its shape.)
Step 4 - rout out the control cavities and wire channels ( If you have a carve top guitar Do Not rout out pickup channels and neck pocket yet!!)
Step 5 ( Optional) - If you have a carve top guitar glue the cap to the body and allow 24 hours clamping and drying time.
Step 6 - Now that you have a guitar shape it would be a good time to begin the Carve top. I do a carve using my router and i make steps about 1/16th around the body, that insures a good step carve.
Step 7 - After you have a rough carve it is a good idea to carve out the neck angle if you have a set neck instrument. I did this by building a router sled, but you can also use a hand plane (much easier than you may think) If you have a bolt on (fender style guitar) you can rout out the neck pocket at this time.
Step 8 (Carve top only) - Once I have the neck angle i secure my neck mortise template and rout out the neck mortise, this will give me a pocket that is perfectly parallel to the neck angle thats been established. For an easier rout i suggest using a forstner bit to hog out excess material. This will give you a cleaner rout and save your router bit
Step 9 - Rout out your pickup pockets keeping them aligned to the center line and neck pocket (This is key!!!)
Step 10 - Drill the holes for your output jack (I use a 3/8" Forstner bit) ,volume, and tone knobs.
Step 11 - (Carve top only) - At this point i usually like to finish my carve top now that i no longer need flat surfaces for the templates. I carve out the top using chisels, and scrapers, Some people like to use an angle grinder with a Kutzall Sanding disc but i don't for fear of carving too much.
Step 12 - After you get an acceptable carve wet the surface lightly and inspect it under a light, this will show any imperfections, dips or areas that weren't sanded properly. Repeat as necessary.
Step 13 - For non carve top guitars I would begin leveling the guitar body and carving out an reliefs or chamfers on the body.
Step 14 - Round over the back part of the body and sand out any harsh corners on it, remember you want your guitar to be as comfortable as possible. Inspect the Body for any imperfections and sand them out.
Step 15 - If your guitar is going to have binding you may cut the channel out, there are different ways to do so with a router bit or by hand. Before you begin measure your binding and cut the binding channel close to the line.I did the channel by hand using a tool called a gramil (think of a knife that can cut perfectly vertical) and chisels to clean up the channel.
Step 16 - After you have your binding channel cut out glue in your binding using CA glue and automotive tape to hold the binding in place while the glue dries, work in sections of a couple inches.
Step 7: Joining the Body an Neck
By now you have a guitar.. well close but you are almost there. We Begin by making sure that the body has been sanded to at least 220 or 320 if you prefer and you have a neck that is roughed out. We will be focusing on joining the neck to the body and making sure everything is squared up, Honestly this is the step i hate the most as this will reveal if you have a guitar or something that looks like a guitar!
Step 1 - Insert your neck on your guitar and do a dry test of the neck strength if this is a set neck, the more snug the joint is the better. You may need to do a bit of sanding or even chiseling to make sure you have a good neck joint but be very very careful.
Step 2 - With the neck in the guitar make sure your centerlines add up if not you may have to shim your neck to make sure you have a straight neck in reference to the guitar.
Step 3 - Once you are satisfied with your neck and body glue and clamp them for at least 24 hours, as this is arguably the most critical joint i leave it clamped for 36 hours or more.
Step 4 - Install your E string tuners ( Bass and treble) and install the nut.
Step 5 - With the tuners and Nut installed clamp or tape your fretboard to your neck following your centerlines. string up both E strings and make sure that the stings follow the fretboard and don't fall off, this will insure that your fretboard is perfectly placed and will also give you a reference for the bridge location.
Step 6 - With the Fretboard placed in its proper location its time to glue it up, Install the Trussrod on the neck and tape up the truss rod channel.
Step 7 - If you are using an exotic fretboard it is a good idea to wipe it down with acetone to get rid off some of the oils in the wood. Spread glue on the fretboard and neck then clamp them together (Make sure that both surfaces are well clamped) let dry for 24 hours.
Step 8 - Using a ruler or measuring tape from the nut end measure out your scale length (mine is 24.625) and mark it.
Step 9 - Use a square and place it on the scale length mark on your body and draw a line perpendicular to your centerline on your scale length location.
Step 10 - Install your E tuners, nut and place your bridge on your theoretical scale length( as centered as possible). Then place your strings on your tuners and bridge ( i use the stop bar and i tape or lock the strings in place) This will allow you to place your bridge in a centered position.
- If you have a floating bridge your templates will probably have the bridge location to rout so you may do so, just make sure that your bridge is placed in the correct location
Step 11. Remember this website? http://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator.html Use it to correctly place the compensated bridge location to give your guitar proper intonation and action. Once you have the proper location marked out, drill the bridge holes as close to 90 degrees as possible.
Step 12- Install the bridge and string up the guitar to find the location of your tailpiece, I placed the tail piece 2" from the bridge center. Once you have your tail piece location drill out the holes and you can install the tailpiece to make sure everything lines up perfectly.
Step 8: Carve Out the Neck
With the Neck and fretboard installed to the guitar my next step is to carve the neck profile. This is the part of the build I enjoy the most as I usually blast some music and go to town on my neck!!!
Step 1 - Mark a centerline on your neck if you haven't already also mark out the heel profile.
Step 2 - Taper the neck as close to the fretboard as possible. Be careful not to ding the fretboard. I taper my necks with either my router and the fretboard taper template or i cut the neck as close to the taper with my Ryoba saw and then i use my files and rasps to sneak up to the fretboard.
Step 3 - With your neck tapered mark 2 lines on either side of the neck 3/16" from the edge of the neck.
Step 4 - file the neck at the first fret position and at the 16th fret or right before the heel to your desired neck thicknesses.
Step 5 - using a chisel or raps angled down, cut the neck so it has a hexagonal shape (like a house).
Step 6 - Use your rasps, files and chisels to round over your neck to your desired shape, I personally like my guitar shape to be a D shape.
Step 7 - Once you are satisfied with your neck shape begin shaping your heel, using chisels and files, the better you blend the heel to the neck the more comfortable your neck will feel in higher frets.
Step 8 - Sand your neck and heel smooth up to 320, this will also help with shaping your neck but be careful not to sand a bump into your neck.
Step 9: Finishing Work
You now have a working guitar! well not quite you still have to install electronics, set up and oh yeah apply the finish!! I use Oil finishes because in my opinion they are safer, more forgiving and more beautiful than your different lacquers. The specific type of finish i use is a sanded in antique oil finish and that is the one I will be teaching you.
Step 1 - Using a damp rag wet the body and neck to raise the grain and let it dry.
Step 2 - Sand down the fibers that have been raised using 320 on your entire guitar and then wipe off all sawdust!!
Step 3 - Mask off the fretboard and any places that you don't want the finish to get into.
Step 4 - Apply a generous coat of Oil finish on a face of the guitar and spread it around with a brush or cloth, take note of the areas where the wood soaks up the finish and apply more.
Step 5 - After about 3 minutes of letting the oil soak into the wood grab some 320 sandpaper and a sanding block and begin sanding the body following the grain direction, you will build up a slurry and this will act as a grain filler. If the oil starts to get tacky add more oil.
Step 6 - After a few applications grab a lint free cloth and wipe away all excess finish and continue to monitor the body for a few more minutes and keep wiping off any excess you see. Let dry for 24 hours
Step 7 - Once the 24 hours are up apply the 2nd coat of oil using your sanding block and 400 grit sandpaper, you don't need too much pressure and remember to sand with the grain. Wipe off any excess oil and let dry for 24 hours.
Step 8 - Repeat the process listed above but use 600 grit sandpaper. Let dry for 24 hours
Step 9 - At this point you have 4 coats and i apply the last one using 0000 steel wool following the same steps listed above but you can continue to put more coats on. The more coats you have the shinier the guitar will get. Let dry for 24 hours
Step 10 - Using steel wool and a little bit of water buff out the finish to whatever sheen you want, I went with a Semi Gloss.
Repeat the same steps for the back, neck and headstock. Just make sure you have all areas you don't want finished ( fretboard, binding or cavities) masked
Step 10: Fretting
Fretting is in my opinion the most important part of a guitar. It doesn't matter how beautiful your guitar looks if it feels uncomfortable to play it won't be a good guitar
Step 1 - Grab a straightedge and make sure that your neck is straight if not adjust your truss rod to straighten your neck out.
Step 2 - Put a radius in your fret wire by softly bending it with your hands, be careful not to twist it. This will make the installing of the fret wire much easier.
Step 3 - Grabbing your end nibblers cut out all of your fret pieces to length and if you have a bound footboard you will need to trim the fret tangs on the edges ( use a cutting plier and file).
Step 4 - using a soft hammer or wood caul to protect the frets hammer the frets into your fretboard.
Step 5 - Grab your end nibbler and trim your fret wire as close to the fretboard as possible. Then tape up the fretboard leaving only the frets exposed to protect the board.
Step 6 - Using a File, file down the fret ends at an approximate 35 degree angle parallel to the fretboard to remove excess fret wire.
Step 7 - With a marker mark out the fret tops and then grab a sanding block and some 320 sandpaper to sand the frets flat. Use a straight edge for accuracy and flatness.
Step 8 - To recrown the frets grab a small block of wood and a rounded needle file to sand a round shape on the block. Grab some 400 sandpaper and using the block as a sanding block, sand the frets individually until they are shaped again and you remove most of the scratches.
Step 9 - With some Brasso and some 0000 steel wool polish the frets up.
Step 11: Electronics
Its time to install your pickups, and while this may seem like a nerve raking experience its actually very easy even if you've never soldered before. Make sure you don't over heat the Potentiometers or burn yourself, take it slow and have fun. This tutorial is for a twin Humbucker Les Paul style wiring, more specifically its how to do a vintage wiring system. The difference between Vintage and modern wiring is that in a modern wiring, the tone control is before the volume control. On a Vintage wiring the tone control comes after the volume control. I will not be going over Fender style wiring as you can buy the pick guard already wired, so its much easier.
Step 1 - The first thing I do is install all of my Pots in their holes ( 4 of them), Toggle switch and push the pickup wire through to the contra cavity.
Step 2 - Ground all 4 pots to themselves, since this is a vintage wiring setup i grounded the left Terminal ( the little nubs with a hole in the center) to the volume pots and the center terminal on the tone pots. I did this by first pushing the terminal as close to the Pot body as possible and then holding the soldering gun to the terminal to heat it up I applied solder until I got a good joint.
Step 2 - Grabbing your Coaxial wire ( you should have at least a 2' piece) push a bit up to the bridge to ground the bridge(through a hole connecting the bridge to the control cavity) and once you see the Coax wire coming out of one of the bridge holes tape it.
Step 3 - Begin by grounding all 4 Pots using the same Coax Wire. Solder one Pot at a time by putting the soldering wire on the gun and letting some melt on the gun tip, then let the solder harden on the uncovered wire. Once you have a good soldering joint use a screwdriver to hold the joint in place until it hardens. Use the screwdriver to make sure you have a good joint by putting tension on the wire and seeing if the joint breaks loose (it shouldn't)
Step 4 - With all 4 Pots grounded to themselves and the bridge wire (ill explain later) ground the output jack by soldering the ground wire to the negative terminal of the output jack.
Step 5 - I have my neck pickup with the two pots closest to the body and the bridge pickup soldered to the two pots closest to the edge of the guitar. Ground the Neck pickup to the Pot first( it'll be a little unshielded wire) you can ground it directly to the solder thats on your pot.
Step 6 - Solder the Pickup wire to the right terminal of your pot, leaving the middle termini free.... for now.
Step 7 - Repeat the last two steps for the bridge pickup
By now you should have 4 grounded pots and output jack, as well as both pickups grounded and attached to their pots.
Step 8 - Using a piece of Coax wire Solder the Positive terminal of the Output Jack to two Center terminals in your toggle switch ( grab the two middle terminals of your toggle switch and squeeze them together).
Step 9 - Solder the center terminal of the toggle switch to the terminal at the top of the switch together, this will connect the positive output of the jack to the center terminals and the top terminal (confusing i know) Check my photos to reference the solder.
This is known as the standard component wiring and will be the same for both vintage and modern wiring kits.
Step 10 - Time to solder your capacitors ( i use .022 uF on the neck and . 047uF on the bridge) Solder the capacitor to the middle terminal of the volume pot and to the left terminal of the tone pot.
Step 11 - At this point you are done!!! You have a vintage wiring on your guitar.... but wait!!! what about that little wire sticking out of the bridge hole, how do we ground that!? Easy just put the bridge post into the hole with the wire inside.... thats it! Just make sure you tug on the ground wire from the control cavity to ensure it stays in place.
Step 12: Final Steps... About Time.
Your done! Or are you... time to install all the hardware on your guitar and string it up. Before you tune the guitar to plug and play you have to set up the action. I like very low action on my guitar, some people like higher so its up to you. Action refers to the height of the guitar strings is correlation to the fretboard.
To lower the action I file the nut down so the Bass E string to .015" on the first fret and 3/64" on the 12th fret. A string .014", D string .013", G string .012", B String .010" and the Treble E at .009" with a 3/64" height on the 12th fret.
Raise or lower the Neck pickup to 3/32" on the treble side ( measure from the bottom part of the string to the top of the pickup) and 3/32" on the Bass side.
On the Bridge Pickup I use 1/16" on the treble and on the Bass.
Now you should have a guitar that plays well, looks spectacular and is handmade... By you!!! Congratulations and remember to enjoy the guitar, soon you'll have all your friends begging you to build them an Axe! If you have any questions or comments on this tutorial please feel free to contact me, and i'll try to update this tutorial as time goes on. Cheers!!!
Step 13: References
Heres a list of valuable information and Luthier supply websites that you should check out.
-http://www.stewmac.com A ton of information, tools and supplies for the aspiring luthier
-http://www.tundraman.com/Guitars/NeckAngle/index.p... - Neck Angle Calculator
-https://www.lmii.com - Luthier tools, Wood, fretboards and supplies
-http://www.guitarfetish.com - great selection of hardware and parts for your guitar
The Guitar Player Repair Guide By Dan Erlewine - A fantastic book I highly recommend it. It has information on set up, repairs, wiring and electronics.
Guitarmaking, tradition and technology By William Cumpiano- While this is a book on building acoustic guitars i consider this the Bible on guitar building and lutherie, most skills you will learn as a luthier can be learned by this book.
Also be sure to check out the many forums out there, the web is a gem of information and inspiration for guitar making.
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