Hello all, this is my first project (to be uploaded). Please bear with me since I'm merely a hobbyist in wood working and music.
The goal of this project was to make a guitar as cheaply as possible. Turns out it takes quite a bit of effort, both in the woodworking aspects, as well as scrounging around for parts. If you read this project through, you'll also find this is not only an exercise in woodworking, but also in creativity via necessity (though it was not necessary for my to make this guitar).
I'm terrible at this whole "getting the ball rolling" thing, but here we go!
Step 1: Take an Inventory of What You Have, Then Find Out What You Might Need.
For my project I started out with:
-An old Korean Bullet Stratocaster my friend gave me for helping him move. Pretty much the only things I could scavenge were the tuning machines, the nut, and the pickups (for an upcoming project, I'll show my steps in restoring this old guitar).
-My current store-bought Stratocaster (I used this solely for measurements, no parts were taken from it)
-A few pieces of rough-cut lumber (poplar is what I could scrounge up, but maple would be better)
-Scrap lauan (used for the pick guard)
... But I soon found out this wouldn't be enough. I figured I'd be needing a truss rod, plus some other hardware, so I ended up buying these things:
-1/4" piece of square steel tubing for the truss (plus oil based paint to keep it from rusting, all that for under $10)
-Fingerboard (bought rosewood, but maple would be cheaper ~$35 for rosewood on stewmac)
-Medium/medium fretwire (maybe $5 to do a 25 1/2" scale guitar)
-Lacquer and foam brushes (under $10)
As far as tools go, I used:
-Crowbar (optional; used to pry wood off of the old building...)
-Wood planer (had access to an electric planer, though a hand planer would work fine)
-Drill & various bits
-A ripping saw (I used a small handsaw, this tool is optional, but having it sped up the process a little)
-Hammer to tap the chisels
-Various files, rasps, and a forming blade (a forming blade looks like a cheese grater)
-A few clamps (I used two 4" C-clamps mainly), and some heavy objects (I used bricks, logs, old sledgehammer and maul heads, a toolbox, etc... for putting pressure on glued parts)
-Various grits of sandpaper
-Assorted steel wool
*I really wish I would have had a router for this project, as using a hammer and chisel to form cavities for the pickups and truss rod took a very long time)
Step 2: Focus on the Neck a Little Bit. This Is Where Your Rasps and Files Come in Handy.
1. Plane down your board for the neck.
2. Rough out the neck. I used a Stratocaster neck as a reference just to get the width right (leave a little extra until you get closer to the end of the project for final shaping and finishing). I used a table saw to cut up the neck most of the way, then finished the headstock with a jigsaw.
*note, this isn't a bolt-on neck. It's a neck-through guitar. After you've got the wood roughed out, go ahead and mark where the tuning machines will be and drill through with a 3/8" bit (or the appropriate size for your own tuners).
Step 3: Time to Get Familiar With Your Hand Tools.
After your basic shape is cut out, it's time to do a bit of forming.
1. After the neck is cut out, use a pencil to mark the thickness of the headstock, then mark some lines spaced roughly 1" (or in between the tuning machine holes you just drilled out) to be cut with the handsaw.
2. Once the lines have been cut to depth, bust out the pieces of wood with a chisel.
3. After you've done that, it's time to shape the back of the neck, first with the forming blade and rasps, then smooth things out with both a flat and half round file.
4. If you want, feel free to hit things up with some 60 grit sandpaper, although the files will keep things pretty smooth for now.
*Notice the side-by-side comparison. It's important to keep things as straight as possible. You can design your neck however you want, but I did this comparison as a handy reference.
Step 4: Time to Make a Body.
Unfortunately I didn't have any big slabs of wood to use as a guitar body. But what I did have were a few pieces of lumber that I planed out, cut into sticks, and glued together. Really it was just like making a butcher block. In fact I almost named this project "How to make a butcher block guitar".
But as you can see from the pictures, it would be nice to have a few long bar clamps. But I made due, and things seem to be solid.
First, figure out the dimensions of the body you wish to make. I made this body about the same size as a Stratocaster, but cut things out a little bit to have some extra access to the higher frets.
Once you've got things measured out, it's time to get cutting, planing, and gluing.
What I did was glue strips of wood together per each side of the body, glue those together respectively, then I glued those portions to the neck. You might end up with something that looks like a bunch of Lego blocks stuck together like I got, or you might end up with something that resembles Bo Diddley's guitar.
Step 5: Hey, Now It's Starting to Look Like a Guitar!
After the butcher block looking body is glued up, the next step is to rough out the general outline of the body with a jigsaw.
After that's done, it's time to get shaping with your forming blade, rasps, and files again.
Once you have the body shaped out about how you want it, you're going to have to make some cavities to house your pickups and also the truss rod. I didn't want to buy a truss rod because I'm cheap, so I used a piece of 1/4" square steel tubing I had from another project. I also wanted a custom looking pick guard, but I didn't want to purchase anything fancy for it, so I made mine out of some scrap lauan I had.
This is another part where measurements are key. I made all my measurements based on the distance between the bridge and the nut. I wanted an extended scale for this guitar, so I had to make some adjustments on pickup placement, i.e. I just had to space them a little closer together. This was a simple process, and making the new pick guard was no biggie.
1. After you've shaped the body out nicely, mark on the body where the bridge will be located, and also where the fingerboard will end.
2. Figure out where your pickups will be placed in between these measurements.
3. Chisel or route the cavities, then for mine I glued in the steel tubing truss rod. For an adjustable truss, well I'm just not sure what the procedure there is.
4. Make the pick guard by taking your pickup measurements and putting them onto the pick guard material, then design the shape to cover additional cavities needed to house the potentiometers (volume, tone, tone), pickup selector switch, and if you make it like mine, a spot for the input jack in the pick guard. Cut all that out, by the way, in addition to cutting out a hole for the trem bridge (or not, if you don't want to have a bridge like that. Maybe you want something like a tune-o-matic, and that's fine too. The whole point of this is to make something however you want it because you can.)
5. (If wood) Sand down the pick guard, test fit everything, take it back apart then finish it. I used some clear spray lacquer I had from a previous project. I ended up applying 2 additional coats of brushing lacquer after using steel wool on the initial coat (0000 steel wool).
6. (Optional) I ended up staining the portion of the body where the neck goes through. As you can see from the picture, I only stained it a walnut color.
Step 6: Measure Thrice, Cut Twice, Then Measure Twice and Cut Three More Times Because It Takes a While to Fit Everything.
Now that the cavities are formed, the truss is glued in, and the pick guard is done, it's time to glue down the fingerboard and finish this bad mama-jama up.
1. Make sure the fingerboard it lined up perfectly with your measurements, and using some wood glue, glue it down and clamp it making sure it doesn't shift at all.
2. Mark where the edges of the nut will be, and also down the neck of the guitar, then remove the excess fingerboard. I did this using a forming blade and a flat mill file. Rosewood is easy to work with apparently.
3. Sand the edges where you formed the fingerboard. After that it's time to do some final shaping to the sides and back of the neck, removing excess wood with your files and sanding as needed. I finished the bare wood with 0000 steel wool.
4. Sand the body, and hit it with some 0000 steel wool like you did with the neck. No one said it was going to be a fast process.
5. At this point everything should fit on the guitar, and it should be sanded down and smoothed out. At this point I ended up hitting the guitar with a tack cloth, taping the fingerboard off, then clear coating it with brushing lacquer. A spray would work well for this, and I'm sure polyurethane would do a fantastic job as well. I used lacquer as a clear coat as that's what I had on hand.
6. Install the fret wire. What I did was take a piece of caul lumber, place it on top of each fret, then gently tap it down with a hammer. I then took end nipper and cut the wire, and filed the end smooth. It's not really that long of a process, but I should have done the frets before putting a finish on the guitar. Either way it turned out alright.
7. Rock out?
Some final thoughts:
I've played this thing a little bit, and it feels alright. As far as sound goes it sounds about like a... guitar.
The sustain is okay, and so is the tone. It's really nothing to write home about, but it was a challenging and fun project.
If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have made the neck as thick. The steps where I cut out the excess wood on the headstock wasn't necessary, as the fingerboard would have given enough height for string clearance on the headstock. Either way it looks alright and it works just fine.
If you made it all the way through reading this, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed my first Instructable!