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So, you want to build a guitar, do ya?

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  • So, you want to build a guitar, do ya?

    That's the first thing my invisible friend told me many years ago when I first had the revelation that it could be done, by the everyman no less!

    **I should note that there are different, better (read: the right way) and more involved ways of doing some stuff. I highly recommend you don't use this thread as a guide (I hope no one is so foolish ) and instead do the same research I did on doing things the right way. Unless you just want to live on the edge.**

    And so we embarked...

    My first try was a fretless neck-through bass, with no truss rod, that was made as an alternative project for high school wood shop. Functionally, it was a turd, but as a learning experience it was critical for me. Namely because I realized just how much research I hadn't done, how many answers I hadn't come up with, and how many things that work well in theory can't actually be practically applied. So basically, I learned stuff.

    Fast forward a couple years, and I found myself contemplating the idea again. "I want to have another go at this, but what if I mess up again?" Exotic woods aren't exactly dirt cheap and disposable, even local stuff. So I started doing my research, and in that course I came across a guitar built from recycled materials. Then another, and more and more, all built from found materials and stuff people had given up for scrap - yet here were these people, crafting beautiful instruments from basically nothing. One particular example that blew me away was the popsicle stick guitar made entirely from - you guessed it - popsicle sticks.

    So I did what any Canadian does - I put on my best flannel "thinking" shirt, got my stereotypically oversized axe, and decided to cut some wood. First I had to find some wood.



    A-ha. I found a stack of old 2x4s. Wood! This will do, but I didn't want to build the entire thing out of 2x4, so I kept hunting. Eventually I came across a stack of old birch logs my dearly departed great uncle cut up in his home town years and years ago. This was also my grandmother's hometown, and since she also passed recently this year, I figured I'd throw a little of it into the build just as a touch of tribute. So a'digging I went, lo and behold, I found a piece with some nice spalting on one edge. (For those of you not hip with the times, spalting is the process of the wood decaying [bad] that's been stopped short of turning the wood into log shaped pulp [really bad] leaving black rings in the wood that create interesting patterns [good!])

    Is log.

    Next we had to figure out what sort of shape we wanted, and how we wanted to layout the woods. I say we because if you've made it this far without getting utterly bored to tears, I can only assume you're with me for this Journey on a midnight train goin' anywhere. For those of you playing along at home, this stage of the game is a good point to figure out a number of things. My answers are in bold, as you can see I'm still undecided on a few things so I've given myself reasonable room to work within different configurations for now.

    - What sounds do I like? Am I aiming to replicate that tone, or let the build shape it's own voice? (Let it be)
    - What woods am I using? Am I using alternative materials? (Mystery [Spruce or Pine] 2x4s for body sides, top and back - birch pickup covers, bridge + tailpiece - resin impregnated birch fretboard - steel reinforced 2x4 neck)
    - What kind of pickups do I want, and how many? (Undecided)
    - How much do I want to build by hand? (Buy a kit, buy a neck/build a body, etc) (Build everything except tuners/pickups/hardware bits and bobs)
    - What will my scale length be? Am I using one scale length or multiscale? (more on this coming up) 25-27" scale length, fanned frets, perpendicular fret at the 7th)
    - What body shape do I want to use? Do I want to make my own? (Les Paulish, but with some other inspirations and my own take to suit the multiscale)
    - Do I want a hollow body? Semi-hollow body? If so, what method do I want to use to accomplish this? (Semi-hollow body, double capped)
    - Do I want an arch top? Carved top? Flat top? Beveled? (Carved top for sure, possibly an arch top if I'm feeling extra adventurous)
    - Belly cut? Forearm radius? (No and no)
    - What profile do I want the neck to be? (Flat + wide, roughly D shaped, will be carved to one off so doesn't matter for this build)
    - How do I want the neck to be attached? Bolt on/Set neck/Neck through (Long tenon set neck)
    - What radius do I want on the fretboard? (12" radius)
    - What frets do I want? (Undecided)
    - What other hardware do I want? (Shopping from GFS mostly for this build, fretwire/nut + bridge blanks from StewMac)
    - Am I building a bridge, or buying one? (Because it's a fanned fret and I want to keep that archtop-jazzy feel, building)
    - How do I want my strings to end? Through body? Tail piece? 1 piece bridge? (Building a wooden tailpiece for a 2 part bridge. thumbscrew adjustable)
    - What decorative touches will I be doing? Inlays/decals and binding (Natural binding, no inlays except side dots and maybe headstock, no decals
    - How do I want my electronics wired? (TBD with final pickup selection)
    - What finish do I want to use? (Black aniline dye for the 2x4 pieces, then everything finished in either tung oil or tung oiled neck/polyurethane body)

    Among a multitude of other details and questions you should be asking and answering if you're considering tackling this caliber of project. Remember, what separates a $350 and a $3500 instrument is often the level of detail and craftsmanship put into the instrument. Joe-Nobody won't know the difference, it's all for your own personal satisfaction, so take your time to plan it out right and you'll thank yourself later a thousand times over. Now this is where some of us diverge - you geniuswizards with 3D modeling skills will probably figure, since I'm going through the effort, might as well make a 3D template to work from. This is a good (good) idea, and feel free to do so. Now back in my day, we crafted on stone tablets while riding Wooly Mammoths bareback. In lieu of any mammoths to be found, nor stone tablets, I broke out the old pencil and paper method. All you really need at this stage is the body dimensions, although I've gone ahead and marked out some other points while I was laying it out - since I'm doing a multiscale, proportion was a big thing I'll have to watch out for. Again, more on that in a second.

    If you're scouring the earth for LP measurements, here's a few I found that I based my template off of.

    91' Lp- L=17 5/16", lower bout= 12 5/16", waist= 7 3/16" upper bout= 9 3/16"

    Stew mc- L= 17 1/4", lower bout= 13 3/16", waist= 7 1/4" upper bout= 9 5/16"

    Catto* - L= 17 1/8", lower bout= 13 1/16", waist= 7 1/4" upper bout= 9 5/16"
    My template ended up being 18" long, 13.5" lower bout, 7.0" waist, 9.5" upper bout - for the record.

    Here's what we end up with on paper (excuse the mess, that template got moved and squashed a couple times, I ended up making a new one anyway).

    Yes, that is lined paper. Also yes, that a completely freehanded bridge saddle that will look nothing like the actual one, I promise. Pop that template into photoshop, and voila, you're finished!

    Those of you with the eagle eye in the crowd will notice I lowered everything about a half inch or so, and changed the f-hole layout because I'm feeling the traditional single more than the cateye cutouts right now. Also the bridge saddle is changed as promised, and the tentative pickup layout is inspired by the Zemaitis Guitars triple single coil set up. The birch I have available is obviously not as spalted, but we try to make something a nice from potato.

    So once you have a nice little list, you want to get building. You don't need pickups until you have to start routing for them, so you can hold off on electronics for now if you're still undecided like me. So now, the first thing you want to do eh, is cut 'yer Canadian wood up to size, dontchya know? Alright so, it's aboot this time we start figuring oot what thicknesses we need, you should already have yer dimensions from dat der template you made. Eh? Good so don't just start givin'er on the table saw, use protection eh. Losin' a digit will smart somethin' fierce, worse than frostbite in mid July if ya know what I mean. For this build I got mah 2 by furr all marked up so I can use the entire thickness of the 2byfurr (roughly 1.5") for the body core (roughly 4 20" pieces) and another the same that I would cut in half thickness wise to end up with a top and a back both 3/4" thick to start.

    Exceeded the forum limit, whoopsies.

  • #2
    Since I don't have ready access to a planer or jointer, I decided to use the table saw to square of up sides of the laminates. Make sure your saw is square if you're doing this and make sure you go over the first side twice, since any bowing against the saw fence will be mirrored on the first pass. I learned this the hard way, but we'll rock with it since I'm only using minimal pieces of the actual body blank. Once you've got everything cut the way it needs to be, arrange your scrap (if you're using real wood, replace scrap with glorious luxury timber of your choice) so any knots are outside the area of the template or if that's impossible, in a place they won't become and issue later. It also helps to stabilize them with some epoxy or CA glue + saw dust from the wood it's embedded in.

    Then you're free to go ahead and mark your template to cut out. You can (and probably should) plane the boards to thickness first. Since I plan on heavily sanding and carving the entire top, I didn't do so. Doesn't mean you should...

    And that's where we stop for tonight. The top and bottom are solid planks, the body is clamped and drying as I type, the neck is getting redone as I think I can do a less sloppy job so I'll cover that later. That's all folks, more as we bring this thing to life.


    • #3
      wow dude that's proper cool!!!
      gona have to show this to my brother im pretty sure Blair will be impressed as well, cant wait to see some updates =O


      • #4
        Cheers I already promised the social thread fellas lots of updates as there were a couple keen to see this happen in there as well, so I'll do my best to keep on it!

        I was going to write out the little diddly about fanned frets and carving the top, but I think I'll save that for tomorrow, just realized I spent like an hour writing there haha.


        • #5
          I make cigar box guitars


          • #6
            Will be keeping a keen eye on this...
            Now drives a girl's car
            Originally posted by ThePossum
            Furious masturbation, the cure to all life's problems, passes time nicely too.
            Originally posted by Squirt
            And BIGZED, phwoar. He is 1 cheeky kunt m8. I could easy wrek him 1v1.
            Originally posted by LikeABoss
            Welcome to the bogan side, heres your complimentary can of VB, a kick to mouth to remove most of your teeth and a makita angle grinder for that extra low.


            • #7
              Before I go to bed, I figured I'd explain a little bit what I mean by "double capped". The traditional method for making a semi hollow body is to route out the body blank and keep it as one piece for the blank. However, because of the thickness of the wood I'm using, i decided to go straight through the body blank and leave only what is necessary to affix the 2 caps and mount the pickups/bridge/neck. Without the caps the body will look like this:

              Last edited by ADowbs; 03-10-2012, 07:54 PM.


              • #8
                Im very keen to watch your build Alex, this looks like it will be a very interesting, fun, crap, mixed emotional build!

                I was given a body and neck off a friend a few years ago. i started to sand it back, gave it 2 undercoats... then joined the navy. i want to finish it off one day
                The friend who gave it to me also managed to chop the neck in half so he owes me a new one, but i might just buy one. i also managed to (not steal) 'borrow without asking' all the hardware i need to get it running, i just ran out of time
                My MCM build thread

                Originally posted by MrCelica
                it's not the P plates that give me the bad name. It's usually me exposeing my private parts to traffic
                Originally posted by MOOG
                I think I'd get a Commodore. Can't believe I just said that


                • #9
                  In a bit of a pickle here, I broke my first real and drew up another design variation once I had the first one marked up on the cap and ready to be cut. Derp.

                  So now I'm torn, do I stick with the original singlecut design or follow the path of the new one. I drew both out on the wood cap because the horns are the only changes, I think I like the new one better, looks somehow classier in person.


                  • #10
                    Yes! You finally made a dedicated thread for this. Finally I don't have to be worried about the social thread being clogged up with useless shit.

                    Just kidding babe. <3

                    I personally like the look of the single cut-away design more, but I've always had a soft spot for them.
                    Your newest design reminds me a bit of a Paul Reed Smith guitar, but with some more noticeable curves to it.


                    • #11
                      I want to do a carve reminiscent of a PRS top, but the shape was largely inspired by TCM's Gemini body style. I tweaked it a bit from there, but they build some gorgeous guitars.

                      I too have an inexplicable draw towards single cuts, but I'm really liking the way the new design looks on the template, I might just go with it o.o


                      • #12
                        I get what you're going at now.
                        I don't mind the new template, but to me it seems like the thinnest part of the body is just a bit, too thin?

                        For instance:

                        But that's just how I would go about it.


                        • #13
                          how are you going to wire the pots?

                          One of my favourite things about the les paul is it's electronics, two tones and two volumes is the best. I realise you've got 3 pickups but I don't see six pots being undoable.

                          Three tones and 1 master volume would be okay too.

                          I hate master tone controls on a guitar.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MrSheep View Post
                            I get what you're going at now.
                            I don't mind the new template, but to me it seems like the thinnest part of the body is just a bit, too thin?

                            For instance:

                            But that's just how I would go about it.

                            Here's your design modifications, can't say I'm really feeling it, gives it a super-strat type feel which I'm not a huge fan of. The waist on my new template is expanded about a half an inch already, so in-line with a standard Les Paul waist @ 7.5"

                            Although I believe you've mastered how Warwick designs their bass shapes

                            Originally posted by mutton_wizard View Post
                            how are you going to wire the pots?

                            One of my favourite things about the les paul is it's electronics, two tones and two volumes is the best. I realise you've got 3 pickups but I don't see six pots being undoable.

                            Three tones and 1 master volume would be okay too.

                            I hate master tone controls on a guitar.
                            That's a good question, I keep putting it off until I get further down the road but I guess I really should know soon which direction I want to go in.

                            If I change it to a more traditionally Gibson control layout, I'd probably go 3 tone/1 master volume.

                            I'll get back to you on this haha.


                            • #15
                              So, I guess it's time for a (small) update.

                              The top was roughed out with a cordless hand held jigsaw, which was about the dumbest undertaking I've ever been a part of. It took two attempts to get it to look like the picture, and you can tell it's nowhere near close yet. In fact, it looks like I carved it out using a chisel and hammer. Here's why, in a nutshell: The battery has a life of about two microseconds, and takes 6 hours to charge after it's insignificant glimmer of life has been extinguished once again. Also, the multi-tool nature of the tool I'm using (because no one I know seems to actually recall where their real jigsaws are) means it's almost impossible to see where you're cutting precisely enough to do this work. I devised a severely unsafe method of cutting towards me, with the blade mounted backwards, in order to get somewhat close on the second attempt. I think I'm just going to finish it with a sander, the inaccurate cutting led to some close calls already.

                              Now, that looks like shit. Let's be honest, if shit could look shittier, it'd look like that. So we'll try to clean that up next time the battery charges. **Note: If you have a router, now is a good time to use it + an MDF template of your design to save yourself a ton of steps and just route the edges to the template, once you've cut it out. If you're like me and just have a plunge router to work with, you improvise.**

                              Through the magic of not hitting the "submit post" button, I've now time lapsed us several hours into the future. Had one last go at attempting to cut this sucker out somewhat smoothly. It ended like this:

                              Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Still shit, but slightly less shit. Headed in the right direction at least. The battery from the saw didn't actually die this time, but I threw it on the charger anyway, my cuts were so rough from my trial and error process with the damn thing that I wanted to give myself a good margin of error to sand to the final shape. I did a little bit after the last round of jigsawing, but there's lots (LOTS) more to do - and a little sawing left - so another couple man hours into it and the top should be ready for template duty for the back/core as well as preliminary carving. Here's where we sit for today, I was focused mostly on cleaning up the right side as the left still has some trimming to do in the waist and upper bout/horn areas.

                              Last edited by ADowbs; 06-10-2012, 02:05 PM.