Make your own guitar

fitting strat electronicsI started this project back in August. The idea was that my friend moving back from china would disassemble his squier bullet, and leave the body behind, taking everything from the neck to the electronics to the pickguard. Rather than pay for wood for the guitar’s body, I sawed off the least cracked piece of 2×12″ spare lumber I found at a construction site near my house. Placing the neck, pick guard, and bridge on the piece of wood, we traced out vaguely what we wanted it to look like, and found that a Stratocaster is about 14-15″ wide.

More after the jump…

mockup of guitar Nothing of importance is in those extra 2″ of wood, all the electronics are in the core 12″, so we were ok. Made some cosmetic changes to the basic Strat shape to cope with the elongated pallet we were working from, an voila! Hedstrocaster.

My saw blade broke when cutting out the second “horn” so the project went on hiatus for a couple of months until my work schedule calmed down and I moved closer in to work.

Actually to this day I haven’t cut the bottom curve; by leaving that extra amount of wood there it allows me to clamp it to work surfaces and get a better grip on things. With the general layout…

So next was making holes for the electronics, pickups, etc. I figured this would be very difficult, and in reality was much easier than sawing the general shape of the guitar. The instructions said that for general carving, no hammer would be needed, although for deeper gouges, you could use a hammer, and that simple hand pressure was sufficient for most tasks.
chiseling holes for electronics strat

I was a little surprised when I got through with the first pickup well and started on the second, that I could carve out a large hole with just hand pressure. All in all the three pickup wells + space for the pots and selector switch took me less than an hour to carve out by hand. Which left me with…

strat neck joint

The neck joint. This is really the only part of the guitar I’m really concerned about. Everything else has an intermediate layer of hardware that is infinitely adjustable and upgradable. As far as the neck is concerned, you do it right once, and forget about it. Most people don’t consider necks to be user serviceable parts, and I don’t blame them. Screw up the neck joint in any way shape or form and you’ve ruined your guitar.

Fortunately working with hand tools, you can see and control exactly what you’re doing, unlike power tools. The neck fits very snugly in the neck pocket – a little too snugly, I need to make an adjustment on the side closest to the bottom of the picture, it curves in towards the pocket too much causing the neck to sit askew slightly. The fit isn’t as good as on my telecaster, but for a first try it isn’t too bad.

One problem though – I didn’t drill my holes for the neck bolts before I started carving. As a result, if I drill the holes more than 2mm off, I’m going to have to completely re-carve large sections of the neck pocket, making the gaps even wider. I’ve been working on the best way to mark the holes as accurately as possible, and I think I’ve come up with a solution. I’m going to make a cardboard pattern of the neck, mark the mounting holes on the pattern, and then set the pattern inside the pocket and mark the holes through the cardboard…. We’ll see how well that turns out. fitting strat electronics

Once the neck bolt holes are drilled, I can figure out exactly where I need to place the bridge, and get started on carving out a hole for that. Rather than deal with the tremelo system, I’m making this a hard tail guitar only.

One thing I have been worried about is cracking the wood due to moisture. When I procured the wood it had been sitting outside – who knows how many times it’d been rained on, left to dry in the sun, rained on again, etc. Most of the boards I picked up had long cracks that ran the length of the board, and looked like they were ready to crack all the way through. I let the wood “age” inside under my bed in the air conditioning for a few weeks, and then took a crack at it. I was amazed at how wet the saw dust was, cutting in to the heart of the wood.

When I came back a few months laterĀ  and sawed out the second horn, the sawdust was much drier, and I didn’t have much fear of it cracking. Near as I can tell, the body is made out of yellow pine (a softwood – it should be noted most if not all electric bodies are made of hardwoods), and pine is a very oily, sap-filled wood. The particular piece I ended up with has a large knot running through the middle, sort of at an angle. This knot contained lots of sap and oil, and I was worried about once again drying out the wood too quickly. After I finished carving the electronics holes, I wrapped the whole thing in a trash bag and placed it under my coffee table for a week. Now after three days out of the bag, it seems dry and no cracks have appeared.

Work in progress.

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3 Responses to Make your own guitar

  1. John says:

    Hey man it looks like you are doing a great job on that guitar. But im sorry to tell you all your hard work will be for nothing because of the wood you used if it drys too quickly it will warp and split. and even if you dry it out properly (which involves covering it in wax and leaving it in your attic for over a year) You will never get the right sound because a light soft wood resonates too much. Guitar makers don’t just use any hard wood to make an instrument they use a certain group of hard woods known as tonewoods I think that’s pretty self explanatory, look it up in Wikipedia. you might get lucky if you go down to to tour local carpentry workshop and go through thier dumpster, ask nicly first and explain what youare doing and they probably have an off cut of a far superior wood around the size you are looking for. Best of luck. Foxyinireland.

  2. Eric says:

    Don’t stop because you don’t have the ultimate piece of wood. If you decide that you can do it better on a subsequent attempt, you will be informed by the practice on the first one. The more time you invest, the more selective you will be as you go along. The difference is marginal. A beginner would. Ever hear the difference.
    The main reason that there is such a distinction call “tone wood” is because experienced ears have discerned the difference and now we follow them.
    In truth, a guitar sounds good because of the way things fit together. These techniques take allot of practice. So, your first attempt is not wasted. On the contrary, why “practice” with expensive “tone wood”. In my opinion, you are on the right track.
    http://benedettoguitars.com/2011/09/16/flashback-friday-knot-so-bad/

  3. I agree with Eric, for your first try a soft wood like pine is a good choice and lighter than most “tone woods” on you next build you can try using a template and a router. There are plenty of vidios on making them on the Interweb.

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