Building an Electric Guitar

I wanted a Les Paul type electric guitar, with low action and mellow tone.  Browsing through a Stewart-MacDonald catalog, I decided to make my own.  This page explains what I did.  See links to helpful pages at the bottom of this page.

This page is in no way intended to be a step-by-step instruction manual on how to build a guitar.  Do not try this at home.

First, my older brother helped me by cutting out the neck and body using band, table and radial arm saws.  He showed me how to use a router also.   Wow.  Thanks, bro.

Here are the neck and body at early stages of construction.  The wood is scrap mahogany, thanks to a local furniture manufacturer.  I used a small acoustic guitar as a template for the shape of the body, then added the cutaway.

guitar1.jpg (21867 bytes)

I decided after some web research that the body was too thin.  I wanted to have a light guitar, so I routed out cavities:

guitar2.jpg (16975 bytes)

Then I glued on a back, which was also routed:

guitar3.jpg (15785 bytes)

By this time, I was ready to try cutting wood.  I used a saber saw to cut the back to match the front.  I got a drum sanding attachment for the drill press and sanded the edges smooth.  I also tried routing pickup cavities:

guitar4.jpg (37902 bytes)

I drilled the holes for the tuning machines, and I added little wings to the head stock so it didn't look so much like a big clothespin.  The most fantastic achievement was drilling through the neck with a long quarter-inch drill bit.  My brother did this, drilling with a hand-held power drill from each end of the neck.   The two long channels met in the center.  You can see the inspection hole in the above photo, with the truss rod showing.

I clamped the neck in place and drilled holes for wooden pins:

guitar5.jpg (23890 bytes)

Then I glued on the rosewood fingerboard from Stew-Mac and started shaping the neck.

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I tried many ways to shape the neck:  router, drum sander, hand sanding.   Lots of sanding.

I fretted the fingerboard using medium fret wire from Stew-Mac.  I made a simple curved block out of the ubitquitous scrap mahogany, fitted it into the drill press and used the press to push the fret wires into the fret slots (unplugged the drill press first!).  I fretted this operation (pun intended) but it turned out to be easy and fun, reminded me of capping home made root beer bottles as a kid.  I pre-curved the fret wire by fitting it to the hot water heater, which had the correct radius...

guitar7.jpg (23352 bytes)

Homemade fretting tools, the fret press attachment and a copper-tipped fret hammer:

guitar8.jpg (19433 bytes)

Here is the linseed oiled guitar with neck attached, frets "dressed," shows the shaped head stock and truss rod end:

guitar9.jpg (27569 bytes)

I cut mahogany dots using a dot cutter that I made from a bent galvanized nail:

guitar10.jpg (21009 bytes)

Mahogany pickup covers (see the pickup story on my pickup winding page):

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A hole in the back gives access to controls, covered with a wood panel.

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Here is the finished guitar on the wall.  Note the mahogany knobs.  It plays well, sounds good.  It's my favorite guitar.

guitar12.jpg (34346 bytes)

No need or desire to buy that Les Paul now.  However... I would still like a hollow-body electric...

January, 2003

Links to possibly helpful pages.  Tell me about broken or bad links on my guestbook.

http://www.stewmac.com/ great guitar part supplier, quick turnaround

http://www.fretnotguitarrepair.com about fretting

http://www.guitarelectronics.com pickup wiring diagrams and parts

http://www.allmagnetics.com source for pickup magnets

http://mysite.verizon.net/jazz.guitar/guitarsetup.htm basic guitar setup tips

http://lollarguitars.com/ guitars, pickups, pickup winding

http://www.buildyourguitar.com/resources/egb/index.htm book and pictures about building an electric guitar

http://www.mimf.com/link.htm links to instrument building