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Making an RG/JEM-style guitar body

tutorial building body

Making a body for a solidbody electric guitar is not rocket science! This comprehensive tutorial comes courtesy of forum member ripl3y.

Introduction

The first step into building my own guitar was to obtain some fool proof reading material. The book I stumbled upon turned out to be a complete godsend. "Make Your Own Electric Guitar" is written by Melvyn Hiscock who is an established U.K. luthier who's been making guitars for over 25 years. The book will tell you everything you need, from wood and tool selection and how to use them, to design notes, scales lengths, wiring, tips and tricks and just about everything else involved, the book also goes through constructing 2 guitars and 1 bass from the ground up.

It is ESSENTIAL for me to read up on things, as this will save me a massive amount of trial and error not to mention the expense of failed attempts.


So what's first?

I found the best way to approach the immediate stages following the digestion of the book was to come up with the design of the guitar.

To make things easy on myself I already had a design in mind, my guitar body was to be a replica of an Ibanez Jem/RG with an all All-Access-Neck-Joint.

As I already owned a Jem7DBK a lot of my design headaches were taken care of. All I had to do for the body was to trace round it onto a piece of card that would form the basis of my template (although not the be all and end all). I traced the body shape a few mm's larger than the size I wanted it to end up as, this is to allow for the odd cutting mistake and the wood lost through sanding, the exact dimensions can always be refined later.

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You will see above a set of dimensions I put together after removing the neck on my Jem7DBK, this will make routing out the AANJ neck pocket a hell of a lot easier.



So next up is the wood!

I paid a lot of attention to wood selection, mainly for 3 reasons, sound, ease of shaping and feel. The body is a two-piece bookmatch of Brazilian Mahogany 24x8x2 for each piece, which should hopefully lend itself to that warm creamy sound.


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Time To Glue!

Before I started the gluing I had to ensure both body blanks had nice even and straight contact points. Again I was lucky, as the wife worked for Makita she could take the wood into Colin ( the friendly hardware guy ) who ran it through a machine specifically for this purpose. Once it came home I ran over it lightly with some 240 grit paper just for the extra piece of mind.


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I used Titebond II for gluing as this had been recommended to me by a few people, including Craft Supplies (edit: check our their link in our suppliers lists elsewhere on the site!) who know their stuff! I applied a pretty liberal coat to each of the blanks, just to give the extra assurance that the bonding would be tight and used a laminated piece of card (such as a video store membership card - thanks Blockbusters) to spread the glue.


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Once I'd lined them both up I clamped them with 3 sash clamps, 1 in the middle and 1 at either end. What you want to look for here is a nice even overflow of glue when you tighten the clamps up.


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I scraped off most of the overflow with the "Blockbuster" card, and then left in a room with moderate temperature for 24 hours.

As the picture says, the excess glue can be sanded off once drying has completed.

After the glue had dried I removed the clamps and got to work sanding, I also sanded the neck woods whilst I was at it. I used a power sander for this and 3 different grits of paper, 80 to start, then 120 and finally 240 to smooth it off. You can see below the end result.


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Cutting The Body

The body is taking a trip to a local Carpentry firm who have kindly offered to cut out the body with their Bandsaw for £5.

I'm a little disappointed that I don't have any photo's of the cutting taking place. The reason for this was that the joinery company I took it too couldn't tell me what time of day they would do it as they were pretty busy ( and I didn't want to hang around their workshop all day.

They used a Bandsaw to cut out the body and I estimate it probably took them no more than 5 minutes, but I'm very pleased with the result. The gluing held strong as I'd expected and I ended up with a slightly oversized RG body ( with AANJ of course ).
The pictures below immediately follow the cutting so the edges may look a little ragged because they've yet to be sanded down.


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Next is sanding everything nice and smooth, which should take off the couple of mm's I need to make the body shape more exact.

P.S. The full frontal shot shows the lovely grain this piece of wood has, which the translucent finish will hopefully show off!


Contouring

I found the best way to contour the body was with a Spokeshave. The Spokeshave can be pretty much classed as a more versatile form of Plane. It gives you the freedom to shape the wood whilst a Plane will only let you work with straight edges.


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You will notice that my contours are not EXACTLY the same as an RG/JEM, this isn't because the process is very difficult, more that I wanted to keep as much wood as possible to contribute to the sound, and the guitar only has to be comfortable enough for me.

It can be quite hairy when you start shaving off layers of wood, but I had a power sander with me so I could easily and quickly smooth it off to see how it was taking form. First up was the Arm Rest...


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And next was the rear body contouring...

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And finally a side shot of the work completed...

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There is still some minor shaping left to do, which will be done by hand with sandpaper, just to tidy the curves up a little more.



Routing The Cavities

**NOTE: The cavities are not yet fully shaped as I had no jigs or templates to work with, so I took accurate dimensions and did all the routing freehand (which was scary). Final accurate shaping will be done with chisels, files and sandpaper.**

Here's a picture of the tool used for the job...a Makita router on loan again from the wife's workplace.

I found out to my detriment that I should have initially worn a mask and protective goggles (needless to say I felt pretty rough later that evening after breathing all the sawdust in).

This was rectified on routing day 2 and I felt much better, even though I had to work through the hassle of the goggles steaming up.


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It's easy to get impatient when routing as it's a very time consuming job if you don't have templates to work with, so I took regular breaks when I started to feel like I was getting a little annoyed. I used a 1/4" straightcut, double fluted bit ( has to be a double flute 'cause a single just doesn't cut cleanly enough ) to rout the cavities in the front of the body and was able to be reasonably accurate. You can see the pictures below of the neck pocket, pickups and bridge routs before final shaping.


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I routed the rear cavities, i.e. the control area and the rest of the bridge. Immediately into routing the control cavity the 1/4" router bit snapped in half and I was damn lucky that it chose to stay in the wood and not fire out into my face ( time for a full face mask I think.

This forced me into using the 1/2" bit which you can see in the router picture above.

I had to be twice as careful when using this as it obviously takes out more wood making accuracy very difficult.

The control cavity is not the same as found on an JEM as obviously they are front routed. I drew 2 1+1/4" circles for the control knobs and 1 1" circle for the switch using a compass. I then joined these up with a curved line and routed the area out to within 5mm's of the top of the body.


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Final Body Work

Now the final shaping with the hand tools so it's all neat and tidy
To start off with I managed to erase all the pictures of drilling the volume, tone, switch, pickup connecting holes and input jack, not to mention the grain filling process, so I'm a bit pissed at myself, but I won't let that stop me!

Firstly I chiseled out the area's that would take the trem cover and control cover. Basically I just drew in my guidelines and let loose with a variety of chisels (the one in the picture is the widest I used).

You have to be quite careful to avoid lifting too much wood so it's a slightly tedious process. It SHOULD be done with a router, but I was beginning to think of myself as a woodworking' kinda guy so I used hand tools and prayed.


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I used the same process as above for chiseling the control cavity and then tidied up with files and sandpaper.

Once this was completed I drilled the holes for the controls, pickup wire connectors and the input jack.

A quick note on the input jack, I drilled through to a convenient position between the pickup selector and tone control as my input jack will be sharing the same cavity, unlike on a JEM which has a dedicated cavity.

I used Brian's guidelines for the jack from "Universal Jems" which is a great site, if you wanna' know the tools used then you're gonna' have to visit the tutorial.

As far as the volume and tone go, they were drilled out with a 5/16" bit and the selector switch with a 1/2" bit (I'm using a 3-way switch by the way).

The pickup connector holes were drilled with an extra long 1/4" bit. Once I'd completed the drilling I grain filled the body with Rustin's Grain Filler. This stuff is like putty - damn thick! - and theoretically you should thin it with something such as white spirit, but I decided to slap it on UN-thinned and used two coats.

The filler was applied with a soft cotton rag along the grain and then cleaned of with another rag against the grain. This makes sure that you don't "lift" it from the grain.
You can see all pictures below after filling...


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In case anyone else spotted it, yes I did forget to drill the trem mounting holes...DOH!...But that will be sorted A.S.A.P.



Material Finishing

I won't go into too much detail here as Brian has posted a great "Tutorial" on how to finish a body with material.

I wanted to achieve the JS Chromeboy look but not with the hassle's I've heard about the finish being very unstable.

I went around a few shops for my material, but eventually found it on a market for £2.50 a yard...BARGAIN! I grabbed 2 yards which is plenty enough ( they even had the same material but in Gold ). It's a great material, as it's very reflective and bounces colors off itself, plus it has a wood looking grain up close.

After following the first stages of the tutorial this is what I ended up with...


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There is still the back and sides to do, plus a "burst" to hide the edging. After this it will be lacquered and polished, (the black is my shadow by the way)






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