Designing Guitars In CAD (Introduction)

Wanting to design your own instrument, or brush up on existing design skills? This series of articles breaks down the fundamentals of instrument design on your computer and craft great guitars!

Many schools of thought exist on the design process for making a solidbody instrument. At one end of the spectrum there's the mad genius school of working directly in the wood by feel and intuition, and at the other there's the CNC gurus who design the entire instrument as a virtual model and have totally different concerns to the general enthusiast luthier. Traditionally, instruments were designed on paper (usually) in 1:1 scale by hand. CAD is not too far removed from this, and adds many layers of powerful use on top of traditional drafting.

Through this series I'll be describing my personal design process which I've established over many years and has seen me through the development of many different projects, guitar and otherwise. Rather than teaching "my method as gospel" which it is certainly not, the objective is to break the process down in such a way as to help you develop your own personal design solutions and methods.

My specific mindset is to maintain 100% consideration for the final working methods and requirements so that the final CAD plan simplifies and preferably guides the work. Anything less than that is merely a "to-scale picture" rather than your definitive go-to reference.

Breaking the series down, we'll be covering subjects such as (in no particular order):

  • CAD fundamentals and basic geometry
  • 2D vs. "3D"
  • Best practice from beginning to the end
  • Squeezing the most useful information out of your plan
  • Tracing an instrument from photos, measuring real instruments and creating a derivative working design
  • Single-scale instrument design vs. compound scale design
  • Using your plan to produce templates, guides, reference measurements and "taking it to the wood"

Quite an ambitious set of objectives from which we hope readers will all be able to take something to bolster their existing skill sets....

For my own part, I have been using IMSI TurboCAD for around a decade and I'll be demonstrating most concepts via this CAD software. The underlying operation are universal across the vast majority of 2D CAD packages. Whatever you have access to, the ideas will translate across easily. If you're learning CAD for the first time or just don't have immediate access to the software right now then IMSI have a free 30 day downloadable trials of TurboCAD. 30 days is more than enough time to familiarise yourself with the design processes described here. Do try out other packages and figure out whether dropping $40 on the cheapest version of (TurboCAD Designer) would be a good investment for your own work. ProjectGuitar.com has no affiliation or financial interest in IMSI of course!

Please leave feedback comments on the articles and I'll attempt to address questions and improve the quality of information on the fly. Most importantly, enjoy! I hope that this series gives both the beginner and the experienced something to take back with them.


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Designing Guitars In CAD (Introduction) by Carl Maltby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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