Jump to content

Trying To Get Into Building Guitars


Ryan D
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hey everybody!

I've been running around the internet for a while now, and while I've always wanted to buy more and more different guitars, I've always felt like it'd be a much cooler experience to build my own guitar. At the time it seemed completely impossible, but now that I've been doing my homework, I think it might be a very fun and enlightening experience. And frustrating. But what isn't in life nowadays? :D

However, I have no idea where to start.

The type of guitar that I was thinking of building was basically a solid-body electric with a Stratocaster-style body, with a deep colored PRS-style glossy finish. A real "Paul Reed Fender" or "Leo Reed Smith" if it had to have a name.

From what I've read, Swamp Ash seems like the wood of choice for a dye & gloss finish like this: http://www.stewmac.com/freeinfo/a-blueguitar_6.html since it has those funky curves and stuff. My plan was to buy a pre-made neck, probably one like this: http://www.stewmac.com/shopby/item/5715

But really, I don't know where to start. I have access to a router, drill press, dremmel tool, big rotating saw thing that cuts stuff, and so on. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks in advance for any help, I really appreciate it!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 121
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Learned a lot (if not most!!!) from this site and here is another one that isn't too bad either, MIMF (Musical Instrument Makers Forum). Link is here. I personally prefer this forum, very friendly and no one gives you the impression that you've asked a stupid question. They're a bit snobbier over at MIMF, but the information to be gleened over there should not be overlooked. The tutorials here at PG are top notch. My West Highland White terrier is doing level and crowns now thanks to this site. In any case, the only piece of real advice that I can give you is don't be afraid of making a mistake, and don't get too tied up with opinions. Go with what feels and looks good to you. We'll just try and help you with the rest. Most of all... TAKE YOUR TIME!!!

From my own experience, the first thing you should read up on is scale length, it's reason for being and it's effects. Google it and read up. This in my opinion is the first building block in ANY guitar construction. Again, my opinion, that's it, that's all.

Cheers

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From my own experience, the first thing you should read up on is scale length, it's reason for being and it's effects. Google it and read up. This in my opinion is the first building block in ANY guitar construction. Again, my opinion, that's it, that's all.

May I ask why? The reason I ask is that some people think it is pretty important, while others have said the the woods used have a greater impact, while I have heard that the pickups and electronics (i.e. wiring, pots, active/passive, etc.) make the most difference. I know they all impact each other, but I am sort of trying to get the opinions from all of the sides here. So feel free to elaborate, if you are comfortable doing so.

-Cheers

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK... before we get into a pissing match, I'll elaborate. I will not belittle ANY of the elements that you brought up since they are ALL vital. The only reason why I mentioned scale length first is because I tried my hand at building my first guitar when I was 14. Had an old neck, and a big chunk of mahogany. Saw Bo Diddley's rig and thought "Cool, I'll build one". Routered the mohagany (poorly I might add), glued in the neck, and threw the bridge and tailpiece on... YEAH, right there looks good! Slapped some strings on, and tried to tune it. DUOH!!!

In a nutshell, he mentioned that he didn't have a clue, and I mentioned that it was only my opinion based on experience. I'm 43 now, so at that time I was clueless as well. We didn't have this wonderful resource called the Internet back then, but I'll be damned as a contributor to this forum if I let someone else make the same mistake. This forum and it's tutorials have bailed my a$$ more than once, I was only trying to return a favor to someone that is at a place now where I have been before. Just human nature. When you get stung once, it becomes top of mind after that.

Besides, you could string a 2 x 4 and play it. But if the scale length is not correct, you'll never be able to play it in tune. I dunno, but it sounds pretty rudimentary to me....

Rock on brothers :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

- Read Make Your Own Electric Guitar

- Digi2t is right: the key to building a great guitar is building one that plays great. Without that, all the magic tonewood in the world won't help you. Where do you begin? The playing surface (scale length, radius, fretwork, string/nut spacing, neck geometry/angle/no angle). Get that right, the rest follows

- Next, make sure your construction is solid. Good joinery, tight pockets and all that

- Pick out good quality pickups. Probably the single most important aspect of your sound other than your amplifier. The wood and construction and scale determine the fundamental of the sound, the woods chosen add richness/harmonic content/etc, and your pickups determine how well/in what way its captured and sent to the amp. (this being a gross, gross oversimplification, but it's good enough)

Pretty much everything you do to a guitar makes a difference. Whether it's an audible, real difference, and one you'll be able to hear is a very different issue. Keep in mind there's a lot of bull/myth/mojo going around about what defines tone; what I've written above has been my experience, but I wouldn't bet my life on it. Let's just say it's worked for me so far...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK... before we get into a pissing match, I'll elaborate.

I did not mean it like that. Just curious as to why or how people prioritize elements of importance when it comes to what makes an instrument sound good. Nothing more.

I DO appreciate the reply. I was not intending to get into any kind of argument, just wondering, so sincerely thank you for answering.

-Cheers

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK... before we get into a pissing match, I'll elaborate.

I did not mean it like that. Just curious as to why or how people prioritize elements of importance when it comes to what makes an instrument sound good. Nothing more.

I DO appreciate the reply. I was not intending to get into any kind of argument, just wondering, so sincerely thank you for answering.

-Cheers

I apologize if I came across too harsh, just trying to squelch a flameing session before it starts. Mattia actually puts it best. Crunch all the hard numbers, the solid stuff first. Everything else after that is like figure skateing... purely subjective. My nephew loves the sound of his Mex Strat, I'm like the Russian judge - I give it a 2.5. But I guess thatès what seperates all of us from the guest stars on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. :D

Cheers

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey, thanks for the replies, guys!

The book is out of stock at my local Barnes and Noble..but I'll see if I can order it online or something. Maybe, just to get the idea of how building one works, I should make my first guitar out of plywood so that I don't waste away a $70 block of tonewood simply because I had no idea what I was doing.

I have a couple curious questions though, if I may ask - Why is it that guitar body blanks come in two pieces that we glue together? Also, how does one go about drilling the holes to wire pickups and stuff to the control cavity?

Thanks guys. I'll keep reading up and I'll order that book today!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don't use plywood. It's not that cheap, it's a pain to work compared to solid wood, and a body blank made of Alder or Poplar should cost you half the quoted figure of 70 buck, likely a good bit less. Look around locally for a hardwood dealer.

As for the questions, they're answered in the book; short version for 2-piece: it's easier to find good quality wood in narrower pieces. 1-piece is great if you can get it, but you can be a whole lot pickier if you don't have to restrict yourself to the one or two 13"+ wide boards in a stack.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Really? I do have some local lumber companies, I'll check them out and see what they've got. Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions - I've got one last quick one. What kind of wood would you recommend for a transparent PRS-style guitar finish? I hear swamp ash is great (lots of natural curvy stuff that adds a nice third dimension to the finish), but some say alder works too, so I've gotten confused.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like alder just about as much as swamp ash. You said translucent though, which makes me lean toward swamp ash, if it's between those two.

But if you want to get something cheap to practice with, poplar is probably your best bet. Not very pretty sometimes, but it works just fine.

Edited by Rick500
Link to comment
Share on other sites

From my own experience, the first thing you should read up on is scale length,

Cheers

Okay, so I've been building for quite a while yet I find this comment intriguing. Question: Why would the scale length, other than personal preference, matter so much? Basic example, I prefer 24-5/8" but my 18 year old son likes 25" scale. I have short fingers, he has long ones. Scale length I pick has no influence over the choice of pickups, bridge, tuners, wood, nut, fret size, and whatever else. Theoretically though if I built 2 guitars with the same woods and hardware (one longer scale, one shorter) there should be some tonal differences.

I get more excited over that perfect top or body and neck woods than anything else. When I find amazing and special top wood, or fingerboard, or body blank I just get inspired. Yes, I have built whole guitars around just a fingerboard.

So in the end, for me (a serious woodworker) I get my inspiration almost entirely from a simple single wooden element of a guitar than any other aspect of it. Hence, my original question. Does scale length matter... to 'me'? - not at all. Do I have a preference? Yes, of course. Therefore, I would be inclined to slot the fingerboard to my preference unless the guitar was for a customer who specified their 'preference'.

my 2 cents... :D

-Doug

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll take a shot at this.

I 'believe' what he was aiming at is that you can have the most beautiful woods in the world, if it won't tune and intonate with good action, you have a nice wall hanging and that's about it, maybe donate it to a Hard Rock Cafe in your area... :D

So, by understanding scale length, I think he was trying to say 'you need to understand what a guitar IS, what makes a guitar a tunable, intonatable instrument IN THE FIRST PLACE before you get all crazy about woods.'

My take anyway... :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah I agree with Mattia. Don't use plywood. Because when you finish it, you want it to be a good guitar that you can be proud of. And if you build a guitar of plywood and realize you don't love plywood guitars, you probably will have wasted money on it anyway. I say build your confidence up and if you do your homework, you'll be fine.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Alright, cool - I'll see if I can drive over to my local lumber-stocking-place to see if they have anything to offer.

And doug - Out of curiosity, I looked at your website - beautiful guitars, man! The finish on that Model 03 was along the lines of what I was thinking of doing..but wow, all of those guitars look amazing. Wish I had the money to afford them!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And doug - Out of curiosity, I looked at your website - beautiful guitars, man! The finish on that Model 03 was along the lines of what I was thinking of doing..but wow, all of those guitars look amazing.

Thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Vinny - I remember reading the topic you wrote about your experience with the lumber workers there, I find that really cool!

I have my doubts about being able to pull that off, I'm not sure if they'll let me to the sawmill, but I'll talk to the manager if he's in at the time and ask if they've got any wood they were planning on throwing away to fund my guitar project. Thanks!

I have a quick question: Since I'll be using a pickguard, wouldn't it be easier to carve out a large rectangular cavity for all the pickups instead of routing a separate custom-tailored cavity for each pickup? Or would this compromise something?

Edited by Ryan D
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some lower-end guitars and kits use the universal/swimming pool route. You're only losing some wood. I know, some would say that you should try and keep as much wood as possible, for tonal purposes.

See also: voodoo :D

It's all personal preference. I personally don't think the wood between the pickups under the pickguard contributes much to tone, and I doubt a double-blind test would yield results one way or the other. The big benefit I see is that you can switch out a pickguard for one with a different pickup combination and not have to route anything. Also, it's easier to do. I'd say go for it, since it's the first build, but others would say there's no better time to practice. *shrug*

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hahahah!

Yeah, I see what you mean with the big chunk of wood taken out, but then again, the pickups influence sound a million times more than the wood, so that might be better. I've placed my order for Melvyn Hiscock's book and I'm looking at Strat templates on Guitarbodytemplates.com.

They have 50's, 60's, and 70's laser-cut templates, and a 70's strat CNC cut for $1 more. I'm not really sure which to go with. I'd imagine CNC has smoother edges, but I can't think of any other differences.

Also, I came across Guitarfrenzy's full tutorial of making a Stratocaster in the tutorials section - man, it's a godsend. I've been reading it nonstop.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

However, I have no idea where to start.

The type of guitar that I was thinking of building was basically a solid-body electric with a Stratocaster-style body, with a deep colored PRS-style glossy finish. A real "Paul Reed Fender" or "Leo Reed Smith" if it had to have a name.

First I would like to say I skipped over the pissing match to put in my two cents on the original post.

For everyone who got the build my first guitar bug, only a few people follow through after the first one, some even make some money doing it for a living.

1. You need some woodworking skills

2. Do you have all the tools you need to do this?

3. When your finished will you ever do it again?

Think about these three things before you do jump in. I made the leap a long time ago and it has brought me great joy but it took many years of work, untold amounts of money (I like nice tools) to get to a point where I could look at my own work and say now thats not bad. I am still learning new things I never knew about guitars (yeah I actually read some posts here from all you whack jobs LOL). If you expect your guitar will come out super great and you have never done any work like this before don't set your sights too high. The internet is a great source but it has also mislead many into a false hope of instant success.

OK my time is up.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...