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New to Guitar Building and CNC


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We have a maker space that has opened up locally and for a small fee I can have access to several CNC machines. I have a friend that builds guitars by cutting out templates by hand, and I would like to start as well only by utilizing the CNC at the maker space. 

I have just started looking into this process but I had a couple of initial questions.

I want to build a Les Paul out of Ash with a quilted maple top think Joe Perry Les Paul in BlackBurst Circa 1997. Is there a depository of files somewhere that I could pull from or will I have to create this file on my own? If I am able to do this successfully I would move on to a Flying V, JagStang, and possibly a Jem.. Who knows..

Do you guys create your own autocad or other files by hand for specific guitars? How is this done? Do you take measurements and input them into the software?

I do not mind doing my own homework if someone could point me in the right direction.

Thanks in advance,



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I know of no reliable source of CAD files for established brand name guitars, and to be honest it may be questionable to post such information freely.

That said there appear to be plenty of plans available if you Google for them. Accuracy may be hit and miss, but I would think they'd get you in the ballpark if all you want is the rough shape and critical dimensions. Most CAD programs will allow you to import an image from a set of plans and either convert it to a vector file, or allow you to "trace" lines, curves and splines over the top. After that it should be a matter of scaling the CAD drawing up or down using a known measurement of the actual guitar - say the nut-to-12th fret distance or the maximum width of the body.

That's a fairly simplistic description of the process though. There's a boatload of other steps to undertake in order to achieve a fully-refined CAD drawing of a complete guitar ready to be sent straight to a CNC. For a first build, unless you're able to get yourself a lot of one-on-one supervision and assistance, you're well and truly jumping in the deep end with such a high target,

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We are building a library of CAD files in the Downloads section, however files for CNC work tend to be less common than most for a number of reasons which Curtisa outlined. CNC is too often seen as a wood-in guitar-out process, which it is totally not.

I'll use your example of a Les Paul to highlight a few issues you will definitely encounter. Not all guitars are flat from a top-down perspective. As soon as a neck angle or pickup plane is introduced, you need to spend a lot of time considering workholding (I presume these are 2.5D CNCs?) in order to cut angled neck pockets, tenons, headstocks, pickup planes, etc. These become multi-stage processes and you spend more time making your jigs and guaranteeing alignment from stage to stage than making the instrument on the CNC.

Generally I wouldn't recommend going straight from zero to hard like that. Find your feet with 2D first and become a ninja at templates, jig building and the like using a CNC to make these up. Everything then falls into place for the really complex stuff.

Not trying to dampen your enthusiasm or tell you not to try it, however you're facing a steep and potentially expensive learning curve which could put you off permanently. I'd build your chops up first and nail yourself a portfolio of skills you can exploit for the really ambitious stuff. Grabbing files off the net without knowing if they are fit for purpose is no solution if you can't validate them for fitness.

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