Another Guitar Building Odyssey

So, as a result of the discussion from The Great Ongoing Guitar Thread, another guitar building thread is born!!

Welcome - sit back and enjoy what will surely be 3 or more month process of building a bolt on neck, chambered body guitar of my own personal design… kind of…

So - where to start… ah, yes - the design!

So I began with the standard shape of a Fender Stratocaster traced out onto a piece of poster board in pencil. I figured I’d just play with it by bulging it out a little here, thinning it a little there, until I came up with something I liked.

So after an hour or so, I came up with a shape I liked and made a template of it out of 1/4" MDF board that I got from Home Depot.

Once I got done with the template and was all proud of myself, I ran across this online:

Grosh Electrajet

Damn… :mad: I thought I had something original there. Oh well - I’m going with it anyway…

Now the body of this guitar will be made from naturally stained alder for the base wood and will have a 1/4" quilted maple top that will be dyed blue. The alder will be “chambered”, meaning it will have hollowed out cavities underneath the maple top. It will have two P90 style single coil pickups, with 2 volumes, 1 tone, a 3-way switch and a hardtail bridge.

Here’s the template with the chambers, bridge, pickup, neck, and control pockets all mapped out on it:

Now… lets make some sawdust! Here are the two pieces of alder that need to be glued together to create the body - 7.5" x 19" x 1.75":

First, they need to be thickness planed down to 1.5" to accommodate for the 1/4" maple top. So, a few passes through my planer for each and they’re there:

Next, they have to be straight edged on one side so they can be joined together. I don’t own a jointer (which could do this job easily) so I have to be a little creative. I clamp a straight edge to one of the planks and use my routers straight edge to follow it and give me a nice straight cut:

Once I have my straight edges on both planks, I sand them with a sanding block and 120 grit paper to get any tiny little bumps that could cause gaps when gluing. A good test to see if you have a good join is to hold the two pieces together up to the light and see if you can see any gaps letting light through the seam. If not, then it’s all good.

So once my seam passes this test, it’s on to gluing. Here’s the hi-tech tools you need for this step.

Finally found a use for my ASCAP membership card. :cool: Anyway, there’s nothing really complicated about this step - just slap some wood glue on the straight edges, spread it out with the card, push the pieces together, and clamp them up:

The seam looks darker in that pic because I had just wiped the excess glue off. Once it’s dried and sanded, it won’t be as noticeable. I’ll let this sit for 24 hours before I take the clamps off.

Next, I’ll sand the body blank smooth and route the chambers…

I love these guitar building threads, Big Shooter. Keep it up!

Looking forward to digging into this. Thanks BigShooter.

Can’t wait to see this one progress. I like that skewed strat type body shape you decided on. Will it get strat-like contours on the heel and back, or will you leave it full thickness like a tele?

I wouldn’t worry about a variation of the body shape having been done before, because sometimes I think all the good looking guitar shapes have already been made. You should probably be more worried if nobody had ever thought is was a good idea to make one that shape. :slight_smile:

It’ll be full thickness like a tele. It’s hard to put those contours in when you have the chambers and the 1/4" top. That would involve bending wood with a steamer and doing some pretty precise routing that I’m just not set up for at the moment…

I have a couple of questions and I hope I am not hijacking by asking. Since I have been looking at buying my first guitar which will be an electric, I have spent considerable time on the web reading about the different brands and models.

According to what I have read, harder woods such as mahogany or maple are the best choices for the body. But there are many guitars using alder for the body, as you are. But isn’t alder, technically a hardwood ,relatively soft? It has a specific gravity of around .40 compared to .56 for hard maple.

I also see that you will be using a 1/4 inch maple veneer for the top. Can I ask why and will that nor create problems by face gluing over a different species?

Alder, while being one of the softer hardwoods, is actually used quite commonly as a body wood for electric guitars. Fender uses it exstensively as do alot of other smaller makers. Working with alder rather than something harder is definitely different. For one thing, router and drill press speeds need to be adjusted to prevent tear out and burning of the wood. Sanding is a little easier though.

When choosing wood, what it all comes down to, for me, is the tone I’m after and the look I’m going for. Some hardwoods (mahogany, korina) generally give a guitar a warmer, more “midrangey” tone, while others (maple, walnut, alder) tend to be on the brighter, more “trebley” side. For this guitar, I wanted a brighter tone, so I went with the alder/maple body.

Warmoth guitar parts has a great page describing all the different hardwoods and their affect on tone here:

I’ve never had any problems face gluing maple to alder before. The only species of wood I’ve ever had trouble gluing would be cocobolo because of it’s oily nature, but I don’t think I’d ever use that wood for one of my guitars since it’s such a bitch to apply a hard finish to.

Thank you for the link. I use several species mentioned in my woodworking business plus a couple of others that aren’t listed. I use a lot of Spanish Cedar and found that it is considered by some guitar makers to be a very good wood for electric solid bodies.

I also have around 600bf of Peruvian and Mexican nogal (tropical walnut) which might make an attractive guitar. Some nice mahogany planks left over from a job some time ago.

Years ago I exported many board feet of cocobolo to a wood dealer in Oregon and still have several large chunks that I never got around to milling. What do you think about fretboards out of cocobolo? It glues well with epoxy.

Great thread. I will be forward to your future posts.

I’ve heard of some builders using cocobolo for fretboards but I’ve never played one. I’m sure it would suit just fine. It’s a pretty wood, for sure.

I think cedar is more common on acoustic guitars, but I’m sure it would make a decent electric. Wood choice is much more important tonewise with acoustic guitars. Even though wood type figures into it a little, on an electric, tone comes more from the pickups than anything else, IMO.

I found this guitar maker who uses spanish cedar almost exclusively. Incredible talent.

And from the sounds of it, you have a little experience as a woodworker yourself. I doubt building your own guitar would be to hard for you. You should give it a shot with all that walnut and mahogany lying around.

I make my living with wood. I own and operate a large shop with industrial woodworking machinery, band saws, table saws, shapers, jointers, planer, sanding machines, spray equipment etc. We do a lot of template work for repeatability Building the guitar wouldn’t be too much of a challenge but since I don’t play the problem would be I wouldn’t know how good or bad my efforts turn out!

Good to know. Ever get some really nice pieces of quilted or flame maple? I’m talking the 4A - 5A stuff. I’m on the lookout for a good supplier. Or koa for that matter? koa is like the holy grail of electric guitar woods at the moment. Very hard to get and expensive as hell…

There are cedar and spruce electric guitars, but I haven’t lived with one long enough to be able to comment. I know Hamer has a spruce-topped semi-hollow model.

See, this is what makes threads like this interesting. I am a big believer that wood type matters. And because we are on a message board, it’s not like we can compare our approaches in a clarifying manner.

It really depends on the style of music you play and where you sit on the spectrum of wood-to-pickup. If you are playing shred metal on a locking-whammy guitar with active, high-output pickups, then body material doesn’t matter at all. If you are playing clean tones - country, jazz, fingerpicky stuff - or with a lot of touch-dynamic, natural tube distortion, through low-output pickups, then wood is a hugely influential, IMHO, and in my specific experience with my project guitars.

I dropped the same pickup into my mahogany Tele Special that I have in my alder homebrew Tele Blackguard (i.e., looks like a Fender '52 Reissue) and got VERY different results. I swapped out the pickup to better match the mahogany body and deliver the tone I wanted - actually very similar to the Blackguard - and it worked like a charm. Because mahogany is warmer and has more pronounced mids, I needed to marry it to a lower-output pickup that emphasized the mid-frequency tones less.

But the overall point is that I knew what tone I wanted and adjusted the body+pickup recipe based on the characteristics of each component and it worked out fine.

This is the stuff of huge, obnoxious, geek-tastic flame wars on guitar boards. I tend to think of the body as the singer and the pickup as the microphone. I happen to think that the singer is where all good tone must start, but a faulty microphone will make a great singer sound lousy and a great mic can help a so-so vocalist sound better…

Well Wordman - your wrong, punk!!! :smiley: FLAME FLAME FLAME!!!

But seriously, there’s so many aspects of a guitar that contribute to the tone. That difference you heard when you dropped the same pickup into two different Teles could be due to a combination of many things:

[li]wood - I never said wood didn’t matter at all[/li][li]different bridges[/li][li]different nut material[/li][li]different pots, capacitors, switches, jacks, etc.[/li][li]tightness of the neck joint (though this is a big debate as well)[/li][li]weight[/li][li]string angles over the nut or bridge saddles[/li][li]the strings themselves could be older on one guitar than the other[/li][/ul]

But IMO, all of these different characteristics, except for old strings (just change them already!), can be compensated for with the right choice of pickup. So maybe I should put my opinion in a different way:

The tone of an electric guitar is determined by a marriage of all it’s component parts, of which the pickups are the most important piece.

That’s an interesting metaphor, however isn’t the string more the singer than the body? After all, that’s what’s vibrating and making the sound…

The strings are the “vocal cords” - they start the vibration which is then shaped by the body those vocal cords reside in. A set of vocal cords on their own (yuck) would sound nothing like the sounds emerging from a vocalist through a combination of lungs, throat, sinus cavities, etc…which are the analog of a guitar body to me…if we are going to beat this metaphor to death!

I totally agree that neck joint is critical to tone - simply because a solid body guitar is a resonating system and the neck joint and neck mass are huge factors in setting up the overall resonance…

Gotta run.

Ah, I see. That makes sense. Now all I have to do is get the guitar I’m working on to look like Aretha Franklin and I’m good…

That would be one heavy ass guitar…

What’s the jack socket then? :slight_smile:

So I need to route out the chambers in the alder before I get the maple top on. Here’s how I did it…

So I start off with the glued body blank all ready to go. This is a pic of the side that will be the back of the guitar:



You can still see some left over glue on the seam, but that’ll go away during sanding. Here’s the front side that will be face glued to the maple with the outline and all the cavities mapped out:



To get all that mapped, I just lined the center line of my template with the glue line on the alder which makes a natural center line for the guitar. I trace around the template with a sharpie, then off that center line, I mark all my cavities just like on the template.

Now I have to go and hog out some wood. The chambers are going to be 1.25" deep, leaving me with 1/4" of wood left on the back. I’m doing these routes by hand without the aid of a template mostly because I’m lazy and didn’t feel like making one. It’s alright though, they don’t have to be pretty. Nobody’s going to see the routes because the maple will be on top of them.

So first, I’ll remove the bulk of the wood with my drill press and a 2" forstner bit. The drill press was set to only go about 1" deep, maybe a hair more. I trust my router more when it comes to getting depths exact:



Here’s a pic of after I got as much wood removed as I safely could:



Next, I just took my plunge router and tidied them up a bit and took both chambers down to their full 1.25" depth:



Now that I’m choking on a shitload of sawdust, I think I’m done for today. The next thing to do is to get the maple top ready for gluing…

Here’s a pic of the curly maple top I’ve purchased for this guitar:

Hoping to receive it in a few days.