Guitar-building Project: Getting Started

Well, I’ve ordered the neck. In about 6 weeks it should arrive and I can check it out. If I don’t like how it feels then I will return it - and I can only hold it on its own; if I put bolts into it, it’s mine anyway. If I *do *like how it feels - or I could re-shape a bit to get it perfect - then I will start building my second project guitar.

And, as I have contemplated in previous guitar-related threads, I will see if I can document the project via threads on the SDMB.

What do you think - sound interesting?

A few points:
What I am discussing is building a guitar based on the Fender Telecaster design (photo of my first project guitar, also based on a Tele design). This is basically an assembly effort with some electronics soldering - well, except you have the added complexity of:

[li]Sourcing the parts from countless sellers (e.g., online stores, parts of your old guitars, eBay) - so the specs from part-to-part will likely be off[/li][li]Trying to customize some of your parts choices to conform to your specific needs - which often means tweaking stuff[/li][li]There is always something you want to change - so some sort of woodworking will be necessary, e.g., routing, filling and re-drilling, re-shaping a neck carve, what have you…[/li][/ul]
Why am I doing this?
[li]It’s fun - I had a great time building the first one; the problems I encountered required thinking them through, but translated in a fun puzzle to solve with little/no disappointment - that is NOT always going to happen.[/li][li]I can combine the exact features I want in a guitar, exactly how I want them - and once you have a guitar that is *that right *for you, it is hard to go back[/li][li]It is very…satisfying, I guess. Because you go in with some theories about what you need and want in a guitar - and you are really testing yourself. Have you *really *been paying attention to your hands and ears? Do you *really *know what you want? If either all of your going-in beliefs are true (rare), OR you learn along the way and the guitar is a byproduct of your discovery process, you feel you know yourself as a guitar player much better, if that makes sense[/li][/ul]
Some Caveats
[li]I really don’t know what I am doing - I have used a soldering iron with purpose maybe 5 times, have no real grasp of how electricity works (amps hurt more than volts, right?), and my woodworking skills are Weekend Handyman, at best. But I can problem-solve, am methodical, and have no shame about outsourcing key steps to experts. [/li][li]So I will chronicle what I am doing and give my best, feeble explanation as to why I made the choices I did, but I am not going to defend them vigorously, nor do I hold up my approach as the “right” or “best” way - I am just muddling through since it worked once before. And, to be clear, this project may either collapse or fade - maybe I just got lucky the first time…I am not good enough at this stuff to know for sure…yet. :wink: [/li][li]Photos, Sound Samples, etc. - well, I don’t know if I am going to be able to provide much of that stuff. Basically, I really shouldn’t be hanging out on The Dope at all - as with most of you, I am just super busy. I guess I use posting about guitar geekery as a vent - to keep myself sane (or to satisfy my need for a little geeky insanity). So I grab a few minutes at work to post here and I really never do it at home, which is where that stuff would be. I am still trying to figure out if I actually have time to build the guitar…[/li][li]I am not sure how often I will be able to post. I expect I would start a thread when I am at a key milestone and provide links to the previous threads. There will be delays when I need to wait for parts or for something to get done like a rout or finishing work. Not too mention that life may intrude and I have to put the project down for a bit. So there will be delays, but I will give it a shot.[/li][li]I would hope and assume that other Dopers with guitar-building experience would chime in - again, I would not be intereseted in a Great Debate over pickup choice, wood selection, etc., but some folks know a lot more than me. River Hippie, you’ve built your share, right? Since you build Strats, IIRC, maybe you can speak to their unique attributes at key steps? Carson O’Genic, you actually build the guitars, not just assemble them - maybe you can provide insight (and help when I need it!!)?? And I am sure plenty of you other Dopers have dabbled in modding your guitars, right?[/li][/ul]

Well, I think that is it for now. If this seems worthwhile, I can try to get back on and start with the Pre-Build Geek thread, covering things like guitar building history, how to approach this type of project and my experience with the first one and the all-important, mind-blowingly tedious, neurotic, self-centered and obsessive world of: designing your “perfect” guitar. :cool: :stuck_out_tongue:

This thread is a great idea and coming from someone who loves music but would be intimidated beyond belief at the prospect of embarking on such a demanding project, thanks for doing this because I (we) can now enjoy the experience vicariously through you and learn something to boot. I’ll bet more than a few will be following this closely.

Agree with lieu. For all the years I have been playing guitar, the prospect of actually building one is so way far beyond me. Please give us updates when you have a chance…

I am in awe of your bravery, WordMan! I can’t even put together a Snap-Tite Model Kit, myself… :o Crap, I get all flubbered up trying to string my Rickenbacker…which actually is way harder than it should be due to the “R” tailpiece thingy. I used to have a 12 String Rick that I got rid of because 1. I didn’t use it that much and 2. “I am NOT stringing THAT!” :smiley:

Hey, can I watch?

Are you planning on doing anything with the finish? Paint? Tung oil? If so, have you done any of that before?

The reason I ask, my daughter (graphic artist, not a guitarist) did some artwork on a couple of painted guitars a while back and found it to be much more challenging than she originally thought. The two she finished* turned out great! The third was placed “on hiatus” when she hit a snag which will entail starting over (sanding down to bare wood).

*dragon guitar & flamed guitar images done with gold and silver leaf and look even better in person.

First of all - Whoa! Those guitars are freakin’ gorgeous! Please compliment your daughter for me.

Second of all - and this is something that might get explored in the “design your perfect guitar” portion of this discussion - but I tend to NOT like beautiful guitars for me. I am a sweaty, messy, aggressive player - think Pete Townshend with perspiration issues (I know - ew; sorry) - so beautiful guitars scare me which means I might hold back on my playing and we can’t have that. Therefore, I tend towards the simplest designs possible - although I am contemplating one beautiful-guitar feature that I don’t necessarily need - binding the body. Still wrestling with that one - 'cuz it is a super-earth-shatteringly important decision, right?

Third of all - I don’t do my own paint. My buddy Bill is an expert cabinet maker, studio bass player (i.e., does commerical recording sessions) and sometime-luthier. He does my heavy-duty woodwork like neck re-shaping and finishing. I am looking at Gibson Heritage Cherry (see example here) but I have to make sure he can get that rich, darkish-red tint give the wood I am contemplating - again, all to be covered in the Design portion of all this…


Great idea for a thread. I’ve had a neck off of a guitar, and changed pickups, bridges and other things, sometimes with better results than other times. Its great fun to do, though the chance to screw up an instrument will always be lurking.

So, I’m not sure from reading what you wrote above – are you still spec-ing the guitar, or have you picked out the components you want (other than that neck)? When you’re at that stage, can you please share a parts list – what neck, what body, hardware blah blah arf arf ?

Re: soldering – I’ve done a lot of soldering, back in the day. You probably know this, but make sure you’re heating the wire, not the solder, with your soldering iron. The wires should get hot enough to melt the solder, otherwise you’ll have a cold joint.

Nice color pick!

Are you kidding?! :smiley: Remember who you are asking! In other words, yeah, I plan to geek out about the parts I plan to use and why I picked them (to the extent I know why :wink: ). I have most of the stuff worked out; I just have to make some final decisions, such as whether to get a bound body…

Yeah - I’ve screwed up solder joints and learned my lesson. Note: I am still using the same 30-year-old soldering iron I picked up with allowance money from Radio Shack when I was 15 - but I am pleased to report that I actually bought some new solder last year when I worked on the first guitar project - yes I had been using the same little coil I bought when I got the iron back then…if that gives you a sense of how little I soldered over the years. :eek:

Thanks! One of the things I dig about it is that it is an associated-with-Gibson color (many players have famously used Cherry Gibsons, from Chuck Berry and Freddie King to Angus Young and Derek Trucks) and I am looking at using it on a Fender design, so it is both very familiar and somehow different…and I happen to love red guitars, especially darker red where you can still see the wood grain…

Yeah, I was going to say that’s a really cool color for a tele…all I’ve ever seen were red ones. I dig red where you see the grain as well (the burgundy-glo in Ricks is like that, although the older ones are darker and cooler than my '02).

So were ya fixin’ to put a Bigsby on that puppy? You did say you’d like one in your guitarsenal :slight_smile:

Okay - first snag!

  • You see the color I want for the body, that Heritage Cherry.
  • Well, what I want is a body that can deliver the bright Tele tones, but ALSO deliver Gibson-thick tones, too. Gibsons are normally made of mahogany, a wonderful, beautiful tonewood, but one that delivers a warm, mid-rangy sort of tone (mmmm, mahogany tone…) - so you “hit a ceiling” if you want a brighter tone; mahogany can’t do that.
  • With my first project guitar, I built it out of ash - the standard wood for a Tele (I figured with my first build, stick with the basics, right?). Sure enough, just playing it straight-up was very bright - great for gigging when I am playing a clean-toned song or a New Wave cover where I need the brightness.
  • What turned out to be very, very cool though is that I figured out a way to dial up a Gibson tone - I have described this in other threads. Basically I use a distortion box with the Distortion setting VERY low and the Volume/Level setting max’d (“dimed” to use guitar lingo) - so the distortion box is acting more like an additional gain stage on the amp, not truly distorting the signal much. With the guitar’s volume and tone rolled off to varying degrees, I get a great mid-rangey, thick, humbucker-like Gibson sound.
  • So - cool, right? Well, not exactly - I am looking to see how I might vary the guitar a bit simply to have a somewhat different “tonal footprint” (there has GOT to be a better way to say that!)
  • I have been hearing a lot about Pine - it is a light (that is important to my back) wood that produces a great tone - a lot of project-guitar builders are messing with it online now because it is cheap and funky and sounds great. Apparently it tends to bright, but without the same edginess that ash and alder (the two big Fender woods) have - more sweetness.
  • So I am thinking - cool, pine for me, right? Well, I just got this from my luthier-support-buddy Bill:
  • Okay then - no pine. :smack:

  • As it stands now, I am waiting on the neck anyway - what I want to do is check out the neck and, if I like the carve of it (i.e., how it feels in my fretting hand) then I will go ahead and bolt in onto my current project guitar - no returns after that! At that point I can decide if the difference in neck design (I will get to that) yields enough tonal variation. If so, I will probably just order an ash body (and wait 6 weeks for it! :rolleyes: ). If I want to tweak the tone, then I will have to pick a wood that is different…maybe White Korina (link to Warmoth Guitar Parts’ Wood Page - scroll down to find White Korina. You can look at all the woods there - some are gorgeous; if I was interested in a natural finish guitar there are some really pretty ones…)

Repeat after me: it’s no fun if you don’t have problems to solve on the fly…

Ah - from the other guitar thread open today. You know - I kinda would and a Tele with a Bigsby can be a great thing. But I first want to see if I can produce my “dream guitar” - which is basically a Tele look and capable of Tele brightness and twang, but where I can dial up some warm Gibson tones - and the guitar will kind of look like a Fender / Gibson hybrid…in fact Fender made a guitar kinda like what I am look for, called the Tele Jr. (link to pic) which is a Fender interpretation of a Gibson Les Paul Jr. But that guitar doesn’t have all the features I want - neck carve, pickups, pickguard style, etc. - hence my deciding on a project guitar. (also, those Tele Jr’s were a limited run, expensive and going up in value; I want a guitar I can use to pound nails and take to the gig that night… :slight_smile: )

Since Bigsby’s “float” like any whammy bar, they don’t have the same “balls” and punchiness that a normally-set-up Tele does. A floating bridge absorbs some of the vibrations so it softens the punchiness of a Tele - more like a Strat (I know you know read this last time I posted it, squeegee). So it would likely be a step AWAY from my thick Gibson tone I am targeting. So - not this time, but if I have fun on this one, who knows?

Oh hell yes, that Tele Jr. is sweet, even though I’d personally kill for a Thinline. Are you set on sticking with singles or have you thought about taking a router to it and stuffing in some humbuckers? My brother had a Tele for years and I love the feel, but I always wanted it to roar like my Epi Les did.

Depends on what you mean by “hurt.” Amps do more damage, volts cause more pain. :slight_smile:

Anything that caused you to post less would be a loss for the rest of us, but it’s your life, of course.

I’m just a hacker, changing out pickups, modifying body shape, etc., so my advice is worth zippo, but I’d be happy provide soldering help, if you need any. :slight_smile:

Huh, I’m curious about this – I’d always thought binding was done by a) routing the perimeter of the top of the body, b) finishing the guitar, then c) attaching the binding. Plus perhaps a clear coat over all afterwards. So reversing b) and c) is the correct way?

What are most guitars bound in, anyway? On my Tele, it just looks like some sort of white plastic molding.

I vote going for the binding – I really like the look on my Tele, although it does make the style a bit “fussier”, so its a matter of taste. Are you also going for the comfort back, like my AD Tele?

Right on, I am looking forward to this.

I am thinking about building a guitar from the ground up. It’ll be a strat type body, double octave neck, three pickups and some custom wiring. I’ve rebuilt a couple guitars and some turned out ok, a couple were crappy and one was surprisingly good. The one that was surprisingly good had beer bottle caps holding up the bridge. (Yes, beer bottle caps. Budweiser I think). It was trashed when I got it and we rebuilt it with whatever was on hand. I was making a living in a band at the time so I was poor :wink:

Also can be accomplished with a boost pedal like a Keeley Katana or MXR MicroAmp. Using a boost instead of a distortion box also results (usually) in less coloring of the tone. More transparency, if you will.

I hear you, but there is enough of an effect that I still lean towards using a dirt box on Low.

I just realized :smack: , **Crotalus ** must be on vacation - he’d be all over this thread since he is circling starting a build project, too and is deep in the throes of Dream Guitar Navel-Gazing™, but I am not sure he has found his Nirvana Design yet ;).

I have to get caught up at work and then will post. I need to cover some stuff, I think - if you think of anything else, let me know:

  • some background on guitar building and the Tele design
  • my working theory on what I am trying to achieve
  • the neck and its role
  • the pickups and what I am hoping for

Okay - I am grabbing a bit of time before I go into a meeting:

some background on guitar building and the Tele design
So, Fender guitars are ideal for guitar-building projects.[ul]
[/ul] [ul]
[li]Leo Fender originally designed them to be mass produced, so each part is highly replicate-able, relatively simple and manual steps are, for the most part, isolate-able[/li][li]The Tele design is simplicity itself - the parts list is charmingly short. [/li][li]The Tele design is widely accepted as one of this, if not the, most versatile guitars in the world; there is no style of music a Tele can’t be tweaked into being able to support. [/li][li]So because if its universal appeal AND its simplicity, it is the obvious choice for aftermarket parts designers. You can get the specs for a Tele at Fenders website, where they have EVERY guitar’s design and circuit available in PDF downloadable format (needed that for my first project guitar).[/li][/ul]

People have been playing with their Planks (a Tele’s nickname) since the beginning - even the act of taking off the “ashtray” bridge cover to expose the bridge and make it easy to palm-mute is a mod, but it goes further - lots of Nashville players flip the orientation of the control plate to put the Volume knob right below the pinky to enable volume swells; the original Teles came with a “muffle setting” where one position of the pickup selector was the neck pickup set up to sound more like a bass guitar - so if you were in a pinch with no bassist back in the 50’s you could fake a bass. Players quickly learned to modify that circuit to get a more useful neck pickup sound and Fender made the mod stock sometime after.

But Eddie change everything. When Eddie Van Halen showed up with his Frankenstein parts guitar made from Boogie Bodies/Warmoth, Charvel and other parts, including a famously “dead” PAF pickup from a '59 Gibson (more on pickups later), everyone got DIY fever. Jeez the things I did to my poor, defenseless guitars… :eek:

Anyway, so modding was HUGE - but the focus was on Super Strats and fancy circuits, like what **squeegee ** is contemplating (go for it!!). But in the mid-to-late 90’s, things went retro-vintage and tastes have moved towards simpler-is-better rigs, simple-circuit tube amps and old-school guitars. And so what was sitting right there waiting for the shift? The Telecaster - so now you have a return to roots electric guitar and a perfectly simple design begging to be customized. Kismet.

my working theory on what I am trying to achieve
So you see in my earlier posts that I want a guitar that sits comfortably in the Gibson tonal spectrum, but is capable of delivering brighter Tele cleans, too. As I have mentioned, Tele’s are versatile and you MUST be comfortable twiddling the on-board Volume and Tone controls - while they may actually perform the acts they claim on their label (i.e., adjust Volume and Tone) they really provide a tonal spectrum, on their own and how they interact. So if you want a thick, tight, crunchy-distorted rhythm sound that is tight on the lows, you can boost your gain (like putting a dirt box on the front end as I describe above), dial BACK the volume so the gain is NOT out of control but instead thick and saturated, and them roll the Tone off a BIT, but not much because you need to the edginess to keep the Lows tight. Then palm mute SUPER HARD - practically choke the strings - and you are in hard rock rhythm heaven.

Okay - so can a Tele deliver that like a humbucker?? Well, kinda - but it depends on how you look at it. The key is this: when you roll off your Volume and Tone, does it sound musical - like you have cleared out a bit of the signal, but what is left sounds complete and musically interesting with cool harmonics - or does it sound “lopped off” like you just rolled off the top of the signal and now it is just lying there, blunt and yucky.

My working theory is that if I have the right combination of “stuff” (that’s the technical term :wink: ) I can try to make sure my guitar sounds musical when I roll off the controls.

I have to run, but I will layout what I think the key ingredients are when I get back…

Okay - more geekery:

So, my working thinking is that the key ingredients to a Tele-design guitar that delivers musical tone when I twiddle the knobs:
[li]Good Wood - Carson O’Genic and I touched on this in a earlier thread, but any number of materials, including but not limited to wood, can deliver good tone. But the tone MUST be good - the guitar must sound interesting and complex unplugged. You are welcome to disagree and think that unplugged is unimportant, but know where I am coming from (and that it is not something worth debating - YMMV and all). Certain woods tend to have certain tonal characteristics, but there is no hard and fast rule, and any wood can have specific examples of tonal duds. But a good-sounding body, IMHO, is at the heart of a good tone.[/li][li]Allow for the neck joint: Okay, based on my experience, a bolt-on neck - the heart and soul of Fenders designs - delivers a brighter tone vs. a crafted, luthier-designed set-neck like a Les Paul. I want that because I want access to Tele highs. But I need to acknowledge that I can’t just take Gibson woods or design features and swap them into this Fender design. There aren’t many bolt-on guitars with mahogany necks and bodies. So my thinking is that I would stick with a normal (for Fender) maple neck - but make sure it is big and chunky. Not just because I prefer it given my playing style (can be discussed later) but because a big bolt-on joint and a big hunk o’ wood sets up a better “vibrational system” - the neck is going to thrum more because the vibrations from string end-point to end-point will transfer a bit more efficiently through a solid joint and bigger piece of wood. Well, that’s theory anyway - there is a guy I admire who hangs out on guitar boards and knows wood and describes how you can find out how efficient the guitar’s “system” is (and no, I didn’t mark the darn threads and now can’t find ‘em - grr.) and how a bigger neck helps a solidbody’s efficiency. Well, it sounds fascinating :dubious: and I can definitely say that I have experienced a neck that vibrates a lot - they stand out and feel much more responsive in your hand…[/li][li]Use high-quality “musically inefficient” parts - I have discussed this in previous threads: the capacitor and potentiometers and resistors in the guitar circuits from the 50’s weren’t as efficient as the ones we can make today - but that is a good thing, but their inefficiencies lead to filtering our bad harmonics and retaining good harmonics so the overall sound is more pleasing to our ears. We like what they strip out and less is more - the remaining harmonics are more clear and we can hear how they interact more cleanly. You can now go online to a number of websites and find kits to upgrade your electronics to these vintage-style, musically inefficient designs. I can really hear the difference.[/li][li]Use high quality, musical, single-coil pickups - well, this is a huge issue and I can’t really go into a lot of detail right now (how freakin’ long is this post, anyway? :slight_smile: ). Bottom line is that I want humbucker thickness, but I want access to Tele tones. So I need the single coils to deliver Tele tones, and am clearly betting on my design choices and knob-twiddling playing style to deliver the Gibson Thick. So humbuckers won’t work - they, like mahogany, hit a ceiling and can’t get brighter. Also, I find that a Tele single coil with V and T knobs twiddled really does thicken up - and because it is a single coil still can keep the Lows tight - with 'buckers, the lows can sag if you are too distorted, roll off the Tone too much or are not playing your amp loud enough to drive its gain. [/li][/ul]

Enough for now - I will add more when I can…