Building a guitar – 1

So I’d decided to build an acoustic guitar, and after I researched just what the wood would cost I changed my mind. Really good wood, the kind of perfect wood you need for an acoustic, is unholy expensive these days! A kit, which is really just rough cut pieces, is $400-$500. Of course, to buy the guitar such a kit would allow you to build would cost about $2000. Even so, more than I have to spend at the moment so I decided to pursue an electric guitar first.

I’ve wanted a Telecaster for years, and so I decided to make a design similar to that. The blond model with a black pick guard. My goal is a guitar that works. I’m not going to try to make it perfect, or authentic, or beautifully finished. Just competently made and functional It will probably be finished with a few coats of oil over sanding to 220 grit. Maybe shellac, if my arms feel strong enough for all the sanding. I figure it will take at least 2 more guitars before I get to where spraying lacquer and buffing to high gloss will be worth it.

The first step was to make a template using a drawing off the internet and a trip to Kinko’s to print it out full size. I used spray-mount adhesive to stick it to some baltic birch plywood, and then cut and sanded to the lines. Not too bad – over 16″ the drawing was out maybe .030″ according to my most expensive ruler.
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In the mean time I dressed some ash I’d bought, and glued up a body blank. Why is it impossible to buy a piece of ash without saying to everyone ‘Hey, I just got a nice piece of ash!’. Anyway, it was a nice pie…attractively figured ash board. Now it’s a lot nicer looking and the right dimensions for cutting into a body.

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While the body blank was drying I got started on the template for the neck. The surgical loupe was there so I could read the .010″ graduations on my ruler – my eyes just don’t go there anymore. I pasted a drawing of the headstock on the plywood to get started, and then calculated the length and where the taper should start. It’s about now that I realized that there are really very few critical dimensions on a guitar – really just the distance between the nut, bridge and frets. The rest is just aesthetics. I like this kind of wood working!

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Today I got the body routed out – not without a flaw here and there due to tear out and unexpected router mishaps. I’m going to try to repair as best I can, but really the guitar is meant to be functional and practice more than family heirloom. A few dings to start with just means I don’t have to worry about the first one that comes after it’s finished.

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I have a lot more work to do, but so far it’s been about what I expected. I will have to order some parts before I get too much further, as things have to be located to fit.

So far I think I’ve discovered a better way to do this. Instead of making the body, and routing the neck pocket, I think maybe it should go the other way. First rough the neck, then route the neck pocket in the body, then rout the outside of the body. I’ll have to try that next time.

More to come!

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