“Build Notes” — Electric Guitar Creation

Building a fantastic guitar is not a simple task. It all starts with wood selection and just blows up from there. Currently I’m choosing Walnut and Maple for my builds. They get more complex as I build new guitars.

May 2022 UPDATE:

1). Using mahogany and maple at this time (May 15, 2022). I’ve found that African Mahogany works great for the body core, while curly maple and its variants, and big leaf quilted maple, work great for laminate tops. Also, have started making my own necks.

2). I’m now using a CNC machine to perform these steps:

  • Control cavity and its cover
  • Neck pocket
  • Pickup cavity at neck
  • Pickup cavity at bridge
  • Neck busing inserts from the back
  • String bushing inserts from the back
  • Body cutout

3). The information below is dated, and is a lot of what I was doing before “graduating” to newer equipment and newer processes. I have purchased a thickness sander in April, 2022, that really makes things much simpler and much more precise.

4). Neck building is now happening. I am limiting my necks to roasted maple now for various reasons, but am not opposed to building from non roasted maple. I have done several in mahogany and birdseye maple. All have either rosewood or ebony fretboards. My latest as of May, 2022, is the roasted maple, rosewood, and gold jumbo frets, as shown below:

I use graphite nuts, as they are self lubricating and seem more slippery than bone or certainly plastic. I’m also going to try using some inlay for my name, individual set pieces that are held with CA glue, then topped off with epoxy and sanded back to create the look.

The complexity of each guitar body is similar in that all have a bridge, pickups, controls, and an output jack. Aside from that, the differences are magnified by style, with Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Les Paul (LP) styles differing significantly. Each of those names is registered to the Fender company, which owns the names. This is why the word “style” is appended to the names. I build in the style of those well-known guitar shapes.

I begin with 8/4 walnut. (Lumber is measured in quarter inch increments and the denominator–the “4” in the number–doesn’t change. You know, lumber nerd stuff.) I look for boards with heavy figuring and appeal. Once selected, I cut two sections long enough to accommodate the body shape.

Ready for glue-up. These are edge joined, square, smooth.

I edge join the two pieces and glue them together with aliphatic resin (carpenter’s glue, or “yellow glue”) to make a body blank. I use 5 Jorgenson clamps per glue-up section. Not too tight. The joint should be closed, but not severely tight so as to force all glue from the joint and create “dry joint.”

Walnut core in the clamps.

Once the glue is dry, I place the joined section in my router sled and surface plane to thickness minus the thickness of the top I’ll be using. 8/4 lumber becomes 6/4, plus a 1/4 top to make the finished 7/4 guitar body (1 3/4 inches thick).

Routing has begun. You can see the offset created by the router bit. The bit used is a surface planing bit.
Router sled/jig/device I created to adjust body thickness as needed.
Completed Walnut core. This is 1 1/2 inches thick. I’ll glue on a a 1/4-inch top to make the finished thickness 1 3/4 inches. Standard guitar thickness.

Cavities are routed into the body. They include space for the pickups and volume and tone control pots.

Spotlight is on the router after it cuts the cavity for the bridge pickup.

I make my own cover plates from time to time. This one is straight grained, quarter sawn Walnut. It will accent the Walnut core of this guitar. This is unpolished.

Walnut hand made control cavity cover plate.

Knobs are another item I can make on my lathe. These (below) are spalted maple finished with CA glue to keep finger oils from fouling them. Easy to turn, no knurling needed. I probably won’t use these, as I’m not totally thrilled with the idea of using wooden knobs for long term wear.

Two knobs sit atop their Walnut cover, awaiting the day they’ll be put into service.

Controls are installed on the cover, as seen in the photo below. These include volume, tone, and a 3-way switch to send the pickup signal from the bridge, neck, or both, to the output jack and ultimately to an amplifier. The cavity and control cover are lined with copper foil and grounded. This provides some protection against stray radio frequency (RF) signals and potential hum or noise situations.

Lining the bottom surface of the control cavity cover with copper foil. The sticky foil surface is conductive.
CTS brand 500K pots with an Oaks-Grigsby 3-way switch mounted to Walnut copper lined control cavity cover.

Notes on project phases.

Phase 1: Cut mahogany to length and width. Plane edge joints. Surface thickness in planer. Edge glue then clamp. Clean up joint.

Phase 2: Cut maple tops to length. Resaw for bookmatching. Thickness plane. Edge glue then clamp. Clean up joint.

Phase 3: Glue maple to top to mahogany core. Clamp. Clean up after clamping.

Phase 4: Layout center line and scale length, trace body template, pockets, center punch for neck pocket screw holes and drill through.

Phase 5: Bandsaw neck pocket area and rout neck pocket profile.

Phase 6: Rout neck pocket depth, length, width.

Phase 7: Route pickup pockets.

Phase 8: Drill through holes for controls from the front.

Phase 9: Route control cavity pockets from rear.