My stuff finally arrived from Guitar Fetish, what this means is that I can move on with drilling the holes for mounting the bridge and the pickups. The most important part of the instrument is the bridge in relation to the neck. My neck has a scale length of 24.75″. The scale length is the distance between the nut at the top of the neck and the bridge on the body. Tension is created between these two points and it is the vibration of this particular section of the strings that makes the musical notes. Now the distance of the bridge could be any distance from the nut and you could tune the guitar to the open string tunings, say EADGBE. However in order for the notes on the frets to also be the corect pitch (this is known as intonation), the bridge must be placed at the correct distance from the neck nut, 24.75″. The pitch a string makes is a function of the distance of the vibrating portion of the string and the tension of that part of the string. There is a specific mathmatical formular which determines where the frets must go, spaced in decreasing intervals in order to make the correct notes. If the bridge is the wrong distance, each fret will get progressively further away from the correct pitch making the guitar essentially useless unless you are into some form of microtone jazz. So no pressure to get this part right then…
I attached some of the tuning machines to the neck to string the outer strings to the neck and through the bridge, this way I could line up the bridge with the measured scale length, I also could see where the outer strings would lie. It wouldn’t be much good if one of them was to lie off of the fretboard. After all the testing I marked the spots where drilling was required and attached the bridge with the strings on to test it out. This was the biggest moment so far in the entire build. And find out how I went after these commercials… no just kidding, it worked great, the string action was good and the intonation was as close as you could hope for without fine tuning it later with the adjustable parts of the bridge. Success!
With that sorted it was time to move on to routing the holes for the pickups. The location of these mounting parts aren’t random either. The importance here though is in the overall sound of the guitar, not it’s playability. It’s generally accepted that the best place to place pickups is where there would be a fret divisible by 12, or to put it another way on an octave. This is because the octave represents a point where there are the most harmonics. A vibrating strings doesn’t just create a single frequency but a multitude of related overtones along side the dominant frequency and the octave points have the most overtones. Placing your pickups under these points therefore produces the most harmonically rich sound. Another consideration is the distance to the nut, the closer to the nut the pickup is located the “warmer” or bassier the sound is, further away from the nut the sound becomes “crisper” or treblier.
Neck pickups are nearly always placed under the place where the 24th fret would be, unless there are 24 frets on the fretboard in which case the pickup is placed as close as possible to the 24th fret point. The bridge pickup however is not always placed directly under the 36th fret and may be placed a little closer or further away from the bridge nut depending on your preference for a warmer or crisper sound. I used my other 24.75″ guitars as a reference point for the bridge pickup because I like the sound they produce so I just copied thier positioning. I won’t know what the guitar sounds like through the pickups untill the guitar is finished because wiring up the pickups is the last step before actually stringing up the guitar.
In routing the pickup holes I wasn’t as meticulous as I had to be for the neck pocket, the reason for this is that the holes will be covered by plastic pickup mounts which will cover the hole. It doesn’t need to look great, and functionally I needed a minimum hole size, so I drew an inner and outer line on the guitar and routed between these two lines, the results don’t look amazing but they got the done in a timely manner. What isn’t shown here is the rout for the guitar controlls. My router couldn’t rout deep enough to allow the controls to be threaded trough the body so I routed all the way through. What this means is that I will have to create a front control plate for the controls to thread through which secures them to the top of the body. Something like this… but using a black 3-ply plastic.
I also made my permenant neck rout fix today and glued it to the neck pocket. I used a piece of the left over pine, cut it to a smaller depth and then used my orbital sander to sculpt it into the shape that I want. I feel much better about a solid piece of wood supporting the neck angle, it will look better too.
The next step in the process is probably the main reason you build your own guitar, the individual look and this is called the finishing process. It involves sanding the bare wood, filling in the pores, applying stain, colour and finally clear coats on top to protect the whole thing. I must say, preparing for this stage has caused me the most stress because sourcing the materials I need hasn’t been easy, but hopefully by sharing my findings it may be less stressful for people reading this who may want to do a build of their own.
So it turns out that I found some free time today and don’t have to wait until Sunday to cut out the body. With the laminating phase over it’s time to sand away all the extras that got stuck to the wood as a reult of the clamping. I used my trusty random orbital sander for this on an 80 grit paper, there was quite a thick layer of glue and thin mdf board that I had to remove so the lower grit was ideal, the higher the grit the finer the sanding, rough and brutal was what I was after here. I only bothered with sanding the top and the bottom because the sides would be cut away, saving on work.
With all the sanding finished it’s time to cut out the body, I used some black corrugated plastic I had lying arround to make a new template and then traced it round a few times with a pencil. The plastic didn’t cut too smoothly, but the cutting and subsequent sanding of the body will make a smooth shape at the end. To cut the body my Dad used a jig saw, appart from a few tight turns where it left a few burn marks the jig saw did an excellent and pretty smoot job. Of course more sanding will be needed in order to make the sides suitable for painting.
The body came out looking great after cutting, we purposely left the neck section a little wide and a little long. The next steps will be to rout the hole for the neck, once we know the neck fits snuggly the extra wood to the sides and underneath will be cut down to size. Then the routing of the pickups and the bridge can be done followed by the rear rout for all the controls which will be together to avoid extra routing which is a change from the original model.
Something else that I did today was to sand away the finish on the headstock of the neck. Originally you may recall it was finished black with the logo Onxy on the headstock. Luckilly it wasn’t a proper inlay but just a 2D sticker or transfer so the whole thing sanded right off. I plan to make my own watertransfer decal for the headstock which I will talk about in more detail later.
Next post I will talk about the routing process as well as the importance of the neck and the bridge being correctly aligned. I will also discuss the choices for where to rout the pickups as this will have a dramatic effect on your sound.
The wood is all finally cut down to size which means it is time to laminate the wood. This is arguably one of the most important tasks in creating the guitar because the stuctural integrity of my body blank is the single most important thing in making sure the guitar will not fall appart at some point. I chose the best glue I could find, a polyurethane based glue which will not only be strong, but being ployurethane based shouldn’t interfere with any subsequent finishing materials that I use.
In order to make life easier on ourselves me and dad glued all pieces together at the same time. Firstly we glued the two halves of pine together, next the glue was applied to the top of the pine, glue was applied to one half of the ash and then the two halves were placed on top of the pine. During the whole process the two joins were placed as far apart as possible which you can observe in subsequent pictures.
The wood was all joined flat together onto plained surfaces, this is very important because an uneven surface would have resulted in dead spots where the two surfaces being glued were not in contact with each other, which structurally would not have been as strong.
I clamped in two planes horizontal and vertical which means you need a lot of clamps, you need large clamps for the horizontal plane that can span the width of the wood (I used 45cm clamps). I had originally intended to use 3 clamps for this part but one broke becasue it was cheap… so a lesson for you there, invest in good equipment, you’ll save in the long run with how much longer it will last. Smaller clamps were used to apply preasure to the vertical plane, I used 6 clamps for this part.
Something to note when glueing is that there will be nothing you can do about quite a lot of glue coming over the sides and making a large mess. If this happens you know that you have applied enough glue because the glue has covered all the surfaces and has run out of space and therefore escapes throught the cracks.
I’m leaving the glue to dry for a week, this amount of time isn’t really necessary but basically Sundays are the only days I have to work on this. Next week I will be sanding off all the excess glue and cutting out the shape of the body, and depending on how much time I have I may even rout the neck joint so I can plan where to place the routing holes for the pickups and the bridge, but more on the importance of these things when I get to that part of the build.
Timber choice is a pretty hotly debated topic amonst guitarists and luthiers with claims about the different tonal properties of different woods. Certainly if you are building an acoustic guitar the wood will make a big difference to the tone and resonance of the sound, as it is the resonance of the wood wich amplifies the vibrations of the strings. Electric guitars are different though, the strings are amplified electronically from signals generated by magnetic pickups. Although many a forum discussion has heated arguments about the different kinds of timbre (i.e characteristics) of the sound different woods make, for instance alder and ash are said to be brighter with mahogany producing a darker sound, the concensus among most luthiers seems to be that it really doesn’t make too much difference at all, excpect for maybe sustain, as the bulk of the sound is generated from the pickups and the amplifier. It is for this reason that in solid body guitar building, the visual characteristic of the wood are the most prized.
So with this and the dimensions in mind I went to a local fine timber yard to see what wood they had in stock. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money with this being my first ever guitar build, so I bought Kauri Pine, which I had planed down from 4cm to 2.5cm depth, and to put on top Victorian Ash which was 2cm thick. Neither are wide enough to cover the entire width of the design so I will have to laminate (glue) two pieces together, I will also have to of course glue the ash onto the pine. Below you can see a picture of the pine before and after cutting.
Something which I hadn’t considered was where to join the pieces of wood. Being a bit more practical and possesing a considerable amount more common sense than myself, my dad reccomended that I join the top piece of wood with equal size halves and the bottom piece with unequal size halves, or offset if you like.
The reason for this is because of structural integrity. Doing it this way avoids the two vertical joins from my different pieces lining up on top of each other when I glue them horizontally, as in one on top of the other. This way the guitar body will be stronger because it will be less likely to simply snap into two pieces down the middle because the two layers of wood will support each other. The last thing you want is your guitar falling apart!
Hi there guys! My name is Ross Balch, I’ve been playing guitar for arround ten years now and like many guitarists before me I have felt the need for quite some time now to build my own guitar. As a novice I’m not expecting it to be as great as a PRS private stock model, or even as good as say an Epiphone (although if I can achieve that then brilliant) but hopefully at the end of it I will have a playable instrument and the satisfaction of knowing that I built it myself. Up front I should say that I will not be building the neck. This is probably the most difficult part requiring precision work to make sure the scale length and the frets are in the correct place. Instead I purchased a cheap guitar, in my case an Onyx Les Paul copy and I will use the neck, which is suprisingly good, as well as a lot of other hardware from that which you can see below. I do have a lot of experience with setting up my own guitars so I am hoping that will help with the build.
Preparation is the most important thing for any project, and as I’ve wanted to do this for a fair few years now I have done quite a bit of reading on the internet and I also purchased myself some very helpful books, Make Your Own Electric Gutiar by Melvyn Hiscock and Guitar Finishing Step-by-Step by Dan Erlewine and Don MacRostie, those two have also produced some excellent videos which I reccomend. I have admired the Mark Morton Dominion signature model from Jackson lately so I decided to plan my guitar to have this basic shape.
I will be making a few changes to this design. For starters I won’t be using the same wood for the body, the original is made of mahogany and maple with a quilted maple veneer. I didn’t want to spend too much on the build so I choose other timber that was available to me (see later post). On my model I will be colouring the back black and leaving the front with a natural look with just shellac and laqeur. I’m going to move the selector switch in line with the rest of the controls to avoid having to create too many cavities and I’m also going to go with only one volume and one tone shared between the two humbuckers. I am tempted to get a set of Mark Morton Dominion pickups from DiMarzio, but they are $119 each so I think I will go with the Power Rails from Guitar Fetish to begin with and make the upgrade if my guitar will get regular use when it’s complete.
Unfortunately I have never seen this guitar in real life and I could not find the real dimensions online so using the picture I worked out from the scale length (which is 24.75″) that the body is roughly 42.4cm high and 31.7cm wide, the average depth of my guitars is around 4.5cm so I went with that. To make sure the measurements were corect, or at least produced a decent size guitar I made a 3D cardboard representation and compared it to my other guitars, especially my PRS SE Custom 22 which is the highest quality guitar I own. It looks good so I will stick with those dimensions.
So that’s my plan. As I go along I will update the blog with more indepth discussions about the actual building process, decisions I made and other general guitar nerdery. This first of which will be choice of timber and the joinery options which (like most things I guess) is quite a contreversial topic among guitar players and luthiers.