So no big deal, I just built my own guitar… like I knew anything about woodworking…
When I was a teenager, I learned that Brian May (plays guitar with Queen) built his own guitar. The red one, that you always see him with. He did that together with his father. At home. I thought they must be some kind of professionals. Fast forward to last year, when I started watching a lot of videos of people building their own guitars. Eventually I ended up with a tutorial by Tchiks Guitars, who said that everyone could do it. Well, if he says so, maybe I should give it a shot…
In his tutorial he showed how to build a Telecaster. Leo Fender started selling these in 1950. Short after the invention of the electric guitar, he was looking for an easy and cheap way to manufacture large amounts of electric guitars. He came up with this model, which basically remained unchanged since. It’s one of the most popular guitar designs to this day.
As I have zero knowledge about wood and didn’t plan to do the necessary research, I checked which wood types are commonly used. I just ordered the ones I thought were pretty: Swamp Ash for the body and flamed maple for the neck and bird’s eye maple for the finger board.
I then signed up with this do-it-yourself club, which provided me with a workspace and machines. The GarageLab in Düsseldorf. And off I went…
As I have zero woodworking experience, I decided to get some cheap wood as well and try building a template first. That didn’t work out too great, to be honest. I never got it quite right. And after 3 tries, I asked my friend Stan to help me with using the CNC Router (basically a computer cutting for you) to make the template. Sure, I could have used the CNC to build the guitar as well, but where’s the fun in that?
With the proper templates, the guitar’s body went pretty quickly. The biggest challenge was to make it level at a specific width, because the piece I had was too wide for the machines we had. So I built a little helper jig and used the router (German: Oberfräse). I got pretty good at it, I think. Even getting the pickup cavities done, went kinda okay. And then there was sanding. A lot of sanding. And I finished with the body being so smooth, I considered using it as a pillow.
So all was peachy. But then I had to start working on the neck…
Break a Neck (or two)
So the neck is put together out of 2 different pieces, the actual neck and the fingerboard glued on top of it. To make the fingerboard, I printed out a piece of paper where the frets go, sawed the slots in. I then drilled small holes for the dot inlays and glued them right in. And then it’s all about getting a nice little arch into it. By sanding. For five hours. Just up and down that sanding block. So much fun.
The neck basically just has to be routed in shape. And then it needs a little slot for the truss rod (that blue metal thing, that makes sure the neck stays straight). And then the headstock has to be made much thinner before taking care of the back of the neck and make it nice round and smooth, so yo can actually play the guitar. Well, at least that was the plan.
I had some disagreements with the router. The first time it ate the template, so I had to do the neck again. The second time the wood split up and fixing it resulted in the truss rod slot being far from straight. So I had to do the neck again. The third time, already with the fretboard glued on it, the headstock got way too thin for the tuners to work. Fourth time is a charm.
Oh, and then I messed up one additional fretboard, also router. And it got too thin. So that 5+ hours of sanding… I enjoyed that three freaking times. Anyways. I managed. Time to move on.
Finalizing the woodwork
I was thinking for a long time about what to do on the headstock where the companies put their brand logo. Stickers always seemed ugly to me, but I had a different idea. I created a little logo and asked my friend Rolf support with the CNC router. Looks amazing, if you ask me.
Then I had to get the neck into shape. That was real fun. I used planers and files and chisels and sanding. But not until I put tiny little dot inlays into the side. Drill a 2 millimeters hole and get these tiny things in there. I had to use a large magnifying glass for that. Someone’s getting old. B)
I faced many little challenges, that’s partly the fun of it, I guess. Probably the biggest one was that while hammering in the frets, one of the dot inlays broke. So I had to glue a new one in and then sand it level with everything else that has been carefully sanded before. But it worked out. You can still tell though; it looks a little lighter.
I learned that you should prepare the wood for what it will face. In this case: Sweaty hands. As I spent so much time with the wood, it wanted it to be visible though, and you should be able to feel it. A little test with some scrap wood also showed me that I probably should not use lacquer or varnish or however that might be called in English. I tried Polyurethane but failed to find a way to put it on my sanded and oiled guitar without messing it up completely. So I didn’t. But I oiled it!
I used 5 layers of tung oil. Apparently many people use just that as a finish for guitars. So I’m in good company.
It was so funny putting on the first layer of oil. The whole body was super pale and just a drop of oil made change gears. The grains popped out and it looked so lush. That got a little more every coat of oil. After giving it plenty of time to cure it was time for the final steps.
And all the rest
I then had to find a way to mount the neck to the body, so it’s straight. But it worked out. Then I got to install the tuners, the pickups and did the whole wiring. Soldering is something I learned at school, but that was in the last century. So I won’t win any prices with my soldering job, but it seems to work out great.
The biggest learning was that I should have put on the neck strap hangers before I mount the neck. But it worked anyways.
Also my friend Viet created the custom neck plate which holds the screws that connect the body and neck. My own logo engraved twice on my on guitar. Super cool.
And then I still had to do the setup of a guitar. That includes leveling the frets, crowning and polishing them. Also the bridge setup so that the guitar is mostly in tune. Which, believe it or not, it is! It plays like a real guitar. And yes, I am a little surprised.
So here I have my new guitar now. And I made it myself. I spend a fortune on parts and woods and it kept me busy for half a year. But it’s all mine.
And this is my soundcheck:
Swamp Ash Body, Flamed Maple Neck, Bird’s Eye Maple Fretboard, Bare Knuckle “Brown Sugar” Pickups, ABM 3455n Bridge, Grover 406C6 Mini Locking Rotomatics Tuners, Warwick S-Security Strap Lock, Treble Bleed Circuit.
The text here will follow soon. Until then: Watch the soundcheck on youtube!