Ron Mielzynski is a professional luthier, graduate of the Chicago School of Violin Making and a woodworker with 20+ years of experience.
This tutorial is intended to show the basic steps and tools needed to construct a solidbody electric guitar. I may include some alternate methods but space will not allow for all the
specific details and measurements. Have patience with the building process and above all remember your safety first when working with sharp tools and power tools.
Looking ahead before starting any project is essential for its completion. Although it may be a boring place to start I feel should include some lists and hints.
- Wood for the body pieces totaling 18″ X 1 7/8″ rough thickness X 14″ wide depending on model of guitar
- Wood for neck 1 piece 27″ X 3 1/2″ X 3/4″
- Fretboard wood. Maple, rosewood, ebony (or any tropical hardwood) 21″ X 3″ X 1/4″
- Guitar hardware and parts (some of these are necessary to have on hand before starting the woodworking)
- Truss rod
- Templates or outline of body, neck, pickup cavities etc.
- Router, pattern bits, truss rod bit
- Jigsaw, Bandsaw or hand saw
- orbital sander or belt sander
- Sandpaper, sanding block
- Drill press, Hand Drill, Drill bits, Aircraft bit(long drill bit)
- block plane or larger plane
- straight edge, rulers, protractor, machinist squares
Good lighting is essential. I use a combination of fluorescent lighting and swing arm desk lamps.
Have a large flat workspace with a surface about 40″ from the floor.
A vacuum for dust collection can help keep a work surface free of debris which could dent the wood pieces.
Wood or body material selection
I love the fact that many different materials are acceptable in making a solidbody guitar. They may all respond differently but sometimes the least expensive alternative gives surprising results. Brian Mays Red Special guitar was made from mahogany veneered blockboard(plywood). Make sure it is dry wood having a moisture content between 9 and 15%. This can be checked with an electronic moisture meter. The body can be one large piece of wood or comprised of pieces of different types of wood. Most guitar bodies are made from 2 pieces of wood glued together.
First the faces of the wood are made flat and checked with a straightedge. This can be done with a plane or a thickness sander. The edges to be glued are then planed straight and at a 90° angle.
Carpenters glue is lightly applied to the edges which are to be glued together and then clamped up with pipe clamps and left to dry for at least 24 hours.
After the glue has dried the body blank must be planed or sanded flat to the final specified thickness.
The wood for the neck of this guitar will be made from one piece of wood but can be made up of multiple pieces just like the body. It should be flat without twist along the length and have one of the edges planed straight and with an edge 90° to the larger surface.
Guitar basics breakdown
- The guitar is an object to which strings are anchored and supported so that they can vibrate and produce a sound.
- At one end, the strings have to be anchored to the guitar via a tailpiece, tremolo or through the body.
- Moving along the strings, the next point is usually called the bridge which supports one end of the total vibrating length of the strings.
- At the other end, the strings are supported at a point called the nut and anchored beyond that point at the tuning machines.
- The vibrating length of the strings is called the guitars “scale” and is typically in the 24-27″ range.
In it’s basic form, a guitar could be built out of a long board and I like to keep this in mind of this when designing something unique.
Outline and templates
All handmade stringed instruments usually require a drawing or template to ensure the outline is consistent. Guitar makers use many different templates to help produce the same part or cavity with exact dimensions using an electric router with a pattern bit. The outline can be custom made, copied from an existing guitar or purchased. I use tracing paper to establish the drawing and transfer that to 1/2″ birch plywood so that a router bit can get me to the final shape quickly.
If copying another guitar, an accurate method of tracing the outline is to use a half-pencil. The 3″ long half-pencil can be sanded or cut along the length and is used by placing a guitar body on a large sheet of paper and following the outline while keeping the pencil flat against the edge.
If you purchase a template, make a copy to use for the routing and shaping as it could easily be damaged by the router.
In Part 2, I will get into the woodworking of the project. Get your router warmed up!
For more information on RAM custom made guitars go to www.RAMGuitars.com