If you want to have more control over the guitar you build, you can acquire plans and build your guitar from scratch. The following steps will guide you along the process as you build your new instrument.
DIY Steps to Building an Electric Guitar
Before you begin, you will need the proper tools. This guide to electric guitar tools will help you get what you need to start your build. Also check out this luthier's list of tools.
1. Select Your Guitar's Body Type
The four standard body types are the Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson SG, and the classic Gibson Les Paul body shapes.
2. Choose Your Guitar's Tone (By Choosing the Tonewood)
The next big decision is deciding on the kind of wood you want for your guitar's body. Most guitars use ash, mahogany or alder, and the decision can affect your tone quality.
3. Choose the Neck Wood (or Consider Buying One)
Another wood selection that affects tone is neck wood. Most guitar necks are maple, mahogany or rosewood.
4. Look for Body Plans or Draw Your Own
If you already know the shape you want for your guitar's body, you can look for plans that match your desired shape. (See the section at the bottom of the article with links to plans you can use.) Or you can draw your own shape.
5. Cut the Body
Now that you have your shape, you can use the marks from the plan or drawing to guide your cutting when you cut the body. A bandsaw is often used, but it is also possible to cut the body using hand tools.
6. Cut Out the Spaces for the Hardware
The next step is to cut out the cavities in the body where the hardware will go (but don't buy the hardware yet). Use measuring tools to get the depth right according to your plans.
7. Paint the Body
The next step is to paint the body. LoveToKnow has a complete guide to painting your guitar that will show you the process in detail.
8. Cut and Prepare the Neck (If You Bought the Neck, Skip to Step 9)
Cutting and preparing the neck is one of the most complicated and challenging steps. It requires the following stages:
- Cut the shape of the neck according to your plan's specifications.
- Cut out a hollow space for the truss rod.
- If you're using a rosewood fingerboard, laminate the fingerboard onto the neck.
- Place the frets on the neck. This will require a fret wire, a fret hammer and cutting pliers if you don't already have those ready.
9. Install the Wiring and Hardware
This is the time to buy the hardware. Now that you've hollowed out the spaces for the hardware in the body, you can select pieces that you know will fit the work you've already done.
10. Put the Pieces Together
You're in the final stages now. You will either bolt the guitar together as Fender does or laminate the guitar pieces together like Gibson.
This is a simple process innovated by Fender in which you screw on bolts to fasten the neck to the body of the guitar.
The other option is gluing the pieces together. This requires more skill and time, but if you want your guitar to feel like a single solid piece, this is the way to go.
11. Do a Basic 'Set Up'
One of the last steps is doing a basic set-up that any guitar shop does. This is the fine-tuning that makes sure your instrument sounds great, such as adjusting the action and intonation.
12. Plug In Your New Axe
If you've made it to the end of this challenging but rewarding project, you deserve to celebrate. One of the best ways to celebrate is plugging your new guitar in and playing it. Hopefully it will sound as big and awesome as this guy's guitar.
Electric Guitar Building Plans
These plans will help you along with the process:
- E Guitar Plans - E Guitar Plans sells full building plans in PDF format for $8 that you can download and print. Each plan includes a detailed view with measurements, a list of materials, template outlines, sample wiring diagrams and tips for construction.
- Chicken Wing Plans - These plans are for the Chicken Wing, a basic solid body electric guitar with a very unique design. They are available in PDF format, and the best part is they are free!
- Music Instrument Makers Forum - The Music Instrument Makers Forum sells plans for $15 to $30 (plus shipping) each for a number of classic guitars.
The Best Custom Job
Custom guitars are always highly coveted, but there's nothing more customized than building your own guitar from the ground up. You'll feel the satisfaction of hand-crafting your own instrument every time you pick your guitar up to play.