Building a Homemade Electric Guitar

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Blog entry by PeteCollin posted 03-11-2019 07:55 PM 1310 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hello All,
This winter I completed a “bucket list” sort of a project. I took up woodworking in 2008, and always thought I’d build a guitar eventually. Well there were many skills I needed to develop before I could tackle something that needed that much precision. Last fall I took the leap, telling my wife I wouldn’t stress about success or failure. I would treat each step as its own project and not worry about what came after that.

It was to be a Les Paul copy. A lot of guys would have made an instrument that is somehow unique. But luthiery is something that a lot of skilled guys have been working at for a long time. For now we’ll just make a design that I know I’ll like in the end. The body was black cherry, and the top is hard maple as is done traditionally. My maple had worm tunnels in it. Very disappointing. I hoped that the process of carving the top would remove most of them, but no dice. I did the best I could to fill them in. Some might look at them as character.

There are a great deal of templates and references available online, which is great. Some of the dimensions I had to guess. I wound up with less relief of the carved top than I wanted. But the neck was mounted onto the body by a mortise and tenon joint that is angled 3.5 degrees from the body. I was very pleased and relieved to get that part of it right.

The neck was also black cherry. I wanted to use all local woods in this build, but the fretboard of a Les Paul is dark. The only drak wood we have here is walnut, which isn’t hard enough to hold the frets. So I bought some wenge from a very cool lumber store up in the city. You must put a radius into the surface of a fretboard to make it conform to your hand. There are jigs that can do this quickly and accurately, but they would take some time and expense to construct. This may be the only guitar I make, so I wanted something simple. A buddy with a CNC carved me a sanding block with the appropriate concave curve to accomplish this step. He also carved routs in the fretboard to accept mother of pearl inlays. But I would have to later chisel them out wider and deeper because of variables that I didn’t know at the time of milling.

I had a friend help me with cutting the frets. He builds cigar box ukeleles, so he had the speciallized tools, and coached me as I performed each step. Another friend is an electronics guy, so he did the wiring for me. I bought boutique quality pickups, not wanting to skimp on the single greatest actor in the sound of an electric guitar.

It was nerve wracking when I strung it up for the first time with a temporary bridge and nut. If I made some critical error in the build, this was when I would discover that it wouldn’t play at all. So much work went into it by that point, it would have been heartbreaking to have nothng but dead and buzzing notes. To my relief and triumph, she played just fine.

The finish job gave me fits. I used nitrocellulose lacquer, applied with a pneumatic spray gun. It seemed to dry in the air before it landed on the guitar, giving it a pebbly finish. An my attempt to give layers of tint to arrive at a sunburst finish were so abysmal that I sanded it all off and went with a natural finish. At least the lacquer will allow me to put on a sunburst later if I ever meet somebody who can give me a clinic of how to do it. For now I am happy to have a decent looking, playable instrument.

If any of you would like to hear a short demonstration of my new axe, with some closeup pan views, here is a video of the final project in action.

4 comments so far

View Oldtool's profile


3415 posts in 3534 days

#1 posted 03-11-2019 08:55 PM

Well, I’d say the guitar came out fine, but qualifying that statement with a “I don’t really know much about guitars”. Never the less, as an amateur woodworker, I say the craftsmanship is great, well defined straight & smooth lines and some nice accurate inlay.

I’ve got to ask: was any of this wood salvaged from your recent house disassembly?

OK, I’m off to view the video.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View PeteCollin's profile


91 posts in 2644 days

#2 posted 03-11-2019 09:19 PM

Thanks for the kind words, OldTool. The wood I got from the old house was mostly white pine and basic studwood. I have a decent stash of various hardwoods that I got straight from our local forests.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4677 days

#3 posted 03-17-2019 04:19 PM

From the modest intro of your blog Pete I didn’t expect the really fine result you got. Beautiful work and it looks like you will get a lifetime of enjoyment out of this project. Well done!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View gtrgeo's profile


202 posts in 1773 days

#4 posted 03-23-2019 03:55 PM

Nice job Pete! I have had intentions of building a guitar for years. Even have templates for a les Paul and a start. Someday…

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