Build Your Own Guitar: Make it Custom, Make it Yours
Picking up a new guitar and laying into those first few chords is a special feeling. It’s something anyone who’s ever held a pick can relate to.
So what if we told you there’s something that trumps it? Would you believe us? If you’ve ever had the opportunity to build your own guitar you’ll know what we’re talking about.
Nothing is quite like the feeling of playing an instrument that is uniquely yours. No one has the same guitar, and no one ever will. The guitar becomes an extension of yourself.
It’s hard work to get the exact kind of guitar you’re looking for, and there are several ways to make it happen.
We’re going to show you how to build your own electric guitar from start to finish, and how it customize it along the way.
How to Build Your Own Guitar – The Basics
The first step in building a guitar is deciding what kind of guitar you’re after. The general process is the same for acoustic and electric guitars, but small variations in strings and wood choice make the builds slightly different.
We’re making the choice for you in this article, and focusing on electric guitars.
Next, you will need to decide what your definition of “build” is. Building from scratch is labor intensive. It requires access to a variety of tools and a quiet space to focus and keep your guitar safe.
Your other option is ordering custom parts from different suppliers and piecing together the guitar. It’s not technically “building” it, but your guitar is customized all the same.
Veteran guitar builder Tony McKenzie, likens the assembling process to building a house. You don’t call it assembling a house, so why call it assembling a guitar?
Constructing the Body
Body construction always starts with a solid piece of wood. It seems simple enough, but this step is enormously important for your final product.
Different woods create different sounds. The way sound reverberates through the wood affects pitches, tones, highs, lows, and more.
Here’s a quick breakdown of sound characteristics by common wood type.
Alder wood creates a strong, clear, full-bodied sound with strong mids and above average lows. The highs are somewhere between harsh and smooth, and the sustain is average.
This specific type of ash creates a twangy, sweet, and fluttery sound. The lows are firm, the highs pleasant to hear, and the sustain is average. Swamp ash is a popular entry-level body type.
Basswood delivers a strong sound. The body is strong but well balanced. The midrange is also substantial, though also uniquely soft. This wood gives your sound a boost.
Korina: Korina is about balance. Its sound is resonating and warm, with clarity and sustain.
By itself, mahogany has a warm tone with a well-balanced bite. Mahogany doesn’t hit hard, but it’s not soft either. The wood provides good depth with full lows and average highs.
Maple is extremely dense and hard. This produces lively, precise tones.
Maple Top – Mahogany Back
This is a popular combination. It yields mahogany’s depth, warm tone, and sustain, combined with maple’s clarity and definition.
Rarely seen in electric guitars, this wood makes for a heavy and overly bright sounding guitar. It’s best suited to acoustics.
Walnut is similar to mahogany. The sound is warm and full, but with more of a lower end hit.
Once you’ve decided on a wood, it’s time to carve your body. Note that for dual wood type bodies you’ll need slimmer wood blocks. The final product needs both wood types combined to form the proper body depth.
Choose a shape and trace it onto your solid wood face. Next, use a bandsaw to cut out the stencil. Make relief cuts near any curves to prevent the blade from slipping.
Now sand any rough edges and relief cuts that mar the exterior of the guitar. This is a good time to route out the pickup cavity as well.
Trace your pickup cavity outline and use a router to hollow out space for the pickup. Since you’re already sanding the exterior, add the pickup cavity to your sanding list.
Attach your strap buttons to the sides of your guitar. Drill out the proper depth holes and screw in the strap buttons.
We recommend a strap to every player not only for comfort but customization as well.
The final step is tracing a neck cut out, and routing out a space to attach your neck to the guitar. Make sure to mark out drill holes for attaching the neck to the body.
Shape The Neck
A guitar neck is an easier build than the body. Though again, wood type matters immensely.
Mahogany – Ebony
This combination typically refers to a mahogany neck with an ebony fretboard. The ebony contributes clarity and definition, a strong bass and snappy highs, while the mahogany brings warmth and an open sound.
Mahogany - Rosewood
Mahogany here lends its same warm, mellow tone. A combination with rosewood produces complex highs, creamy lows, and a strong midrange. The sound takes on an almost sweet character.
The most common neck wood, maple sizzles in the highs, has firm lows, with a punchy yet edgy sound that still maintains excellent clarity.
Maple – Pau Ferro
The same maple goodness, but with improved clarity and definition. Lows aren’t quite up to snuff, but an open midrange compensates.
You can build the neck either before or after the body. The only stipulation being that it needs to complement the guitar body’s size.
It’s also time to build your guitar head. Cut out a shape you’re interested in from the same wood as your neck. Remember to drill holes for your tuning pegs.
Attaching the fingerboard is straightforward, but the frets are complicated. Inserting tuning pegs can also cause issues if you’re not familiar with stringing a guitar.
We recommend taking the unstrung product to a master tuner who can ensure your new guitar will play as well as it’s built. They can also recommend the proper strings to suit your play style.
Attaching the rest of your guitar’s accessories and finishing the wood are projects for a different article. Both processes are an art in their own right.
If you follow this guide you too can have a custom guitar that looks and sounds like only a one-of-a-kind instrument can.