It’s time for a new project! After much internal debate I’ve decided to build an electric guitar. That decision was reached in part due to several factors converging at the right time, namely:
- I’ve started taking jazz guitar lessons, and acoustic guitars simply won’t do
- My beautiful Parker Fly has a serious problem which turns out will be difficult to fix AND our 3 other electrics (a Hohner Steinberger copy, Lucas’ Ibanez, and my old Fender Duo-Sonic) each have a story that makes them problematic. That’s FOUR electric guitars and barely a drop to drink.
- I’ve recently re-discovered my old hobby of electronics tinkering, and electric guitars have a bit of electronics tinkering built right in.
- Robbie O’Brien just released an online course in electric guitar building – which is truly awesome. As with his acoustic guitar courses, there is so much information that you almost think you know what you’re doing!
In my typical over-obsessive style, I’ve spent many hours researching what I might do. I’ll spare you the whole long story and cut to the chase. I’ve decided to build a Strat like guitar featuring a body of my own design. And because I need to use the guitar fairly soon – I’ve decided to use a pre-built neck to save time. I’d really like to build my own neck, but that will just have to wait.
Before I decided to go with a pre-made neck, I did make my own fret ruler for a 25.5″ scale as is typical on Strats. I did this by cutting a piece of acrylic, scoring the fret positions with a razor, and then marking the lines with a sharpie. After rubbing off the excess ink, I got nice crisp fret lines. Even though marking off the measurements was pretty tedious, the result is a very useful tool.
The first step in building an electric is to design the body. I sketched out a bunch of templates and then cut them out of MDF so I could better visualize my options. The MDF templates will also serve as eventual routing guides. Here’s some scenes from that effort:
I began by making a template based off of Strat blueprints. Then I kept making templates thinking about the pro and cons of each design, correcting what I didn’t like about the previous one. In the end this is the design I came up with:
I like that it’s a bit asymmetrical, and doesn’t have overly pronounced “horns”. I also made sure my hand could reach up the entire fretboard. Another non-obvious concern was trying to come up with a design that I could cut using my “toy” 9″ bandsaw. It was good to get in some practice making the templates to evaluate how it might go when cutting the actual body blank. By reducing the size of the horns my saw could almost clear most of the body if I’m very careful. We’ll see how that goes, but I won’t know unless I try.
I’m planning to use Swamp Ash for the body, because that way I can leave it natural and won’t have to use paint or lacquer to finish it. I’m hoping to finish the body using the french polish technique much like I did with the acoustic.
I also have done some research on pickups, which turns out to be a large and complicated (and very opinionated) subject. I’m going to make this easy on myself by going with single coils (like a traditional Strat) but I’m going to use modern low noise pickups because traditional single coils are notorious for hum (the usual solution is to play very loud like Hendrix). More on this later.