Building a Guitar: Part 1

A couple posts back I talked about how I got into guitar building, and in that same post I said that I would be building another guitar and documenting the process including the neck build. That was only halfway true. I had planned on the next guitar build to include a hand made neck, and I even have the neck started, but then I got an awesome deal on a couple of mostly finished necks so I decided to expedite this next build by using one of them.

This build is the first for the RG5-SC model. The RG5 indicated the overall body style and the SC stands for “Special Cut”. While the overall body shape is the same as the initial RG5 model, this one will be a solid body design instead of the standard semi-hollow design and it will have large weight-saving cutouts.

To begin building the guitar I needed a template. Our local UPS store can print full scale copies, so I saved the file to a flash drive and had them print it out. I could have tiled the file, printed it from my home printer and pieced it together as I’ve done in the past, but the $1.50 cost of having them print it was worth it to save me a little time and effort.

I glued the full size print to 1/2″ MDF board and cut it out with my scroll-saw. Since the outside edge is identical to the standard RG5 design, I cut that edge a little wider, then attached my existing RG5 template to it and used a router with a template bit to give me an exact match. Then, with the template done, I started gluing up my body blanks.

A lot of purists hate the idea of using lumber from the “big-box” stores for building guitars. I understand exactly why the are against it, but our local Menards has select grade Mastercraft lumber that has been surfaced on four sides. By using this, and inspecting it before I buy, I’ve not had any problems. I chose a nice piece of 1″x8″x6′ Poplar, cut it into four 18″ pieces and then glued two sets of two pieces, making sure to use more clamps than necessary:

I like to let the body blanks setup for at least 24 hours, then I use the template to mark the cut lines and use a combination of scroll saw and band saw to rough cut the body shape, making sure to cut just outside the lines. When the rough cuts are done, I then screw the template to the body blanks and use the router with template bit to finish getting the final shape. The template will be right-side-up for the bottom piece and up-side-down for the top to keep the screw holes from being visible after final assembly.

Now that the body is taking shape, the next step will be cutting the neck pocket.

Guitar Building

A few years back, I was involved in a little accident with a shear at the design studio in which I was working. It wasn’t anything too bad, but I lost the very tip of an index finger. It was very sensitive as it was healing up, and I quickly realized that it would be a while before I could play my acoustic guitar again. I was poor, but had a good amount of woodworking tools, so I started looking into what it would take to build myself an electric guitar. ( For those non-guitarists out there, electric guitar strings don’t require nearly the same force to play, so I thought this might be a solution.)

I also started looking into using nylon strings, because they are a bit softer then the metal strings that electric guitars use. I then started looking into what it would take to make an electric guitar with nylon strings. Now for those who don’t know, electric guitars use magnetic pickups to “pickup” the vibrations of the metal strings, so nylon strings won’t work with standard electric guitar pickups. That’s when I discovered piezo pickups.

I spent a couple years in R&D working with inkjet printheads that use piezo technology to I understand a bit about them, but print heads work completely opposite of piezo pickups, so I had a bit to learn, but I decided to give it a try anyways. I’m glad I did.

RG1

My first guitar design (RG1) turned out a little smaller, lighter, and not as unique as I was hoping for, but it was playable. As I was working on it, I got the chance to build a couple other guitars as display pieces, so I got a couple other chances to “practice” building guitars that would probably never be played. And with the first couple out of the way, I refined my design, applied the lessons I’d learned from them, and came out with my next design.

The first RG5 was my 4th complete build, and it turned out exactly as I hoped. The guitar looks great, feels great, plays great, and sounds great. I was so happy with it, in fact, that I built one for my dad with a different sound hole design, and helped my brother build one with yet another sound hole design (you can see all three below).

I used pre-built necks for each of the models I’ve previously built, and have all the supplies I need to build another guitar, so over the summer I will be building another one, including the neck, and documenting the process on this blog. And who knows, I might even look into what it would take to do a giveaway when it’s all done.