Been thinking ever since I upgraded my SO3 to XL about attempting to make a solid body electric guitar. 3 years later, my granddaughter has asked if I’d step up and do this for her. So here I am.
Naturally I’m looking around the web for help, YT videos etc. I’d really appreciate tips/advice from the community in general about the path to follow plus any Shapeoko specific advice.
I don’t know anything about making musical instruments but I know that there is a section for people to share their luthier projects on the Inventables forum.. If you do a search of this forum, you will find several threads on this subject too.
Club A has a nice guitar body if you want 3D
This was just posted on the facebook group. Pretty cool!
Maybe you can contact the maker?
Griff, I bought my XXL specifically for this purpose (although I have been sidetracked into doing other things with it, since simpler projects have helped me learn my way around the machine and develop good workflow habits). I’ve used mine for cutting bodies, routing pickup cavities, machining holes for bridges and electronics, cutting pick guards and other precision parts such as pickup rings, etc. I’ve done some very basic inlay pockets, and I’ve cut the profiles on necks and fret boards. I’ve not done any fret board slotting yet (although I just bought a set of endmills that will allow that). My desire is to one day have enough mastery of a 3D CAD program to design and profile neck backs.
I don’t know what level of skill you have with guitar making (and I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence or give the impression that I am an expert), but I would be glad to share information I have on specific questions. Keep in mind, I have probably made 25-30 guitars, most of which were done without CNC, so CNC guitar work is relatively new to me.
Now, all that said, it is important that you identify all the parts (such as bridges, pickups, etc.) you plan to use BEFORE you start cutting things out. There are particulars to each type of setup that will determine how you design things, including scale length, neck-set angle, etc., that will affect layout. I would suggest a first-time builder to use a “Fender-style” design with a bolt on, non-angled neck. You could even buy an aftermarket neck from one of the suppliers such as Allparts. That would certainly simplify things for you and allow you to concentrate on the body without having to do fret board work.
There are a couple good suppliers of the parts you will need including Stewart McDonald (AKA StewMac) and Luthier Mercantile, but don’t expect them to be cheap. You can buy lower cost stuff, but I’ve found that most of that stuff is junk and I’m not gonna put 100+ hours in a project and have it turn out to be unplayable.
Feel free to ask any specific questions you have. I know there are a few other luthiers lurking about on the site too, so I’m sure they’d be willing to chime in.
Everett, thanks so much for your response. And the links. They are appended to my list. I’m in the R&D phase of my effort, I doubt I’ll cut anything for many months.
A couple of qualifiers, I’m not a musician of any sort, I’ve never made any sort of instrument. I love music, particularly classic rock, (how about that); blues guitar and solo piano.
A couple of basic questions. Are bodies typically cut from a single plank or do folks do alternating grain glue-ups? I imagine I’ll end up making at least two guitars. The first as simple as possible to get my feet wet then on to something nicer for my granddaughter.
Any suggestions re forums helpful to noobs would be appreciated.
The main thing I’m not seeing here yet, is a link to the best guitar building forum on the internet:
It might say it’s a telecaster specific forum, but there’s good information for building any kind of guitar on there. I highly suggest checking out some threads by Preeb (Gil Yaron) and reading them all the way through. He’s a builder of the highest level, one of the most coveted builders in the boutique community (his Les Paul copies run about $8k on the used market), and amazingly he shares most of his tricks in his threads:
If you need plans for designs you can get vector files of most any guitar on this German website:
I’m not sure if you’ve seen this one:
Please document your progress. I, like you, am not a musician, but I get students every year that want to make a guitar…maybe this (or next) will be the year.
There’s a bunch of stuff out there at a Google glance. I don’t necessarily have a favorite, but I occasionally check out a few of these. Beware, however, I have found some “unfriendly” sort of characters sometimes on these sites. Not sure why, but some of these folks think they are god’s gift to world of making guitars. You find it more so among the electric crowd than those specializing in acoustic instruments. With that in mind, there are things to learn by browsing the threads.
This one has a whole bunch of links, but I’ve not done a lot of running around on many of them.
Actually, my recommendation would be something old fashioned: get yourself a good book on the subject and read it through a time or two. My favorite, and one that is widely recommended, is Melvyn Hiscock’s Make Your Own Electric Guitar I bought a copy and keep it for reference sometimes, but you can probably find a used copy or even one in your local library as it is a widely read source. It does not cover much of anything on CNC, but it does cover basics that one needs to understand before taking on a project.
Nice, an F360 based, editable lesson in guitar making.
I was wondering if there was a book out there, thanks for the reference.
I would also recommend taking a look at these guys: https://www.electricherald.com/guitar-templates/
Full templates for just about everything guitar.
My preference is to find wood thick enough and wide enough to cut your entire body from one “blank.” There are lots of choices for wood. I do a lot with mahogany (often sapele) but have used everything from poplar, ash, maple, walnut, even cherry. There is a lot of argument on the forums about what is the best “tone wood.” I won’t get into that here, other than to say that with electric guitars, most of the sound is made electronically, IMO. You can spend a lot of money on blanks–more on that later.
Absent a single, wide, thick blank, I’ve made several guitars from glued-up stock. That is, one can take a five- or six-foot length of wood that is 7" or so wide and 3/4" or better thick, cut it into four pieces, plane and face glue two pieces together to make two thicker pieces, then joint and edge glue the two thick pieces to make one thick blank that is wide and long enough to cut a body.
Another consideration of whether or not you want to paint your body or finish it clear. Obviously, if the wood is gonna show, then you would want something nice. A lot of what I do is a sub-body of one type wood (say sapele) with a glued on “top” that is of a more showy variety (quilted or flamed maple is common).
Finally, I think you are wise to make two. With the first, use cheaper quality wood–something that if you mess it up, all you have really lost is time (but not experience and knowledge). For my CNC builds, I typically glue up some 2x6’s and run my jobs to make sure everything is properly machining before sticking a blank of mahogany or similar expensive wood on the table. Once they are cut out, I then make sure all the parts are going to fit and correct or perfect my neck pocket as it relates to my bridge height, etc. Once that’s done, then I can more safely set things up with higher quality material.
Good luck. Let us know if you have other questions.
Hey Griff, Luke from Carbide 3d pointed me to this thread, I registered to make contact with you. I’m responsible for the very busy guitar someone showed above, as well as a number of others.
I’ve been making guitars and parts for around 15 years, only utilizing CNC the last couple to help.
Given that it doesn’t sound like you intend to get very deep in the musical instrument making world and only plan to make a few for now, I think it’d be wisest to tailor any advice to the build you intend to do.
Do you have a certain guitar type/style or any information on the desired specs from your granddaughter, or will this be a first guitar for her, as well? If so, I think that’s really cool.
With regard to the single plank vs glue up, I wouldn’t pay too much thought to that. Single boards can look very cool, but it’s often easier to work with glued up blanks. Making an electric guitar, focus more on looks, hardness, and the grain properties you desire than anything else, echoing Everett’s sentiment above regarding tonewood
Thanks for jumping in Derek.
At this point, I have just fallen into this particular rabbit hole. I don’t know enough yet to ask the right questions. So I started this thread. I’ll be reading, watching, researching all the comments/links posted here for a while.
It will be her first guitar, I’m thinking I’ll make her first amp too. Maybe a Fender style, as suggested above? I’m sure I’ll need a lot of help with components. Are there kits available?
I agree, Fender’s a fine place to start for maker and budding guitarist alike. They’re certainly my favorite of the most well known manufacturers of late, and there’s a ton of wisdom in their manufacturing process. They’re pretty forgiving to build, with plenty of room to make adjustments that aren’t so easy on some other styles.
With regard to hardware, kits do exist, but they tend to be garden variety pot metal parts and the like. There are some decent assembled wiring kits if you don’t care for soldering irons, and you can find some decent pre-loaded pickguards here and there, as well, if that saves you trouble.
Off the top of my head, the main questions to answer or points to consider before getting started are:
Type of bridge: tremolo/vibrato, or fixed. A vibrato gives access to some cool techniques, but have more mechanical parts, require more setup and an additional cavity, where a fixed lacks the extra ability, but will provide for an easier install/setup/maintenance scenario.
Pickup configuration: Do we want a pair of larger humbucking pickups, a trio of single coils, or a humbucker-single-single combo? There are plenty of configurations and other variations, but these are the most common.
Rough budget, overall, and for hardware and electronics aside. This can usually be worked with at any level, but as with most things, the extreme low ends of the market tend toward things that are not satisfying, and the higher ends suffer from significant diminishing returns. I’ve found a lot of diamonds in the rough at the low end of the electronics realm, but I have a strict policy against skimping on tuning machines or vibratos or advising anyone to do so.
I might also have her point out a few guitars she likes. Maybe try to work in some elements of those makes or builds and/or use them as guidelines.
Not sure if I can help TOO much but about 5 years ago I took the electric guitar building course at Red Rock Community College here in Denver, Colorado. Amazing experience and amazing teachers.
That being said I didn’t use a CNC but could see the CNC being invaluable for cutting the body with cutaways, places for pickups, etc. It could also help with shaping the neck as well.
Ultimately my homemade electric guitar looks good, plays, but the level of detail needed to make a GOOD guitar comes down to millimeters sometimes. The “action” of my guitar is quite bad…and there’s not a lot I can do to make it better. I ultimately don’t play it too much…it’s more of a wall/conversation piece.
I’m 100% not trying to dissuade anyone from making a guitar. It was an amazing and invaluable experience for me (most of the woodworking skills I have came directly from this class). And to have built something for your granddaughter would be priceless! But as someone who has walked that journey before, know it’s not the easiest of paths. But many have walked it and I’m sure you can too.
I would plan to make many tests/prototypes until you get it right.
I would start by watching about 30 of these - https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cnc+electric+guitar+building and get a feel for what others have done right/wrong.
Godspeed my CNC friend!