A question or three for the guitar makers out there

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.

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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!

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Something mentioned in passing here, but is worth spending more time discussing is the neck. It’s a rather precise part for a first time builder and it need to be built correctly in order to handle the string forces. The materials, glue, tolerances, all of it plays a part and needs to be done correctly. You have to consider things like: do I want this neck to be repairable? If so, you need to use hide glue to install the fretboard.

If you’re not planning to get deep into guitar building, it might not be worth spending the money to invest in expensive tools and jigs for correctly setting up a neck, which means your best bet would be buying a neck. Allparts is a good suggestion, Warmoth and USACG are also good. If budget is a major concern you can probably get a usable neck from GuitarFetish or look on Ebay for a Mexican Fender neck (or a Squire for that matter).

Regardless of how the neck is built, it will still need to be set up with the guitar to have a playable instrument. This is not an easy process for a new builder (even myself, having built ~5 instruments still struggle to get what I want) due to the micron tolerances required.

Setup will include, aligning the neck and bridge, leveling and crowning the frets, cutting the nut, and adjusting the bridge intonation.

I don’t mean this to discourage you, it’s just a warning that there is high complexity ahead! If you’re not comfortable with investing the time and money to do these things, I would suggest buying a neck and bringing the finished guitar to a shop for a setup, should cost $100-$200.

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Well, lots of food for thought, thanks all!

For my first, learning guitar, maybe:
Fender style, fixed bridge, 2 humbucker pickups, bolted neck; budget-no idea, would $750 cover decent mid-range hardware/electronics plus a few speciality neck tools?

@loudsimonet, I scratch build quadcopters so I’m not afraid of a bit of soldering. @Kai, I hear your cautions on the complexities/nuances of neck construction. Just gets the juices flowing, love challenges.

@zeninfinity, many prototypes indeed. I have a a load of neck-sized sapele, Honduran mahogany, hard and soft maple scraps begging to be shaped into something useful instead of being chopped up for kindling.

On to another YT session.

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@Griff - Prototypes, I’m sure you know this but don’t use any of that amazing wood until you feel you’ve got the process down. :wink:

Excited to see what you create.

ZZ

Here are a couple of Adobe Illustrator files I put together that might give you a starting place to play with. If you don’t have Illustrator I can export into something else for you.
John
Teles.zip (685.7 KB)

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$750 is a good starting budget, especially since it seems you might have plenty of lumber around to make it happen. I think fixed bridge and dual bucker are both good choices.

I’ll second that parts of making necks can be tedious, and of course the tolerances are tighter there than anywhere else on a guitar, but I certainly wouldn’t caution against making one! It’s not rocket surgery :wink:

I’m personally more process than jig oriented, and my method (which isn’t terribly unique) doesn’t require a lot in the way of specialized tooling, especially if you’re only preparing for a single neck radius and don’t have to be ready for whatever someone brings in.

These are my most frequently used non-cnc related specialized neck tools, to give you an idea what you’ll be in for.

  • Radiused fret caul - typically used with an arbor press or other clamping implement. You’ll only need 1 if your necks will be the same radius. This should run you $20-45.

  • Fret dressing file(s) for the ends of installed frets - These can be found really cheap. $10-15. Spending more nets a nicer file, but it isn’t necessary. You may already have metal files that suffice.

  • Fret snips - self explanatory. $5-25

  • Fret Crowning file to shape the tops of the frets. I use a stew-mac Z-file. It’s expensive ~($100), but it’s by far the best solution for crowning frets in my experience. You can find crowning files and systems much cheaper. Many will work fine, and people have crowned frets for decades with them. I can’t recommend any specifically, though, because I don’t enjoy using them even a little anymore. Typical ones range from $15 on the low end to $50 middle of the road.

  • Radiused sanding block. You could make your own or buy one. Either way, it makes for a nice smooth finish with no variance on the fretboard, and can also be used for a fast level on frets before crown and polish. $5-10

  • Nut files. I recommend just buying a pre-slotted TUSQ XL nut, they’re usually pretty good with the string gauge channels, and can mostly be setup from the back. $15-25

Everything else is regular woodworking tools. You’ll need either a fret-saw or a ~ .58mm (0.023") end mill to cut the fret slots. I use these endmills for fret slots.

That should give you a pretty decent idea of what you’ll want or need for additional tools. Of course, no rules; Some of these are luxury or productivity items. You can tap in frets with a mallet and level with a regular sanding block if you’ve got the gumption.

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Ahh, you’re getting some good advice here, and sounds like your approach is on target. I agree with the comments by Kai on neck production–best bet for a first build may be to buy one and avoid the costs for specialized tools and techniques and the pitfalls of getting something made that can’t be setup properly. Most of the manufacturers sell necks with frets and board, truss rod, etc. installed, but [some suppliers] (https://www.warmoth.com/Guitar/necks/angledpaddle_warmothpro.aspx) leave the peg-head or “headstock” unshaped and without tuning machines. That way you can put your own custom “shape” to the headstock if you’ve got a few tools and a willingness to reshape it by hand or on the CNC if you are inclined. That said, if you’re still intent to build your own, it is doable. I’d suggest a pre-slotted fret board, however, as the fret positioning is critical to the thing playing in tune once completed. Beyond that, you will need a fret hammer and some tools to cut fretwire and level the board once installed, and something to shape the back of the neck (rasps, scrapers, sand paper, etc.) unless you really want to go all in and do something with 3D software and the CNC.

Your inclination to go with the Fender-style, fixed bridge, bolted neck is a good first-time choice. As for budget, not counting wood, I usually have between $400-$600 in hardware and basic electronics on a typical build. Like Derek said, I have found things cheaper, but most of that is junk. You don’t want to spend the hours and resources on this kind of project and then end up with something that can’t be played (especially for a kid that may be just learning). Most important parts for “functional playability” is your neck and frets (hence, the recommendation to buy something pre-made), the bridge, and your tuning machines, and a good nut. Electronics (beyond the basic wiring and control pots) are another story. A set of decent pickups (PUPs) can be had for $100-$150 and within the $400-$600 quoted above, but you can go wild here as there are all kinds of “boutique” producers out there.

As noted, there is a degree of accuracy that has to be maintained outside of this. The one thing that jumps out at me, as a recommendation in this regard, is keeping your center-line in mind throughout. Everything will have to balance out across the center line so that when strung up, the strings lay properly across the neck and pickups. Again, decide on what you want to make, then go ahead an buy your basic parts so that you can design around them. Neck set depth, bridge positioning, etc. are all dependent on the kind of parts you intend to use.

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^All fantastic advice above. I’ll take even more liberty and say that decent pickups can be found even cheaper, depending on what sound you’re after. There are several pretty good ‘diamond in the rough’ models of budget pickups that I will slap in my student level guitars, and pickups rarely fail. The used market is teeming with half-priced fantastic pups.

This thread might just turn into a pretty good resource!

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Haha, just watched this video https://youtu.be/ILnsCL9YhvI now I’m pretty pumped that I’ll most likely be able to design the guitar myself. Really can’t wait to get started!

This thread has far exceeded my expectations, thank you all again! Had no idea there’d be so much guitar talent in our CNC forum. Shouldn’t have been surprised though.

Alright, back to school…

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Thanks for posting this. I have been in a discussion with myself and others here on the forum about learning to use Fusion 360. This is very helpful and inspirational. I’m interested that he starts with the neck, which is the most “3D” part of the guitar and the one piece that I still have to spend a whole lot of time shaping by hand because of the limitations of 2D CAD. Griff, if you’re a 360 user, you may find the tables turned and will start getting some questions from me. :thinking:

More like 360 “abuser” tbh. I’ve been muddling through Fusion360 since I got my Shapeoko over 3 years ago when/because Carbide Create was in beta.

I’ve only recently begun watching the McWhorter videos…what a revelation! Highly recommend you start with them. Fusion is an absolute killer CAD/CAM package once you start to get a handle on it.

I may also learn a thing or two, if y’all are using Fusion 360. So far, I’ve only done guitars in Aspire, but am training myself on SolidWorks, now. I’m told their software lends itself nicely to guitar makers.

Regarding this https://youtu.be/ILnsCL9YhvI he’s posted a remake at 1+ hours, more details.

It’s interesting he turns design history off, makes it almost impossible to tweak the design.

When I get around to this I’ll attempt to fully constrain the design to enable tweaking. No promises haha.

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Fully constraining your sketches is the “proper” way to do design with parametric CAD tools. Some software used to even force you to do that. The nice thing about Fusion 360 though, is that with design history on, you can go back and tweak the sketches even if they weren’t fully constrained in the first place.

In the video, I’m not sure why he turns the design history off, other than maybe he knows exactly what he’s going to design and maybe the file size is smaller when he does that.

Sometimes it makes sense to turn design history off. Direct modeling gives a little more freedom and can be much faster. That said, I almost always use parametric, history based modeling.
Here’s an interesting thread on the topic.
https://forums.autodesk.com/t5/fusion-360-design-validate/direct-modeling-vs-timeline-why-do-you-prefer-dm/td-p/5791031

My first shot at designing a neck, following along with Audiohotshot’s YT video.(strip the zip to open)

Guitar1 v1.f3d.zip (430.6 KB)

I understand why he turns off history although you’ll note I left it on in this attempt.

I’ve learned so much about F360 these past few days.

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Well, quoting myself I can say this. What an ignorant thing to say haha.

Not ignorant. Maybe the difference between design history on and off could be described as working like an engineer vs. an artist. If you want to make precise dimensional edits to the design, using the parametric design history makes it easier. Design freedom is the advantage of history off.

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