I have crossed another long-time TODO project off my list. From the earliest days of learning to play guitar, I knew I wanted to make one. It took me a long time to get started because I wasn’t sure what style I wanted. Instead of cloning of a common model, I decided instead to consider each piece and plan my own design. This quickly led to far more choices and choice-dependencies than I could handle. But this summer, with a little nudge from a friend who also wanted to build a guitar, I took the dive.
Some of my choices had already been made for me. Shortly after I decided to build a guitar years ago, a friend of a friend gave up on his own build. He offered the components he had to anyone who would promise to complete their own build. I’m lucky he didn’t put a time limit on the promise!
These components resolved my choice of pickup, tuning machines, and tail stock. A bridge-position humbucker, 3×3 tuners, and a 12″ radius bar-style tailstock also pointed toward a few common models to mimic. In particular, the Les Paul Jr. caught my eye. My friend also building a guitar just happened to have a regular Les Paul that I could use as reference.
I’ll spare you the step-by-step, since there are already myriad videos of guitar builds to watch. But, I would like to talk about a few of my favorite parts.
To start, all of the wood in this guitar is scraps from previous projects. The neck is leftover maple from my sleigh bed, with inlay made of cherry from my dresser. The body is also cherry from the dresser, combined with mahogany from my coffee table. It was a fun challenge to figure out how to work with what I already had on hand, and makes me feel justified in having carted that wood across the country.
I’m particularly proud of the neck. I chose to make it out of a single, solid piece of maple, instead of gluing a fretboard and headstock onto a neck stick. That took quite a bit of extra planning. I ordered the work on the neck to make each step as easy as possible. For example, I cut the fret slots first, so that the stock was still square, which made lining up the very precise cuts easiest.
I installed the truss rod right after that, from the back, through far more stock that would remain later for the same reason. It was much easier to route the straight, deep slot through stock that would be removed to reveal the headstock than it would have been to route with a headstock sticking up near one end.
And so on. In fact, working on the neck at all was part of the planned order. I wasn’t using a standard neck template, so I didn’t have a template to route the neck pocket into the body. Instead, I finished enough of the neck to define the heel end, then used the usual mortise-and-tenon techniques to mark and chop the pocket out of the body blank before cutting out the shape of the body.
I have mixed feelings about the inlay in the neck and headstock. On one hand, the end-grain of the cherry darkened with the finish, and provides great contrast with the pale maple. On the other hand, one of the shapes I chose was too intricate for my chisels, so it’s a little gappy in its setting. I also cut on the wrong side of my line in the headstock, blowing the entire design. These are both errors that could be fixed by chopping the inlay out and relaying something else. For now, it’s just reminders of the need to practice and pay attention.
The body was a fun experiment. Neither my leftover cherry, nor my leftover mahogany was thick enough to form a guitar body on its own. So, what I did instead was sandwich a mahogany core between two layers of cherry. The cherry also had some nice figuring in it, so I resawed my planks, and bookmatched them. I’m very happy with how the cherry looks, and also with the contrasting strip of mahogany down the middle. From the side, it almost looks like I put edge-banding around the front and back.
Somewhat accidentally, a component of the Les Paul that I copied unintentionally is its weight. This guitar comes in at almost exactly eight pounds. I thought about cutting hollows in the mahogany before gluing up the sandwich to reduce that weight. But the potential complication of needing to remember exactly where those hollows were, when I wasn’t yet sure of exactly where the neck would sit, was a hinderance to just finally getting the project started. Eight pounds is the heaviest guitar I own, but it doesn’t feel too bad on my shoulder.
If you’d like to see some more pictures of the build process, please follow me on Instagram @willthatwork. Instagram is something new for me. I’m still pretty uncomfortable with its features. I was hoping I might be able to use it to find more of an art network, to contrast my mostly tech twitter network. We’ll see if I stick with it. For now, it is also where you will find a demo of this guitar:
I have to give one final shoutout to Pete and Andrew. I’m between shops at the moment, and they offered me time in each of theirs to complete this project. It’s awkward to work in someone else’s shop. Even if the tools are great, learning which are available and how they like to be used takes time. Pete and Andrew were each extremely helpful and tolerant of me adapting to and adapter their workspaces.