This is 50 things I wish I knew When I started Making Guitars, and it will help you make better guitars, faster. You never really know what you need to know in the beginning, but these 50 things will definitely help you be a better guitar maker.
Making Guitars and Learning as You Go
If I could travel back in time with the guitar making knowledge that I have now, I would have been a lot better at making guitars. The following list is many of the things that I wish I knew when I started.
A guitar takes a while to build, and is a longer woodworking project. You will do a lot of learning as you go, and there will be several opportunities to do the same thing twice after you make a mistake. Even so, it’s a really fun process.
Take some time and read these 50 things, and you will have a much easier time making your first guitar than I did. You will still make mistakes, but you will also avoid a lot of them after you know all the things I wish I knew. After this post, you will have a much better understanding of guitar making, and feel a lot better about the process.
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Making a Guitar is Easier than it Looks
Above all, making a guitar is easier than it looks. This one held me back from making an acoustic guitar for a long time. I had already made a couple electric guitars, but making an acoustic sounded like something a world apart.
After making your first guitar, you will understand for yourself that it is far easier than it looks. On the surface there is a lot that you don’t know. That’s ok. There is probably a lot that you wouldn’t know about any new hobby.
Like anything else, once you get into the process, and start learning, you improve your skills very quickly. As you need to learn things, stop and learn them.
Over time, and with several stops for self-education, you will find that the build was not that hard overall.
There is More than One Way to Do Everything
Depending on who you run into, you may or may not hear the truth. The truth being that there is more than one way to make anything. It seems for some reason that instrument makers are among the more dogmatic of woodworkers, and that’s never good.
Anyone that tells you if you don’t do something a certain way, that it’s wrong…is wrong. There are several ways to do anything, and just because you don’t make your guitars in the Spanish style, or with an inside mold, or with some other thing, that doesn’t mean they are wrong.
You are going to have a lot of opportunity to meet people that also make guitars if you spend the time looking for them. Some are going to be open minded and helpful, others are not. If you pick the right people to spend your time with, the process will be a lot easier, and you will get a lot more help.
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You Don’t Need a Lot of Tools
Interestingly enough, you really don’t need a lot of tools to make a guitar. If you think about it, in the time before power tools, there were fairly few tools available. Even so, these makers built some of the most amazing instruments in the world.
It really all depends on your level of patience, and how much you are willing to do by hand. Power is nice, but you do’t need it. You also don’t need several of the same tool, or several tools that do the same thing.
When you make your guitar, start planning your tools from the beginning. If you do, you can buy less tools, and get the same things done. Look through your books, and decide on the few core tools that you need the most.
After that, think about your specialty tools. Once you have the main tools, you can then work on others that make things easier. For example, you can always sand by hand or use a scraper instead of a power sander. It will save you money, and you will need one less tool.
See Also: You Can Make an Acoustic Guitar
You Can Make Most of the Tools and Jigs Yourself
If you can make a guitar, then you can make the tools and the jigs that are required to make that guitar. In comparison, the guitar is the more difficult build. This means you should make tools and jigs in the beginning.
Any time you make a tool, you get a double win. The first win comes from the experience that you get making the tool. Every bit of woodworking that you do makes you better. Making the tool or jig is no exception.
For example, the video below shows how to make your own cam clamps, which is very useful for making guitars.
The second win is that you get a new tool. Instead of buying a tool, you make it, and you get a nearly free tool in the end. Also, you will understand that tool more than any other because you made it yourself.
The connection between you and a tool that you made with your hands is amazing. Not only will you naturally want to use the tool more, you will feel like it works better for you than other tools that you bought in a store. It’s a great feeling, and I highly recommend it.
You Don’t Need High End Tools
A mistake that you can make in the beginning is thinking you need high end tools. You don’t, even though they are nice to use. Middle of the road tools are perfectly fine, and you can go a long way by getting these kinds of starter tools.
Be careful about getting everything from the bottom end, but there are also some wins that you find if you look carefully. Start in the middle of the price range. These are typically the best bang for the buck, and they will make guitars just fine.
For reference, the majority of my tools are from a hardware store, and they are the middle brand that they carry. There are more expensive tools available, and less. Some people laugh when I tell them about my tools, but they have been serving me well in some cases for twenty years.
I can’t possibly have really good tool luck, given all the tools I have. The nice thing about going from the middle of the road is that you can afford to get more tools. Since each one is taking less out of the bank, there is more left over for new tools.
See Also: Worry Free Acoustic Guitar Making
You Can Mill Your Own Guitar Making Wood
If you did not know this, you can actually mill your own guitar making wood. There are a lot of places that can sell you the pieces already milled too. However, making it yourself is a great way to increase your woodworking skills and save a little money too.
When you buy wood that is already surfaced and dimensioned, the pieces always cost more than standard pieces. This is because the tools are not free. The tools that the company uses to make their boards also need servicing, and someone to run them.
When you factor in all of these things, the stores have to add money to the cost of the wood in order to make the pieces profitable. If you already have the tools, why pay for someone else to do the same things you can do?
A Few Good Books is the Best Way to Start
Before you begin, buy a few good guitar making books. Hop over to Amazon and search for some books to start reading. It’s easy to learn from books, and you can take them with you just about anywhere.
If you make it a point to read the book completely through at least once before you start your build, you will always know what’s coming. After seeing the steps all working together, you will be more mentally prepared to make your guitar.
Mine is a good place to start, and I even made a video about it.
The reason you need several books is because they are all a little different. You might like one particular teaching style more than others, and with multiple books you get to choose. When you find a book that speaks to you, use that one to make your guitar.
One of the best places to find books online is Amazon. The books are not expensive, and you can even find them second hand if you look. This way, you can get a good selection for a very low price in the beginning.
After that, all you need to do is start reading.
See Also: Practical Acoustic Guitar Making Advice
A Forum is a Great Pace to Learn from Real Guitar Makers
One of the best paces online to learn about guitar making, and something I wish I knew in the beginning is forums. There are forums and facebook groups for everything, and making guitars is no different.
The secret to making a forum work for you lies in the archives. These are old conversations that took place over time. The forum software records these as they happened, and they are preserved for you to read through.
There is gold in the archives if you are willing to dig. Plan on spending a lot of time in the archives of any forum that you find. There will be years and years worth of guitar making knowledge that you can have for yourself simply by reading. It’s all free too.
There is a Video on YouTube About Everything
If you get stuck, and you need some help making your guitar, you need to know that there is a video for everything on YouTube. Some are harder to find than others, but there are so many awesome people posting videos on making guitars that you can’t ignore YouTube as a place to learn.
Here’s a good video of making a custom pick guard. This is something you can do that will look great and not ruin your tone.
Sometimes, you just need to see someone doing the steps live to understand the process. This is totally fine, and we can all benefit from visual learning. YouTube is the star when it comes to videos, and you can learn quickly.
If you get stuck on some part of guitar making, or you need to see the process in a video to be more confident, look for videos. Dedicate an hour or so to watch videos on the process, and then you will feel a lot more confident when you perform the steps yourself.
How to Find Inspiration Online
The amount of guitar making inspiration that you can find online is huge. If you spend a little time getting a couple things set up, you can pull inspiration out of your pocket any time you need it. This is how you keep the motor turning.
One of the best places to get your inspiration online is from really visual forms of social media like Pinterest and Instagram. There are many great guitar makers on these channels, and all you need to do is find them.
Since everyone has a smart phone now practically, download the apps for Pinterest and Instagram on your phone. Then, create accounts. Once you are logged in, start searching for handmade guitars and guitar making. Over time, you will find a lot of great inspiration.
The Biggest Secret to Guitar Making
This one is huge. This is also one of the biggest things I wish I knew in the beginning. A guitar is really more about getting a lot of small processes right, not about one big thing. There is no magic bullet, and anyone with some patience can make a guitar.
In the beginning, you can get sucked into secret systems and secret knowledge that is supposed to help you make a better guitar. Most of this is marketing, because if there really was a big secret, it would have been sold to a huge company for millions of dollars by now.
The real secret to making a guitar is that you just need to get each step completed as good as you can. If you perform the steps well, and you take your time, you can make a good guitar. Over time, your guitars will get better of course, but you will never find what you are looking for if you keep searching for some magic guitar making formula.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Anyone Can Make a Guitar
One of the biggest things you should know is that anyone can make a guitar. Anyone that is willing to put in the time, and has the patience can make a guitar. It’s not about crazy skills, it’s about patience more than anything.
A guitar is no different than any other woodworking project. There are pieces of wood, certain cuts, sizes, and measurements. If you can make other things from wood, and you can follow directions, you can also make a guitar.
Don’t think that guitar making is only for the select few. It’s not. If you make it a priority to learn what you need to learn, you will. Repeat the learning process as needed, and eventually you will have a guitar that you can be proud of.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Binding Ideas
You Don’t Need to Attend a Guitar Making School
There is nothing wrong with taking a class, or attending a guitar making school. Some of the programs that are around are great, and they can teach you how to make a guitar faster than learning on your own.
However, there are costs that go along with that kind of instruction, and it will obviously be a lot more than reading books. That being said, if you have the money for a traditional class on guitar making, then feel free to go. If not, that’s ok too.
There are a lot of people that share their knowledge online, and if you study enough, you can get a similar effect to attending a school. The video below shows how to make a kerfing jig, which is free online, and you don’t have to pay to attend the lesson.
There are a lot of great guitar makers that never took a class to learn in the beginning. They may take classes later in their careers to refine their craft, but that’s later on. You do not need to take classes to learn guitar making. You can teach yourself through reading books, and watching YouTube videos.
I know that there are going to be people that tell you differently. There were several that told me I would never be able to make a guitar without someone to teach me. Thankfully they were wrong, and I have made more guitars at this point than some of the people that told me I couldn’t do it alone.
In the beginning, you can absolutely teach yourself. Over time, you may find that you need someone who has been there before to teach you the finer points. As you make more guitars, the things you need to learn change. Sometimes, it’s nice to get some help at that point.
Either way you decide, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t teach yourself how to make guitars. You can, and it’s easier than you might think. Read your books, learn as much as you need to, and then get out into your shop and prove them wrong.
See Also: Can You Build an Acoustic Guitar?
Don’t Stress About the Internal Braces
One aspect of making an acoustic guitar that can drive you nuts is the internal braces. They are important, understand that, but they are not the answer to everything. Make it a point to learn about your internal braces, and what they do, but don’t let it eat you alive.
Studying the internal braces can be paralyzing for a new guitar maker. You obviously have your heart in the right place, and you want to do everything you can to have a great guitar. However, all you really need to do is pick a design and stick with it.
Even if you get the braces a little wrong, but you make thee rest of the build well, you will be fine. Great braces can’t save an average build, but you can always go back inside and remove more material from a good build with average bracing.
Use Well Seasoned Wood
Seasoned wood is just wood that has been cut and dried in a way that the pieces will not move or change as much over time. New wood is very wet, and as the moisture evaporates, the wood changes shape.
Wood that gets smaller, twists, or cracks over time is not good. Wet wood does all of that, and on your guitar is no place for that to happen. Instead, all you need to do is pick out the right pieces and you will be fine.
When you buy your wood, especially if you buy it from a guitar making supplier, it will already be seasoned for you. If you buy from a hardwood store, all you need to do is ask. Talk to the staff, and ask about the moisture levels of the wood.
Most wood that has been inside the store for a while is fine to work with. Check the pieces and the ends in particular. As long as there is not wax on the wood, then it should be fine. Wax prevents moisture from escaping, and you have no way to instantly know if the wood is seasoned or not.
Instead, pick out boards from bins where they are not waxed. If the pieces have been in the store for a while, they will work just fine on a guitar. The wood will be dry enough that the pieces will not move again, and this is the best type of wood to use for all parts of your guitar.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Neck Support
Use a Jig and Slotting the Frets is Super Easy
Another aspect of the guitar build that can be scary in the beginning is fretting the neck. You have to get 20-24 measurements right, and sawing them by hand is difficult. Don’t worry, with a simple jig, you can saw the frets really easily.
Never saw your frets by hand, unless you are making a template board. Once you have templates, which are just flat fretboards with the slots already cut, you just need to make a duplicating jig.
You can also watch a video below on how to make a fretboard slotting jig.
There are also a number of jigs that you can buy online, but making a jig yourself is really easy in the shop. You can also make it from scraps. When you do, the jig becomes nearly free, and it will serve you for a long time.
See Also: My Guitar Fretboard Slotting Jig
Buy a Pre-Slotted Fretboard if You are Still Nervous
In case you are completely against making the fretboard yourself, you can always buy one. In the beginning, there are a lot of ways to bring pre-made parts into the shop. If you must, then buy a few of these to get you started.
There is nothing wrong with using some parts to get you going. Once you make your first guitar, the rest are all much easier. If you need to save a little time making your first guitar, then do so, and don’t worry about it.
The most common piece to buy already made is the neck. Between slotting the fret locations, adding a radius, and then tapering the board, there are a lot of steps. Buying a board is ok, just practice the skills for next time.
Don’t Worry too Much About the Build
Worry is wasted energy. Period. The more you worry about your build, the less energy you have to complete your build. Don’t worry, just have fun, and trust that you will be able to figure out the things you need when they come up.
The truth is that you don’t know what’s coming. You just don’t know what you don’t know, so you can’t really prepare for it. Instead of worrying about what will come, and what you can do about it, just let it come.
Between the internet, your books, and your personal networks, there is nothing you can’t solve when it comes to your guitar. Don’t worry about that’s coming, or if the guitar will sound well. Once you make it, you will love how it sounds.
See Also: Bending Acoustic Guitar Sides
Go Slower and it Will Actually be Faster
When you build something new, you are sure to make mistakes. It’s only made worse when you rush. The faster you go, the more you risk making mistakes. Thee mistakes take time to fix, and actually add time to the overall build.
In the beginning you can be tempted for a lot of reasons to blast through the build. Sometimes, it’s the fear of whether or not you are going to end up with a guitar in the end. This is a real fear that a lot of people have, because it’s all so new.
Instead of worrying and rushing, take your time. There is nothing you can’t figure out if you are patient enough to find the answers. The less rushing you do, the less mistakes you will make, and you will actually have your guitar done faster in the end.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Back Strip Inlay
Doming the Plates is Not Much Harder
In the beginning, making doomed plates with curved braces seems like a lot more than it really is. In reality, making a flat top or back is not much different. Instead of gluing flat braces to the plates, you glue curved braces, and the rest pretty much works itself out.
Arching the plates requires carving the brace bottoms to a curve. You can do that really easily with a small hand plane, or a belt sander. Even a sanding block will work, just take your time and make a really nice and even curve.
You can also glue together the braces that are getting the same curve, and do them all at once. This not only saves time, but the results are actually better. Sanding or planing something wider makes is harder to tip your tool, meaning that the bottoms keep their 90 degree faces.
You need to be a little careful sanding the bottoms so that the 90 degree orientation is preserved. The last thing you want is to have angled braces. Take your time, and it’s actually about the same amount of work to dome your plates.
It’s Easier to Make a Stacked Neck
The scarf joint is one way to make the headstock portion of the guitar neck, and is a pretty common way that necks are made. If you have the tools, and you practice, a scarf joint is actually not that hard to do.
However, in the beginning you can spend a lot of time on it. I wish I knew on my first guitar that a stacked neck was really easy, and there is nearly no practice involved. If you can glue up a few stacked pieces of wood, you can make a stacked neck.
After everything is completed on the stacked neck, the results are similar to a scarf joint, and it’s hard to tell the difference in the look. Making a stacked neck also allows you to save materials over working with a full blank, because you can still make your neck from 4/4 wood.
See Also: 25 Best Guitar Making Tips For Beginners
Thickness Your Plates in Two Pieces to Use a Small Planer
The big problem with thickness planers is that they cost a lot of money. The smaller units are not that bad, but when you finally get something that you can send a fill size top or back through, it will be expensive.
Instead of working with full size pieces, work with the back or top in halves. The pieces come in halves anyway, so just don’t join them until after you thickness them. If you are using a baton press, the center bar will align the plates perfectly at the edge, no matter how thin they are.
All you have to do is send each piece through one at a time. Then, adjust the tool. Send the pieces through again, and repeat the process until they are the right thickness. Take very thin passes, and be careful not to go against the grain.
The same process works on a thickness sander too. The bigger units are expensive, but you can do as well with a smaller unit and working the pieces in halves. It will take a little more time, but you do save a lot of money.
See Also: How to Make a Planer Riser
Use a Simple Binding Scheme in the Beginning
There is a big temptation to go over the top in the beginning. You are going to have big dreams for your guitar, and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when you have to execute those dreams.
Since there is already a lot to learn on a guitar, you run into the problem of adding unnecessary layers to your build. It’s already going to be a little bit of a challenge, so the more you add, the longer it will take to have a guitar in the end.
Start with a classic binding scheme like a single contrasting strip of wood. Use this same design all the way around the guitar. The look is very classy when done well, and you will have something that looks well made, even though it’s simple.
You can apply this idea to every other aspect of making your guitar, and it will give you much better results. It’s much better to complete a simple design really well than to create something elaborate that looks poorly made.
People in general have no idea which one was harder, they only know which one looks better.
See Also: The Last 10% Principle for Woodworking
Don’t Skip the Rosette
There are a dozen ways to make a rosette, and many of them are easy. In the beginning, the rosette can seem like a difficult task. However, if you think about it, and go simple at first, you will be happy that you didn’t skip it.
If you have no tools that can help you put in the rosette, then look online for a circle cutting jig for the drill press. If you don’t have a drill press, you can use a Popsicle stick and a razor blade to make the cuts.
Whatever you do, even if you only inlay some purfling strips around the soundhole, it will make your guitar better. There is something really attractive about a single strip around the opening, and even though it’s an easy process, your guitar will still look good.
Make a Baton Press for Joining Your Plates
One of the best things you can do for your shop is to make a baton press for joining your plates. This is a simple build, and should only take you a couple hours to create. Once you have it, joining your plates is a breeze.
Instead of making a plate press that has ropes and wedges, you can do just the same with clamps and straight pieces of wood. The idea is to clamp the edge pieces down, and then use that confined space to press the plates.
You can go the fancy route and make a press with the ropes and wedges, or you can just use a few small camps and get the same results. It’s completely up to you, as long as you are making a good press for your plates you will get a good glue joint.
See Also: Make A Baton Press for Book Matching
Use Brand Name Wood Glue
A guitar can last a hundred years if cared for, and you owe it to your instruments to use a good quality wood glue. Good glue and poor glue are not that much different in price. Never let a few dollars stop you from making a guitar that will have strong joints for such a long time.
If you don’t know a good wood glue yet, just get Titebond. After a while, if you want to research things like thermoplastic creep, and drive yourself nuts with the minor differences between the major glues, then go for it.
In the beginning, you just need to pick out a name brand glue that has a good track record, and that you can trust. Over a lifetime, the extra few dollars might add up to a penny a week, and at that price, you should definitely invest in good wood glue.
Humidity Is Not Your Friend (No Swamp Cooler)
I learned this lesson the hard way. It was inn the dead of summer, several years ago. While I was toiling away making guitars, and sweating profusely in the Arizona heat, I decided to finally do something about it.
Lacking the funds for an air conditioner, I settled for a swamp cooler. Once I had it fired up and filled with water (and ice cubes), I was really excited at how cool the air felt. The garage soon cooled off, and it felt great.
Unfortunately, that was the end of the ride. After a couple hours I looked up and saw that one of my guitar tops was curled up like a boat. In all the confusion of being really hot and frustrated working in the heat, I forgot that humidity has an effect on wood.
My thin pieces of guitar making wood that were once flat were now all curled. Once I finally did the math in my head, I turned off the swamp cooler, and returned it. This was early in my guitar making career and I didn’t realize that a swamp cooler makes really humid air, which feels cool. I thought it worked some other way, and didn’t realize that it was going to have that effect.
Long story short, don’t use a swamp cooler around your guitars. Invest in an air conditioner, and use that to cool your shop.
Follow One Book From Beginning to End
Even though you should buy several books to learn from, when it comes time to make your guitar, you should follow one book. Read several, and then pick the one that really speaks to you, and that you can follow.
After you select, then just after from the beginning. Start like you had not read the other books, but keep the tips and tricks in your mind. If you are following one plan, you have a lot higher chance for success.
Most books follow a logical order, and the steps are built on each other. Some things may be done differently from one book to the next, and that’s why mixing can be bad. Here is a good example, and why you should use a single source for the actual build.
One book may have to cut a dovetail on the end of the neck, so you will need to make your neck blank a little longer. Another book may have you doing a bolt on, or dowel joint, which means the length of the blank is shorter.
If you follow the shorter neck bank version for making the blank, and then follow the other version for cutting a dovetail, you will end up with a neck that is about an inch too short. It might not sound like much, but that will move your bridge into a different position on the face of the guitar, which is not good.
The internal braces are all placed in relation to the bridge. If the bridge moves, the braces need to move too, otherwise the layout of the way the top should sound will be different. One inch can make a big difference, so follow one book for the entire build.
Follow One Set of Plans but Not as a Beginner
After you make a few guitars, you may eventually start looking at sets of plans. Plans are just detailed drawings of popular guitars, and they include everything you need to make an exact copy of the style.
The one thing plans lack are directions, so until you know what you are doing, you want to go from a book rather than plans. That being said, when you do go for a set of plans, make sure to only use the one set.
For the same reason that combining books is bad, combining plans is bad too. You have the freedom to use the construction method that you want to use, but follow one set of plans to ensure that the guitar performs the way you intend.
Don’t Make Changes You Don’t Understand
Another thing that I wish I knew when I started making guitars is that it’s dangerous to make changes. This is even more so when you don’t know what the changes will do. There are ways around not knowing, but it’s best to resist the urge until you have the experience.
Everyone wants to have a custom guitar, and that’s completely fine. However, the only reason to make a change to the design is to get some effect or reward. If the change doesn’t do that, then there is no reason to make the change.
Even with that solid logic, there are still people that will make modifications to their guitars without even knowing if the change will be good. Again, until you know, don’t make changes. If you have to do more custom things to your guitar, stick around for the next section.
Customize Your Guitar in Safe Places
If you must customize a lot of parts of your guitar, then make sure to start in places that are more forgiving, or have little effect on the sound. There are several that you can choose from, and you can make big changes in ways that are not as risky.
For example, you can make your fretboard out of just about any species that has similar properties to East Indian Rosewood or Ebony. There are species like Padauk, Bubinga, Goncalo Alves, and Bocote that make strikingly beautiful fretboards. All you need to do is make sure the wood you use is similar.
Another thing you can do is use a different species for the bridge, have fun with the headstock veneer, make some epoxy inlays, and design a cool binding scheme. All of these areas of the guitar are safe to play with, and give you a lot of opportunity for custom work.
The Hardwood Store Will Mill for You
Buying wood from a hardwood store saves a lot of money, but you might not have all the tools in the shop to prepare the boards. If that’s you, then ask your local hardwood store about their milling services.
Most hardwood stores have some tools in the back, and they use them to mill pieces of wood into sellable units for the store. These tools are typically very good, and most places that sell wood will also make a few cuts for you for a fee.
If you find the perfect board, all you need to do is ask them to open it, and then plane the pieces down to thickness. These stores will typically have bigger saws, and thickness planers and sanders. These tools can turn any board into a top or back set very easily.
When you find out what you need, weigh the options. In most cases, the price of the milling services and the wood will still be far less than the price of pieces from a guitar making supplier. If they are not, then you might do better buying from the supplier instead.
Go Simple in the Beginning
While custom work is a blast, once you know what you are doing, it’s best to make a simple design in the beginning. Not only are simple designs a pleasure to look at, they are easier to make. This is where the beginner really wins.
Making a guitar is a long project. It has a lot of parts, and a lot of things to learn. The more layers you add, the harder it gets. If you have simple rosette, that will still take hours to install on your guitar. Add more detail, and you add more time.
One of the things that makes guitar makers quit on the first build is that they can’t keep up the momentum to see the build through until the end. Don’t let unnecessary layers of work keep you from completing your guitar. Go simple in the beginning, and you will thank yourself.
Leave the Parts Separated as Long as Possible
Even though a guitar is not very large, it’s still a bulky item that is not really easy to work on as a whole unit. For this reason, you should make it a point to leave the parts separated as long as you can. It’s just easier.
For example, if you have to do some work on the fretboard, and you have the entire guitar attached to it, the process is harder. You also can’t get into tight places with your tools, and it’s hard to rotate the piece.
With the fretboard off the guitar, you can slide it right across the belt sander if needed, use a router along the edges, and more. You can freely manipulate the piece, and you have access to all sides.
Since the part is free from the rest of the guitar, it moves easier. The same goes for working on the body apart from the neck. The longer you can keep those two pieces away from each other, the easier it is to work on them.
Work on Different Parts While the Glue Dries
There is a lot of down time I’m guitar making. I wish I knew that when I started, but it’s a lot slower paced than I thought. That being said, you can either wait for the glue to dry between every step, or you can work on something else.
Since you are sold on keeping your parts away from each other for as long as you can, that means you should always have something to work on. If you are waiting for the top to dry in the baton press, you can just start working on the sides.
Once the sides are cut and ready, you can then focus on gluing up the neck blank. As that dries, bend the sides. If you keep your pieces away from each other, you should almost always have something you can work on as the glue dries on another piece.
Make the Neck to Body Joint Very Strong
The neck sticks out very far into space, and because of that design, the neck moves a little as the strings vibrate. This movement has an effect of dampening the strings, causing the notes to trail off faster.
If you think about it, the neck to body joint is one of the most important. The more solid that neck, the less it can move. The less it can move, the more energy from the strings you keep, and that means more sound.
It’s not difficult to make a good neck to body joint. The only thing you really need to do is stop yourself from gluing it up before it looks good. Since the joint is covered, there can be a temptation to just fill it with glue and walk away.
The problem with that is not because you will ever see it, but because the neck will not function the right way. Instead of being a strong bond, the neck will be weak. This means the guitar will never play as well as it could have.
Make Your Own Bridge
If you have to buy a bridge in the beginning, that’s fine. Sometimes, buying smaller parts like that can save time. Buying the bridge will definitely do that, and you will save several hours of work slotting, drilling, and shaping you own.
However, it’s not as hard to make a bridge as it looks. Just take your time, and work from a solid plan for a common bridge. The basic guitar bridge is a really easy project, just make a few little jigs to help you make the slot and then drill the pins.
Another thing that makes the process easier is to do the harder parts first. There is a higher likelihood of making a mistake on the harder parts. If you do them first, you reduce the risk of making a mistake near the end.
Mistakes in the beginning are not that hard to recover from. They take a much smaller mental toll as well. On the other hand, when you make a mistake in the end of a process, it can be devastating, and you can lose even more time if you walk away for a while.
See Also: How To Make An Acoustic Guitar Bridge
Use a Peg Head Veneer to Cover the Joints
Having made this mistake on my first few guitars, it’s important to share here. When you make a stacked neck, there are joints on the headstock that you can see. You will also need to add wood to the left and right to increase the headstock size, and they will be visible too.
The best way to over these is to find a piece of thin veneer, or make a piece yourself. Make sure that it is big enough to cover the entire peg head. Then, sand the face of the headstock flat, and glue the thin piece of wood on top.
The wood should be a species that goes well with the design of the guitar. It’s a very easy to see location, so it will be noticed. Now, all the joints between the pieces are completely hidden, and your guitar looks more professional.
See Also: Bridge Pin Drilling Guide
Use a Simple Inlay Design
The biggest temptation that I had to deal with in the beginning was to go over the top on the inlay work. Inlays are beautiful, and they are expensive too. The temptation is to go big because you do them yourself and save all that money.
The reality is that good inlay work is expensive because it’s an art. It’s time consuming, and the materials are not cheap. When you combine all that with the effort and practice that you need to become good at inlay work, it’s easy to see why the price is so high.
Again, your guitar is already going to be a long build. If you dedicate a couple weeks to a screaming dragon inlay that covers the entire fretboard, you might run out of gas. Sure, the inlay is within reach if you are patient and really go slowly. However, it’s just not worth it on the first few builds.
Round Inlays are the Easiest of All
A little inlay trick that I wish I knew in the beginning is that round inlays are super easy. Essentially, if you can drill a hole, you can make a round inlay. Also, if you can buy a dowel rod, you can fill in that hole and make a really good looking inlay.
Dowel rods are the easiest, followed by brass rod and other rod stock. Rods can be found in plastic too, and these are sometimes really colorful. Again, if you can drill a hole, you can make a great looking inlay.
If you want to take it to the next level, then buy a plug cutter. A plug cutter lets you make small plugs that are meant to fill in over the top of screws to hide them. If you make your plugs shallow, and cut them free with a saw, the little discs make perfect dot inlays.
See Also: Hardwood Fret Dots
Epoxy Inlays are the Next Easiest
After round inlays come the epoxy inlay. In the line of easiest to accomplish, epoxy inlay is one of the quickest. The secret is that you only need to get one half of the design correct in order for it to work.
If you have a Dremel tool or a router and a small bit, you can create a cavity in the shape you desire, and then fill it with colored epoxy. You can also create an epoxy mixture yourself that has small stones and dust inside it.
When you have a custom epoxy slurry, all you do is pour it in place. After the epoxy cures, sand the inlay level to the surface and you are done. This is a favorite of wood turners, but takes to the guitar very easily.
You can also save yourself the time and buy a mixture that is already made. There is a company called InLace that makes these mixtures, and they have several to choose from. If you like the stone look, there are several good options. Solid colors too.
All you have to do is mix the hardener with a small portion of the slurry. From there, transfer it into the cavities that you already made. After the epoxy mixture cures, you sand the inlays flush to the surface of the wood.
See Also: Inlace for Easy Wood Inlays
Plot Out the Bridge Location Full Size
A mistake that can cost you is not placing the bridge in the right spot. If you are not where the scale needs the bridge to be located, the guitar will sound off for the rest of time. Thankfully, it’s easy if you do it right on the guitar.
Instead of making calculations, adding and subtracting, and hoping that you get the location right, just measure right on the guitar. Measure from the front edge of the nut, right to where the saddle needs to be and mark it.
Then, work all of your bridge placements so that the saddle lands right on those marks. If you do it this way, the chances of a mistake are minimal. There is also a lot less math, and you have a better chance that the guitar will sound good.
Use this same method for figuring out the height of the bridge as well. The angle of the neck and the doming of the top have an effect on the height of the bridge. Instead of doing a ton of math and trying to figure it out like that, just measure.
Use a long straight edge, and plot out the height of the bridge on the actual guitar. Measure the height based on there the bridge will be, using the position of the straight edge as a reference. This way, your bridges are perfectly made for every guitar.
See Also: Router Inlay Kit For Easy Inlays
Use Bolts and Nuts to Secure and Clamp the Bridge
Clamping the bridge is a funny problem, and there are a lot of expensive ways to solve it. One low tech way that you probably already have in your shop is bolts and washers. You will need some plastic or rubber washers to protect the bridge, but you probably have everything else.
Get a set of 3/16” bolts with washers and nuts. Since this is the drill size for the pins, all you need to do is run one bolt through the high e and low e holes. This is easiest when you mark out the bridge location and then drill through the top in those two spots.
Now, add glue to your bridge, and use the bolts to tighten it down to the top of the guitar. The plastic washers protect the wood, and you have built in clamps. The other nice thing is that since there are no real clamps in the way, it’s easy to clean up the glue squeeze out.
See Also: Custom Pick Guard Video
Make Your Own Truss Rod
Truss rods can be expensive, but you can make them yourself. If you already have some metal in your shop, then you should try this one out. The rod is just a piece of metal, and you can make a double action rod really quickly.
One of the standards in guitar making is the double action rod. It’s capable of bending a back backwards and slamming the strings against the fretboard with ease. Since it works so well, unless you need something fancier then just go with this old standard in the beginning.
The rod is made from 3/16” metal rods that you can get in a number of places. Then, you bend the rod, and thread one end. Add a couple small fittings and you are done. It’s an easy process, and you get to work with a torch, which is fun too.
See Also: Custom Side Bending Iron
Enjoy the Process and Don’t Rush
One thing that I wish I did in the beginning was enjoy the process more. I was so worried that the guitar I was making would sound like garbage, or not work, and I rushed through a lot of things just to get to the finish line.
In hindsight, I really wish that I enjoyed more of my first. After all, you only get to make one first guitar. Had I spent more time having fun, and letting the processes just take their own time, I would have had a much more rewarding experience.
I do get to tell some good stories about my first guitar, so that’s nice. However, if I took more time and waited a little more in between steps, I think I would have turned out a much better looking instrument in the end. That would have been worth it.
See Also: My First Acoustic Guitar
Hand Finishes Look Just as Good
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t finish your guitar by hand. You absolutely can, and humans have been applying hand finishes for way longer than spray finishes anyway. It’s not about the equipment. It’s about the person doing the application.
Look at all those old violins and cellos from three hundred years ago. They are all works of fine art, and they have stood the test of time. Not one of them was finished with a spray gun. Heck, not one of them was finished with anything that we could even see as coming close to a modern finish.
The Video below shows how to use Tru-Oil, which is a great product. It’s also inexpensive, and you can find it in a lot of places.
The ingredients in a finish were half myth and half science. Things like Dragon’s Blood were real ingredients, and you went to the Apothecary to get them. After brewing your finish, you applied it to the violin.
This period in time produced some of the best looking and best sounding instruments that the world has ever known. Again, not one was finished with anything that you could not rub on or brush on by hand.
There are a lot of great options for hand finishes in your local woodworking store. Just about any one of them will work just fine on a guitar, and they are easy to apply. In the beginning, get an oil or get a wiping varnish. Both apply really easily, and you only need a little practice.
See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing
Don’t Touch Your Guitar Until the Finish Fully Cures
Dry and cured are two very different things. Dry refers to touching the surface, and having it feel like it is dry. Easy enough right? Well cured is very different. Cured is the entire finish layer being completely free of solvents.
Dry can take a couple to a few hours, maybe even half a day depending on the finish. Cured can take several days or weeks. The difference in time is the finish chemicals evaporating through the layer, and leaving behind only solids.
If you handle your guitar too soon after finishing, and before the cure happens, you can leave small dents and depressions in the surface. The problem is in the still flexible layer of finish, and that you can damage it.
Instead of doing this, simply wait. Just wait the recommended amount of time. If you do, you will give your guitar a chance at a longer life without defects. It’s worth it, and typically it’s only a few days to a couple weeks.
Your First Guitar is Not Going to Win Any Awards
Let this part sink in early, and you will be a lot happier in the end. Your first guitar is not an indication of where you will go with guitar making. It’s just an example of where you started, and it will most likely not win any awards.
Don’t worry about making an incredible guitar on the first round, just think about making a completed guitar. Asking to create a gift to the guitar playing world on your first try is like asking to hit a home run in a major league game when you have never played before.
Dreams are great. I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream. Just stay grounded in your dreaming so that you don’t make a good guitar and still feel like a failure. That’s the worst thing that can happen shy of quitting your build in the middle.
Sometimes, you can set your sights too high. In a case like that, your goal for what you feel to be good is actually what others would feel to be outstanding. If you feel like you will not be happy unless you make an earth changing guitar right away, you might not notice that you actually made a pretty good guitar right away.
Everyone starts somewhere. If you have the good fortune and patience to start out way ahead of many others, then good for you. Start out as good as you can, because it’s only going to go up from there. Enjoy the first guitar, learn the processes, then start climbing on the next builds.
See Also: Sealing the Body – Guitar Making Tips
You Will Love Your First Guitar Above All Others
Even if your first guitar is not very good, as long as it still plays, you will love it. When you look at it objectively you will know it’s not as good in many ways, but your heart is the least objective organ in your body.
My first guitar is pretty bad. Now that I have made so many more of them, I hardly ever play that guitar. I have more that sound a lot better, and that play better too. However, I still love that guitar for a lot of reasons.
In the beginning, the reasons will have a lot to do with you hearing something you created. When you play your first guitar, you will love the sound. Even if the sound is not that good, it’s your sound, you made it, and you will love it.
After a while, the love changes into loving to see where you came from. The difference in my guitars now and my first guitar is night and day. It’s almost like I can’t believe I was that poor of a guitar maker in the beginning.
Having that first guitar be what it is, and knowing that you can improve are important. Let the first guitar be your best effort at the time. After that, let your second be your next best effort at the time. Enjoy each of them for what they are, and keep moving forward.
Making Guitars is Addicting
After you make your first guitar, and even before then, you will already be dreaming about your next guitar. I wish I took more notes at that time, because I know that I had a lot of great ideas about what I wanted my next few guitars to look like.
Making a guitar is a longer project, so it’s sometimes a little hard thinking about all the things you want to try. Every guitar will take time, and you need to wait that time in order to see what your changes do to the guitar.
Once you finish your first, you will be able to tell right away if you have been bitten. If you have, you will have a dozen ideas about what you want to make next. Pick out one or two, and put them into practice on your next guitar.
After you make that guitar, pick out your next few ideas and make them come true. The really fun part is when you finally understand that you can make anything you want. At that point, you will never buy a guitar again, because you can make everything yourself.
See Also: Woodworking and Self Reliance
Your homework is to not let little things get in the way of you making a guitar. Once you make an instrument, the rest are a lot easier. I’s the first one that is the hardest, because everything is new, and you don’t really know what is going to happen.
Think about the things you just read. Most of these little mistakes happen to everyone, and these are common ideas that make the process easier. If you remember some of these when it counts, you will have a much easier build.
Even so, you might have a little more challenging build. That’s ok. It’s your first guitar, and you are getting all of the initial learning out of the way. You will learn more over time, but the initial learning is definitely the largest amount.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making
50 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started making Guitars Wrap-Up
These are 50 things I wish I knew when I made my first guitar, and I hope that they help you when you decide to make a guitar. The biggest take away is just start the build. It’s going to be a bit of a challenge, but you only need to build your first guitar one time.
It sounds funny, but you really only struggle in the beginning because you don’t know things. Once you do, the struggle starts to go away.
Since you know next to nothing at first, the struggles happen often in the beginning. On your second build, it will go much more smoothly.
Take some time and try to absorb the lessons and information that you just read. When something similar comes up in your shop, stop, and think through it. You are still going to make mistakes, but you will do far better the more you know.
More From Westfarthing Woodworks
I give away the majority of my woodworking, wood finishing, and guitar making tips, but I also have several books if you want to take the next step.
You can see them in my Book Store, and they are all on Amazon.
Also, if you want to Join the Facebook Group, you can do that as well. We are just starting to grow a fantastic community and I would love for you to be part of it.