Welcome to Part One of my How to Make an Acoustic Guitar – Mahogany Dreadnought series. In this installment, I will cover wood selection, making center seam reinforcement strips, the body mold, and milling your own internal braces from blanks. Enjoy.
Starting a New Acoustic Guitar Build
When you get to make what you love, and build the exact guitar you want to make at that moment in your life, it’s an amazing experience that more woodworkers really should consider trying.
Guitar making is not different from woodworking. If you read along as a woodworker, and you want to make a guitar, or you play guitar yourself, I really hope this series inspires you to start a build. It’s a longer project than you might be used to, but you can do it, and I can help.
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Selecting the Wood for the Guitar
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Both will get good results, but one of them is far easier on your heart than the other.
Depending on who you learn from, and how rigid they are in their methods, you might find out that you can’t find wood for making guitars in a hardwood store. The only place you can get real guitar making wood is from a tonewood supplier.
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Thankfully, that is completely false. You can absolutely get good looking pieces of wood from anywhere wood is sold. You just need to look for the right boards.
The Sapele they sell in the guitar making supply houses is the same as the Sapele they sell in a hardwood store. It’s the same tree. All you need to do is make sure it’s the right piece for a guitar.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Here are some things to look for when you are picking out wood for your acoustic guitar build:
- Start by identifying the species you want to use, and find that bin in the store.
- Find all the pieces that are quarter sawn, which means the grain runs perpendicular to the faces of the board when viewed from the end.
- In those boards, toss any with defects that you can’t work around, like knots, warp, cracks, etc.
- Avoid pieces where the grain takes weird turns when you select your piece for the guitar neck, and look for straight grain pieces.
- For the body, weird grain patterns are fine, and can actually look really good on a book matched set of plates for a guitar.
- From the remaining boards, pick out those that are big enough to make a guitar, and are the best looking.
How to Get an Entire Guitar from One Board
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This piece of Sapele was one large board before I cut it down. Those pieces have been together for a long time in the tree, and now they will be together as a guitar.
To get your entire guitar body and neck from one piece of wood, look at the diagram, and plan when you buy your wood. Most guitars have a 16 inch body. This means you need at least an 8-1/2 inch wide piece of wood to start.
Select pieces that are at least this wide, and then you check for length. The top and back plates are both 21 inches tall, and the neck blank needs to be about 40 inches long. Stack all of these things together, and you have an 82 inch long board.
The section near the neck ends up becoming the sides, and you also end up with pieces left for the head and tail blocks.
You can go farther and select a longer piece to get a fretboard, bridge, linings, and internal braces too if you like. If you are careful, you can literally make everything from one board.
There is something magical about making a guitar from one piece of wood. It’s fun to look at a picture of one big board, and then look at a picture of a finished guitar and be able to say you transformed the board into the guitar.
The Body Mold
If you are new to making guitars, you really need to make your own body mold. It’s an easy project, and you can use it forever to make better guitar bodies.
The purpose of the mold is to provide some structure as you build the body. The pieces are thin, and sometimes they are difficult to get in the right place. They can also shift in gluing, which makes it even harder.
The mold is a perfect beginner project for anyone thinking about making a guitar. It gets you into the swing of making guitar related stuff, and also arms you with the tools you need when it comes time for the actual build.
Make your mold from several pieces of MDF stacked together. Also, use a router and a flush cutting bit to make copies of your first board. That’s the secret to making a great looking and perfectly shaped mold.
When you layout your half body profile on the MDF, cut it out and sand it until it’s perfect, and exactly how you like it. Then, make that your template board and cut out eight more of those from MDF.
Arrange them four on a side, and when you push them together, they will look like a guitar body shape. Next, glue and screw the pieces together, and add fasteners so they can come apart in halves. Now, you have a perfectly shaped guitar body mold.
Milling the Internal Braces
Buy some Sitka Spruce blanks from a guitar making supplier, and you only need 2-3 of them for the average guitar.
I have not found a place to get these in a regular wood store, so I get them from a guitar making supplier. I would imagine though that the same pieces are a lot less expensive as a big piece of Spruce, and if I ever find a place to get them I will share it.
For most of my braces, I set the table saw to 3/8 inch and rip several strips. I also do 1/4 inch strips, it just depends on the guitar.
The nice thing about starting out with all of these strips is the process later becomes faster and easier. The big milling makes a lot of noise, and you need to leave the bench to make the cuts.
When you get the milling out of the way early, you give yourself more time in front of the bench, and less moving around. This can be really helpful as a new guitar maker, because the internal braces can be a stressful part of the job.
For most guitars, you will need four pieces for the back plate, and five or six for the top plate. The back is ladder braced, so these are pretty simple to just cut to length and glue them down.
The top has the X brace, an upper brace, lower braces, and small braces on the sides. You can typically get them all from these rough blanks, and it just makes the process easier to have them already milled.
See Also: 25 Best Guitar Making Tips For Beginners
Making Easy Center Seam Reinforcement Strips
The way you help the joint be stronger is by adding a center seam reinforcement strip on the inside of the plate. The best way to get one of these on the cheap is to use an old soundboard, or scraps from a soundboard that you already cut out. Both are inexpensive, and a good use of resources.
If you are brand new, then pick up a low grade soundboard from a guitar making supplier for your center seam strips. You will only need a little of the wood for each guitar, so one board will last you a very long time.
For anyone that has made a guitar before, if you have some soundboard scraps, you can use those as well.
You need to make strips that are about an inch wide, and long enough to fit in between the internal braces on the back plate. If you are working with scraps, then place the braces first and measure your gaps.
Cut strips with the grain running along the one inch measurement. This places the grain of the strips perpendicular to the grain of the plate, which makes the joint stronger. Cut enough of these for the entire guitar, and set them aside for later.
Cutting and Gluing a Stacked Neck
However you make your neck, whether it’s a stacked neck or a scarf joint, gluing it on day one lets you start neck making day without many interruptions.
On this guitar, it’s a stacked neck, so mill all the pieces and stack them to create your blank. This requires a lot of clamps.
The stacked neck style has a lot of advantages.
- It’s a wise use of resources, causing less waste to hit the floor.
- Buying common lumber in 4/4 thickness is far less expensive than buying a really thick piece and cutting a full neck.
- Laminated wood is stronger than solid wood in most cases, making this stacked neck design a strong design.
- You need less wood in general to make your blank.
- If you make a mistake, you are one small board away from having another neck.
- It’s easier for beginners than a scarf joint neck.
When you make a stacked neck, there are a few things you can do to make the process easier on yourself. Even though this is the easiest neck design to accomplish as a beginner, it doesn’t hurt to know some tips.
- Resist the urge to glue everything at once. It’s not a race.
- Make sure that your pieces don’t slide around before the glue sets. This is easiest to accomplish with clamps on the sides of the pieces as well as the faces.
- Clean glue squeeze out with a wet rag long before it dries.
- Stack the pieces up the same way you cut them. This keeps the grain looking the same, and can hide the joints between the pieces really well.
- Plane or joint the faces of the board before gluing. This will make the faces very flat, and make the joints come together without any weird gaps or weak spots.
- Glue the headstock piece and the first section of the stacked heel in the first round, and then go back for the last two pieces of the heel on round two.
- Allow these joints a full overnight to cure. These are important joints, and you don’t need to rush them and weaken their bond.
Take your time, and make a really good neck blank. This is your foundation, and the way you make your neck in the future will be based entirely on the blank.Give yourself a good start, and the process will not be as difficult in the end.
Coming Next Week
Next Monday, the How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Series continues with milling the wood, and making/using a baton press. Once you have wood from the hardwood store, you need to mill it to thickness.
The guitar making suppliers already do this for you, which is why the wood costs so much more than buying from a hardwood store. However, if you have some woodworking tools, you can do all of it yourself.
I’ll also who you my secrets to using regular tools to do a lot of the hard work of milling that normally requires bigger tools.
It’s going to be a good week, and you will learn even more as the building process on the Mahogany Guitar progresses.
If you like to read more right away, my Acoustic Guitar Making Book is a great resource, and it will save you a ton of money on your first guitar. You will learn easier processes for beginners, how to make your own tools and jigs, and how to apply easy finishes.
It’s a huge resource, and with over 500 pages you are sure to find the help and guidance that you need to be a better guitar maker.
If you have any questions on my How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Series Part One, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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