Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rough Cut

Now that I had my outline and my chunk of wood, it was time to get cutting! I was very excited about this, because I was finally going to get my hands dirty. Firstly I taped the paper outline to the wood (trying a few different positions to minimise/hide blemishes in the wood). Here's what I came up with:

Now there are many reasons why the paper-taped-to-wood option was not a good way to go about this, but I won't go into too much detail. I'll just say that you should look into using card instead of paper, and drawing an outline around it onto the wood, instead of sticking anything to it. Now... you see that great big knot to the left of the photo? Thats' the sort of blemish I was happy to remove.

Did I mention that I had hardly any tools? I managed to borrow an electric jigsaw for this next part, and I broke the bank and bought a couple of clamps to hold the block of wood down while I was cutting it. Here's what the edge will look like after cutting it out with an electric jigsaw. (Lower edge only. I had already smoothed the rest before I remembered to take this photo.):

My advice here is not to cut too close to the outline, as the jigsaw tends to not cut exactly downwards. This means it could cut closer at the bottom than at the top. Also, erm... I know it should go without saying, but remember to move your block of wood from time to time, so that you don't cut into your table/workbench.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Wood

I previously mentioned that I had decided to make my own Strat. I had already borrowed a Strat copy and drawn an outline around it. I now needed to get my hands on a nice chunk of wood. I did some investigation and found that real Strats were made of ash or alder. My friend of a friend (the one in the timber industry) informed me that he could more easily source some ash, so I happily gave him the dimensions I needed. The wood had to be 45mm thick and at least as big as the outline template I had made. A little bit extra around the edges gave me some room for avoiding blemishes, etc., or placing them where they would not be seen (like under the scratchplate, for example).
Here's a photo of the chunk of wood as it arrived. In fact it is two pieces glued together. It arrived already glued, and importantly, had been well dried out.

Unfortunately this wasn't the "swamp" ash used in most real Strats, but the ash that is more commonly used in the construction of baseball bats. That stuff is solid! It also weighs a tonne. This was something I wasn't going to realise until I finished the guitar and picked it up for the first time. Anyway, learn from my mistake; get "swamp" ash. Luckily the ash I got still gives great tone.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


OK, so enough with the background. Time to actually start doing something. I had already decided I wanted to make a guitar and I had my mind set on a Strat. First thing I needed was to get my hands on a reference Strat-like guitar.

It's not hard to get your hands on a Strat copy, and right enough, a friend of a friend happened to have one. I borrowed it and drew an outline around it on a big piece of paper.

Doing this on paper was a bad move, I now realise. A much better option would have been to trace it onto card. In fact, if you're really serious about this, tracing it onto a piece of thin wood would be even better.

This is probably a good time to mention that I was doing this on a fairly limited budget, but more importantly without access to a workshop or many tools. In fact the whole purpose of this blog is to show you that it is possible to make your own Strat copy with very few tools. More on that later.

OK, so now I had my outline and a few measurements. The next thing was to find a nice big bit of wood. As it happened, the same friend of a friend worked in the timber industry and was able to source me some.

Now I had to figure out which wood to ask for.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why a Strat?

Well, I didn't really have to think much about which style of guitar I was going to build. I had always wanted a Strat, and this is what I was going to make. Now if you ever decide to build your own guitar, and you really don't mind which style you want, then I'd say doing a Telecaster or maybe some sort of customised Les Paul Junior design would be much, much easier. Why? because there is no tremolo to think about, and you don't have to carve out all those contoured bits around the Strat's body.

Fender Telecaster

Gibson Les Paul Junior

That said, a Strat design is by no means the hardest either. Let's take a Les Paul Standard as an example. You'd have to think about a fixed neck (difficult to attach, with very little forgiveness if you make a mistake), sculpted quilted maple top (a lot of work, and easy to mess up), body binding (also a lot of work, and a whole art in itself), etc.

Gibson Les Paul

So here's my list of things to think about, and what I recommend for the easiest option:

1. Neck attachment - recommend bolt-on neck
2. Body top shape - recommend flat (slab) shape
3. Knob and pickup mounting - I would say that mounting all of these on a scratchplate is more forgiving if you stuff up some of the routing.
4. Jack socket placement - You can either mount this on the edge of the guitar (like on a Les Paul), on the face of the guitar, but not within any sort of scratchplate (like most Fender Telecasters), or on some sort of scratchplate (like, say, a vintage Hofner Colorama).

Hofner Colorama

5. Tremolo/vibrato - Easier to give this a miss, although if you decide to go for it, think about a Bigsby-style unit, which can be mounted on the top of the guitar without the need for any routing.

Bigsby tremolo/vibrato

6. If no tremolo, think about if the strings will go through the body (like a Hardtail Stratocaster) or not (like a Les Paul). Not going through the body is the easier option.

If I were to repeat this whole adventure again, I would have a slab body, with no sculpting/contours, a scratchplate for the controls and pickups (possibly the jack socket too) and a Bigsby tremolo.

However, at the time I did this, I had it in my mind to do a Strat, so that's what I needed to plan for.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Getting started

I've been playing guitar since 1986. By all accounts I should be great by now, but sadly that's not the case. That doesn't mean I don't absolutely love anything to do with guitars though. Since I started, I have had several guitars in my possession, some better than others, and until fairly recently, I never had a Fender Stratocaster, one of the best electric guitars ever made.

Fender Stratocaster
Starting in 1996, I spent a few years living in Euskadi and eventually found myself with a lot of spare time on my hands, but very little money. I had parted company with a much-loved Fernandes Strat-copy a year or so previously and only had one semi-acoustic guitar with me. This lack of an electric guitar was a situation I wanted to rectify, but as previously mentioned I didn't have much money and I didn't want to buy a rubbish guitar.

That's when I decided to make my own Strat.