Make Your Own Classical Guitar

make your own guitar

Make Your Own great Classical Guitar

Building your own wooden classical style guitar can be a great fun and rewarding project for any music enthusiast who likes to dabble with woodworking occasionally. Not only will you have the satisfaction of creating something with your own hands, but you will also hopefully have a guitar that you love and you’ve made according to your preferences and playing style.  Not to mention, it’ll be something you can brag about to friends and/or band members.

In this article, I will try my best to walk you through the process of building your own guitar, from selecting the materials to assembling the final product.

Materials and Tools you will need.

Before you begin, gather all the necessary materials and tools:

a.   Wood for the body, neck, and fretboard (common choices include spruce, cedar, and mahogany)

b.   Guitar bracing

c.   Bridge and saddle

d.   Machine heads

e.   Nut and frets

f.   Glue

g.   Sandpaper

h.   Clamps

i.     Chisels

j.    Files

k.   Saws

l.     Drill

m.  Ruler

Step Number 1: Design and Plan.

Start by designing your guitar. Consider the shape, size, and style that you prefer. Classical guitars typically have a smaller body and a wider neck compared to other guitar types. Sketch your design on graph paper and make sure to include measurements and dimensions.  You might also be able to download a free open source plan for building your own guitar.

Let Us Begin.

Overview.

1.    Choose high-quality wood for your guitar. Cut the body, neck, and fretboard according to your design. Ensure that the wood is properly seasoned and free from defects. Use sandpaper to smooth the surfaces and remove any rough edges.  

2.   Assemble the body of the guitar by gluing the sides to the back and then attaching the top. Use clamps to hold the pieces together firmly while the glue dries. Once the body is dry, shape it to the desired contours using chisels and files.

You will need to create a blank for the body and the most popular varieties of wood used to make a blank for the body of a guitar are Mahogany, Ash, Maple, Basswood, Alder, Poplar, Walnut, and Spruce.   Making a guitars from Agathis is an option and there’s plenty of guitars in this world that are made from Agathis; however I’ve read a few unfavourable articles about how the noise is dulled from using this type of wood.

Constructing the Body.

Overview: Assemble the body of the guitar by gluing the sides to the back and then attaching the top. Use clamps to hold the pieces together firmly while the glue dries. Once the body is dry, shape it to the desired contours using chisels and files.

The Process.

Once you’ve settled on the shape of the guitar and have a comprehensive drawing of the guitar you want to create, cut out a template for the body from 3/4″ (20mm) MDF. Make two copies of your drawing: one for later cutting up and one as the master; study all features of your drawing several times; it will be worth it in the end. To get a drawing that big replicated, you’ll need to go to a professional copying business (they’ll presumably use a ‘Plotter’ style printer), or you might know someone who has one.

By tracing the contour of your body from your ‘cut up’ copy of your design onto your MDF board with your pencil, you can now acquire the outline of your body. The centre line is crucial; once you’ve drawn it with a pencil on your MDF board, go over it with a thin-tipped permanent marker. Before you trace the drawing, make sure it’s centred along the centre line you’ve just made with your ruler. You can now roughly cut out the shape with whatever tool you want, trying to stay as close to the black line as possible without going into it. Stay a couple of mm away from the line because you can always remove material you didn’t cut away later, but you can’t add back material you took away inside the line.

You now have a rough shape for your body that needs some work, so we’ll use sanders to refine it. If you have an Oscillating Spindle Sander (OSS), use it to make a continuous, perfectly flowing curve on all of the template’s concave regions. If you don’t have an OSS, make do with what you have or can afford. Instead of sitting and sanding the board in one spot, move the template along the curve as you sand it. Only if you have a significant lump that needs to be brought down to level with the curve should you sand a region without moving. This repeated sanding process will assist in perfecting the curve and making it smooth and consistent.

It’s now time to work on the convex areas of the template now that you’ve completed and approved the concave regions. We’ll use the palm sander for this and the reason for this is that it has a flat bottom surface, which means it will sand off all high points but won’t sand lower and lower spots because it’s flat and the surface is convex, resulting in some wonderful uniformity. Sand the convex portions using the same method of testing your progress with light profiles until they, too, flow flawlessly and you are satisfied.

Create your template for the headstock shape using the same procedures as before, then continue on to the final template you’ll need to make, which is the template for your neck and fretboard. You can use the same template for the fretboard as you did for the neck.   Simply measure the width of the neck at the nut and at any point further down the neck, say the 12th or 24th fret for convenience, and then tape a perfectly straight piece of wood along one edge of the taper you’ve drawn out between the nut and the point you chose further down the neck with strong double sided tape.

Use a template bearing guided router bit to route down this straight piece, then repeat for the other side of the fretboard taper, and you’ll have a wonderful neck and fretboard taper. Now is the time to cut out the excess wood where the nut will go, as well as the end of your neck tenon. If you want to use a router to route your neck pocket, round off the ends of the template so that the tenon end is at the same radius as the router bit. This will provide a beautiful tight fit.

This template can be used to route the entire neck or just the fretboard by placing the fretboard wood at the nut and then centre it. There are many various ways to create a guitar neck and fretboard; practically all electric guitar fret boards have some form of radius, and different people prefer different radiuses.

Making a guitar can potentially necessitate spending a lot of money on specialist tools, which may be necessary if you want perfection and time is a concern, but if you’re attentive and meticulous, you can make an outstanding guitar on a very small budget. Remember, people made guitars a long time ago, long before any of the sophisticated equipment we have today were ever considered; in fact, the first guitars are said to have been invented in Spain in the 15th century.

The final shaping of the neck and headstock is also a matter of personal preference; the majority of the shaping may be done using an angle grinder and a carving wheel, then everything can be perfected with hand sanding. The fretboard is a delicate task that demands extreme precision and accuracy. Fill up the little holes drilled on the edge of the fretboard for the side dots that identify individual frets with epoxy.

If you want to take a break from the fretboard, finish shaping the body of the guitar by carving a contour on the back and cutting a bevel on the front, both of which will make playing the guitar much more comfortable.

Installing the Neck.

Attach the neck to the body using glue and clamps. Make sure the neck is aligned properly and securely fastened. Use a ruler and level to ensure it is straight. Allow the glue to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Installing the Fretboard and Frets.

Glue the fretboard onto the neck and secure it with clamps. Once dry, mark the positions for the frets using a fret spacing calculator. Cut slots for the frets and install them using a fret press or hammer. Trim any excess fret wire and file the edges smooth.

Installing the Bridge and Saddle.

Attach the bridge to the body at the designated location. Install the saddle into the bridge slot and adjust its height for proper string action. This will affect the playability and sound of the guitar, so take your time to get it right.

Installing the Machine Heads and Nut.

Drill holes for the machine heads on the headstock. Insert the machine heads and tighten them securely. Install the nut at the top of the fretboard, ensuring the strings sit properly in the slots.

Do the finishing touches.

Sand the entire guitar to smooth out any imperfections. Apply a finish of your choice to protect the wood and enhance its appearance. Allow the finish to dry completely before installing the strings.

Stringing and Set-up.

Attach the strings to the machine heads and tune them to the desired pitch. Adjust the truss rod, bridge height, and saddle position to achieve proper string action and intonation. This may require some trial and error, so be patient and make small adjustments.

Please Note:

There is a number of steps that I will endeavour to expand on sometime soon and apologise that I couldn’t provide the complete process via this article.

However, you could always have a look on YouTube.  You’re more than likely going to find a video that will walk you through the gaps that I have left in the process.

In any event, building your own wooden classical style guitar will no doubt prove to be a labour of love.  Sure, this work is going to require a lot of patience, reasonable skill, and attention to detail but if you pace yourself and be prepared you might make the odd mistake and not be afraid about re-doing things a few times, you’ll get there.

Naturally, it’s just so important that you use the right materials and tools.  If it all goes well, you can create a beautiful and functional instrument that will bring joy for years to come. Enjoy the process and the satisfaction of playing music on an instrument you built with your own hands.

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