Building a solid-body guitar

My book Building Electric Guitars (available in English and in German) contains more than 600 photos. With the help of this book you should be able to build any kind of solid-body, hollow-body or semi-acoustic guitar or bass. It describes in detail how to make neck-through guitars, guitars with seperate fingerboard, angled back pegheads, how to wind your own pickups and much more.
I've chosen 43 pictures from this book to give you an idea of how to build a Strat-style guitar with one piece maple neck.

At first I make a "flat" guitar out of 6mm (1/4") plywood. One template for the body , one for the neck and one for the peghead.

The body is made of one piece or several pieces of alder. The dimensions are 330mm (13") wide, 430mm (17") long and 45mm (1 3/4") thick. I carefully and slowly saw out the body contour very close to the line. This takes 20 minutes!

The body template is fastened on the top and the body sides are routed flush to the template with a 50mm (2") long template bit with a ball bearing on the top. The router is mounted under a table and for such a long router bit you need a 12mm or 1/2" collet. Because of different grain directions along the circumfence you get rough sections which have to be sanded. Be very cautious it's a dangerous task. Especially the tips of the body horns are critical, the router bit looses contact, bites again and tears out a chunk of wood. Remove almost all material at this points with a rasp in advance and keep your fingers clear of the bit! For safety reasons I mount a clear plate over the router bit (not shown here).

I sand all surfaces with a random orbital sander ...

... and by hand from 80 grit up to 150 grit.

Then I use a round-over bit with end-mounted ball bearing and rout the edge radius in two passes. Better and more stable is a table-mounted router for this task. When routing the radius at the back start and stop at the deepest point of the cutaways - the surface for the neck attachment plate has to stay flat over its entire width. Finish this section with a rasp by hand.

The pickup cavities and electronics cavities are pre-drilled and routed with the help of a template and a ball-bearing guided router bit.

The area where the arm rests is made more comfortable with a plane, ...

... and the back with spokeshave, rasp, scraper and sandpaper

The maple neck blank for this one piece neck is 25mm (1") thick and wide enough for the peghead.

With the edge guide mounted to the router the trussrod slot is routed into the back of the neck. I bolt on a block of wood outside of the neck contour that makes it easier to clamp the neck blank into a vise.

I use a double action trussrod. It is beaded into some silicone and the slot will be covered with a contrasting "skunk" stripe. It's adjusting nut is accessible from the body side of the neck.

The fretslots and the nut slot have been marked and cut. I cut all fret slots 0.6mm wide and 3mm deep. On a guitar with a Fender-style pickguard, the neck must end approximately at the 22th fret.

The rough-sawn neck contour. The "original"-radius at the neck end is 7".

Similar as the body the neck shape is routed with the help of the templates. You can see the clear safety plate over the router bit here.

All pegholes are drilled with a 10 mm drill bit.

The peghead is bandsawed close to a thickness of 13mm (1/2"). The neck has to be angled down when you come close to the end of the cut to get the bandsaw blade parallel to the nut.

The round transition to the nut and the peghead surface are sanded.

The fingerboard radius is routed with this special jig. (I got the idea from Bruce Johnson.) The router base rides on two rails and is curved with a 12-1/4" radius. the router bit protrudes 1/4" below the base and moves on an arch of 12" therefore. Make a drawing and determine how far the two rails have to be apart for the proper cutter bit height in the middle. Make the router base wide enough and long enough and leave space for it on both ends of the rails. The router is moved in several passes along the neck blank (not across) and leaves a perfect 12" radius.

The fingerboard radius is sanded clean with a 12" radiused sanding block available from luthier supplies ...

... and checked for straightness. As it's a cylindrical fretboard radius always put on the ruler parallel to the centerline.

The fingerboard radius left the fretslots not deep enough, they have to be sawed deeper again.

The frets are hammered in with a dead blow hammer with plastic heads. All fret ends will be cut and filed flush. The frets will be dressed afterwards.

The neck contour is made with the spokeshave. I use a rasp for the transitions on both ends. Finally all contours are scraped and sanded.

The ready sanded neck.

Clamp the neck on the body and align it to the center line. Trace the outline of the neck pocket on the body.

Make a tight fitting neck pocket template.

Pre-drill the cavity with a Forstner bit. Mount the template on the body and clean the neck pocket with a short ball-bearing guided template cutter bit. The template on the picture is clamped at an angle to the body. You don't need this for a Strat-style guitar. The correct alignment of the template is critical.

The standard neck pocket depth for a Strat-style guitar with Strat-style bridge or tremolo is 16mm (5/8"). A well made neck to body joint should be tight and accurate. The neck is bolted on with four 5 x 45mm (3/16" x 1 3/4") screws and an attachment plate.

All body cavitys have to be routed. The bridge position must be found, the hole for the tremolo block is routed and the tremolo springs cavity is marked.

The finished tremolo springs cavity.

Before you finish the guitar you should pre-fit all parts, wire the electronics, put neck and body together, put on the strings and test it for the first time. It's a very special moment.

I first spray this body with a primer wait 24 hours, sand, and then spray the body with blue paint out of a spray can. I spray several thin layers, 15 minutes apart. Try always to spray at an angle of 90 degrees to the surface.

A handle is screwed into the neck pocket. The fan is explosion-proof and I care for my health too. If you want to spray outside wait for warm, dry weather. Dust is your enemy.

The neck is sprayed with several layers of clear nitrocellulose lacquer out of a spray can. Such spray cans are available in Germany or Austria from "CLOU". On a one-piece maple neck the fingerboard is also finished.

After a drying time of at least two weeks, I wet sand the surface with up to 800 grit ...

... then I switch to polishing compounds and polish with a foam or lambswool buffing pad on my random orbital sander.

The neck is also polished and the frets have to be cleaned from the lacquer and dressed and polished.

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