My First Guitar Build

I’ve been playing guitars since I was 4 years old, that’s 51 years as of the date of this posting. I’ve had electric guitars and acoustic guitars. My favorite is the Fender sound. I attribute this to the single coil pickup design. I have owned one Fender product and that was a used Fender Precision Bass I bought to do bass work on an album I did called Legacy. I’ve never owned a real Fender guitar. When I was playing in bands, I used a Stratocaster copy that I purchased for $80. I made a lot of money on that guitar. I currently own a Silvertone Strat copy and I have a G&L ASAT Classic Telecaster-style guitar. The G&L is probably more authentic than the Fender Telecasters today.  Anyhow, I wanted to build my own Stratocaster guitar and make the body myself.

Preparing the Body

I started the project by purchasing a set of plans from the Musical Instrument Makers Forum (MIM) here . I had 5/4 cherry in my shop and my first thought was to use the cherry because of it’s beauty as naturally finished wood. I was going to use shellac because I’ve done a little Shaker end table using cherry and it was gorgeous. The 5/4 cherry was cut at a lumber mill and the 5/4 means it’s roughly 1-1/4″ thick. The stratocaster body in my new plans was 1-3/4″ thick. So I had 2 problems, none of my boards were 14″ wide (width of the body shape) and they weren’t thick enough. So I first cut 4 boards from my rough-cut cherry at about 20″. Now I needed to joint the edges to glue two boards together to get my body width. I used a No. 5 bench plane to start an edge and then I ripped the boards on my table saw until I had a good square edge. I glued these together with Titebond and clamped for 24 hours. I did this to create two wide 5/4 cherry boards. I didn’t touch the boards after I removed the clamps. I brought them inside while I thought about how to plane them. There’s two options at this point. The planing could be done by hand or using a power tool called a planer.

My ultimate goal was two slabs of cherry at 7/8″ thick and then I’d glue them together like plywood to make a Stratocaster body blank at 1-3/4″ thick. So if I hand planed the boards, I would have used a scrub plane first to hog material in a criss-cross fashion and then finished the planing with a bench plane. This would have worked but it’s not easy to achieve a perfect thickness across the entire board. A better solution would be a power planer. A stationary planer where the boards could be fed in to achieve my 7/8″ thickness overall. The quality outcome chances were more favorable with a power planer. Okay, so the decision was made and now will I find a 13-something wide planer?

I don’t have one but the first-level planers are for home woodworkers or small shops and they only support material up to about 12 or 12-1/2″. I needed something bigger. I called around my local cabinet shops and found one close by to plane my boards. The boards got planed, I met a new friend (that plays guitar and builds cabinets), and I went straight home and got the Titebond. I glued my boards, clamped them, and left things to dry for 24 hours.

Cutting and Routing the Body

Now that my body was complete, it was time to prepare for cutting and routing. I watched this Youtube video to learn how to use pre-made templates to cut the body shape and route all the cavities in the body for the neck, tremolo, and the electronics. Before I discuss the process, I want to describe the templates and how they serve you. I made the templates from 1/2″ MDF. I have found several sources that call for 1/2″ MDF. I also found several recommendations for 1/4″ MDF.  I actually bought 1/4″ from Home Depot and then took it back for 1/2″ after I thought about the routing and my new 1″ pattern router bit with a ball bearing that would ride the MDF. I’ll discuss the need for the extra area and 1/2″ of material and depth difference later. For now, I went with the 1/2″ MDF for my templates.

Two templates are needed because there’s routing on the front of the body and the back. The front template contains the neck cavity route and the other cavities on the front of the guitar body. Part of the body shape is outlined by the template, but this is not critical. This template is aligned on the body using the body plan centerline (drawn on the template). Notice that the template on the right in the picture is flat across the top. It’s because the template is only used for the neck cavity and the front cavity routing. This is done before the body shape is cut into the blank. I want to now talk about the details of the process using template no. 1 (neck and front routing).

How the Templates Assist the Routing

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