Handmade Music Clubhouse

Cigar Box Guitar Headquarters - CBG HQ

(See my SeaMist guitar here.)

    Ever wanted a special guitar, but just couldn't afford the prices in the guitar shops?  I don't know about you, but a $1200+ tag will stop me from even touching a guitar.  If I accidentally drop a Squire I can probably pay for it, at least over 2-3 months.  Dropping a $2800 Gibson on the other hand... that goes beyond my threshold of daring.

    That didn't stop me from wanting a special guitar though, so I finally decided to be daring in another way and make one.  Then I started two more (which I'm in the middle of at this time). 

    A note on building your own guitar:

    1) If you do your own carving and finish, plan on a long, difficult project.

    2) There are shortcuts that cost a little bit but save you a lot of time

    3) It still takes a chunk of time if you haven't done this before.  The first time you'll likely be overly-cautious (or not cautious enough) every step of the way.  Expect this; it's normal. ; )

HOW TO MAKE A GUITAR (the Wayfinder way)

    This is my photo-recipe for making a custom guitar.  First let's outline what I wanted to do:

    * I wanted a natural-wood guitar (well, more like a transparent colored varnish).

    * Three pickups: my FlatCat™, a Lipstick Tube and a Humbucker

    * Separate volume controls

    * Single tone control

    * Fancy neck with my name on it

    * Terrific action

    In short, I wanted a guitar that was unique, sounded incredible and that I'd be proud of playing-- my own personal custom-made guitar.

    Here's how I did it:

Start with a body blank.  There are many places you can get these, both finished and unfinished.  To save $$$ you can simply buy a cheap guitar off the for sale ads that's similar to what you want and take it apart, scavenging all the parts.  That's the easy way and if the body is in good condition... you're ready to go.

Add a neck blank. You can buy them pre-fretted or fretless.  I prefer pre-fretted.  About $35 on Amazon.  Or you can salvage a neck from a used guitar.  Doesn't matter so long as it's a good neck.

Make sure your neck blank matches your body blank.  There is no one universal standard.

Drill and chisel the body.  For this I prefer two awesome tools:  Forster bits to cut out the main areas of wood, and simple hand chisels to finish it off. You drill 2 or 3 holes with the Forster, slightly smaller than your boundaries, then use a good sharp hand chisel to finish out the edges (some guys may prefer a Dremel.  I prefer the old-fashioned hand method.  Very satisfying).  For rounded corners I use standard Brady bits first, then work from there.  I like to either varnish or black-coat the insides of the holes.  If you wonder why the funny-shaped hole on the back of the guitar, it's because I originally intended to only have volume controls and no tone.  I decided to add tone last minute, so drilled an extra hole for a 4th pot. Didn't see the need to straighten out the edge as the pot would fit fine and it would be hidden by the overplate.

Note:  this is a critical part of the process.  Measure 5 times, drill and cut accurately.  Especially make sure the neck is lined up with the bridge.

My personal preference:  pyrograph (wood burn) the neck and add my signature.  It's my personal guitar, wanted my name on it.  : )   There are all sorts of ways you can decorate the neck, from pearl inlay to simulated-pearl stickers to B-Bs.   Choice is near endless.

Then add the hardware, as shown above.  Gotta love gold sealed tuning keys.

Next, test the hardware for size.  If you're fortunate they'll fit.  If not go back with the chisel and do a bit more.  

Attach the neck, faceplates, pickups, bridge, internal electronics and knobs (wiring diagram included below).  This is the part where you start to get excited, because it's sooo beeoootiful. It's also where the electronics can drive you crazy if you're not used to it.  Take your time, follow the diagram, you'll do fine. : )

DON'T SOLDER THE PIECES OVER THE GUITAR.  Solder flack will seriously damage a finish.  Make sure there is paper over the guitar if you have to get in close.

Finally we have the finished guitar ready for stringing.  You'll of course need to adjust the nut and bridge for proper string action.  The types of strings you use are also important.   String it up, tune it, give it time for the strings to set, plug 'er in and rip on.  If you've done everything right, the play and tone will be fantastic... and you'll have a guitar you may not be willing to put a price tag on (at least, not until you make the second one). :D

I kid you not:  I strummed this and it sounds better than any electric I have ever played... no brag and no "because I made it" delusion.  Sound is sound and if it had sounded like a store-bought cheapie, I'da known it.  This is high-quality, high-value and just what I wanted.  It cost me under $150 to make and it's my personal, custom-made electric guitar.  That nice to be able to say.

Because it has 3 separate volume controls plus tone, the sound variations are almost endless.  The pickups were all chosen for their unique sound:  the FlatCat™ provides deep and mellow (in this case), the lipstick a good "50s" mid-range and the humbucker a solid treble rock.   The three together sound amazing.  I can cut any of them in or out and change the overall tone, to achieve just about any sound I'm looking for.

Here's the promised wiring diagram.  Work slowly.  Be careful and don't get the pots too hot.  Soldering method:  touch the solder wire and iron to the pot at the same time.  The solder transfers heat much faster than the iron by itself and will allow you to solder the pot in a fraction of the time.  It also prevents the pot from burning out from having the iron on it too long.

That's about it!  If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. 

--- Wayfinder

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It is good to see what an ol' friend has been up to I am a wood burning fan also.I have been on the verge of a scroll Man the fret board.It turned out sweet Is the lipstick an O-T-C single coil or one of your creations? I am still having fun with my 3 and 4 stringers. Been working on them more than playing.I made an Alabama license plate with some burning and painting on it's back and a lady wanted it for her husband's birthday. I stuck a "No Sale" price on it and she snapped it up.Been wanting to burn some more since then. You continue to give inspiration.

Hiya Hound!  The Lipstick and humbucker were quality imports (some of those companies make really good stuff).  The FlatCat is hand-made.  I was very pleased with how the guitar turned out; the sound is awesome.

Congrats on your sale!  Yeah, these days hand-skills are becoming more rare and people are willing to pay for custom work.  It's just a matter of finding the right niche. 

Very cool, thanks for posting.  Seems with your method of forstner bit/chisel you don't even need a premade body, any plank will do.  I'm also a big fan of removing wood with forstner bits.

When I buy a 6 string neck I prefer it paddle style and to shape it how I want. About $50 on Amazon, $60 on eBay - I've used Eden necks on some builds but paid good money on some high end guitars from Allparts.  Even with days spent, I still can't come close to the quality of a machine made neck.  If someone's paying me a couple thousand or more for a high end instrument, the extra cost to provide a perfect neck is worth it.

Not sure if you noticed it, but that wiring diagram is slightly off from how its usually done.  It is for eliminating the 'Les Paul Curse', so each volume control is independent, not like on a Les where one volume always has to be turned up a little for the other will work.  This diagram has the input from the pickup to the middle lug and output to tone on the left - the opposite of usual single pickup wiring.

If anyone ever needs help with a wiring diagram check out Wiring Diagrams & Schematics, and if you don't see what you need there, just ask and I'll make it.

This post would be perfecter if it was in the group Builder Progress Blogs.

Thanks again!!

Good luck with the "FlatCat!" That is one great-looking pickup!


Yup, interesting you'd mention that.  A friend gave me some old barn wood... very aged but straight.  I'm planning on making a custom electric out of that.  Should be interesting.  The Forstner/chisel idea was passed on to me from a professional carpenter.  He knew nothing about making guitars, but he knew about making holes in wood.  Best tip ever.

To make sure... do you like the diagram above or is there a better one you prefer?  Wiring is one of the trickiest parts on this.  The above diagram worked very well on this guitar, but I'm always looking for the "perfect" wiring diagram. : )

P.S.  I would post this in the Builder's group... but then only those in the group would be notified of it.  Everyone sees forums... thus maximum value for wide-appeal posts.

Ted Crocker said:

Very cool, thanks for posting.  Seems with your method of forstner bit/chisel you don't even need a premade body, any plank will do.  I'm also a big fan of removing wood with forstner bits.

Thanks Jim!   Number 92 just completed.  Did you ever think I'd wind that many when I was just making a test one about a year ago?  I love the final design.  It's tricky and time-consuming to make, but the sound... wow.

Jim N. said:

Good luck with the "FlatCat!" That is one great-looking pickup!


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