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A hobby guitar builders guide: basic guitar design

Updated on October 2, 2014

A timeless classic

New designs for the coming year

I will be making some new guitar body designs for the coming year so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share with you how this is done.

The art and philosophy of electric guitar design

In this article we are going to discuss the basics of good guitar design. I have read many how to's and tutorials on the mechanics of constructing an electric guitar but I have read very few on the subject of design. A good understanding of the philosophy and art of designing an organic and symmetrical electric guitar can be the difference between a masterpiece and something weird looking.

Style and design

Electric guitars come in many shapes and sizes. Some are very basic some are very extreme. Take a look at a Telecaster or a Les Paul and you'll see basic symmetrical designs but if you look at a Firebird and explorer, warlock or a Mockingbird those designs and shapes are very different and will take a much different approach. In this segment I will be showing how I go about designing one of my guitar bodies, I will be doing my own take on a timeless classic, the single cut, i want my design to incorporate good balance and have plenty of access to the upper frets of the neck I also want the design to have plenty of room for and easy access to the controls. Some things to consider in your own design how are you going to mount the pickups are you going to mount them in a pickguard like a Stratocaster or just mount them directly to the body like a wolf Gang. Are you going to have simple controls like just a selector switch and a master volume or are you going to have a tone and master volume for each pickup these are all things that you have to consider in your design

Tools for drafting and design

A good sharp pencil

Some of the things you're going to need is something to draw I chose a piece of posterboard but you could use a piece of cardboard or even market directly on a piece of plywood that you're going to use for the template. you will also need a good sharp pencil an eraser, yardstick and a ruler. it wouldn't hurt to have French curve set a compass and any other tools you might do drafting with. a strong pot of coffee and something to inspire you won't hurt either.

CNC at Washburn

Size and dimension

One of the things you will need to know are the size and dimensions of some basic guitar bodies. A typical single cut style guitar like a Telecaster or Les Paul will be between 16 and 18 inches long and are 12 to 13 inches wide. A guitar with an extended upper horn likea Stratocaster can be between 19 and 21 inches long on the upper side of the body. One other thing to consider in the design of your guitar are the dimensions of the boards that you are going to be working with, many of my designs are based on pieces of wood that are left over, working within their size and dimensions I have designed guitar bodies. this method is both practical and economical.

Mark your line

A few good lines

First thing you will need to do is decide on the shape and size of the guitar body. You will mark the center line and neck slot and your mark out your basic lines for the width and length of the body. My body is going to be 17 inches long by 13 inches wide at the widest 7 inches wide at the narrowest part of the waist and 9 inches across by the upper bought and cut away. Once you have this done you can start marking out the rough shape of your guitar body don't worry you won't get it right the first time you will probably erase everything five or six time before it starts to look right . This process can take several hours days or even weeks to complete. I have done it several times so now it only takes me a few evenings to get it done.

Sketching out a rough draft

Your guitar will most likely start out looking like mine just a scribbly mess, but if you take your time and work with it you can make it look right

Finalizing the design

Design Over design

Sometimes I like to trace out a slightly different design over or around the original design to see if I can get it to fit inside of a shorter or longer body size most of the time this does not work and it just makes the design looks strange

The control area

Once you're happy with the final design of your guitar it is time to start working on the control area. its size and shape will depend how many knobs and switches are going to be in it. some control areas are oval shaped others are shaped kind of like a daimond and some are shaped like a boomerang most of them are based off the idea that leaving as much wood in the guitar body as possible will help increase sustain, however some are routed large to make a tone chamber this idea is to give the guitar a more acoustic sound.

Well thought out placement

As you can see in the picture I went with an oval-shaped control route that is fairly large this is the control route that I use on a most of my guitar bodies so that way I only have to make one size control cavity cover that will work with almost any one of my guitar bodies. The control cavity placement is also well thought out it was placed in an area that would not interfere with a string through body bridge or if the body were to be routed for a tremolo.

Set neck or bolt on

I have also made provisions in my design for both a set neck with a comfort carve on the heel also a standard bolt on neck can be used I also mark out the spot for a control switch on the upper bout of the body. Marking its placement I only need to know what the radius is on this part of the body, it's 4 1/2 so I marked 2 1/4" in then 2 1/4" up and that was pretty much center and keeps everything looking symmetrical.

Project complete

Versatile design

I designed this guitar body with versatility in mind I only wanted to make one basic set of templates that I could use for several different hardware setups I can use a string through body bridge or tremolo and I won't have to move the control area out of the way. The control area is also large enough for controls for 3 pickups if necessary. This design can also be used with either a long tenion set neck or a standard aftermarket bolt on neck without any real modifications to the design. Next this will be cut out and traced onto a piece of plywood for easy duplication.


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