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Building an electric guitar from recycled material for less than $50 Part 3

Updated on May 19, 2015

Hard maple top?

Body and hardware

What do you get when you cross a busted pallet, a burned up hard drive, an old home security system and some nuts and bolts, a super cool electric guitar? I know when you think of all that stuff you don’t think of an electric guitar but what do you think of when you see a piece of marble or granite, a hunk of rock? A sculptor sees a thing of beauty hidden inside and it just needs to be carved out. I want you to think in the same manner when you look at junk like old pipe or a piece of firewood, it could be used to construct an electric guitar, a piece of art that makes beautiful music. I have chosen wood to make the body of my recycled electric guitar because it’s what I had available and I also have the wood working tools to work with. I have chosen to model my guitar after the first ever electric guitar proto type, the L.F. Music corps snake head, of course mine is made from stuff I have found that was on its way to a dumpster that was going to be hauled off to a land fill somewhere. I also chose a "T" body shape because of its size, it's a little less then 13 inches wide and about 16 inches long, and that size body works out well for the size boards a broke down pallet yields.

The back of the body blank

Free Pallets = tone wood?

The electric guitar body is made from old busted hard wood pallets; it took 3 of them to get enough wood for the body and neck. The body is made from 7 pieces of wood. the center of the back of the body is made from white ash with red oak “wings” with a 3 piece hard maple cap .this combination of wood will produce good tone, not too bad for free!. At this point since I have already made the neck all I need to do is cut out and shape the body and rout the neck pocket so I can start laying out my hardware.

My bridge with the pickup mounted in it

Bridge and other hardware

Next is the bridge I had planned on using some pieces of wood for the bridge and tailpiece but that was when I was going to make a pickup that looked like a pickup, but now my pickup looks and works much different so I will change up my bridge as well. I disassembled an old burned out computer hard drive to get the rare earth magnets out for the pickups but now I don’t need them. The hard drive case looks like a tele ashtray bridge so I am going to cut it down and mount my “ghost” pickup in it and I am going to use a nut and long bolt I found for the bridge saddle. The control plate is made from the top of an old varnish can I had laying around, I cut the can up with a pair of tin snips and used a wire brush and a large file to clean it up. I am going to leave the lid on it and mount the output jack in it. I also found an old copper pipe cap that I am going to use as the volume nob. after laying out the guitar I found that the front part of the bridge and the soda can pickup booster sat up much to tall for the strings to pass over them, I had to cut the front part of the bridge off and find a new way to mount the pick up, so on to plan B.

Soda can + security alarm = guitar pickup

The “ghost” pickup

The first thing I did was try to make a pickup out of some old cell phone charges or “Wall warts” I could not get them to work real well, it was not able to pick up enough frequencies to make much sound, it may have had something to do with the size of the coils or maybe I did not have them wired right, I don’t know, so on to plan B. I found an old home security system and I know that the door alarm has piezo crystal elements in it, and I can use them to make a “ghost” pickup. Unlike a microphone that picks up sounds a piezo crystal senses vibrations so I will need something to amplify the vibration of the strings. A real “ghost” pickup system uses 6 piezo crystal elements and a sophisticated micro preamp, I only have one piezo crystal element and nothing sophisticated so I will have to improvise with something unsophisticated, arcane or even barbaric. I tried a few different things and found that the bottom of a soda can worked to enhance string vibration when the piezo crystal element is taped underneath. since I had to cut the front part of the bridge off I also had to find a new way to mount the pick up so on to plan C. I am also going to have to find a new way to passively amplify the sound of my peizo pickup, I found though trial and error that having the peizo crystal element mounted in a piece of aluminum or copper and pressed against the body of the guitar as firm as possible produced the most sound output, I found a YouTube video of a guy making a good sounding cigar box guitar pickup by hot gluing the peizo crystal element in a soda bottle cap, this helps reduce some (not all) of the unwanted feedback, it also gives it a slightly barker sound. I used this method and mounted the peizo pickup underneath the lid of a altoids tin.

Basic idea of my pickup

The nob parts

Parts layed out

The nob

I made the nob with a copper pipe cap, a bolt and a plastic tube. I pressed them together with my bench vice and it wooks very good.

Laying out the guitar

Now that I have all of my parts I can lay out the guitar, mark where the bridge will go, rout out the control cavity and drill the rest of the holes. There a million different ways I could have done things; I could have tried a larger size power supply for my pickups or used an altoids tin for the piezo sound booster. There a few different ways to make the bridge and tail piece, like I said I could have used a piece of wood for the bridge and used a piece of copper pipe for the stop tail piece, I could have used just the copper pipe as a rap around style bridge, just do a quick search on the internet for drawer pull hardware and you should get plenty of ideas for what could be used. I could have used something else for the control plate, a piece of wood or the lid from the altoids tin or not used one at all and rear routed the body. The control nobs can be made from a bunch of different stuff, you could use an old dice or cut down a wooden dowel rod, you could use an old stereo nob and glue a vintage bottle cap or an old coin for looks or you could use an old drawer pull (nob) All of this is greatly affected by what you choose to make your guitar from, if you used old metal pipe then a lot of what I did or suggested would be moot. If you are choosing wood for your guitar old palettes aren’t the only option, A house remodel or building demolition may yield hardwood cabinets that could be used, or maybe an old dresser, desk, table or even a church pew could yield enough hardwood to build a guitar. I have not made tuning machines yet, I had to change my plan on fine tuners that were built into the bridge, and I may have to use a set that I have already.

Whatever the cost, as long as its less then $50

The cost of my guitar so far is only $5, the wood for the neck and body was free the hard drive and other hardware were free as well, I got the home security system from a yard sale for $2 and I buy my fret wire in bulk and I used about $3 worth, but you may have to get yours off eBay for less than $6 and if you choose to buy a pickup system and tuning machines they can be found for around $10 each.


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