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Building an electric guitar from recycled material for less than $50 Part 1

Updated on May 19, 2015

My electric guitar made from 19th century barn wood

Although this guitar uses conventional hardware its body and neck are made from reclaimed wood taken from a 19th century barn.

Recycled material, cheap or FREE!

In this first installment of building an electric guitar from recycled material I am going to discuss what you can use to build an electric guitar and where you can find it for cheap or better yet FREE!

Build a guitar from recycled material vs buy a cheap import guitar

I know you’re thinking that it would be cheaper and easier to go out and buy an import electric guitar, and yes it might be but most of the factories that make inexpensive electric guitars use sweat shop and child labor and are in foreign countries that widely support terrorism, human trafficking and anti-Americanism, that’s five good reasons to build one yourself also using recycled material is a good way to help protect our planet every pound of “garbage” we reuse is one less pound of “garbage” that goes in to a land fill that poisons the environment and our drinking water. O.K I’m done with my rant so let’s get down to business.

what can I build my guitar from?

First let’s talk about what an electric guitar can be made from, wood is the most common thing but old pipe, Plexiglas and sheet metal are other things to consider based on what may be available to you and what type of tools you have access to. I have seen electric guitars made from surf boards, skateboard decks and old bicycle frames so just be creative and think outside the box.

Old Pallets

Hardwood was my choice for the guitar body

I am going to be using old broken hardwood pallets it took 3 of them to get enough wood to make an electric guitar body and neck, some farm and feed stores will sell their broken pallets for $2-3 a piece. I got mine for free! You can search craigslist, Freecycle and other Facebook and yahoo groups, just let them know what you are doing and many people are going to be interested and more than willing to help you out.

Recycled guitar pickups?

Electric guitar pickups can be made from recycled material as well, a quick search on the internet will show links to YouTube videos and tutorials on how to make guitar pickups from many different things, I am going to be using old “walwarts” and magnets from an old burned out hard drive for my pickups but you may consider buying one. You could also salvage most of the electronics for your electric guitar from an old stereo.

Wall wart pickups

Pickguards and other hardware

You may want to mount your pickup in a frame or “ring” or you may want to use a pick guard and they can be made from wood, sheet metal, soda cans, plastic bottles, soap/launder detergent bottles, old metal sighs, license plates, old metal gas cans, PC case covers just about anything you can think of could be used. Your other hardware can be made from nuts and bolts tuning machines can be made from eye bolt, thumb screws or even wooden dowel rods. your bridge and tailpiece can be made from a lot of different things as well you could use left over pieces of wood from the body and neck.Threaded rod could be bent to make a bridge with adjustable height or you could just plan every thing out (neck & bridge height) and use an old piece of pie or a large nut and bolt. about the only things that you may need to buy that are hard to make from recycled material are going to be your fret wire and strings but later we will discuss what could be used.

Hardware and electronics for the guitar

Be creative with you guitar

I don't plane to use any of this stuff but you get the point get creative and think out side the box. There is not any wrong way or wrong thing to use as long as it makes noise and you have fun making it and playing it.

Tools for building a guitar

You will need a few tools to build a guitar with. unless the body is already in the shape you want it AKA a live edge board, skate board deck or a piece of driftwood and unless the neck is a piece of old pipe a broom handle or a bass ball bat You need something to cut out the body and neck, this could be done with a coping saw but that would be time consuming. You can use a hand drill and drill out the shape and cut the rest it would be like connecting the dots the out use a sure form and a belt sander to clean up the rough edges. I have done it both ways and the first is much cleaner but the second way is much faster. A good jig saw or a band saw is going to be the best ways to get the job done. A jig saw is the best all-around way you can get one for cheap at a pawn shop and they are easy to use. You will also need something to “rout out” the pickup and control areas. A router is going to be the fastest way but you can do a good job with drill and hammer and chisel. A router is going to be your best all-around tool, with a little carful planning you could use it to cut out the body and neck and rout the pickup and control area and you would not even need to use a drill for holes for the wires, you would just mount the electronics on a pick guard. I will talk more about the tools needed to fret the neck in Part 2

Make a list, check it twice

It's a good idea to make a list of what you will need to make a guitar. I like to break it down in to 3 categories body and hardware, neck and hardware and electronics.

Category 1 the body

Body: Wood to make the body, A piece or pieces that will equal in size of 13 inches wide and 16 inches long and 1 3/4 inches thick.

Pick guard, control plat or cover: a thin piece of plastic, metal, wood or plywood to make one from.

bridge and/or tail piece: wood or metal to make it from

Neck plate: A flat piece of hard metal 1 1/2 inches wide X 2 inches long should work.

Strap buttons: screws and washers or eye hooks and karabiners.

Category 2 the neck

Neck: a piece of wood to make the neck from 24-30 inches long x 3-4 inches wide and if a separate fret board is to be used a piece of wood 18-20 long X 2 1/2-3 inches wide.

Fret markers: Plastic rod, permanent marker.

Truss rod: If one is going to be used. Adjustable rod, 3/16" or 1/4" threaded rod anchor and nut. None adjustable rod, 1/2" angle iron or box rod.

Nut: bolt, left over threaded rod, or a piece of metal or plastic that is the right size and thickness.

Frets: fret wire or nails.

Tuners: eye bolts or dowel rods.

Category 3 Electronics

Pickups: peizo crystal elements and a piece of stereo wire.

Controls: photometers to control volume and/or tone.

Nobs: Old dice or copper pipe cap.

The guitar neck made from pecan

The guitar body so far.

What I will discus later.

In part 2 I will discus tools you will need and how to make the guitar neck and in part 3 I will talk about guitar body design, bridge hardware and what pickup designs you could use. part 4 will be electronics and tuners on the guitar. part 5 will be applying a finish: what to use and get ready to make some noise: Assembly and setup.

What's next: part 2 the neck

In part 2 I will discuss how to design a guitar and I will show you how I made the neck and I will explain why it was the first part of the guitar I made.


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