This is 5 Great Practice Projects for New Guitar Makers. In this post you’ll learn five projects you can use as practice before making an acoustic guitar. Enjoy.
Practice Projects for Guitar Makers
It may seem a little weird to make a bunch of things that have to do with guitars before you actually make a guitar. However, these little practice projects can have a big impact on the success of your actual guitar when you decide to make it.
The problem with making an acoustic guitar is that there are so many different skills that go into the build. It’s very rare that it woodworker understands how to do all of them before they actually need to.
This skill gap can become a real problem when you add in being nervous about ruining your instrument by making a mistake. Instead of allowing yourself to run into these skill gaps, do a few practice projects first to get yourself ready for the real thing.
Once you master these skill building exercises for acoustic guitar making, you will have a much easier time when you confront this part of the task on the actual guitar. Here are five of them, and they will help you quite a bit.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Make a Practice Bridge
The first practice exercise for acoustic guitar making is building a bridge. This is a fun one, because it’s such a small piece of wood, and after the initial cutting is done, you can carry it around in your pocket with some sandpaper.
This means any time you have a little bit of freedom, you can pull out your bridge and start working on it. Actually, having that kind of flexibility is a lot of fun, because you can even play around with guitar making on your lunch break.
For such a tiny piece, there is actually quite a bit going on. The slot has to be made really well in order to hold the saddle, and the bridge pins all have to be drilled exactly the same distance away from each other.
After that, you have to cut and carve a shape, and then sand it so smooth that it shines. It’s much better to do one of these first before you have to make one on the guitar.
Bend Some Wood for Practice
Another big one that terrifies new acoustic guitar makers is having to bend a piece of wood for the first time. Even if you’ve bent wood before using something like a steamer box, bending a piece of wood on a hot pipe is a completely different animal.
It’s not impossible of course, and it’s actually not even that difficult once you practice. However, it’s only not super difficult once you’ve done it a bunch of times. Putting in those reps, and getting the practice is what makes the big difference.
The best way to start is with some inexpensive hardwood that is quarter sawn, and then milled into thin strips around a 10th of an inch thick. Also, it’s easier to start with strips that are only a couple inches wide instead of the full 5 inches or so for guitar sides.
The narrower strips will be more responsive, and they’ll help you overcome the initial rush to bend the strips a little too fast, resulting in cracks. Once you get good at bending 2 inch strips, switch to 3 inch, then 4 inch, and then finally full-size.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but you can knock out something like this in a couple of days and build up several guitars worth of skill right away. That’s a huge win in my book, and it will make you a better guitar maker right from the beginning.
If you think about it, you don’t really get a lot of chances to bend wood on your guitar. You do it twice, and then you have to build an entire new guitar in order to do it again. That’s not a lot of practice, so it’s worth it to do this as a pure practice exercise first.
See Also: Bending Acoustic Guitar Sides
Carve a Brace to Shape
This next practice exercise helps establish the carving skill that you need in order to shape your internal braces really well. Carving the braces is a fun part of acoustic guitar making, but it’s also a bit of a challenge if you’ve never worked with a chisel before.
The better you carve with your chisel, the less work you’ll have to do on the back end sanding out dents and dings. Essentially, if you work carefully with the chisel, you won’t have to do very much recovery work in the end.
The way you get good is by practicing. Pick a scrap of wood like a 2 x 4, and find something that’s about a foot to 18 inches long. Then, cut three long guitar braces and glue them to one face of the piece of wood. Put one in the middle and the others closer to the edges.
Refer to your plans, but a couple of good candidates are brace blanks for the upper face brace, lower face braces, or the x-brace. Again, you want to cut a blank, which will be a long rectangle to glue down to the 2 x 4.
Once these have fully dried, which will likely take several hours or overnight, clamp the 2 x 4 in a vise, or drive a couple of screws through it, locking it in place on your bench. Then, start practicing.
Your first round should just be getting used to using the chisel to remove wood. You should figure out right away how steep of an angle you can cut before you start to remove too much material. You’ll also figure out other little techniques for using the chisel as you work.
Create the brace profile shapes as you carve, and keep on going until you make the braces look really nice. After that, make yourself another practice block with braces of different sizes for you to try as well.
Once you go through a few of these blocks, and you’re confident that you can carve your braces really well, carving them on the guitar will be so much easier.
Put a Radius on a Long Board
Putting a radius on the fretboard is a little bit of a stressful activity. Not because it’s super difficult, but because it’s time consuming. When something doesn’t happen fast enough, it can cause stress because you start to wonder if it’s being done right.
Instead of worrying when you start making your guitar, just cut a board that’s the same size as a fretboard, and practice sanding a radius. Use whatever tools you plan on using on the final guitar, and keep working on that fretboard until it’s perfect.
This way, you’ll get an idea of how long it really takes to sand the radius, and what kind of steps you need to do to get it right. As you sand, take the time to stop and check for level often, so that you don’t get too far ahead of yourself and have to redo any areas.
Finish a Piece of Wood
Finally, it would be an absolute tragedy to ruin a perfectly good acoustic guitar build by applying a lousy finish in the end. Unfortunately, some guitar makers don’t even think about finishing until they have an instrument in their hands ready to go.
This is incredibly silly, and you owe it to yourself to practice finishing several times before you actually have to finish your acoustic guitar. Once you pick up the basics though, finishing is actually fairly straightforward.
I recommend that you pick up an easy to apply, hand finish that will make your instrument look nice and protect it from wear. These can be a simple hand applied oil, something like Tru-Oil, or a wiping varnish like arm-r-seal.
Both of these finishes are excellent, and they are super easy to apply for beginners. They also look professional, so even though you’ll have an easy time applying it, nobody else has to know.
See Also: How to Finish Wood with Tru-Oil
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know these five helpful practice assignments for acoustic guitar making to help you build your skills, it’s time to get out into the shop and take action. Hopefully, this has gotten you excited about making a guitar.
If you’ve been apprehensive about all of the skills you need in order to make an acoustic guitar, start with whichever of these skill building practice sessions you have tools for. If you have a chisel, then I recommend starting with the braces.
Once you knock out your first practice exercise, and you pick up the skill, you’ll be excited to learn a new skill. So, pick up another one of the practice exercises and knock it out too. Once you power through all of them, you should be in good shape to make an acoustic guitar.
- More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
- 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
- Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
- Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post. Join My Woodworking Facebook Group