The short answer is yes. I get a lot of email from people that ask me if they can really build an acoustic guitar. I always tell them that the process is no different than any other. If you work on the build carefully, and take your time, you can build an acoustic guitar.
Like any new project, there will be hurtles. This is no different in guitar making. If you spend some time reading the following ideas, they will help you on the path to making a good guitar on the first round.
It can be a little intimidating making an instrument. If you have a little woodworking experience, it will be a help. If you do not, don’t worry.
We all have to learn some day, so why not learn while you build an acoustic guitar for the first time? It has been done before. If you approach the build with confidence, and take your time, you can be successful.
Do you want to build an acoustic guitar? Here are some helpful ideas to get you going in the right direction:
- Buy a few good books.
- Don’t worry about buying the most expensive wood.
- Make your own tools and jigs instead of buying them.
- Fully complete each step before going onto the next.
- Don’t focus on the really advanced philosophical stuff.
- Build as often as you can.
- Learn how to apply a good finish before you finish the guitar.
- See the reward every time you build.
Buy Some Good Books to Start
I am a self taught guitar maker, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are so many good books out there (see my Top 5 list) that you can easily find all the information you need.
The reason I recommend a few good books is because each one will teach a little differently. Building styles will vary, and you have a better chance of seeing something you like if you have several books.
Books are also easy to take into the shop. Most books that teach in a step-by-step approach have all the details you need to create a good sounding guitar. They list the measurements, and thicknesses that you need to create good sound.
Follow their direction, and a good instrument will result. Read several books, because each one will teach you something new. Over time and several builds, you will instinctively combine processes from several sources into your own particular building style.
Many books also come with full size plans. While not completely necessary, plans help you plot out the dimensions and profiles easier than words. If you are going to build a guitar from plans, make sure you are following the same directions from the accompanying book.
Following the book and plans together will ensure that you are making the right choices. Plans by themselves are for more experienced makers that understand the finer details of the process. Use your plans along with your book, and you will avoid a lot of pitfalls.
Build an acoustic guitar without breaking the bank. Expensive wood does not make a better sounding guitar.
If you are going to build an acoustic guitar, don’t worry about buying the most expensive wood. All wood is graded on appearance, not sound quality. A piece of wood that is used correctly on a guitar will sound good no matter the price.
I expand on this in my article on Saving Money on Tonewood, and reveal that even lower priced wood can make an excellent guitar.
In the beginning, it will also reduce your stress level if you work with less expensive wood. Bending the sides is already a stressful activity. Add in a $100 set of sides, and you will be sweating just thinking about it. Use less expensive wood, and if you break something and have to replace it, the penalty for failure will not be as high.
Build as Much as You Can in the Shop
My book teaches you how to make over 50 tools, templates, and jigs, and it will save you a ton of money. I still use all these same jigs, and they have lasted over a decade.
When I started, I had a band saw and a router. That was it. I also did not have the money to stock a shop full of tools to build an acoustic guitar. With that in mind, I made the vast majority of my tools, and only spent money when I absolutely had to. This actually made me a better woodworker, because any time you perform a different activity in woodworking, you get better.
I believe that working on a Side Project is a must for any woodworker. This expands your abilities by forcing you to try something new. If you are going to make an acoustic guitar as a side project, the skills you learn here will transfer to your other woodworking projects, and they too will become better.
Also, build as many of the parts in the shop as you can. It is tempting to buy a ready made fretboard, bridge, or neck, but you can save money and learn quite a bit more by making things yourself. If you are worried about making something, try it yourself at least once before buying it.
If you are terrified to make a neck, or you just want to dabble in guitar making before jumping into an acoustic guitar, look at my Easy Electric Bass, which is a simple build, and all you have to make is the body.
Finish One Step Before Moving to the Next
The quality of a guitar is more about the sum of a thousand little processes than one big thing. It is more important to do the very best you can across many little things than it is to get one big thing right.
Avoid all the philosophical stuff on guitar making. It will drive you nuts. There are arguments every day about what tone you are looking for in your plates, what wood gives you a tiny pinch more treble, and how moving a brace 1/8” to the left alters your tone. Don’t concern yourself with all of that. If you do, it will bog down your build, and make you worry too much. Guitar making is an enjoyable activity, and worrying about extremely minor details ruins the experience quickly.
The really advanced philosophical stuff should be left to the people that want to drive themselves crazy with it. All you want to do is make a guitar. My Secret to Guitar Making article explains this more, however the point is that there is no magic bullet to making a guitar, you just have to do each step as well as you possibly can.
If the sum of your steps is good, the guitar will be good. No bracing formula will save a terribly made guitar, and a perfectly made guitar will only improve minutely with a secret bracing formula. Don’t waste time worrying, just keep building.
Spend Time in the Shop and Keep Building
Build as often as you can. Don’t rush the process, but if you go into the shop once a month it will take a decade to make a guitar. In that time you will become frustrated. You will cut corners to get done, and the guitar will look like that’s what you did.
Even a 30 minute session carving braces or sawing blanks is a positive step towards your completed guitar. Work on the instrument as often as possible, and the process will move along smoothly. The momentum you build will be infectious, and it will keep you motivated the whole way through.
There are many stopping points in guitar making. This is mainly because glue takes time to dry. All of the joints are glued, so there are a lot of stoppages that happen. The positive side is that short sessions in the shop are actually very productive. Jointing and gluing the top or back plate will only take about an hour for a beginner. Unless you are going to stand there and watch it dry, you can call it a day if you need to.
If you still have time, work on another part of the guitar while waiting for the glue to dry. The down time when you make an acoustic guitar can be used to your advantage to take more breaks, or get more done. It’s entirely up to you. Some makers like hour long sessions with frequent breaks, and other like to switch from part to part without any down time. Once you start building, you will find your perfect rhythm.
Learn Finishing Early in the Process
Next, you really need to learn how to apply a good finish before you try and finish the guitar. It would be an absolute tragedy if you were to build an acoustic guitar and ruin it with a sticky mess of a finish that will not dry.
Don’t be that person. Spend a little time while the glue is drying, and apply finish to scraps until you get it right.
My 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing explains hand applied finishes. This will help you learn everything you need to know about finishing by hand, and you won’t need to buy spray equipment. I also cover Tru-Oil Finishing. When you build an acoustic guitar, a good finish like Tru-Oil is perfect. I finished the overwhelming majority of my guitars with Tru-oil, and they all look great.
See the Goal as You Build Your Guitar
Lastly, begin with the end in mind. Know what you are going to build, and execute that build with very little deviation. See the completed guitar in your mind, and understand that there will be no instrument in this world that sounds as sweet as the one you made yourself.
The very first time you play a guitar that you made, it will be a tremendous moment. The joy of making beautiful music on something you created is impossible to describe in words. Keep that feeling in mind as you build. Know you are in store for an amazing experience once you string up the guitar for the first time.
On my first guitar, I put the low E string in place and plucked it for about 5 minutes straight before I could get myself to put on the rest. Just hearing the sound coming from something I made was very powerful. I stood there like an idiot in my garage and plucked one string over and over again with a gigantic smile on my face. The neighbors had to think I was nuts.
That was the hook that has kept me building all these years.
You can build an acoustic guitar. It is not nearly as difficult as it looks. Follow my recommendations, and invest time in your build. Learn from others as much as possible, and buy some good books on guitar making. If you follow these recommendations, your first guitar will turn out better than My First Guitar, but you will love it either way.
Now that you are armed with all this information, buy a couple books and spend some time reading them. Familiarize yourself with the process, and start seeing what it will take to get your project off the ground. Even if you start with a soundboard and braces, it will be enough to get you going. A few trips to the shop and you will know if you have the bug or not.
Making a Guitar Bonus Tip
If I could sell patience instead of woodworking books, I would be a millionaire overnight. We are such a rushed society. Everyone wants results immediately, and they tune out right away if they can’t find what they are looking for.
By virtue of the fact that you have made it this far in reading my advice, you are probably not among those people. However, a few words on patience can help.
Don’t give yourself a timeline for finishing the guitar. If this is your first build, then you have absolutely no idea how long it is going to take. Even the second and third builds vary in the time involved, because your skills will be evolving.
One process that took a while the first time will be faster on another build. Then, the one that you thought you had mastered the last time just turns out to be a lucky roll, and you end up doing the same thing three times before you get it right. Don’t worry about time, it will be done when it’s done.
If you are getting frustrated, take a break. Frustration leads to bad decisions. Those decisions at best can result in a poorly made guitar, and at worse a trip to the hospital for an injury. It is not worth yourself or your work to continue while frustrated.
Step away for half an hour, eat a little something if you are hungry, or sit down for a while. This break period will clear your mind, and ease your frustrations. When you go back into the shop, you will see the guitar with fresh eyes, and the answer will be more obvious.
More than anything enjoy this process. You are doing something that very few people on this earth can do. Take pride in that fact, and enjoy the craft as you build your guitar.
If you have any questions about whether Can You Build an Acoustic Guitar, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
- 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
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