Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tele Style Guitars from Scratch -- The Double Bound Tiger Sycamore Version

I know that autumn has arrived when I pick up the guitar.  It starts with playing through my journeyman renditions of Beatles, Roy Orbison, and Van Morrison tunes, and ends with me trudging through several pages of various jazz guitar books.  "Now is the time to get that band together, start playing out.  If I really push, I'll be stage ready in less than a year, I'll only be XX, and who knows what will happen."  The fantasy generally ends when the daffodils come up in the spring.

But along the way, I always entertain thoughts of becoming something of a luthier -- and it seems that this road starts with solid body electric guitars.  A couple of years ago I made a Telecaster style guitar for my daughter from a Grizzly kit.  It turned out well, and somewhere along the line I made a few neck-building jigs.  But alas, something shiny caught my attention and I moved on to another obsession.

So now, at least for a while, I'm tilting at the luthier windmill once again.  First, let me say that everything I'll talk about, and much, much, more is available in detail on the excellent TDPRI site.  It includes a robust and active forum on all things Tele-building, and the members are quite eager to share their expertise.

My project starts with some walnut that I had gathering dust, and a short piece of figured sycamore that I picked up at my supplier.  I'm building two bodies simultaneously since the first may end up being sacrificed to the learning-curve gods.  After downloading the acknowledged best template (quite generously developed/drawn/posted by Terry Downs and used by nearly everyone) I set about building the templates that will allow me create the finished product, 

I first glue the paper printout to posterboard, cut this out, trace to and cut 1/4" plywood.  This is sanded and adjusted and finished until you are happy with the pattern.  From this you trace and roughly cut a 3/4" plywood version.  Finally, using a 1/2" bearing bit, use the 1/4" version to make your exact body replica that is 3/4" thick.  For me, this chunky template is the easiest from which to work.

You will also need a second template from which to rout the cavities for the pick-ups, controls, and neck mount.  You really must make this second template since it must be over-sized to accommodate the router to cut the neck pocket.  I also made a third template from which to cut and f-hole for a thinline version.

I start by drawing the outline onto my stock and cutting on the bandsaw.  I then attach the template to the stock, via screws that attach in areas that will later be routed out for neck and pick-up cavities, and rout to final shape.  BEWARE . . . even with the very big 1/2" template bit, you must follow proper downhill routing techniques around corners to avoid catastrophic tear-out.  There are spots where climb-cutting is appropriate, but hold on as this bit is a monster and can throw your piece across the room.  Once complete, I set this aside.

I then resaw, bookmatch, and glue up the sycamore caps.  These just fit in my drum sander and it makes short work of truing the 1/4" "veneers."  I did hit one detour, however.  A standard Telecaster is approx. 1.75" thick, and I only took into account one 1/4" cap in the thickness.  This meant that the body needed to go back into the planer to remove another 1/4".  By placing the body on a sled, and attaching blocks at the front and back to stop any snipe, I was able to run it back through the machine. I don't, however, recommend this "out of sequence" plan unless you are feeling lucky.

Once dry, the sycamore is rough cut and glued to the faces of the walnut body. 

Out of the clamps, it starts to look like a guitar.  I'm now at a fork in the road.  I could (1) rout the edges and install a cream colored binding, or I could (2) mask the lighter sycamore edges and finish creating a "faux" binding,  As my brain hurts from all this research and thinking, I'm going to sleep on it for a couple of days.

BTW, I'm also looking to begin studying, in earnest, the steps for building an acoustic guitar.  In order not to post too many things about guitars, I'll chronicle these projects in fits and starts -- mixed in with a couple of commissions I have on the boil.

Next up, routing cavities and building a thinline body.



  1. Excellent progress - I look forward to seeing the completed guitar!
    If you are a woodworker AND you play guitar the first thing people say is "Have you built your own guitar?" - after years of this I finally took the plunge. I'm now on my eighth build :)
    Best regards

  2. Thanks! - Although when I play, people generally ask if I've ever thought about taking up gardening!

  3. Your post had me daydreaming about actually making a guitar. A sign of a good post!

  4. Jeff, there are certain things like guitars, horses, and Porsche Speedsters that one dreams about, even if they are not particularly useful. I've had a few of the first, been nearly killed by the second, and have no prospects for owning the third. So harboring thoughts about eventually building a spiffy archtop seems almost sane!

  5. Nice, I started building guitars with a few Teles and am working on my first archtop. Slow going on carving the top, but it sure is fun. Did you make your own neck? I started with 2-piece Teles, but making the neck on my les paul jr was the most involved part of that build.

  6. Joecrafted- I'm starting with a purchased neck. I have most of the jigs set up to make necks -- I just need to bite the bullet on some fret files, etc to have a go. I'll be interested to hear how the archtop comes along

  7. Yes, getting all those tools can really cost more than you expect. A fret file, a crowning file, fret snips, sanding beams, etc. I purchased necks on my first couple of guitars.

    I haven't updated my blog but I am almost done with the top. Getting it to final thickness, then cutting the f-holes are all that is left. Then the fun (side-bending) really begins.


  8. I like and thanks for your sharing