While I am waiting for the lacquer to dry on my 7-String LED Guitar, I figured I would start my next project, namely, building a guitar completely from scratch!  I’ve been doing a lot of research, over the past few months, on how best to do this and I believe I’m ready to begin.  The first thing I need to do is to make some templates out of cheap 1/4″ MDF (medium density fiberboard).  There are a few reasons to to this:

  • MDF is CHEAP!  You want to do as little experimenting on expensive wood as possible.  
  • From what I understand, building guitars is like eating potato chips; you can’t eat just one!
  • Once you have a good set of templates, a great design is easily repeatable.

Personally, I’m a HUGE fan of Craigslist.  Since I’m a beginner, hobbyist guitar builder, I couldn’t justify spending the cash for new / expensive shop tools.  In this case, patience, and a sharp eye on Craigslist paid dividends.  I purchased the above drill press for only $150.  This unit costs $400 new, easily!  One tool you don’t want to skimp on is the drill press.  If you purchase one of those small, tabletop drill presses from Home Depot or Lowes, you will have barely enough clearance (if you’re lucky) to drill holes closer to the middle of a telecaster body.  Forget it, if you plan on building larger body guitars. 
Since I don’t have a bandsaw (watching Craigslist for the “right” deal), I’m stuck cutting the MDF with a “jigsaw”.  I put “jigsaw” in quotes, because this is a shitty excuse for a jigsaw.  I picked this one up for only $15, and I quickly came to realize why that is.  Cutting just about ANYTHING, with a jigsaw, produces terrible vibration in the piece.  It is almost impossible to cut very close to the line, without fear of running over.  Also, while it may seem like the blade cuts straight up and down, it really doesn’t.  There is often slight “runout” in the blade, causing it to cut at a slight, non-ninety degree, angle.

I missed a few pictures, so bear with me.  I downloaded .PDF templates of a full size Telecaster body from here (my favorite forum, by far, and look for me under PACaster).  I sent those .PDFs to Staples to have them print several full-sized copies.  After cutting them out, and quickly comparing them to the size of the KAOSS Pad Guitar, I found they were almost a dead match.  Using some 3M spray glue, I laid the templates on the MDF in a way to minimize waste.  I would highly recommend using spray glue, for several one good reason – if you goop on too much glue from a bottle, you will never get even coverage, and your blueprint will begin to kink and blister up (affecting the accuracy of the lines).  Note – It may be worth mentioning that I am using Home Depot MDF, that is only about $11 for a 2′x4′ 1/4″ sheet. 

If I haven’t already mentioned it, using a “jigsaw” really blows. Pardon my language.  If I had a better jigsaw, this might have been easier.  In any event, I managed to get a rough cutout of my template body.
Here’s an even more rough cut of my neck templates.

Since I don’t have a bandsaw, and I don’t trust the “jigsaw”, I’m relying on my Forstner bits to cut out close to the line of my template.  I need to get it close, so I can refine the edges on my spindle / belt sander.

Note the rough edges, after using the Forstner drill press bit to cut close to the line.

I bought this new.  the Ridgid Oscillating Spindle / Belt Sander, known as the ROSS from here on out.  This was only $199 new, and since they NEVER pop up on Craigslist, I made the plunge.  The benefit here is that you can use it as a belt sander for the long edges, and quickly convert it to a spindle sander for the tight curves and details.

This is the template after a few passes on the ROSS.  Notice how the edges are becoming more refined!
I will end up using two kinds of routers, both of which are CL purchases.  This is the Ryobi table router I picked up for $40.

This bit, purchased new, cost almost as much as the table!  This is a bottom bearing, flush cut bit.  It is used to follow a pattern, and cut a duplicate of a template.

After shaping the first template by hand, I was able to quickly cut out and refine a second.  The reason I need two templates is because I need one for the complete body contour, with the lower heel.  The second template will be used to cut the neck pocket and control cavities.

Now I couldn’t hand cut the straight edges of my neck pocket, and trust they were straight, so I used some assistance.
By clamping this metal, right angle, ruler exactly on the lines, I am able to create a perfect template for a router template bit.  In this shot, you can see the ruler clamped to the body, and everything clamped to my workbench.

Here’s another angle of my clamps, holding all the guitar template materials to my workbench.

And here’s the business; my CL handheld router.  I picked this up for only $50, and it was never even used!  I popped the pattern bit, seen previously, into the router and cut the complete right side, and half of the heel end.

Here, I flipped the right angle ruler to the other side, so I could complete the routing.  You can see all sides are now flush.

Next up, cutting the control cavities and pickup routs.  Using the Forstner bit, I cut out as much material as possible.  The reason I’m doing this is because a router is REALLY scary business, if you’re a beginner, and you want to cut as little as possible with it.

But hey, since I’m real cool, and the MDF guitar body pattern templates have progressed smoothly so far, why take my time, right?  Well stupid me lined up the straight edge of my metal ruler perfectly to the line.  I started to cut the straight edge with my router, and realized very quickly I completely forgot (like an idiot) to line up the top edge of the ruler with the top edge of the switchplate cavity.  Take a look at that nice gouge, well beyond my blueprint line.  That’s a mistake I’ll have to correct somehow.  That’s a problem for another day…