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Body Construction, Part 1

These are the steps I took towards constructing the guitar body. I decided to first build a body prototype made of MDF for practice before making the real one in mahogany. I already got the wood for the body but the MDF pratice body costs four times less than the mahogany piece so I can screw it up no problem.

Guitar body template

The first thing I did was a template of the guitar body. This template allows me to make the body prototype and the final body equal. Its also a lot easier to work with as it is much thinner and thus cheaper. For the template I used a 15"x18" sheet of 3/8" MDF.

I took the body plan and copied it on the MDF sheet using carbon paper. A heavy weight was put on the plan to make sure that it staid put during the transfer.

This picture shows the MDF sheet, with the carbon paper layer and the plan on top.

Once done, I cut the template using a band-saw. A small blade was installed so as to make it easier to follow the cutaways. I went very slowly.

Once done, I carefully sanded the edges with a small belt sander. The cutaways were sanded using a 2" sanding drum. Again, this was done very very slowly and I used very little pressure on the belt and drum. It took me about two and a half hours to complete the task but the curves are very smooth. Since this is the master template, its time well spent. The prototype and final bodies will be copied from this template. Its also pretty fun to do, the curves are sensuous the the results gratifying. Maybe I'll make it?

Its the setup I used to sand most of the body contour. I always held the template with two hands, but now I had to hold the camera :-). I retracted the stopper behind the belt to avoid sharp edges. Since the belt was no longer rigidly held in place, it was allowed to easily follow the curves of the template.


Guitar body prototype

Since I'm not an experienced wood worker and this is my first real project I decided to create a prototype body made of MDF. A 1 1/2" piece of mahogany will probably be used for the finished product but is too expensive to be handled by un experienced hands. MDF is cheap where I live and so the body only prototype costs about 10 dollars.

The prototype is made of three sheets of 1/2" thick MDF. These sheets have been cut down to 15"x18" and laminated to create a 1 1/2" thick piece.

These are the three sheets of MDF stuck together with white glue. You can see the glue oozing from the sides. The sheets were held together by pressure using lots of weights.

Next I took the template, put it on top and screwed it tight in place. I placed the screws over the neck pocket and the output jack. The neck pocket will later be routed off and the output jack will be drilled, so no screw hole will show. I then used a pencil to trace the outline on the body.

This shows the template screwed on the future body. Note the two screws at the neck and the one on the jack output. Using two screws is unnecessary, one would have been enough.

I then used the band saw to cut the body shape. This took a lot of time because of the thickness of the MDF. The glue used while laminating also made it a bit more difficult and didn't help the saw blade. Well guess what, it snapped! I was almost finished and still had a cutaway left to saw and bang! I replaced the blade and finished with a less than ideal one. I screwed back the template over the body for later use.

This is the body being cut. I cut straight lines up to the body line at regular intervals to make it easier around the curves. It also removed some weight as I sawed and also gave me regular time outs :-)
This shows the template screwed on the cut 1 1/2" MDF. Its difficult to see, but the body is a bit less than 1/16" bigger than the template. This will later be sanded off flush with the template. It would have been unnecessarily dangerous (for the work) to saw it flush.

The edges were very rough and were not an exact replica of the template. I proceeded to sand the edges flush with the template using a guide wheel on the sanding table.

This step is ideally done with a router and a following bit. It would have been a lot faster done this way. The router I have only accepts 1/4" shank bits. I only found 2" following bits with 1/2" shank and couldn't afford another router so I did without. Nonetheless, using a sanding drum and a guide wheel does work. It is very long, slow work though and the glue used to laminate the MDF sheets ruined at least 1 drum and really didn't help. That's one part I think that will be easier with a 1 1/2" thick piece of real wood. Perhaps maple will be too hard to sand this way, I don't know.

Also, calibrating the wheel was difficult since it wasn't directly on the drum. If it were on the shaft it would need a bearing so as to not burn the template (otherwise the wheel would turn as fast as the sand drum and rub on the template). RoboSander(tm) is a sanding drum with wheel guide on a bearing, but this is a poor man's copy and works good enough.

Mistake I did while sanding

This is the body being sanded. The 3 laminated sheets of MDF are on top. The rigidly screwed template is at the bottom resting against the wheel under the sanding drum.
This is the result. The body is flush with the template. Trust me, it is.

Next, I must start the neck. The pickups I bought do not fit the plan and so I must reconsider their position. The neck will determine the bridge position and this will specify the pickup positions.