Shoe String Acoustic Guitar Build Almost Anyone Can Build


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May 24, 2015
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I talked about doing a low dollar build (tool and materials) thread for a while and a kid wanting to build a guitar pushed me into starting one. Wonder if you would be interested in it? It is for six strings but is about as wide as a baritone uke body but just a little longer by two inches. I feel the number of strings is not important but showing you do not need a lot of tools to build an instrument.
I'd say, post away, I'm sure there will be lots of similarities to a uke; & if it turns out as a cheap option, may encourage others to try their hand at building their own. :)
I would love to see such a build, especially the in-progress photos of a build-log.

I am a big fan of 'How It's Made'.

Please share if you can. Thanks!
Alright here goes nothin'.

This all started as a 14 year old young gentleman wanted to build himself an acoustic guitar but thought he would have to have hundreds of dollars in tools. And in a way he was right, that is unless you wanted to do it the hard way, my version of the hard way. Speaking of no money, let's make a guitar out of a fence board and a 2" x 4". No it will not turn out great or might not last too many seasons but the point was to get a person over the first guitar hump and they can build a good one with more confidence.

Had a 6" board, maybe use it for the top back and sides. Try using a handsaw to cut out the sections then resaw the board, split it down the middle.


That was doing it the hard way. The board sticking up out under the top pieces is the sides. I didn't notice the saw wondering away from center and ruined the one side. Enough of that, took the top to the table saw and cut all around, I have a small blade on it right now, then finished cutting it with a hand saw. Noticed the section that I was going to use for the back has developed a split slice cutting it around with the table saw


Wanted to know if you could clean up the wood with a small plane. The top one is unplaned the bottom planed. It works well enough but just flexing the wood I could tell the major weakness of the flat sawn section, the ellipse portion. So much for this wood. Learned it is not worth the trouble to use wood not suitable for instrument making. Not bad wood, just cut wrong.


But I am an inquisitive type. Is it really the flat sawn part really that floppier? I through the pieces through my drum sander and it seemed like the cathedral part just got planed off deeper and naturally was flimsier. I joined the two together, did not take a picture of the steps. I will have to do that with the back. In the picture I also have a 2" x 4" with the most common cut that is usable for us. I cut it in half and am going to glue the same side to itself to help counteract the movement of the wood in temperature and humidity changes. I grabbed the back and side wood from another board. It was not as good as the one I mucked up with the handsaw. I didn't want to bother going to Home Depot to get one piece of wood.

Made more shavings. The knots are a problem, try to avoid any wood with them if you can. I could take the wood down to the thickness I want with the plane but I used my drum sander as, well I am lazy. And I developed a blister. These aren't working hands you know.


So I decided to go with the spruce crappy board just to see if it can be done. Might do a poplar build or I have some maple for a little guitar. I think I will do a basic build on this one and maybe go a step further on the next one. A buddy wants me to build him a guitar that he can stick up on the wall, he just can't believe I can make these. He used to work in a furniture factory and he knows how stuff is built that way. The building the thing by hand stuff just blows him away.

Jointing the edges. Marvelous looking 2" x 4" isn't it? Next time I will check the focus. I used the 2" x 4" as a square to run the top and backs over. I have a short length of laminate shelving I clamp to as a flat surface. At first I ran the two over the sandpaper together, then I candle the edges. You hold them together and hopefully the joint is so good no light leaks through. Of course that was not the case. The ends had more sanded off which gave them a barrel shape. I touched up the middle sections separately until they matched well enough. A very tedious method. Normally I clamp them down and leave a gap between them with a little less room than would fit my router bit. I have my straight edge (carpenter square) clamped on the one and run the flat of my router against the square and run down the gap. A little bit of a setup time and done in a minute. The sandpaper method took me a half hour. What I do to be famous.


I am up to four clamps now. You stick a thin length of wood down the middle under the two edges and clamp down the 2" x 4"s. Then you pull the length of wood and press down on the joint. The edges are now under pressure. Too much and they just teepee up, not enough and they are not snug. After trying it a time or two you unclamp the one and run glue on the edge. Put it up against the side clamped down and rub the edges together to get glue all over them. Then clamp down again and pull the stick. If you messed up and you have too much tension just partly unclamp one clamp relaxing it and clamp again, do the same for the other end. I also put a strip of packaging tape down the center on the shelving board so the glue won't glue your wood to it. Wax paper will do the same thing for you.


Top and back joined, I decided to make a smaller guitar that fit the wood. Just moved my template in a little. Bending softwood is tricky, we will see how it goes tomorrow. The sides are 0.080" thick.

Picked up a 1" x 2" board for a couple of bucks. There are knots in it but the grain is quartered enough to work with and I should get enough brace material out of it.


Cut the offending bits out and what is left.


Started to split the wood along the grain lines. Rather than running the length of the piece the grain runs out the edge of the board. Probably why they call it runout.


Split the wood with a hammer and chisel. While the grain takes a curve further back I can get a usable piece out of this one. The grain line took a detour around a knot.

More examples of why this is not choice wood. A couple of pieces will work though.



I used a straight edge, file and block plane to square the piece up.


A lot of waste to get a stick of wood. I can not imagine doing this without a vice of some sort. Even one that you can clamp on the bench.


Drew a 15' radius on the piece. Remove the bulk with the plane and finish sand.

The back brace locations.


Gluing the bottom brace. Using the 2" x 4" and 1" x 2" to clamp the brace onto the back. I have some wedges in between the back and the 2" x 4" to press the back to the brace. I guess if the bottom brace were thinner and flexible you would not need to use the wedges.


If you only had two clamps you would have to wait 30 minutes for the glue to dry before doing the next one. Since I have more clamps...

Shaped both sides of the stick to 25' radius for the top. Since the pieces are not that high it was easier to radius both sizes and split down the middle. I used a razor saw to cut them. Flipped it around to do the other end and did the little bit in the middle cutting straight down


While you can do the braces one at a time without a radius dish it takes a while. Glued up five braces at a time using the gobar deck method of clamping. I have a piece of plywood mounted to the floor joists above my bench.


I wanted to double up the sound hole area. Cut a slice then use the plane, file, razor blade and then a little sandpaper. The small size and the two knots mad using the plane difficult.

Bending the sides. Bending softwoods can be difficult, one little trick is to give the wood a coating of fabric softener and let it sit for a while. I left it for about five hours then rinsed the boards and squeegeed them dry with my hand. I have a piece of pipe with a heater in it and I put a damp rag on it then work the wood over it rocking back and forth while bending. When the rag stops steaming I then move a damp area over the heater. A propane torch or an electric barbecue starter is sometimes used in a piece of muffler pipe for all those just jumping at the bit to make their own guitar. 'Hey, I can make a better one than this one!' Which is primarly the reason for this thread.


I do the waist bend first. The wood was cooperating with me today.


I then do the front then back bout. There is springback so I have to go over it a couple of times. I did both sides and will leave them overnight to dry. They were 0.080" thick and bent well probably because they were damp and maybe because of the fabric softener. When bending make sure you make a left side and a right side bend if you want the wood to end up with the same edge on the same side of the guitar (front or back).


A lot of work to get to this far. Now if you buy your wood ready cut it would be a few hours rather than a couple of days work.

The sides holding their shape the next morning. That was almost too easy. In the background the 2" x 4" being glued together with a ton of clamps. I am guessing I probably could have had it clamped on the side that was to be the neck and the area that is going to be cut out could have been 'clamped' together by using some long screws. I would drill some undersized holes for the screws and use a bit and a hand drill to snug them up. Then use the clamps on the other side to squeeze the side together. An alternative I was going to use was a scarf joint and built up heel but that is covered enough. Just wanted to show this as an alternative option. I find the Spruce not much softer than Spanish Cedar


I always found lining up the end blocks and clamping them difficult. Then I had the thought to cut a 2" x 2" the distance between them and clamp them together with a long clamp. This way you could have them square to each other and when you are ready to glue the blocks to the top you just add glue and clamp the blocks to the top. There are pieces of wood under the top helping distribute the clamping force. I have been building without a mold for a while, the sides will get glued to the end blocks then I will add the lining. I have also used the spacer as shown and then slipped the sides into place and when dry did the kerfed lining as usually done. I have not worked out how I want the sides to meet the top on this one, with a radius built in or built flat, this gives me the option of going either way.


I was worried about the wood springing back once off the mold, instead the but end was a little too tight a radius. A little spritz of water and rock it a little on the clothes iron (Danger alert! Do Not use a woman's iron, or if you do put a sheet of paper between it and the wood in case any resin gets on the iron.) and the curve is in the acceptable range.


Trimmed where I doubled the thickness of the top with an exacto blade so that the sides butts up against the top. Don't ask me about bracing, I am just winging it. The top is being glued on to a flat side. I did glue the braces on with a radius sanded in them. The guitar will work things out.

Linings are used to help the top and back remain glued onto the sides. Since the sides are not straight we need our linings to be flexible. Cutting them almost through gives us that flexibility. I use a hacksaw to cut the slots. Line up the last cut with the line and keep the blade up against the nailed down wooden guide. Normally I would do this on my bandsaw that has a metal cutting blade on it. It produces a wider kerf than a hacksaw. I found that I could not bend the lining as much as I wanted inward to the cut side. Because I glue the linings with the slits in toward the side I only had to expand the kerfs a little using a needle file. I only had to do this at the waist, the upper and lower bouts caused the kerfs to open up.


Not a lot of picture taking while the glue was open. I glued them in using CA glue, if you ever use CA have a can of acetone within reach. I ended up gluing the tube of glue to my finger and thumb. The tube cracked and leaked some glue on my fingers. Had to soak them with the acetone and gently pry them apart. Normally I would do this part with hide glue, I did not want to mix up a little bit just for this guitar.


I used a coping saw to cut out the excess top. This one could only be set up to cut downward and the blade could not be turned to cut sideways. It was cheap to buy but it would not have been much trouble for them to make it cut at 90 degrees. I ended having to cut out pie shaped wedges in places. I did have the body flipped over when I was doing it but I wanted to show the frayed wood along the edges. I focused at the back corner where it was more pronounced. You don't want to cut too close to the sides as the wood can splinter and you might end up with chunks missing. At this point I would use a trim router with a flush bearing bit to clean up the edges. The coping saw came with a few more blades, one of them was the right kerf width for cutting the fretboard. I used it until I got a real fret saw.

Need to cut the sound hole out and the simplest way to do it is use a Exacto blade and progressively cut deeper and deeper.


It is hard to see but I used the razor saw to cut a slot in the end of the board roughly in the shape of the blase. The blade is going to be clamped onto the board but as the blade is slippery it can slide out of place with the pressure that will be on it. I folded some tape over it to give the clamp a better surface to grab onto.


Here id the blade end sticking out and the clamp holding it in place. I cut a slot in the other end for the other end of the clamp. The drill bit stays in the board and acts as a pin to ride in the hole drilled in the top with the same bit. I did chamfer the edges of the board a little so there would be no sharp edges to mark up the top.


Kind of nervous at first because you never know...

First go round and it does not look too bad, It is a dull blade but the only one I have. It did not cut some of the grain lines cleanly because of that. Good enough for this cowboy.


And then it is just drop the blade down a little and go around slowly then repeat. I found that it was easier to have the blade sit on the slot it just cut, loosen the clamp, slide the board up a little, then clamp again. Always check to make sure your clamp is above the bottom of the board. I found it easiest to control the cutting by holding the tool in the center and spin it around.


As it cuts through just take it easy and you will be able to make it all the way around. A sigh of relief after that was over. Took about 20 spins around for those of you counting. For those brave enough you could have done a rosette the same way but stopping at a certain depth and then chiseling out the slot.

I bought a couple of classical rosewood bridges online from China, I can't even buy the wood for what I paid. I use one as a pattern if I want to build a bridge, for throw away builds like this I just plop one of these on. While you can build one with just hand tools I think the tricky part is getting the saddle slot right. I use a Dremel to router the slot, I guess you can cut it with a razor saw and then use needle files and lot of patience to finish it off. If you had a chisel the right width I could see doing it, I could make one but I think that would be out in left field for the type of person I am directing this thread to. That aside, A maple board from a hobby shop for the fretboard. When making the neck I prefer having the grain of the wood as shown. It just keeps the grain more perpendicular to the surface of the neck.


Truing up the top surface, well I thought I was. Afterwards I flipped it over and did the real top side. Wrote top on it afterwards. I did not have any short 2" x 4"s around so I used a block that I had cut and sanded at 90 degrees. Two sheets of 100 grit underneath and another upper body workout.


The end was rough from the saw so I cleaned it up with my file. Check with a square that you do not have it off at an angle.


Here we have the neck fretboard and bridge in place to see how things line up. We want the the straight edge coming off the fretboard and landing just on top of the bridge. I shimmed up the front of the body and the neck blank till everything lines up. Then I check the angle of the end of the neck blank to the body. I think I forgot to mention I had the neck block flat with a little bit of a radius at the sides. When I sanded and cleaned up the body I made sure the area where the neck with mate to was flat. This makes life easier when we join the neck to the body. If the end of the neck blank is not at the same angle as the body take the file, or sandpaper and block, and get the same angle.

I cut the angle for the top of the headstock and then filed it flat on the vice. I put the block in the vice so the top of the jaws match the lines I want to file to. Then it is just file away till the file is level with either jaw.


Rather than use the handsaw I tried a hacksaw, I marked a line to follow well outside the thickness I want and cut a slot on either end and then down with the saw blas running down the slots I originally cut.


Something did not seem right and I stopped and cut down and knocked off the chunk. Looks like when I did the outside slots I was not at a right angle and the saw blade followed it and bowed cutting a hollow in the wood. At this time I am thinking I hope there is enough thickness left for the headstock, I don't want to glue up another board if I did not have to.

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I cut the rest with the hand saw. Here I am cheating and using my drill press to cut a big hole at the heel end. I am sure you will forgive me, just saves doing a lit of filing with the round side of the file. I blame my weakness on the screw up with the hacksaw.


Cutting slots in the wood and then just knocking them out with a tap of hammer. I never went to the line as you do not have complete control how it will fracture and it is better to play it safe, easier to take away than to put back.


While the file does a good job if you have a fair bit to go using the round side can be faster. When you get close flip it over and square things up.

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All cleaned up and marked for the next step. The headstock has just a little divot left. I tend to allow for the odd mistake when I lay things out, it saved me today.


I have a jig which the saw rides up against the two dark plastic inserts. Works well and it is pretty fast doing a board. That is unless you cut the board to width and the edges diverge at an angle. At least I had the center line marked on the board and with the paper lined up I adjusted the position until the saw blade lined up over the fret line. A scale calculator which prints out the scale can be found at


I read that you can use a couple of grains of salt on the board and this stops the board from slipping around once it has glue on it. Works well.


I drew some lines on the neck blank and started trimming with the saw and a spoke shave. The file works well also but the spoke shave is fun. This is where you have to mind the grain direction taking down the wood. It will let you know if you are going the wrong direction.

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This is all done with the file.


I have to take down the heel a little and go over with some sandpaper. It comes to a point which helps me get the both sides the same but the point is going to come off. The headstock will take no time to finish up.

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