How to build a Stratocaster…
The first of my “family of three” group of guitars. This was an experiment in the differences in electrical components V construction materials. The stratocaster, telecaster and LesPaul were all built from the same length of timber, milled, dried and stored in the same conditions, with the same tools used to construct all three, same glues, varnishes, etc. The ONLY difference apart from aesthetic shapes, was the electrical components and wiring etc.
The following is a basic tutorial on how I went about building this strat, and also attempting to keep it as ‘vintage’ as possible, using reissue parts wherever possible (even down to cloth wiring, which has no other benefit, other than looking nice.
First step is getting the block with the guides marked onto it in texta, ready for routing out. Make sure you are careful to mark the guides out correctly, as an error at this stage can go undetected until well into the build, and is often non-correctable.
I also use the join line of the two pieces of timber as a centre guide to align everything up as I go. (On this particular guitar however, one piece of timber had some damage to one side, so the centre line was shifted to the edge of the pickup cavities. Although not ideal, this allowed me to have enough timber for the next two guitars and minimise wastage of a beautiful timber.
The outline of the guitar is marked out in greylead, ready to be cut out with a band saw. Obviously these routed holes will be covered by a scratchplate, so none will be visible, however there is no excuse for rough work. take pride in your work, and it will make you proud! 😀
Once you have cut the body shape out with a bandsaw or router, and routed the cavities for components, check all measurements and prepare the guitar for contouring the curves and other body shaping.
Here you can see the body was cut out with a band saw, but I have yet to clean up the edges, or shape the body contours.
NOTE: when excited, do NOT attempt any routing, as you can see quite clearly at the neck pocket by all of the putty. If you decide to build ANY guitar, take your time, and do not under any circumstances rush anything.
Check and DOUBLE CHECK the measurements!
Luckily all of the damage is fixable, and will hardly be visible.
This is the scratchplate that is impossible to get. In Australia, a
left-handed Chrome scratchplate is unheard of, so I had this imported from the USA. Unfortunately the person I had supplying me with this exceptional work has since closed shop.
Obviously I am going for the chrome look, I have a fascination with chrome hardware, as I think it looks fantastic alongside the timber tones. The three guitars all have chrome plating from the same supplier, and I was considering getting some more from the supplier for future guitars when I discovered he had closed up.
I can only imagine that this would be one of only a few left-handed chrome scratchplates in Australia. I have never seen another one in all my years!
I usually order parts from the moment I decide to build a guitar, as having them before you require them can help a lot with measurements and fittings. So, whilst I was shaping and contouring the body, which took me a few weeks of hard work, due to the choice of contouring using only hand tools in my shed, and no power tools, the neck arrived in the post.
This is a photo of the authorised Fender neck I had imported from the I States. Note it is Left-handed… the only way to play.
Although the logo is a trademark, I am doing this for myself only, and I am not making any money from it.
The back of the neck is shown to have a copy of Jimi Hendrix’s autograph, as once this is completed, it will be a close copy to a guitar purchased in his era of greatness.
After several weeks, much hard work and even a few minor injuries, here is the body after I have shaped it (curved the edges of the body, front and back) and completed the contours (the front lower corner, and the back curved section)
You may also notice why it is not a good idea to rush anything, especially the neck pocket assembly. Notice all of the putty used to refill a few holes I drilled without thinking it through. Remember, “measure twice, cut/drill once”
Now that this step is completed, the only thing left is a light sanding to rid the surface of any grease from my hands, dirt for the environment etc, and proceed to give it the first of many clear coats to make it shine.
Finally, after about 3 months of blood sweat and tears (and yes, I actually suffered all three of them) I give you the final product!
After I have finally varnished the whole body and neck using Wattyl 7008 Estapol floor varnish, I think it looks a WHOLE lot better! I have found that it changes tone, from very light to very dark depending on what angle the light is reflecting from. This guitar has had no less than 20 coats of varnish applied, with a light sanding between coats with 1600 grit wet paper, to minimise scratching and to address any imperfections that have popped up in each coat. This is important to the final outcome, as without it, you will find small dust particles trapped between the coats, making the final product look constantly dirty.
What will set this project apart from the others, is the chrome scratchplate I have had custom-made for it. It is impossible to get a left-handed chrome plate in Australia, or even America, unless it is custom-made. This axe will be unique. (except for the other two in its family, of course!)
In conclusion, I am very happy with this guitar. As this was my first to actually complete, I believe it turned out very well, especially considering that I have only found information from the internet, and had no formal training on how to build guitars.
I believe this is a fairly good guitar to attempt if you have little or no experience in building them, as parts are readily available, there is a lot of information out there for a ‘standard stratocaster’ type guitar, and apart from the contouring and shaping, it is generally an easy enough build.
Weight – 3.8kg
Timber – American Maple
Size – Standard Stratocaster size
Time taken to complete – 12-16 weeks
Shaping body by hand, Neck pocket, Varnishing (First time using 2Pack)