There comes a time in every software engineer’s lifetime where they need to break out of their digital life and away from screens. I’ve already done this in some ways when listening to vinyl records or playing Magic the Gathering with friends in real life. However, one hobby has become so common for software engineers that it’s practically a meme: woodworking.
Growing up, I learned several handy skills from building things with my father. This includes helping to build and finish a lake cabin. In grad school, I built a few pieces of furniture for our small home, but they were very basic due to building things as quickly as possible without too much attention to detail.
I’ve wanted to get back into it and learn real skills and build the focus to do high-quality finishes. However, I’ve not found a project that captivated me enough to want to invest the time, money, and effort into the process.
Recently, I’ve been relearning the guitar and enjoy learning about what makes an electric guitar really work. This led me to discover several guitar YouTube channels, mostly about learning how to play better. This did have a side effect: YouTube then recommended some guitar maker channels. That led me down a rabbit hole so deep that I now “know” what it takes to build a guitar and want to try it myself.
I haven’t even started trying to build a guitar, but I have watched many videos to the point that I have a rough idea of how I want to get started and level up from there. Here is an inventory of my favorite channels and particularly helpful videos in case you are interested in getting started.
Guitar Making Channels
Here is a curated list of my favorite channels for learning about guitar making. These creators make it look easy, but also film and edit it in a way that is easy to get lost in their content for hours.
tchiks guitars makes beautiful guitars that show the natural features of wood grain. That is, unless they are making guitars from old Ikea furniture or other odd restrictions. My favorite videos have no narration, but demonstrate the creation in careful visual detail. They are relaxing to watch as well as educational.
To get started, I recommend watching their How to make your first guitar at home guide. They build a Telecaster style guitar while explaining all of the details step-by-step as well as the tools being used. It’s inspirational, for sure, even though I don’t think I will start my first guitar with such an ambitious project.
However, I want to highlight a different video, their Les Paul build has a lot of details that I aspire to eventually be able to replicate: carved top on top of the body base, laminated neck, woodworked pick guard, and many other careful details.
Crimson Custom Guitars is probably the biggest guitar making channel out there. They run their own school and supply shop dedicated to supporting hobbyists and professionals alike. Their videos include intricate, one-of-a-kind builds. But also, they include shorter videos about upgrading or repairing guitars they didn’t build.
They also run the Great Guitar Build Off, which is also a great way to find more guitar makers.
To highlight some of the craziest features Crimson Custom Guitars can make, I recommend the super cut of the Nebula 2.0 guitar. Most guitars can be described as “shaped like [famous guitar brand]” but this one is in its own category. Take a look at what can be done when every part of the guitar is rethought and created with precision. Also, that color finish is unbelievable.
Magic Attic Guitars creates works of art. Every guitar has incredible details, right down to the inlay logo in each headstock. Even with all of those high-end flourishes, this channel also includes tips and tricks for everyone to level up in very specific ways.
I’ve chosen to highlight Building guitar with wire inlay because it demonstrates the attention to small details and decorations.
Daisy Tempest is a more traditional luthier and builds beautiful acoustic guitars. Her videos are educational and talk about the tools of the trade in addition to the techniques required. While I’m not planning to build an acoustic guitar until I’m satisfied with electric guitars.
I want to highlight one of her technique videos, especially this one about she does high-end fretwork. In particular, I’ve learned that she always applies binding to the sides of her fretboard which requires fret tang nippers to cut the part of the fret that inserts into the fret board so it doesn’t cut into the binding. I’ve fallen in love with that look and want to build a fretboard that way myself (just not at first).
Noe Hervas is probably my most-recent discovery in this vein, but their work looks really impressive from what I’ve explored so far. This is another creator that focuses on high-quality wood and their skills bring out the natural strengths of the wood.
I want to highlight their “The Opal” full build as an example of showing all the steps but without words. It’s the kind of video I can watch with a small child in my lap to help them calm down.
Getting Started Plan
The first thing I need to learn is how to adjust the settings on my own guitars. I can change my strings just fine, but adjusting the string height (the action) or the bend of the neck are all new concepts to me. It would also be good to clean up the fretboard on one guitar I bought used, and the finishing techniques would be helpful to try there.
To whet my woodworking appetite, I could build some helper tools for when I get around to building a guitar, such as a neck rest or a stand to hold multiple guitars.
For my first full guitar, I plan to start with a kit, such as one from StewMac, which seems to be the place to go. The focus is to get to a complete project as soon as possible, as well as to have a straight-forward way to learn about wiring and finishing. This approach should be much cheaper than starting from a body blank because of the materials and tools. Fret boards and neck seem like the most complicated things and easiest to get wrong, so leaving that for a future project would be best.
The next step would be to create a custom body while using a prebuilt neck. This might be an optional one depending on if I want to make the leap to a full build based on the kit experience.
Guitar Making Bucket List
After building from a kit and having a complete project under my belt, I want to try going into more advanced concepts, such as hand-carving the neck and fretboard. I’d like to consider laminating the guitar body for interesting patterns along the edges, or creating a laminated neck for lines up the neck and headstock. I’d like to create custom fretboard inlays for the fret markers. Some guitar bodies require binding; the simple start is to use a plastic binding, but more advanced would be to bend a wood binding around the guitar. I’ve also mentioned that I like the look of binding on a fretboard.
There are a variety of guitar styles that I think I’d like to try, and from the videos I’ve seen have some variation in difficulty level. There are some skills that are absolutely necessary for some (carved top for Les Pauls) while not as much for others (Telecasters are pretty flat).
Here’s my mostly-ordered list of body styles that I’d like to try out:
- Telecaster Style
- Stratocaster or Super-strat style
- Flying V Style
- Explorer Style
- Les Paul Style with curved top
- ES-335 Style with semi-hollow body (bonus for neck-through design)
In some hypothetical future where I’ve built several electric guitars and am happy with the results, I’ll do another deep dive into acoustic guitar making and try that on for size. The few acoustic guitar video builds I’ve seen show a dramatically different set of techniques that require even more patience and attention to detail.