Building a guitar body template is not that difficult, provided you have the tools and materials ready and also have detailed knowledge of the steps involved in the process. Keep reading to learn how to build a guitar body template from scratch.
Start with the Blueprint
Before you start building a guitar body template, make sure you have the guitar’s blueprint or full-scale drawings handy. Without a blueprint, you could end up making a template that just won’t work. Even worse would be not realizing the template is flawed and making a full-fledged guitar using that incorrect template as its base. Therefore, thoroughly check all the drawings and measurements to ensure everything is right.
Tools and Materials
To build a high-quality guitar body template, you would require some materials and a couple of handy tools. To make the actual template, you would need:
- 1/8″ thick hardboard
- 1/2″ or 3/4″ MDF (medium-density fiberboard)
For tools, you would need:
- Drum sander or oscillating spindle (OS) sander
- Coping saw or a jigsaw
- Bandsaw or a scroll
- Palm sander
- Router (with a table, preferably)
Once you’ve got the necessary tools and materials in place, start with replicating the guitar body template’s shape on the hardboard. You can easily get it done by cutting out the shape using the blueprints and then tracing it onto the board using your pencil. Center it on the lines already drawn using your ruler. As the hardboard would be a relatively dark piece of material, it could be difficult to see and follow the pencil drawings on it. Therefore, draw over the lines using the tipped marker so that the black lines can be easily seen.
Now, roughly cut the shape out using your choice of saw device. Try to keep the cuts in line with the markings as much as possible without cutting into it or overlapping it. Leave some minor gap between the cuts and the markings so that you could always remove material that you couldn’t cut during your first try. If you cut into the line, you would never be able to get or add the material back.
Sanding The Cuts
Once the cutting is done, you must now be left with the rough guitar body shape. Needless to say, there’s still some more work to do. The next step is perfecting the shape using sanders.
Begin the sanding process using the chucked drum sander or the OS sander for creating a perfectly flowing, continuous curve on the template’s concave sections. Generally, it’s recommended you keep the template progressing along the curve and not sanding it seated in a particular place since that could make things less interesting.
The only time sanding an area and not moving it would work great is when there’s a big lump that needs to be brought down to the curve’s level. This constant motion during sanding would help with perfecting the curve and ensuring it’s continuous and smooth. The ideal way to ascertain this is by holding up the template and using it to cover a light source or the sun, so the light coming in wraps around the body template and provides you a distinctively contrasted profile. This should let you see the condition in which the template’s edges are than just normally looking at them.
Remember, even the minutest imperfections on the 1/8″ template would look large and conspicuous when the guitar body’s thickness made using the template would compound it.
Once the template’s concave sections are done, you must now turn your attention toward the convex portions. For this, you would need the palm sander since its flat bottom surface would help sand off all the high spots. However, since the exterior is convex and the sections are flat, it will not further sand lower. In other words, you will have a very uniform looking output. Sand the convex parts until they flow seamlessly and you’re quite content with them.
Now, take the 1/8″ template hardboard and trace it onto the 3/4″ MDF piece with a centerline. Saw out the sketch again roughly. This time you could afford to be not very accurate. Then, with the help of some nails and double-sided tape, secure the 1/8″ board template onto the 3/4″ MDF rough cut.
The next step is using the router table and bearer guided bit to emulate the 1/8″ template’s exact shape onto the 3/4″ one. Kindly note, this could take multiple passes since 3/4″ is a good amount of material, despite MDF’s ability to cut like butter using the router.
If you are wondering what was the need to create a 1/8″ material template if it was going to be used for creating the 3/4″ one, then it’s because 1/8″ thick piece of material is easier to manually shape and using some simple tools. Also, as the material is quite thin, even if the edge is sanded at an angle, or you make some other error, the thicker router bearing would only follow the high parts. In other words, those mistakes or angled sides will be negated.
On the other hand, if the same errors were made on a manually done 3/4″ template, errors over its thickness would have a significant impact compared to the 1/8″ material.
Follow the aforementioned steps to create the headstock shape template. The final template will be for the fretboard and neck. The good thing is that the template built for the neck can also be used for the fretboard.
More info – where to learn how to build a guitar
To build the template, just ascertain the neck’s width at the nut region and other points further down the guitar’s neck – such as the 24th or 12th fret for convenience. Then grab a perfectly straight wood piece. Usually, the MDF’s edges are straight right at the time of purchase. Therefore, cut off a couple of strips. Use double-sided tape to tape this piece along the taper’s edge between the point you select further down the guitar’s neck and the nut.
Once the ideal taper for the fretboard and neck has been achieved, cut off the additional wood or the place where the nut would be. You may use this entire template for routing the whole neck with the guitar headstock template. Kindly note, the straight bearing bit/wood method could be used for multiple things such as for routing the ideal control cavity or even a neck pocket.
Once the templates are created, you’ll need to protect them using a thin coating of polyurethane spray. Spray along the template’s edges to harden and safeguard them. This would ensure the templates come good for long.