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A Pair of 'Casters

Scratch Built Electric Guitars Project

I've not had a lot of time for woodworking for the last few years, at least until just recently, thanks to the economy...  Now that I do, I found that the thrill of it had gotten a bit tarnished.  It all seemed a bit mundane to me - nothing seemed like much fun - so the tools languished while I pondered what I could do to re-inspire myself. 

In the meantime, I turned to another hobby of mine, guitars (and playing them - I'm not that good, but it's something I enjoy).  For most of the last 20 years I've played an acoustic guitar - the guitar-world's version of a hand tool.  Even that seemed a bit stale to me, and it was obvious I needed to shake things up a bit.

Last summer, my wonderful wife gave me an anniversary present of a Gretsch 5120 ElectroMatic and a Vox VT30.  My old Fender (a 1996 50th Anniversary MIM Tex Mex - the forerunner of the Jimmie Vaughan signature guitar) also benefitted from replacing that old scratchy junk amp I had before, and I found that each one was now speaking to me like never before.  They've both been calling me for a while now - so, it's time to go electric, I reckon. 

I spent some time watching David Gilmour's "Live in Gdansk" and learning a few of his signature licks, and also watched some old Rolling Stones concert videos to enjoy a little Keith Richard's playing and an idea began to form itself into the back of my mind...  And you know what that leads to... Forgive me, St. Roy, for I'm a gonna be sinnin'...

Now, I'm not usually a power-tool kind of guy, but that's not saying I don't use them or have them.  In fact I used to use them for a living, they paid my way through college.  For the last several years however the majority of those tools has been mostly in simple stock preparation, relegating them to their respective shelves or as use as a table.  But this idea - should I go through with it - would force me to embrace my inner electron.

 The idea?  Combine both loves, and use my newly re-discovered interest in "Electric Ladyland" to re-fuel my passion in each.  Now, I've tried building guitars before - but life got in the way, and that project  - an acoustic guitar, of course - (still) lies unfinished.  But that's another story that's hopefully yet to come.

I picked up a slab of (gasp!) 1/2" MDF (AAACK!!!) to use for the templates these guitars would require.  For those not in the know, I despise these materials normally - but they are the best for a lot of template work because of their stability and workability.  In retrospect, I should have gotten 3/4" - not because the 1/2" isn't sturdy enough, it is... but the 3/4" works better with router (NOOO!!!!) bits.  Yes, I also despise routers, hence the muted scream....  They scare the pants off of me... as they should, as something spinning at 20,000 rpm in my hands should scare anyone within a mile of my location...

 I thought I could use my MIM Stratocaster as a template if I had to, but a little digging on Google yielded a great image of a Fender plan for a Stratocaster and an excellent source of information on the subject, the Tele Home Depot forum on (aka, where I also found some excellent plans for a Telecaster style guitar (hence - the pair of "casters").  The Stratocaster plan needed some work to make usable, but the Telecaster plan (by one of the members of the above mentioned forum) was pretty much right-on.  I also scored some great plans for the necks, which (in my opinion) is the most important part of the guitar) for each style.  So - I decided I would build one of each.

  One of the good things about being an architect with a fairly large firm is access to large format printers and CADD programs, so I made some checks and modifications to the plans to make them each more to my persnickety liking and printed out some full-scale plans.  I transferred the plans onto the aforementioned MDF (AAAAAH!)  (sorry, it's a reflex) with some spray-mount adhesive and a small squeegee and cut the MDF (ACK!) to just outside the outlines on the bandsaw,  then cleaned the edges using my Ridgid oscillating spindle sander (yes, I own a spindle sander!).

 For the interior parts of the template - the pickup, control cavity, and tremolo cavities, I drilled out the majority of the waste with a drill press and used the spindle sander to form the edges right to the line on the plan.  In the end, what I got is what is shown in the last photo, a pair of guitar templates to use in the construction of my chosen project(s).  I'll use these to create the bodies and the necks of the guitars, as well as additional templates required.

It's been a while since I've run a router this much, it's going to be interesting...

Wish me luck!






Hello Leif,

Nice work there man.
I too build teles, here is my youtube channel, check it out.
Question, do you roll the edges of your necks at all, since you apply a light cut of shellac you might get non-uniform tinting from the newly sanded edge?


Thanks, Bill!

That's a great set of videos you have developed there - looks like I'll be spending a bit of time watching them...

Rolling the edges:

I "ease" the edge of the fretboard during finish sanding with 220 or 320 sandpaper - before I put the frets in - until it feels comfortable to me.  I don't roll the edges any further than that, and the shellac goes on afterwards anyway.  Some people use a pen or plastic end of a screwdriver to ease the frets more - in this case, I've done that before fretting. at least to an extent satisfactory to me.  After the frets are in, it seems that would be too hard to keep it consistent.

Color consistency with shellac:

As for the color - the shellac is used a sanding sealer more than anything and is a very thin cut (like about a 1# cut or so).  It's not a finish so much - and while it does color the wood, it's not hard to keep it all the same color with sanding and a little more shellac as it is when you are building it up as several layers of finish (as in french polishing or that sort of thing) - at least, I've never had an issue with it.  Building layers of finish - then it's another story.

Thanks for commenting!