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Melvyn Hiscock's Guitar FAQ

Is it easy to make a guitar?

It is not difficult, but you need to know how to use the tools before you start. If you are a complete novice in the workshop then it is possibly better that you start on something a little more basic.

Like most things, guitar making is a lot of common sense added to some acquired skill. The books will help you gain that skill and may also give a few pointers on the common sense.

I have seen good guitars made by people of both sexes as young as fifteen so it can be done.

Will I need a lot of specialized tools?

You will need basic woodworking tools but some power tools and some specialist tools may make the job easier. You can buy all sorts of tools for all sorts of guitar making jobs but many are not necessary if you only plan to make one or two guitars.

The job CAN be done with hand tools, but it can be made easier with powered tools.

Can I use CAD to design my guitar?

You can, but I would recommend good old fashioned drawing for a first guitar. You cannot see your design full size on a computer screen so draw it up on paper full size. Draw a plan and a side elevation to work out how all the bits look when together. You could then use CAD for detail work.

What woods should I use?

You can spend a lot of money on wood or you can spend relatively little. I have made guitars from reclaimed wood and also wood that is not normally thought of. I have had good results with Douglas Fir for electric bodies and necks. It is lightweight but very stiff and also cheap. It is a good wood for a first guitar. You can make guitars with a lot of exotic wood but it is increasingly difficult to get and very expensive. I often use a core of cheaper wood and a veneer facing. I have also found that Western Red Cedar makes good electric guitars. It is easily marked as it is soft, but it does work well and sounds great.

I am worried about fitting the truss rod.

You needn’t be. Truss rods are quite simple and this is all explained in both books. There are different styles of rod and some of these are very easy to fit.

Does the book contain plans?

No, it doesn’t for one very good reason. The book is about making YOUR guitar, not mine or anyone else’s. There is a whole chapter on design, even though I could have written a whole book about it, but there is enough in there for you to design your guitar.

I want to make a 12-string.

12-Strings are covered, as are electro-acoustics, resonator guitars and preformed kit guitars.

In my experience you are wrong when you say…..

This is something that I have heard from time to time and it is interesting. The word ‘experience’ creeps in. These books are written for people with little or no experience. After making a few guitars you may well find methods that differ from those in the book and if they work then that is great. I am not claiming that I know everything, but the books are written to get people started and to not worry about making small mistakes but to overcome them. 

I have heard a lot about ‘tap tuning’ guitar tops when making acoustics.

Tap tuning is one of those things that many people talk about and some even understand. The theory is that if you tap a guitar top you can tune the note it makes so that it is matched to the rest of the guitar. Of course, as soon as you glue that top onto a guitar, attach a bridge and string it, the natural resonance will change slightly. People with years of experience will have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, but the key is experience. In order to find a result you have to know what you are looking for and many people who are starting out simply don’t know. They can’t as they do not have that experience.

For a first guitar trying to be clever with tap tuning may be a waste of time and may make things worse rather than better. As my good friend Dave King says ‘If you make a guitar properly out of good materials it will sound good’ and there is a lot of sense in that statement. 

The book is not as technical as A. N. Other book.

No, you are correct! There are more technical books on the subject. If that is what floats your boat then fine but you do not need to be overly technical to make a first guitar. There is a lot of quite confusing information on the internet about making guitars and to be honest, some of that is confusing simply because it makes little sense. I have read all sorts of stuff and come to the conclusion on some that it is smoke and mirrors, someone being clever for the sake of it. As I mentioned about tap tuning, getting too involved in really technical things on a first guitar may just be confusing. There is plenty of time to develop technical ideas later on but to begin with, how about making a guitar that will work and that will sound good? You WILL be able to do this without the deep scary technical stuff as the key to real success is to be able to work accurately on the design you have made.

On solid guitars I have read that making a guitar from really dense material will help sustain.

This is an old chestnut and the thinking behind the Les Paul model but in practice it is not really the case. Les Paul apparently wanted the whole guitar to be made of maple to give good sustain but Gibson persuaded him to have a maple top on a mahogany body, or so one version of the story goes (there are others!)

In practice lighter, less dense, guitars also sound very good and have no problems in the sustain department. As I mentioned above, I have had very good results with softwood on solid guitar bodies and they certainly do not lack sustain.

I want my first electric build to have all the best features of all my favourite guitars. 

This is something many people have tried and few have achieved. You can make your guitar as complicated as you like but the more you try and cram in, the more compromises you will have to make to get it all to work and each one of those will take you away from your goal. It is far better to make something simple for first time  as you are more likely to be successful. One of my first guitars was influenced by the thinking behind Brian May’s Red Special. I had four (yes four!) pickups and lots of switches and it has a lot of possible combinations. The problem was most of these were not very useable. In retrospect I would have been better with a simple one or two pickup guitar that would have been easier to make. Four pickups needed a lot of wood to be removed from the body between the end of the neck and the bridge and this also made the guitar unstable. It did not last long….