When most people think about guitars, they’re thinking about a Strat. It’s one of the most recognizable shapes in the industry, even several decades after its first introduction.
The Strat body is so popular that most guitar manufacturers offer a knockoff version of that design.
If you’re interested in trying a custom build at home, using a Strat-style body makes a lot of sense. One of the first things you’ll need to purchase for that project is a blank with the appropriate dimensions.
Body Blank Dimensions?
Body blank dimensions come in the size needed for the specific guitar model you want to replicate. A Strat body is 35.5 x 46 x 4.5 inches, as an example. Anyone wishing to create something custom at home would need to secure a larger piece than those measurements to ensure enough materials are there.
The Strat has gone through several variations over the years. To the untrained enthusiast, it might seem like only a handful of neck types and colors are available.
With the minor changes in dimensions, materials, and designs since the 1950s, you have almost infinite possibilities to consider for a custom build.
When you’re ready to start creating a guitar from scratch, you’ll want to follow nine specific steps.
- Choose your body blank timber and prepare it for an adhesive.
- Glue the wood to ensure it is large enough for the Strat shape.
- Cut the rough shape of the instrument out from the blank.
- Smooth the shape outline to give it the visual definition you want.
- Route the bridge, tremolo, pickups, and control cavities for the electronics.
- Round off the edges to a shape you prefer.
- Sculpt the different contours for the body shape to work with your arm.
- Take care of the neck pocket.
- Sand everything smooth and then apply the paint and finish.
Once you’ve completed those steps and the blank body is dry, you can add the electronics to the new instrument.
Keys to Consider for a Successful Custom Guitar
Although entire books have been written about the tonewoods to use for a Strat, the classic approach from Fender uses ash or alder. Some other choices that give you a reasonably good sound include mahogany, poplar, and maple.
You have the option to do something exotic or create a guitar from a pine body blank. It’s entirely up to you as to what you’d like to achieve with the eventual sound.
Before purchasing a blank, it’s crucial to look at how the wood was milled. Different cuts can deform in humid conditions or changing environments, which is why quarter-sawn products are typically the best. The mood is more stable, reducing the risks of arching or warping.
Fresh-cut timber is not a great choice to use for your build.
Most Strats are made from two pieces of wood. They’re glued at the center line, often created from a book-matched design that makes it look like the same piece of wood.
This approach creates a stable and robust body when compared to a true one-piece instrument.
Once you’ve taken those thoughts into consideration, you’ll want to ensure that the body blank meets the size expectations for the instrument you want to build.
It’s always better to have a little too much because your plans are forced to change once you remove too much.
How to Glue Your Guitar Together Successfully
Before gluing the two wood pieces together to create your guitar body, you’ll want to review these two specific points.
- The two pieces should be flat and of the same thickness.
- A straight 90-degree angle between the top and sides must be present to create a uniform surface.
By verifying those elements, it is easier to minimize slippage when combining the two pieces into one body.
Apply a generous amount of adhesive to both sides of the body. A thin layer is still enough, but it should cover everything and still have some squeeze out after getting it tightened.
Once everything is together, you’ll need to clamp the body to ensure it stays in the correct position while drying.
■ How Many Clamps Do I Need to Build My Guitar?
When clamping the two body pieces together, it helps to have two that hold the vertical aspect level and another two for the horizontal.
You’ll notice some motion when the main clamps start tightening. The best way to solve this problem is to pull them a little before adding another to correct the problem.
Keep switching between the vertical and horizontal ones to ensure even pressure gets applied throughout the build.
Most Strats need about four clamps to run down the length of the body to ensure there’s enough stability. Another gets put in the middle, while two more control the horizontal movement. That means you could end up with seven for a single instrument.
If you have excess glue leak out, just wipe things clean with a damp rag. You can also just leave everything there to scrape it off later.
The adhesive might drip on the floor, table, or clamps. It helps to use some parchment paper to protect and cover it. It comes off relatively easily once everything dries.
After removing the clamps when the adhesive sets, the surface needs to get smooth and even. A planer does this job relatively quickly, although most DIY builds end up using a sander.
Before using the sander, scrape off the residual glue to avoid damaging your equipment. At this stage, you’re ready to begin the cutting process.
■ Mark the Outline of Your Guitar on the Body Blank
You can use a template to cut your guitar body from the blank. If you feel creative, a freehand guitar could look amazing.
If your goal is to replicate a Strat, it helps to use pre-designed plans. Templates allow you to make a few mistakes while reducing the risk of inadvertently harming the wood. They also enable accuracy and consistency, which is difficult to replicate manually.
Pay attention to the midline unless there’s some feature in the wood that dictates something else. For most builds, it will be your glue line.
Draw the outline from there, ensuring that you have complete coverage for the Strat shape.
Cut the rough shape of the body, getting as close to the outline as possible. A band saw is the best tool for this step. Tight corners often need cross-cuts to complete unless you feel confident with a jigsaw.
After the rough cut, it is time to get the edge conformed to the exact shape and smoothness you need for the outline.
Keep the template attached to the body, run a router around the edge, and create a flush trim. By the time you’re finished, you’ll have the exact dimensions of a Strat in your hands.
It helps to be mindful of the routing direction to avoid having the wood inadvertently chip.
Start Smoothing Out the Shape of the Guitar
Once your shaping is finished, it’s time to sand and smooth everything to your preference. Depending on the wood type and routing quality, you might need a 60-grit sandpaper to begin to take off the edges. Once you have everything handled, a 220-grit product develops that smoothness you want.
Spindle sanders are excellent to use for the concave parts. A flat sander works well for everything else. If you decide to manually sand everything, use a cylinder or block to maintain a straight edge.
Once you’ve finished everything here, you can install the different cavities and installation spaces for your electronics. After cleaning it out, you can prime, paint, and seal to create a look you’ll love.
How to Find the Best Body Blanks
Most guitar parts stores sell body blank components for electric and acoustic guitars. The standard wood choices are alder, ash, mahogany, and poplar, although necks sometimes come in maple or korina. If you don’t have a local supplier, numerous online stores and listings provide access to these materials.
My favorite material for building guitars is American walnut. It’s considered an exotic, but the cost is comparable to the other choices.
When the blanks arrive, you receive two pieces of glued body blanks, eliminating one of the steps. It’s also kiln-dried and ready to use without pinholes, cracks, or defects. You get to start the shaping work right away.
Each piece of walnut is distinctive. Some offer colors in red or brown, while others can be nearly purple.
It is easy to work with, shapes and cuts well, and measures 21 x 14.25 inches. You’d want a couple of orders to build a Strat.
It can be lots of fun to build a guitar, but the process takes a few days to complete. Once you’ve started the work, you can understand why custom guitars cost several thousand dollars!