Building a Travel Electric Guitar

I wanted a small portable electric guitar to play on my deck or throw in the car. I also wanted to see how small a guitar I could make that still had a full size finger board. I had enough parts lying around to try it. Here's what I did.

This page is in no way intended to be a step-by-step instruction manual on how to build a guitar.  It requires the use of dangerous power tools. You should only try it if you have a cheap old guitar handed down to you from your brother-in-law.

Here is Jim's old "black guitar," with bolt-on neck and plywood body:

I took off the neck.

I cut the head off since I wanted to shorten the guitar. The plan is to attach the tuning machines under the guitar body, as I have seen on commercial travel electric guitars.

I cut and bent a piece of scrap metal, probably from a computer power supply case:

I drilled, filed and mounted it on the end of the neck with two wood screws. The hole in the center gives access to the truss rod.

I selected a piece of heavy mahogany. It's not quite wide enough, so I cut two pieces off the top:

After planing and sanding the surfaces, I glued them to the sides where the guitar body will be wider:

I used my ukelele to trace the pattern:

I clamped the neck in place to make sure it was lined up correctly before I drew the final neck pattern:

I screwed the guitar body to the saw table and clamped wood blocks to limit the router movement. I tested the router pattern by first making a shallow cut into the wood:

After some fine adjustment, I made several sweeps with the router:

Done. The neck fits very snuggly. I will touch it up with the drum sander if necessary.

Here is the front of the guitar with tuner cavities dug out with forstner bit and router. The pickup cavity is also done. I also rough cut the shape of the guitar body with the band saw.

The bridge and string rest are sitting on the guitar so I can mark where to drill mounting and string holes.

Here is the back of the guitar with tuner pin cavities cut with a forstner bit.

I routed channels for the strings, used the drum sander attachment on the drill press to smooth the sides:

I cut lots of wood away on the front with a forstner bit to give room for the tuners.

I cut a channel for the pickup wire by drilling a long hole through the middle of the body (marked with pencil) using a long 1/4" drill bit. Then I drilled in from the jack hole to meet the center channel.

I orbital sanded the top and bottom, drum-sanded the sides, rounded off the edges and oiled the body with linseed oil.

Here is the assembled guitar with pickup and hardware attached. I bought the Tune-o-matic bridge, the tuning machines and the output jack from Stew-Mac. All other parts were made or taken off the old guitar:

Cute, compact, convenient as a travel guitar but the high E string breaks every time! This picture shows tuner detail underneath, and you can see the jack mounted on the side.

The string rest pulled away under the tension of the strings so I drilled 3/16" holes through the body and inserted a longer rod.

The tuners are hard to turn, not just because of their recessed location, but because the changing string direction at the bridge end increases tension on the strings. It is tolerable for the thicker strings, but the increased tension is probably causing the E string to break. The D string also broke as I tried to keep it in tune. I must decrease string tension.

I found an outdoor outlet box in my junk pile, with thick walls, made of some hard, light alloy:

I cut off the end with my hacksaw, then cut the end in half:

Here it is, polished, drilled and mounted with two wood screws:

To decrease the friction on the D and E strings, I cut bushings from some scrap hardware:

I mounted the bushings on the rod and restrung the guitar:

I had to cut channels in the top of the string rest. There are still a few little bugs.

The bushings work so well for the D and E strings that I thought I should add bushings for all the strings. My brother donated a piece of heavy brass tubing with small inner diameter. I cut a piece of it, put it in a vise and bored the inner diameter to 3/16" using a drill in the drill press. I cut 1/4" pieces with a tubing cutter cleaned them up with a file. Here are some on the 3/16" rod. Nice fit.

The action was a little high and the strings didn't sit firmly on the bridge because the tail piece was too high, so I routed the body at the end so I could lower the bridge and the tail piece:

You can also see the strap holder I made out of a piece of dowel.

New bushings in place:

Sounds good, action lower, strings sit firmly on the bridge. Ready to play (see my deck amp). Here is a picture comparing the travel guitar to my other homemade electric guitar:

Here is a view of the guitar by itself, hanging by the back door, where any travel guitar belongs:

August 2006