So, my pal has soon completed building a milling machine (not sure if that's a correct translation from swedish, so for clarification, a machine that can take a 3D model and mill out (not print) the shape, from wood. And yes, it's totally awesome that he can build such a thing. He's a mechatronics student.) And the other day he proposed the brilliant idea that we use this machine to make an electric guitar.

He leaves the design up to me, as I'm the guitar player. I'm also the one who has a good hand with 3D programs, so I'll be making the model. I have a pretty good picture of the way I want it to look. But I have a few questions, which concern our somewhat unusual construction methods. I've read lots of tutorials online and watched videos on electric-guitarbuilding-how-to, and they mostly concern the classical way of building them, that is, with the help of an awful lot of woodworking tools and so on. We won't have to deal with that, and are pretty much only limited by our imagination for the design, the milling machine will be able to make most shapes and intricacies.

Would we, sound-wise, gain a lot by creating the whole guitar from a single wooden block? It has to be significantly better than the glue-on or bolt-on method because such a large block would be expensive and leave lots of left-over pieces.

How much would you recommend we do for hand? Take the string slots for the nut, as an example. Feels very unnecessary for me to model those on the computer instead of just sawing them down after the milling is done. This would be hard to answer without pretty extensive knowledge of both 3D modelling and electric guitar building. I suppose we'll have to use our common sense, but if anyone has any input here it would be great.

And just generally, if you've ever heard of someone attempting building an electric guitar this way or even have done so yourself, is there anything specific that needs to be taken into consideration in comparison to building them the normal way?
First of all you'll probably want a tonewood (i.e. A wood that guitars are usually made from : UG's tonewood guide)

Secondly, you'll obviously need to incorporate the routing cavities and space for the bridge (as well as getting the wires and pickups and knobs and other such things.)

Third, you'll need to do the neck traditionally if you want it to stay in tune, as you'll need a truss rod in the middle, as well as a substance other than wood for the nut.

Otherwise, cheers!

EDIT : Please provide pictures of the process!
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Last edited by Dream Floyd at Jul 9, 2012,
What party are you going to mill out? Just body+neck? Because i have never heard of a nut being made directly into the wood of the neck.

Also, as far as i know, a single block guitar would not really sound much better than say a normal set-neck guitar. And you need to glue the fretboard on anyway, unles you do a maple neck. But if you do a maple neck, then you would have a maple body, and that kinda sucks in my oppinon. You should probably just make a neck-trough guitar.
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I may be showing my maryland bias here, but the Paul Reed Smith youtube page has a pretty good walk-through of some of their basic building process as the regular line guitars (non-private stock) are made via a combination CNC milling and hand construction

PRS shop tour (You can probably skip the basic CNC explanations as you clearly know what you're talking about as a programmer)

I suppose you could do a big block for the whole thing, but i would think checking and warping would be a concern with such a large piece. Im no expert, but those would be my initial thoughts. Gorky Porky probably has the best thought as far as doing a two piece similar to a neck through.

+1 to seeing pictures of the process!
Last edited by BirdRiverCustom at Jul 9, 2012,
Haven't decided on the wood yet, leaning towards the mahogany as I want a warm tone, but I need to get a good view of the prices for the different types and what amount of wood we'll need before choosing (I know mahogany usually is expensive).

I was also wondering, about the fretboard and neck, is it just maple that would work for both as a single component? What about mahogany? It doesn't matter that much, since it'll be easy to make perfect fit pieces with the help of the milling machine. I'm considering making nice inlays of a different types of wood in the body, this machine will be perfect for such a intricate job.

Cavities and such will of course be included in the model so that the milling machine takes care of that part. I think we'll need to drill most of the holes that connect the cavities though, I have a hard time imagining my friends machine being capable to fix those.

We'll be making as much as possible directly in the miller, so yeah neck+body, but you're right about the nut, we'll manufacture that in some other way. We're thinking of making our own knobs aswell, we'll see about that. The parts that we for sure won't make ourselves are of course all the electronics, strap band knobs, tuners, truss rod and the bridge. The rest we'll make with the machine or by hand.

I'll try to document the process as much as possible and provide pictures

EDIT: Didn't know PRS used such methods, and I have no problem with the bias since I myself own a PRS tremonti SE which I really love, it will be the background inspiration for a large part of the design.
Last edited by Splitvision at Jul 9, 2012,
A single maple neck/fretboard is possible, but you need to add the truss rod. So you'd have to consider the Fender method, which is to route out the truss rod cavity in the back of the neck and then fill it with a strip of wood. '

Also, Mahogany is not used for fretboards because it's too porous and doesn't hold the frets well enough. You might be able to counter that though with epoxy, but that just seems like a pain to me.

Personally, I would make a maple neck-thru with mahogany wings. But if you want to go with 1 piece, then using mahogany and adding a maple or ebony fretboard might be best. You should also know that laminate necks are known to be more stable than a 1 piece neck. Not in all cases of course. Just something that you should consider because you are losing that option.
This project is still alive! Been doing some deeper research around the whole subject of guitar builiding and have gotten a much clearer picture of how to pull this off.

First off, we'll be making the body alone. Since this is my/our first guitar project, that seems like a good level to start at. For the neck I'll buy one of the pre-made necks with blank pegheads at stewmac, that still allows for some customizing of the peghead shape. Knobs and everything else I'll also be buying from there.

Secondly I have decided to go with mahogany for the body and maple for neck and fretboard, along with some maple inlays in the body. Maple might not be the first thing to come to mind when speaking of inlay material but the purpose of it is to make a coherent shape along with the neck. I'll be showing pics of the idea soon.

The body is already CADed and basically done, digitally speaking, and I think most dimensions are spot on. I've collected my data from the components I've chosen over at stewmac, which mostly were consistent. Not always though; for the wraparound bridge/tailpiece of my choice, for example, I found two different measures for the post spacing: 82,55 mm and 81,89 mm respectively. I'm aware of that the difference is less than 1 mm, but it feels like I should be maximizing the fact that I (soon will) have access to a CNC milling machine with all the precision that such a machine brings, and make absolutely sure that every measure is spot on. There is much to be gained in getting the machine to drill those particular holes compared to doing it by hand in that straight, perpendicular holes are guaranteed. Smaller holes where the exactness is of less importance such as those for the humbucker mounting rings I'll do by hand.

I have a few questions as well regarding the dimensions on some of the items on stewmacs site. First off, it says that the mounting pocket for the neck should be 15.88 mm. I can't quite wrap my head around this figure since I also see that the neck thickness varies from around 21 to 22 mm. I know the neck and fretboard comes up a bit from the body, but could such a shallow pocket be enough for the total height including the heel (for which I see no exact dimension?)

Secondly, it seems like the maximal distance between potentiometer pots/pickup switch and outer mounting screws is quite small? If I interpret the numbers right - roughly half a centimeter. Seems to me there might be risk of breaching that thin layer of wood? I won't be using top wood. But if that's the distance that always has been used I suppose there's no reason for worry... I saw they had a potentiometer with a longer threaded shaft, seemed safer to me but maybe isn't necessary.

As soon as I'm dead sure every measure is correct I'll post a screen of the CAD model of the body and maybe the Illustrator drawing I based the model on. Any pictures of an actual, physical guitar will probably have to wait though - my friend isn't quite finished with the machine and he's been busy with other things lately. Hopefully we can get going as soon as possible