Friday, October 30, 2009

The Big Muff Guitar

In today's world of commercialism, capitalism, MTV and Apple, it's easy to forget that modern rock and roll was built on the accomplishments of people who were inventive, thrifty, creative, innovative, and POOR AS DIRT. Usually people who have the least are able to make the most out of what little they have. These are the people who come up with the best ideas. Les Paul, possibly the most influential man in rock and roll built his first guitar called "The Log," a 20 pound guitar made of a 4x4 piece of wood with incredible sustain. He showed his idea to the Gibson president and was laughed out the door. They later came back to Les and asked him if he would help in creating what would later be the famous guitar named after him. They made millions. In this article I'll show you how to build a guitar for practically nothing.

The Tools
A lot of people don't know that you can build a guitar with simple hand tools. Some tools you might find useful are:

an electric drill/driver
a hand saw
a soldering iron
a wire cutter
a wire stripper
sand paper
wood glue
wood clamps
a ruler
a pencil
a big pot of coffee

The Body
The body is simply a resonator, this can be a gourd, a coffee can, or an old hubcap. Cigar box guitars are popular to build right now and old cigar boxes can be picked up cheap on eBay. They are also likely to be hand built from fine woods like mahogany, cedar, spruce, rosewood and other beautiful sounding woods. For my guitar I'm using a 6"x8"x4.5" wooden box that came with my Big Muff guitar distortion pedal. It is made of laminated wood, not as ideal as a cigar box, but it will do the trick.

I drilled 4 holes in the top: two sound holes, a pickup hole, and a hole for the tone control. I also drilled a hole in the body for the instrument cable jack.

I drilled 4 holes in a little piece of wood and glued it to the back of the body. This is the tail piece where the strings will be anchored.


You may decide not to use electronics in your guitar. I chose to wire up some spare parts I had lying around. A pickup can be any old single coil you find on eBay from a Strat or a Tele, you can get one for like 10 bucks. A 250K pot will run you about $5 on eBay or a guitar electronics store. Don't forget the capacitor on the tone control. Wiring diagrams can be found at this link:

The body is done!

The Neck

Guitar necks are commonly made from mahogany or maple, I made mine from a 3/4" thick by 1.5" wide by 15" long scrap of redwood. A very soft wood. Glue a piece of wood to the end to make an "L" shape and reinforce with a little triangle. Glue and clamp overnight to make a strong bond.

The headstock is made from a piece of redwood slightly wider than the neck, with holes drilled for the tuners, and with a 23 to 45 degree angle sawed at one end. I drilled a small hole in the neck and the headstock where they join and inserted a dowel for strength.

The neck and headstock are glued (no clamping required, let it dry overnight) and a little piece of wood is notched for each string and glued to the end of the neck.

Some cigar box guitars are built with no frets at all and played with a slide. I wanted the option to play with fingers so I added frets. It doesn't matter how long your neck is, measure from the nut to the bridge of your guitar, this is your "scale length," or the vibrating portion of the string. Decide how many frets you want (I used 18) and follow the link to the fret calculator below:

Now mark with a pencil on the neck where each fret will go. I found the metric system more accurate in this instance.

Time for a small tangent in our article. A couple of years ago, my roommate's bicycle was mangled when it was sandwiched between a pickup truck and a V12 Mercedes-Benz. No one was hurt, but the bicycle was completely destroyed save for a single wheel. the bike was left injured in the front yard overnight and was promptly stolen! I hung on to this wheel for no reason in particular and now I'm going to cut up the spokes to use as frets on my guitar.

Use a saw to cut notches in the neck where the frets will go.

Cut the spokes with a heavy-duty wire cutter and glue them to the fretboard.

Come Together

I chose to bolt my neck to my body so that I can take the whole thing apart and replace pieces if I wish. You can also choose to run the neck through the entire body for superior tone!

Hmmm what to use for a bridge... a bent, rusty nail, perfect! Watch out for tetanus. Under the tail piece you see a little black wire that is connecting the strings to the back of the tone pot through a tiny hole in the body so that the guitar is grounded through you while you are playing it! Goodbye hum!

So now you are ready to start playing. Go find a few friends to jam with, start a band, become famous! Maybe even Gibson will offer you a contract to build guitars for them. Keep dreaming punk! Go have fun!!