Hand Tools Archive

Telecaster Style Guitar - Maybe 80% by hand?

david weaver
My second guitar. It's difficult to make a contemporary instrument look contemporary without using any power tools I've routed the cavities in this guitar, the roundover on the back and the binding channel, as well as cleaning up the curves initially with an OSS. One would normally rout the outside of the body, but with spruce, it's a risk, so most of the bulk work was done by hand with a spokeshave, rasps or scrapers, then OSS right to the line, then back to hand finishing to remove any unevenness.

Everything else (the entire neck, fingerboard, etc, sizing the lumber, all cuts) is entirely by hand.

I did attempt two guitar bodies without power tools, and they end up looking too rustic (not in proportion or curves, but the lack of refinement at the binding channel, especially. An archtop guitar would be far more doable without power tools - especially if you didn't bind the body (think violin) but installed stringing away from the sides.

Sitka spruce body, cherry neck, birdseye maple fingerboard. Waiting for the finishing bits (on the fence for the top coat - shellac or varnish that I cooked from pine and damar resin. The latter is more permanent, but it needs sunlight to cure quickly - three weeks for each coat without it vs. one good day in the sun ). The rest to go on/in the guitar at this point after finish is just hardware.

My routing template for the cavity doesn't ever seem to line up with the pickguard (the round control plate needs to fit neatly in the cutout on the pickguard), thus the two gouge cuts to make room for pots under a control plate. All of that is covered in the finished guitar, so it's meaningless. I usually cut that cavity last to try to line it up, but it's never quite right - the template is further off than that.


I briefly joined a guitar forum late last year to start making guitars, but didn't find people doing much by hand. Some of the attempts to build jigging to do precise work without hand tools were mind numbing, and the attempt to use sandpaper and power tools to do finish work led to some ugly surfaces and nasty proportions.

Planemaking tools come in really handy cleaning up the curves and fitting the neck pocket (which would be tedious to get perfect with a router - the details to do all of that right are not what I'm looking to do when I go in the shop). Much faster and easier to cut a rough pocket short of final size and then finish by hand and fit the neck to it.

© 1998 - 2017 by Ellis Walentine. All rights reserved.
No parts of this web site may be reproduced in any form or by
any means without the written permission of the publisher.