Building a custom hardtail Strat body
I wanted to feature something a little different to the usual content on the blog, so have decided to document my process of making a guitar body. I may follow on with more like this if it's of interest! Within this article I'll be making a hardtail Strat body for a project, there are of course some superb pre-made bodies available these days, including custom specs but when you've got a workshop full of tools they need to be put to use don't they?! But I'm sure as a result of working from scratch, the final product will be more meaningful too. I have a few spec ideas that will make this body a little unique, something that has been bouncing around my head for a while so will be nice to bring it to life.

So! The project starts off with a 2 piece body blank purchased from our friends at Guitar & Bass Build UK. Neil has some superb quality products on his site, from ready made body stock, custom orders, necks as well as some useful items to take on your own build too, like the body blanks I am making use of! These are particularly useful for those without access to a thickness planer as he offers them ready planed to the 'standard' Fender esq 44.45mm thick. You can choose 1, 2 or 3 piece blanks in a range of popular body/tone woods, so this was ideal for me. Although I have a pretty humble couple of routers (with some rather good Radian bits though which really help!), jigsaw, forstner bits etc, I don't have access to a thickness planer so having this done with my body blank from the get go is a great help. I intend to have a open grain paint finish for this, I wanted some really cool deep gain patterns, so 2 piece Swamp Ash seemed a good way to go. Weight of the 2 piece blank before any material was removed was a humble 8lbs 14oz / 4.042kg, so I think I'll be looking a really nice balanced weight once it's cut down to a Strat shape. 

I'm really happy with the blank I received from the G&B team, very accurately planed, a lovely join and some nice grain to it too. 



Another very useful item for those taking on a build at home, are G&B's router templates. These are absolutely superb, and rather importantly, very accurate templates, lovely to see everything line up perfectly and have useful markings too. Will be a pleasure to use these I'm sure! A great way to get this project off the ground.



So time to get stuck in. First up was marking out a centre line with a right angle and straight edge, and then I can begin marking up and aligning the body routing templates. Using the templates I marked the outline so I could trim the excess away with my humble jigsaw. I also use this opportunity to plan out my pickup routes (as I won't be using the standard 3 single coil configuration), and also mark out the bridge location. I am aiming to use the Descendant 'B.C.B' hardtail bridge, (string through) so personally found it useful with the help of the templates etc to mark out it's correct position. 



Another change to a traditional strat is that I'm opting to not incorporate the traditional Strat top jack plate. I want a really clean look to this project, so I am moving the jack to the side of the body instead, much like a Tele for example. So the top will just receive the pickup and control cavity routes. 




The eager eyed may recognise the pickup route shapes, I think I have settled on the idea of a Wide Range humbucker in the bridge (one of my favourite bridge humbucker pickup designs). Then for the neck, I'm torn between a few designs at this stage, both of which I've really fancied owning in a guitar but have yet to had the pleasure of doing so. Either the lovely Alnico Staple, like what was used on '54 Les Paul Customs for example, a Dynasonic DeArmond 2000 style pickup or a Charlie Christian. Each have stunning clarity and dynamic response, particularly to my tastes in the neck position so I thought it would be fun to try one of those out. Each are available in P90 soapbar size so figured whilst it's early on in the project and have plenty of time to decide which, the P90 route would allow for either down the line.



With the shape rouged out and planning wrapped up, it was time to reach for the tools. First up is removing the excess material, this can be done on a band saw if you have access to one, but I will be using a simple jigsaw. I ultimately want to reduce the strain on the router bit so do my best to remove as much material as I can at this stage following the marked outline of the body. If you do have limited tools for this, and only have a jigsaw much like myself, then I hope the photos/processes help with your project. Main tips I would give for outlining with a jigsaw is ensuring the tool is flat and level on the material, to ensure a nice vertical/even cut. And also, basic DIY jigsaws much like the one I'm using, don't have a huge amount of power. So I worked in sections, cutting lines in the blank periodically then as you work around the outline there isn't as much strain on the tool/blade, and you can have frequent breaks throughout the process. Common sense for many I'm sure, but worth mentioning. 





Even with basic tools, the process was trouble free and relatively quick too.
With the outer shape roughed out, I then moved onto the pickup and control cavities, so with a forstner bit removed the bulk of the material to reduce strain on the router bit.




With the excess removed, I secured the outline router template(s) to the blank to outline with the truly awesome Radian router bits. I don't have a table router, so I'm having to clamp up the blank and template to my workbench and work around the body in sections. A router table makes this process a lot quicker and easier too, but I'm thankfully still able to achieve the results with this stripped back approach armed with some care.





With the outer shape outline cleaned up with the router, I then moved onto the final clean up of the control cavities with of course the neck pocket. I find the neck pocket stage to be squeaky bum time lol but thankfully went as well as can do. Grateful for my quality Radian router bits I must say, those things fill you with so much more confidence when it comes to accurate work.






A few photos of the body without the templates for you, still a lot to do but certainly a rewarding stage to reach. It also gave me chance to test the neck pocket fit with my neck router template too, superb tight fit and alignment is spot on after a check with the straight edge. Happy with that so far!





The neck pocket edge will be cleaned up with the chisel and round-over bit soon, just to tidy up those very frail thin leading edges. I want those nice and stable! Now the shape, cavities and neck pocket are all initially done. It's time to clean up the pickup routes. I am doing a slightly revised P90 neck pickup route, with a Strat esq shape at the bottom just to give the wires a little more breathing room. Although the super tight P90 route looks great, I have seen too many occasions where wires passing through the cavities can be tight so hopefully this minimal extra space will help with that. 





Before I reach for the roundover bit, I decided to drill for the jack socket as marking a nice centre point on the body will be slightly easier with a good square edge on the body.  Instead of the standard top mounted Strat jack, I've oped instead to prep for a electro-socket style Tele jack cup. I really like these, cleaner look etc. So after a bit of marking out, it was time for the 22mm forstner bit and a steady hand for alignment. I then just needed to drill through to the main cavity for wire access. 




Then to drill the wire access hole from that jack recess into the main control cavity.




One thing I will do once I have the router out again, is to route a super minimal straight edge by where the electrosocket will be mounted too. That will allow it to sit flat against the body edge, as of course with it currently being on a curved edge of body it doesn't sit quite flat. You'll see some photos from this next time the router is out.

Now to drill for the string through holes, and for the neck bolt holes. I don't have a drill press, so drilling perfectly straight holes can be tricky. I opt to use the really handy drill guide by Big Gator Tools. These are great for these scenarios, and to be honest, unless you have a long reach drill press doing these string through holes can be tricky anyway. This jig/guide will help ensure my drilled holes are straight and on this occasion worked really well for me with some double and triple checking! 









I guess I was concentrating on the task at hand here and didn't grab many photos of this process I'm afraid. But to try to get the holes were as accurate as can be, here I use a combination of marking things out using the bridge itself, and clamping up some straight edges for the Big Gator drill jig to sit against and help keep things lined up the best I could. This was ultimately the trickiest bit of the project so far with these pretty basic hand tools for drilling. But after double and triple checking everything, I'm thankful to say the through body drill holes are square and true, not perfect though sadly. Would have been appreciative of a long reach drill press though I must say, would have taken away some of the stresses! I was planning on using individual string ferrules, but I placed a Grainger Guitar Parts ferrule block I had in the office on the body, and wow! That thing looked great, so I have decided to make use of that instead this time around. Was good practice to try and accurately drill by hand for individual ferrules though.



A quick loose bolt up of the Descendant B.C.B bridge plate to see how it looks. Love a hardtail strat body! 




It's then finally time to loose the templates and grab the roundover bit, this one being a 9.5mm corner radius. I do this front and back, leaving only the neck plate straight edges. 




I also take this opportunity to add that straight edge by the jack socket I mentioned earlier. I must say, at this point I got a really good idea of the final body weight of this build, not overly light (which would have me concerned for risk of neck dive) but not a heavy lump either; 2.245kg / 4 lbs 15.2Oz at this stage. This will drop a little when I do the belly etc carve so for anyone interested, I'll share those weights at the end too. 






Looking more like a guitar now eh! Now onto the belly contour. There's a few ways this can be done, I've opted to take a leaf out of Kanji Kawabata's book where he uses a hand saw to create accurate shape and depth notches across the contour area, then chisels the excess away to finally use the rasp and fine files to finish. Throughout the build I've been toying with what to do about an arm contour. I quite fancied the idea of the front of the guitar being as clean as possible visually, hence things like moving the jack to the body side for example. But living with the guitar body sat on a stand for a few days, it just didn't look 'right' so I opted to carve an arm contour too. I adopted the same methods as the belly contour but positioned it where my arm will sit rather than staying perfectly true to strat body positions. 














I think we're getting there now with the bulk of the body work! There was one more session with the router though, as mentioned a little earlier, I had a change of heart about the rear string ferrule holes. I wasn't 100% convinced by my alignment, the string through holes were okay front to back, certainly have some improvements to make via drilling jigs etc, but the ferrule holes were too far from perfect and I'd only be disappointed leaving that as is. So I am opting to use the brilliant Grainger Guitar Parts ferrule blocks. These are very nice chunky brass blocks, so along with their router templates allow for a nice flush fit into the body. Armed with their templates, an 18mm guide bushing and 10mm router bit, I got the rear routed out to accommodate for their ferrule block instead.




Much much better I'm sure you'll agree. As useful as my little drilling jig was, and I'm sure with an even keener eye on alignment it could be done more accurately by hand the next time. I just wasn't completely happy with this attempt and the ferrule block was a great way around resolving this, likely much better too (and looks lovely let's face it). Wouldn't be a build without some lessons learnt along the way though, especially with the more basic tools being used here. Sold on the Grainger block though so a happy result. So let's have some beauty shots then! These have been snapped before final sanding, and I want to neaten up the round over via sanding also, but I'm sure you don't want to read through steps of me sanding the thing, so let's wrap this up!








I'm sure I'll be doing some little refinement jobs on it to aid a better paint finish etc and of course lots of sanding. I'm leaning towards a nice open grain finish, always a personal fave of mine for electric guitars, so no grain fill apart from a couple of areas where there are grain imperfections I want to tidy up. But it has certainly been rewarding to see a guitar shape emerge out of a block of wood. 

I'm sending the body off to a friend in the trade for finishing, So I'll follow up with another blog post further down the line when the body is back from finishing. The final weight came to - 4lbs 9.8oz / 2.092kg for those interested!

If you're considering taking on a project like this yourself, then I do hope you've found the stages and processes somewhat interesting and useful here. Costs wise, even though the body blank from Neil at Guitar & Bass is an affordable start to things, ultimately costs will soon ramp up if you don't already have the tools to do this. If you have a pretty well equipped garage/workshop then all good, but if you need to invest in tools then that's where it'll start to get quite expensive. I'm quite lucky in that I have over the years built up a humble tools selection, some of which very much at the DIY level, others of nicer lifelong quality depending on how often I have a need for them really. For example I use a 1/2" router, a 1/4" router, a selection of 3 or 4 really nice quality router bits by Radian Tools and Trend Tools, rasps, files, router templates, guide bushings, Jigsaw, drilling jigs, drills, chisels etc. Even though that is about as basic as it gets, it's still amounts to a lot more than having a trusted company make a body for you. If you enjoy the process, then that is what matters most, but if costs are a consideration and you don't have access to the tools needed, then hit up someone such as Neil Haynes at Guitar & Bass build. He does fantastic work here in the UK, quality bodies beautifully well made to the spec you want them, or from his pre-made stock too. If you did find the info here useful, then perhaps you might consider kindly supporting this free resource for guitarists via 'Buy me a coffee'! Thank you so much!

Hope you enjoyed following the body shaping process! Thanks for reading,
James

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