How building a guitar from scratch changed me
Here I was, one lazy afternoon, minding my own business. Somewhere between “plenty of summer left” and “holy fuck it’s almost september” and watching youtube videos it hit me. I’m gonna build a guitar from scratch.
Phase 1: preparations.
Deciding you’re gonna do something is the easy part. You read a few articles and watch some youtube videos. You make a list of things you’ll need. You make a vague plan and you proudly realize it can be done in about a day.
I went to a local Obi (think Home Depot), and bought stuff. I didn’t actually have a list. I knew the following: a guitar needs a tuning gears, a nut, strings, bridge and, well, wood. I found a perfect bridge, although I have no clue what it’s really used for. I bought a big ass screw for a nut. I bought a 2x4 without really checking what wood it was. I went to a guitar store for some strings and tuning gears. Got a cigar and an empty cigar box at a cigar point.
Phase 2: putting things together.
This is where you realize that you don’t have a clue. You also don’t have the tools. Or the skills to use the tools you don’t have. I took the box and had some general idea as to where something should be. No idea whatsoever how to put it there permanently. Screws? Glue?
Phase 3: seeking help.
A friend of mine (hi Blaž) works in a chop shop. I told him about my plans and he told me about his tools. This was perfect I thought. He does carbon aftermarket parts for motorcycles, surely he knows what’s up.
Phase 4: improvising.
None of us had ever built a guitar before. Blaž knew how to use the tools and I know what it was supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to work. After he introduced me to “jebica”, a tool that has a real name but not one we would know of, I started taking pieces of wood away from neck.
He helped out in a big way with the angular saw, because I’m not comfortable with finger cutting tools yet, thought of new ways to fix things, do things, and just generally saved me a whole bunch of time because he always knew a quicker and a better way.
I fucked up. A lot of times. But I also learned from my mistakes.
Here’s what I learned:
1: Measure twice, cut once.
Or as I like to call it, think twice before you act. You can’t take a punch back, or a word, or anything for that matter.
2: Power tools are fucking awesome.
Things aren’t hard to do. Building awesome stuff isn’t difficult. Not having tools is what makes it difficult. And some drills, saws and grinders are not expensive.
3: Use proper safety gear.
Realizing parts of you should be missing but aren’t because you wore some gloves or goggles is better than orgasm.
4: You can’t fuck it up so bad that you couldn’t fix it.
It might not be pretty, but it will still work.
5: Electronics is easy.
All it took for me to make it an electric guitar instead of a regular cigar box guitar was literally two pieces of wire, a 1/4 inch jack and a piezo. Total cost: 5 euros.
The Tao of building a Cigar Box Guitar:
Yes, I got spiritual. Or philosophical. Call it whatever you want it.
Here I am, building an awesome guitar with three strings for less than 30 bucks, and a couple of years ago I was masturbating on the internet, looking for the right wood combination with the right fingerboard for a 1000 euro bass. We sweat the small stuff waaay too much.
After about 10 years in making music, I can tell you this: cigar boxes sound better than fender american standard basses. I can’t even tell you which wood was used for the cigar box, yet I know all the specs for my bass by heart. Perhaps the mystyque makes it sound better. Maybe it’s maybelline.
Those new pickups aren’t worth it. That new phone won’t change shit. That fancy ring I bought didn’t change shit. Before you get something new, try building it. Yes, you can build a phone yourself. No it’s not that hard.
Google arduinophone. Yes, it may be my next project.
It feels incredibly good to be able to build something. I feel accomplished. I feel proud and humble at the same time. Yes, it’s completely dysfunctional to play on, but the sound is perfect. Sure I may only be able to play it with a slide (no frets on the neck, I just did the marks with a sharpie), and sure it’s way too long and it may be too heavy. But I can’t wait to build the next one.
Building this gave me some purpose, a sense of direction of life. It was a hands-on realization that you can’t figure out what you love to do behind a computer (unless you’re a programmer who loves his job).
It was probably the first time I ever worked with tools. It was the first time I got my hands actually dirty. I learned all about epoxy resins, fiber glass, carbon and kevlar. Oh, did I tell you the pickguard on it is made from kevlar? That’s right, try and buy a bulletproof guitar and tell me how much you spent on it.
It was an awesome opportunity to bond with people. I laughed and smoked and spent way too much time in that garage. It was an opportunity to go in reverse, to go back in time. To do something different. Playing it is a humbling experience. It has 3 strings, but boy do they sing. It’s weird to play because of square box, but boy is it fun.
You just can’t help but explore it a bit more. You know all about it, you built it, you were there every step of the way, from idea to the first chord. And then you start getting to know her.
It’s such a no-bullshit instrument. Nobody tried to hype it up. Nobody tried to sell it to me. No fancy talk, no “look at me”, none of that shit I’m used to.
A man (and his mentor), some tools and a guitar. In good or bad. Whatever may come. (Shit, am I getting to sentimental? It’s just wood ffs.)
Can’t wait to do the next one. This one with frets, better neck, better everything. And pictures and videos of the build. But until I get better on it and actually learn a few songs, listen to this (awesome) guy: