When Jozef Karpiel returned home after a semester away at school, he found that the black polyester covering of his beloved Fender Stratocaster had cracked due to low temperatures in his parents’ garage. As dismayed as he was that the sentimental instrument was seemingly ruined, Karpiel saw an opportunity for a cool project.
A designer and fabricator by trade, Karpiel knew he wanted to strip off the outer polyester layer and work with the wood underneath. After taking off some of the polyester and components he hit a dead end, frozen with indecision before all of the possibilities. The project fell by the wayside. It wasn’t until after he graduated with a Masters in Architecture and began working with laser cutters that inspiration strick. “I could bring the guitar back to life with lasers!” he thought.
Karpiel started by fully stripping the polyester. He found that by first covering the polyester with tape, he could corral the pieces and avoid sending shrapnel to the far corners of his apartment. He separated the neck from the body and removed the pickguard, jack plate, and tremolo cavity cover.
Because he felt that he lacked the electrical know-how, Karpiel kept all the electronics inside the body. “Looking back,” he says, “I should have taken photos of how everything was positioned and connected, taken it all out, and then re-wired it back together using the photos. If I ran into any issues, I could have then consulted with someone that knew guitar wiring. This would have been a huge time saver.” Instead, Karpiel simply covered and protected the electronics during each stage of the project.
After sketching some preliminary ideas, Karpiel drew up the guitar in Rhino 3D and laid a sacred geometry pattern over it. “The pattern itself isn’t very complex,” he says, “but I used a command in Rhino (CageEdit) to stretch the pattern onto the guitar template I had drawn.”
Next, he sanded down the guitar, lined it up in a ULS laser cutter, and fired away.
Both the pickguard and guitar body were cut and etched fairly quick. I had created a “bleed” portion of the design on the guitar body that would go off the edges. I knew the bottom portion of the guitar would get etched out of focus and the design would fall off there but I made a decision that I would sand it down later and go for the weathered look. What I could have also done at this point was stopped the design at the line where the bottom slope happens, etched the pattern, then re-aligned the sloped part so it was flat, and etched the rest of the pattern on just that portion. The only thing that worried me about doing it that way was that there would be a small chance of the pattern not lining up perfectly.
The finishing touches included a Honey Maple stain applied with a rag and some gorgeous hand-carved purple heart knobs. Now, not only does Karpiel have a beautiful axe to play and show off, but he brought it back to life with lasers!
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the outer layer of the guitar as plastic. Mexican Stratocasters are finished with polyester, and updates have been made to reflect that.