Turn it up to 11 With This License Plate Guitar Weekend Project

Music Technology
Turn it up to 11 With This License Plate Guitar Weekend Project


Spinal Tap references aside (thank you Matt for that reminder!) homemade guitars and their accoutrements have a long and proud history here at MAKE. In MAKE Volume 4 Ed Vogel introduced us to his ‘sweet-sounding, three-stringed mini guitar’ that used a cigar box as the instrument’s resonator. In MAKE Volume 9 Ed returned in collaboration with Blind Lightnin’ Pete and built a $5 Cracker Box Amp using a low-voltage LM386 op-amp. In Volume 15 electronics author Charles Platt would theorize a ‘Hypothetical Tremolo Wheel’ that would later become the Optical Tremolo Box; and most recently in Volume 21 MAKE’s Editor-in-Chief Mark Frauenfelder updated the Cigar Box Guitar to include some high-quality ‘string and stick’ options. Not to mention roasting pan, bundt pan, tuna can, and even game console guitars all reported on over the years.

Now our latest Weekend Project continues this time-honored tradition of building a guitar from scratch by turning a disused license plate into the resonator top of a guitar’s soundbox. We call it the License Plate Guitar and it looks and sounds great! We walk you through the woodworking steps needed to build a custom box fitted for your license plate, how to hand-wind a pickup, and solder and mount some basic electronics components. Whether you’re from the Empire State, Show Me State, Golden State, or anywhere that uses license plates for that matter, no two will look or sound the same!

YouTube player

And if you’re looking for some novel ways to string up your License Plate Guitar be sure to check out these DIY Tuning Peg options!

8 thoughts on “Turn it up to 11 With This License Plate Guitar Weekend Project

  1. Brian Saner says:

    Great job on the guitar build!!

    May I offer a few comments to help your readers?

    First it may be easier and stronger if you make your guitar a through body guitar. The CB Gitty (what a great store!) Necks are long enough to make it go all the way through, no need to cut the neck. All you have to do is center the neck on the top and bottom of the body and notch a hole on each end so the neck sits flush with the body of the guitar. Leave the end stick out about 1 inche so you have room for your string holes. You will also have to notch part of the neck to make room for the depth of your pickup, You can also glue and clamp a piece of your 1 x 3 hard wood underneath the neck (inside the body) to give the guitar extra strength and balance out the guitar so it isn’t neck heavy.

    I know folks make fretted neck in different scale lengths such as 24, 24.5, 25, 25.5 and so on. Just make sure you measure the correct length that goes along with your fretted neck. So a 24 inch scale would be 24 inches between the nut and bridge, 24,5 would be 24.5 inches and so on… Also to note the CB Gitty makes some cool bridges but the height has to match fretboard, usually I keep the strings around 1/8 of and inch off of the frets so the fretted notes sound proper, the higher the bridge the more the notes will sour and sound out of tune. A cheap fix is using a 1 1/2 inch machine bolt, using the screw and nut together give and even height and the tension of the strings keeps it in place so you can adjust the intonation depending on the gauge of the strings you are using. A good thickness of bolt is anywhere between a #8 to 1/4 inch.

    Also being your tail piece is wood the metal strings will start to cut the wood as you are playing and can make your guitar go out of tune. A simple cheap fix is using roll-pins or tension-pins. A 1/8 by 3/4 pin does the trick. Just use a 1/8 bit when drilling your holes and gently tap in the pins with a hammer.

    Awesome job on the pickup making! A tip I’ll pass along from Elmar is, if you alternate the poles in your pickup it will have less hum like a humbucker. Humbuckers are 2 pickups put together, wrapped in opposite directions to eliminate the hum. You can get a similar effect by alternating the poles North to South. So a 4 string pickup would be N S N S or S N S N. This blew my mind and it works.

    Again a really good job on this project! Making your own pickup put over the top in my book. I offer this just as advice to help, please don’t think I’m being harsh or critical just want to help folks make a guitar they will love. Trust me I know how hard it is to write something like this.


    -Keep on playing…
    Saner Cigar Box guitars

  2. Andrew Brannan says:

    You don’t even need to miter the corners on the box. It’s not taking a lot of load, and with the wood thickness, a butt joint would probably be sturdy enough. Just a though to save a few $ on a build for someone who doesn’t want to buy a miter box.

  3. Joe Clamato says:

    A guitar has 6 strings. That’s a ukelele

  4. klangular says:

    Love this project, and how you build everything up from scratch

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I'm an artist & maker. A lifelong biblioholic, and advocate for all-things geekathon. Home is Long Island City, Queens, which I consider the greatest place on Earth. 5-year former Resident of Flux Factory, co-organizer for World Maker Faire (NYC), and blogger all over the net. Howdy!

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