Step #1: Collect the body pieces.
For the body you'll need the license plate, the 12"x6" plywood, the 2 strips of hardwood, and the wood screws.
Step #2: Cut the box sides.
- Stand the 1×3 hardwood plank on edge in your miter box and clamp it in place. You'll make all cuts at 45° angles.
- Cut the long box sides so they're 12" on the outside, and cut the short sides to 6" on the outside. Be sure to cut opposite angles on either end of each piece.
- When fit together they should form a perfect box that's the same size as the license plate.
- Use the nibbler to open the hole up to the proper shape and size to fit the pickup.
- You can clean up the rough edges of the hole with a file if you wish, but since the pickup will cover them, this isn't completely necessary.
Step #7: Prepare the headstock.
- The headstock can be an opportunity to really customize the look of your guitar. We decided to keep ours simple to match the straight lines of our guitar body, so we just trimmed the headstock down, making it about 1/4" wider than the neck on each side.
- Next mark the spacing for your tuning machines on the headstock. You want a grid of 4 holes centered in the headstock as shown here, each hole 1/2" from the edges of the headstock and with 2" between each row.
- After marking your grid, drill the holes with a 1/4" drill bit.
- TIP: To prevent chip-outs, drill the holes from the top of the neck, and put a sacrificial backing board under the bottom of the neck.
- At the point just below the headstock where the fretboard flattens out, place your nut across the neck running perpendicular. Use a pencil to mark both edges of the nut.
- Between your marks, use your coping saw or other handsaw to cut a groove 1/8" deep into the neck. Do this multiple times to remove most of the material between the marks. Then use a knife to clean the remaining wood from the channel, and use sandpaper to smooth it.
- Once your channel is cut enough to fit the nut into place, trim your nut to the width of your neck and glue it into place in the channel.
Step #11: Prepare the string holder.
- From the remaining scrap of neck that you cut off earlier, cut a 3" section.
- Mark where you'll place the strings in this board by spacing the 4 holes evenly across the board. Ours were 1/4" apart.
- Drill the 4 holes with a 1/8" drill bit.
Step #12: Attach the string holder.
Measure and attach the string holder in exactly the same way that you attached the neck, on the opposite end of the body box. Don't forget to drill pilot holes to prevent the wood from splitting.
Step #14: Build a single-coil pickup.
An electric guitar uses an electromagnetic device known as a pickup to capture the vibration of the strings and convert it into a signal that's sent to the amplifier. (We based our pickup design on this great tutorial on Instructables.) It's basically a coil of wire and some magnets; vibration creates fluctuations in the magnetic field, which are picked up and converted to a small electrical current.
Step #19: Add the magnets.
Place one rare-earth magnet on top of each screw, at the end with the nut. These should stay in place on their own, but to ensure they don't come loose during any particularly rocking jam session in the future, you can attach them with a drop of super glue.
Step #21: Wire the volume pot.
- At the other end of the cable that you attached to the pickup, connect the red wire to the outer pin on the potentiometer as shown, and solder it into place.
- Cut another length of audio cable and strip both ends. Solder the red wire to the center pin of the potentiometer.
- Solder both white wires to the remaining outer pin of the potentiometer.
Step #23: Drill holes for the pot and jack.
Decide where you'd like to place your audio jack and volume control on the face of the license plate. Mark those locations and drill holes in the license plate, using a drill bit slightly larger than the component you're going to mount.
Step #25: Mount the pickup.
Angle the top of the pickup to push it up through the big hole you cut in the license plate. Arrange it so it's evenly placed and then glue it in place. Leave the glue to dry before continuing.
Step #26: Place the bridge.
Measure and mark the license plate 25" down from the nut. Place the bridge onto the license plate, making sure it's squarely aligned with the neck and fretboard, and glue it in place. Let the glue dry.
Step #28: Test it and close it up.
- Plug your License Plate Guitar into your amp, switch on the amp, and strum the strings. You should hear your new electric guitar!
- If it's working properly, it's time to close it up. (If not, unplug everything, check your connections, and try again.) Test-fit the plywood back on the guitar body and drill 4 pilot holes through the back into the body walls.
- Secure the back to the body with four 3/4" wood screws.
Step #29: Tuning and playing.
- There are numerous free apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac that will allow you to tune the guitar. Choose the scale you would like it tuned for and then tune each string to the proper pitch. Now plug your new guitar into your amp and rock on!
- A popular tuning for small guitars like this is called open G tuning. As Mark wrote in Volume 21, "Many of the original blues guitar players used open G, and it's a favorite with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones."
- For more tips and lessons on playing your License Plate Guitar, look for Keni Lee Burgess and Shane Speal at Cigar Box Nation or on YouTube.