Blonde Strat Build Walkthrough

Recently I had the opportunity to build a unique Strat type for Paul Sapata. As I began, I documented the complete process, step by tedious step, and posted on the Telecaster Forum. You may see the entire post, complete with comments made by other forum members here. And here is another.

The majority of the body of the complete post is shown here, with many of the typos (blush) corrected, and idle chatter edited out. 

This will illustrate the care and attention I show each and every guitar I make. I hope you enjoy the ride.

NOTE: This is a, long, detailed and highly graphic intense tutorial. There are almost 450 photos.

I hope you're not on a dial up connection...


Sitka Spruce is the lumber used for the sound board on Martin’s finest, as well as Gibson and about anyone else making high quality Acoustic Guitars, It is also used exclusively by Steinway & Sons for the sound boards in their finest Pianos, yep even the Concert Grand “D”. Everyone else making a serious piano uses it too. Further it is found in quality Violins, Harps, and just about any musical instrument where resonant acoustic qualities are paramount to the overall quality of the voice of the instrument. I can’t wait to hear this baby.

First we cut the lumber to the appropriate length, and check the growth rings…


Note that I have marked the angle of the rings where the two pieces will be joined. I want to joint the lumber at the same angle. This dramatically reduces the appearance of the joint as seen in the end grain.

I adjust the guide on the jointer to approximately the same angle as the growth rings in the Spruce, then joint both pieces…


I’m going to interject the Finished blank so you can see, or not see as the case may be, the joint.


Now, let’s back up a few hours, to the glue-up.

A good coat of glue and good clamping technique is the simple way to a quality blank, and/or joint.


Since the edges are jointed at an angle, I cannot simply clamp them as per normal because the wet glue acts as a great lubricant and the pieces will slip apart, so additional support is required to keep everything planar until the glue dries… here’s a few shots, that says it all…


Regarding glue.... recently one of the wood working magazines did a test of the various glues available to wood workers today.... the winner, hands down, was good 'ol yellow wood worker's glue, beating Gorilla Glue (polyurethane), Epoxy, CA, Formaldehyde resin, you name it, on all counts, the yeller stuff won. With the one exception of very resinous lumber like Cocobolo, for those the Poly based glues were best.

now. . . to let ‘em dry.

So I gotta few minutes between assembling one and all the other stuff that needed doin.

So I have this nice 2 inch thick piece of spruce, with a Strat body lurking somewhere inside. I guess I better get to removing what doesn’t look like a Strat.

This is pretty elementary My Dear Watson…. Oh, wait, that was something else.

While still basic, I shot this step too…. Take your trusty template and draw the outline.


Then I waddled over to the band saw and band sawed it….


and this is what happens…


Time to mount the Template, I use screws, I don’t trust double stick tape to be secure against the pressure that can be applied.


Adjust the Router bit, in this case in a router table, so that the bearing is making secure contact with the template and makes a clean cut.


Routing around the periphery of the body is pretty straight forward, just proceed slowly at the apex of the 4 large convex curves tear-out is a real possibility if you go too fast.


Now, once we have completed one pass all the way around, we direct attention to the Tremolo cutout. I do this in several passes, the first cut removes about ½ of the ¾ inch depth. I use a quickie block on the router to set the bit..


This will remove approx 3/8 inch deep section of the cutout….


I now set the router depth using a second ¾ inch thick block, this will cut the tremolo cutout to the finish depth of ¾.. Oh, this is not critical, and for those detail oriented builders… here’s a tip how to achieve a true vintage appearance, make these routs as sloppy as possible. 


Now I take the final cut….


To rout the deep section the tremolo block will reside in, I have a block I made to fit into the spring cavity.


Now, using the previously routed edged within the body as a guide, I set the router to cut about 1 ¼ deep and buzz away.


You can see where I had set the bit a little too low and the collet burned the body just a touch. Not to worry, I sand the body down in the panel sander just a touch, so such machining marks will be totally removed.

I now adjust the router depth to cut all but 1/8 inch that will form the lip at the top of the tremolo cutout.


Checking this way, I am absolutely sure there will be no unfortunate surprises when I lower the router into the hole.

You will also note I have not completed routing around the body yet, I want to complete all operations relative to the first template before I remove it. Now its over to the drill press to drill the neck mounting holes.

But first check the drill bit to be certain it is at 90 degrees to the table.


then drill the neck bolt holes.. Now remove the template, we’re done with it for this body.


Now, it’s time to finish routing the outside of the body. Adjust the router bit so that the bearing will ride along the previously routed part of the body, and completely remove the remaining “flange” of lumber.


At this point the outside shape of the body is complete. Next we’ll attack the top side.

Before we begin the top I want to mark the location of the Tremolo rout, I use two small awls to pierce the remaining 1/8th inch leaving 2 small marks on the top. I also position them just slightly inside the edges so the marks on the top will be completely removed by the routing process.


This allows me to position the top template in correct relationship to the rout made on the bottom, despite how the edge lines up. This will keep the neck, pickguard and Tremolo all centered relative to each other.

So now I attach, or clamp in this case, the top template checking the periphery to be certain it’s in the correct place. Then double checking other “land marks”, like the two marks made above, and the neck pocket relative to the edge of the body.

After positioning the template, Check the neck pocket to be certain the edges line up… not like this. . .


but like this . . . .


also check the top tremolo rout position relative to the two marks we made with the awls.


and check that the neck pocket depth is correct at 3 inches…


While the templates typically will match the edges of the routed body, some woods will shrink, expand, or creep around, particularly if you wait an extended period of time between operations. By checking the points mentioned above you can be sure the body’s specs will fall within the “wiggle room” built into the Strat’s dimensions.

As long as the neck pocket is cut correctly relative to the tremolo, everything will work fine, even if something bazaar happens and the neck is a few degrees skewed off the centerline of the body, it will still work out and look correct.

Just as a habit, I will mark the depth of the neck pocket at this point…


Now, routing the Tremolo top rout is simply a matter of setting the router bit’s depth beyond 1/8 and insuring the bearings contact the template.


once that’s done, you can proceed to the electronics/pickup routs. The finished depth should be between 5/8th (vintage) and ¾‘s (more contemporary and allows for more pickup choice). I’m doing ¾ inch. 

I set the router to cut 3/8ths or ½ the ¾’s. First I plow away the center sections.


Then come back and finish cut the edges. I will now set the router to full depth to cut the ¾ inch.


The blocks are simply a time saving device, I know the template is ¾ thick, and I want to cut ¾ beyond. So 1½ inch is the mark.

We now have the pickup’s routs to the correct depth; I’ll do the electronics in a later step… now to the Neck pocket.

I do this it two cuts too… I set the router to cut approximately ½ (not at all critical) of the depth in the first pass. 


Then set the depth to the correct depth, 5/8th in this case… and remove the remaining lumber.


Then be sure ya haven’t screwed up.

Now it’s time for the rest of the electronics rout and the Jack hole… the finished depth is 1½ inches deep, we are now at ¾, so again I’ll take half out, then the remainder.

I do it this way because a top bearing pattern tracing bit of ½ inch diameter has a shaft ¼ inch diameter, and while a shaft of tool steel may seem solid enough, the forces imputed by the router are tremendous. If you try to take the whole 3/4 inch out in one pass, the probability of the shaft breaking and making a mess of your work goes up exponentially.

Now, remove the template. Using the existing walls of the electronics rout we will plunge on down. In this shot you can see the small block I made to fit into the Bridge pickup rout to provide a “wall” for the bearing support as I rout in that area.

Once it is routed half way, I use the edge of the body to set the router bit, no chance of making the fatal mistake of reading 1¾ as 1½ that way. Rout the remainder, oh use the same method on the Jack cavity too. 

Remove the block from the Pickup rout and we’re done….

At this point I will drill a few necessary holes, the ground wire between the cavities…

through to the spring cavity.

Now we gotta get the wires from the Jack rout to the electronics….

the brass sleeve is to protect the edge of the rout.

On contemporary bodies, a hole is cut inside the Jack rout to allow a bit more relief for the jack’s spring contact. Without this, getting everything in correctly can be a challenge.

Now, if while drilling from the Jack rout to the electronics rout, you dented, pressed, mashed, squashed, etc, etc, the lumber, here’s an old trick. Put a few drops of water on it, press a paper towel on it, take a hot iron, and that forces steam into the first few fractions of an inch of the surface, causing the wood fibers to expand, forcing the ding back up and out. Then sand and it’s gone…

At this point it’s complete except for the contours and final sanding…