Guitar Design

How Do I Design Guitars?

guitar design,designing guitars

I build guitars that I love. There are certain things I like in a guitar, and some things I want to omit. After all, I have to love the aesthetics of an instrument or I’m not going to pick it up. But the designs I’ve come up with so far I do love. It’s my passion.

I’m not trying to make something weird or crazy (you won’t find any spaceship designs here!), but I do try to make something that is going to be a little bit different and pleasing to the eye (and ear).

It would be straightforward enough to build copies of other designs – and we know that guitarists often want the tried and tested designs from the fifties, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a big Stratocaster fan. I find them really comfortable to play and the sound is what I want in my music. There is a reason the design has remained largely unchanged since 1954. But I figured that there were enough people making their own fantastic versions of those designs, that I would try to see what else could be done with the same parameters. Naturally, I’m influenced by an array of builders who are currently making incredible instruments. It’s always interesting to see how others solve problems and think about solutions of my own.

So what is an electric guitar? What basic functions inform the design?

It has to be ergonomic. This means some curves have to be in the right places, like the bottom curve that goes on your knee when sitting down. Move that over either side and you change how the guitar sits and this changes how you play. There are exceptions to this, such as the Flying V, but I’m not sure that was meant to be played sitting down!

A guitar also has to stay in tune. This means a solid neck joint or neck/body construction with a method to securely anchor the strings at either end. If you want to play further up the neck and easily access the upper frets, the neck joint can’t get in the way.

An electric guitar has to have at least one pickup and some controls. The body has to be thick enough to house the pots and switches in the right place so they are accessible but not impeding playing. The pickups have to be mounted so they can be adjusted.

All of these things are necessary to make a guitar function, and often end up making some ideas unfeasible. I regularly think of something I’d like to do with a design, but can’t because of these limitations. Making a guitar too thin would make it difficult to house pickups. Putting curves in certain places would make it uncomfortable to play. Easy access to upper frets makes a weak neck joint, so I have to rethink construction or make other compromises. I’ve had other ideas that I’ve had to forget because I realise I have to put the pots somewhere!

The lines and curves of a body design also require a bit of thought. It’s not enough to just make sure you can hold it, or that there aren’t pointy bits making it uncomfortable. Using the same radii and mirroring curves and angles makes for a balanced overall design. Sometimes you need to make a curve or angle look intended so that it doesn’t appear jarring. It’s all about balance and overall consistency.

Then there’s the sound.

Sometimes I’ll build a guitar with a certain sound in mind, but it doesn’t mean that guitar can only be used in that way. It’s just a direction. But good design should mean that the guitar will play the way a player expects and help them play to the best of their ability. Most of the time, having too many options is a hindrance. The controls need to be easy to understand and help you get a sound quickly and easily. Having too many similar sounds on one instrument can get in the way too.

The shape of a guitar shouldn’t usually determine the kind of music you would play on it, but I do hope that my designs make the player think of something new. Most existing or traditional designs have a history. When you pick up a Telecaster, for example, you might have a certain kind of music or a favourite Telecaster player in mind. With something new, you probably don’t have those sort of expectations or associations .

At the end of the day, it’s all about making something that will inspire.

I hope this gives you something of an insight into how I go about designing guitars. What are some of your favourite designs? Do you know why? Is it because of another player, comfort or something else? Please let me know in the comments.

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