Essential Tools and Materials to Get Started

Since I've actually had quite a few people email me inquiring about the cost associated with building an acoustic guitar, I thought I'd put together this list of what I thought the essential upfront tools and materials (excluding the actual tone woods, etc) should be and approximately what they cost me in 2008. This list is purely my opinion, and though I'm sure I've omitted a couple incidental tools that could easily be acquired cheaply, I fell comfortable saying that you could progress pretty far in your own guitar making process with these tools alone.

One side note, I was a bit surprised when I looked at the total for materials--it never seemed that expensive to me while I was building. I think it must be due in part to the fact that you're buying these tools a few dollars at a time spread out over time, so you never really feel the impact of one upfront lump purchase. (Have you ever actually looked at what you spend on food each month?)

Anyway, here it is:

Essential Upfront Tools:

-Cumpiano's "Guitarmaking" Book $35
-Stanley Block Plane $40
-No. 5 or 6 Fore Plane (look for used one) $60
-1" Paring Chisel $35
-Cabinet Scraper (1mm) $5
-Flat Bastard Mill File $3
-6" Ruler Scale (1/64" Precision) $2
-Dremel $50
-Dremel Router Base $20
-3/32" Spiral Downcut Bit (StewMac) $18
-Coping Saw $6
-C-Clamps (each) $6
-Quick Grip Clamps (2) $12
-Wooden Cam Clamps (each) $18
-Burnishing Rod $8
-Felt Sanding Block $2
-Side Bending Iron Supplies $50
-Cheap Dull 1/2" Chisel (Glue Chisel) $8
-Caliper (analog or digital, digital better) $20

Subtotal $398

Essential Upfront Materials:

Quicktite Superglue (Runny Type) $4
Elmer's Yellow Wood Glue $2
3/4" Plywood for Workboard $10
3/4" MDF for Shooting Board $10
3/4" MDF and Sandpaper for Sanding Board $10

Subtotal $36

Essential Tools For Later:

Spring Clamps or Clothespins $15
1/4" Paring Chisel $35
Sloane Purfling Cutter (StewMac) $40
Random Orbital Sander $35
Small Dovetail Saw $8
Carbide Tipped Center Punch $4
Tack Cloth $3
Drill Bits (specific to task) $15
Spokeshave $15

Subtotal $170

Essential Materials For Later:

Shellac Burn In Stick $2
System 3 Clear Epoxy $8
KTM-9 Clear Lacquer (1 Quart) $38

Subtotal $48
Project Total $652

Would Be Really Nice to Have:

Scraper Burnisher (StewMac) $20
Ryobi 9" Bandsaw $90
Ryobi Drill Press $90
Contour Gauge $8
1000 Grit / 4000 Grit Waterstone (Sharpening) $40
Sharpening Jig $35

Subtotal $283

So some people at this point might be thinking, "for the cost of tools and materials I could have bought a new guitar." That's not the point. The point is that for a fairly nominal cost (as far as serious hobbies go) you can create something truly unique and beautiful--both visually ans musically--and take part in a niche hobby that few people ever even consider. It is also incredible likely that your custom guitar--even your first one--will sound more alive than a $2000-$3000 factory production guitar, and you'll likely have chosen more original materials to build it from. You will also likely have found a hobby that you love and will continue to do, meaning that future guitars that could rival instruments in the multi- thousand dollar price range will only cost you a few hundred dollars. Lastly, instrument making and lutherie is a traditional art form that's steeped in artistry, craftsmanship, technology and pure mystery, and to me it's very cool to be able to be a part of that.

I still (occasionally) meet people who think an acoustic guitar is hollowed out and carved from one solid piece of wood.