So you’ve decided to create a custom guitar…awesome!
Every decision you make in this process will create at least a minor difference in the way the guitar sounds and feels. Obviously the needs and wants of every guitar player is different, so let’s go over some of the things for electric guitars that you need to be looking at.
Even if you’re not looking to go custom, these tips can help you better choose a guitar off the shelf.
Neck and Body
The most important features to evaluate are – the neck and the body.
There are some other choices as well, but paying intense attention to the neck and the body of your guitar are going to have the most effect on the playing and final sound of your instrument.
There are three basic body types to choose from:
- Solid body
- Semi-hollow body
- Hollow body
A solid body is built from a solid block of wood and a hollow body is completely hollowed out. A semi-hollow body meets in the middle with a hollow body guitar design and a solid center block.
There are two things to consider when picking a body – one is feel and the other is sound.
Feel will be a decision mostly based on weight and shape. The type of wood used will mostly impact the weight, which we will look at later.
The shape can vary drastically.
Within the three basic types, there are tons of choices. Picking within the type will require quite a bit of sampling and figuring out what you like.
Sound-wise the difference between the three basic types is this – the hollower your instrument, the brighter the sound.
Think of the sound of an electric versus an acoustic. The hollower you make your electric, the more the sound will resemble that of an acoustic.
Again with neck types, there are two things that need to be looked at – feel and sound.
In terms of feel this is something that will be greatly influenced by the size of your hands.
Obviously you need a neck that you can reach around. There are three main shapes of neck – “C,” “U,” and “V.”
The C shape is similar to that of an acoustic. The U shape is a little more rectangular, while the V shape has a groove down the center. This is a choice most guitar players make completely on feel.
In terms of sound, the biggest difference is going to be with the length of the neck.
The longer the neck, the brighter sound; the shorter the neck, the grittier the sound.
Depending on what sound you prefer will influence which type of neck you want. This is something that you’ll definitely go and feel what different neck types feel and sound like.
The type of wood used in guitars is easily the biggest debate. Let’s look at some of the most popular woods and how that correlates to the sound produced and weight of the finished guitar.
- Alder – This will provide a balanced tone (example in video below).
- Basswood – This will provide a warm tone.
- Poplar – This will provide a crisp tone.
Medium to Heavier Options:
- Ash – This will provide a balanced tone (see how ash and alder compare in the video).
- Korina – This will provide a warm tone with less highs.
- Mahogany – This will provide a warm tone and have great sustain.
- Maple – This will provide a bright tone and have long sustain.
Common Neck Woods
- Maple – This will provide a bright tone with great sustain. It is very dense and hard. It is also very strong.
- Mahogany – This will provide a very warm tone.
- Fretboard Woods
- Maple – This will provide a bright tone with great sustain.
- Rosewood – This will provide a warm tone.
- Ebony – This will provide a bright tone with long sustain.
There are a great deal of things that we didn’t address. Above we’ve looked at the essential features to keep in mind.
As you dive deeper into your custom built guitar journey, in addition to the above you’re going to have to decide the following:
- What pickups to use
- What joint to use at the neck
- What types of frets feel best
This will require quite a bit of research whether you’re creating a custom, buying from the shelf, or modifying.
The important thing to remember is that these aren’t decisions you should make from hearsay. If you don’t want to go through all of this, you can also get yourself a high-quality acoustic guitar. Guitarsquid has a great guide on that.
Go and play a lot of different guitars and find what things you like and dislike. Then you can confidently have the exact guitar build to suit your preferences.