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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

Make] Projects 

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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

Written By: Steve Lodefink 


Backing Plate (1) 

Bandsaw or Coping saw (1) 

Cardboard (1) 
for paint mask 

Sandpaper (100. 180. 220. 400. and 1500 grit) (1) 

• Spray paint (2 colors) 
for your base coat 

Spray paint, clear (1) 

for your protective top coat. Make sure your clear coat and base coat are compatible. 
Traditional guitar finishes are nitrocellulose lacquer, available in spray cans from luthier 
supply houses. Polyurethane will serve just as well. Acrylic finishes also work, but tend 
to be less durable. 

Wood screws (1) 

hand electric drill and drill bits (1) 


One of the best ways to learn about electric guitars is to build one of the many DIY guitar 
kits available. When it's done, you'll have not only a working instrument, but an 
understanding of how your instrument works. You'll know how to string it, adjust it, and set 
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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

the action the way you like. You'll become your own guitar tech. 

If you're an old hand with guitars, kits can be a low-cost way to get that "custom shop" Les 
Paul look you've coveted, for no more than the kit price, plus a bit of elbow grease. 

Begin by Finishing 

Kit guitar building has 3 phases. The first is to apply a finish to the wooden parts. Done right, 
this is 80% of the work. The second phase is assembly, which is really fun, seeing all the 
parts come together to become an electric guitar. Finally, there's "setup": adjusting the neck, 
pickups, action, and bridge to make the guitar sound and feel good. 

Step 1 — Prep the parts 

• Use a coping saw or bandsaw to cut the headstock to your liking, then sand out the cut 
marks with 100-grit sandpaper. Follow up with 180, 220, and 400 grits. 

• Then mask the fretboard, edge binding (if any), or other areas you don't wish to paint, 
before moving on to the finish work. 

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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

Step 2 — Apply the sunburst finish 

• Spray the lighter color onto the guitar body. Paint a couple pieces of scrap, too, for testing 

• Make the mask. Trace the guitar body onto a sheet of cardboard. Cut the mask out a few 
inches inside your traced line. 

• Test the mask. Position the mask an inch or so above a piece of scrap and spray the 
darker color around the edges. The overspray will find its way under the mask, creating a 
smooth gradient. Adjust the mask height until you get the burst effect you're after. 

• Spray the darker color on the guitar top. Once you've got your technique down, position 
the mask over the guitar top and spray around the edges as you practiced. Repeat for the 
back of the guitar, if desired. Give it plenty of time to dry before going on. 

• Apply the top coat. To get that smooth, glossy shop-window finish, expect to spray on 
about 10 coats of clear. Once the top coat has thoroughly dried, wet-sand the surface to 
1500 grit, rub with polishing compound, and give it a final wax and buff 

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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

Step 3 — Assemble the parts. 

• Attach the neck to the body. With Fender-style guitars, this means drilling holes, then 
using wood screws and a backing plateto join the parts. Gibson-style models often have a 
"set neck," which has a pre-cut dovetail joint for gluing. Glue a set neck in place before 
applying the final coats of clear finish. 

• The rest of the assembly will just be a matter of correctly locating the bridge and installing 
the pickups, control knobs, tuning machines, input jack, switches, pots, and pick guard. All 
the hardware should be included with the kit. 

• Install the strings. 

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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

Step 4 — Adjust for sound and feel. 

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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

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• Adjust the neck. This is done by 
turning the built-in steel truss rod to 
slightly bow the neck forward or 
back. "Relief" is forward bow of the 
neck, while "back bow" is the 
opposite condition. The neck 
should have just enough relief to 
allow the strings to clear the frets 
without buzzing, but not so much 
as to cause an overly high action. 
Turn the trussrod clockwise to 
decrease relief, or 
counterclockwise to increase it. 

• Adjust the string height. This is 
known as "setting the action." The 
bridge will have adjusters to raise 
or lower the strings in relation to 
the fretboard. Some players prefera 
high action, but most prefer it as 
low as possible without buzzing. 

• Adjust the pickup height. The gap 
between the strings and the 
pickups is best adjusted by trial 
and error. Start with a 6" gap. Use 
the pickup mounting screw to 
experiment until you get a sound 
you like. 

• Adjust the intonation. First, tune the 
guitar. Then, starting with the low E 
string, compare the pitch of the 
open string to the pitch at the 12th 
fret. If the fretted note is flat, use 
the bridge saddle adjuster to make 
the string "longer." If sharp, make 
the string "shorter." Do this for all 6 
strings. You shouldn't have to 

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Easy Sunburst Guitar 

readjust the intonation unless you 
change string gauge or brand. 

This project first appeared in MAKE Volume 29 . 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 0-31 1 0:22:47 AM. 

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