While building the Rainbow Ukulele this last week I was reminded of another project from quite some time back. About 20 years ago I was in a large music store in Houston and saw a used Fender Jazz 5 string guitar neck in good condition without the hardware near the counter where the guitar technician worked with a price tag of $5. My son plays the acoustic double bass and I thought building an electric instrument with him might be fun so I bought it. Five strings are less common than 4 strings and this was a real Fender so it was a good deal.
The Fender story is an interesting one. Leo Fender was an accountant who started a radio repair shop, added television repair, started making public address systems, and finally electric guitars in the 1940s and 50s. The guitars were designed to be built and assembled in a factory setting with local people - no master luthier needed. The guitar bodies are solid and the neck bolted on - hence my guitar neck without a body. There is a great 7 minute video on YouTube of the Fender factory in the late 1950s here. Note the lack of guards on shapers and saws, no dust masks, no respirator in paint booth, no shirts (it is hot in Southern California), etc.
No photos were taken during the build of our guitar but my son took this photo and sent it to me.
Due to Leo Fender's great design, even an amateur can make a pretty decent guitar if they have a neck which would be the most difficult thing to get right.
Traditionally Fender bodies are made of ash and the necks are maple. My father was a woodworker and I knew there was still some ash in his shop and picked up the wood from my mother's house to make the body. It is hard to tell but it is made from four pieces of ash glued together (two on top sandwiched with two on the bottom). I did not have access to a jointer or many other machine tools so the wood was hand planed and fitted and I ended up pleased with the joinery. I did have a router and all the inlays were done by making a plywood template to route in. I remember having to buy an extra long drill bit to get the wiring internally from the pickups and volume / tone controls to the compartment in the back where the electronics are fitted. The body was shaped with a rasp, sanded, and given a natural finish.
I bought the electronics, tuning machines, nut, bridge, etc. from Carvin in California who made custom guitars and also sold components. I can't remember why I didn't buy a second pickup although it was probably price. Wiring it up was easy although I probably had to hunt around for my old soldering iron which had not been used for many years at that time.
The last step to making a guitar and an important one is the setup. The neck is tensioned with the truss rod, nut adjusted, frets filed to the correct height, etc. This was something that I wasn't well equipped to do - it is more of a learned art. I wanted to take it to a guitar technician but my son just wanted to play it so I did the best I could. I refinished the fingerboard and it looked new when completed but there is honest wear showing now. After all these years it still hasn't been properly adjusted but he can play it quite well.