What sort of tools will I need to build a guitar?
LMI is often asked this question. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. A huge range of options exist. For example, luthier Boaz Elkayam was once asked by the Swiss army knife company to build a guitar using nothing but a Swiss army knife! Classical guitar builder Eugene Clark was trained in Mexico and claimed that a guitar can be built with nothing but a cuchillo (a specially shaped knife commonly used in Mexico for building guitars). This includes the perfectly circular tuning post holes! On the other end of the spectrum is Jim Olson, who maintains a tremendous production rate on his own by cleverly using CNC machines and a wide variety of jigs and fixtures in conjunction with an array of power tools to build his exquisite steel string guitars.
A lot depends on the type of instruments you intend to build and what building methods you will use. For example, some prefer to build with hand tools and others prefer using power tools and machinery. Classical guitar builders require certain tools for some operations and steel string guitar builders use others.
We recommend that before you begin purchasing tools, that you check out a few books and videos on building guitars. Though one book may be enough for you to get the job done, it is important to learn a few different ways of going about things to find out what is right for you. A lot of factors will come in to play with this decision: your shop space, your experience and woodworking skills, the amount of time you want to spend on the project and your budget.
Once you have done your research, you will have a much clearer idea of what you will need. We have put together the following lists to help you with this process, but keep in mind that you will most likely want to add some items or swap some tools for others. Please note that we carry a number of finishing supplies, repair tools and other specialty tools that are not covered here.
BEGINNER BUILDING TOOLS
First, we list the bare essential beginner tools that are not likely to be found in a standard woodworking shop. We have not included tools (such as fret slotting and side bending tools) that would not be necessary if you take advantage of LMI’s shop customizations:
- SPG– Schneider Gramil
- SPHP– Fret hammer
- SPEN– End cutters
- FFRG – 3-in-1 fret file
- FISET– Nut and saddle files
- SPRM2 – Endpin reamer
- SPRMPN– Bridge pin reamer
- PLP– Small palm plane
- HSS2B– 2mm brad point bit
- HSS14B– 1/4″ brad point bit
- SE30– Straight edge
- SC1 – 1mm scraper
- SCB-1 – Scraper/burnisher
- SPBSJ1525– Brace sander
- CH6 – 6mm chisel
- CLCC – Deep throat clamps
- CLKC– Kerfing clamps
- CLF– Fingerboard clamps
INTERMEDIATE BUILDER TOOLS
Assuming you are new to woodworking or have very few tools, you will need to order some or all of the following in addition to the tools listed above. Granted, you may find some things here (i.e. chisels, clamps) in a hardware store for less money, but you will probably be getting what you pay for! LMI stocks only the highest quality tools of this type as an alternative to the usual hardware store choices.
- SPCC– Rosette/circle cutter
- CA250DL– Router bit, ball end
- SPF– Spokeshave
- SPNRC– Carpenter’s rasp
- CH2–CH10– Misc. chisels
- CHG– Glue clearing chisel
- SPFSNIN– Manual slotting system
- SWBBW–Fret saw – if you don’t purchase the SPFSN above.
- SWB3– Small Zona backsaw w/blades
- PLDL– Large D’Angelico plane
- HSS3B-HSS10B– Misc. brad point bits
- SPCALE– Electronic digital calipers
- SWF– Jeweler’s saw (Plus extra blades)
- CA030D, CA062D, CA125D – Dremel bits for inlay
- GBD– Go-bar deck
- CLGOK– Go-bar clamps (24 minimum/48 recommended)
- SPBPS– Electric free-form bending iron
- SPVISE– Shop Fox Parrot Vise
- SRPL1620– Radius blocks
- SPHFS25/SPHFB12 – Radiused Dishes (Hollow forms)
- SCS/SCSW– Various scrapers and swan-neck scraper
- PJJN– Plate joining jig
You will also need basic supplies such as sandpapers, glues and finishing products – all of which you can find on our website.
ESSENTIAL BASIC HARDWARE
Here is a list of some essential basic hardware tools:
- Basic Vise (LMI has 2 excellent luthier vices: VWH/PVISE Vacuum work holder and Panavise, and the SPVISE parrot vise).
- C-clamps – 4 or more (LMI carries a deep throat aluminum C-clamp, CLCC).
- Exacto-knife/saw (Also see our selection of Knives & Saws).
- Files: bastard file, mill file, and round (rat tail) file (Also see our large selection of Fretting Files).
- Hand drill
- Long straight edge (LMI carries a polycarbonate version in 2 lengths, SE18/SE30).
- Metal rules
These lists are meant to give you the bare necessities, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about our excellent guitar production tools. If you have power tools and plan on building more than one guitar per year, you will undoubtedly want to be doing most of the main guitar building procedures (i.e. side bending) yourself and these tools will save you an immeasurable amount of time with these procedures.
- SPB – LMI Bending Machine
- BM2 and BM2C – Professional Binding machine and Carrier
- SPCPCN– Bearing kit for binding machine
- SPFSYP– Power slotting system
- SPBA– Buffing assembly
- SPVACC– Complete vacuum kit
- VWH– Vacuum work holder
- SPVACPB– Vacuum bridge clamp
Power tools are a whole subject of their own, and since we do not carry them we do not recommend particular brands. Certainly, the majority of guitar builders find power tools indispensable. We do recommend looking over the books and magazines published by the Taunton Press (publishers of Fine Woodworking) to learn about power tools, to look over their product reviews and perhaps most importantly, to gather the basic principles of safe woodworking if they are new to you.
- With that said, here is a list of power tools commonly used by luthiers. These are listed in order of necessity, but this order is just our opinion:
- Laminate trimmer and/or router (for routing binding and truss rod slots).
- A small bandsaw (for cutting the numerous curved shapes of the guitar).
- Drill press (for tuning machine holes and for jig construction)
- Belt sander (for flattening and shaping)
- Table saw
- Bandsaw and planer – If you plan on resawing your own woods.