There are many, (many!) photos on this page of the process of building a custom Gibson Explorer guitar. Enjoy!
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Start date: Nov 30, 2015
This will be a custom Gibson Explorer build with the following specs:
- full-size Gibson ’58 Explorer-style
- body back: 1″African Mahogany, grain filled
- body top: 1/2″ two-piece walnut
- neck: two piece laminated walnut with scarf joint for headstock
- headstock: 6 in-line tuners
- fretboard: maple with walnut binding (12″ radius)
- inlays: round wooden walnut fret markers
- pickups: SD JB at bridge and Jazz on neck, both coil splittable with push/pull on the tone knob
- knobs: 1 volume, 1 push/pull master tone, 1 three-way switch
- bridge: Tune-o-matic style with tail piece
- electronics cavity cover: walnut
- nut: bone
- finish: Tru-oil finish
The template is made from 1/2″ MDF
The back is African Mahogany
The neck will be flamed maple and the fretboard will be rosewood.
Dec 1, 2015
Extending the body by adding a piece of mahogany. I highlighted the body shape in yellow in Photoshop to better show the body perimeter. This body is huge and uses up a lot wood ! 🙁
Dec 2, 2015
Made some progress on the body today. Traced the outline of the body.
Used a washer to trace a second line 0.1″ away
rough-cutting the body shape on the outer line
The body is rough-cut
Cleaning the edges on the oscillating sander.
Collecting and saving the mahogany fine-dust, you never know when you will need it.
Nice clean edges after sanding…
Ball bearing on the router bit will follow the template.
The template is on the bottom and everything in held down with double-stick tape.
Perfect edges after routing.
The body weights 5 lbs, that’s too much so I will have to make some relief cavities in the body before the top is glued on in order to reduce the weight.
Dec 3, 2015
Figuring out the weight relief pattern for the Explorer. All cavities will be 1/2″ from the edges of the body contour. The black dashed lines represent the back body contours, I don’t want the inner cavities to be near them. The drawing was made with Inkscape (will open in new window).
Weight relief pattern printed on multiple sheets of paper.
Weight relief pattern transferred onto the mahogany body with red marker.
Forstner bit pattern
After weight relief… 3.2 lbs (before=5 lbs), a reduction of 1.8 lbs.
This walnut will become the top of the guitar. It’s the only wood I found that is wide enough, just barely, for this body. It’s simple but beautiful. I think it’s going to look amazing on this body once I finish with it. Can’t wait!
I made this table saw jointing jig to join the two piece of walnut. You can see the building and using of the jig here (will open in new window).
Simulating how the body will fit…
Dec 4, 2015
The two piece of walnut ready to be joined
Applying glue and pressure
I must say, this is my nicest glue squeeze out ever… textbook glue squeeze out…
Dec 5, 2015
Cleaned the dry glue from the joint with a chisel
This body is very big and the walnut is not wide enough
I have to add an small extension to the body
Gluing the extension (used the table saw joining jog to make sure the joint is as good as possible)
The walnut top is now ready to be rough cut
Cough cut of the top. All joint are excellent.
A first look at the top and bottom together
The walnut top, still in rough-cut shape. I think that white strip in the middle looks great
Dec 7, 2015
using the router planing jig to thickness plane the walnut body
after thickness planing the walnut body
scratches left by the router
the scratches are easily removed with sanding
Dec. 11, 2015
Thickness planing the walnut top.
Regularly checking the thickness
Gluing the top in the press-machine using car jacks for pressure. The guitar body is in there somewhere…
Closeup view of gluing process. The glue was allowed to dry for over 24 hours
Once the body is out of the press and the glued is dry. The walnut body (the bottom piece) is over-sized at this point.
Getting ready to trim the walnut down to the same size as the mahogany
The top and bottom are now flush
Closeup of the joint between top and bottom
Put on some mineral spirit to see the grain patterns.
Dec. 13, 2015 – Starting To Work On The Neck
Jointing the edge of the neck blank with my home-made plane, in my home-made vise on my home-made bench 🙂 I guess I like to make things.
Planing and thickness routing the neck blank
After cutting the scarf joint, I routed the headstock to proper thickness
How to glue a scarf joint
Closeup of scarf joint glue setup
Design and template making of the headstock
Dec. 15, 2015
Headstock template shaped with jigsaw and sander
Angled neck, fretboard and headstock mock-up
Mock-up of guitar side view
It’s starting to look like a guitar, very “Flintstones”-like at this point.
Dec. 31, 2015
At this point, I abandoned the neck and started to build a new one made from two pieces of walnut. Why? Sometimes you instinctively know what you should do but don’t necessarily want to put in the energy to understand why… it’s like that… 🙂
This new neck will be made from two 36″ pieces of walnut
Each board was passed through the table saw in order to prepare the edges for jointing
The pieces are jointed and read for gluing
Gluing the two pieces of walnut for the neck
Thickness planing with a router and planing jig
The router scratches left behind
After a light sanding, looks pretty good.
Scarf joint cut made on the table saw
Dry testing the scarf joint
The scarf joint is glued
Jan 9, 2016
Tracing the headstock shape onto the headstock
Cutting off extra material. This piece will be glued back on the headstock to extend it.
Edge jointing. Checking for light leaks before gluing on the extensions.
Gluing on the extensions on the headstock.
After glue has dried, not very pretty…
After cleaning up the glue with a random orbit sander, much better… 🙂
Making the headstock veneer
Cutting the headstock veneer on the band saw from the same piece of walnut that was used for the guitar body.
Thickness planing the headstock veneer with a router on the router planing jig.
The veneer has a square edge that will not sit properly with the eventual nut.
The top of the headstock veneer is not aligned with the eventual nut because the headstock is tilted by 13 degrees with respect to the neck. Therefore a bevel is needed on the veneer.
A bevel is made on the oscillating sander.
A close up side view of the bevel created on the veneer.
The veneer now sits perfectly flush with the eventual nut (side view).
The veneer now sits perfectly flush with the eventual nut (top view).
Gluing up the veneer to the headstock.
Shaping the back of the guitar with a rasp. Adding two body reliefs.
The shaping of the back is nearly completed, just needs some more fine-tuning. The body feels much more comfortable now…
Jan 17, 2016
Headstock veneer cut to rough shape.
Planing the neck surface flat, this is where the fingerboard will sit.
Scraping it clean
Truss rod channel routed
Close up view of truss rod and channel
Ready to route the final headstock shape with the headstock template taped on
Using a laser to check for accuracy and to find the real centerline on the headstock.
Final headstock shape… me likes 🙂
Bringing the neck dimensions closer to final, on the band saw.
Slopping the heel to give the neck a 2 degree angle.
Gluing on the heel.
Planing the back of the fretboard.
About to insert the truss rod.
Some silicon caulking at the ends to remove any potential rattling. Notice the small metal pin? That will allow the fretboard to be glued on without moving.
About to glue the fretboard on the neck. It’s the last time the truss rod sees the light of day. There’s a thin masking tape over the truss rod channel to prevent glue from entering it.
Clamping the fretboard to the neck. Allowing the glue to cure for 24 hours.
The neck with fretboard, truss rod and heel.
Close up of the neck with fretboard and truss rod.
Feb 1, 2016
Something went wrong with this fretboard so I decided to remove it and put a new one in 🙁
The rosewood fretboard is off. The process was not too painful 🙂
This will be the new fretboard. It’s maple with walnut inlay fret markers (you can see a video of how I made them here)
Maple fretboard cut to rough dimensions on the band saw
The maple fretboard is installed on the neck and here I’m adding walnut binding.
Maple fretboard with walnut fret markers and binding
A closer look.
It’s starting to pop, I sanded the fretboard to 320 grit followed by steel wool. No water, mineral spirit or oil applied. I thin it’s going to look awesome with some Tru-oil.
Filing off some of the tang from the edges of the frets.
The fret are cut to size, tangs are being nipped.
Here’s a first look at what the finished guitar will look like.
Feb. 3, 2016
Installing the frets. I use a bit of glue in the slot.
Fret installation completed.
The fretboard with frets installed
View of the whole neck.
Feb. 12, 2016
Starting to shape the back of the neck with a spokeshave.
Progress shaping the back of the guitar neck.
Shaping of the neck about 80% completed.
Tuner holes are drilled.
Testing the tuning machines.
Aligning the neck with the body centerline with a laser.
Using a laser to align the neck with the body.
Carving the majority of the neck pocket with a Forstner bit before using a router.
Neck pocket hole carved.
The neck in the neck pocket. A 2 degree tilt in incorporated in the heel of the neck.
Very tight fit, too tight actually…
Tracing pickups rings on maple.
Making wooden humbucker pickups rings .
Aligning the pickup router template.
Neck pickup cavity routed.
Both pickup cavities routed.
Neck, body and pickup cavities routed.
Cutting the upper part of the heel.
Routing the upper part of the heel.
The upper part of the heel in final shape.
The neck heel in the neck pocket with humbucker cavity.
Feb. 21, 2016
Making the electronics cavity and cover.
Designed the control knobs, switch and shape of cavity in software and then printed it.
Making the electronics cavity template.
Removing the bulk of the wood with a Forstner bit.
Electronics cavity finished.
Electronics cavity cover plate.
Drilling the jack hole.
The jack hole.
Drilling the Tune-o-matic bridge post holes.
Finish sanding started. Starting with 80 grit and going to 240.
Preparing for grain filling.
The mahogany back is grain filled.
Grain filler applied on walnut top.
Grain filler is drying.
March 6, 2016
Applied 10 coats of Tru-oil to the mahogany.
Applied 10 coats of Tru-oil to the walnut top.
The whole guitar body was coated with Tru-oil.
The neck, electronics cavity cover and truss rod cover.
The whole guitar body is finished in Tru-oil and beeswax.
Checking the straightness of the neck with my homemade notched straight edge and adjusting the truss rod.
Protecting the fretboard with painter’s tape.
Filing the edges flat and adding a bevel.
Closeup view of the newly filed 45 degree bevel.
March 10, 2016
Fret dressing mostly completed
Bridge and tail piece posts installed
Making the nut
Filing the nut to rough shape
Strings installed to fine tune nut slots
March 18, 2016
Starting to work on the electronics
My friend Tom doing the soldering for me
March 22, 2016
Installing the pickups.
Explorer nearly completed… a few more thing left to do…
April 3, 2016
The construction is finished !
I made a demo video, but please don’t judge the guitar based on the amp (crappy little amp), the audio recording quality (recorded with my smartphone) and especially my playing… I’m not really a guitar player, I’m a builder.
55 thoughts on “Guitar Build Diary – Explorer”
Amazing job and ideas. Cannot wait to see the progress
How much would it cost for you to build me a guitar like that? Just curious.
Hi Dan, I sent you an email.
Also interested in a explorer build! My email is (removed) I just got a 3’x3’ Slab of ash and I thought about building one of these but I’m more the table and shelf builder lol. But I’m a guitar player and I love this build
very good job
but one question, you explain that the neck pocket is flat in your video but with this type of bridge (same as lespaul) you don’t need to shime your pocket ??
Thanks Stephane. That video is for another guitar I’m building, not this Explorer.
You are correct, with this type of bridge, the neck needs to be tilted. I have incorporated a 2 degree angle in the heel of the neck (see this photo).
Hope that clears thing up.
Truly an amazing job, bud–really! I stumbled upon this site and your post by accident, while looking for jelly beans…not really, but you know how it goes. One click leads to another. I also completely dig that new neck you built with the maple board and walnut binding. That looks so much better than the original rosewood version. Anyway, I ended up here because I’m getting back into building after a long hiatus (about 7 years), and was looking for some measurements. An image search revealed your Explorer monster and I just HAD to see it. Glad I did.
Thanks Rob, I appreciate it! Yea, that fretboard is definitely one of the highlights of this guitar.
Welcome back to guitar building… it’s like riding a bicycle… well, not really! 🙂
Make sure to join the Project Electric Guitar Facebook page and show us what you’ll be building next https://www.facebook.com/groups/ProjectElectricGuitar/
Take care, Araz
Hi there! Amazing work! How do i contact you? To build a custom guitar
Thanks! I would be happy to discuss a custom build… You can contact me from my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JakalianGuitars/) or send me a message from the About Me page on this site.
Take care, Araz
Hi Araz, this is great job ! I wanted to know if after sanding the router marks on the body, it will be enough flat for glueing? Thanks.
Thanks! Yes, after sanding the router marks, the wood is flat enough for gluing.
Could you send pdf template?
Hello from China! Great job!
Thank you from Canada! 🙂
How deep did you drill for the control cavity? How thick was the remaining wood after you drilled through?
The control cavity needs to be deep enough for the pots to fit properly through the holes but not so thin to compromise the stability of the remaining wood. I like to leave around 1/4 to 3/8″ deep of wood. You can also choose to make the wood thiner only at the location of the pots inside the cavity.
Hi, really nice job ! I just wanted to know, how did you get the template for this guitar ?
Thanks. I made the template from 1/2″ MDF. I found an image of the plans online and then I resized the image based on the scale length to get the full-size drawing then proceeded to make the template.
Okay. But, where did you found those plans ? I search some, and I found ths one : http://bazarboobi.fr/spip.php?page=article&id_article=379
But this is a gibson explorer, not an esp explorer (the switch for the pickups is not at the same place for example).
Are you looking for the plans of an ESP Snakebyte? I don’t recall ever seeing that on the Internet.
You can always start with a Gibson Explorer plans and modify it to make it into a Snakebyte or find a front facing photo of the Snakebyte and trace it… Use Google Images and Pinterest…
So I guess what I’m saying is, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, then you can always make it yourself.
Okay, well thank you for your advices !
Hey, Great build. I am new to this building, I have a kit for an explorer Left handed, and I’m trying to find a template for the headstock….somethin I could download and trim the blank that I now have. Would you know where I could find one that is the actual size. Nice sounding guitar by the way. I’m planning on using tru oil on mine…mahogany body.
Cheers from Newfoundland Canada!!
Thanks Garry. Explorers are great guitars, one of my all-time favourite shapes.
As for the headstock shape, I’ll send you a template file shortly to your email.
Take care, Araz
Beautiful work !! You are truly an artist. I’ve made several guitars, and I don’t think most people realize the effort and art/magic that goes into making one. I have some korina and a tiger maple top I am thinking should become an explorer now after seeing this.. Thanks for sharing your knowledge..
I am curious.. Why did you abandon that beautiful figured neck?? That looked amazing. I hope you were able to re-use it on something else.
Thank you James! Korina and tiger maple sounds like a great combo.
I don’t remember why I didn’t use that figured neck… it’s been a while since that build… but I did end up using some of that wood as the fretboard.
Take care, Araz
Hey, awesome guitar!
I´m new to building guitars and I want to kick things off with an Explorer..
Any possibility to get these svg files?`
Great work, seriously!
Thank you Nik! There are many plans on the Internet, just type “explorer guitar plans”.
Nice job on that guitar! Your passion for building it truly shows. I have always wanted a custom explorer, my own style into it. How much would it cost for your to make something similar? Would love to discuss further. Thanks!
Good afternoon, I’m considering to build one with a bubinga neck through, mahogany wings and a bubinga top.
I’m finding it very difficult to find dimensions for a neck through blank. Can you help me?
Hi Domingos, I don’t have any plans for a neckthrough Explorer. I suggest you draw your own plans in full-scale, that’s really the best way.
Hi. Your guitar look awesome! I have a question. Neck of your Explorer is at an angle relative to the body? Because I have seen a lot of video about Explorer`s DIY, and I can’t understand how to attach neck to body.
Hi araz, where did you get your bridge/tailpiece from. Let me know please,
The tailpiece is a standard Tune-O-Matic type that you can find at most guitar parts stores. As for the bridge, to be honest, I really don’t remember where I bought it from…
Thanks a bunch. I sure like your work and I like the sound of your explorer.
I would like to ask you one more question if you don’t mind. I have a fender neck with an overhang and 9.5″ radius. The heel is almost 22 mm thick. Would it be save to cut the heel pocket that deep? I am planing to keep the fret board flush with the body. I am still learning.
I can’t answer that question without knowing the details of the body and neck… The best thing to do is draw a side-view of the guitar body & neck, then it will become clear how deep you need to go to get the fretboard flush…
If you join the PEG Facebook group and post your question with photos, the PEG community can help you more easily. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ProjectElectricGuitar
One more time…The body is rough cut and sanded to 1.730″. The heel is .834″ thick. So, I have to go .834″ deep on the pocket. That would leave .896″ material left on the body. If there is not enough material left on the pocket would it be ok to take off about 1/8 of an inch on the heel? I would have about 1 inch material left on the pocket. If you can answer me one more time, that’s it.
Thank you again,
Hi Adolf, I’m happy to help.
Based on you description, you will indeed have 0.896″ remaining in the pocket, that’s more than enough material. You should have nothing to worry about.
Thank you again for your reply, looks like one less headache for me. I do appreciated very much for your help. All I have to do now is finding the right bridge for my 9.5″ radius fret board. I like the set up you have on the explorer. I hope I can find what I’m looking for.
Again, thank you
Hi, great build! I’m planning to build the EVH Shark myself, which is based on the Ibanez Destroyer, and in turn was based on the Gibson Explorer. What is the size of wood needed for the body, in total (length x depth)? Thanks!
From the Gibson website, here are the dimensions for an Explorer:
Body Maximum Length = 23.16″ (588.4mm)
Body Maximum Width = 167.47″ (443.7mm)
Body Thickness = (44.5mm) 1 3/4″
Hello, my name is Mark, I have to first say that is a beautiful explorer guitar you built. I am in the process of building my own from scratch. I was wondering what are the spacing measurements for the tuning pegs on the headstock? The headstock is a replica Gibson explorer from 1985. I am unable to find what the spacing and measurements are . Can you help me ? I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you in advance I look forward to hearing from you, If you dont mind please send me an email with your answer. Thank you
Thank Mark. I just sent you an email.
Fantastic work AND documentation! Bookmarking this as a reference for my second build… These were the same steps I took during my lutherie class in Montreal, so this is a perfect refresher.
What product did you use for grain filler? The only thing I’ve been able to find is “wood filler” that chalky plastic stuff used to fill larger voids…
Hi Antony, sorry for the delay. I used Benjamin Moore Grain Filler 238.
Hope that helps.
Congrats Araz! Beautiful Guitar!
Do you remember the final weight of the guitar ?
I saw weight reliefs so I think you were concerned about it.
Well, I’m asking this because I would like to built something similar. I like the Les Paul scale length but I don’t like its ergonomics and weight… It seems an Explorer could solve these problems with proper weight reliefs (chambers and back of the body) What do you think?
Thanks in advanced!
I don’t remember the final weight but it was not too heavy. It’s a big body but the weight reliefs help a lot.
Is it possible to get a dimmensions of the guitar that you use in this project? Sam technical drawings? best ragrds
Thanks mati. I don’t have “one” set of technical plans for this project… I used standard dimensions that can be found in most LP online guitar plans… except for the body height which I don’t have the final measurements for anymore.