Do you have a broken guitar just sitting around? Well, most people don’t. But if you happen to or you find one at a thrift store (somehow…good luck) and aren’t sure what use it would be, I have the answer.
My first hurdle, though, was to find a guitar. That was the hardest part.
At the time of this project, there were no thrift stores in the town I was living in. So that wasn’t an option. I looked through Amazon, eBay, Etsy…any place online I could think of. The cheapest I could find was $50, but that didn’t include shipping and handling.
I didn’t want a guitar that someone could actually play with because I was going to destroy it and that made me feel guilty (irrational, yes…as if guitars will suddenly stop being produced). Plus they’re too pricey.
My ideal budget for this was $20, but I was willing to go to $50 if necessary For a broken guitar, I didn’t think that was too much to ask for…but I couldn’t seem to find one that was broken.
Finally, I found an ad on Craigslist. A guy in my area was selling an acoustic for $45 that was in decent shape. I emailed the guy and a couple hours later, got a call from an out-of-state number (Colorado). Since I get a lot of phone calls from telemarketers who call from Colorado (and Washington…), I didn’t answer. I assumed that if it was the guitar guy and he actually wanted to sell, he would have the common sense to leave a voice mail. (I was wrong…I found out later through an email he sent me. He never left a message, though, so I guess he didn’t want to sell it that badly then.)
But very soon after I emailed him, I realized that my friend Akasha was dating a guy who gives guitar lessons. So I called her, doubting she could help, but hoping all the same. The conversation basically went like this:
Me: Does Will know where I can get a broken guitar? Or maybe just a really cheap one?
Akasha: Hold on. [in the background] Hey, what are you doing with that broken guitar you have in the closet?
Akasha: I have a guitar for you.
Me: Are you serious?
Akasha: Yeah, it’s yours if you come and get it.
So I jumped in my car and drove over to her apartment. We went upstairs, she showed me the guitar, and it was PERFECT! It had been busted through the middle, but I didn’t care about that since I was removing the front anyway.
So she helped me remove the strings (though you can keep them and hang them in front of the shelves to keep your stuff in place if you want), and she was sweet enough to give it to me for free as long as I promised to post pictures of the finished guitar shelf. Um…DEAL!
So now…the process. I had to go to another friends’ house so she could help me with the stuff involving power tools. But here’s how it went.
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Tools & Materials:
- electric sander
- sand paper (for the sander AND regular fine-grit paper)
- polyurethane or polycrylic
- acrylic paint (3 kinds)
- paint brushes
- wood filler
- wood glue
- 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick wood (2 pieces or 1 piece to cut–we used this and cut it up)
- clamps (didn’t have these–really could have used them…maybe something like this?)
- decorative guitar picks (12)
- string (yo-yo string is the closest I can find online to what we used. It was only necessary because we were inexperienced with a jigsaw and wanted to cover up our sloppy cutting job)
- Elmer’s tacky glue
- super glue
Step 01: Here’s Big Mistake #1 (yes, already): The first thing we SHOULD have done was remove all of the screws and tuning pieces from the headstock. But we didn’t because we weren’t thinking. Do this first and save yourself the heartache of losing your tuning pieces. The vibrations from the jigsaw and sander were enough to shake the screws right out of place and I did wind up losing some tuning pieces.
Step 02: The first thing we actually did was an outline where we wanted to cut the guitar. We outlined about 1/2 an inch inward. In hindsight, we should have gone in another half an inch or so. We didn’t realize there were studs and stuff inside the guitar, which caused a problem. Live and learn.
Step 03: One the center is cut out, start sanding down the rough edges where you cut. Once you’re satisfied that you won’t cut yourself on sharp edges and splinters, start removing the finish from the guitar.
You can actually stop here and leave the wood bare (in which case, move on to Step 5 and then jump down to Step 8), but I really wanted to paint it.
Step 04: The areas where the guitar’s body curves inward were difficult to sand with the tool, so we did those by hand. We also worked a bit more on some edges we couldn’t get with the sander.
Step 05: While we still had the extension cord plugged in, we took the wood plaque that I wanted to use as a shelf and Brittni measured and drew on it for me. Then we cut it. We made sure they fit in the guitar before setting them aside.
Here’s Big Mistake #2: One of the pieces wouldn’t go in (the top shelf) because of the way the guitar curves, so we cut it in half with the intent of putting it back together inside the guitar. If I could do it again, I would have cut the edges off instead of cutting it through the middle. That way, it would be less obvious.
Step 06: Once the guitar was sufficiently sanded, I wiped it down so I could paint it. I painted the inside King’s Gold (I needed two bottles), the outside Beachcomber Beige (one bottle), and the neck Black (half of a bottle). All are Apple Barrel and you can get each of them for less than $1 at Wal-Mart.
Step 07: After the last coat of paint, we let it dry overnight. I then added another coat of beige to the back of the guitar, let it dry, and then Brittni sprayed the whole thing down with polyurethane.
Note: Polyurethane has the tendency to yellow paint over time. Polycrylic won’t do this. All of the recommendations I see for both finishes, though, say to paint it on, not spray it. It leaves a nicer finish that way. I’ve had this guitar for about 3 years now and it’s starting to show signs of yellowing, so I recommend getting a can of polyacrylic.
The type of polyurethane I got was from Michael’s and I actually wasn’t sure if that’s what it was because the bottle didn’t say anything except “Acrylic Finish.” I bought it because it was the only one that was water-based…everything else I saw was oil. (ETA: Now that I actually know better, I’ll explain. You want a finish that’s the same base as your paint. Acrylic paint is water-based, hence the acrylic finish.) It dried in five minutes, but it needed about 24 hours to cure.
Inside the guitar were some little wooden bars. That’s where my shelves went! Why didn’t I insert the shelves before painting, you ask? Well, I wanted to get the entire inside of the guitar. However, if I did it again, I would probably insert the shelves and then paint. It would have been easier.
Step 08: Insert shelves!
Step 09: Put the tuning keys back on the headstock.
I gave it another half hour to be sure and then I rolled this thing up in a blanket and took it home. It was difficult getting it into my office without Zach seeing.
Step 10: To fix the gap in the wood, I just took some wood filler and spread it across the gap between the shelf pieces. Give it 2-3 hours to completely dry and then sand it down so it’s completely flush with the shelf.
Step 11: Paint the shelf.
Step 12: Big Mistake #3: I decided to put silicon caulk behind the shelves to try and fill in the gaps. I REALLY wish I hadn’t done this. It screwed everything up. In hindsight, I should have stopped at the above step. You couldn’t actually tell the gaps were there and it looked so much nicer.
You. Can. Not. Paint. Caulk. Not with acrylic paint, anyway.
I wound up covering it with more wood filler, which made it look terrible. I’ve been meaning to fix it for years, but I never get around to it.
Step 13: Now for the decorative parts. Last winter, I bought Zach a set of Pink Floyd decorative guitar picks. He loves Pink Floyd. But we didn’t know what to do with them, so they were tossed into a drawer and forgotten. I found them when I was cleaning out my desk and I decided to put them on the guitar! I used the tacky glue to do that. I recommend using tacky glue in place of any other glue because it dries so slowly. It will give you plenty of time to shift the picks around if you need to.
Step 14: The last thing I did was take some string and go around the inside edge of the guitar with it. It added a nice texture and it also covered up some mistakes we made with the saw. Win-win!
I did this about 1-2 inches at a time. I put tacky glue down, and then laid the string over it. It was much easier to handle that way and prevented me from getting glue everywhere. Once the tacky glue dried, I made sure it would stay by running some super glue around the edges (particularly where it wiggled too much).
And FINALLY done!
This took me six days, but most of that was spent waiting for things to dry. My muscles were sore for two days from sitting in a crouched position and sanding for what seemed like forever. But it was worth it. And he loved it.
I was inspired to do this by an Etsy post I saw (I’m linking to the picture because that guitar shelf is sold out). I can’t remember how I found it and that one is certainly more polished than mine. But I remember thinking that Zach could use a place to keep his picks, strings, and various other small guitar things that I keep finding around the apartment (usually when they get sucked up into the vacuum).
Did you attempt this project? How about bragging about it by sharing your best photo on my Facebook page!
Once you finish reading through this lengthy post, you may feel a burning desire to make your own shelf. Before you do, though, please read the post I wrote on what I would do differently if I had to do this project again. Learn from my mistakes!
Edit August 12, 2014: I wrote this post in 2012, the year I got into DIY. This was my first real project–I had zero experience using any of the tools necessary and I still don’t have enough to tell you if there are better tools out there for this type of job. It has a lot of flaws, but I still don’t think I’ve done anything that has made me so nervous or so excited.
My only regret is that I wasn’t a better photographer at the time, not that it matters so much since I lost most of the photos in a tragic WordPress accident (I deleted them by mistake). I’ve attempted to make up for it by uploading a few better photos of the finished product. If you have any questions about a certain step, please contact me!
I’m so glad that so many of you have found inspiration in this post. I love seeing the photos you all send me of your guitar shelves and I hope you’ll keep them coming. So if you happen to do this project, please share it on my Facebook page!
What would you do with a broken guitar? Let me know in the comments!