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  Low cost DIY aluminum and wood guitar - Opinions?

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PostPosted: 04/22/2007 at 5:18 PM    Post subject: Low cost DIY aluminum and wood guitar - Opinions?


I am new to aluminum guitars as well as guitar building, but I have an idea that I'd like your opinions on:

You start out with at T-beam, which will act as sort of a spine in the guitar. I plan on using one with a top flange of 100mm, a bottom flange of 60mm and 5 mm flange thickness (that will be approx 4, 2,4 and 0,2 inches). It could be one of these: http://www.isoprofil.de/de/datenbl/alu_tprofil.htm

The T-bar is cut to shape (Pickup holes, neck and head). Due to the width of the pickup holes, the T-bar has to be quite wide in order to keep its structural strength. With a narrower T-bar, the pickup holes would completely intersect the top flange, weakening the T-bar considerably.

Having modified the T-bar, you screw or glue on "ears"(like on a wooden neck-through guitar), fretboard and some pieces of wood to give the neck its desired shape. Plus, of course, route out cavities for electronics, sand the body, mount bridge, nut, etc, etc.

I've put some pictures of various stages on my blog (http://deprigorm.blogspot.....n-gr-det-selv-guitar.html). The text is in Danish, but the pictures give a good idea of the process.

As I see it, there is a number of benefits to this method:

- It is way cheaper than buying a giant slab of aluminum and having it CAM-routed.
- It is easy to do with ordinary DIY tools.
- Various sorts of wood can be used for different tones.
- The T-beam takes care of structural strength, so you have great liberty in choice and - shaping of wood.

First and foremost: Do you think there is a chance it would turn out to be a decent sounding guitar?
Does the manufacturing process (rolling or extrusion or other method) of the T-bar matter w.r.t. the acoustics?
Are there any particular alloys usually used for T-bars that I should avoid or prefer wrt. acoustics?
What is best for mounting the wooden pieces? Screws or glue?
Should I go for greater flange thickness than the 5 mm/0,2 inches? (I estimate the neck will weigh 2 kilos (4,5 pounds) with the dimensions mentioned above, so weight shouldn't be a problem yet)

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PostPosted: 04/23/2007 at 09:30 AM    Post subject:

Well you never know until you try. Have you ever seen or played a Travis Bean, Kramer, or Electrical Guitar? If not, it might be worth while to closely examine one or two for ideas. Your drawings look good, but I'm not sure you'll get the coveted "bell-like" tones from your design. You want to minimize the absorption of tone. Best of luck. Keep us posted.

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PostPosted: 04/23/2007 at 1:32 PM    Post subject:

Your design looks interesting, I cannot comment on the way the guitar would sound as I play bass but I think you may want to have your bridge set into the wood rather than on the aluminum slab by cutting in a slot. I think you would get more sustain that way, might be an option to consider... Please do keep us updated, I am curious LOL.

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Greg Bailey
PostPosted: 04/24/2007 at 2:38 PM    Post subject: "T" Guitar


This looks VERY interesting. I think you can do this pretty much as said. One thing though, the top of the "T" shaped aluminum piece is basically the top plane of the body, right? Just make sure that the fingerboard is up high enough. Even a bridge, like a Strat bridge is higher that a standard fingerbord. On the Travis Bean reproductions I make, the bridge the bridge is mounted into the body about 1/8" deep and the fingerboard is mounted to the aluminum that is already about 1/8" higher than the top of the body. So jst keep that in mind and it should work fine.

I have to dissagree on the last post about the sustain thing. The more solid everything is, the more sustain, so the less wood and more aluminum involved, in the right places, the more sustain. However! I DO find that you get better tone with some wood in the mix rather than all aluminum, so mounting the bridge on wood, like a Travis Bean sounds great and since there is a lot of aluminum still in the mix, you also get great sustain! So, for that point, I DO agree that wood should be between the bridge and the aluminum.

If you recall, Kramer used a "T" shaped piece in their necks and they were very successfull.


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PostPosted: 04/24/2007 at 3:48 PM    Post subject:

I mixed the 2 up, thx Greg for the correction, you set the idea straight : )

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PostPosted: 04/25/2007 at 2:03 PM    Post subject:

Hello all

Thanks for your interest and suggestions. I am glad to have such positive comments. It sounds like making the guitar is worth the try.

Thanks for pointing my attention to bridge height. I would have liked to have the bridge mounted on the aluminum in order to make it easier to swap wings, as I plan to experiment with different shapes of the wings. I could route out 3 of the 5 mm thickness to lower the bridge sufficiently and/or mount the fingerboard on a slice of wood to raise it. But if it improves the tone to mount the bridge in the wood, I might as well cut right through to the wood and just accept having to mount the bridge each time I swap the wings. (Greg: Yes, the center "stripe" in the top of the body is the top flange of the aluminum T-beam)

Furthermore, lowering the bridge 2/8 inches (1/8 the difference in bridge and fingerboard height in Greg's guitars) would mean routing a 6,35 mm deep hole, which - the top flange being only 5 mm thick - brings me down to the wood anyway.

BTW, would it be fair to say that mounting the bridge in alu or wood is a trade-off between on one side bell-like sound and sustain, and on the other side a better (warmer?) tone?

I have only played traditional wooden guitars, but I like the sound and sustain of aluminum guitars. Plus, I see the benefit of having a structure that doesn't warp or flex with temperature or moisture as a big advantage, especially as I will be using wood that I don't know how has been cut, treated and stored earlier. At least for the first couple of prototypes.

I haven't had the opportunity to look closely at any of the aluminum guitars you mention, but seeing the Kramer's neck construction (http://www.vintagekramer.com/alum.htm) actually gave me the inspiration for using a T-beam.

First, I'll go get me a T-beam. Hope to be back soon with an update or seeking further advice. Actually, I have an additional question right now: I need some cheap, but decent sounding wood for the prototype wings and wooden neck pieces. Can you recommend a species that is cheap, easy to work with, and sounds well with aluminum? Would spruce do?


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Greg Bailey
PostPosted: 04/25/2007 at 2:52 PM    Post subject:


If you'd like to mount the bridge on the aluminum, you could raise the fingerboard a bit. I normally use a 3/16" thick fingerboard on the Travis Bean guitars I build and I use a custom made bridge, but it's VERY much like a Strat bridge. If you use a Strat bridge and your fingerboard is 1/4", you could get by with raising the fingerboard 3/16" You could use aluminum, but that would increase the weight. Maybe you could try some wood, like maple. Maple is hard and rigid and with all this lamination, the neck would be very rigid, especially with the aluminum "T" in there.

It's just my opinion, but I think you'd be better off mounting the bridge to the aluminum simply becxause this design doesn't contain as much aluminum as most aluminum neck guitars, so the bridge ON the "T" would have more benefit of the aluminum than if the brige was mounted to the wood.

As for your wood selection, I think spruce would be OK, it's used in acoustic guitars, so why not? You can also use Poplar. It's cheap, easy to use and very available. I've used it in a few guitars and so has Travis Bean.

I hope this helps!

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PostPosted: 04/26/2007 at 9:00 PM    Post subject:

Thanks once again for the advice. There's a lot of issues to take into account, so I'll do some more modelling before deciding.

I was thinking about cutting a hole through the top flange and use a bridge that has one or more mounting holes in the center. This way, the bridge would connect to the bottom aluminum flange through the center hole(s) and to the wood through the other holes. That would give the bridge contact to aluminum as well as wood (which might be good). The main reason for my reluctance to add thickness on the fingerboard is that then I'd have to remove some of the bottom aluminum flange in order to keep the desired thickness of the neck. And that might weaken the neck.

I might also go for a thicker T-beam. That would allow me to lower the bridge and still have it rest on the aluminum. But then there's the weight issue.

First, I'd better look into which T-beams are available. That might narrow my choices.

I looked with great interest at your website (baileycustomguitar.com) but couldn't find any images in which the lowered bridge, which you mention earlier, could be seen. If you could put some close-ups of such details on the site, it would be great. Btw, the guitar in 3Bean6.JPG exactly shows how beautiful dark wood and aluminum can be together. That's one thing I look forward to with my own project (the spruce/poplar wings should only be for starters, later I'd like to use walnut).


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PostPosted: 04/27/2007 at 12:55 AM    Post subject:

Something to think about too may be the headstock. The tuning pegs may stick out too far. It looks as though the plane of the headstock is not going to be much lower than that of the nut. You may be able to use some sort of string tree but im not sure this is optimum.

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PostPosted: 04/27/2007 at 05:57 AM    Post subject:

Good point. I assume your concern is that the pegs will not allow the strings to touch the nut - or at least not give a sufficiently tight contact. But what should be wrong with string trees? If they too are too high, one could lower them by filing some material off the bottom.

But I think a lot of issues mentioned in this thread indicate, that it is a good idea to raise the fingerboard. This way, I will be able to use the various parts as they were intended - i.e. not lowering the bridge, not having to adapt string trees or drill new holes in tuner pegs.


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PostPosted: 04/27/2007 at 09:03 AM    Post subject:

Depending on the thickness of the aluminum T top, could you consider cold bending the headstock area to give it a lowering angle? If it's thick enough you may not need the vertical piece as reinforcement, you might be able to get away with it being just the flat top.
This may resolve a few of the issues, if it works.

I know aluminum bending is tricky but you dont require a big angle. Is this a possibility?

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PostPosted: 04/27/2007 at 10:48 AM    Post subject:

Assuming that it's the nut, not the tuners, that transfer most of the vibration of the strings, I think it could be done. Especially if you cut a vertical wedge shape in the bottom flange below the intended bend, and then bend the head until the two planes of the cut touch each other. Plus perhaps bolt the flange together again. But then again, that might look pretty ugly.

Alternatively one could turn the tuners upside down so the pegs are on the backside of the head. That would make it necessary to cut some holes in the head to allow the strings to go directly from nut to peg. Then I wouldn't have to bend anything.

I've also been considering a headless design that uses traditional tuners (as opposed to e.g. a Steinberger) in the end of the top flange at the other end of the guitar, but that might be taking the experimentation too far. It would probably not even solve the problem, but just move it down to the other end.

But if I raise the fingerboard as Greg suggested and keep a normal tuner configuration, don't you think a couple of string trees will be sufficient to keep the strings tight over the nut?


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PostPosted: 05/11/2007 at 5:31 PM    Post subject: Bridge and tuner issues

Hello all

I've thought a lot about how to solve the issue of the bridge being too high compared to the fingerboard (discussed above with the options of raising the fingerboard or recessing the bridge into the T-beam).

Though raising the fingerboard is a good option, I'd like to keep the strings as close as possible to the T-beam. With the strings low, they will have a shorter "arm" through which to exert their force - and therefore to a lesser degree pull the neck forward (and since I plan for a design without at truss rod, I'm a bit concerned about the pull of the strings).

My idea is to do away with the frame of the bridge and let the saddles rest directly on top of the T-beam (with a slab of metal to support the horizontal adjustment screws). Stratocaster-type saddles are only about 0,2" to 0,3" (5-7 mm) high, and with a fingerboard thickness of around 0,25" plus whatever nut height I choose (not yet sure about that), I believe the design gives me sufficient margins to get the strings parallel with the fingerboard (which is what I'm aiming for).

The idea can be combined with a headless design, as the strat-type bridges allow the strings to go through the body of the guitar. If I route holes below the saddles through the T-beam and the wood beneath it, plus make a cavity for the strings, the strings could connect to a row of tuners at the bottom of the guitar. A slab of low-friction material (e.g. Trem-nut, see link below) can ease the movement of the strings.

To illustrate the idea, there are some pictures here:

The pictures show the guitar with the wings twisted. This has no relevance to the design I describe here, but is just a "leftover" from earlier sketches. Btw, I mentioned the headless design earlier as just an idea, but as time went by, I like it more and more - especially as it will reduce the weight in general and make the guitar less neck-heavy. I also consider using Steinberger gearless tuners (see link below), which would allow for an even more compact design (but the general principles of the design would be the same).

I think mounting the saddles directly on the surface would be simple plus give a good and clean look, but I am not sure if the small height adjustment screws of the saddles transmit the vibration of the strings well enough when resting on the relatively soft aluminum surface. Normally, the screws have a brass or steel bridge to rest on, and the bridge in turn has a much larger footprint through which to transmit the vibrations to the wood or aluminum.

Has anyone tried having the saddles rest directly on the top of the guitar's body? Or do you have opinions on whether it's worth the try? (if it doesn't work, I can always mount a traditional strat bridge in a routed-out cavity, especially if I go for greater flange thickness (4"/10mm instead of the 2"/5mm, which I originally planned for)).

...and what do you think of the tuner system? It seems to me that it should work, but there might be some issues, that it doesn't take into account (one is that the saddles are not designed for having strings moving through them, but I imagine using e.g. a Graphtech saddle (link below) will solve that.

I haven't got my hands on a piece of T-beam yet, btw. Still working on it.


Various links:
Steinberger gearless tuners:

Trem-nut slab:

Graphtech saddle:

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PostPosted: 06/30/2007 at 01:45 AM    Post subject: My blog about the aluminium T-beam guitar

Hi All

The work on the guitar is progressing very slowly. I've bought some pickups, a fingerboard and a bridge, but I still haven't managed to get the T-beam.

In the meantime, I've made a blog where I describe design considerations and - in the future - intend to describe the actual building of the guitar. It can be found here:



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PostPosted: 07/01/2007 at 10:10 AM    Post subject:

Alex.. very cool! I'll be sure to check that often.


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PostPosted: 11/26/2007 at 8:54 PM    Post subject: t beam

What a concept. This design addresses at least two of the concerns I have about aluminum in guitars. Weight and cost. Make it look pretty and sound sweet and you've got a sure winner.

Ain't this fun?

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