Being a guitar player for many years, Joel Marsh became interested in building custom electric guitars at home. With his father (Gary) sharing the same interest, the duo decided to collaborate on the project. From the outset it was obvious that in addition to their basic home shop tools, the father and son team would need a few key pieces of machinery in order to greatly enhance the instrument building endeavour. Gary explains;
"Between the two of us we have a considerable amount of experience in the woodworking industry, including CNC machinery & the software involved. But the cost of industrial machinery and CADCAM software puts them out-of-reach to most small scale users. However, with the proliferation of affordable components and software, things have changed for the home user!"
With Gary's CNC experience they decided to take up the challenge of building their own cnc router. An impressive achievement on its own! This was to tailor the router and power fed drum sander to meet the specific requirements of the guitar project. The CNC router and sander were designed and built in Gary's workshop then transport 90 miles to Joel's workshop for Joel to take up the next phase of the operation. The CNC router is controlled using Mach3 software but as Gary and Joel explain the next tough task was to decide on the CAM software.
"We began researching all the possibilities we could find in the ‘home-use’ price range and were very happy to find the Vectric products. Cost effective, easy to use, and very capable of handling all our needs in both 2D & 3D machining."
Creating the guitars
Joel first modeled the the guitar necks and bodies in AutoCAD and exported out in file formats suitable for Cut3D and Cut2D. After importing into Cut3D he created the roughing and finishing tool paths.
One of the obstacles they had to overcome was producing accurate two sided parts. This was accomplished by means of material holding jigs that are accurately referenced to the bed of the CNC Router via steel dowel pins and clamps.
The jig board has aluminium dowel pins fixed to it and these ensure the material is accurately referenced for flipping and machining both sides.
With most new toolpath strategies, Joel machines them as a mock-up first to provide opportunity to make sure all tool paths are accomplishing their intended goal and avoiding potentially damaging situations such as running into (or through) clamps. Cut3D gave Joel the added reassurance that the CNC programs would perform as intended;
"One thing I especially appreciate and find to be very helpful about Vectric’s CAM software is the similarity of look and function between Cut 2D and 3D. When both 2D & 3D operations are run on the same part, the familiarity between programs really helps to prevent mistakes & mishaps."
After the machining was finished the guitar body and neck underwent detailed finishing, grain filler, 3 coats of sealer and sunburst finish on front. Joel then applied multiple coats of lacquer with sanding in between followed by a 4 week curing period & final polishing. All hardware & electronics was then installed ready for set-up for playing.
"It's a long process but can't really be sidestepped with a high end custom built guitar!"
Gary and Joel went on to say,
"This whole endeavour has been a real challenge and lots of fun for us even though some-what time consuming. Working with high dollar machines & software in an industrial environment certainly introduces you to the concepts of CNC. But building one is another challenge altogether. Close to a year to design & build the sander and CNC, but more than worth it to see the results."
Reviews of Joel’s guitars by both musicians & dealers alike have been very favourable. Fine instruments speak for themselves as sales have also proven.
Gary paid tribute to Vectric in helping him and his son achieve success;
"Our hats are off to the Vectric team for helping us reach our goal with such great software products!"
If you would like further information about MARSH GUITARS please email Joel >