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Guitar Hero

Shawn Hagen built his own electric guitar

June 1, 2008
NEW ULM — Shawn Hagen really wanted a Gibson SG. But those guitars cost around $1,400 and he didn’t have that kind of cash.

He has other guitars, a Gibson Les Paul, a Fender and Jackson V but he didn’t have that Gibson SG.

So instead, Hagen decided to make one himself.

“I always wanted one,” he said. “It has a different design, a different feel and a different look. So I made one.”

It’s also a unique experience to play your very own guitar.

“I have a lot of different guitars,” Hagen said. “But not one that I’ve made. Not a lot of guitar players can say that they are playing the guitar that they made. I just wanted to have that edge over different people.”

Hagen used to work at Medallion Cabinets in New Ulm where he ran a table saw and it was there that he got the idea to build his own guitar.

“I was at work and I was cutting a piece of wood and thought, ‘that’s about the same size as a guitar,’” he said. “Then I thought, ‘I wonder if I could make a guitar.’ So I researched how much it would be and how much work it would be.”

He was looking for a unique piece of wood. He wanted either cherry, maple or oak but he said the oak was too porous, the maple was too heavy but the cherry was just right.

“It was top quality wood because you can’t have a knot in cabinets,” he said.

In the end, he figures he has spent about $600 making the guitar, which is at least half as much as real Gibson SG would cost.

To get started, he made a number of free sketches and brought them to Rhapsody Music in Mankato to just double check his work and make sure it was about the right size.

Hagen plays guitar, so he knows how it works and that’s about all the research he did in making his own.

“I did a little bit of research on some finishing on the internet but not about actually making the guitar.”

Making a guitar, as one can imagine isn’t an easy process. But the most difficult part for Hagen was being patient.

“You really have to be patient with it,” he said. “I always wanted to go-go-go because I wanted to get it done so I could play it. But I just kept in mind that if I was patient, it will be better so I took my time.”

He worked on the guitar in his free time between going to school at South Central College in Mankato and work from December to March. It took between 60 and 70 hours to make it.

It’s an electric guitar so he had that to put it together too. He ordered pickups from a music store which pick up the vibrations of the strings and turn them into electronic signal that goes to the amplifier.

“I had to cut the holes [in the guitar] for the wiring,” Hagen said. “Once I got all the wires put in I took it to Tomtronix [in New Ulm] and had him solder it. I just set it up and they soldered it.”

He looked at his other guitars to figure out where everything went.

“With the pickups there was a diagram of which wire goes to where,” Hagen said. “But I pretty much knew where it was all going to go.”

He also made all of the metal pieces.

“The tail stock is made off aluminum, which is hard to find these days,” Hagen said. “I made that in about four hours in college.”

He said aluminum is hard to find because Gibson made them for a while in the 60s but quit so they are hard to find. Now they are mostly made from nickel-plated steel.

“You can’t really buy them now,” Hagen said. “[The nickel-plated steel] is kind of heavier and the aluminum gives it a bolder sound.”

The most important thing is Hagen really enjoys playing his project.

“I love it,” he said. “It really does sound like a Gibson. It’s a new sound for me. It’s not a sound I’ve played in a long time.”

That’s why he started another guitar.

“I always wanted a double neck,” he said. “So I am kind of in the middle of making that right now. But after the Gibson and the double neck I’m out of ideas.”

This whole experience has opened a new dream for Hagen. In the future he hopes to open his own custom guitar shop.

“That would be cool. Or maybe a hardware shop,” he said. “I’m kind of looking into that but it’s still kind of just a fantasy.”

Article Photos

Shawn Hagen holds the guitar he built.



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