Howdy folks. I'm a first-time builder. Recently got it into my head that I want to build an electric oil can guitar, like the ones you see coming out of South Africa. I've gathered all of my materials, but have one crucial question: How do you work inside of an oil can (i.e. to wire up pickups, pots and jacks) when there's no lid to open, like there is on a cigar box or a cookie tin? I'm hoping Chickenbone John can weigh in on this one, since he builds such beautiful oil can guitars, and it looks like his oil cans stay intact; they're not chopped up into sections, from what I can tell. Do you cut out an access hole in the back of the can with tin snips? Or is there a way to un-crimp the can at the bottom and peel off that bottom section, then reattach it when done? Or do you use elongated pliers, a lot of patience, and access the gut of the oil can through the slot that you cut out for the neck?

Thanks for any tips you can offer. I look forward to posting photos of my finished guitar here.

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OK..here goes...basically I put in a 'neckstick' or centreblock into the guitar to carry the neck and bridge. There are two approaches - the one which I developed myself is to form a cut-out in the tin to receive the heel of the neck. This gives you just enough room to insert the neck stick with the neck a fixed to it. By the time you've cut out the top for the pickups, these holes give plenty of room to work to install the wiring - all the pots etc are wired-up up beforehand and threaded thru' the cutouts, much as the same as you'd do on a semi or jazzbox...but a lot easier (working thru' f-holes is a pain)! The whole process is a bit of a "ship in a bottle" sort of affair, as all the reinforcement that you are going to put into the can has to go in through the neck pocket cutout.

The other way is to take the entire top of the can off with a can opener. It was Roosterman who put me onto this idea, and I must say it is by far and away the easier method. I must say I didn't warm to the idea immediately, as this seemed like a brutal and unsubtle way of doing it, but I could see the sense in it. My original method leaves the can virtually intact, and is a very neat finished job with no signs of 'surgery', but is not easy. The main points are to make sure you've got a really good can-opener that will take the top off really precisely without damaging either the end that you are cutting out or the sides of the can where the opener clamps on. Once the can is opened, I glue in some ply reinforcements to the top and bottom of the can, then I can fix in my centreblock, do the cutouts for the neck and electrics and assemble. Simples!

You do need to think the whole process through before starting cutting, to make sure the sequence will work, and that you have figured out 'hardpoints' to attach the neckstick/throughblock and the other hardware. Also, be very systematic about 'dry assembling' at each stage of the process to make sure it's all fitting together. The metal is REALLY thin and will cut with a Stanley knife or a stout pair of sharp kitchen scissors, but watch out on three points -a) it's very easy to cut too far and totally ruin the can. b) Once you've cut thru' the rolled seams or started making an opening for a pickup, it is all too easy to bend and distort the can badly, especially if you try forcing the neck into a cut-out which is fractionally undersized or has a 'tight spot' on it . c) The cut edges are RAZOR sharp, so be very careful that you don't cut or stab yourself - you can get some seriously nasty injuries working with cutting thin sheet metal. I've developed a technique for cutting out for pickups etc which leaves a neat rolled edge to the openings, and I know how nasty this process can be.

I would say an oil -can guitar is pretty challenging for a first time build, but providing you take your time and think though all the processes before cutting metal, it is manageable. Make sure you have plenty of self tapping screws, Araldite epoxy adhesive is good for glueing wood to tin...and my tip for cleaning the inside of the can is to use Wurth clutch cleaner spray..available from kart racing or motorcycle shops..it does the job nicely but I don't vouch for it being particularly green or non-carcinogenic.
Chickenbone John, you're a gentleman and a scholar. Thanks so much for the valuable advice. Since this is my first oil can guitar, I think I'll go with the slightly less ambitious method of popping the top off with a can opener. That way, I shouldn't have to cut big holes in the face of the can for the pickups (I'm using dog-eared P90 pickups, so I'll be mounting them straight onto the can). Hopefully fewer holes spells more structural integrity for the can.

I'm also taking another shortcut: I found a can company online that sells new, unpainted F-style (rectangular) cans in single units, so I've got 2 perfectly clean, shiny, gallon-size cans from the get-go, which I can later paint as I wish (The website is GetSomeCans.com if you're interested--they ship internationally). But I also washed out an old sesame oil can (quart-size) that I got from a Korean grocery store, so I can use that can to do a test run and hone my can-smithing skills.

I'll be taking step-by-step photos of my progress, so you can see what kind of Frankenstein's monster I'm assembling. Thanks again for the advice; you're a life-saver... or at least a can-saver. Cheers.
ChickenboneJohn, could I also ask where you get your decorative soundhole covers? I saw a
beautiful one in one of your oil can guitar photos and was wondering if you cut it yourself, or ordered it from someplace.
Great info!!!! I just got a 1968 Texaco oil can. I was thinking of making it my first fretted build. I was thinking acoustic to not eat up too much of the can's artwork. But Im torn. Anyways Great link on the blank cans.
Check out your computer supplier for fan covers...
MicCheckOne said:
ChickenboneJohn, could I also ask where you get your decorative soundhole covers? I saw a
beautiful one in one of your oil can guitar photos and was wondering if you cut it yourself, or ordered it from someplace.
Amazing. You rock.

ChickenboneJohn said:
Check out your computer supplier for fan covers...

Just put in a full day's work on my first oil can guitar. My dad was in town for a visit and decided this project sounded like a lot of fun. Next thing you know, he grabs the jigsaw and starts cutting out the guitar's neck for me. Who would've guessed this would turn into a father-son bonding experience? Ha ha. So far, so good. Can't wait to post some photos of the build.
Well, here it is. My very first homemade guitar. I'll post a step-by-step chronicle of how I made it in the next week or so. Then you can see up-close what a piece of @$#%&! this thing actually is. Definitely a learning experience. But, it was a fun challenge, and the thing actually works! Sure, the scale is off, the action of the strings is about half-an-inch in the air, the neck is as thick as a tree trunk, and the oil can is too front-heavy to keep from tipping over, but it works! Thanks a million to Chickenbone John for advice and inspiration! Maybe next time I'll get it right.

Well done..the important thing it it's yours and YOU and (your dad) made it! You can always tinker with it (it took me a dozen or so 'dry builds' and teardowns before I got the first one to work right). If the action is too high and it's a bolt on neck you can shim the joint (just try putting washers over the rear neck screws or pack with offcuts of credit cards to tilt the neck in the right direction) - simple and effective way of lowering the action.
Looks great! Exceptional first build. And thats all the problems you came out with? Awesome! now you know better for next time. And you can still shim the neck, With the use of a cover plate you could prbably reposition your bridgeto get the intonation right.(do the neck 1st).even if you dont make the changes Id be proud to display that build.
MicCheckOne said:
Well, here it is. My very first homemade guitar. I'll post a step-by-step chronicle of how I made it in the next week or so. Then you can see up-close what a piece of @$#%&! this thing actually is. Definitely a learning experience. But, it was a fun challenge, and the thing actually works! Sure, the scale is off, the action of the strings is about half-an-inch in the air, the neck is as thick as a tree trunk, and the oil can is too front-heavy to keep from tipping over, but it works! Thanks a million to Chickenbone John for advice and inspiration! Maybe next time I'll get it right.


Oh, I wish it were that simple! Unfortunately it's a through-the-body neck, one solid chunk. Just failed to correctly measure the height of the wraparound bridge/tailpiece combo, so the pickups and the nut ended up positioned much lower than this piece.

Thanks for the kind remarks and suggestions. I'm already looking forward to building the next one.
With a thru' neck it should be fairly simple to adjust the neck angle, as it can effectively pivot around the heel and you just alter the fixing point at the end of the 'neckstick'..unless you've done something monolithic and the bridge posts are fixed into the same single piece of timber that forms the neck.

In which case, a few points to learn for the next one..always have your parts to hand before starting, measure and 'dry fit' assemble as you go along, and design the neck/body fixing arrangement so there is some degree of fixability if you don't get it right first off. Those one piece LP or BadAss type bridges can be particularly unforgiving if you don't get them installed properly in the first place - there's very little leeway for any inaccuracy, both in terms of scale length and action.
ChickenboneJohn said:
..unless you've done something monolithic and the bridge posts are fixed into the same single piece of timber that forms the neck.
Er... yep, that's pretty much exactly what I did.

Live and learn. Here are some other hairbrained things I did: • Headstock and neck are two separate pieces cut at a bevel and joined together with dowels and glue. Did this because I wanted to angle the headstock back slightly but didn't have the means to steam-bend the lumber, and just plain didn't know any better. And yes, it's already broken beyond reasonable repair.

    

• Fretted fingerboard actually consists of one continuous length of steel wire wrapped around a 1/4" thick board affixed to the neck with wood screws (take another look at those "inlay dots"). Got the idea from Charles Neville's "Uncle Bob" guitars at CyberFeral.com but opted for steel wire instead of nylon fishing line. Resulting frets are elevated, uneven and a bit uncomfortable. And the Philips-head "dots" tend to snag the strings, of course.

    

• More mis-measurements! Thought I had measured the machine heads and determined they were long enough to pop through my 3/4" thick headstock. Not so. Had to chisel out a 1/4" recess in the finished headstock to accommodate the tuning posts... and then over-chiseled by a hair or two.

    

    

• Never soldered before in my life. Soldered with lengths of wire that were too short, making it physically impossible to space the pickups, pots, switch and jack according to the holes I had already drilled in the oil can. Had to un-solder and re-solder everything. The electronics work, but the soldering sure ain't pretty.

    

• Just couldn't fit all the components through the 1" slot I had made in the top of the oil can and maneuver my sausage fingers around in there at the same time. Had to peel back the "lid" all the way, causing unsightly damage to the oil can (and taking a few more nicks out of my skin).

    

So, like I said, the guitar is already broken beyond reasonable repair. It's either a folk-art exhibit or a salvage project at this point. Although I'm sad it didn't come out perfect on the first try, I know the next one will be exponentially better.

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