We researched all over the internet to see if MDF was as good as wood for an electric guitar. The consensus was no. But, we elected to use it to hone in our design - the results amazed us!
-Sean and Connor Miller 8/3/2022
In every forum we read, the Maker community were poo-pooing on MDF for guitar body making. Though, no one stated that they actually tried to do it. Why would they? As they pointed out, it would be too heavy, have poor tone (sound), can't get wet, and would cause cancer. Since we were making our first guitar, we didn't want to waste 100 year old walnut on trial-and-error CNC designs, so we elected to simply prototype with MDF.
So, what did we find?
1) Too heavy?
Nope. In the end, our design came in 0.6lbs lighter than my Ibanez Pro Line Series (a Strat competitor back in the 80's).
2) Have poor tone?
Nope. We chose Tex-mex Stratocaster pickups. Between the amp equalizer, two tone controls, and a 5-way switch for 3 pickups, we have no trouble dialing in any tone we want (in the normal Stratocaster, bluesy style).
3) Can't get wet?
Agreed - it can't. Swells up at the wet spot. That's why you prime and paint with enamel or a base coat/urethane. You can then readily clean with a damp cloth or spill a drink on it. We simply used rattle-can enamel.
4) Cause Cancer?
Yep. MDF is full of glue and other bits. But you shouldn't eat it and you should never create respirable dust without wearing a mask and handling the dust. So, as always, we simply applied logical safety precautions/PPE and proceeded without worry. (Painting is also a hazard regardless of body material.)
We first cut out our design on poster board to square up all dimensions and tailor the geometry we were going for. On our first CNC carving, we found no reason to then replicate the work to wood for our project. Of course, if we were wanting to stain and show grain, then we'd definitely not use MDF.
But, for a painted project - absolutely we would recommend it - particularly if you want to maximize your cash on the parts that really count that you can't make yourself such as the tremelo and tuners. A customized body for $11 with material that can be bought at Lowes and fit in my back seat of the car without requiring thickness planing - I'll take two! The result was a wicked rendition of the Stranger Things 4 Eddie's Guitar designed electrically to a 60s Strat vibe:
With it sounding good, our final test was sustain - or how long a note would ring out. There were comments on it would be muted or "dead". So, we loaded up Audacity and plucked a strong G on the Ibanez and then our custom MDF build. Indiscernible!
The moral of the story - don't knock it until you try it.
Most excellent. Party on.