Ever since I started building, I had a notion that I wanted to make all of the components for my instruments. Obviously, I’m not fabricating all of the screws and bolts, but I wanted to create my own pickups, tuning machines, nuts, and bridges. I wanted to produce something that was less store-bought, something more in the spirit of old-time cigar box guitar building—instruments largely made of repurposed items and found materials.
In the back of my head, it has always annoyed me that the 1/4″ output jack was the one vital component that probably could not be “homemade”, that it wasn’t feasible to duplicate or improve upon the store-bought design with simple, everyday materials.
Then, I ran into a problem with one of my builds. I was working on a three-stringed guitar that I call “The Stick.” It was a 1×2 maple neck/body that wasn’t going to be attached to anything—just the stick with a 1/4″x2″ oak cover plate over the back of the electronics.
On this build, placement of the 1/4″ output jack required a bit more consideration than usual. The endpin jack that I usually use didn’t work with the thickness of the maple neck/body and if located at the end of the guitar, it would reduce the stability of the tuning machines by a factor of one center screw.
A store bought 1/4″ jack requires about 5/8″ to 3/4″ of interior space then necessitates that one find something small enough to fit within the confines of the neck/body and cover plate, but large enough to cover the hole.
With these parameters in mind, I decided to make my own 1/4″ output jack. After making and testing a prototype made from spare parts on my bench, I found that a workable 1/4″ jack can be made from a 5/16″ tee nut, a picture hanger and some electrical tape (preferably 1/2″).
I began by straightening the top part of the picture hanger. Then, I cut the hanger just above the first hole. Next, I clamped it in the vise and drilled a small hole for soldering the hot wire.
Inspection of a store-bought jack reveals that the grounding tab must make contact with the housing, while the hot tab must be isolated from the housing. Therefore, I taped the bottom of the hot tab to keep it completely insulated.
Using needle-nose pliers, I bent the tab in half toward the drilled hole, as seen in the picture—this would catch and hold the tip of the plug.
Center the grounding tab between two of the three holes on the threaded tee with the hole of the tab sticking out. It is important to place the tab directly between the holes, because you will have to drill out some of the areas between the holes on the guitar in order to allow for the tab and the top of the jack. Make sure that the grounding tab is seated firmly against the bare shaft of the threaded tee, then use electrical tape (preferably 1/2″ tape) to bind them together. Pull the tape tight as you run the tape around the shaft twice.
Moving in the direction of the tape, locate the next space directly between two holes and place the hot tab against the tape on the threaded tee’s shaft. Again, it is important to place the tab directly between the holes, because you will have to drill out some of the areas between the holes on the guitar in order to allow for the tab and the top of the jack. You must also keep the hot tab from touching the bare metal. Continue to run the tape around the hot tab two more times, pulling it tightly; cut the tape and secure the end of the tape.
The jack is complete—now you just have to drill a hole in your instrument. When choosing the location, remember, if you are putting it in the side, the board is only an 1-1/2″ wide so you only have about an 1-1/4 of safe, useable depth space.
Place the jack upside down on the location and find the best place for your holes relative to the material that you will have to remove to accommodate for wires, the soldered tabs and the range of movement needed when the cord tip is pushed into the jack. Mark your holes with a pencil.
Find the center of the hole. Then, 9/16″ hole with a spade bit. Place a 3/8 standard bit in your drill and slowly route out the area in the sections containing the tabs. Place a 1/4″ tip in the jack and check the fit so that you do not remove more material than you can cover. The hole doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as the jack can operate correctly you’re golden.
Important—practice drilling the hole on a scrap piece of wood that is the same size and species of wood, so that you can get a feel for the shape of the hole. Once you find the shape that fits your jack into your project, transfer the shape and drill.
This homemade jack fit perfectly into the small space provided by this particular build. In the past, I would have simply used an RCA jack and a special adapting cord to deal with this issue, so I feel fortunate to have finished this project, within the established constraints, with a usable 1/4″ jack.
For additional photos and build notes related to the subject guitar build, follow this link:
Follow this link for a video demonstration of this homemade 1/4″ jack in action: