Making a guitar from a DIY Electric Guitar Kit is a terrific way to enter the world of guitar building. And thanks to the wonders of Internet commerce, there are plenty of options for electric guitar kits, even really cheap ones on Amazon.
In this article, I’ll go over the pros and cons of building your own Electric Guitar Kit, list some popular vendors and give my thoughts on their products, and give some tips and tricks for making a successful guitar while avoiding common issues.
Why Build Your Own Guitar?
Why build your own guitar when there are so many options to purchase a ready to play instrument? We all know the options for purchasing a ready to play guitar have never been greater.
Big box stores like Guitar Center or Sam Ash have hundreds of guitars at a variety of price points, in multiple styles and in stock at all times. You can easily go down to the store and play a few guitars, pick one you like, and go home with a guitar. Pretty instant gratification.
The options to buy guitars online are even more numerous, with sites like Sweetwater, zZounds and Musicians Friend. Not to mention the sell all sites like eBay and Amazon. If you want a guitar immediately, it has never been easier to get something you like.
Why buy a DIY Electric Guitar Kit?
So what does building your own guitar from a DIY kit offer that these stores can’t? One of the greatest advantages of making your own guitar is customization. Every player has their own taste, their own ideas of what is important to them in a guitar, and their own personal sensibilities and style.
Modifying an Off the Shelf Guitar Can Be Costly
Reading online forums and review sites, I notice how many people will buy a guitar from a big retailer or their local dealer and immediately start swapping parts out in favor of things they prefer, even on high end guitars from major brands. Players will change a nut immediately for their preferred brand or material.
Pickups will get swapped out for boutique or high end sets. Pots, switches and wiring can be replaced with vintage style replacements. Bridges and saddles get changed for different material or weight. Tuners can be replaced for a different style, gear ratio, or locking ability. Simple strap buttons make way for Strap locks.
You can change almost anything to make the guitar your own personal expression of style or playability. On some guitars of course, this is a wise decision. Lower end guitars will often benefit from an electronics replacement. Even middle priced guitars can use a punch up in their electronics or tuners.
But this all comes at a great cost and of course, you’ve already paid a fair sum of money for the instrument in the first place. Boutique pickups can run several hundred dollars plus installation costs if you don’t do it yourself. Bridges and tuners can be up to 100 dollars or more. So a guitar that first cost two or three hundred dollars (and up) can end up double the price just by swapping pickups!
Design Your Own Custom Electric Guitar
This is not to say that replacing parts is not worth it or is a waste of money, but if you’re starting with a guitar kit, you’re starting with a blank slate for your own personal vision and that’s a tremendous benefit. On more expensive kits or builds, you can choose what wood you want, what type of neck you prefer, the fretboard (even the radius), the number and types of pickups, even how the electronics are laid out.
Basically, you design your own. Want a Stratocaster with two P-90 pickups, you can do that! Want to mash up a telecaster and Les Paul Jr? Sure! Even among the lower priced kits, there is a wide selection of guitar styles to choose from. Building your Electric Guitar Kit allows you to use what you want, where you want it.
Another benefit, which has nothing to do with playability but is important nonetheless, is the pride of ownership of having crafted your own unique instrument. Making something yourself gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride.
We’ve all experienced this at some point after making something, even if it’s a coloring book from when you were young – remember how good that felt?! That sense of pride will be felt every time you pick up your instrument and even when others try it out.
Even if you build a straight telecaster based off 50’s specs, you will have created it yourself, made it your own, and have a unique story behind your instrument that no big box or online retailer can match.
I’ve been building guitars for over a decade and I remember each guitar’s unique story of creation, reasons I used certain parts, difficulties and triumphs I’ve had, and of course the pride and gratification I’ve felt when the guitar is completed.
In short, anything can be purchased, but doing it yourself and making exactly what you want is a feeling that lasts a great deal longer.
A Do It Yourself Guitar Is A Worthy Project
Aside from being able to customize your guitar and the satisfaction that building your own guitar gives you, it is FUN. It’s a great indoor project to do on your own, with a friend or with a family member.
I’m always sending progress pics of what I’m working on to my guitar player friends and talking ideas for colors or pickguard styles, etc. It’s a great opportunity to bond with your son or daughter or your mom or dad over the instrument you made together.
Creating things is fun, and creating something together with a friend or loved one is equally as great! And of course, you’ll always have that memory even if you no longer have the guitar.
Even with no experience, putting your own guitar together is not that difficult and there are hundreds of resources online (or even in print) that can walk you through the various processes. The benefit of purchasing a kit that is ready to assemble (like this one) is that you don’t need woodworking skills, tools, or even a dedicated workspace to make a great instrument.
This can all be done on the kitchen table if you want. The most important thing is to take your time, do your research, and learn how to do things properly the first time. If you can do that, you can produce a quality instrument regardless of experience.
Downsides of DIY Guitar Kits
As with anything, there are some downsides to building your own guitar from a kit. The biggest, in my experience, is cost. Unfortunately, kit building a guitar is not as cost effective as buying a one or two hundred dollar beginner’s guitar at a big box store. All the little parts cost money and you might be surprised how quickly it all adds up.
A good idea before starting your project is to make a list of every part you’ll need, go to your supplier’s website, and add them all to the cart to see how much it will run you. This way, you can make adjustments before committing.
For example, if you’re building a Telecaster and are looking to cut costs, consider a string through bridge as opposed to a through body bridge. This will save you on having to buy string ferrules for the backside of the guitar.
However you decide to design your guitar, remember that all the parts of the guitar are important to the sound and playability. It is very difficult to make a great instrument without investing in the right parts.
So if you’re looking to do this as a cheap way to get a great instrument, it might not end up being as cheap as you want. Remember that how a guitar sounds and plays is a sum of its parts, and the better the parts you use are, the better the chance you have at producing a great instrument.
Buying a Kit is Easy but Doing the Work Takes Patience
Another downside, but one that is completely within your ability to defeat, is having the patience to research and learn how to do things the right way. Simply buying all the right parts and throwing it together with some screws and glue isn’t enough to make a quality instrument.
Depending on your design, a lot of things have to be taken into consideration. For example, will the tuners you picked fit the dimensions of the tuner holes on the neck? Vintage tuners, for example, are smaller than some more modern tuners and you need to make sure your neck will accept whatever you choose.
Another example is if your neck will be level at the body or attached at an angle. This determines what kind of bridge you will need, and if you use the wrong one, the instrument won’t play as well or maybe at all!
Most guitar kits come pre-designed so some of the decision making is done for you, but if you’re designing your own for fabrication, you’ll need to do research on most aspects of your design to ensure a successful instrument.
Luckily, there are lots of resources on building guitars from Internet forums to Youtube videos, and many manufacturers of these kits have lots of tutorials and advice for their products that are very helpful and inspiring. The old woodworkers adage of measure twice, cut once can easily be applied to guitar building.