Make your own guitar?

Posted by: Daniel R. Lehrman Posted in: Guitar Repairs Upgrades

Why not make your own guitar? Realistically speaking, I can think of more reasons why not, than why you should. For the most part, building a guitar is for advanced woodcrafters. I don’t mean a general contractor who builds houses either.

A guitar maker is called a ‘luthier’, and by any standard a luthier is considered to be one of the most crafty woodworking trades jobs of all. The attention to detail and precision involved easily equals the skills of a fine orthopedist doing a knee replacement. Obviously different types of guitars have different degrees of difficulty to make. (Is making a guitar very practical)? There are electric solid body guitars and a variety of hollow body guitars. From acoustics, acoustic-electrics and some thin-hollow body electrics, on to classical guitars that all have hollow body’s.

A common characteristic that exists between folks who play the guitar and someone who makes a guitar is “patience”. Guitar players have extraordinary patience, practicing endlessly until we get it right, guitar makers have a similar type of patience in terms of having a personality that is very relaxed and has an eagle eye for the small details, like the character “Monk” on the t.v. show Monk, who is obsessed with small obscure details.

Obviously, having the proper equipment is a must. The equipment needed depends partly on whether you buy a ‘kit’ or ‘build it from the ground up’. Other variables to consider equipment wise may be the type of guitar you build. Meaning that an acoustic guitar utilizes more tools to assemble in kit form than an electric solid body guitar. Patience will be your most important tool. The act of building an acoustic body guitar of any type, from the ground up is best suited for a luthier or someone used to using the necessary tools and is accomplished at precision woodworking.

Something that Popeye The Sailor used to say that cracks me up is “Me has so many patience, me should have been a doctor” (patience, as opposed to Dr’s. patients), holds true to the art of guitar making, no matter what avenue you take. Myself, having a small guitar repair shop locally and doing precision woodwork, wiring of the electrics and upgrades, has some similarities to something else I have done at a high level, rebuilding car transmissions. The precision and attention to detail are similar vibes, every piece of work performed must be done with a calm and focused approach to detail. And, being able to stop, think and correct, or take as much time as necessary on even the finest small details. No grease of course, which is refreshing after rebuilding transmissions for 25 years.

Buy a kit or build the whole thing. That is your choice, however, both ways require a certain amount of tools. Some of the tools are: creativity, Titebond or Hide glue. big clamps, table or radial arm saw, band saw, joiner, planer, router/s, drill press, wood jawed vice and various sanding equipment to name most of them. Sanding meaning power sanding tools, all the way down to elbow grease. Including several special luthier/guitar maker tools for some of the assembly, testing all upgrades before the final setup, and finally, the type of finish of the guitar.

The only item that usually is purchased separately, already made, either complete or ruffed in so to speak is your guitars neck. The choices are endless, some tips on choosing the best Stratocaster neck or for that matter any guitar neck would take some time and investigation.

No matter how you look at it, it is a lot of work, and for most home guitar makers, a labor of love. The payoff comes in several ways. Just the act of making the guitar is a great feeling, enjoy caressing the wood, feel it and rub the wood as you sand it to a perfect surface, handle it and see how it “feels” to you. Looking carefully and careingly at your work after each step, and carefully planing out the accessories such as pickups, tuners, bridge and more is part of the experience. It’s your guitar, you know it will play better than anything you bought at a store, of course, unless it is a Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster or a PRS, tough acts to follow!

If you have what it takes to make your own guitar, both personality wise and tool wise, Guitar Players Center applauds you. Don’t cheat yourself and go for it, buy an inexpensive kit if you are first timer. Building a guitar may be one of the most satisfying things you ever do. Any body out there build a guitar? Tell us about what you built and the whole experience, or simply add any comments or ideas that may be helpful. Enjoy.

9 Responses to Make your own guitar?

  1. Danny, very timely discussion, as you know I’m working on a walnut strat body right now. This is probably the 12th guitar I’ve built, all the bodies from raw wood, but I’ve only tackled one neck from scratch. It was a disaster, so I’ve relegated to buying necks. I don’t know how to post pictures here yet, so I won’t bore you with those, you can come by and see the results any time.
    Fortunately, I have quite a woodworking shop, and build custom furniture as a hobby, which migrated right into building a few guitars. None have come out to be show pieces, but they played well and sounded great. And that’s what counts.
    Don’t be disillusioned, you sure as heck won’t save any money by building one yourself, but the satisfaction sometimes overcomes some of the flaws.
    later, Allan.

  2. Where can a person buy a kit?

  3. Very neat idea! Like a prefab house.

  4. Kits are available from several sources.
    Stewart McDonald, WD, even Grizzly tools has some very nice kits.
    Allan.

  5. I loved the kits that Carvin used to sell here at about $700, a bit too expensive for a kit, but the stock pickups were good and the sound of the guitar assembled this way was great.

  6. I really believe it’s worth trying, we got some sweet sounds out of a tele kit we bought from Grizzly and are working on the second tele with a special neck! It’s a bit of a challenge for beginners, but there are many guitar modifications that can be done with the proper tools!

  7. Building your own guitar with a kit is a great way to put your own touches on your instrument.

    You can get a quality guitar kit with a quilted maple top for a fraction of the cost of buying a name brand one. You can end up with a guitar of higher quality depending on your building and finishing skills.

    This site has about ten build your own guitar kits

  8. I think building a guitar certainly is feasible for a novice. Perhaps it’s better to have a luthier do the fretwork though.

  9. Pingback: Radial Drill Press - drillpress.mnwifi.org

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