What better way to personalize a guitar than to build it yourself? If you have been playing guitar for some time and are quite familiar with the intricacies of the instrument, you might be tempted to build a guitar from scratch. Done right, a self-build guitar can be a fantastic project, allowing you to create a truly unique instrument that is designed exactly to your specifications. DIY guitar kits are preferred by many guitar players and hobbyists because they are readily available and any accessories required to complete the build are easy to find.
But is this a good move on your part and are guitar kits any good? Yes, they are but it is important that you remember what your abilities are as well. Are you confident that you can build a good guitar with a kit?
What is a Self-Build Guitar Kit?
A self-build guitar kit is a product that consists of the different components of a basic guitar. It allows you to build your own musical instrument from the pre-shaped components provided. Self-build guitar kits are available at many brick-and-mortar music stores but they are also sold from many online shops. Some kits include hardware such as strings and tuners while others offer only the most basic components to allow the builder to further customize their project.
Build or Buy? Advantages of Building Your Own Vs. Buying
The thought of building your own guitar may be either tempting or scary for you. Having the urge does not always mean you should go through with it. However, there are actually some key advantages to building your guitar from a kit compared to just buying one. Here are some of them:
Create a personalized instrument. Each guitar player has his/her own playing style and preference. By taking over the build process, you can create a guitar that is designed specifically for your playing style and ability.
You can customize your guitar. Easily the most obvious advantage of self-building your guitar is the opportunity to personalize your ax to your heart’s content. You can choose a kit that has the specific element/s you want, from the shape and color of the body, to the styles and designs of the neck and tuners. You have better control over the design and type of components to use.
You get to enjoy the build process. If you have always had a thing for handmade projects, you will love building your own guitar. There is something so utterly rewarding about creating something with your hands that you will truly find satisfying.
You can start a hobby. Building your own guitar could very well be the beginning of a new hobby for you. Or, if you are already into woodworking, it is a natural transition. You can also get better as you build more.
Develop a deeper appreciation for the instrument. Every component and element chosen for a specific build will not only affect the appearance of the guitar but also its sound. Building the guitar from the most basic components allows you to learn how to appreciate its structure and design. Since every element you include will ultimately affect how the guitar will sound and feel in your hands, you will have a better understanding of the instrument.
Start your own business. Once you become highly skilled at building guitars, you could sell your creations to other guitar players. This could take time but when you have developed the right set of skills and creativity, it could be a great way to earn from your efforts.
Get bragging rights. Getting to create a complete, functional guitar can be a source of great pride for many guitarists/hobbyists.
Cost. Sometimes, buying a guitar kit can be much cheaper than buying a production guitar. Note that this is only possible if you have a very good idea about what you are doing.
Disadvantages You Should Be Aware Of
Just like any type of project, using a self-build guitar kit also has its own set of disadvantages. It can be challenging and not as easy as it seems, especially if you are inexperienced. Here are some disadvantages to expect:
- Details can be frustrating. As with every new project, there is a learning curve you have to overcome. For some, this learning curve can be steeper, especially for inexperienced or beginner builders. With a store-bought unit, you can literally plug and play, as in the case of an electric guitar.
- It takes time and a lot of patience. A self-build guitar is not a weekend project. Although the components are included in the kit, pre-shaped and likely machined, they need to be put together in the correct sequence and position. It may also be necessary to look for parts and other components if what you have is only a basic kit. Then, there is the dirty work – cutting, drilling, sanding, gluing, painting, and staining, not to mention going through the waiting time to get the instrument ready. It takes a lot of patience to complete one build. The time it would take from start to finish will ultimately depend on your skills and time.
- Cost. In a few cases, you could save more if you bought a guitar instead of building one. Some kits are affordable enough but one build may require other components and materials, including hardware and electronics. You may also need to buy a new set of tools if you do not have any.
- Errors can be frustrating. Not all builds are perfect and mistakes are likely, which can test the patience of even the most determined enthusiast. In the most trying of moments, it might be tempting to just give up the project.
If you choose to buy a guitar instead, you can actually enjoy a wide range of choices in terms of type, style, color, make, quality, hardware, and price. You also enjoy some protection with a warranty in place, which is often offered with each purchase of the product. Lastly, buying a guitar frees you of the rather labor-intensive task of putting together a musical instrument using multiple components. Once you bring that guitar home, you can unwrap it, tune it up, and start playing in just minutes.
What to Look For When Picking the Best DIY Guitar Kit
When you choose to go with a self-build, you can find a great range of options. To find the best DIY guitar kit, consider these steps:
First, do research.
If you are making your first build, then you need to do some research to understand what is available, which tools you need, and which process is best. It also pays to browse through product reviews and guides online. Many individuals who are building their own guitars often provide invaluable tips and insight.
It is also important to have a solid understanding of your purpose and goal. While you may have this idea to build a guitar solely to customize your instrument, you need to zero in on the exact outcome you want. Once you know your vision, you know exactly what to look for and how to find it.
Consider if you require a basic, intermediate, or advanced kit.
Basic kits are recommended for beginners because these are generally the easiest to put together, requiring fewer steps and components. If you have never built your own guitar, consider buying a beginner model. With this kit, you can learn as you go and improve the setup along the way.
Check the kit carefully to know what you are getting. Some kits are so basic that they may not include hardware, which means strings and tuners may require a separate purchase. To be on the safe side, ask the seller what is not included to have a better idea what you need to buy.
Know your ability level.
Guitar kits do not necessarily require an advanced level of woodworking skills (although it helps) because there are step-by-step instructions provided to get you through the process. Before buying one, consider the kind of skills you have, including the knowledge you have acquired regarding the instrument and how it works. Some kits are meant for more experienced musicians and if you are a beginner, it is better to stay away from these. In general, choose a guitar kit that has many pre-assembled components if you are a newbie. That way, you are far less likely to make mistakes since more parts have already been put together at the factory.
Consider a trusted brand.
While quality is not always associated with price, it is often expected from trusted brands. Companies build their brands through reputation, which in turn is something they build with the quality of their products. Their guitar kits may carry a higher price tag but these are more likely to have better quality, allowing you to build with confidence. Consider finding the best brands through online reviews, testimonials, and third party websites. Chat rooms and online discussion boards may even offer help through their members who are more than happy to offer their advice.
Look for durability and stability.
Buy a guitar kit that is known to be stable, strong, and sturdy. It might come at a higher price but you are actually buying quality. Better quality makes for a sturdy build and you are more likely to have a guitar that will last a long time.
Level of Customization
Some manufacturers let you customize nearly every component of the kit. What you choose you to include in your final build will, of course, depend on your preferences. If you prefer a truly unique guitar or one that fits your specific needs, this feature can come in handy.
Tools You Need for Self-Building A Guitar Kit
There are a few basic tools that are necessary to keep the build tidy, sturdy, quick, and safe. These are:
- Ruler – A precision ruler is necessary to keep distances between components accurate. Consider a ruler that can take measurements in both inches and millimeters. It does not have to be fancy as long as it can take accurate measurements.
- Truss Rod Wrench – Many manufacturers include a truss rod wrench in their kits but if your kit doesn’t have any, you’ll need one. This wrench is important for adjusting the relief of the guitar’s neck and should be sized properly depending on the size of the truss rod bolt of your guitar.
- String Cutter – A sharp cutter lets you snip extra lengths of guitar strings to the proper length. Guitar strings are made from metal or nylon, so a pair of scissors is not a recommended alternative.
- Screwdriver – Screwdrivers are necessary to loosen/tighten bolts. They also help in saddle intonation and tuning pegs. Get the proper sizes of screwdrivers to fit the bolts and screws that come with the kit.
- Allen Wrench – Allen wrenches or hex keys are required for setting nut pressure pads, saddles, and other components.
- String Winder – A string winder will help you twist the tuning pegs in place so you can avoid doing this by hand. It makes the process of putting in the pegs much quicker.
- Work Mat – Not required but a soft and padded work mat will help protect your guitar from scratches and slipping while you are working on it.
Types of DIY Guitar Kits
Most beginners will go for an acoustic guitar kit as their first build. Regardless of your skill level, acoustics are actually a great first DIY project. They are also not as complicated as electric builds because there are no electrical components to worry about. Most acoustic guitar kits are dreadnought types but you might find classical and triple O shapes as well. Acoustic guitar kits may either have a dovetail joint or a bolt-on neck, the latter of which may be easier to put together for beginners.
The most widely available electric guitar kits feature bodies which are copies of the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, and the Les Paul. Both the Tele and the Strat have the “deep C” design that allows guitarists to play the highest notes that can be achieved on their instrument. As to which body type you will go for will be heavily influenced by your musical preferences. The Tele is the grandpa of the trio and is a popular choice for musicians who play rock, country, pop, reggae, punk, and blues, and to some extent, jazz. The Strat is the choice for rock, blues, and a wide range of musical genres as well. The Les Paul body is much closer to the traditional guitar look. In terms of sound quality, however, it gives off a pretty rich tone. In terms of tone switching, however, the Strat can be tweaked for a variety of tones. Ultimately, the choice you make among these three popular body shapes will depend largely on the type of music you want to play and your guitar playing preferences.
Known Brands of DIY Guitar Kits to Try
There is a number of guitar kit brands available in the market and each one can offer a pretty good deal. However, you might want to look at these two recommended options:
When it comes to quality builds, you can’t go wrong with Warmoth. You will find an excellent assortment of parts and accessories that will let you create a truly distinct and unique masterpiece. What’s great about Warmoth is that they can offer highly specific options to customers that may not always be available from other suppliers or even production model guitars. The company is geared towards individuals who are looking to completely customize their instruments, which means you will find dozens of options to mix-and-match anything from woods and finishes to frets and neck shapes, to bolts and screws. Warmoth is proudly American, with parts made in the USA. They stand by their boutique-quality guitar parts and their customers speak highly of their products and services.
Solo Music Gear prides itself on providing full support to its customers. If at any time you find yourself unable to progress in your build, you can simply call the company through their 1-800 number or send an email to tech support. Their kits are quite affordable, which makes them very popular among musicians and hobbyists. Founded in 2008, Solo Music Gear maintains one of the largest selections of parts, accessories, and Luthier tools for DIY guitar projects. Their showroom offers a visual feast of the models they offer and the endless possibilities you can achieve with their kits and accessories. While you can visit their brick-and-mortar stores, shopping online may be more convenient since their inventory is accessible through their website. Solo has some of the finest selections of options for guitar players. They have enough products to get you through your first custom build and you are likely to keep coming back for replacement and upgrades.
Building your own guitar from a guitar kit can be a rewarding experience, as long as you start with the right materials, tools, approach, and expectations. It pays to have some experience playing guitar because this allows you to view your project from a better perspective. Since you will be creating something that is to your liking, taking time to build your own guitar not only hones your skill as a guitarist, it also helps increase your appreciation for this special and versatile instrument.