DIY Electric Guitar Kit

DIY Electric Guitar Kit
DIY electric guitar kit
The beginnings of a DIY electric guitar kit

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.

diy-guitar-kit

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.

how-to-customize-guitar
How to Customize Your Guitar on WikiHow

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.

customize-electric-guitar
LP Style Electric Guitar Kit on StewMac

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.diy-guitar-build

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.

build your own guitar

High Quality DIY Guitar Kits Suppliers

Now that we’ve talked about the pros and cons of building your own electric guitar from a kit, lets look at some of the kits on the market. In the guitar kit world, as with almost everything, there are expensive kits, less expensive and relatively cheap kits. And of course, you get what you pay for generally speaking.

A high-end kit will be made of premium woods, have an excellent fit and finish, and essentially be ready for assembly and paint.  A low end kit will almost certainly need some finish sanding, possible wood restoration or repair, and even neck fitting adjustment. Generally it will be made of a cheaper, but not necessarily inferior, wood. There will certainly be more craftsmanship needed with a lower end kit in order to produce a sound instrument or one that you would want to play.

Lets start by looking at a high end kit maker and one that I have personal experience with.

Precision Guitar Kits

Precision Guitar Kits is a Vancouver, BC based company that has many models of guitar kits to choose from, as well as options for customization.  Essentially a one stop shop for kit building, they offer finishing materials and parts you would need for most of the guitar kits they offer.

In addition, they have a great FAQ section if you want advice on finishing, a customer gallery of other peoples work if you want inspiration, and pics of their own finishing service.

Precision Guitar Kits ’59 Carved Top Special Flame Maple

The quality of the wood they use is professional grade, as is the neck fit, body cavity routes and fretwork.  Simply put, their product is extremely high quality.  Naturally, the price reflects that.

A Telecaster or Les Paul Jr type guitar will cost between $300-$400. A Les Paul style guitar can run around $500, and an ES Style around $800.  These are very pricey for an unfinished project and of course you still need electronics, tuners, and plastics.

But remember, you will get what you pay for.  On the example I’ve seen, the guitar arrived wholly unblemished and securely packed, it had an excellent sanding job and neck fit, and clearly showed impeccable fret work and beautifully grained wood.  If you are a beginning guitar maker and kit assembler, these aspects of a kit, particularly the neck fit, is an ideal place to begin with if you have the money.

Crimson Guitars

Crimson Guitars T-Type

For those of you in the UK, Crimson Guitars offers three kits in popular styles: Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul.

I first became aware of them through their Youtube channel and they are a terrific source of information about guitar building and repair. In addition to their kits, they offer a wide variety of guitar related services and produce lots of Youtube content, including a detailed video where they assemble one their own kits.

If you’re considering building a guitar kit you should certainly watch this video. You can really see the quality of the kit in the video. The fit and finish (woodworking and sanding) is well done, and the neck fit is very good.

A nice feature of these kits is that the body and neck can be purchased separately or together, and if you purchase just a neck, they include a neck pocket template. What a great add on for anyone building his or her own body!

These kits are relatively expensive at around $500, but again, if you’re a novice woodworker or guitar assembler, this would be a great starting point for a fine instrument.

PVX Guitars

If you’re looking for a PRS style kit, PVX Guitars, you could start here.  PVX offers two basic kit styles: a single cut away and a double cut away, and they do most of the hard work for you.

Carved top guitars are fairly difficult to make by hand without the proper experience and tools. But if you decide on getting a carved top guitar, this company looks to produce a very high quality starting point.

PVX Double Cutaway

With carved top guitars, a thick slab of wood, usually maple, is glued onto a body wood like mahogany. On low end kits, you’ll see that the flamed or quilted maple top is actually just a thin veneer (an extremely thin piece of wood) that has been laminated over the carved top of a body.

Some people don’t mind veneered tops and the kit price will reflect the construction process. Other people would argue that you wont get the same tone with a veneer as you would with solid maple over mahogany.  There’s no truly correct answer as tone is subjective and depends on a lot of factors other than the wood, such as effects, amps, finger or pick sensitivity and volume.

PVX offers solid maple tops and solid mahogany bodies as well as a very unique extra long tenon in the neck construction. At almost ten inches, this neck tenon is over twice as long as a traditional neck joint and offers the promise of greatly increased sustain.

This is subjective to be sure, but it is unique among most of the guitar kits I’ve seen. In the “hall of fame” section of the website, you’ll see examples of some of the kits and they make and they look gorgeous. In addition to the two guitar kits, they offer hardware, as well as provide useful tutorials on their website.

Kits are roughly $500, but they are a high grade of craftsmanship in addition to having a unique neck joinery process. All in all, PVX Guitars offer a fantastic start to a PRS Style instrument.

Partscasters

Another route you could go is by building what is called a partscaster. While not a traditional guitar kit in the sense of including everything you need, these types of guitar builds are just as rewarding and they offer a high level of customization.

A partscaster guitar is essentially a guitar built out of varying parts, like a body and a neck that maybe weren’t made together, but they will still fit. For example, if you would like to build a Telecaster style guitar with a Stratocaster style neck and headstock.  There are lots of places that offer just bodies or necks as replacements or for a partscaster build.  Chief among them is Warmoth.

Warmoth Guitar Kits

Warmoth pre-finished bodies

Warmoth is a Washington state based guitar parts supplier, offering numerous bodies, necks, and guitar parts made out of a wide variety of woods. They offer both in stock and customization services, as well as tutorials and common questions explained.

In addition to guitar bodies and necks, they offer a huge selection of parts such as pickguards, tuners, electronics. It is truly a one stop shop. You can purchase necks and bodies prefinished or raw for you to finish your own.  Then its simply a matter of assembly.

The quality of their workmanship is very high and the woods used are also high quality. Another great factor is that you choose specifically the body and neck you want as opposed to a guitar kit where you are just sent a product off a shelf.  The price obviously reflects all these great aspects.

Another aspect to consider is that you need to know some specifics about the guitar you plan to build, and have planned out everything you need to complete your build, as there are many measurements you need to know about, what hardware you’re using, and if it will fit on your body.

Headstock tuner holes, for example, can be multiple sizes, so if you’re planning on using a certain set, you’ll need the dimensions of the bushing that will go into the headstock and make sure you pick a neck that has those hole dimensions. So there is a bit of planning that you need to do before purchasing a body or neck that looks nice and fits together.

StewMac

Another spot to pick up not just guitar kits but many different types of stringed instruments is a luthier supply company called StewMac, which is short for Stewart McDonald.

StewMac is one of the greatest resources of information and building knowledge that you’ll find in one place.  They have tools, parts and everything you might need to complete a guitar either from a kit or from scratch. The tools are, in my experience, very well made, last a good deal of time, and if there are any issues, StewMac’s customer service is phenomenal.

In addition to necks and bodies, they offer guitar kits that come with everything you need outside of paint.  They currently offer Telecaster and Stratocaster style kits that seem to be very high quality for the price. Mahogany bodies with pre-fit necks and a prewired electronics harness make this a very easy to build and a well machined kit.

For the price, I don’t think you’ll find much better. In addition, they offer a wealth of knowledge on guitar building and even have instructions that you get with the kit on how to build it.

Add to that the customer support and ease of one stop shopping (for all the finishing, sanding and polishing needs), and this becomes a great starting point for completing your own electric guitar.

Reliced Daphne Blue Scratch Built Telecaster Style

DIY Electric Guitar Kits on Amazon

So far, I’ve covered some of the best guitar centric websites to purchase a guitar kit.  The fact of the matter is, if you search around on the web, you’ll find plenty of places offering cheap kits in a wide variety of styles.  Rather than go into depth reviewing a variety of kits from a variety of sellers (since the kits will mostly be of the same origin), I’ll go over the general pros and cons, what to look out for and be aware of, and the viability of creating a great instrument from one of these lesser-priced kits.

The biggest pro of most of the following websites will be price. Usually around or even lower than two hundred dollars, these kits offer a huge discount from some of the aforementioned sellers. If you search for “DIY Electric Guitar Kit” on Amazon (here’s a shortcut to that search), you get over 250 results in a wide variety of styles and all around the two hundred dollar or less price point.  Lets look at this example:

DIY Electric Guitar Kit Tele Style

diy-guitar-kit-amazon

This Tele Style guitar kit is one of the first listings and dirt cheap at only 130 dollars. The benefits of this kit, aside from the ultra low price point, are of course is that it includes every component you need to create a working guitar.

Tuners, electronics, pickups, even strings and a guitar cable are included along with the body and neck. For some, this may be advantageous as one stop shopping sometimes can be.

The truth about these parts, however, is that they are most likely only serviceable and most likely not of the highest quality. Again, the kit is only 130 dollars so its impossible to expect ultra high quality components and you should be aware of that. Pickups alone can cost three times this entire kit, after all.

So while they will work and deliver sound and tune the strings and control volume and tone etc, they are essentially very basic components that would benefit from upgrading.

So depending on your viewpoint, that is one downside to an all parts included kit. The included parts are generally of a lower grade than you may want on your dream guitar. And of course, there is no customization, if for example you want a specific type of tuner or bridge or pickup.

Guitar Body Construction and Wood Type

Another thing to consider and always pay close attention to when purchasing a lower end kit, is the body construction. Looking at the body, I can see that this specific guitar at least, is a three-piece body. That means several pieces of wood were sandwiched together and glued to create a large enough body blank before cutting out all the routes.

There is a long-standing debate as to whether this has an effect on tone and sustain, since there are now several lines of glue running the length of the body. Whether that’s true or not is up to you as an individual and how you perceive the sound, as well as what kind of tone you are going for.

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When dealing with solid body guitars that will have a pickup, and then be run through an amplifier and potentially pedals, I tend to think that the selection of amp and pickup are more important than how many pieces of wood are glued together. I like a dirty distorted tone, but if you’re going for ultra clean, then how many pieces the body is comprised of might factor into your decision.

Many big name brand manufacturers use multi piece bodies on their regular guitars and reserve the solid pieces for their higher end models. It’s important to remember, of course, the holy grail guitars from the fifties were factory assembled with little care given to tone like it is today. Leo Fender was wildly unpicky when it came to the lumber he used or how many pieces went together.

Additionally, a Les Paul for example has a maple cap glued onto a mahogany body, and many consider them some of the greatest guitars of all time. Again, it’s all up to you to decide if it’s important. Just keep in mind that when you are looking at budget guitar kits, they will almost certainly be two-piece bodies, perhaps more.  Aside from tone ascetics, a multi piece body will show the glue lines fairly prominently if you’re going for a clear and transparent finish, so an opaque finish is best on these guitar bodies.

Another factor to consider is what the body is made of. Lower priced kits usually are lower priced because they use a more basic or common wood, or in many cases, laminated veneers to simulate high-grade wood. In this example from Amazon, the body is basswood. Basswood is an acceptable tone wood certainly, but it is generally perceived to be on the lower end of the spectrum.

A little digging and you can find alder and mahogany, but just make sure you know exactly what the wood is that you’re buying. Don’t assume it’s a great piece of lumber.

Pre-Drilled Holes on the Guitar Body

Also on the body, you’ll want to consider what kind of bridge and electronics configuration the guitar may be designed for. Often times, these kits will come with parts and corresponding screw holes already drilled into the body.

That’s fine if you plan on using all the parts they supply, but if, for example,  you are considering using a different bridge than the supplied one, you’d be best served getting a kit with no holes predrilled, as the measurements from metric to imperial are different and the predrilled holes might not fit your bridge. This is often the case for many parts like pick guards, tuner holes, bridges and tailpieces etc.

electric-guitar-kit-body-wood-pre-drilled-holes

Routes are important as well.  A properly fitting neck joint is crucial in terms of resonance, tone and sustain.  When looking at a kit, take a close look at the routes on body. They could be misaligned or extremely rough with lots of chips torn out.

In this example, if you look at the picture of the neck route you can clearly see where the router bit went to far. This is not to say that if you purchased this kit, it would be unplayable. In fact, in this case, the pickguard would cover that area up and no one would be the wiser. Again, just something to pay attention to.

What To Look for with a Guitar Neck

On the neck, again you’ll want to look at the photos very closely. Many times the neck will be composed of multiple pieces of wood, especially on necks where the headstock is angled. Lower end kit necks with an angled headstock are almost always joined by a scarf joint, and if you are going for a clear or transparent finish, the line of that joint will show.

Scarf joints are very common in guitar building, however, and are very solid. Many guitar manufacturers use them simply for economical reasons as you can get a neck out of a much smaller wood blank. But if a scarf joint is something that bothers you, make sure you examine the neck pictures as closely as possible.

diy-telecaster-guitar-kit-neck

In this example, the neck is maple but it might not be the standard eastern maple you would expect for a Fender style guitar. I’ve purchased one of these styles of neck in the past and while it was serviceable, there is a noticeable different in how the wood looks with stain. There are many mineral streaks (those squiggly darker lines) and the aesthetic difference should be noted.

Any guitar kit neck will need some preparation before it’s ready to play, such as fret leveling and sanding of both the neck itself and the fret ends. On a higher end kit, there will be much less work involved, but be prepared to invest a decent amount of time making a lower end kit neck workable.

Tuner holes on a lower end kit will most likely be drilled for the tuners that come with the guitar and in most cases, unless specified, they are too large for “vintage style” tuners. So if you plan on replacing the tuners, be sure to measure the diameter of the predrilled holes before you order the correct size. Good advice would be to order replacement parts after you receive whatever kit you get, since measurements can vary depending on imperial vs metric measurements.

diy-electric-guitar-kit-parts

Conclusion

Can you build a good guitar from a low end kit?  Yes, 100%.  There might be more obstacles to overcome and the final cost won’t be only what you paid for the kit, but these kits are a fine starting point for making your own instrument.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from starting with a low end kit but it will take more work than some of the higher end kits.

In short, the adage of you get what you pay for really applies to items like guitar kits and my advice is to buy the best you can afford. If you’re a handy woodworker with some tools, you can get away with a lower end kit and make a wonderful instrument.

If you apply yourself, learn before doing, and have patience, you can also make a wonderful instrument from any level kit.  If you’re looking for a fun project with the least amount of hassles, you’ll want to consider a higher end kit just for the ease of assembly.  Given the plethora of options for guitar kits, there’s no doubt you can find the style and level you’d like and make a great instrument.

Have a question or comment? Shoot me an email from my contact page.