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Building a guitar

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(@briank)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 122
Topic starter  

When my brother returns home from his college stay in Europe, I will lose control of his electric and acoustic guitars. While I will still have my own acoustic, I want to get a cheap electric, but I don't have much money to spend, as I have to save for college. My dad is great with tools- for example, he makes a bunch of woodwork for our home- dressers, tables, etc. I was wondering how feasible it is to make an electric guitar. Can anyone discuss the cost? It would seem to me that an electric would be easier then an acoustic to make, as long as your precise with the pickup placement.
If anyone has any advice about this that would be great. I think it would be a cool project to do with my dad, and plus I could make a design how I want it. If there is a guitar maker out there (luthier?), it would be cool if I could hear about the experience of making a guitar. :D

"All I see is draining me on my Plastic Fantastic Lover!"


   
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(@undercat)
Prominent Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 959
 

The answer depends on what exactly you want to get out of it. If you're looking to just make a cheapo guitar, the cheapest you can possibly do is probably one of the Saga kits that are all over the internet.

If you decide to do it one piece at a time, you probably won't escape for under $400 with a respectable product.

Something else to keep in mind: Unless your dad is a fairly serious carpenter, making a precise neck is going to be nearly impossible. The radius on both the back of the neck and on the fretboard needs to be very precise in order to fret properly. Most first time guitar builders choose to buy their neck premade, and that's $100 right there at LEAST.

So... building your own guitar can be fun, rewarding, educational, etc etc, but one thing it generally can't be is cheap!
The day is long gone when you can build a quality guitar for less than you can buy one outright. Even with distribution expenses, big companies can build one more consistently, of higher quality, and sell it for less money

Oh yeah, and no post about guitar building would be complete without this:

http://www.projectguitar.com <-- Best guitar building site and forum on the interweb.

Do something you love and you'll never work a day in your life...


   
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 300m
(@300m)
Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 339
 

I second undercat on the site and the cost. I do woodworking and I am considering building one myself, but have not persued the final stages. Here is a link to a project one of the PG members did. Very nice layout of what is involved. My big hangup is the finish, I am alergic to the activaor in laquor and that is the finish I want :( . Here Matt V makes a classic 50's strat. http://www.guitarfrenzy.netfirms.com/Strat01.htm

Some thing erlse to consider, m=ost custom guitars cost as they cannot buy in bulk, most pups run $100 and up, neck $100-$350 depending onthe finish, templates are $50, plus the body wood at about $40 depending on what wood you choose, ash, swamp ash, maple, walnut, mahogany, t the exotics that cost a lot like flamed KOA or some of the rosewoods. To be honest you are looking at $400 or better to build one. Read the tutorials in the project guitar site. Great info and people there.

John M


   
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(@gnease)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5038
 

Build a guitar only if you want to go through the experience of building one or creating your own design. As far as saving money, Undercat's suggestion of the Saga kit is good. But even these kits require some electro/mechanical skills to end up with an acceptable guitar. The parts do not always fit together well without some re-shaping, and some understanding of how everything should fit together is invaluable. If you are mechanically/electrically inexperienced and this would be your only guitar, pass on it.

-=tension & release=-


   
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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

You can't understate the precision required for building a musical instrument.

For woodworking, as in general carpentry, getting within 1/64 of an inch is pretty decent work. For cabinet making, maybe twice that will do. A guitar demands about five times the precision of cabinet making... if you're off more than .002", it'll affect the playability.

If you look at the precision tools made for luthiers, you'll notice they're made to a very high standard. A straightedge alone will set you back about $200 - it's not the sort of thing they stock at Home Depot.

First time guitar builders usually take about a year to make their first instrument.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2171
 

First time guitar builders usually take about a year to make their first instrument.

And the end result is usually a fairly average, playable guitar with some major workmanship faults -- the kind of thing that would set you back half of what you just spent not counting your time.

And your time has value. If you don't want to learn how to be a luthier, then go get a part-time job at mcdonalds, save the money you make for a year, and buy yourself a high-end whatever it is you want. With what you have left over, buy all the effects and rack gear you want.

10 hrs a week x 50 wks = 500 hrs x $10.50/hr (what my local mcD's pays) = $5,250 pre-tax x.83 (for me anyway) =~ $4350

Gibson Les Paul Standard 60's Neck = $2,100.00
Marshall AVT150H Half-Stack Package= $1,100.00

Leaves you $1100 for effects, cords, and toys, or maybe another guitar...

Yes, you will spend that much time (at least) making the guitar. It won't be anywhere near as good as that $2k Gibson.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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(@yoyo286)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 1681
 

^Well spoken.

BTW building a guitar from a kit isn't hard, its setting up that guitar thats hard. 8)

Stairway to Freebird!


   
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(@david_mohn)
Trusted Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 79
 

If you look at the precision tools made for luthiers, you'll notice they're made to a very high standard. A straightedge alone will set you back about $200 - it's not the sort of thing they stock at Home Depot

Tools, it's all in the tools. As noteboat said, you won't get anything playable with "close" measurements. With the right tools, patientce, and woodworking skill, it is very possible and easy to build a guitar. But as stated above the tools aren't cheap by any means.

Another thing to consider, practice makes perfect. I have built somewhere around 12 electric guitars in the past several years, the first one took close to 6 months, and it is the worst piece of crap that I have ever played. Or should I say, the worst piece of crap that WON"T play. BUT I have learned something new from every attempt. Now I am actually making the whole guitar from scratch, including the neck and fretboard, and I am confident enough in what I am doing to get a very nice product when I am done. It has cost me tons of money to get to this point though.


   
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 300m
(@300m)
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Joined: 19 years ago
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Well said David. As an experanced woodworker I am still hesitant to take the plunge and I will still buy the neck as I do not have the tools to carve the neck. This post forced me to relook my budget and realize I need to raise my $$ to get a good product and with the realization like Dave, I may just make a POS that will sit in the corner.

John M


   
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(@briank)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 122
Topic starter  

Thanks for all the advice. I guess it's better to just stick with buying one, but I'll let the idea simmer in the back of my mind for a while :wink: .
But another question (and this probably belongs in another post): one of the things I think would be awesome about making a guitar is you could completely customize the look, but with a "premade" one, is there anything you can do to give it a different appearance? How hard is it to give a guitar a new paintjob?

"All I see is draining me on my Plastic Fantastic Lover!"


   
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(@yoyo286)
Noble Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 1681
 

Yes, you can definitly customize the look easily. For exemple with a strat, you can change the pickguard, pickup covers, tone knobs, ec. etc. and here is a site that supposidly lets you get kickass paintjobs with spray paint: http://www.paintyourownguitar.com/ 8)

Stairway to Freebird!


   
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(@david_mohn)
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Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 79
 


briank,

I found this guitar in a pawn shop for $20 US. It's a silvertone strat copy. When I got it, it was a mess. The finish was scratched to hell, the pickups sounded terrible, and it wouldn't stay in tune. I replaced the pickups and tuners. The tuners were about $25 and work a lot better than what was on there. The pickups were old mex strat pups that a local shop had lying around. The sold me the set for $25.

As far as the paintjob, I am lucky enough to have a little sister who just graduated with an art major.

First, I had to remove the finish that was on it. That was the hardest part. I tried a stripping compound first, and it didn't even make a dent in the finish, I eventually had to sand it off. Sanding was tricky. I had to make sure to get all of the finish off without ruining the wood underneath. Unfortunately, as I found out, silvertone used a plywood for production on this particular guitar.

After I got all of the finish off, it went to my little sister, who painted it for me. You can defiantly do this yourself if you want, I just have absolutley no talent when it comes to painting or drawing. It took her about a week to find the time to get it done, and get it back to me.

Once I got it back, I sealed it. I used minwax's Clear gloss fast drying polyurethane spray. (about $4 a can I think) After about 3 days of spraying and sanding, it turned out pretty nice.

It's one of the my favorite guitars now. It took some time before I could use it, but for a great guitrar for about $80, it was worth the wait.


   
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(@briank)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 122
Topic starter  

That's a nice-looking guitar! Did you have to remove anything from the guitar (besides strings) before you had it painted?
Is a new paintjob permanent, or can you just sand it off and start over again? How hard is it to replace the tuners and pickups?

"All I see is draining me on my Plastic Fantastic Lover!"


   
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(@david_mohn)
Trusted Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 79
 

I removed everything from the body to have it painted. The neck, the pickups, the strap buttons, the trem plate, the trem bridge, the pots, and the switch. It's really not that hard to take a guitar apart, the trick is, remembering what screws go where when you are putting it back together. If you make notes as to where and how everything fits, it's not too bad.

The new finish can come off just like the first one. I would recommend trying to take the finish off with a stripping agent before sanding. It's way to easy to take off too much with a sanding block.

Tuners are relatively easy to change. Pickups can be a bit more difficult. First, you will need to know how to solder. And for some ungodly reason, it seems like every company that makes pup's uses a different color scheme when it comes to wiring. But there are several sites that you can find to tell you how to wire a guitar better than I can.


   
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