DIY Electric Guitar Projects
LP parts guitar project:
Offset guitar kit project
Telecaster parts guitar project
Stratocaster parts guitar project
Modified Mustang Project-new design!!
Cars, motorcycles, guns and now electric guitars? You are probably thinking I'm crazy and if you ask my wife she would say I most definitely am!
In the summer of 2011 I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar, maybe it's a midlife crisis - don't know and don't care! If you've seen my other pages you can already guess what happened next, of course I decided to build one rather than just buy it. I figured I could learn a little and build a decent guitar for much less than I would have to pay retail. Well, it snowballed a little and I built 3 guitars, one for me and one for each of my two daughters. They don't play either but expressed interest in learning and the deal is I would would hook them up with the equipment and resources to learn but if they don't follow through they have to bring the guitars and gear back to me.
I want to explain up front that this page is NOT a step by step how to, I'm just going to write about some of the things that I learned and show the finished products.
1. If you just want a cheap guitar, go to craigslist and buy a decent used guitar and get on with life. To BUILD a decent guitar you will have more $$ into it than you think.
2. If you are expecting to buy a kit, slap it together and have it play well, follow rule #1 and just buy your guitar.
3. If you can't or won't take the time to solve problems and learn how a guitar is supposed to be set up, refer to rule #1 again.
4. Many hard core guitar enthusiasts are very "snobby" about their hobby, as much as any wine or classic car enthusiast could ever be. I don't sweat that stuff, I'm in it to have some fun and learn something new!
I started with kits that are imported by Alston Guitars (ebay) and made in China, not the best quality but not as bad as I expected. I bought a Les Paul style kit that I call the LESS Paul, a PRS (Paul Reed-Smith) style kit and a Gibson Explorer style kit. Each kit was just over $100 delivered. Here's how the kits look when you open the box, lots of parts and instructions are very vague:
The components will go together and make a playable guitar but the quality is just not there. The tuning machines have significant slop in the shafts which can make it hard to keep the guitar in tune. The rheostat pots are marginal quality and may have dead spots or not provide linier control.
The body is bass wood with a flame maple veneer, the veneer is not very thick so you need to be cautious sanding it or you will be doing a solid color finish job!
The LESS Paul guitar:
The LESS Paul guitar but it's not a copy of a Les Paul, the real thing uses a "set neck" which means it's glued in place permanently. This kit uses a bolt on neck like Fender Guitars use. The other two kits use a glued in neck connection. Which is better? There are pros and cons to both and many people are very opinionated on which is best. Don't worry about this as it makes very little difference.
I did a "burst" style finish on this guitar using special wood dyes that are mixed with denatured alcohol, I applied some dark brown to the entire top first and sanded it back to highlight the flame maple grain then applied amber to the entire top. After those dyes dried well I sprayed some old school nitrocellulose lacquer with some amber die in it over the entire top followed with some lacquer with brown dye mixed in around the edges to fade it from amber in the center to dark brown at the edges. I finished the back and sides in solid black lacquer. Once all those were dry I shot about 10 coats of clear over it sanding it with 500 grit every few coats then followed with a polish with rubbing compound and good wax. Here's how it ended up, these shots were taken outside in bright sunlight so the colors are not quite correct:
I made some upgrades to this during the build, I changed the pickup trim from the classic cream to black and the gold knobs to amber. I also replaced all the volume & tone pots as well as the 3 way switch with better quality parts and installed high quality tuning machines. I am considering better pickups in the near future. All in with the finish and upgrades I have about $185 into it and it plays pretty well. I still suck but the guitar is fine!
The only real issue I had building this guitar was getting it set up correctly. The string height above the frets was too high even with the bridge adjusted as far down as it would go. The solution was to machine about .045" off the bridge allowing it to sit lower on the adjusting screws. It's good to have a machine shop at work!
The PRS guitar:
The PRS style guitar was for my youngest daughter living on the east coast. She wanted a teal (blue/green) burst finish so the procedure was basically the same as the LP but using blue, green and black dyes to get the effect I was after. The back on this guitar is also black lacquer. These pictures were taken inside with a flash that makes the teal center appear more blue that it is.
If I was doing this guitar over again I would have reduced the angle of the neck so I could lower the bridge closer to the body and still keep the correct string height. It plays well and sounds pretty good. I upgraded the pots/switches and tuners on this guitar also. The total cost is slightly lower than the LP because it came with black trim in the kit.
The Explorer guitar:
This guitar was built for my oldest daughter. She wanted a burnt orange-to-red burst finish. This guitar kit does not have a maple veneer so the wood is more plain but it still shows some figure. These pictures were shot outside in bright sunlight the same day I took the pictures of the LP so the colors are not as accurate as they could be with good studio type lighting:
This kit was the only Explorer style they had and they did not intend to market it but my daughter REALLY wanted that style body so I talked them out of it. I could easily see why they weren't putting this kit on the market as soon as I opened the box. The route in the body for the neck was messed up, the rear cover plate was cheap plastic and cut out very poorly and the bridge mounting holes were not spaced correctly. These were all things I could fix so I was OK with it. A little quality time with a chisel in the neck route and it fit straight and at a better angle than the PRS did. I was able to enlarge the adjusting holes in the bridge slightly to make it fit. I installed the rear cover plate after sanding it down so it would fit the recess but I'm still not happy with it so I made a pattern and will whip up a nice cover in aluminum. This guitar also received an upgrade with the pots/switch and tuners. In my opinion this guitar has the best sound of the 3 but my daughter won't give it up!
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