It’s time to look back on the guitar-project. What have I learned so far? What would I do different the next time? What tools were most helpful, which were useless? How much money I have spend for the whole project? Is it worth to build a guitar, if you do it for yourself? I will try to find answers for all these questions.
What have I learned?
It was clear, that I would make faults as a beginner. All faults were caused by a lack of precision or lack of experience. Let me numerate the mistakes I made:
- Trussrod-channel too long
- Trussrod-channel not deep enough
- Fretslots too wide
- Frets glued, not pressed in
- Transition between headstock and fretboard too steep
- Hectic work with the chisel caused a damaged headstock
- Surface of the body not smooth enough for lacquering
- All layers of lacquer had needed polishing
- Installed the wrong kind of tuning machines
- Neck-pocket not totally straight and flat
- Frets glued in with different heights
- Probably wrong technique with the fretfile
The worst of all mistakes was clearly number three, which caused many other problems later. I will write a feedback to the manufacturer, because I relied on the value of 0,6mm from his website. Luckily I could deal with all mistakes and none of them destroyed the whole project. I think I could avoid many of them, if I would build a second guitar. My respect for professional luthiers has raised definitely, not because of the single steps of the build, or the overall complexity, but because of the needed precision. One little wrong movement with the router, one little shake while sawing the fret-slots, one wrong mark of the frets, and you can ruin the guitar or cause additional work for repair. The lack of precision in my case was often caused by an unprofessional environment. Parts were able to move, because they were not fixed properly. Sometimes I was not able to set up the router to be exactly on the same level (and this is crucial for the neck-pocket for an example). The next time I would care much more for a secure fixation and set-up before I start to work. Some working-steps are fast, but they have to be executed with much care. Overall I learned a lot about electric guitars, about tools and about planning and preparation.
What would I make different?
I would work much slower, with better preparation and I would pre-plan more. Many decisions were made spontaneously here and it had been better to have the complete guitar constructed before, maybe in a 3D-software, with all measures already calculated. On the other hand I have enjoyed the creative process and to follow my imagination.
Which tools were helpful?
The Router: I really thought before, that it would be possible without buying a router, and I admit, that I was very wrong. It became the most helpful tool throughout, especially for the trussrod-channel, but also for the neck-pocket, the cavities and much else. The good news is, that you don’t have to buy an expensive tool. First I wanted to spend more than 200 Euros for a well-known brand, but at last I bought a no-name product and it worked pretty well. If you are interested in one of the tools, you can follow the link below, which directs you to the german Amazon product-page.
Woodfiles: I loved to work with these siblings. They are very effective and remove a lot of wood, not comparable to a standard-file. You have to use them carefully, because they are so aggressive. I bought these two files for just eleven euros, a steal in my opinion, though I lately broke the tip of the smaller one.
Chisel and Wood-hammer: I have used this tool less often than I had thought before, but it definitely shortened the working time, when I sculpted the body. You should not grab it and start immediately as I did, because it needs special care and experience to work with this tool.
Japanese saw: An essential tool for every wood-worker – with some care you can achieve very straight cuts, but don’t believe, that it could replace a specialized fretslot-saw.
Digital caliper: I used this almost every day. When building something so delicate as a guitar measuring, double-checking and controlling becomes the most important procedure. The same can be said about the ruler.
Spray.bike lacquer: Though I was not experienced enough to achieve a good result, the quality of this product is obvious, especially the quality of the colored one. The transparent color was much harder to use and produced drips as easy as every other product. Would I use it again? Yes.
Gas mask: Before I started with building I thought about, if I would really need a professional mask and could not get away with a standard one-way mask. Now after OI have finished the project I am sure, that it was my most important purchase besides the router, because I worked inside. Maybe you could get away with something cheaper, if you work outside. If I had not used it my lungs were filled now with wood-dust and – maybe worse – with metal-dust.
Of course I worked with many other tools, but these became essential.
How much money have I spend?
I can tell you from the start, that you can buy cheaper factory-made guitars. If you think, that you can save money, if you build a guitar yourself, you are wrong. Even if you are already equipped with the tools I doubt, that you can reach the price-range of chinese guitars. The costs depend of course on the components you choose. In my case I have chosen the best wood and the best electronic parts I could get. In the following list I numerate every little tool and part, which I have purchased for this guitar:
I had guessed an amount around 500 up to 600 Euros, so I am a bit shocked, that I spend more than 800 Euros. Let’s take a closer look on the investments: It still surprises me, that high quality wood is not that expensive. I have used highest grade tone-wood, naturally dried with beautiful grain from well-known suppliers, but I spend “only” 133 Euros for wood. But I bought hardware for 325,64 Euro. To sum up the costs for hardware outweigh the costs for wood by far and I think the best way to save costs could be to look for less expensive bridges, tuners and Pick-ups. I am sure you could cut the costs in half, but in my case I have not thought about how to save regarding the hardware. The other big piece of the cake are the tools. I can argument, that I can use most of the tools for upcoming woodworks and in a house holding there is always something to fix, to repair or to build. Who can afford a professional carpenter nowadays? Me not. Only a few very specialized tools like the fretfile can only be used for building a guitar.
Is it worth it to build a guitar yourself?
It depends upon. If you want a standard Stratocaster, a Les Paul or something else available on the market, I would say go and buy it. Especially as a beginner you will very unlikely end with a guitar, which can compete with a factory-made. You will never achieve the same precision in your basement. Without professional installations it’s impossible to cut totally straight, to saw fret-slots exactly at the third place after the comma, or to achieve a perfect finish. Therefore I can detect just two reasons to build a guitar yourself:
You think you can do it better than the big brands: Besides Gibson, Fender and all the other giants there are many little manufacturers and single luthiers outside, who promises, that their guitars will be better, though their designs are very close to the originals. Though they all can not compete with the precision of CNC-machined instruments, they are able to overpower mass-production with the love and care, they put into their handmade instruments. For an example they might choose the wood more carefully, knocking on it to check resonances, sculpting it with a specific sound in mind. They can use unknown, high quality hardware-components from little, progressive companies, and at last they can build the guitar to the specifications of a customer. And here we come to the second point
You are looking for an instrument, which is not available on the market: In my opinion this is the true spirit of the “Custom guitar”. Who needs another exact copy of a ’60 Gibson SG? Let Gibson ruin their image itself. But if you build a totally unique guitar yourself (like Brian May did) you get something, which separates you from all these boring Strat-cats, Telemasters and Les Paul-legends. Don’t get me wrong, I love all those classics, but sometimes I have the impression, that guitar-players tend to ignore, that also the electric guitar is still progressing, just look at the Strandberg-line, or visit the german company Basslab. If you have something unique in mind, you can visit your local luthier and explain him your vision, or it could be worth to try it yourself, because a local luthier will cost much more than 820,20 Euro to build your dream-guitar. You see it starts to make sense. It makes even more sense, if you want to experiment with features, which have not been tested before. Would you spend around 3000 Euro to a luthier only to see, if a special configuration, which nobody has done before, will work? Probably not.
- The joy to work on an own creation
- Worthy experiences
- Get something unique
- Pricey, but not too pricey
- More expensive than a factory-guitar
- Long and stressing work
- Risk to fail
- Unbelievable amount of dirt