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This guide provides step-by-step instructions to build an LP-style DIY guitar using a kit. Even if you have never built before, you can learn how to get started by reading this tutorial.
There’s nothing more satisfying than playing a guitar you have put together yourself!
Before we get started check the list below and ensure you have the necessary tools and consumables required to complete the project.
Next, check that all parts have been included.
Below are the parts you will find included in your packaging to complete an LP-style guitar kit.
To complete your guitar kit safely, also ensure you have the following on hand, and a well ventilated work space to work in.
Use protective safety glasses or a genuine face shield, not regular prescription, reading, or sunglasses.
Use disposable gloves if applying stains or oil finishes directly to the guitar.
Use an N95 rated dust mask for sanding and an R95 rated particle mask for finishing. If using water based finishing products an N95 dust mask may suffice for both sanding and finishing, but be sure to check the finishing suppliers recommendations first. Paint fumes are dangerous.
Ensure your work space is well ventilated, especially when finishing to prevent a build up of potentially toxic fumes.
There are four stages to building a great kit guitar, these are:
The finished surface appearance of your guitar e.g. staining, painting, or applying a hand rubbed oil finish.
Fitting the tuners, strap buttons, bridge, and pickups.
Once unboxed, carefully inspect the guitar body and neck under decent light.
Identify problem areas, as these should be addressed early on before commencing the project.
This includes large dents that require filling, deep scratches that require sanding and glue residue on the surface of the guitar that will prevent your finish from being absorbed evenly.
This reduces the risk of chipping the thin edges of the neck pocket before the neck has been installed.
Recommended: Neck Assembly for Kit Guitars
You can check the location of your bridge post holes with regard to scale length by measuring the distance from the edge of the nut closest to the fretboard and the middle of the 12th fret and then doubling that number.
An L-style guitar kit should have a scale length of 24.75” or 628mm.
If your scale length appears out by a few mm, keep in mind the position of the bridge is angled to compensate for the additional mass of the thicker bass strings and the saddles can be adjusted forward or back via the intonation adjustment screws.
The neck, once inserted into the neck pocket, should have very little sideways movement. If it does, mark the center on the neck heel and align this with the center of your neck and bridge pickup cavities.
If this results in a gap on either side of the neck, you may need to shim the neck by cutting small sections of scrap wood with a craft knife and gluing these to the sides of the neck pocket.
Otherwise smaller gaps can be filled prior to finishing using a filler.
Keeping the bridge and steel ruler in place after checking your neck alignment, run the steel ruler along the fretboard and over the bridge. The steel ruler should sit just above the saddles on the bridge when the bridge is sitting flat against the body.
If shaping your headstock, start out by sketching out some rough concepts before transferring the chosen design to paper at the correct size.
When designing your headstock be sure to leave a margin of at least 15mm from the last tuning hole and the edge of the headstock (the equivalent distance between the tuning peg holes).
From there you can either cut the new headstock shape using the template as a guide, or remove the clamps and cut following the outlines you just made.
When cutting out your headstock shape protect the neck of the guitar when cutting, cut well outside the lines to allow room for sanding and keep your saw as vertical as possible to ensure straight lines on your headstock.
If unsure keep the design simple. A well executed simple design is better than a poorly executed complex one. Once complete, sand the edges until as smooth as the rest of the body and neck.
If you have a bolt-on neck guitar you can install the neck once you have completed the finishing stage, but construct a handle from a section of scrap wood. This will allow you to handle the guitar when finishing.
Check the body carefully again for glue stains. In most cases glue stains can be sanded out but if you notice stains on a veneer top, keep in mind the veneer is quite thin and you should first try to remove with a small amount of warm water and a clean rag.
Next we’ll move onto prep sanding the body and neck.
Generally grain will only raise once, so you can be confident you won’t have any problems during the finishing process.
Grain filling is optional, and mostly depends on the wood your guitar is made from and whether you are aiming for a flat finish.
If your guitar is made from an open grain timber such as Oak or Mahogany, the open pores of the timber will prevent a flat finish unless filled. Basswood for the most part is optional. In most cases it’s advisable to grain fill but if painting a solid color you can get by using a primer which will level and seal the surface.
If you are staining, depending on the product you are using, you can grain fill either before or after. In most cases I’ve found grain filling first results in a more even application, and a better result.
There are a number of different grain fillers available, including solvent, water and oil based options, along with pre-tinted options. Oil based grain fillers penetrate deeper into the wood, but water is obviously easier to work with with regard to drying times and clean up.
Using a tinted grain filler is also a great option if you would like to accentuate the grain pattern of the guitar as the excess will be removed when sanding but the filler used to fill the pores will remain in place and emphasize the grain pattern of the wood.
You should also mask the neck pocket, and body cavities of your guitar when
spraying a finish of any kind.
Mask the tuning peg holes on the headstock to keep the holes clean, along with the holes for the bridge and tailpiece and pay special attention to the truss rod. You should also mask the fretboard when spraying the back of the neck.
If your guitar has binding you can either attempt to mask off the binding, which in most cases will mean some finish still permeates the masking tape and will need to be removed, or not masking, and scraping the binding clean with a razor blade before spraying your clear coats.
I’d normally scrape the binding as this is a more effective use of time, rather than attempting to mask. But it’s best to mask the binding if you notice any cracks as the finish you apply will permeate the binding staining it permanently.
It’s beyond the scope of this guide to cover every available way to finish an electric guitar but below are a few rules that apply to almost all finishing options:
If you’re looking for a resource that covers guitar finishing in great detail, check out Guitar Finishing Step-by-Step by Dan Erlewine and Don MacRostie.
Installing hardware usually involves installing the tuners, strap buttons, bridge, and pickups. There are some best practices to follow including drilling pilot holes and aligning your hardware correctly which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Drill pilot holes for all screws used on the body and neck of the guitar. The small screws used for securing your tuners for example are small, fragile and easily stripped.
You may want to drill less than ⅓ depth on less dense timbers such as Mahogany and Basswood.
While not strictly hardware, it’s important to center the truss rod cover on the headstock.
The simplest way to do this is by using masking tape on the headstock, measuring half way across the headstock (the guitar has a nut width of 42mm, so the number should be 21mm) and drawing a line extending out from the nut to the end of the headstock.
You can then align the truss rod cover with the nut and center by lining up the hole at the tip for the truss cover with the centerline.
On an LPH guitar, the rear strap button is located in the center of the lower bout. The front strap button is inserted into the top horn, as per the example above.
Follow the method described above for all hardware installation including using painters marking tape for marking the location of pilot holes, and drilling to the correct size.
LPH guitar kits utilize 3 per side tuners, so you will need to first separate your tuners into left and right.
Align tuners using a steel ruler. You can also install the first and last tuner, and
using a steel rule mark a straight line between them on masking tape to mark
out the location of the pilot holes.
There should be a loose black ground wire in your packaging. Look for a small
hole on the side of the bridge post hole nearest to the control cavity. There
should be a small hole just large enough to thread the ground wire through to the electronics cavity.
The pickup with the deeper pickup surround is the bridge.
If you haven’t soldered before you’re going to need a soldering iron, solder, and a damp sponge to clean the tip of your iron. I’d also recommend practicing before committing solder to your electrical components.
Most entry level soldering irons will do the job, and your kit will come with more than enough solder.
Be careful when soldering. Solder won’t melt until it reaches 185°C (365°F) and soldering irons get very hot, up to 392°-896° F in some cases.
When soldering there are two key areas to keep in mind.
Tin your soldering iron and the components you are connecting to. Tinning refers to maintaining a light coating of solder over the tip of your soldering iron and prevents the iron tip from oxidizing.
Soldering is really about transferring heat. The lug or component you are connecting to should be preheated so the solder is drawn to it rather than staying on the already hot iron.
But, being a semi-hollow body guitar, there are challenges to properly installing the wiring with regard to threading the pots, pickup selector and wires through the F holes and into their respective cavities. We’ll start by explaining how to install the pickup selector.
There are a couple of ways to thread the components through the body of the guitar and properly install them. You could use a flexible hose that fits tightly onto the pot shaft and drag the components through the interior of the body or you can also use fishing line or cotton.
When installing the pickup selector, first the pickups need to be removed from their cavities. We’ll be putting these back in place once the selector is installed and the strings are also removed.
In the example below I have first threaded a guitar string through the pickup selector hole that has a light gauge fishing line attached via the ball end of the string. I have then fixed the fishing line to the pickup selector and then pulled the pickup selector into place via the fishing line. In the image below, you will also notice I have applied low tack masking tape around the cavities in the body to protect the edges and preserve the finish.
This can take a few attempts to get right. If you run into trouble, ensure the knot you use to tie off the pickup selector is well above the component itself so the selector is pulled straight up rather than to the side.
You may also need to work with a small screwdriver and the fishing line to get
the selector correctly in place.
Once done thread your washer and nut over the fishing line and hand tighten
the selector in place. You can then safely remove the fishing line and thread the
wires through the channel and lift out through the F hole. Once complete reinstall the pickups and thread their wires through the F hole also.
This should be the only soldering you will need to do.
The unshielded ground wires will be connected to the back of the volume pots and the shielded ‘hot’ wires are to be connected to the input lug of our volume pots. This is the lug on the right hand side of the pot if the pot is facing away from you.
If unsure consult the wiring diagram on the following page.
Start by warming up your soldering iron and place the controls so they are stable and able to be soldered without moving around. I am using a template in the image below to assist.
When soldering, remember to keep your soldering iron tinned, along with the components you are connecting to. Apply heat directly to the lug you are connecting the wire to until you have transferred sufficient heat to the lug, then feed some solder onto the joint.
Remove the iron, allow the solder to cool and then test the connections you have just made by gently pulling on the wires.
The connections will need to be strong to facilitate dragging into place through the interior of the body.
Next, we’ll be installing our components in place.
In the image below you may notice I have countersunk the tone and volume pot holes to allow the threaded shafts of the pots to protrude sufficiently to secure in place with the washer and screw. In some cases this may be necessary, especially if you have used a thick finish on the guitar. I have used a small countersunk drill bit to chamfer the edges and this has provided enough room to thread the washer and nut onto the volume and tone pots.
The first component to drag through the body into place is the input jack. Using the same method we used earlier to install the pickup selector insert a guitar string with fishing line tied to the ball end and use this to drag the input jack into position.
Fix this into position so it can’t move by attaching the base plate and inserting the washer and tightening the screw to secure in place.
Next we’ll drag our volume and tone pots into place. Fishing line, unfortunately, is too thick to tie to the shafts of the pots. In this case I’d recommend using fine cotton, or a flexible hose that fits the pot shaft snugly.
Whichever way you choose to drag the components into place, start with the bridge volume and tone pots and finish with the neck controls. Once in place secure with the washer and nut before removing the cotton from the pot shaft.
Keep in mind, Installing your controls in this way can take some time to get used to. Once all controls are in place and you have tested the pickups, the wiring is complete. You can now place the tone and volume knobs on the pots, and restring the guitar and we’ll finish by setting up the guitar.
The last stage of our project is setting up the guitar. This is an important step that makes all the difference with regard to playability and tone. Our final setup will consist of four key areas:
I’ll provide a basic overview of each below. Also, keep in mind the guitar should be tuned to concert pitch and checked regularly during the process to ensure the correct amount of tension is on the neck as adjustments are made.
You may also want to revisit aspects of your setup once you have had time to play the guitar and have identified problems e.g. fret buzz or intonation issues.
The ideal guitar neck is one that has a small amount of inward bow or relief to provide clearance for the strings when vibrating. A neck that is too straight will very likely run into problems with fret buzz.
You can measure the straightness of the neck using a steel ruler. I prefer to hold down the first and last fret and then tap the 12th fret lightly of the low E string. If the string is already sitting hard against the fret more relief is required. If sitting well above the fret, the amount of relief can be reduced.
To adjust the amount of relief, adjust the truss rod using the hey key included in your packaging. Turn counter clockwise to loosen the truss rod which will introduce more relief. Turn clockwise to flatten the neck further.
Remember to only make incremental changes of ⅛th to a ¼ turn each time and make sure the guitar is tuned to concert pitch so the correct amount of tension from the strings is placed on the neck.
Be sure to continue to check your tuning through the entire setup process.
Action refers to the height of the strings from the fretboard of the guitar. This is
usually measured from the top of the 12th fret to the underside of the low E string.
A good starting point if unsure is 2.4mm on the low E side and 1.6mm on the high E side, taking into account the different string gauges. Make sure the guitar is in tune before checking and making adjustments.
Action is adjusted at the bridge. Loosen the bridge posts to raise the action, tighten the bridge posts to lower the action.
Intonation, in essence means, is the guitar in tune with itself. You can check this by tuning to standard tuning and then checking the strings at the 12th fret (an octave up from the open string). If the pitch is sharp you will need to lengthen the string length. If flat you will need to shorten it.
As mentioned earlier. Your scale length is not a precise measurement as there is some compensation required for the additional mass of the heavier bass strings. This is also why most bridges on electric guitar are angled away from the body of the guitar toward the bass strings.
To lengthen the string, turn the intonation adjustment screws at the front of the bridge counter clockwise.
To shorten turn them clockwise. Make sure the guitar is in tune before checking and adjusting.
Lastly, we’ll check and adjust the pickup height.
Much like string action, the height of your pickups is mostly subjective and will
depend on what you are hearing.
But, if unsure a good starting point is 2.4mm from the top of the magnetic pole
piece to the underside of the string. However, this should be measured when pressing down the last fret of the guitar.
To adjust the height of the pickups, adjust the mounting screws on the outside of the pickup surround.
And that marks the end of our project.
Once you have completed the steps outlined above. You should have a complete guitar ready to play. Keep in mind, as you become more accustomed to the guitar you may want to revisit some aspects, especially the final setup of the guitar.
You should also test the guitar, by going through each pickup position and testing the volume and tone pot. Also test for interference by taking your hands off the guitar and listening for hum. If you hear any signs of electrical interference you may need to open the electronics cavity and check your ground circuit.
Lastly I’d recommend playing each fret up and down each string and listening for fret buzz or any sign of dead notes. If you notice a problem, chances are it can be resolved by either adjusting your action or adjusting your neck relief.