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This guide provides step-by-step instructions to build a solid-body SG-style DIY guitar using a kit.
Even if you have never built a DIY guitar 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!
Are you ready to start building? Here's a quick video to get those creative juices pumping. Enjoy!
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 SG 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 SG 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.
The steel ruler should sit just above the saddles on the bridge when the bridge is sitting flat against the body.
Recommended: Fixing Cracks & Loose Neck Joints Caused by Humidity
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.
Start by sanding the entire body using 180 grit sandpaper and follow that up with 240 grit paper. If you are applying a stain directly to the raw wood sand up to 400 grit, but sanding any smoother than this may begin to affect how well the stain is absorbed.
Once you have completed sanding up to 240 grit, wipe a small amount of moisture on the surface of the guitar. Using denatured alcohol is a good option here as it evaporates before it is absorbed into the timber, but water will also suffice.
This will raise the grain of the timber which can then be sanded flat. 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
You may want to drill less than ⅓ depth on less dense timbers such as Mahogany and Basswood.
Strap buttons not only support your guitar when playing standing up, the
placement of the strap buttons also affects the balance of the guitar.
On an SG guitar, the rear strap button is located in the center of the lower bout.
The front strap button is either inserted into the top horn on a downward facing
angle, or installed on the back of the neck heel, which is what we have done
in 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.
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.
SG 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.
It’s best to install the input jack, pickup selector and tone and volume pots now, as the loose black ground wire soldered to the back of the neck volume pot will need to be threaded through the hole in the side of the electronics cavity and ground against the bridge before the bridge can be installed.
Next, thread the loose black wire through the hole in the side of the pickup cavity and flip the guitar over.
We need to insert the ground wire into the bridge post hole and insert the bridge bushing. 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. There should also be a corresponding hole on the inside of the pickup cavity (as shown below).
The pickup with the deeper pickup surround is the bridge.
Once the pickups are installed the pickguard can be installed. If the fit is too tight between the pickups remove some of the internal edges using sandpaper. Then, fit the pickguard, following the process we have used above.
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.
In the case of the SG this means everything except the pickups have been pre-soldered.
Next, we’ll warm up our soldering iron and connect the pickups.
Taking the wire from the neck position on the pickup selector (the top position) insert the end of the shielded wire through the input lug eyelet (the leftmost lug if facing away from you) and secure in place.
Warm up the lug by placing the soldering on it for a few seconds before adding some solder between the lug and the wire, once the lug is hot enough, the solder will melt.
Once cooled sufficiently the wire should be connected to the lug. You can then test the connection by gently pulling on the wire.
Follow the process above to connect the unshielded ground wire to the back of the volume pot casing. And then repeat the process for the bridge controls.
Your wiring is now complete. You can now test the pickups by inserting a cable from an amplifier and gently tapping the pickups. If something isn’t working, check the wiring diagram above. If you notice the guitar is particularly noisy, it is likely to be a problem with your ground circuit (the black wires).
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
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.
Thanks for following along!