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This guide provides step-by-step instructions to build a semi-hollow ST-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!
Are you ready? Let's start by pumping your creative juices with this time lapsed video on building a semi-hollow ST style DIY guitar.
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 STH 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.
Connecting the pickups to the input jack, and incorporating a pickup selector and volume and tone potentiometers.
Adjusting the neck relief, action, intonation and pickup height.
We’ll cover each of these below, starting with preparation and finishing.
Inspecting and prepping the body
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.
Once you have identified problem areas you can begin prep sanding the guitar.
Recommended: Sanding a Guitar Prior to Painting
Dry Fitting the Neck
You should also check the neck fit. While the STH is a bolt-on neck guitar, it’s still important to dry fit the neck and check how well the neck fits the neck pocket, along with neck alignment, neck angle and scale length.
Insert the Neck
First push the heel gently into the back of the neck pocket, then push the neck
This reduces the risk of chipping the thin edges of the neck pocket before the
neck has been installed.
Check the scale length
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.
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.
Check the neck fit
The neck, once inserted into the neck pocket, should have very little sideways movement. If there is 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.
Recommended: Fixing Cracks & Loose Neck Joints Caused by Humidity
Check the neck angle
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.
Cutting the Headstock
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.
Before we start grain filling and finishing we should mask the neck pocket, and body cavities of the guitar.
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.
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.
We’ll be using an ebony tinted grain filler in the images below. Using a tinted grain filler is 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 under a transparent finish.
Below are the steps required for applying grain fill:
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.
Now that the finishing stage is complete we can safety install our neck.
Within your packaging there will be a neck plate, neck plate cushion and four long screws.
Place the neck into the neck pocket and ensure it is pushed right up into the
back of the cavity.
Place the black neck plate cushion followed by the chrome neck plate (as
per the image above) and then loosely place the 4 screws, but don’t begin
tightening these yet.
Next, double check your alignment and begin installing the screws. Install the top left screw first, followed by the bottom right screw, working diagonally. Once all screws are in place, tighten and double check the neck alignment.
Installing hardware usually involves installing the tuners, strap buttons, bridge, string trees, 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 STH guitar, the rear strap button is located in the center of the lower bout. The front strap button is inserted into the top horn on a downward facing angle
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.
STH guitar kits utilize inline tuners, so you won’t need to separate your tuners into left and right.
You can also install the first and last tuner, and using a steel rule mark a straight line between them on masking tape to ensure a straight line to mark out the location of the pilot holes.
Next, we need to insert the ground wire into the bridge post hole and insert the
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 bridge pickup cavity.
Next we’ll install our floating tremolo system. The design is based on the Fender Jazzmaster®. The tremolo arm sits between the high E and B strings once installed, so make sure you position it with the stop bar (the raised section) closer to the back of the guitar.
The simplest way to install the tremolo system is to push it hard against the front edge of the cavity to ensure it is square to the cavity and then mark your pilot holes. The tremolo system can be adjusted by raising or lowering the spring, which is adjusted by turning the screw in the center of the base plate, just beside the tremolo bar when installed.
String trees serve to increase the break angle from the nut to the tuners, for the
high Em B, G, and D strings, providing greater stability for the nut and
preventing strings moving around in their slots.
This is fairly typical of Fender® style guitars, as the majority of necks have much less of a backward tilt compared to Gibson® style guitars which typically do not utilize string trees.
You should have two string trees in your packaging. One will feature a longer barrel which is to be used for the string tree between the D and G strings, with the shorter one reserved for the B and high E strings.
To install your string trees, you will first need to install your strings to allow for
Once the strings are in place lay the top face of the string trees across the E,B
and D and G strings.
Align the D and G string tree between the first and second tuning post and the
D and E string tree in line with the second tuning post.
Once in place mark the holes as we have done for all hardware up to this point and drill your pilot holes before placing the string tree barrels in place and screwing the string trees in place.
We’ll be installing soap bar style P90 pickups.
As this style of pickup has no obvious discerning features that allow us to differentiate between the neck and bridge, flip the pickup over and look for either an ‘N’ for neck, or ‘B’ for bridge. From there:
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.
Next we’ll connect the electronics. The STH does not come with the wiring pre-connected so we’ll need to complete all the connections ourselves.
As a basic overview, the pickups generate the initial signal which is then sent to the pickup selector where the signal is switched to either neck or bridge position or a combination of both (middle position).
From here, the output from the pickup selector travels through the volume pot, and based on the position of the pot some of the signal is sent to ground reducing the overall voltage and in turn reducing volume.
The tone pot based on it’s position will also direct some of this voltage through the capacitor and high frequencies will pass through it (it works like a filter) and are sent to ground, reducing some of the high frequencies. Finally, the ‘hot’ lug of the input jack is connected which allows the signal to be sent to the amplifier.
In the image above I am using a template to keep the various components stable. You could also use a set of helping hands.
The wiring diagram below shows the completed wiring. We’ll work through each in a step by step process below.
Our components must be grounded to limit electrical interference, namely 60 cycle hum from lights and household appliances. Single coil and P90 pickups are especially susceptible to this.
We’ll eventually connect all our components as part of a ground circuit and connect to the ground wire we previously installed against the bridge bushing but first we need to ground our volume pot.
This can be done by either pulling the lug on the left of the potentiometer when facing away from you (ground lug) onto the case of the potentiometer and soldering into place, or soldering a small wire from the ground lug to the back of the case.
Remember when soldering to ensure the tip of the soldering iron is tinned, along with the lug you will be connecting to. Preheat the lug before adding a small amount of solder.
Once the solder reaches melting point remove the iron and wait for the connection to cool. Then, test the connection by gently pulling on the wires.
Next, we’ll connect the capacitor.
This is essentially a filter that passes high frequencies to ground allowing us to adjust our tone. We connect one end of the capacitor to the middle lug (the output lug) and the other end to the back of the case. Follow the method outlined above with regard to soldering, and once complete trim any excess wire.
Next, taking one of the shorter wires in your packaging we’ll connect the ground wire to the input jack (black is usually the color used for all ground wires).
First thread the wire through the input jack hole and then thread the bare wire through the eyelet of the ground lug (the lug connected to the inner sleeve of the jack) and make the connection as we have done previously.
We’ll complete our ground circuit next, by connecting all of the components together in a circuit and then connecting to the ground wire we installed earlier against the bridge bushing.
Now’s also a good time to also know the tone pot goes to the front of the cavity and the volume to the back, so be sure to connect them in that order so they can be moved to the electronics cavity without any problems.
The first connection we’ll make is connecting the volume and tone pot. Using a short piece of black wire, expose bare wires on both ends and then solder in place to the back of both cases, as per the image above.
Next we’ll install the ground wire we installed against the bridge post bushing earlier.
Follow the same process as above and connect the ground wire to the back of the tone pot. It doesn’t matter which of the pots you connect to, but in this case the tone pot is the most accessible.
Next we’ll ground the pickup selector.
Connect another black wire from the back of the volume pot to the ground lug on the pickup selector.
This is the lug directly connected to the case of the selector switch and is the only lug on one of the sides (as per the image to the left).
Next we’ll connect the pickup wires to the pickup selector. This allows the bridge, neck or a combination of both pickups to be output from the selector to the volume pot.
Once complete, next, connect the unshielded bare wire to the back of the volume pot.
Do the same for the shielded and ground wires from the bridge pickup.
In the image below I am making these connections from inside the control cavity as the wires are too short to work outside the guitar.
Our third last connection is the output from our pickup selector. This is the wire that takes the signal from the pickup selector (whether it is neck, bridge or a combination of both pickups) to the input lug of the volume pot (the lug on the right if facing away from you).
From the input lug of the volume pot it is then connected to the output lug of the tone pot. It’s often easier to measure the length of the two wires and twist them together before making just one connection at the volume pot, rather than trying to connect a second independent wire from the volume to the tone pot.
Just a couple of connections left to make now. Next we’ll connect our input jack to our volume pot.
Simply solder another white wire to the ‘hot’ lug of the input jack as per the
The color doesn’t necessarily matter, but it will help you identify the wires
more easily. Next, connect the other end of the wire you just installed to the
input jack to the output (middle lug) of the volume pot.
Once complete we’ll connect the ground from the input lug to the back of the volume or tone pot. In the image above I am using the tone pot as this was easier for me to solder to inside the control cavity, but it really won’t matter which you choose.
That completes your wiring. You can now test your wiring by plugging a cable into the input jack and connecting to an amp. If you don’t have strings on the guitar, simply tap each pickup while in their respective positions and ensure everything is working correctly.
If you hear interference which stops once you touch the guitar it’s likely there’s an issue with your ground circuit.
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
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.
Thanks for following along!