While guitar kits offer a relatively inexpensive way to get into guitar building it can quickly become expensive and time-consuming if you run into problems. Let’s face it if you are going to the trouble of building your own electric guitar chances are you want an instrument you can be proud to call your own. We have listed some common mistakes below in the hope of helping others avoid some of the more common pitfalls.
Is anything missing?
The first thing you should always do is take stock of the various parts and electrical components. It’s a real hassle if you discover you are missing a vital component part way through a build. For this reason, we always recommend a dry fit first to make sure you are covered.
Glue in Necks
There are a number of things that can go wrong when setting your neck. Most guitar kits are bolt on and this will help you stay out of trouble generally. But if your guitar is set neck need to get your scale length correct and make sure you are using a decent glue. Scale length is important, here’s a link to a great article from Stewmac.com that covers this in more detail.
As far as an appropriate glue to set your electric guitar kit neck stick to Titebond or something of a similar nature and make sure you use timber blocks when clamping to avoid damaging the neck. Depending on the glue you use you should let the neck sit for at least 12-24 hours and remember to only use as much glue as you need. If you use too much glue there is a strong chance you will have residual glue in between the neck and cavity which can impact upon your sustain, you should be aiming for neck against body timber.
Cutting your Headstock
Most guitar kits come with a paddle-shaped headstock, which allows you to customize to a shape you prefer. When considering your headstock shape start with the end in mind. e.g. have a template ready to go and transfer the shape you desire onto the headstock before cutting the timber. Use something non-permanent e.g. carpenters pencil.
Make sure when you do start cutting that you stay well and truly on the outside of the marking as it is always easier to adjust inwards than repair a cut made too close to the edge. Once happy with your shape start sanding back using a rough gauge sandpaper or file and work your way down to a light gauge sand paper. Be patient and consider your contours not just the edge of the headstock and you will end up with a great result.
If you don’t have the tools e.g. a decent jigsaw or coping saw, you’re best bet is to keep things simple, don’t go for anything too elaborate and stick to angles that can be cut with a straight saw cut.
Depending on the type of timber your electric guitar kit body is comprised of you may need to use a wood grain filler to fill the pores of the timber which will then allow a much more even surface for the next stage of finishing. Loose grained timbers such as Ash or Mahogany will generally require some treatment. Tightly grained timbers such as Maple generally won’t require a grain filler at all. When applying, work the grain filler into the timber first working with the grain and then against it until you are satisfied you have a good even surface to commence painting. You can read more on wood grain filler here.
Anytime you are going for a solid color finish an undercoat will be required. Many people make the mistake of not properly preparing the guitar before undercoating. This a mistake because any blemishes left on the timber will be more obvious after every coat you add to the surface of the guitar.
I’d suggest when undercoating you limit yourself to 2 coats maximum and keep the coverage reasonably light. The sole reason for undercoating is to provide a good surface for finishing.
Bear in mind when painting the guitar the color should be built up slowly as you add more coats. There are a couple of reasons for doing this:
- You will avoid paint runs from applying the paint too thickly.
- Secondly applying light coats allows you to gradually build up the color. The aim of your finish is to protect the guitar while allowing the natural tone of the guitar to shine.
Typically your new guitar will remain tacky for some time. In most cases, the guitar will become touch dry within approx. 1 week but will then take 1-2 months to dry out sufficiently for you to complete the assembly of the guitar. A word of caution, don’t start the final buffing or applying steel wool until the paint has hardened off. Otherwise, you will be left with marks and sometimes small sections of steel wool embedded in your newly finished paint job which is obviously the last thing anyone wants.
Another huge area of trouble is getting the electronics wired correctly. Some kits avoid this issue as they are pre-configured with simple snap in place connections. Some models e.g. most Strat and Telecaster guitar kits will come with most of the wiring already taken care of leaving you just a small amount of work to complete the job. However many electric guitar kits require you to be fairly capable with a soldering iron as you will need to handle the job from start to finish.
If you are not at all competent with a soldering iron or following schematic diagrams make sure you choose an electric guitar kit that isn’t demanding or have someone you can consult with if needed. If you do end up with a tricky wiring job there are plenty of resources online to help as most of the common styles of electric guitar have a fairly standard wiring setup that you can simply copy.
The aim of soldering is to create clean joins that don’t use excess solder and don’t become unreliable down the track.
- Keep the soldering iron tinned (coat the tip of your soldering iron with a thin layer of solder)
- Clean of excess solder. It really just needs a thin coat, in much the same way as paint would stick to something dipped into it.
- Tin all connections you will be working on before getting underway.
- Don’t let the soldering iron it get too hot before tinning, the solder can form into balls and become difficult to work with.
- When you are ready to solder, heat the area to be soldered first before application.
Hopefully, the information above helps you avoid many of the common pitfalls that can come up when assembling an electric guitar.