Getting Started with your new Guitar Kit
Whilst finishing and assembling your own guitar is a fun and rewarding experience, it can often be daunting for the first time builder. With this in mind, this post aims to provide an overview of the basic steps involved.
With a little patience and some household tools you too will be able to craft an instrument that you will be proud to play for years to come. Remember, the more time and effort you put into your guitar, the more you will get out of both the building experience and the finished product!
If this is your first guitar kit, there are a few basic tools you will need to assemble and finish your instrument. A minimal list of required tools is given below.
- Adjustable Spanner or spanner set
- Phillips-Head Screwdrivers (a couple of sizes)
- Flat-Head Screwdriver (required for some models only)
- Soldering Iron
- Drill and several drill bits
- A file (possibly)
Step 1: Mock up Your Guitar
First up you’ll want to get your new kit open, check the components, and familiarise yourself with all the parts and where they fit in the final assembly. If you’ve ever owned another electric guitar, the role of most parts should be familiar to you.
Before you start applying finish to your guitar body, you’ll want to check that the components fit together properly. This ‘mock build’ should include shaping your headstock (if appropriate) and should also highlight any other small woodworking tasks that may be required before your finish goes on.
The components you should focus on during this mock assembly are the neck, the pickups, the bridge, the tuners and the scratch-plate (if applicable). With the bridge and the neck fitted, string up the outside strings and check they travel correctly up the neck.
Often the scratch-plate may need a slight adjustment to fit your particular neck. Use a file to make small modifications until you are satisfied.
Step 2: Choose a Finish
There are many ways to finish your new guitar and we couldn’t possibly mention them all here. While the choice of finish comes down to your own personal preference, the most popular choices of finish amongst our builders fall into these three categories:
Coloured spray paint, often auto acrylic, is used to finish the guitar in a solid colour. The paint is sprayed over primer, and some form of clear coat (lacquer) is then sprayed over the paint to protect the finish and to add a “showroom” finish.
Dyed / Stained Wood Finish
Wood stain or dye can be used to colour the guitar, with the wood’s natural grain showing through. Some form of clear coat is then required to seal the wood and provide a protective finish. Lacquer can be used for this purpose. Alternately, many of our builders choose to use Tru-Oil over the dye to seal the wood, enhance the grain and, as the layers develop, add a glossy finish.
The wood’s natural beauty is brought to the fore with a simple oil finish such as Danish Oil, or Tung Oil. This kind of finish results in a more “natural” look to your instrument.
Step 3: Sanding
Once you’ve chosen a finish, you’ll want to sand the body smooth before you begin applying it. In general you should start with coarser grits of sand paper and work up to finer grades. Initially (with the coarser grits), look for any glue spots and small marks in the wood that should be sanded out. As you move up through the grades, sand out the scratches made by the previous grit. Remember to always sand “with the grain”!
In general we recommend using 180, 240, 360, 400, 600 and 800 grit sand paper (or thereabouts).
For a solid finish: we recommend starting at 180 grit, and sanding all the way to 600 or 800 grit before spraying your primer.
For a dye or stained finish: we recommend starting at 180 grit and sanding to 360 (or a maximum of 400) grit before staining. Some ‘tooth’ should be left in the wood to allow it to effectively take the dye.
For an oil finish: sanding to at least 400 grit is appropriate.
Note: For kits with a figured veneer (e.g. flame or spalted maple). You should be very careful not to “sand through” the veneer. When sanding the veneer, we recommend starting with a light sanding of 240, followed by 360 up to a maximum of 400 only.
Step 4. Apply Your Finish
Both spray painting and applying wood dyes/stains are arts unto themselves. If you are new to wood finishing, we suggest a search on You Tube to familiarise yourself with the techniques required to get the most out of your chosen finish.
Remember that many forms of clear coat require significant curing time before buffing and polishing, or in fact going on to the next build steps! Patience at this stage in the build will pay off greatly in the long run.
Step 5. Shielding & Wiring
The modern electric guitar has a fairly simple wiring scheme. The wiring diagram for your particular kit is available in our forum.
Before any components go into your guitar, it is a good idea to shield it from unwanted noise caused by electromagnetic radiation. DIY Guitars supplies copper shielding tape that is perfect for this purpose. Shield all your cavities by covering the walls and floor in shielding tape, overlapping the edges as you go. You should also shield the back(s) of your control cover(s). For some guitars (e.g. Strats) the control cover is also the pickguard, so be sure to shield the back of it.
Make sure you ground your strings and bridge by connecting a ground wire to your bridge posts (or trem claw). This grounding wire should be connected to the back of one of your pots. Even better, connect it to your shielding too.
Use your soldering iron to connect up your control circuit away from the guitar. If your pots and switches are not mounted in a pickguard or control plate, you can create a cardboard template to mirror the control placement in the guitar body. When you are happy with the wiring, you can “tap-test” it by temporarily attaching your pickups, plugging in an amp, and tapping a screwdriver on each pickup. If everything works, install the pickups and the wiring harness in the body, and solder the remaining connections.
Step 6. Assembly
With the wiring and controls installed, the rest of the components can be assembled into a working guitar. The bridge, tuners, and neck can be attached – and with your mock build already completed – this should now be a relatively straightforward exercise (with no little surprises!). The strings can go on, the guitar can be plugged in and your creation should make noise for the first time!
Step 7. Action & Intonation
With your guitar working, you can fine-tune the action (height of the strings off the fretboard) by raising or lowering the bridge posts (or bridge saddles) and refining the height of the nut slots as appropriate. So too, the all-important intonation of your instrument can be dialled-in by moving the bridge saddles closer to or further away from the nut as required. Remember, experienced luthiers spend years learning the subtle art of guitar set-up, so don’t be disheartened if this takes you a little time to perfect!
Remember, at DIY Guitars we are always here to help. We encourage you to start a build diary in the forum, to share your experiences with us and other like-minded souls. Ask as many questions as you need to! We, and our friendly forum members, are always happy and ready to help you with any aspect of your build.
Most importantly – have fun!