Assembling a guitar kit is very near and dear to my heart as a guitar journalist. In the spring of 2018, I tried and failed to assemble a Trini Lopez-style build and got my first real introduction to guitar tech skills. The story and (eventual) success of that guitar would become the first ever article I would write about electric guitars. Needless to say, I think the experience of assembling your own guitar, be it kit or partscaster, is incredibly valuable. However, I wouldn’t recommend going into your first kit project blind, like I did. You can avoid a lot of hiccups and headaches with just a little guidance, and begin to develop incredibly valuable guitar maintenance and technical skills.
For many guitar enthusiasts, assembling a guitar kit is one of the most affordable ways to create your own custom instrument or learn the basics of guitar building. While this is generally true, don’t let your budget restrict you from purchasing all the proper tools. Cheaping out here can often lead to further frustrations, or costs, down the road. One tool that is 100% worth spending the money on? A soldering iron! I made this mistake myself, a low quality soldering iron is just a pain in the butt. You should look for one that lets you control the level of heat, as too hot or too cold can damage or even ruin your electronics. Likewise, investing in a solid drill or screwdriver set is really vital if you plan on assembling a kit and working on future guitars. Some reasons to properly invest in the right tools?
- Using the wrong screwdriver or drill bit will strip screws
- If soldering iron is too hot or too cold you can damage components
- Using too high or low grit of sandpaper can cause an uneven or grainy finish
- Aftermarket parts upgrades may require additional work to fit your kit guitar
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
As an optimist, I think you should always aim for the sky when it comes to assembling a guitar. With the internet, you have access to everything you need to craft a gorgeous, highly functional guitar if you give yourself enough time. But if you’re uneasy about your own tech skills, don’t rush into a build job that is over your head. It could end up costing you time, money, or worse, your enthusiasm for guitar kits and tech skills. Likewise, if you feel you don’t have the time to properly commit, make sure the kit you purchase reflects that. There is a wide variety of kits available that differ in difficulty level, required labor, and quality of finished product. When skills, time, or confidence are an issue, look at a kit that comes with every hole pre-drilled, or the majority of the electronics pre-wired. Oftentimes, these come at little to no extra cost. You can even find kits that sell with the body and neck already finished if you don’t want to add that into the equation. Some kits will require you to shape your own headstock or drill in your own hardware without any lead holes. This requires additional tools, additional time, and maybe additional cost. So make sure the kit you are getting, fits the exact expectations you have of the labor needed.
Start Off Cheap If You Want To Take Risks
In addition to many different levels of difficulties, there is also a fair bit of variety in terms of DIY guitar kit prices. I started out with a very inexpensive, sub-$200 kit that made me feel more comfortable taking risks or investing in outside help from a local tech. While each guitar kit journey is unique, most of us assembling one enjoy the low risk that comes with the low price. Want to wood burn a cool design into your kit? Maybe try that on an affordable Strat before you sear the body of a premium Warmoth Strat kit you just shelled out for. Generally, most things you do to a guitar are reversible, meaning that you won’t ruin a guitar by trying something unique. Wood burning, routing out additional wood, or cutting out your own headstock with a band saw are not some of these easily reversible decisions. But if you want to try putting P90s in a Strat go for it, if it fails, just grab a new pickguard and some single coils. So if you’re not confident you’re going to ace it on the first shot, whatever you plan to do, consider testing it out on a more wallet-friendly kit first.
Don’t Be Afraid To Fail
While we did just spend the last paragraph telling you to make sure you don’t fail too hard, guitar tech skills can only be learned through practice. Ultimately, assembling a kit is one of the best ways to learn the electric guitar inside and out. If you’re ready for it, jump into the kit that speaks to you and start teaching yourself. Watch YouTube videos, read articles (like this one!), and look up wiring diagrams. 95% of guitar kits are designed to be a quick, informative project. Even better, most companies provide clear directions, diagrams, or phone/email support if you have any questions. Putting a kit guitar together ended up being one of the best things I did, and started me down the road of fun DIY projects I’m on now. If you’re ready, follow these tips, and find the best kit for yourself!
About the Author and Contributors
A journalist from southern Rhode Island who focuses on DIY guitar mods, gear reviews, and opinion articles and has been playing guitars since he was 14.
When he's not writing or installing P-90s into guitars, he's pursuing a graduate degree in chemical oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. Follow him on Twitter @MDunn_33.
Jason Horton - Editing and Illustrating.
Main/Top Image: Compiled from 3 photographs by Matt Dunn © Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved and reproduced by Gearank with permission.