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5 Things New Guitar Builders Need to Know

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Beginner

There’s no bad reason for wanting to build a guitar (of course I may be biased!). But sometimes a new builder’s motivation is based on a belief that may lead to disappointment. Whether you’re just thinking about starting your first guitar build or you’ve already gotten started, keep these five things in mind and you’ll set yourself up for success.

1. What exactly do you mean by “build” a guitar?

“Building” a guitar means different things to different people.  Do you mean you want to buy all the parts, including a pre-painted body and neck,  and assemble a guitar perfectly tailored to your specs? Perhaps you want to buy all the parts but the body and neck are unfinished (a “kit” guitar) so you get to paint them? Maybe you want to build a body from scratch and buy everything else? Or do you want to start with rough lumber and do everything from scratch?

There’s nothing wrong with any of these options.  You just need to have a clear idea of which one you want to tackle and research the challenges for that particular path.

2. You won’t save any money

Sorry to be a party-pooper; If your goal is to save money by building your own guitar as opposed to buying one, you’re headed for disappointment.

It’s unlikely that you’ll have all the tools required so you’ll need to invest at least some money.  Parts tend to come from different suppliers, each with their own associated shipping costs. There’s a non-zero percent chance you’re going to make a mistake that requires you to replace something (router mishap!).  All these things start to add up quickly

The bottom line is, build guitars because you want to build a guitar.  It’s a fun hobby, not a way to save money

3. No, your first build will not rival a custom shop guitar

I’m not saying you aren’t capable of building a great guitar!  What I mean is, if your expectation is that the first guitar you ever make will be a work of art that plays flawlessly, you may be aiming too high.

Are you a better driver now than you were the first time you got behind the wheel?  Can you hit a baseball farther now than you could on the first day of little league?  Of course,  you’ve improved!  It took time and practice to get better at those things, and the same goes for guitar building.

4. You WILL make mistakes

It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway; you don’t know what you don’t know.  There are literally hundreds of little mistakes waiting to happen throughout a guitar build.  You are going to make some of them. 

The secret that has worked for me is to see mistakes as a learning opportunity.  I can tell you 50 times not to drill the side jack until after you round over the front and back of the guitar body. Doing it in the reverse order will lead to a “situation” that will be forever burnt into your memory and you’ll never do it again.

5. YouTube Paralysis is very real

Have you heard the phrase “paralysis by analysis”?  It’s really easy to find yourself watching video after video of someone showing you how to build a guitar but never actually get started building yourself.

I also see examples day after day of people asking questions on social media about some aspect of guitar building.  They get a bunch of conflicting answers, go away, and a month later post the same question.  Even if they don’t get conflicting answers, they often still post the question again.  They literally become paralyzed with inaction due to a lack of confidence.

I definitely suggest doing research, and watching a few videos is a great idea.  Once you’ve seen a few people basically doing the same thing, it’s time to dive in.  Even if you still have a few questions, just get started.  The best way to find answers for sure is to try it yourself.  Either it’ll work (yay!), or you’ll make a mistake and learn from it (remember #4?). 

I always try things out on a scrap or some non-critical build.  In plain English, don’t use a router for the first time on that super expensive piece of mahogany!

Over to you

Guitar building is a fun, potentially life-long hobby.  If you’ll allow me to go all “Zen Surfer Dude” on you for a moment, I see guitar building as a journey.  You should try to see it as a craft that you’re going to get better at over a lifetime.  Keep getting better every day by practicing every day (you know, kind of like playing the guitar). That’s my philosophy, but I’d love to hear yours in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you Mike. I really appreciate you putting this on your website. I am totally new to guitar building and doing it simply for “the journey”. I love music, guitars and woodworking so giving it a shot. I appreciate your input and guidance.

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