The 4 types of custom guitar builds (beginner to expert)
So you want to build your own electric guitar? Lots of guitar players like doing this because it's a fun project. However it's only fun if you approach it the right way and don't go too crazy with it. And you'll understand what "too crazy" is as you read through this.
There are levels of guitar building, and these are the levels:
Level 1: The rebuild
For your rebuild, buy the cheapest electric you can possibly find and then upgrade it. Your upgrades will probably just be the pickups, electronics, tuners and possibly the nut.
There are three major things you have to do to make your rebuild as easy as possible.
- Your cheap used electric must have a bolt-on neck.
- The neck must be good, meaning the truss rod works and the neck isn't warped like a banana.
- The bolt plate and wood where the neck connects to the body must be good.
Everything else on the guitar no matter how messed up or broken it is can be fixed by you. If the strap button screws are stripped, no problem. Use wood filler and redrill. If the electronics are all messed up, that's not an issue because you're going to replace those anyway. If the output jack is messed up or wired wrong, again, no big deal as you can fix that. If the pickup selector is scratchy or bad, again, that's an electronics thing and you can fix that.
What you can't fix is if the neck is warped beyond repair, the truss rod doesn't work (or does work but doesn't do anything) or if where the neck connects to the body is damaged. Any one of those things turns an easy rebuild into a very difficult one.
Maybe if you're a good woodworker or a luthier you can fix up a warped neck and/or fix where it connects to the body at the heel. But chances are you're not a luthier, so you're better off just checking that the neck is in good working order before buying that cheap $50 axe.
One last thing: If the frets are worn down, it's probably only the first 5 of them. Go to a luthier and have them replaced.
Level 2: The all-new-parts guitar
You can't beat the price of a new Squier Bullet if you're going to buy all the parts yourself new. Not possible. There is no way to get everything you need for under $119, so just know that up front.
You have a bunch of different options with how to put together your new-parts guitar, but there are a few things you have to bear in mind.
First, you're far better off if you buy the body and neck from the same company because they will be a guaranteed fit. If you decide to mix-and-match companies with the guitar and neck, there's a good chance the bolt holes won't line up with the body properly, and that's wasted money right there.
For basically everything else you can mix-and-match all you want.
Using Mighty Mite as an example, here's the neck and the body brand new. Before the tuners, bridge, electronics/pickups or paint, you've already spent $184.99 - and that doesn't include shipping. It's like I said, you can't beat the price of a Squier Bullet if buying all-new parts no matter how hard you try, so if you're looking to build an axe for all-new stuff, it will not save you money.
In other words, with all-new stuff you should budget on spending at least $300.
And if you're wondering how Squier and Epiphone can price their low-end guitars as low as they do, it's because they build massive amounts of them, meaning they can get the parts a whole lot cheaper and sell the units for less as a result.
Level 3: The luthier-assisted custom build
This is where you actually pick the woods you want and have a professional luthier cut and shape the body and neck for you.
At this point you're spending major money because you're having a luthier cut blocks of wood into your desired guitar body shape and neck shape. You're probably also having him cut the pickup and electronics cavities and the routes.
You might even opt to go with a quartersawn (as opposed to flatsawn/plainsawn) neck, and that's even more money spent.
"Luthier-assisted" means the luthier doesn't do the entire build, but just gets the really tough stuff done (mainly because he has the equipment for it and you don't), and then you take delivery of that and put the rest of the guitar together yourself. Basically what this means is that you get a guitar where everything is done except the electronics, and then you go ahead and do that yourself. But said honestly, if the guitar is that far along being built, you might as well have the luthier just put the whole thing together because it really won't cost that much more at that point.
Level 4: The do-everything-yourself build
By everything, I mean everything. You go to the lumber yard, pick your woods, choose the cut type and buy them. You saw and finish the woods yourself. You cut your own holes and electronics cavities. You pick the fret wire and fret your own neck (and put the inlays in also). You cut your own nut. You cut the holes in the headstock/pegboard. I could list all the stuff you'd need to do, but you get the idea. Absolutely nothing about this build is done for you, and you have to do it all.
Obviously, it's easier if you do a plank-style body (like a Telecaster or Les Paul shape) compared to something with contours (like a Stratocaster).
There are guys all over the world who try their hand at building a guitar from scratch, and from what I know of it, few get it right on the first try. This isn't like buliding a table or some shelves because you're building a working machine here, start to finish. Easy? Nope. If it were, the world would be full of luthiers, but that's obviously not the case.
I'm not saying not to scratch-build a guitar. If you've got the tools (such as having the right jig) to do it, then yeah, go for it.
Personally, scratch-building is too big of a project for me. I don't have the tools or the room for it, and I find it easier to build guitars from pre-made parts. My personal favorite is the rebuild because it's the cheapest to do and I can get a working instrument very quickly.