Buying vs. building a guitar
Above is a real-deal guitar Stratocaster body by Fender that you can buy right now if you wanted.
But should you?
Well, before we get into that, let's answer The Big Question up front:
Do you save money by building a guitar yourself from ready-made parts?
Answer: Yes and no.
No, if you want "everything Fender."
Before even before installing pickups, after purchase of the body and a Fender-branded neck, you've almost spent 400 bucks.
Yes, if you don't buy Fender-branded stuff.
An unfinished (meaning unpainted) Strat body can be had for under 60 bucks. A neck can be had for 35 bucks. A loaded (meaning all controls, wiring and pickups) pick guard can be had for under 25 bucks.
...it's still cheaper to buy a complete cheap guitar, and then using basic tools and low-cost upgrades to spruce it up.
Examples of what I mean by "basic tools"
- 0000 steel wool - The lightest/finest grade steel wool you can buy. Good for fret polishing and other minor things where only the smallest amount of metal filing is required.
- Fret leveling kit - Not luthier-grade, but cheap and easy to work with.
- Fret file crowning tool - This one is luthier-grade. You'll get a small amount of sticker shock when you see the price just for this one tool, but it can save you hundreds of dollars compared to paying a guy to do the work.
Examples of what I mean by "low-cost upgrades"
- Fender Tex-Mex Strat pickup set - Well south of $100. Not hum-canceling, but a great pickup set regardless.
- 3-pack of CTS 250k pots (audio taper) - Very easy upgrade, and cheap. Comes with the appropriate washers and nuts, which is nice.
- Copper shielding tape - Not so much an upgrade, but rather just common sense to use it. The 10-foot roll I have linked is all you need. That will easily cover an entire Strat pick guard underside, the pickup cavities and control area, and even the rear cavity if you wanted to shield that too (not that you need to.)
The tools matter more than the upgrades do
With properly leveled/crowned/polished frets, you can make even the crappiest Strat or any other kind of electric guitar play like a dream.
What matters most on a solid-body electric is the neck. If the neck isn't good, the guitar is bad, plain and simple. As long as the neck feels good in the hand, has a truss rod that works properly and a fingerboard with properly leveled/finished frets, it can be made to play great without any need to do advanced guitar building/reconditioning stuff. Before even thinking about upgrading electronics, get that neck playing great first.
On a final note, for any fret work you do, try it on a throwaway guitar first where you're allowed to make mistakes. Get the absolute cheapest electric you can find and work on that first before working on your main guitar. Along with a fret job it will probably also need a new nut (it's cheap,) but that's okay because it's worth it to learn how to do nut replacement along with fret work.
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