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Building a guitar: kit or from scratch?

Nick Coyle

Building a guitar: kit or from scratch?

Whether you’ve been playing for a long time or are relatively new to guitar, building your own guitar can be an appealing idea if you love the idea of having a custom-made instrument. It’s definitely not as simple as purchasing a pre-made guitar, but you’ll have far more control of the subtle aspects of the instrument, and it can be a very enjoyable and educational process to put the instrument together yourself.  

Another reason that many people opt to build their own guitar is that it can be a cheaper way to have the guitar you want, rather than buying it retail. Plus, you have the opportunity to really create a relationship with the guitar as you put it together! So if you have decided that building a guitar is the way you want to go, you’ll have several options at hand: building the guitar from scratch, or using a kit. Here, we’ll dive into the differences between these two methods, go over the pros and cons of each, and help you determine which route will be the best for you.

Things to know when building your own guitar

First of all, whether you decide to go with a kit or build from scratch, it’s crucial to be clear on your motivation behind building your own guitar. Are you doing it to save money? Do you want certain customizations that wouldn’t be possible by purchasing a guitar? Do you want to learn the process of how building a guitar works? Being clear on your “why” will help you determine whether to build from scratch or with a kit, and if the latter, it will help you determine which kind of kit to buy.

Secondly, it’s important to have a vision for what you want to build. Since customization possibilities are nearly endless when you’re building your own guitar, you’ll want to have at least some idea of the direction you’re going before you get started. Do your research and have a good basic understanding of the guitar you want to build before getting your hands dirty!

Building a guitar from scratch

Building from scratch requires a good understanding of the different parts that go into the guitar, the types of wood, materials, shape and size, and all the little details that go into building a guitar. Keep in mind that building a solid-body guitar will be far easier than building a semi- or fully hollow-body guitar, as this requires advanced woodworking skills.

If you go the build-from-scratch route, your biggest expense will probably be the tools. While you definitely can build your guitar using only hand tools, it’s ideal to have some power tools on hand. You’ll want at least a cordless power drill and a router, as well as planes and scrapers, a set of quality hand tools, and all of the materials and supplies that will actually go into your guitar.

Pros of building from scratch:

  • Customizability. Literally every aspect of the guitar is yours to customize as you wish – from the wood material and shape of the body, to the tuners, fretboard, and wiring. This instrument will be completely and 100% unique and customized to you.

  • Great learning experience. Building a guitar from scratch will teach you many subtleties of how the guitar works, and these understandings can improve your skills as a musician.

  • Rewarding hobby. Learning to build guitars is a hugely rewarding process in itself for many people.

Cons of building from scratch:

  • Cost. It you’re thinking that building your guitar from scratch will be much cheaper than buying one, you could be wrong about that. Materials and tools add up quickly, especially if you want to go with quality supplies.

  • Time. This isn’t a project that’s done in a few days. Prepare to invest hours upon hours of labor time into building your instrument.

  • Steep learning curve. If you get into this project expecting your first guitar to be a masterpiece, you may be in for disappointment. You will learn a ton along the way, but you’ll make mistakes as well.

Building a guitar with a kit 

A guitar kit can be a great option for people who want the experience and customizability of building their own guitar, but seek more guidance and structure than doing it completely from scratch. Guitar kits provide you with all the pieces you need, pre-cut so all you need to do is buy the tools you need to put everything together.  

While you will have instructions and guidance, you’ll still need to do your research if you opt to build with a kit. There are many different types of kits available, so make sure you know what you want to create and get the kit that will help you build the guitar of your dreams.  

Pros of building with a kit:

  • Customizability. Similar to building from scratch, building a guitar from a kit offers you more options for customizing than just buying a guitar retail.
  • Experience. Again, building your own guitar is a great experience in itself that will deepen your skills as a guitarist.
  • Easier than building from scratch. The ease and guidance of using a kit are huge bonuses for people looking for the experience of building their own guitar without the frustration of trying to figure everything out on their own. 

Cons of building with a kit:

  • Time and cost. Again, similarly to building from scratch, you’ll need to be prepared to invest a significant amount of time and money into this project. The kit itself may cost several hundred dollars, and tools on top of that will add up cost-wise. And you’ll want to take your time to make sure you put everything together the right way.
  • Not as customizable as from scratch. While a guitar kit is a fantastic way to learn how to build your guitar, you still won’t have quite the freedom you would if you were building completely from scratch. It’s a great stepping stone to building from scratch, however, so we recommend starting here if you want to build your own guitar. 

So which option is best for you?

Whether you decide to build from scratch or from a guitar kit will depend largely on your experience, and the time and money you have to dedicate to this project. We recommend starting with a guitar kit to learn how the guitar is built the first time, then diving into the world of building your next guitar from scratch!

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