How do I Build a Guitar?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
A guitar.
A guitar.

Luthiers--or guitar builders--spend years learning the best ways to build quality guitars. It is a complicated process that takes skill, patience, and a thorough knowledge of different types of woods, electronics, and acoustic qualities. Therefore, if you are a novice looking to learn how to build a guitar, your first step should be visiting your local guitar shop to track down an experienced luthier to guide you through the process. However, if you would rather learn as you go, try some of the following steps to help you build a guitar.

An electric guitar.
An electric guitar.

First of all, you need to make sure you have all the tools necessary to build a guitar. A variety of clamps, saws, chisels, files, and a flat working surface are all necessary to have handy before beginning work on your guitar. Other tools you will be sure to need when you build a guitar are: electric drill, ruler, rasps, reamers, straight-edge, glue, and glue brushes. You will need some specialty tools as well, such as a fret cutter and fret hammer, fret leveler, dressing stick, and a nut slotting file.

Next, you need to decide what type of guitar you want to build. An acoustic guitar build is very different from that of an electric guitar, and you will need to consider different materials and processes for each. Once you have decided what type of guitar you want to build, you generally have two choices as to how to proceed: you can purchase a kit that will give you all the materials you need to build a guitar, or you can assemble your own materials and start from scratch.

Because of the complexity of luthiery, the kit is a good option for someone trying to build a guitar for the first time. Many kits come with step-by-step instructions as well, taking out some of the guesswork of luthiery. To purchase a kit, look on reputable websites or visit your local guitar shop.

If you choose to build a guitar without a kit, the step-by-step process becomes too complex for the purposes of this article. However, a general process would go something like this:

1)Obtain proper tools and work space
2) Decide what type of guitar you want to build. Be sure to take into consideration how you intend to attach the neck to the body and what type of electronics you want. Consult your local music shop for recommendations.
3) Decide what types of wood you want to use for the body, fretboard, and neck of your guitar. THIS IS A CRUCIAL STEP! The wood choice will affect the acoustics and playability of your guitar.
4) Purchase the necessary woods (you can buy neck and body blanks through a distributor or online)
5) Decide ahead of time what types of electronics, if any, will be included in your guitar
6) Design and cut your body blank
7) Design and cut your neck and fretboard
8) Assemble the neck and body
9) Cut and install your frets
10) Install electronics, if applicable
10) Cut and install your bridge and nut
11) Dress your frets
12) Install tuning machines
13) Check intonation and adjust accordingly

This is, of course, an incomplete list and the novice should consult a variety of sources before attempting to build a guitar. Luthiery is a complex process, and you may need some guidance your first time out. Don't be shy, and ask many questions to as many sources as possible to ensure a playable quality final product.

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Discussion Comments


Yes, a kit is probably the way to go although some people have managed to make fantastic guitars with a lot of work and some ingenuity. Brian May of Queen fame, for example, used a guitar that he made with his father out of an old fireplace mantle.

On a related note, there is a group of enthusiasts out there who make three-string, cigar box cars with only a little equipment and just a few supplies. We're talking about guitars that have electric pickups and everything. Fun hobby, seemingly, and it might be a good project to take on for someone just getting into building guitars.

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    • A guitar.
      A guitar.
    • An electric guitar.
      An electric guitar.