Reasons For Building Your Own Guitar

 

I’ve been there—I’ve looked at high-end acoustic and electric guitars and said to  myself, “If I just bought the materials that were used to make one of those and put it together myself, I could save a huge amount of money.” That may or may not be the case. Let’s look at reasons you might want to try a hand at building your own guitar, and the unseen challenges that might cause you to take a step back and THINK about whether this is something you really want to get into.

 

  • The “I’ll Save A Lot of Money” Argument

People generally think they will be able to produce guitars that are equal to factory-produced examples from major manufacturers just by having the correct materials. Let me be the first to educate you: If this is your plan, you will fail.

 

Sure, the major manufacturers buy wood in quantity and get quantity discounts, but here’s the thing: they also have tools and people with experience building them. If you don’t have any tools at all, your first guitar’s cost will not only be the cost of the wood, frets, and hardware, it will also have to include your band-saw, drill press, belt-sander, clamps, router, router table, fret leveling bar, fingerboard radiusing blocks, nut files, air compressor, spray gun, and lacquer.

 

The point is, even if you only buy tools as you need them, the cost is going to be exponentially more than the cost of a boutique electric or acoustic guitar.

 

….and let’s not forget that this will be your FIRST guitar, so you will need to build jigs, moulds, and fixtures if you expect to be doing any of these processes again—so you’ll need to figure in the costs of materials to make all of those things.

 

Also, let me emphasize, AGAIN: this will be your first guitar. It will have problems, things will not go smoothly, and the end result will probably not be able to compete with your dream boutique guitar ideal.

 

Bottom line: you will probably not save any money. In fact, it will most likely COST you money.

 

 

  • The “I’ll Make A Guitar That Fits My Playing Style According To My Specifications” Argument

Again, I’m going to take the wind out of your sails here. If you are looking to make a guitar that is perfectly suited to your playing style and preferences, it would probably be cheaper and easier to get someone else to do it for you. At the very least, you could buy something that was CLOSE to what you want and modify the hardware, pickups, or even neck profile to your particular needs.

 

Why do I say this? Easy: because building a custom guitar to fit you like a glove still involves BUILDING A GUITAR. There is a huge learning curve associated with building instruments: you need to be comfortable with building from a center-line, the concept of scale length, and all sorts of tiny little details on some kind of traditional design BEFORE you  go out into the wilderness of custom guitar shapes and designs.

 

Bottom line: if this is your motivation, just pay someone to build you a custom guitar.

 

 

  • The “I Want To Know How They Did That” Argument

I like this one. This happens to be why I got into building guitars. I was curious how Leo Fender managed to design a process in which guitars were made with simple, interchangeable parts, and that process defined a SOUND. This motivation is a valid one. You can read books about what the Vintage Fender factory was like all day, but you don’t truly UNDERSTAND until you try to do what they were doing yourself.

 

 

  • The “I Want To Learn About Myself Through The Process Of Building Guitars” Argument

I think this one is the best. In guitar building, you not only learn how to use a chisel and a rasp, you also learn things about your own personality–”Where am I lazy?” “Where do I let myself deviate from my expectations?” “Where do I surprise myself?” “Where do I let my preconceptions drive my decision making?” There is a lot to learn while working on instruments. Let this be your motivation: to make yourself better while working on making your guitars better. That’s craftsmanship.

Conclusion

These are the reasons most people give for working on guitars. Hopefully, I’ve shot some holes through some of the more dubious ones for you. Building guitars can be the most rewarding, most fun, most educational thing you can do with your time. Even if your aim is not to make a living at it, it can be a satisfying hobby.

Examine your motivations. Then get to work.

 

Reasons For Building Your Own Guitar

I’ve been there–I’ve looked at high-end acoustic and electric guitars and said to myself, “If I just bought the materials that were used to make one of those and put it together myself, I could save a huge amount of money.” That may or may not be the case. Let’s look at reasons you might want to try a hand at building your own guitar, and the unseen challenges that might cause you to take a step back and THINK about whether this is something you really want to get into.

  • The “I’ll Save A Lot of Money” Argument

People generally think they will be able to produce guitars that are equal to factory-produced examples from major manufacturers just by having the correct materials. Let me be the first to educate you: If this is your plan, you will fail.

Sure, the major manufacturers buy wood in quantity and get quantity discounts, but here’s the thing: they also have tools and people with experience building them. If you don’t have any tools at all, your first guitar’s cost will not only be the cost of the wood, frets, and hardware, it will also have to include your band-saw, drill press, belt-sander, clamps, router, router table, fret leveling bar, fingerboard radiusing blocks, nut files, air compressor, spray gun, and lacquer.

The point is, even if you only buy tools as you need them, the cost is going to be exponentially more than the cost of a boutique electric or acoustic guitar.

….and let’s not forget that this will be your FIRST guitar, so you will need to build jigs, moulds, and fixtures if you expect to be doing any of these processes again–so you’ll need to figure in the costs of materials to make all of those things.

Also, let me emphasize, AGAIN: this will be your first guitar. It will have problems, things will not go smoothly, and the end result will probably not be able to compete with your dream boutique guitar ideal.

Bottom line: you will probably not save any money. In fact, it will most likely COST you money.

  • The “I’ll Make A Guitar That Fits My Playing Style According To My Specifications” Argument

Again, I’m going to take the wind out of your sails here. If you are looking to make a guitar that is perfectly suited to your playing style and preferences, it would probably be cheaper and easier to get someone else to do it for you. At the very least, you could buy something that was CLOSE to what you want and modify the hardware, pickups, or even neck profile to your particular needs.

Why do I say this? Easy: because building a custom guitar to fit you like a glove still involves BUILDING A GUITAR. There is a huge learning curve associated with building instruments: you need to be comfortable with building from a center-line, the concept of scale length, and all sorts of tiny little details on some kind of traditional design BEFORE you go out into the wilderness of custom guitar shapes and designs.

Bottom line: if this is your motivation, just pay someone to build you a custom guitar.

  • The “I Want To Know How They Did That” Argument

I like this one. This happens to be why I got into building guitars. I was curious how Leo Fender managed to design a process in which guitars were made with simple, interchangeable parts, and that process defined a SOUND. This motivation is a valid one. You can read books about what the Vintage Fender factory was like all day, but you don’t truly UNDERSTAND until you try to do what they were doing yourself.

  • The “I Want To Learn About Myself Through The Process Of Building Guitars” Argument

I think this one is the best. In guitar building, you not only learn how to use a chisel and a rasp, you also learn things about your own personality–”Where am I lazy?” “Where do I let myself deviate from my expectations?” “Where do I surprise myself?” “Where do I let my preconceptions drive my decision making?” There is a lot to learn while working on instruments. Let this be your motivation: to make yourself better while working on making your guitars better. That’s craftsmanship.

Conclusion

These are the reasons most people give for working on guitars. Hopefully, I’ve shot some holes through some of the more dubious ones for you. Building guitars can be the most rewarding, most fun, most educational thing you can do with your time. Even if your aim is not to make a living at it, it can be a satisfying hobby.

Examine your motivations. Then get to work.

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