Assembling a Kit Guitar

Assembling a Kit Guitar

So you are thinking about doing some guitar building? It’s a great experience, creating a working instrument and a piece of custom art at the same time! Though I warn you, it can be addictive, I’m still building them after 27 years! Well guitar kits are a really good place to start, but don’t be fooled into thinking all you are doing is screwing a few parts together.   There are quite a number of important steps you need to do in order to end up with a playable guitar. There are lots of different kits out there but they generally all need the same steps. Here is a list of some of them to keep in mind, and the tools you will need.


The kit bodies and neck look quite smooth when you pull it out of the box, but they are far from ready to be finished. Be prepared to do a lot of sanding, going through a range of sandpaper grits until you have a silky smooth finish with no blemishes, scratches, dents or sanding marks. The end grain can be particularly difficult to sand clean, but persevere, it will be worth it in the end.

You will need
  • Non clog Sandpaper grits 120/240/400 (and possibly more depending on the final finish you plan on applying).
  • Sanding block
  • Lots of elbow grease!

Fret Leveling

All the kits that I have come across have required fret levelling and dressing. Sure it looks like the factory has done the fret work for you, but this is not the case. The frets have been put in the fretboard but they are not level enough to be played in any sort of useful way! (Maybe with the exception of a slide guitar, where you don’t actually use the frets!)

You will need
  • Radiused sanding block (radius to match that of your fretboard radius) with adhesive fine grit sandpaper attached
  • Fret crowning file
  • Customised triangle file (takes off the sharp corners of the fret ends)
  • Non clog sandpaper 400/800/1200
  • Steel wool 0000

Creating a Headstock

Most kits come with a blank paddle at the end of the neck where you can design your own headstock shape. There is a bit of woodworking required here to turn your design into a nice headstock. Sawing, filing and sanding! Some design limitations apply with respect to structural strength, predetermined machine head placement (the holes have already been drilled!) and their required clearances, and of course legal implications of using a copyrighted shape!

You will need
  • A design (whether it is a template or your own custom design)
  • Coping saw or band saw
  • Rasps
  • Files
  • Sandpaper 120/240/400grit

Applying a Stain and a Finish

This topic can vary markedly depending on what finish you are planning on putting on your guitar.   Certain finishes require a lot more work than others and their pro’s and cons can be argued till the cows come home! If you have a lot of time and access to a spray booth then your options are considerable, however most people aren’t in that boat. Using spray cans in a clean, well-ventilated area is a good option for those with a bit of time available. Or for a quicker solution an oil finish is an option. In our courses you will finish the kit guitar build in two days, so an oil finish is optimal in our situation.

You will need
  • Anything from oil and rag to spray booth/breathing apparatus/spray gun/finish compound(lacquer, Nitro, Poly, epoxy, French polish, etc)/coloured stains/grain filler/undercoat/buffing wheel/buffing compound/wet&dry sandpaper and so forth.


You will more than likely need to do some soldering of your electronics. This can be challenging if you are new to soldering. It does take a bit of practice to be able to solder correctly. It certainly helps if you can find someone with some experience to guide you in the beginning, otherwise it’s lots of trial and error (hopefully not too much error!) Reading wiring diagrams may be necessary too to work out exactly what you are soldering to what!

You will need
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder
  • Wet sponge to clean soldering tip
  • Wiring Diagram
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire strippers
  • Amplifier and lead
  • Three hands! (This would make soldering a lot easier!)

Set Up

So you have got to the final stage of building your guitar. Without a good setup your guitar is just not going to work, as it should. It may be more like a cheese grater (finger grater!) or a buzz saw when plugged into an amp, without the fuzz pedal turned on! So you will need to run through the many steps of the set up process, including neck angle adjustments, setting the neck relief, matching fretboard radius, string height, cutting in the nut, pickup height and setting the intonation, among others, depending on your instrument. All of these adjustments are in balance and can affect one another, so best to approach the set up in the correct order.

You will need
  • Strobe or very accurate tuner
  • String winder
  • String action gauge
  • Wire cutters/pliers
  • Nut files
  • Radius gauges
  • Truss Rod wrench
  • Screw drivers
  • Allen keys
  • Ruler

These are just a few of the steps involved in putting together a kit guitar. As you can see calling it “assembling” is a little under rated don’t you think! Not to scare you off, as I said earlier, it is a great experience to build your own guitar. But just bear in mind there is a fair bit of skilled work to do and a whole bunch of tools required to do them. This is the very reason Wildwood Instruments offers weekend courses in electric guitar making, where we run through all of the steps with you and provide all of the required tools, so that you can confidently and correctly make one of these guitars in just one weekend.


Nick Carpenter

Owner of Wildwood Instruments


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