Should I Build My Custom Guitar?

Should I Build My Custom Guitar?

As someone who builds, modifies, and repairs a lot of guitars, this is a question I’m often asked. The absolute, most definitive answer I can give to that is “I don’t know”.  Let’s look at a few different options and we’ll try to narrow that decision down a bit.

If you’ve got three or four thousand dollars laying around for that custom project, just contact your favorite custom shop or builder and tell them what you want. Chances are, most of us are not in a situation where that is a practical option. After all, the whole premise behind this website is to motivate folks to do-it-yourself. That being said, let’s look at some different ways to get that ultimate axe in your hands.

First you’ve got to determine exactly what you want. Sit down with you phone or laptop and search the interwebs for ideas of what you can do. Do you want a full custom personalized guitar, or just a good guitar with some great pickups to personalize your sound?  You can click on all the major pickup manufactures’ websites and check out sound samples until you find that perfect tone. I’ve found myself  building a guitar around a set of pickups just for that very reason.

If you’re just wanting a great sound in a great playing instrument, take a look at some the imports offered by some of the big name American manufactures. Mexican Fenders can be had in any color you like and offer a variety of pickup configurations. Gibson offers Epiphone Les Paul guitars at a fraction of their American counterparts as well. Dean guitars offer some great affordable imports, as well as Jackson and Charvel and many more. If there’s a premium guitar that you’d love to own, but it’s  just too expensive, I can almost guarantee that you can find an affordable alternative.

How about a used guitar that you can modify into that face-melter? The used market is flooded with great deals. If you can buy it for half the price of a new one, it just leaves more of a budget to modify it more. Remember, if you save on the guitar purchase, you can spend more on pickups and THAT’S where you will hear the difference!

Okay, most of these options I’ve talked about would require a budget of around $500 to$1000 to buy and modify these instruments. While that’s a far cry from the thousands of dollars a custom shop instrument would cost, it’s still a little too expensive of some players. Don’t count out the Squier guitars from Fender and other “budget” minded guitars. I mention Squier because most of the ones I’ve played leave a bit to be desired in the sound department. You can find used Mexican electronics on the web all day and make these “cheap” guitars very respectable players for a small amount of cash.

Now let’s talk about building that ultimate custom guitar. I always wanted a 1952 Telecaster in a color that Fender never built them in. Of course you’d never take a priceless original and restore the finish, much less change the color. S0 the next best thing is to build one right? Well, I went to the Custom Shop site and started punching in my fantasy build. -I didn’t even get my pickups picked out and I was at four grand. Now I’m sure if I could afford that, it would be an awesome guitar, but that just wasn’t gonna happen.

Enter Amazon, a friend in Texas and little bit (a lot!) of elbow grease and I was on my way to building my dream Tele.  First thing was the neck. I found a made in Mexico Fender vintage replacement neck in the correct vintage amber lacquer and vintage tuners.  Next was the body. A friend in Texas at Waldrop Guitars built me a beautiful two piece American swamp ash body. Then a vintage Fender three saddle bridge, genuine Fender control plate and switch and finally a set Fender Twisted Tele pickups. I had some lacquer mixed in the color I wanted at a local auto paint shop and began my project. After a lot of test fitting, sanding, drilling and finishing, I finally had my dream guitar! The best part of this is that I built this guitar completely for less than $700. While that’s not super cheap, it is a full-custom guitar for less than a quarter of the cost for someone else to build it. Also, there’s no better feeling than knowing you built it yourself.

Hopefully this will inspire you to pull the trigger on that project guitar you’ve been thinking about, or at least improve on one you’re already playing. Please check out some of my other posts about tools and soldering techniques to get a better understanding of what is  involved when doing these projects. Take a few minutes and check out the video below as I talk more about the builds discussed above. As always, thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Remember, keep building, keep repairing and keep playing!


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