So you’re a wannabe guitar maker, excuse me, luthier. Every guitarist and even some non-musical woodworkers are likely to wonder about building your own acoustic guitar.
It isn’t going to be an easy task and it certainly won’t be cheap. However, building your own guitar can be one of the most satisfying projects you can accomplish.
A guitar built with care can last a lifetime, but how do you ensure you can build it right?
With a few steps in the right direction, you’ll get on track to building your own acoustic guitar.
Is it cheaper to build your own guitar?
No, it is not cheaper to build your own guitar. Nowadays you can purchase a rock solid guitar built by a skilled luthier via a major brand for under 400 dollars.
When building your own guitar you need various specs of wood material, tooling to build it with, and plans or specs to follow.
Yes, most of this items you might be able to find for a barging, but there’s just no way you can go out a get everything needed to build a guitar for less than you could purchase a pre-built guitar.
Unless you have access to a well equipped workshop, and have an “in” to get quality lumber on the cheap, it is still going to be fairly expensive once you factor in all the little things you’ll need.
You’ll still need to buy or make hardware, the bridge, nut, tuning knobs, inlays, frets, all these things are precision items that need to be finely crafted, or purchased.
While none of those items will break the back on their own, they add up quick. Hardware alone, can run you a hundred dollars easy on an acoustic guitar build.
If you’re considering building your own acoustic guitar, in order to save money, you won’t. You’re better off buying a prebuilt.
Not to hurt your feelings, but the first guitar you build, well, it will probably be a little shaky. That’s ok, nobody should expect to build a perfectly crafted guitar their first try.
I just want to point this out in case your goal is to save cash, because you won’t be saving money by building your own.
Is it hard to build an acoustic guitar?
Yes, for an amatuer luthiers, building an acoustic guitar will be difficult. Not impossible, but building guitars is a niche area of fine woodworking.
You can buy kits and easy plans sure, but you’ll still need to be glueing and applying coats of lacquer.
If you’re fairly handy in the workshop, building a guitar won’t be a monumental task. If you’ve never stepped foot in a workshop before, you might want to tackle a couple simpler projects before taking on a fine woodworking project that need to have precision in order to function properly.
Building an acoustic guitar isn’t out of reach for anyone, but it isn’t a simple project you’ll finish on a weeknight. It will likely be a couple months of precision work.
Just be ready for what you’re getting yourself into!
Is it easier to build an acoustic or electric guitar?
Electric guitars are typically less complex to build compared to acoustic guitars. This is due to electric guitars being solid bodies, versus a hollow body acoustic guitar.
An electric guitar is a blank of wood, solid or multiple pieces glued together, and cut to shape. the internal cavities are drilled out and the base of the body is basically completed.
Acoustic guitar bodies need to be cut to shape just like electric, but you’re dealing with thin wood that is more likely to crack than thicker electric bodies.
The side walls of an acoustic guitar have to be shaped and glued into position, usually requiring a form of steam and a long clamping process.
Bridges are also distinctly different. An electric bridge is a metal component that can screw into the thick body of the guitar.
An acoustic bridge is usually glued and crafted into position on the thin face of the guitar body. Not that acoustic guitar bridges are weak, but there is far less margin for error when installing a bridge on an acoustic guitar.
Aside from the body and bridge, most of the other items on the guitar build checklist are similar to one another.
Overall, it is going to be much easier to build an electric guitar, mostly because you have more margin for error throughout the entire project.
How long does it take to build a handmade acoustic guitar?
Most hobby luthiers can build an acoustic guitar in the 125-200 hour range.
Professional manufacturers like the Taylor brand are rumored to build their guitars in under 15 hours of working time.
A lot, of that time will be dedicated to glue ups and clamping. Finely filing highpoints and getting everything just right.
However, don’t forget about the sanding, you’ll be sanding for hours, light sanding to finish things off yes, but also thickness sanding to get everything to fit well.
For your first build, don’t look at it as a race. It doesn’t matter if you take a week or a year. The finished project is what counts.
You should plan to have a workspace you can dedicate to guitar building for at least a few months, to ensure you don’t have to factor in a time crunch to get to the finish line.
Build your own acoustic guitar for beginners
Here’s a perfect videos walking you through some common mistake amatuer luthiers make when starting out, I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Here’s also some basic specs for an acoustic guitar build.
Getting the rough idea for the type of acoustic guitar you’d like to build is the first step. The next thing you’ll want to decide is what parts you want to build, and what parts you’ll buy pre-made.
Yes you can make your own frets and tuning knobs, but for at least your first build i would stay away.
How happy would you be if you didn’t get the tuning knobs just right and for some reason they just don’t hold the tuning?
You’ll be fighting with them for a lifetime, or you’ll end up replacing them with pre-mades anyways.
This is the point where you should pick your battles. Most people I know who build their first guitar are really only building the body of the guitar, and they purchase a neck.
A bolt on neck or even a permanent glue on neck is going to remove dozens of hours of work off the table.
The neck has to be precise, it will massively impact the playability, intonation and feel or the guitar. The neck surface is important, front and back.
It might be wise to focus on one portion of a guitar build at a time.
Building from a kit, you would be able to focus on building the body, then you just need to attach the neck and make adjustments as needed.
Once you get a feel for building the bodies of guitars, then you’ll have a better idea if 1. you enjoy this type of project, and 2. if you want to do this again, building every part.
Everyone that I know, who isn’t already into woodworking, that has built their own acoustic guitar has only built one.
It’s a fun novelty, and the results can last a lifetime, but it is a ton of work.
Using a kit to build your own acoustic guitar
For your first guitar build you’ll save yourself some headaches by going with a kit. If you’re a more accomplished woodworker, you don’t need a kit, but for first timers, I’d recommend a kit.
The kit should come with EVERYTHING, not just pieces of wood in a box that says guitar kit, it should have EVERYTHING!
Everything means you should have the base wood materials, the headstock hardware, the neck or neck hardware, and the saddle or blanks to make a saddle.
If you’re buying a kit, as side from tooling, that should be everything you need to buy. A good kit will have everything, and everything in the kit should work with and fit well with what is in the kit.
You don’t want to get halfway through your build and realize you need extra pieces. And now you have to go shop around to find hardware or material that is compatible with the existing kit.
If you go with a kit, get one that has everything you need, or skip it altogether.
Building your own acoustic guitar pickup
Aren’t you being ambitious enough already? Do you really want to build your own acoustic guitar and build the pickup yourself?
I kid, but you are talking about a much different job that building a guitar.
Now we’re out of the woodshop and into the electronics space. I certainly don’t have as much expertise in the area of DIY pickups.
I know there are kits, and you’ll need to be comfortable with soldering and winding your own coils.
Luckily acoustic guitar pickups do tend to be a little more simple and robust in their build.
I’d recommend checking this lighthearted video on making a guitar pickup in its simplest form.