If you've ever wanted your very own signature LP or Strat, a DIY guitar kit is a great place to start to make that dream become a reality. Do-it-yourself kits come in a variety of qualities and difficulty levels to appeal to different players, but all give you the opportunity to create something that looks and sounds beautiful. After comparing popular packages from several brands, we think the best DIY guitar kit is the Saga LC-10 Deluxe Electric Guitar Kit because it offers great quality, relatively straightforward assembly, and the ability to customize to your heart's content. Article Summary
The electric guitar is arguable the most popular instrument played today. As such, the market dedicated to electric guitars is huge. However, even with that said, you won’t always find what you need, whether that is related to the aesthetic design of the guitar, its performance, or both. If that’s the case, there are three things you can do. You can modify an existing guitar (which is difficult), you can have a professional custom-build you a guitar (which is expensive), or you can pick up a DIY kit and build it entirely yourself.
Do-it-yourself guitar kits can be a lot of fun to build, and the beauty of going this route is that you are completely in control of how everything goes. With these kits, you get every component of the guitar in its raw form. You are then left to assemble everything yourself, choosing to use the included parts or substitute certain pieces out with your own modifications. In addition, you also get to create your own finish, adding a final custom touch to your new “signature” guitar.
As you can probably imagine, DIY kits like these often range in quality and difficulty of assembly. These two factors are often relative to the price range of the kit – but not always. We spent several days comparing some of the best DIY guitar kits around, and we’ve found three packages which we believe offer a great balance between quality and price. If you want to go the do-it-yourself route, one of these kits might just be the solution you’re looking for.
The best DIY guitar kit overall (LP style)
In all of the guitar world, there are two dominant body shapes that will always be popular. On one side you have Fender’s Stratocaster and all of its variations. The other corner is where we find the Gibson Les Paul. The Saga LC-10 Deluxe DIY Kit was designed with the LP in mind, and we think it’s the best DIY guitar kit because it offers solid quality parts while leaving the user with more than enough freedom to complete the guitar with their own taste.
Opening the kit reveals all of the components necessary to build the guitar. However, you also get stuff which isn’t all that essential. One example is a guitar cable, which is of decent quality but nothing to write home about. The main components are exceptional, though. You get a fully routed body made of basswood and then finished with a mahogany veneer. Everything is sanded down to a point, but depending what kind of finish you want to do, you might need to do some additional prep work. The neck of the guitar comes separated as well. They have installed the fretboard as well as frets and the nut, and your job is to finish the neck and install the necessary hardware before joining it to the body. Speaking of which, this is a bolt-on neck design.
The hardware you get is pretty decent too. Since it’s a Les Paul, a Tune-O-Matic bridge came as you would expect. The tuners, which are by far the most questionable component with these DIY kits, are also solid. Of course, you can always install different brand tuners if you wish to.
In terms of electronics, you are looking at fairly good pickups and equally as good wiring. The pots are great for the money and the entire thing sounds on par with more expensive guitars. One good thing about this set of electronics is the fact that it all comes assembled. You don’t need to solder anything, which makes the job that much easier. Naturally, you can also get the electronics of your own choosing and install those. That’s completely up to you.
The great thing about the Saga LC-10 Kit is that you get a very balanced quality of components for a decent price, which was ultimately our goal when searching for the best DIY guitar kit. The difficulty level in terms of assembly is relatively low thanks to the stellar routing job, so you should have no problem at all if this is your first do-it-yourself build.
A simple kit for beginners (Strat style)
For most people, a DIY Strat kit is an easier way to go. This has a lot to do with the way electronics are installed on these guitars. Although the Pyle-Pro PGEKT18 Kit is among the cheaper models, it actually offers an impressive quality level that makes it a fantastic bang for your buck. On top of that, it also offers a few features that we really liked.
Pyle-Pro’s PGEKT18 might be of the affordable crowd, but it has a couple of aces up its sleeve. Like most DIY kits, this one also arrives with a routed out body, and the tonewood of choice is Alder. Why Alder? Well, probably because Fender has been traditionally building their Stratocasters from this very same tonewood. Over time, Alder has become sort of a trademark for any real Strat. Its dynamic simply works best with what is today know as Strat tone.
The neck is a bolt-on piece with a decent truss rod, and the fretboard comes already installed along with the frets. Now comes the interesting part. The headstock arrives in a very crude form. Instead of being factory shaped by the manufacturer, they pretty much just left a square block of wood. In our opinion, this is one of the best features about Pyle-Pro’s DIY kit. They actually left you the freedom to shape the headstock to match the exact type you want. Fender has been using a few headstock designs on their Strats over the years, so you can now add your own custom design to the list.
As most of you probably know, the electronics on any Strat-inspired guitar are often installed on the pickguard. That’s the case with this kit as well. You don’t need to solder anything aside from the connection to the cable jack. Everything has been installed already. Some users will find this helpful, others would probably like to have been allowed to do the job themselves.
The hardware itself is pretty decent. The tuners are a copy of Fender’s own and are average in terms of performance. Pyle-Pro has kept things pretty accurate, meaning that you should be able to install parts designed for the original Stratocaster if you wish to.
In terms of DIY kits, the Pyle-Pro PGEKT18 is definitely designed for those who are still not sure whether or not they can handle a task like this. It’s basically building a guitar on easy mode. Even so, the kit is well made, using great tonewood and materials. Once you put everything together, you will get one very decent Strat. It will almost certainly be much better than most finished guitars in its price range, which is a very rare thing.
A kit that requires a little more work (LP style)
Last but not least, we have the Albatross Guitars GK004 Kit. This is another Les Paul model. We’ve placed this model third due to its rather crude nature, which many beginners will likely have trouble with. If this is not your first kit, it should work just fine for you.
To expand on the note of crudeness: all of the components, including the body and the neck, will need some additional work. The guitar features a standard mahogany body with a maple veneer on top. Closer inspection reveals that the veneer is there simply for aesthetic purposes. On an original Les Paul, this layer of tonewood is there to give the tone of your guitar some flavor. In order to do that, it has to be of a certain thickness. The veneer that comes on this body is simply not thick enough to get the job done. Does that make it a bad kit? Not necessarily. On one hand, it would be nice to have a proper veneer, but on the other even if it was thicker it probably wouldn’t impact the tone all that much. Getting a proper Gibson Les Paul tone out of a guitar in this price range is borderline impossible, even a DIY kit like this one.
The true potential of this particular package comes from its raw nature. Those who like to put in a lot of elbow grease into a project will love what Albatross Guitars has to offer here. If you are aiming for a higher quality finish, count on spending a decent amount of hours on working the surface of the veneer. It takes time, but its therapeutic in many ways.
The neck, which also requires some additional work, is pretty good all things considered. The truss rod, fretboard, and frets are all assembled, meaning that you will only need to install the tuning machines and join it to the body. Speaking of that, Albatross Guitars stayed true to the original design and made this a set neck kit. While properly setting a neck is a bit trickier compared to simply bolting it on to a body, it does take you one step closer to an original Les Paul.
The Albatross Guitars GK004 DIY Kit might be a tough cookie for some users due to the amount of work that needs to be put in it, but if you have the skill and patience, it’s worth the build. The important thing is that everything is routed properly and accepts Gibson’s parts with minimal adjustments necessary. In other words, you can build a rather decent Les Paul copy out of this thing.
How we picked our top three
The thought process behind choosing the best DIY guitar kits was anything but simple. We’ve based our picks on extensive research that took a good number of factors into consideration, and we’ve outlined the decision process below.
Material and parts quality
With anything instrument-related, quality is usually at the forefront of comparison. This is even more true with DIY kits considering the quality has an impact on several other pieces to the puzzle, such as the difficulty of assembly (which we’ll talk about next) and how the guitar will play and sound once it’s put together. We looked at every aspect when comparing quality, from the materials of the body and neck themselves to the tuners, frets, and other hardware. While the Saga offered the highest level of quality, the Pyle-Pro and Albatross kits were fairly impressive considering their lower price tags.
Difficulty of assembly
DIY guitar kits come in a variety of forms. You can categorize them based on the amount of work that needs to be put into them, as well as the amount of skill necessary to even attempt building each one. Our goal was to find a middle ground in this respect. Picking several kits where you’d have to extensively use power tools would probably be interesting to several enthusiasts, but most would essentially be alienated by such kits. On the other hand, if we picked ones which required a very small amount of effort, that would defeat the point.
The kits we have picked are somewhere right in the middle. They require work, but nothing that you won’t be able to do with a set of basic tools. Sure, that Strat kit needs work on the headstock, however you can do that with a hand saw if necessary.
Electrics over acoustics
There are DIY acoustic guitar kits out there, but there is also a very good reason why we have decided to leave them out. Building an acoustic DIY kit requires knowledge and skill that usually only luthiers have. If you were to take your average guitar player, they would probably end up overwhelmed by all the processes necessary to successfully build a kit of this type. Electric guitar kits, on the other hand, are something a majority of interested players can handle, especially the ones we have selected. Sticking to electric guitars was a logical choice in this case.
Finally, the price was one of the important factors in our selection process. You will find DIY kits that are super affordable, but you will also find those which cost a whole lot of money. We wanted to find three DIY kits that were somewhere within the affordable range, but not too cheap. Each of these meets this goal. Even the Strat kit, which is quite a bit cheaper than the other two, offers a great value for the money.
Things to consider before buying
When you’re shopping for a guitar, there are many things that need to be defined at a personal level before making your choice. This planning stage is exponentially more important when you are dealing with DIY kits. Consider the pros and cons and ask yourself the questions below to make sure you choose the best DIY guitar kit for your personal preferences and experience level.
What’s your skill level?
Assembling a DIY guitar kit requires some skill, no matter how easy it may seem on paper. This is where a lot of people refuse to be honest with themselves. You have to ask yourself, have you ever done anything similar in your life? If so, what was the end result like? If the answer to the first question is no, make sure that you understand that the guitar you end up building may not be perfect. Should this discourage you from even attempting to get one of these kits done? Absolutely not. The only way to learn is to get some hands-on experience. Building DIY kits is a great way to learn how to guitars work in general. The key here is to start slow, with kits that don’t require many specialized skills. With enough patience and attention to detail, you can definitely advance your skills further. For guidance, this list of tips will help you go through each step of the build.
What type of guitar do you want?
Some guitars are inherently more difficult to build than others. That is simply a fact. For example, a Stratocaster features a bolt on neck and electronics which are installed on the pickguard. Contrary to that, you have the Les Paul with its angled, set neck and electronics built directly into the body of the guitar. Choosing which type of guitar you want to build will have to do with your taste, but also with what you’re prepared to deal with. Properly seating and setting a neck is not easy. Make sure you figure this out before you make the final decision.
Do you plan to use aftermarket components?
One of the best things about a DIY kit is that they are pretty much a blank canvas. You get all the necessary components, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them. As a matter of fact, most people don’t. Here’s where the problem is. Some of these kits are designed with measurements that perfectly fit the model they are inspired by. However, some don’t. If you plan on installing aftermarket components, whether we’re talking electronics or hardware, make sure to triple check the dimensions of everything. If you don’t and you get a body that won’t accept your choice of pickups, you will end up having to modify the guitar. For some people that is not an issue at all, but others might find it difficult to make the necessary adjustments.
Remember to budget for additional expenses
With everything we’ve mentioned just now, it is important to set a budget for your project. Almost every single DIY kit will require some additional investments. The first thing that comes to mind is the finish. The whole idea of building a DIY kit is to be able to choose a finish of your own. That is one additional expense that needs to be included in your budget.
Moving on to performance; if you feel that the electronics provided are underpowered for your needs, you will most likely have to get an upgrade. Again, that will cost you. The best thing you can do is to write down all of your foreseen expenses on a piece of paper and add that to the price of the kit. That way you will have a realistic idea of how much the whole project is going to cost you. Also, don’t forget to include the tools, if you don’t have the necessary stuff around the house.
Wrapping it up
DIY guitar kits are an awesome way to spend some time building something you love. It is a challenging, but ultimately rewarding experience. Based on our research of many available build packages, the ones we’ve picked are by far some of the best DIY guitar kits on the market. We’ve made sure to include a variety, both in terms of price and design, so that you could have a wider selection to choose from. With the information we’ve provided you with above, you should be able to make a pretty educated decision that won’t leave you disappointed down the road.
The important thing is to not get discouraged by the complexity of the task at hand, which is exactly what prevents a large number of guitarists from building their own guitars. Sure, it’s not easy, but doing a project such as this one is rewarding on so many different levels. This is one case where it is both about the journey and the destination. There are simply no downsides to building a guitar on your own, if you are up for it. Mark our words: the one you end up building will become your favorite, no matter how it performs. You made it, and that’s what matters.