Self-build or custom-build?

Since I started to play I have had a picture in my mind of my ultimate guitar, a guitar that encompasses all my passions and is unique to me.  The problem is that for this guitar to come into existence it would have to be built to my specifications aesthetically, and like most people my budget for this would be limited. So my question is this, would it work out more cost effective to have this custom body and neck made for me and then build the guitar myself, or pay a company to custom build the whole thing for me?Also roughly what sort of money would I be looking at to fund either of these options to a decent standard? At the moment this is a purely hypothetical question as I can't afford to do anything until next year, but I'm interested to know what everyone thinks my best option is.

Comments

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,107Member, Moderator

    I did my builds for between £500 and £800.  Building your own will be considerably cheaper than having someone else do the work.  There are a lot on man hours involved.

     

    Guitar My completed Jocko Trucaster 3-6-11

     Jocko Tru-squire 15-4-14

     

    Jocko Stratru-caster 15-4-14

     

  • Mike WhittakerMike Whittaker Posts: 119Member

    That's what I thought, I realise it will take a lot of time and effort, but I think that will definitely become my project next year image

     

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,107Member, Moderator

    The bodies for builds 2 and 3 I got from www.guitarbuild.co.uk and I would not go past them for quality, price and service.  Phil is a great guy to deal with, as others on here will testify.

    My first build, using the Swamp Ash body, was the dearest.  This was because I bought most of the expensive parts from the States, including Steinberger gearless tuners.

    The second build, with the Walnut body, necessitated a custom rout and so I went to www.guitarbuild.co.uk for that. I also bought the third body, Sapele mahogany, from them, but it is standard Strat (apart from specifying that it was to be natural finish with a truncated pick guard and for this Phil picked me a particular nice piece of timber).

    So when you are ready, give it a go.  I never built anything out of wood before my Swamp Ash Tele.  It was great fun and a very fulfilling experience.  And at the end of the day you have a unique instrument to your own spec.  Go for it.

  • manofgresleymanofgresley Posts: 137Member

    Hi Mike.
    "To build, or not to build, that is the question"

    If you have the relevant cabinet making and Lutherie skills,and loads of machinery and a decent workshop, there's nothing to worry about. Do you intend to build it yourself from a block of suitable wood? or do you intend to buy all the parts and assemble it yourself?
    My advice would be to start off cheap, as cheap as possible with your first build, if you buy expensive parts, and lack the relevant skills, mistakes can be very expensive and morally off putting, if you have not done it before you will make mistakes, do it cheaply and learn from your experience, which when you have completed gives you a great deal of satisfaction, good luck with what you do.
    Here is a photo of my last build, like Jocko i like to keep between £500 - £800, this price will give you a great looking and sounding guitar.

  • Mike WhittakerMike Whittaker Posts: 119Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    The bodies for builds 2 and 3 I got from www.guitarbuild.co.uk and I would not go past them for quality, price and service.  Phil is a great guy to deal with, as others on here will testify.

     

    Originally Posted by manofgresley:

    Hi Mike.
    "To build, or not to build, that is the question"

    If you have the relevant cabinet making and Lutherie skills,and loads of machinery and a decent workshop, there's nothing to worry about. Do you intend to build it yourself from a block of suitable wood? or do you intend to buy all the parts and assemble it yourself?

    As I have zero woodworking skills, I'm planning on buying a pre-made body and neck (Probably from GuitarBuild.co.uk) and all the relevant pieces and just assembling it myself.  I think this will also help me spread the cost and allow me to buy the best parts possible without a massive initial outlay.

     

    Am I right in thinking the £500-£800 you both spent has produced a guitar that would be worth £1000+?

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,191Member

    Hi Mike. Building your own design guitar from parts - personally I would say that would have been an over ambitious project for me as my first one. But not knowing you, perhaps it could be just the thing for you. All the same, at least consider building one of the more common designs (strat, tele etc.) as there is at least some degree of standardisation of parts (far from perfect, but it still helps), and there is a lot of info re how these guitar designs can be put together on the web.

     

    My first parts build was this telecaster...

    customtele06

     

    ...followed by this strat:

    stratproj158

     

     

    When I did that first telecaster, I had already got a decent understanding of guitar electronics from messing about changing the wiring circuits on another guitar, and also there is some good info on the web re electronics, plus I read a book about the whole subject. Another skill I found I needed to develop was the ability to do a good fret level and dress job on the guitar, in order to get the setup optimised. Pretty much every neck I've seen/used has not had this done as bought, and will benefit from such work. I got good helpful advice on other areas of the builds from people on this forum - e.g. Jocko, Mark P, to name 2 key suspects! image but also others. That covered areas like the finish, and also just 101 other little points that crop up in a build.

     

    And then my 3rd build turned out to be this beasty, which I guess is my own design:

    gp2013-211

     

    About this one - you need a good neck for a parts build (there are plenty of bad ones out there, so needs taking time to find the right one). In this case, the neck came from another guitar I used to own - embarrassingly, I had pretty much wrecked the body of this guitar trying to strip it and refinish it. In the end I thought I'd salvage the whole situation by getting a new body made to spec., then decided to do my own body shape design, then followed by several weeks of sketching and fine-tuning of the design. All my builds have used bodies made by www.guitarbuild.co.uk - and I do highly recommend them. Well worth chatting to the owner, Phil, about whatever you might want. If you already have a neck, you can send it to him, and he will be able to ensure a perfect fit to the body, and make sure everything is spot on.

     

    As stated before, you will need a good neck to get something worth while - at the moment it seems to be getting harder to source good necks. If making a strat or tele, then Mighty Mite aren't bad (although I would not say perfect), also Allparts seem to sell decent stuff, there's probable a few other sources still around. I did once buy a £50 strat neck off ebay, but it was false economy, and I ended up not using it, and buying one at around £100 which was so much better. If you're going for your own custom design though, you may well not want a strat or tele type - in that case it might be worth looking to Crimson Guitars, who offer a custom neck building service:

     

    http://crimsonguitars.com/shop...itar-wood/neck-build

     

    They make stunning custom guitars, so I think the quality would be superb.

    As to cost, my parts builds have tended to come in at around £450 to £550 ish. It is possible to spend quite a bit more than that though, and they always seem to end up being more that you think, once all the little parts and supplies you need are taken into account. If you are a the right sort of person - i.e. really careful, thoughtful, and fussy about fine details, not in a rush - then doing your own build can produce a very nice guitar as the end result, although with parts builds, the selling value probably won't reflect this as much as one might hope. But if you love the guitar, and are keeping it, I guess that doesn't matter! If you do decide to build from parts, in my experience you are looking at spending quite a lot of time, over 2 or 3 (or more) months.

     

    I've still often thought it would be lovely to have someone such as Crimson Guitars make me my own perfect guitar (if there is such a thing!) - I guess for something like that, you would be looking at thousands, but if it's that once-in-a-lifetime special guitar, very possibly worth it! On that score though, hope you don't mind me saying you are still quite new to the guitar world, and your ideas of what your perfect guitar would actually be are very likely to change over the years as you gain experience and skill.

     

    Final thought for now is - are you really sure you don't want to consider upgrading to a very nice standard model guitar? There are some very good brands around, who know what they are doing, and make a wide range of designs. Richards Guitars would be an excellent place to source such a guitar, which would be set up to perfection. Great advice available also - that would certainly be the most "plain sailing" option - you could get something really great, which would not limit your potential to develop as a guitarist, and then maybe later, when you know more about what kind of features suit your own individual playing style (which will have developed more), then perhaps look at the custom guitar idea - whether self-build, or ordered from a really great guitar maker.

     

    But I feel there is no wrong or right here, so all the above just food for thought, hope useful in some way. OK, a Megi ramble I admit - they happen now and then! image

  • Mike WhittakerMike Whittaker Posts: 119Member

    Thanks Graham, you have given me some real food for thought.

    Maybe I am biting off more than I can chew with this :-/

    The main reason I am considering this is due to me wanting the unusual body shape below, but in a royal blue with dark burst colouring. Hmmm maybe this needs a bit more consideration than I first thought.

    abwalnuttrue.jpg [35598 bytes)

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    Some great advice here, and I'll add in a similar story.  Here's my build:

     

    Sox - The Baycaster

     

    I specifically wanted a Tele, but my next build will be a scratch build.

     

    Additional to a basic understanding of guitar electronics don't discount the need for a good understanding of geometry.  If you can't picture or draw out exactly all the different dynamics that goes into a playable guitar you will have a challenge getting it set-up right.  I went the route of buying parts from different sources on the bay (hence Baycaster) and a lot of my build time was tweaking geometry to ensure it came together properly.  Going the semi custom route via somewhere like Guitar Build might negate some of that.  It really all depends on floats your boat - some people might revel in the challenge of sorting stuff out, for others it might be a barrier to successful completion.  It all depends how much of yourself you want to put into it - is it primarily the design, or the design and the build.  Personally I think I might have been a bit disappointed if I didn't have a few problems to fix along the way (have a look at my Cittern Rebuild and you'll see the sort of masochist I am).

     

    The other thing to think very seriously about is the finish.  You might notice a common theme amongst the majority of the builds shared here (Ray's excepted).  That is they are all an oiled type finish.  Getting a top notch, blemish free, sprayed finish firstly requires the right equipment and space, and secondly requires a level of skill (that has personally eluded me my entire life).  In fact, and I hope he doesn't mind me mentioning this, I recall earlier this week that Megi said that a finish he sprayed on a headstock was starting to deteriorate.  Personally Wudtone finishes are like manna from heaven for me.

     

    I started to track my costs and then stopped in case my missus found out!  I estimate I also spend about £600 odd although some of that was tools that will be reusable.  If I had to factor in my labour cost sufficient to generate a living wage I'd estimate the guitar cost me £1,500 - £2,000 to produce and about 15 weeks too long to build it - I would have starved to death before I finished it (sort of referencing another thread on making guitars for a living here).

     

    Definitely do it though.  The satisfaction of plugging in something you've built yourself and hearing it produce music is immeasurable.  Actually my biggest pleasure is my missus telling people "I never thought he'd be able to build something that looks that good!".  But she still doesn't know how much it cost!  Almost on a par with Andy Preston (owner of Wudtone) labelling it on his Facebook page as "Too cool for Billy Gibbons"

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,191Member
    Originally Posted by Reg Sox:

     

    The other thing to think very seriously about is the finish.  You might notice a common theme amongst the majority of the builds shared here (Ray's excepted).  That is they are all an oiled type finish.  Getting a top notch, blemish free, sprayed finish firstly requires the right equipment and space, and secondly requires a level of skill (that has personally eluded me my entire life).  In fact, and I hope he doesn't mind me mentioning this, I recall earlier this week that Megi said that a finish he sprayed on a headstock was starting to deteriorate.  Personally Wudtone finishes are like manna from heaven for me.

    Reg, your post above says some very good things - some of which I would have probably said very much the same thing myself, if my own post hadn't already got so long. It's obvious to me we have both had similar experiences by doing a build, and learnt similar lessons as a result. image  The point re finish is very well made, and I whole-heartedly concur - I have used either Tru Oil or Wudtone for all my builds, not only (or even mainly) because I like a natural wood kind of look - but because I perceived it as a method that was achievable for myself, and the skill and kit I have. Spray finishes can be glorious, but I don't have the skill, and also don't want to be spending out on spraying equipment.

     

    Actually, I think that extends to a general point, which is that I think it's best for the hobby/home builder like me, to understand one's own limitations, and plan the build accordingly. That does sometimes mean that the choices I make are for reasons of practicality, rather than what might be my "dream guitar". Another example is the use of bolt-on necks every time - a neck-thru type might be good, but that would be getting into a level of building skill, and kit required, which is further than I wish to go.

     

    Hope my first post didn't sound too negative though, as you say, building your own guitar is highly enjoyable, and quite addictive I have found!

  • Mike WhittakerMike Whittaker Posts: 119Member

    Again very good points made, and again I have doubts over my own ability to actually build a working Guitar of a decent standard.  Maybe I should just save up for a professional to do the work instead. It might be more expensive but at least I'd know it was quality.

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    We're not trying to put you off, just giving you pointers on what you need to bone up on.  I'd thoroughly encourage you to try a build as how else will you actually find the limitations of your ability?  I learnt so much about the instrument just from watching tons of people generous enough to make videos and post them on the tube (and that helped me identify a few idiots as well - don't always take the first thing you see for granted).

     

    Here's another consideration.  Building you own guitar will provide you with the skills and knowledge (and an appreciation of your limitations per my point above) that might well save you hundreds, if not thousands of pounds in guitar maintenance over the course of your playing career.

     

    Your frets need leveling or replacing?  Do it yourself or pay someone a few hundred quid for a job that you might not be happy with (this seems to be a reasonably common occurrence).  Not happy with your pick-ups?  Change them yourself or pay someone to do it for you.  Worn out pots?  Nut need recutting because you've changed string gauge?  Fancy a guitar out of your price range?  Buy a beater and refurbish it yourself.  And even if you decide your don't want to do your own maintenance you'll have the skill to talk knowledgeably with someone who will do the work, and identify those who would probably be better off being issued with a guitar exclusion zone order.   I could go on............

     

    OK.

     

    Go on go on go on go on go on go on.

     

    Go on, build one.  You know it makes sense.

     

    Remember the first one doesn't have to be THE one.

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • SmartySmarty Posts: 403Member
    I'll offer a slightly less positive outlook based on my experience. Many years ago I flirted with self builds, sourcing necks, bodies and hardware. I agree it's incredibly satisfying to build your own guitar, and that was my experience.

    However,  I've since been lucky enough to own some truly remarkable custom ordered guitars that I could not have come anywhere close to building myself - regardless of my experience.

    So - I think it depends on what you want. If you want a good guitar that you've built yourself, then self build is the way.

    If you want a custom made guitar that has has been built from scratch by a craftsman - and is perfect in every way, then maybe consider spec ordering a guitar from Suhr or Anderson and such like.

    The other consideration (which may not be important to you) is that a self build guitar will be worth a small fraction of what it cost to make - should you wish to sell it in the future.

    Apologies if this comes across as doom and gloom but - this is just my experience!
  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    Smarty, good honest opinion providing an alternate viewpoint.

     

    One other thing I guess should be asked that nobody has even skirted around.

     

    Mike, this might sound like I'm being a bit of a rude arse, but at this stage in your playing career, do you actually really know what your dream guitar is to be able to spec a self-build or a custom build?  Enthusiasm has a way of running away with the best of us (like me and the others encouraging you to build!), and experience might change your idea of what a dream guitar is.  Today your inspiration is Prince (which is great BTW - I'm not belittling that influence).  In a year's time however you might have progressed in your lessons enough to discover you have te potential to become the next Barney Kessel.  In which case your dream guitar might be somewhat different to what it is today.

     

    I always wanted to be Noddy Holder before I took up guitar.  Then when I started playing I suddenly exposed myself to a whole bunch of different musical influences and got very heavily into folk.  Now I'd love to play like Martin Simpson.  Chalk and cheese!

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,191Member
    Originally Posted by Megi:

    ...On that score though, hope you don't mind me saying you are still quite new to the guitar world, and your ideas of what your perfect guitar would actually be are very likely to change over the years as you gain experience and skill.

     

    Originally Posted by Reg Sox:

    One other thing I guess should be asked that nobody has even skirted around. ...

     

     I did actually skirt around it a bit Reg - although I guess buried in my too-long post, and you do put the point more clearly than I did. Great minds I will say though! image

     

    Just thinking - which classic guitar design has been used by both Prince, and several jazz guitarists (OK not Barney)? Yes, that's right, the telecaster! So how about creating your own custom tele Mike - some sort of cool blue-shaded Wudtone finish perhaps? I feel a concept coming together here... image

     



  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    Megi, I stand humbly corrected.  Luckily that means you were being a "rude arse" (as I described myself) before me then.  Phew

     

    Mike, it's still fun building though......

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • AndyjrAndyjr Posts: 659Member

    Hi, Mike

     

    My tuppenny-worth, for what it is worth.  

     

    First some realities:

    • Homebuilts / assemblies never command the same prices as commercial products and often do not return the basic cost of materials.
    • Actually, custom-builts quite often don't command high prices if you try to resell them.  You've got to find someone who wants exactly that spec...
    • That is a FABULOUS looking guitar so I can see where you are coming from

    Then the guitar itself.  So which are you after?:

    • A conventional guitar with that body shape - medium cost/difficulty; poor resale value vs cost and effort
    • That shape and pickup / neck config exactly - high cost /difficulty; poor resale value vs cost and effort
    • That shape, config and quality - very high cost / top craftsman stuff; medium resale value vs cost

    Getting a Royal Blue with dark back and burst? - that bit is actually easy peasey ...well, relatively 

    I would go blue fountain pen ink and black ink (or dark blue) as a stain and conventional clear lacquer / varnish finish for a home build.  I'm doing one at the moment in 'Mallard' blue using turquoisey green ink and a turquoise ink.  The varnish is just going on and it looks fabulous.  Cost is about £6 for the ink and a tenner for the varnish.

     

    Hope this helps rather than further confuses!

    Andy

  • Mike WhittakerMike Whittaker Posts: 119Member

    This is all very interesting stuff, and I'm grateful for all your opinions.  I think I'm probably best not deciding on anything regarding that guitar until next year when I'll be more certain of what I want in my instrument.

    However, a point Reg made makes a lot of sense about buying an old beater and refurbish it myself to allow myself to learn the skills to be able to maintain my instruments myself.  It makes sense to me that this should probably be my first project and will benefit me massively for the future regardless of what I decide.

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,107Member, Moderator

    I bought a Squier Stratocaster (with amp) for £50, and that was my first foray into guitar maintenance.

     

    1997 Squier Stratocaster with Earvana nut 11-8-12

     

    First thing I did was tear it to pieces then rebuild it with cheap but adequate and much improved hardware.  You can also get Haynes manuals for guitars. I have a few.

  • Mark PMark P Posts: 2,314Member

    If my own experience is anything to go by, then following the advice in this thread on starting out on some cheap projects to learn the ropes would be a good idea. 

     

    It maybe won't produce you a wonderful instrument in the short term Mike, but the learning process will definitely improve the chances of doing that later.

     

    I regret that I made too early an attempt to be ambitious in making an instrument which included a complete body carve from an old pine table top. That was a bass and it sounded very good but the flaws in the workmanship meant the action and playing comfort could never match the sound. For the project after that I tried the full body carve on a mahogany body blank for a strat style guitar as well, but I think the wood quality left something to be desired (I suspect it wasn't so much kiln dried as kiln incinerated) - it was never alive in the way the final build I made was. It demoralised me and certainly put me off the carving routine - very hard work - and it was pre built bodies after that.

     

    To get to that final build it took me six builds.   A LOT of time effort and expense to produce a guitar worth keeping. Though if I ever need to sell it I'm sure I would get more money if I disassembled it and sold all the parts separately.

     

    But I did not have the thoroughness in thinking out the project, and did not have the same level of care in preparation that I have seen in projects by the likes of Megi and Jocko on the forum here. I felt that they achieved success as a result of those virtues while I just sort of kept making it up as I went along and trusted to luck. If you can bring those qualities to building you could well get a good 'un much quicker than me.

     

    Good luck anyway, whatever you do.

  • Mike WhittakerMike Whittaker Posts: 119Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    I bought a Squier Stratocaster (with amp) for £50, and that was my first foray into guitar maintenance.

     

    1997 Squier Stratocaster with Earvana nut 11-8-12

     

    First thing I did was tear it to pieces then rebuild it with cheap but adequate and much improved hardware.  You can also get Haynes manuals for guitars. I have a few.

    £50 for a guitar & amp! I actually can think of a few places around here that I might find a similar bargain. I remember spotting a few guitars when browsing previously but as it was before I was playing I didn't pay them any attention. I definitely could do with picking up one of those Haynes manuals too image

     

    Originally Posted by Mark P:

    Good luck anyway, whatever you do.

    Thanks Mark. It's very interesting hearing all the different experiences of guitar building. I must admit it has made me question whether I have the skill to do it myself, but I'm quite a determined kind of guy so I'll have to give it a go on an old cheap one. 

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,107Member, Moderator

    Cash Converters or Cash Generator are good sources. So is Gumtree.

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,107Member, Moderator

    Here are a couple of guitars I bought from Cash Generator.  The first was a Stagg M350 which cost me £37

     

    Stagg M350 10-8-12

     

    Then I bought a Peavey Milestone IV bass for £67.

     

    Guitar Peavey Milestone IV 31-5-11

     

    I also came across this Fender Squier Affinity Stratocaster on the staff noticeboard at work which cost me about £100, complete with amp.

     

    2004 Squier Stratocaster with stacked humbuckers 11-8-12

     

    The lady who sold it had won it in a radio phone in competition, thought she would have a go at learning to play, then gave up after a couple of weeks.

    The photo shows it after I fitted all black hardware, renewed the electrics and fitted stacked humbuckers (the items removed went to upgrade another cheapo I had bought, this time brand new).

    The best buy I ever got from Cash Generator was a Washburn D10 for £99.  When I asked if there was a bag to go with it the guy said yes and produced a Stagg hard case.  The case was worth £60 itself.

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member
    Originally Posted by Mike Whittaker:

    Thanks Graham, you have given me some real food for thought.

    Maybe I am biting off more than I can chew with this :-/

    The main reason I am considering this is due to me wanting the unusual body shape below, but in a royal blue with dark burst colouring. Hmmm maybe this needs a bit more consideration than I first thought.

    abwalnuttrue.jpg [35598 bytes)

    Hey Mike,

     

    This might whet your appetite - not exactly the same as your desired guitar but a pretty damn close kit from Streetwise Guitars via the bay:

     

    Iceman Guitar Kit

     

    For 119 notes inc. delivery as an intro to building your own, what's not to like?  And for that price there's plenty of options (and probably necessity!) for pimping it up.

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • JockoJocko Posts: 7,107Member, Moderator

    That looks excellent.  I might have a go at one of these myself.

  • AndyjrAndyjr Posts: 659Member

    Great find, Reg

     

    Andy

  • Mike WhittakerMike Whittaker Posts: 119Member

    Thanks Reg, that looks ideal!

    i still have to wait until next year though as I'm under orders from the Mrs that I can't buy another guitar this year after the 2 I've had in the space of a month recently

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