This is how to make a high end guitar out of one of these cheapo do it yourself (DIY) guitar kits:
If you recall from my last review of this kit, once I put it together I wasn’t super pleased with it. It didn’t sound very good, and didn’t play very good.
So let’s fix that right now in 10 easy steps:
Step 1) throw away the strings that came with the kit
Step 2) toss out the electronics that came with the kit
Step 3) add additional 45 degree angle support screws to the neck and body. Putting these extra screws in before the rest of the neck screws will help the neck seat as tightly as possible into the cavity of the body. Making solid neck to body contact is critical to getting the best resonance and sustain out of your guitar. This is not a necessary step, in fact, it’s rare to see this feature even on
high end boutique guitars, but let’s be honest, this guitar needs all the help it can get, so why not?
Step 4) straighten the neck and level the frets. To do this you will need some special tools. A guitar neck notched straight edge (say that ten times fast), and a fret sanding beam. I was able to make these tools myself out of stuff I already had lying around the house. If you want to make yourself some special luthier tools, check out my post “Make pro luthier tools out of stuff you have.”
To straighten the neck, use the included larger Allen wrench and twist the truss rod a quarter of a turn at a time, checking to see if the entire neck is level with your notched straight edge.
Once it’s completely straight all the way across the neck, it’s time level out the frets. Using a sharpie, lightly mark a line across the top of every fret, then lightly sand back and forth across the whole fret board with your sanding beam setup with 320 grit or finer sandpaper.
This will make every fret the exact same height in relation to the fretboard, which will fix the fret buzz and out of tune notes I had, as well as allow me to have a good fast low actionon the strings. Keep sanding level across all frets. Once you’ve touched the sharpie with the sanding beam on every single fret you will finally have completely leveled frets.
I also recommend adding a few strips of masking tape at the 12th fret, and sanding all frets above the 12th some more, giving the higher frets a slight taper as you get higher up the neck. This, in my experience, allows for even lower action with a straighter neck.
Step 5) crown and polish the frets. You’ll need another special tool for this, a fretboard guard, which again you can make easily with stuff you already have. You’ll also need more sand paper, I used 320 grit, 600 grit, and triple000 steel wool.
Since we flattened some of the tops of the frets during the leveling process, we need to “crown” them back into a dome shape, and polish them back to a mirror finish. Doing this will increase the sustain of strings on the frets, and will give a much smoother feel for pitch bends, and just overall playability. Using the fretboard guard, start sanding the sides of each individual fret being careful to not sand the very top part that we already sanded with the sanding beam. Start with 320 grit, then Step upto 600, and finish by polishing each fret with steel wool.
Now you’re probably saying “this seems tedious, is it really necessary?”
Steps 4 and 5 are the most important steps to making a guitar play like a high end guitar. They are tedious steps, but if you skip them or try to shortcut them, you’ll be sorry. The biggest difference between low end and high end guitars is the time and quality the builder put into doing these two steps.
Step 6) sand the neck and body. This obviously just makes the guitar smooth to the touch. You don’t want to scratch yourself or get splinters while you’re playing. This is especially important on the back of the neck.The smoother the back of the neck, the faster it will play. I recommend sanding up to at least 320 grit.
Step 7) apply the finish of your choice. I used stain instead of a solid finish so that the wood can breathe better. This is debatable and not proven, but in my experience, solid paint can suffocated the wood and kill the sound it makes. Now Basswood doesn’t take stain very well, but I used stain anyway because I wanted a more worn out “relic” type finish. I also used tung oil instead of polyurethane or lacquer because again, I don’t want to suffocate the wood. I want the tone of this instrument to be as warm and natural as possible. Also, a neck finished with tung oil is both great for protecting the fretboard, and makes for a very smooth fast playing neck. There are trade offs though. Oil finishes will protect just fine from the elements, but aren’t as durable for scratch and dent protection. But again…hello! relic! I don’t care about scratches and dents, I’d rather have the smooth touch and tonal benefits of an oil finish.
Step 8) wire in new electronics. I chose to do a triple humbucker super strat using 3 hot rail pickups. But any oem or aftermarket pickups will be an upgrade from the kit pickups. Just solder them in the same way the original pickups were wired, or if you have a more advanced understanding of electronics and soldering, feel free to hot rod your guitar here. I chose to wire in a series/parallel switch for each pickup, which changes the humbucker from the traditional thick heavy sound, to a brighter single coil type sound. I also added a push pull volume pot that activates the bridge pickup, this adds two additional pickup blending options you wouldn’t find on a normal strat. An option to run neck and bridge pickups together (like a telecaster) and all three pickups on at the same time. All this will make for a very versatile guitar with tons of tonal possibilities. Lastly, to make room for these mods I had to remove one of the tone pots, so I just wired the other one to be a master tone for all three pickups. If you want to see how to do these mods, check out my section of “Wiring Hacks.” There you will find in depth posts about some of these mods.
Step 9) assemble all the pieces, and put a good set of strings on. In my experience the best tone comes from elixirs or d’addarios, 10 gauge or heavier.
Step 10) give the guitar a full setup. Adjust the truss rod to your desired string height, adjust the bridge saddles to create a nice even arch across the width of the fretboard, and adjust the string intonation screw so that the higher frets stay in tune with the lower frets.
That’s it! Now let’s see how this thing compares to the original kit with these changes:
Those of you that watched the original review can tell this thing sounds much better, and you’ll have to take my word on this one, but it plays way better too. I’m super happy with how it sounds and plays now. The tung oil finish is soooo smoooth…I just love caressing the neck of this thing. Seriously, the only neck I like caressing more than this guitar is my wife (because it leads to *wink). The “series/parallel” and “bridge on” switches add a ton of versatility, and the relic finish looks really cool to me.