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Building Your First Acoustic Guitar: Are kits a good option?

Step-by-Step: Building an Acoustic Guitar - First Build



First Build - Build From a Kit?

I've been involved with woodworking since the late 1980's - around 2014 I was intrigued by the idea of building a guitar. At the time I was living in Danville, VA. and a friend of mine had started one using a kit he purchased from StewMac.com. The kit was impressive and incorporated good quality parts and materials. I attended an annual festival held at the campus of Ferrum College - the Ferrum College Blue Ridge Folklife Festival - in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. There I met a world renown luthier, Wayne Henderson who recommended that I start with a kit from Martin Guitars and then seek out additional training. If you're not familiar with him, take a look at this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_Henderson_(luthier). His client list features a who's who of famous guitar players including: Eric Clapton, Tommy Emmanuel, Doc Watson, Gillian Welch to name a few. So, I figured that if a kit build was his recommendation it would be good enough for me.


I did a little research and realized that a wide variety of kits are available on the market and a lot of them are pretty cheap and thereby kits earn a bad, but deserved, reputation. That said, having done a bit of research, having studied under Robbie O'Brien, a luthier in Denver, CO. (see: https://obrienguitars.com/), having built a number of guitars and ukuleles myself, and having taught other people how to build guitars - I can honestly tell you that some very reputable and high quality kits are available. Here's a list of four suppliers that provide the materials (kits) to enable beginners to build a guitar that they will be proud of, that is highly playable, and that will survive into the next generation.


Quality Kit Suppliers - expect to pay between a range of $500 - $700:


There may, and undoubtedly are, more reputable suppliers of guitars kits/parts than those listed here but these are four that provide very good materials and good customer service to boot:


www.lmii.com Luthier Mercantile International

LMI offers some of the highest quality kits available and they have an excellent "kit wizard" that will guide you through selecting the materials and parts required, plus they offer a great deal of customization. You can buy your kits as blocks of wood if you prefer to save money and have the woodworking skills to mill the parts or you can pay a little extra to have LMI pre-carve the neck, to bend the sides, even to join the top and back and install the rosette. You can save a bit of cash and select "AA" grade lumber or pay a bit more for the "AAA" grade. Both will make a guitar that you will be proud of and satisfied with. They offer the most customization that I've seen on the market so that your skill level can be accommodated. Their customer service is tremendous and their employees know what they're talking about so you can reliably have your questions answered.


Martin Guitars sells kits and parts. Their kits typically include Richlite bridges and fingerboards rather than Ebony, but that can be easily upgraded through separate purchase at places like LMI (above). Their kits are pre-formed to a considerable extent - meaning that the sides come pre-bent, the fingerboard is pre-slotted so that when you install the frets they will be located in the exact location required, and necks are routed to near final shape and have the truss rod cavity routed for you. Bottom line, this is an excellent "first build" kit as a learning experience. None of the parts are final shaped, none of the parts are "pre-assembled" so there is quite a bit of "build" required. You will get a real sense of building from scratch.

Note: Martin frequently offers up to 25% discounts on their kits so if you're patient you can save a lot of money. If a kit is normally priced at $500, at that discounted price your cost would be only $375 - a savings of $125.


StewMac sells a number of different kits across a wide spectrum of materials which is reflected in their pricing. Kits comprised of the highest quality woods/materials will cost more but all their kits are of a good, reliable quality.


The gentleman that runs this shop used to work at Martin building their guitars so he has about two decades of experience. He will sell parts and/or kits and other materials and equipment needed in the build.


Bottom Line - Should you build from a "kit"? My answer is absolutely! The resulting quality of guitar you build, using materials from any of the four suppliers noted above, will depend upon the care and attention to detail that you invest in the build. The materials are of high quality. In fact, students that I've had have sold their first builds from Martin Kits for an impressive sum of $1,500 - or more.


Will you likely need some help? Most likely. That's where this blog can be helpful. Stay tuned ... more detailed feeds will follow every two or three weeks and will include details in a "how-to", step-by-step, as well as other topics such as tools and jigs needed, inlay ... Subscribe to the feed today ...






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