Q: I love guitars, and I want to learn how to build them some day. Where do I start?
I get this question a lot, and it makes me happy to see that people want to delve into learning more about the instrument many of us love. From learning simple truss rod adjustments to advanced repairs and building your own from a kit or from scratch, there is a LOT of information out there. There’s also a fair amount of conflicting information out there as well. Why? Well, that’s how life is sometimes, and you have to absorb as much as you can, then figure out what works best for you.
I started out small (hell, I’m microscopic when it comes down to it) and learned how to set up my own guitars and do simple things like neck and bridge adjustments, pickup swaps, things like that. Once I got more seriously interested, I started putting guitars together from parts I’d find here and there; it’s a good way to learn how the parts all work together, for sure. You can pick up “repairman special” parts on ebay all day long – they’re great for learning things like fret work or paint work without having sunk hundreds of dollars into something if/when things don’t go as you planned. After that, I started making my own bodies, and then necks. Granted, that’s not how you need to do it; it’s just what worked best for me at the time. If you don’t have a ton of tools or a dedicated place to work on stuff, I’d recommend starting small with projects that don’t require a bunch of tools, and accumulate them as you go.
If you have a guitar store near you with a good reputation for repairs, get to know the person who does the work. Be respectful of their time (they’re working, after all), but build a relationship and if you’re lucky, they may let you observe as they work on some things. That’s essentially how I got started (as mentioned on the About page). If that’s not an option for you, then hit the internet; check out the Trade Secrets archive at the Stewmac site as well as their Free Information section. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pointed people there to find answers. From finishing schedules to fret calculators and bridge placement locators, there’s a fantastic amount of information there for you. From time to time, I’ve been asked how to figure the neck angle for a build and send them to the Tundra Man Workshop’s Neck Angle Calculator. There's also a massive amount of helpful information about refinishing at The Guitar Reranch. Obviously, there’s YouTube, as well as fantastic forums; like the Luthier’s Corner on the MyLesPaul forum, the Project Guitar Forum and many others. They’re great places to read, learn, and share ideas, and the amount of talent is always inspiring, regardless of your skill level.
So that’s the free stuff. We all love free stuff, but just like when you’re in school, you gotta buy some books! Without getting all “old man shouting at the kids on his lawn” on you, I strongly believe that it’s important to support those that create; be it music (don’t steal music, kids), books, to mom and pop shops, etc. If you like something, buy it. It’s that simple. Okay, I’m off my soapbox. Here is a list of links to books that I’ve found value in. All of the links go to Amazon, but you can find them in many places.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with any of the authors of the information, and I get no cut of a sale if you buy any of their books. I simply found them helpful, so you may have a similar experience.
The Guitar Player Repair Guide by Dan Erlewine
Fret Work Step by Step by Erick Coleman and Dan Erlewine
Guitar Finishing Step by Step by Dan Erlewine and Don MacRostie
Anyway, that oughta help you get your feet wet. Go forth and absorb!