Where do I start?

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

Electric Guitar Construction: A Guide for the First Time builder by Tom Hirst

Make Your Own Electric Guitar by Melvyn Hiscock
Electric Guitar and Bass Design by Leonardo Lesponnato

Anyway, that oughta help you get your feet wet. Go forth and absorb!


Z-Poxy - FAQs

 One of the most common questions I get seems to be related to Z-Poxy; what can be used over it, under it, should I use it, is it good with fish or better with beef) So I thought I’d try to shed a bit of light on all of the above. 

Where can I get it?

I get it from LMI

When to use it: “I’ve got an Alder/Basswood/Poplar/Maple body and___________.”

Stop – you don’t need to use Z-Poxy because those woods have tight grain and do not require filling. Seal it/prime it, shoot your color, clear, and collect your $200. Although if the wood you’re finishing is Mahogany, Ash, Korina/Limba, Walnut, Spanish Cedar, you’ll definitely be pore filling (unless you like the open pore look. I don’t, but that’s me, and you asked. :) ).

 Can I shoot nitro or catalyzed urethane clear over it?


Can I mix stain/dye/tint into the Z-Poxy?

I wouldn’t; you’ll usually have 3-4 applications before it’s complete, and you may have some sand throughs and such (just like with clear coat sometimes – D’oh!), which means your color will be uneven. So….if you’re planning on a transparent finish that you’re applying directly to the wood, do that first, then add your Z-Poxy, but keep in mind that with the multiple coats, you may have uneven color. One other thing to consider is tint; there’s definitely an amber tint to the stuff, and in many cases, that’s fine. However, if you’ve got an ash body that you just wiped blue dye on, you’ll have a trans greenish body after the Z-Poxy hits it, and that’ll make you a sad lil’ panda.

Do I need to add a sealer of some kind on top of the Z-Poxy?

I’d say it depends. If you’re shooting a transparent finish of some sort over the Z-poxy (like I did on this Raven), it would serve as a nice barrier between the Z-Poxy and what you’re about to shoot over it. Say for example, that you were going to shoot a burst pattern but didn’t like how it came out, so you decide to sand it back – aren’t you glad you have some protection on the Z-Poxy so you don’t have to reapply it in a spot because you sanded through it? Yes, yes you will. However, if you’re shooting a solid color over it, I wouldn’t bother; shoot your primer over it and move on.



Going into business - pricing your work, etc.

Hey sully, I'm getting into guitar making and have completed a few amateur-y guitars but want to step up into a more serious realm. My main question is a rough price range of what you typically sell your guitars for. I understand the price varies greatly depending on the specs, but I want a general idea of what to expect. A secondary question and probably none of my business, does making guitars supply ALL of your income? Do you need to do other stuff to make ends meet? If so, how does the work schedule look, how many guitars do you have to make to generally make that happen. My ideal way of doing things would be exactly your set up, a small garage, 1man operation, but professional work which yours very much is! My goal and purpose for these questions is to know if getting into this industry is doable and/or a good idea, any advice or information you're willing to share would be awesome. ( I imagine this wouldn't be a public response =p ) Thanks Sully!


Hey Matt,

 You can find my general pricing info in the FAQs on the site, but my advice toward that aspect would be not to worry so much about what to charge at this point, as that’ll work itself out. You have to factor all kinds of things into your pricing; obviously, you’ve got your material cost, you’ll need to figure out what your time is worth, and your experience level should be factored in as well. As far as my own personal economics, I definitely do NOT do this full time. Not even close. To fill in the rest of the gaps, I highly recommend reading what my pal Doug Kauer has to say about building guitars for a living; it’s probably the most comprehensive answer I’ve seen. In a nutshell, be prepared for very long hours, making less than minimum wage for those hours when you break it all down (especially when you’re starting), and a TON of sanding. Roman Rist, someone whom I highly respect, once said in response to how glamorous it must be to build guitars, “eh, it’s mostly a lot of sanding!” The man knows what he's talkin' bout.


Sanded back, want to stain and clear; do I need Z-Poxy?

First guitar being rebuilt as we speak. A 2000 Mexican Made Fender Telecaster, Midnight blue(purple). the Guitar itself is amazing. I had to get rid of the color. I have the guitar sanded down to bare wood(alder). My plan is to use a wood conditioner, a dark stain(minwax) and some poly over top. Buffed to a beautiful shine. Am I able to use Z-poxy over my stain? or will that mess it up?

Since the body is Alder, there is no need to invite Z-Poxy to the party. I would, however, recommend shooting sealer over your color before you clear it, though.

Catalyzed urethane finishes?

Hello. First off I would like to compliment your work. Every aspect of your instruments are top notch.
I have a question regarding finishing. I have a strat that I want to refinish in urethane basecoat/clearcoat(2 stage auto paint which I have been told is what was used on it originally). I have sanded it down to bare wood, and was wondering what products you would suggest ? Sealer, primer, basecoat, clearcoat?
Hey there, thanks for the kind words!
I currently use Advantage urethane primer (specifically the #312 Primer surfacer), then PPG basecoat (the Omni line is more economical than a DBC basecoat and is colorfast) with PPG/Omni MC161 clear. You can shoot the primer on bare wood (sanded to 320) without issue. Obviously, you'll need to have proper spray AND safety equipment (respirator, tyvek suit, gloves, goggles). There's obviously many suitable products, but that's what I'm using. Good luck!


Scraping binding

Hi Sully,

I just watched your video on scraping binding.  I understand that there are two ways to deal with binding and the color coats.  First, you can spray the color on the binding and then scrape it off, or second, completely tape off the binding.  Is this right?

What about the clear?  Do you do the same or do you completely cover the binding with clear and not scrape it off?  Thanks.


As far as I'm concerned, you should always tape off binding. The issue that you can run into is that the top of the binding (that you see when looking at the face of the guitar) can be challenging to mask off because it’s such a small strip. The general idea is to mask the binding off, shoot your color, then scrape the binding on the face of the guitar. Binding is not scraped after clear coats; it should be covered just like the color. 

Neck angles on a neck through guitar

Hi, I had a few questions regarding necks and fingerboards, I hope to build my own guitar in the future and would like to know, on the neck through body guitars that you built, did you angle the neck, or keep the neck flat with the body? if you kept the neck flat with the body did you have the neck raised up slightly from the body?

 Hey there,

As with any other guitar, neck angles should be considered with neck through construction. Some bridge types require no angle (like a strat style trem, or a recessed Floyd, for example), whle Tune o Matic bridges, non-recessed Floyds, Kahlers (::shudders::) will require an angle to be taken into consideration. You can achieve this by putting the angle into the neck portion or into the body. Up to you.  However, if you’re installing a bridge that doesn’t require an angle, you’ll still most likely need some kind of drop from the neck to the body. Take a strat style trem or a recessed Floyd; you’ll need to have the body roughly 3/8” from the top of the fretboard at it’s highest point. In other words, if you’ve got a fretboard that’s ¼” thick at the high point of the radius, you’ll need to rout 1/8” off of the body surface.

Adding binding to a LP Studio...?

First I'm a fan of your videos on YouTube. Thanks for all the info. I want to install body and neck binding on my 1992 Les Paul Studio. Do you have a video out showing the process? If so I can't seem to locate it. This guitar has also has an ebony fret board and will get a refret. (I'm confident about the fret install). Also what size binding would be correct for the neck and body? Any info would help...Thanks for the videos and sharing your knowledge...Look forward to your response...Thanks...Mike

When I did my LP Studio overhaul, I initially was going to bind it, but it really wasn’t worth the trouble. You’ll need a binding jig similar to what you can find on the stewmac site to cut your binding channel on the body, however, you’ll have to do the areas around the neck/body joint by hand with a chisel because you won’t be able to just rout the body without cutting into the neck once you get close enough to the junction. The other thing you have to take into consideration is that you’ll need to cut the rounded edge of the top of the body’s perimeter away completely before adding your binding. You might be able to get away with .060 binding, but the .090 would be more likely (or doing some kind of multi-ply).

 The neck is the other part; you’d need to pull the fret board, remove the frets, cut your binding channel, bind the board, then glue it back on to the neck, and then fret it. It’s pretty involved, for sure. I use the .060 thick binding for fret boards and bodies.

 Once you get all of that sorted, get ready to repaint it. 

Hair care and the luthier (or, Uncle Greg checks in!)

How much conditioner do you use when you know that you are sanding that day?

Now, one might brush this off (seewhatididthere?) as a silly question, but let me make it perfectly clear when I say that it's a very important issue. When working in the shop in the Texas heat, you not only need to make sure that you keep your body hydrated; you must also keep those tresses nice and nourished! Sawdust (or sanding dust) can definitely dry out many a surface, that's why I'll slather on half a tub or so of petroleum jelly, just to keep that glorious mane of mine protected.



Z-poxy + stain?

Sully, I'm loving this Z-Poxy stuff as a grain filler. The answer to a luthier's prayer.
Question: can I stain OVER Z-Poxy? I use analine dyes discolved in alcohol . I will be using two part catalyzed urethane clear as the finial finish.
Thanks so much, 
Brian in Michigan

Hey Brian, 

The Z-poxy is going to act as a sealer, so it's not going to take stain. That said, if you mix your color into clear or untinted base coat, you can spray it on. Since you're already using the catalyzed urethane for clear, just get yourself a quart of untinted base coat; PPG makes one that is DBC 550. That's what I shot the Spanish Cedar Raven's tobacco burst with.