There are many good guitars for sale out there. Guitars made in Korea, Indonesia, Mexico, Japan and other places are well beyond just good enough, in fact they are very fine precision instruments. Long gone are the days of saying that any instrument made outside of the USA is somehow inferior.
Here is a video about the PRS factory in Surabaya Indonesia.
What I’ll talk about here is putting together your own guitar from parts, sometimes called ‘Partscasters’ because many are built on one of Leo Fenders platforms.
Finding a guitar you like should be a fun experience.
Everybody has a different criteria for what they want in a guitar.
A guitar needs to be an extension of your fingers.
Play many guitars and see what feels good for you. Today there are many guitars that are absolutely great in every style, flavor and finish.
I have a real affinity for a certain type of neck.
If the guitar neck is how I like it, I’m all in, I can work with the pickups and the tuners and the bridge. If I like the neck, it makes me want to play the guitar. I like the ESP/LTD thin ‘U’ neck very much.
I can play most any guitar with most any neck profile, but I enjoy certain neck profiles. Some players enjoy the differences different guitars present to them. Different necks, different woods, different finishes, different electronics.
I was perusing a pawn shop today, found a Mexican strat that had a nice neck, I might buy it.
After I figure out the neck, I start to look at the other parts of a guitar. There are the machine heads, the pickups and electronics, and the bridge, nut and various other things.
I am totally sold on Wilkinson tremolos, I’ve not used the Fender USA double fulcrum trem on a build, but it looks good. I’ve used the Floyd Rose and the Kahler. The Kahler was not my favorite but it worked. I’ve not been a dive bomb style user of trem systems, I like to warble chords and multiple notes at once.
My latest and favorite build to date is my Fernandes strat style guitar.
It started with a Fernandes neck bought off of Ebay. It actually sat around for a while before I got going on the project. But is was straight, slim, and had zero fret wear.
The body was another Ebay acquisition. It looked to have been painted three or four times with the last coat being an obvious rattle can job. It looked atrocious. It might have been someones attempt at a distressed look, and if so it does truly look distressed.
This was going to be a guitar that was predominately used for slide guitar work. I had read about Ry Cooder using old gold foil pickups on his guitars. I hunted for some for a while on Ebay, but never found any that I was willing to go for. I opted to try the new GFS gold foil pickups.
The GFS goldfoil pickups are pretty unique. I oped for a pair of humbucker sized with ferrite magnets. So I used a strat style pickguard with a H/S/H configuration. The middle pickup is a stock Mexican ceramic magnet stratocaster pickup. I opted for that as they seem a bit more edgy than the USA pickups.
The goldfoil pickups turned out to be quite a treat. For lack of a better explanation, they seem very ‘neutral’ or lacking in any defining ‘color’. They do have more bite than a PAF style pickup and I wanted the hum killing aspect verses the single coil option.
I wired the guitar in a unique way also. (Unique for me anyway.) I used a single volume and tone control and the tone worked on all the pickups. I wired the five way selector to give me (going from back to front) bridge, bridge and front, front, front and middle and middle. I wanted that bridge/front combination from a strat selector without adding a individual toggle switch to add the front pickup with the bride pickup.
I do have a Wilkinson trem on it and a GFS nut.
I have to give a shout out to the GFS web site here. If you’ve never looked at the site it’s worth the time to check it out. Everything to build your own guitar from scratch. They also offer great electric and acoustic guitars under the Xaviere name. The Earl Slick line of guitars might be some of the best bang for the buck guitars on the market.
My original plan was to get the guitar all functioning and then tear it down and re finish the body. After I got it all together it had a kind of junkyard charm. Needless to say I left the body as is. Don’t need to worry about bumping into the music stand.
Having said all of that, I could have bought a new off the shelf strat style guitar and modified it to taste. But there is a satisfaction that comes from searching out and finding the odd pieces of old guitars that were once a healthy functioning musical instrument but now are torn apart and cursed to live on Ebay or Craigslist waiting for someone to shell out forty bucks to give it a new life.
In an upcoming post we’ll talk about some other guitar build tips.