For many, the idea of a DIY guitar conjures up thoughts of a young Brian May and his father cooped up in the shed, meticulously shaping his dream guitar from an old fireplace and other scraps of wood. Of course, there certainly isn't anything stopping you from following in the footsteps of rock royalty – well, provided you have the free time and the expertise in woodworking. That said, there is actually a much simpler way to turn your hand at building your very own six-string – one of the best DIY guitar kits.
The DIY instrument market has exploded in recent years with build-it-yourself options for every type of musician, and it's easy to see why these project guitars have gotten so popular. They offer the opportunity to not only learn about how an instrument is put together but can also give you the chance to fully customise your new instrument to suit your needs – not to mention, it's a fun way to spend a weekend.
Below you'll find a few of our favourite options, covering different styles, price points and levels of difficulty, plus some tips, tricks and advice for those taking the plunge.
Best DIY guitar kits: Our top picks
If you hail from the UK or Europe and you're looking for a quick project that isn't too involved, it's hard not to recommend the Harley Benton JA Electric Guitar Kit. This Jazzmaster-inspired kit offers fantastic value for money for anyone looking for their first kit build - and it's definitely more interesting than the standard Strat kits everyone usually starts with.
For our friends in the USA, we have to recommend the Musoo Electric Project Guitar kit. This LP kit certainly looks the part and even comes with a flame maple top and set-neck construction.
For those looking for a higher quality build, we would suggest looking at the StewMac Build Your Own 335. This curvy semi-hollow is made by the very people supplying most luthiers with their tools, so you know the quality is good! Yes, it is a little more expensive when compared to the entry-level kits on this list, but trust us, it's worth it.
Best DIY guitar kits: Product guide (UK)
Well, you certainly don't need to be the world's greatest detective to work out which iconic wonky guitar this Harley Benton kit is based on. Coming with everything you need to build your very own offset, this kit includes a Rengas body, a maple bolt-on neck, a set of P90 single-coil pickups, Tune O Matic bridge, DieCast tuners, as well as all the screws needed to put it together.
It's fair to say that this kit is relatively easy to build and perfect for beginners looking for a first project. That said, the headstock is entirely blank, and it can be tricky to get a nice level of finish when reshaping it yourself. Although that is part of the fun with kits like this - it means you can put your own stamp on your new guitar!
For those looking for a guitar kit that's lightning-fast to put together, the Guitarworks Vintage-Cutaway is the perfect package for you. The ace up the sleeve of this build is the solderless wiring. Obviously, this clever system eliminates the need for a soldering iron, meaning it's a safe build for younger players or those nervous about using soldering tools. Now, like all other kit builds, if you aren't happy with the tone of the stock pickups, you can always completely forgo them for a traditional set.
The Guitarworks kit also comes with a mahogany body and neck, with an unshaped headstock, just waiting for you to get creative with. So if you are looking for an easy project to get started with, this might be the best DIY guitar kit for you.
It's fair to say the Strat has long been associated with mods and tinkering, with many legendary guitars being parts-casters; just look at Van Halen's Frankenstrat or Billie Joe's Blue. The bolt-on neck and ease of switching other parts such as the pickups and hardware has made this style of guitar the perfect vehicle for your creativity.
So, if you fancy creating your own parts-caster, then you can't go wrong with the Harley Benton ST-Style guitar kit. With features such as a Rengas body, maple neck and decent quality hardware, it's hard to believe that this kit costs less than some overdrive pedals!
Crimson guitars are known for their UK-made one of a kind instruments that can feature everything from copper leaf, metal rods, unique shapes and exotic woods. As well as these finely crafted instruments, Crimson also has a well respected YouTube channel, guitar building courses, and of course, DIY guitar kits.
The Crimson kit differs from the previous entries on this list, not only in price but in quality also. The T-Type kit features an ash body, maple neck and ebony fretboard - all made in the UK by Crimson guitars. So you really do get what you pay for, and if you are looking for a serious project, this is the one for you.
Guitarists won't let a silly little thing like not having access to an instrument stop them from playing. We're a resourceful bunch, and if we want to play away the blues, we'll find a way - enter the cigar box guitar.
This quirky musical oddity can be traced as far back as 1840. During this time, musical instruments weren't all that accessible, leaving many would-be players to construct their own. Luckily, the portable cigar boxes of the day were the perfect size and shape for the body, and a broom handle made a pretty decent neck.
So, if you fancy creating your own cigar box guitar, then this is the perfect kit for you. This kit is brilliantly simple to put together and also comes with lessons and a book featuring the history of this traditional instrument.
Best DIY guitar kits: Product guide (US)
Continuing the theme of classic guitar shapes, we have the LP. This kit from Amazon offers the opportunity to build your very own single-cut, complete with a mahogany neck and flame maple top – and even a fairly convincing open book headstock.
This kit differs from the two before it, as it opts for a glued-in neck joint – as you'd expect from an LP – making it a little more challenging to put together. Now that's not to say this DIY guitar kit is tough to build, but it is a more involved process.
Many guitar players aspire to own a Martin guitar one day, but how many have dreamt about building their own? Well, if that's you, this Martin DIY guitar kit is just what you've been looking for.
Now, we are well aware that this one is a little more expensive, compared to the others – well, a lot more expensive – but trust us, it's worth it. If you want to build yourself a Martin acoustic guitar, then why not go to Martin! The legendary flat top manufacturer states that "this kit includes all the necessary parts to complete an instrument with the exception of glues and finishing materials". Among the parts included are a solid top, Richlite fingerboard and bridge and very clear instructions!
It's worth noting that this is not a build for a novice or beginner, as you'll need a certain level of expertise to complete this project.
For some of us, the dull shapes of traditional guitars simply won't do – and that's where the Flying V comes in. Channel your inner Kirk Hammett, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Schenker with this BexGears DIY Flying V guitar kit.
This unfinished V features an unpolished okoume body, maple neck with a composite ebony fingerboard, standard white pickguard, and a set of humbucking pickups. Again, like the other basic builds on this list, this is a straightforward project and could easily be completed in a weekend.
Now, if we had this kit, we'd be very tempted to recreate Jimi Hendrix's hand-painted 1967 Gibson Flying V!
It stands to reason that the go-to place for luthier tools and guitar parts knows what makes an excellent DIY guitar – and this 335 kit certainly proves this. Now, we all know how laborious it can be to make a 335 entirely from scratch, but luckily StewMac has done all the difficult jobs for you – from gluing the body to the centre block as well as routing the pickup cavities and f-holes.
The beauty of this kit is that the neck is individually matched to the exact body to ensure a perfect fit. On top of that, there's no need to stress about getting the neck angle just right, as they have even taken care of that as well – not that we'd expect anything less from this renowned parts supplier.
Best DIY guitar kits: Buying advice & tips
What are DIY guitar kits?
As the name suggests, a DIY guitar kit is just like a standard guitar but with some assembly required. Each kit includes all the parts needed to build a successfully playing instrument, but the complexity of the build does depend on which kit you go for. Some come with all the electrics ready to go and require nothing more than screwing the neck to the body, some require you to solder all the electronics yourself, with more advanced kits needing you to glue the fingerboard to the neck, install a truss rod and even glue on the top.
So, bear in mind your own skill level and choose a kit that you feel is achievable. You can always start with a cheaper guitar kit and work your way to the high-end kits – learning new skills as you progress through the price points.
What tools do I need to build a DIY guitar kit?
Like we said above, the tools - and expertise - needed really depends on which kit you go for. For the entry-level kits from Thomann and Gear4Music, at the very least, you'll need a soldering iron, a selection of crosshead screwdrivers, and a tape measure or ruler. More complex builds may require guitar specific tools such as clamps, fret hammers, fret files, fretboard leveller, and fine-gauge wire strippers. If you are unsure what you may need to complete the job, be sure to check with the manufacturer of the kit.
Tips for building a kit guitar
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The biggest and most important piece of advice we could give would be to take your time. We know you want to get rocking as fast as humanly possible, but there is no need to rush. To ensure the guitar plays as good as it can, you need to be precise, so it's essential that you slow down and make sure you are accurate while putting it together. Also, make sure you follow the instructions to the letter. This isn't a flatpack closet; you can't throw caution to the wind and dive right in. If you make a mistake with the neck angle, alignment or fretwork, your guitar may never play correctly.
On that note, it's worth spending a little extra time on the frets. In our experience, this is where most kit guitars fall down. Take care to file and trim the fret ends to ensure they are comfortable. You can also use a fret rocker to check for high frets that may cause buzzing and other problems further down the line.
Even though most DIY guitar kits come "pre-sanded" and are ready to be finished. It isn't always to the highest standard, so we recommend spending a little extra time priming the guitar for painting to ensure you achieve the nicest finish possible. When it comes to painting your new axe, it's imperative that you do this in a well-ventilated area and you read the instructions on the paint carefully.
Last but not least is the set-up. Once your guitar is built, you'll need to set it up, so it plays as good as possible. This requires tweaking the truss rod, setting the nut and bridge height and adjusting the intonation. Now, suppose you are struggling with this last step. In that case, we recommend taking the guitar to your local guitar tech, who can assess your handy work and fix any problems that may be stopping you from getting the most out of your new guitar.
How we choose products
Here at MusicRadar, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing, creating and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything music gear related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.
When choosing what we believe to be the best DIY guitar kits available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.
First and foremost, we are musicians, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best DIY guitar kits on the market right now.
Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.
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