Building your own kit guitar is all the rage these days. It's a great way to get yourself a custom guitar without paying a month's wages. So many companies and suppliers are in the game producing some great stuff. We've been happy using WD and Allparts as our main supplier of guitar parts, and we assemble the kits, custom designed in-house. The wood and build quality are exceptional and consistent. Just like the pic above, we're going to start with a quality Fender Licensed rock maple neck and Alder body, finished in a light Poly. This super straight and stable neck is lightly finished in a satin, feels ultra fast as is. We've had it hanging up in our dry shop for a year now and it's as straight as when we unpackaged it from the box, amazing! What we have to do is position and drill out all the holes in the body and neck. So let's begin!
What you'll likely need;
When we build a guitar, we're going to treat it like our own. I inspect the neck for straightness and fret condition. Sometimes the wood will dry and shrink leaving some fret poking out on the sides. Inspect the neck and run your hand down the sides to feel for any sharp fret edges. If you find some, the best time to take care of that is now. Run a file down the side of the neck to remove any protruding frets. As well, you will want to run the file down the fret bevel at a 35' angle.
So let's start by prepping the neck. We'll need to install the tuners first. I like to snug them in place by the nut from the top side, then align them so they are straight (using a ruler). We aren't going to tighten them just yet. We want to make sure we can reposition them if needed.
Now we are ready to screw these little buggers in. Grab a candle and drag the screw across it like pictured. This will lubricate the screw going in and prevent it from the possibility of breaking. It will also go in a lot easier. We're going to carry this procedure forward with all screws, as good measure. Torque down the screws until snug.
Now flip it over and snug down the nuts on the topside, nice and firm. Flip it around yet again and snug up the screws if needed. Sometimes the tuners settle into the wood and are not uniformly flush against the back of the headstock. Sometimes when you torque it down hard on one side, because of the design of the tuner, it will be bite into the wood offset on the backside, leaving a gap. I want every piece of hardware on this guitar flush and attached firmly, every little detail counts.
Next, size in and install your nut or nut blank. Having it perfect at this stage has no importance, as long as it fits the nut slot well. You want to make sure it is flush with the bottom of the nut slot as well as the correct width. Just wide enough to slide in without any back and forth movement is ideal. The nut I'm using is preslotted which will expedite the nut dressing at the setup stage.
Once we're happy with the position, using a punch I will mark my drill points on the back. I mark the length of the screw on to my drill bit with a piece of masking tape so that I do not drill too deep (or right through the headstock!). Also, if you have a maple neck, do not skip using a drill here or you will likely break off your screws while driving them into the wood (very likely scenario). Removing these small broken screws from the maple is a REAL pain.... trust me.
If you are doing any custom routing, this is also a good time to mark things out. We will be installing a humbucker into this stock tele, so using the pickguard as a guide, we can determine where to rout.
Use an easy grip clamp to clamp the position of the neck in. It should be square within the pocket and hopefully not much side-to-side movement potential. Get it as square as you can. After that, position the bridge and pickguard. Most often the bridge placement will be pre-drilled and obvious. Just as before, punch a center for your drill bit and drill your pilot holes.
With your bridge installed it is a VERY GOOD idea to check that your neck is centered to the bridge center. How do you do this? Install a low 'E' and high 'e' string in their respective positions. Tune them up just enough so there is no slack. Using the strings as a straight edge, position the neck angle so that both strings are exactly the same distance to the outside of the fretboard, or centered. You can also do this with a long straight edge that reaches from nut to saddle.
When you're happy with the neck angle, commit! I like to mark the position of the screw holes into the neck with the drill, while it's in the position clamped to the guitar. I then remove the clamp and fully drill the holes out on the drill press. Using a hand drill works just fine as well. Drill straight down and remember to mark the depth on the drill bit beforehand so there are no accidents in drilling too deep. Once you're done drilling, you can wax the neck screws and instal the neck onto the guitar. Or....
If you're like us, it's time to get the router out and make a mess. Route out the pickup cavity, test that your pickup fits (width and depth). Test it again with your pickguard in place. Make sure there is adequate room for your pickup and positioning it, well before assembling everything. We're doing good as you can see everything is lining up great!
It's also a good idea to shield your guitar. Shielding helps prevent any unwanted noise coming through your guitar, most notably with single coils. You can use shielding paint (pictured) or more effectively, copper tape. If you're not concerned with shielding, move on to soldering your electronics. This tele is loaded with Fralin P-92 and tele stock wound bridge pickup (1/2 and 1/2 magnet with hybrid stagger). We used a Bournes low friction 250K volume pot with a Bournes No-Load 250K tone pot, .033 uF WD oil-filled capacitor, reverse mounted on the control Plate for better access to the volume pot.
When you're done the electronics and hardware installation, you can install the neck and string it up if you have not yet. If you need to fine-tune the shaping of your nut, there's no reason not to do that at this stage as well. For those needing to dress/file the nut, that is one of the final stages of a setup. Cutting nut slot depth can only be assessed after the neck bow and the string height is adjusted for your tuning/string gauge. If you do not take those aspects into consideration, you might cut the slots incorrectly, which is something I fix on other peoples guitars quite regularly. There are some articles in this blog that may help as well as the chapter on Nut Dressing in our popular Setup Guide.
Before finishing up, don't pass over the installation of string trees on these types of guitars. They push a much-needed downward string angle on the back side of the nut. Without it, it would have lousy, dead tone (unless that's what you're going for of course). I like to keep that pitch consistent from string to string so that sonically it is consistent as well. The placement of the string trees will be determined by how much pitch you are looking for. Closer to the nut will push the string down further, and vice versa. Pictured above is an adequate yet fairly shallow pitch, so much in fact I will later change it for improved sustain and volume. Again, don't forget to pre-drill and wax those screws on entry.
When all the hardware and electronics are installed, I give it a full setup which includes neck bow adjustment, string height adjustment (at the bridge), nut slot dressing for optimum depth, optimal pickup height and intonation. It's also a good idea to use a lubricant on any metal to metal contact as well as nut slots. If you want to learn Pro Level Setups be sure to sign up for a class or check out our Setup Guide!
So after all that work, the results? She cooks! One of the best sounding telecasters I have ever played.