There are many reasons to build a guitar yourself. It could be a fantasy you’ve had for years, it could be a chance to create a perfect combination of the element you want as a guitarist and it could just be a DIY project you thought would be nice and challenging/ Regardless of the reason, the cost is often going to be a factor and one you will need to consider.
So, how much does a DIY Guitar cost?
A very basic guitar with Chinese-made ‘no name’ parts can be built for as low as $120. However, if you are buying original parts, brand name hardware, and high-end materials you may easily reach $645, and that is of-course without taking your own labor cost into account. There are many other factors that can sway the overall price of the guitar.
I did not just pull these numbers out of a hat
In this post, I will lay down the cost I have researched, for purchasing and putting together an electric guitar. There is a wide range of styles and types of guitars as well as standards of quality for any given part. I will try and make some sense and put things in order, in an attempt to get a clear picture. (See Chart at the end)
Defining what ‘The Cost’ is.
For the majority of guitars, the part list and setup are fairly straightforward and known, and you will not need to ‘invent the wheel’ to build them. I will be breaking down a list of the commonly used parts and hardware. These will include a set of Machine heads (Tuners), a nut, a fretboard, frets, a truss-rod, pickups, pickguard, bridge, electronic parts, and other bits and pieces such as screws, string trees, and ferrules. I will be comparing parts from different makes and standards and finish with a chart to get the full picture. I will not include shipping costs for obvious reasons, although many sellers may have a ‘Free Shipping’ option. Oh, and the prices are in $US.
I will be picking the prices from Aliexpress or Amazon for the cheaper, usually generic, selection. Amazon, Solo guitars, and random manufacturers for the mid-range priced, and specialty shops, Brand makers, Stew-Mac and Amazon (they have it all) for the top end quality and prices.
Author note: A word about Chinese manufacturers. China has a huge range of factories, making anything from iPhones to little plastic knobs. The manufacturing capabilities and quality depend on the quality control and raw materials used. The very cheap products we order may come from similar assembly lines as quality brand names we buy elsewhere but often with less of the control. This is why quality may be less consistent, even with the better factories. Service is getting better and items can be returned, exchanged, or refunded. Every now and then you will get absolute crap, but the price would have been accordingly, so, no big loss…
Machine heads- Tuners Prices
These will be sets of 6 tuners. There is no significant difference for a one row or a 3 and 3 configuration, so I will just bundle them.
At the low end, you can find a set of standard tuners for as low as $8.5 and a set of locking tuners for $12-25. The finish and paint may not be 100%, the mechanism may not be as smooth as you would want. You may be able to get some Korean-made Gotoh, Wilkinson, and other familiar brands, which should be of the better ones in this category.
Author note: If you are going for the bottom shelf, you may as well get two sets, as there is a good chance you will soon need a spare one. The locking ones have the added advantage of the ‘locking’ feature which will remove strain from the mechanism and actually hold the string in tune well. It’s ‘hit or miss.
Mid range Tuners
This where you get into some very decent Tuners including names such as Hipshot, Grover, Kluson, Gotoh and even some models from Fender and Shaller. On the range between $45 and $75 you should be able good machines which would satisfy the majority of guitarists and will be a cut above the low end guitars/ guitar kits.
High End Tuners
These will start at around $80 and easily go up to $150 with very specific models reaching upwards of $300. The better models from names such as Graph tech, Schaller, Grover, Kluson, Sperzel, and also original Fenders and Gibsons. These are certainly high-end products for decerning guitarists. Probably overkill for the first-time builder, but if you are the type that does not compromise, you will find wonderful products in this price range.
|Machine Heads||Cheap||Mid Range||High End|
|Price||$10 – $25||$45-$75||$80 – $150|
Bridges and Tails Pieces
With this category, I will have to be a bit more specific as the different types of bridges are not as comparable as tuners, which are either locking or not. I will try and bundle them together according to functionality, which also seems to relate to price range, although may differ in style.
These will usually come as a set of bridge and tail, with a few exceptions, and I will pair them in every price range. These are typical of most Gibsons really are a style of their own. They will also require different geometry and a slight neck angle, so chances are, you are not just going to slap them on Start to replace the tremolo bridge.
The Cheaper Tune-O-Matic Bridges
The Gibson lover may be able to find a set of Bridge, Tail, and mounting Studs for as low as $5 with a variety, including roller saddles for under $20. Ordering through amazon of less familiar names will also get you complete sets of different colors and variations for under $40
A bit of a step up will give Tailpieces from Gotoh for $25-40 and original Gibsons closer to the $60 mark. To these, you can pair Gotoh, Gibson, TonePros, or Schaller bridges from$40 to $70. There are few cheaper options, but I think if you are building a Gibson Style guitar, you will want to spend $20-30 extra for original hardware. You may be able to cheat on the tailpiece. In this range, you may also find a variety of good quality ‘wrap-around’s around the $60 mark
When you skip the original Gibson product to after market makers such as Babicz, Schaler or Graph-Tech, you will find amazing products starting at $120 and soaring to $200.
Other hard tail Bridges
I am going to put a variety of bridges here, including Tele style, Single string Saddles and everything in between
Simple and functional, you can get a nice-looking hardtail bridge from $10 and up, even on Amazon. (Half of that on Aliexpress) These can be Tele style, Strat Style (minus the Tremolo), or other variations. You can even get A single-string bridge saddle set, for a multiscale guitar. Some of those may have blemishes on the finish and paint, but in most cases, due to their simplicity, they are fine.
Mid-range Hardtail Bridges
These are the same type of bridges, but from better-known producers and with a better finish. These will start at around $30 with Solo guitar’s own brand, and go up to $60 for a Gotoh. There are many options in this range with a surprising original Fender Telecaster bridge assembly for $40
Author Note: For a first-time builder these are probably the easiest types of bridges to install and set up. Many of them have the option of top stringing as well as through the body and will never fail when it comes to sustain.
Expensive Hardtail Bridges
One look at these, still simple, bridges and you can understand the price tag. (You may not justify it, but the difference is clear). The Hipshot hardtail bridge at $90 and it Tele replacement bridge @$120 do look better than the original. You can step it up a notch with Babidz bridges reaching $160
Vintage Strat Bridges, Bigsby, Floyd Rose. There are many options for whammy lovers. There are types of tremolos to fit any guitar and style, floating and static with different mechanisms and an even greater price range.
Budget Tremolo Bridges
Ordering direct from China or from the lower price range you can find standard Strat-style bridges for as low as $8 including springs, screws, and all. These are generally fine but are characterized by a very thin and light block which may compromise sustain. Still, under $20, you can find a set of Floyd Rose Bridge sets and for a few more $$ you can also find a Bigsby style Bridge. These will be either nameless or Chinese brands specializing in music instruments and parts and will range up to $40-50.
At $50-80, you will be able to find a wide range of more presumptuous Chinese manufacturers, (which means nothing about the quality), a few more known labels such as Solo’s own Brand, Wilkinson and maybe a Gotoh. These too will be of a Strat or Jaguar style and the simpler models.
High end Tremolos
Tremolos being a more complex piece of machinery, with more moving parts, really start around the $100 mark. Here will be able to find the ‘basic’ models of certified Floyd Rose bridges, as well as Gotoh, Wilkinson, Babicz, and even Original Fenders. The range gets much wider beyond $150 with models from all premium brands. If you are more particular about models and features there are models from Schaler, Floyd Rose, Babicz hitting and passing the $300 as well as smaller makes like Kahler, or Super Vee.
|Bridges||Cheap||Mid Range||High End|
|Tune-O-Matic||$5 – $40||$25+10 – $70+30||$120 – $200|
|Hard Tail||$10- $30||$30 – $60||$90 – $160|
|Tremolos||$8 – $50||$50 – $80||$100 and Up|
Pickups are probably the number one component that will affect the sound of your guitar. It’s also one that has the largest number of varieties and option, and on top of that is the hardest to judge without hearing it, preferably on the same guitar you haven’t built yet. The good news is that they are also easily upgradeable, and assuming you are not switching from single to humbuckers, you can get new and improved pickups installed with a bit of soldering and a few screws turns. The number and type of pickups may also affect the cost and not that is necessarily a big difference between single coil and humbuckers, but getting two singles for a Tele will surely be cheaper than two humbuckers and a single (of similar quality) for a SuperStrat.
A quick search on Amazon or Aliexpress will yield a wide variety of options for a price range of $10-50. These can include a full 3 piece set of Wilkinson single coils for a Strat, or a pair of active Seymour Duncan humbuckers (doubtfully original). There is also pretty any shape, color, and style of pickup you can think of. Some of them sound surprisingly good, but when it comes to pickup sound it’s very individual and depends on the sensitivity of the guitarist.
Mid-range priced Pickups
Fortunately for most guitarists and builders, some of our favorite Pickup manufacturers have a line of products that will fall under the $90 range. You can find, Wilkinsons, Seymour Dunkan, Dimarzios, Lace Sensors, and even some vintage Fenders. If you stretch to the $120 range (I’ll consider it mid-range) you can also get Some Gibsons and a better selection of all the above. There are definitely some excellent pickups within this range.
High end Pickups
If you, or whoever the guitar is for, has the ear and the cash for the top-end pickups, there are real gems in this category. Starting at $150 and soaring to above $300, you will find Bare Knuckles, Fishman, EMGs, as well as Original Fender Sets, Seymour Duncan, and Lace Sensor.
|Cheap||Mid Range||High End|
|Pickups||$5 – $40||$50 – $120||$120 – $300|
The Machine-Heads, Bridge, and Pickups are the most expensive parts of the guitar and where you can spend or save the most significant amount of money. The rest of the parts don’t cost as much, and therefore the tolerance between the cheaper and more expensive is not as great.
Unless going for a replica, most builders will use some type of dual-action truss rod. The Aesthetics play a secondary role here and the variations have to do with the type of key and method of adjustment.
Ordering cheaper Truss-rods from China or Amazon will cost between $4 to $12. A similar trus-rod from Solo Music will also be in the same ballpark.
StewMac has their ‘Hot Rod’ at around $30
The one-piece of lumber you have a better chance of ordering. (I know I do). Of course, you will get much better deals if you can find a good wood supplier in your area.
The Chinese websites have a nice selection of Ebony and rosewood and cost between 4$ and $25 for 3A grade Ebony. You can find pre-fretted Rosewood, Ebony, and even curly maple for $30 – $50 and some more exotic types for up to $80.
Although the Chinese can still provide enough wire for a full fretboard for under $5, an original Vintage Fender set will only cost $15 (@ Solomusic) and a Stainless set at StewMac for about the same amount. Prices will lower significantly if you buy in bulk/ roll.
These are not standard on all guitars and styles, so add them to your list if they apply.
If you are stringing through the body, you will need a set of 6. These can be $4 to $15
Tele, Strat, SG, LP, Ibanez, Gretch, Explorer, and more have their unique shaped pickguard. In most cases, these will cost between $5 and $15. Fancier designs will have a fancier price. (A brass plated original Strat pickguard can come at $80)
String trees, or retainers
If you need them, $10 should be enough. If shopping in China, throw them in the cart for $2
For Most Gibsons and other bound models add $5 for standard bindings
Carbon Fiber neck rods
A pair of these will cost about $10 if you get it from China and otherwise about $25
What’s the total Then?
|Part||Cheap||Mid Range||High End|
|Machine Heads||$10 – $25||$45 – $75||$80 – $150|
|Bridges (average)||$8 – $40||$40 – 80||$100 – $220|
|Pickups||$5 – $40||$40 – $120||$120 – $200|
|Truss-Rods||$4 – $12||$30|
|A Fretboard||$4 – $25||$35 – $50||$50 – $80|
|Dots or Inlays||$5||$15|
|Nut||$1 – $10||$20|
|Switches||$8||$10 – $25|
|Strap Buttons or Locks||$2 – $5||$5 – $15||$25|
|Optional Parts||Cheap||Mid Range||High End|
|Carbon Fiber rods||$10||$25|
What about timber purchasing?
I did not go into woods, other than the fretboard. Buying different types of wood in whatever size and shape they come, combined with shipping (for large and heavy objects) has too many factors to take into account for me to give any meaningful estimate of the actual cost. It is preferable to source wood as locally as possible. It’s even better to use pieces that have been standing in your area (and humidity) for a long time.
What about Guitar Kits?
A kit will simply have all the above components already for you, with the body and neck all cut out. Most kits will also have the neck assembled with the truss rod, and fretted. The cheaper kits, from China, will naturally have the cheaper components. Building from scratch will require a lot more carpentry work and of course the neck. It will also open more possibilities for choosing the components. With cheaper kits, you still have the option of upgrading it yourself.
Do I need any special tools?
That is a big yes. Aside from standard carpentry tools, you will need a whole bunch of Lutherie-specific tools. They are not necessarily expensive but are vital. See ‘The Ultimate Guide to Electric Guitar Building Tools’.
Is a 7 or 8 string guitar more expensive?
The short answer is yes. Due to two simple facts: A. There are fewer options for many parts which need to be different to accommodate the extra string/s, such as bridges, pickups, machine heads (which come in sets of 6), etc. B. The ones that are out there are often more expensive. This may add up to just a few dollars, but may also be very significant, depending on your choice of hardware.
Is building a guitar a good option to just save money?
If just looking to get a better deal on a guitar, then probably not. Even with the cheapest hardware, you can find, taking into account some tools you will need, wood, and many long hours (for a first-time builder) the outcome may not be worth it. There are many starter guitars that may compare to it (as far as price and hardware) and a second-hand Squire or Epiphone may give a better all-around instrument. If the build is more of a fun challenge/ hobby/ dream of a lifetime, then time and effort are not an issue, budget is not the only concern and you may end up with a reasonable guitar for a reasonable price. You may even excel and have a great guitar…
Building your first (or even second or third) guitar from scratch is an exciting project. Everyone has their own reasons, fantasies, budget restrictions, and maybe other technical limitations. As far as cost, there is definitely a wide range of options. On the one hand, you can order dirt cheap components and have a great (and relatively cost-effective) experience, or get all fantasy hardware to try and build your dream guitar. I cannot assume to predict what the overall quality of the guitar will be, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle and you will spend a bit more on some of the parts and stay modest with others. If you are reading this, chances are, above all, it should be for your enjoyment.