Building an electric guitar involves a variety of tools to perform very different tasks. You were probably wondering if these tools and supplies are something you can find at your local store, do you have to find a specialty shop or can you just by them Online?
The answer is Yes. You can easily find some of them at your local hardware stores and supplies. Other, more specific tools will be found at stores that are lutherie specific stores. Fortunately, you can also find them online. You just need to know what to look for and where.
I will list some of the stores that specialize in these tools and supplies, as well as the options for different qualities and budgets. If you are a hobbyist woodworker you probably already have at least some of the tools and supplies. Whatever is still missing from your toolbox can be delivered right to your doorstep. Wherever you live.
Isn’t the shipping going to be expensive?
Most online stores offer very reasonable and in many cases free shipping. I would think twice before buying a table saw or a bench press drill online, but most small to medium size packages should be fine. Depending on the country from which you are buying and where you live, there is tolerance for the price. If you are in the US, shipping should not be an issue, even if ordering directly from China.
How about Chinese stores, are they reliable?
Chinese stores such as AliExpress or Banggood are going into great length to satisfy western consumers as far as quality, shipping and even service. Since they introduced ePackets, shipping time has also improved for a marginally higher cost. I have personally bought hundreds of items directly from China. Quality wise, there is wide range. You have to be sensible and sometimes take a chance. If you find a tool that costs around $12 at your local ‘home depot’ for around $6, they are probably at the same quality range, they may actually be the same (where do you think the chain stores get them?). But if you see a similar tool at a specialty store, on or off-line, for around $60, chances are it’s made from higher grade material and with better quality and finish. You can also find good quality products there for a decent price. I have done a lot of experimenting with cheap tools and materials and have had more of good than bad experiences. I have also always got a refund when requesting it.
Are there any Budget tools or are the tools going to cost more than a guitar?
If you are planning to build a business and work like pro, you will probably want the kind of tools that will last you longer, give you uncompromising results and will save you time. In this case you will look at tools as an investment and therefore the quality and the price will be high. On the other end of the spectrum is the hobbyist who wants to build a kit guitar but still needs some basic Lutherie tools on a budget.
Where are those stores?
Store can be divided according to the standard of tools they carry, although the same store may have a range of prices on similar items.
General Hardware and tools
Starting at the large chain stores such as ‘Home Depot’ or the equivalent in your area. For general power tools, such as a drill, sanders, a jig-saw or band-saw, a router, a pan electric planer and maybe a benchtop planer/jointer. These are both on the more expensive side of the tools you need and are also bulky and heavy for shipping. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy them online, just take into account that shipping may cost more. At the same store you may be able to find Planers, Files, Drill and Router Bits, paint related equipment, sanding paper, spray guns and buffing pads.
It’s not ‘Home Depot’, and not a specialty store.For better or worse Amazon has pretty much everything. From basic power tools to very specialized Lutherie tools. You can find very cheap Chinese made ones right beside the top notch professional ones. As far as quality.. they also have everything. The same rule of thumb you use for Chinese manufacturers should apply here, if it’s suspiciously cheap you can probably get it at Aliexpress for a couple of dollars less. Then again if it’s 5$ and turns out crappy, you lost just 5$. There is the benefit of Amazon shipping and service which will be quicker and safer (especially in the United States).
This is where you will also find parts and guitar specific hardware such as Bridges, Head Tuner Machines, Truss Rods, Fretts, Pickups, Knobs and switches. There are dozens of shops around the internet. I tried to give a selection of standards and budgets.
A respected name in the guitar industry since 1968. The don’t only stock the highest quality tools, supplies and parts, they also make some amazing Jigs and precision tools for construction and repair. The prices match the quality.
A huge selection of Luthier tools with many specialty manual tools for fine carving and sculpting
If you are on the Eastern side of the Atlantic, you will be able to find everything from frets to selected wood and all the tools.
Probably the most well-rounded store for the guitar builder, both hobbyist and professional alike. This can be your one stop shop everything from guitar parts, hardware, tools, and supplies. Aside from kits, they also have Genuine Fender and Gibson parts, so if you are building a ’54 strat’, you can actually have original pickups. Prices are quite reasonable for the quality of most tools and parts.
For a hobbyist, first timer or if you want to put together a guitar kit, this store may just have the right mix for you. The FretWire focuses on guitar kits and all you need to complete them, so you will not find They don’t carry the high end jigs and tools, but they do have all the basics and some more and will probably fit your budget fit your budget.
How do I know which ones are more suitable for me?
It is always difficult to strike that balance between functionality and budget. In a perfect world, where money is no object, we would want the tools of the finest quality and finish. Those of us who have done any woodworking or related crafts and hobbies can surely appreciate a fine tool. For my first build, I wanted to see what were the cheapest tools I could ‘get away’ with. Shipping time was not an issue and I ordered all the dirt-cheap tools I needed directly from Aliexpress. Yes, some of them were complete… well, a waste of money, but quite a few did a perfectly good job. Ever since I have been upgrading my tools, but I now know my personal preferences and needs much better and it only cost tens of dollars as they were cheap to begin with. Just as an example, a ‘Notched Straight Edge’ needs to be straight and have the notches in the right places. If those two requisites exist, it will do the job. There may be one made from higher grade metal, aluminum or whatever to justify the higher price, but the cheap straight one works just as well.
So, for the budget minded aspiring Luthiers I would say: Start cheap, you can always get the expensive ones afterwards. If you think ‘Cheap ends up being Expensive’ then by all means discard my humble opinion and go for the good stuff.
For a complete list of the tools you need, jump over to my ‘The Ultimate Guide to Guitar Building Tools’ post or the ‘Recommended Gear’ Page.
Which tools do I need if I just want to build a Kit Guitar?
In theory, a good kit comes with all the components and all you need is a screwdriver and a wrench. In practice, you will usually need to go through a few more steps to get a playable guitar:
- The body arrives unfinished (in the vast majority of kits) so sanding and oiling will be the bare minimum. If you want stain, lacquer and polish, you will need the tools and supplies for that.
- There are often holes missing, either for the machine heads screws, bridge or neck, so a drill will be needed.
- The Electronics come separate, and even on a ‘pre-wired’ Strat style kit, where the pickups, the nobs and the switcher come connected to the pickguard, the plug will not be connected. A solder iron Kit will be a must.
- If the kit has a ‘glue on’ neck, you will need glue and clamps. A radius block of some sort is also recommended to avoid straight pressure on the rounded frets.
The may arrive at different qualities of dressing. In most cases you will want to give it some kind of treatment, either some localized leveling, or a full leveling and dressing. The whole process and necessary tools are laid out in my ‘Buy a cheap guitar neck and make it Amazing’ article.
There will always be a learning curve to building a guitar. Part of it is figuring out your preferences for which tools to buy, where to buy them and a little trial and error to figure out how to use them.
Go on, make some mistakes and build a guitar.