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What Is A Good First Project To Get Started?

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I was going to start this a while back but learning to play guitar became to much fun and took up most of my time. Now I am getging frustrated in not being able to find the guitar I like the look of without importing it.

Now I don't have any plans to make a guitar from scratch. I live in a apartment and have no basement or garage. So it would mainly be refinishing work. Putting a top on that I like so I wont have to spend the big bucks when my tallent is no where near good enough for something like that.

Sorry if this has. been posted before but there is so much on this site it just gets confusing.

My two ideas

1. Get a kit. guitar from saga mainly the PRS style one.


I wont have to worry about taking off the original finish

At $155 I would not care much if I screwed it up.

Better suggestions I am open to like better kits or maybe just getting a used squire bullet that I would equally not care about screwing up.

2. Just taking some veneer to a peice of plywood or something and using that to practice on.


Minimum cost

Wouldn't have use for a crappy guitar even if it looked super nice.

Also where is a good place to get everything that I need?

These two seem like a good start but I am totally open to suggestions as I have never done any of this before.



I live in a little nowhere town so everything will need to be bought on the net.

Thanks for any help I love playing guitar and making things so this seems to be a match made in heaven. I can create something that I would love to use.

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I'd say the best starter project is buying a second-hand instrument from eBay and modding it. Sand back to the wood, apply a rubbed finish like oil, wax or rub-on poly. It's pretty easy as a first "making something my own" project plus you're not starting too far back from the finish line.

Veneering is actually harder than it first seems. Thicker veneer (2,0mm and upwards) are more forgiving in many ways. The biggest issue is applying an even pressure across the entire veneer with the right amount of glue. I would perhaps leave this until a subsequent project.

The only downside to remaking a second-hand model is the industrial grade sealers underneath many of the paints. This often requires ten times as much work as you would first expect it to.

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I read heat gun is the best for removing finishes. For obvious reasons that is not an option. Do they sell sand paper sets so I could get all the grades at once or will they wear out so I would need to buy multiples anyways.

Have a home made fire escape that's more like a small porch. Of course I would have to wait untill its not 30 below before I try that.


Does the bag of gravel method work well? Where you fill a bag with landscaping rocks and put it on top of the veneer to hold it down with some 20 lbs of stone.

That rub on polish you are refering to is that something I can put onto bare wood or would I need to seal it after I get the color on it I want?

One last question how difficult is it to refret a guitar? The main issue I see is getting the neck completely flat without the strings on it. Can this be done with the truss rod or is that a bad idea and I would need one of those jigs that stew mac sells.

Ok one more guestion. When using veneer is it best to start with a light colored wood. I want to use a guilted malple or some type of burl. Just something to make it really unique. Though I am not sure if you can get book matched burl at a decent price or even a decent book match on the internet.

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Veneering is actually harder than it first seems. Thicker veneer (2,0mm and upwards) are more forgiving in many ways. The biggest issue is applying an even pressure across the entire veneer with the right amount of glue. I would perhaps leave this until a subsequent project.

Definitely. Having done veneering a couple of times, I know first hand that a curved top is much harder to do than a flat top (like a tele), the thinner the veneer, the harder it is to get just the right amount of glue and getting a decent center line is also quite the challenge.

When I did the lacewood vennered Jem, I redid the top 3 times.

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I think the veneer refinish option is a fun way to start. That's what I did :) Right now I'm in the middle of my second refinish take with flamed maple veneer. In both cases I had bubbles in the armrest area - I didnt use the sandbad method but flat surfaces and clamps. I'm still perfecting the technique. Here's the first one:


You can see the place near the armrest where the veneer bubbled after I sprayed clearcoat - and then I stupidly polished down to bare wood when I was rubbing it out. And? I had a lot of fun, I play gigs with the instrument - this was just a learning experience. Now I'm doing an Ibanez RG for a friend, so far no sand-through :P

Completely flat tops are a lot easier. I'm building test build with a poplar body with poplar burl veneer - its coming out nicely (there's a picture in my nylon string thread), though I do have yellow areas which are caused by too much glue I guess... I never thought I should watch the amount of glue in fact. Is there a rule for that?

I already have some insane maple burl veneer that I'm dying to use on a project and a bunch of other cool ideas.

So I'd say - give it a try! :D

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The "sandbag method" is unreliable as it does not apply that much pressure to the veneer. You would find more success using a veneer hammer, especially on an application which comes under a lot of scrutiny by the build, the owner and anybody else looking at it. Guitars are like that. Kind of like the difference between a factory car and a show-finished car. You want to do the best you can to it.

I would certainly not recommend a veneer as a "good first project". Given that you are terming it as a first project, I infer that more projects are bubbling under the surface by intention.

My own first project was a basic Walnut Les Paul Jr. from scratch and that gave me back a lot of useful lessons on many many things. Concentrating on the detailed parts for a first project will not do that. Instead, you will more than likely learn little because of the sheer number of things you will want to improve on. If you are meaning to start as you mean to go on, get your basic chops down first like any discipline :-)

My own experience of a veneer first time was 2mm Koa on a bound Telecaster. I found that the veneer was far too willing to tear out due to a combination of inexperience in routing and inconsistent glueing of the veneer. The worst veneer experience I had was Walnut burl on Mahogany which bubbled up like crazy and tore out massively because I tried to round over the edges.

The mantra of new techniques or trying out new products in instrument building is "test on scrap!". Certainly, veneer is very cheap to get ahold of and not problematic to keep re-applying to a scrap piece in order to perfect technique. The same ethos applies to things like grain filling and/or dyeing/painting to achieve specific looks. You could even extend this to practicing your fretwork techniques as you mentioned.

I would certainly recommend practicing your jointing of veneers before applying them to a guitar! This can be hard enough even for people with experience. Ending up with an ugly veneer joint on guitar which you are happy with otherwise dampens your enthusiasm for the whole instrument.

Finishing an instrument is - as already mentioned - more often than not dirty work which is not appropriate for an apartment or anywhere with limited facilities. Hand-finished is probably a better idea, such as oil/wax or rubbed-on poly. You can get away with using old shirts and coffee filters to apply these also. Cheap!

If you are a little obsessive over details and like challenges, I would recommend doing the research and practice on every single thing before committing them to the project. This will cost more in the long run, however you are far less likely to end up discouraged by an unsatisfactory first project feeling like a total loss.

Not to dissuade, however I think that a good opening first project would ideally be chosen by your overall intents. If they are to many more guitars beyond this one, make the decisions that will teach you the most to take back from the experience and try not to take too much on at once in the first project. Not only will you be left with a playable instrument that you will like but you will be far more capable and switched-on going into your second project.

Perhaps refinished an existing paintjob is not the best of ideas in hindsight. I remember my first experience of removing paint from an 80s BC Rich. The sealer underneath the pearlescent paint was crazy tough like a cross between epoxy and hard slick plastic. I spent six hours in the garden gouging and scraping that stuff off, then trying to sand the surface flat again to remove the damage from the gouges. Power sanding just skidded over it. Even after I thought I was finished, in patches the sealer was still some depth in the wood.

The Saga kits look like a good way to practice a simple finish like oil and wax. Although you would learn nothing of the process of building, there are plenty of opportunities on them to experiment with various more advanced techniques. Buying some automotive vinyl pinstriping tape and shellac or sanding sealer (essentially a high solid clearcoat) you could do a faux bind if the Maple top is deep enough.

Apologies for the wall of text. In short, it is a common mistake to go all-out on the first project and find yourself coming out with empty hands learning nothing. It all depends on what you are already confident doing and your existing experience. If you have none in that respect, choose your battles carefully and you'll only gain.

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Don't apologize it was a very interesting read. I do think I got over excited. As I looked at my guitars with binding on the necks. Refretting is something I should try later. Mainly wanted to because my first real guitar didn't have the frets crowned. Silly me thougt extra jumbo ment extra wide flat tops.

Building a guitar would be beyond amazing to be able to do. But not in the cards right now. I know I could never make money playing. But even as a side thing building guitars would be a dream job to say the least.

Mainly was thinking a kit guitar because

1. I wouldn't have to remove any finish so no big mess to worry about

2. Cheap so if I recked it no big deal

3. I wouldn't be attached to it. It would bresk my heart if I screwed up one of my favorite guitars

Never heard of a veneer hammer. Reading up on it its used like a rolling pin rocked back and fourth to work the veneer down. I assume you wouldn't drag it across the veneer. Is using hot hide glue the best thing for veneer or is guickbond II good enough.

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I was more apologising for the quantity rather than the content itself :-)

A kit would be great because many of the factors are taken out of your hands like the shaping and geometry work. More than likely you will need to do some basic fret work so this is a good testbed also. Dressing and levelling. Alternatively if you have the tools you could refret it, however it is more than likely you would degrade the existing work without experience. I can't comment on either your existing skills at instrument setups of course, or the standard of Saga kits!

A veneer hammer is used to work out air bubbles and glue pockets under veneer, commonly in combination with glue that can be re-activated with the application of heat. Rather than a rolling pin they are more like a hammer with a large face into which is set a strip of smooth material to press the veneer and drag it smooth. Try searching YouTube for "veneer hammer"!

To add in Pan_Kara's mention about the quantity of glue, I think it is equally important to concentrate on the evenness of the glue. A glue roller (with a textured roller) or plastic glueing comb will likely help. Quantity is going to vary depending on the glue. For Titebond-I I apply enough so each surface is wet but not "yellow" from the glue's opacity however this is somewhat academic since I use an industrial hydraulic press.


Second hand instruments would be a great testbed for refretting. You could probably pick up one from a pawn shop, eBay or Craigslist. Many beaters can be restored quite well....if not economically, but for excellent educational return.

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I have really no tools other than what came with my guitars. I got a new job that pays twice what my old one did but I still live life like at my old job. So cost isn't so much an issue. Its more of knowing what to get and where to get it. Don't want to buy cheap crappy tools that don't work well or last long. On the same hand I don't want to just want to buy the most expensive just because more expensive means better.

Like what's a good budget for tools and supplies. Been a while since I first found this place. Thought it was just a forum forgot it was just part of a whole website about this. Tons of tutorials but no shopping lists of things I would need to get started. So much is involved with making a guitar. Routing and shaping aside its hard to figure out what one needs.

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I would heartily recommend Melvyn Hiscock's books. His book on solidbody building has been the go-to book for many years now. Whilst it doesn't cover every aspect of course, it does cover all of the fundamentals very well. I will be adding overviews of books like these to the library section of the PG site once the main brunt of content has been reformatted.


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You sounded quite confident in that recomendation so I ordered one. They seem to be out of print though. Should be an interesting read once it gets here.

Any recommendations on where to get good book matched veneer. Saw lots on ebay but few big enough to cover one side of a guitar.

Also are there any rough recommendations on what to look for. Being so thin I would assume it would have no noticeable effect on sound.

But what about color? Guessing the lighter the color the better for staing since you can always darken it more.

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I wouldn't recommend veneering your first project until you have had practice a) building an instrument and B) veneering. It is far too easy to find that your otherwise perfect first project goes south because of some fault in the veneering you didn't spot or expect. It would be heartbreaking! By all means buy some veneers, however go cheap and practice veneering some scrap boards. It all adds up!

Maybe your decisions will change after you sit down with a book. I wouldn't commit until you have your strategy in the bag.

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Oh I wasn't planning on that. I wanted to either refinish one of my guitars. That or get a cheap used beginner guitar and do that.

Just need to know where to buy some good veneer so I can do like you said and practice laying it down and staining it.

Plus with the beginner guitar I could do all the things I am afraid to do on my guitars like wiring a two conductor pickup to a 4 conductor.

Honestly I haven't found my perfect guitar yet so I don't want to try and build one untill I know what I will like in the build.

So its either a kit guitar like the saga prs design or a cheapie. Just not to keen on stripping the old finish off a used guitar.

Thanks for taking your time to replying to my post. Trying to temper my excitement for the project and set more realistic goals.

Is their sonething more I would learn from taking a used beginner guitar down to bare bones than a guitar kit? Both would equally crappy hardware so it wouldn't be for playing just a testbed to hopefully make all my stipid mistakes on.

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Check gilmerwood.com and see if they have any Camphor burl tops. More than likely they will not be dry enough for use however that would get you that look no problem.

Sounds like a kit would be a good fun project if you want to tinker with the bits you don't want to break on your existing instruments!

I definitely do not want to dampen enthusiasm as such, however it is very very easy to jump in a little too deep and end up without a result at the end of it. I was very disappointed in my first attempts, especially after I spent a few hundred just on the wood for one of them. I got the neck angle wrong (actually, I didn't add one) which wrote off the entire thing. It took me three instruments before I made one I could say was moderately playable because I went in without a plan all guns blazing.

You might find repairing minor wear on a second hand instrument rewarding. Refretting is a lesson in itself as you can experience the instrument beforehand and how it feels afterwards. Things like that?

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Check this thread out if you have the time.


This was my first refinish with a cheap guitar off eBay that I applied a veneer to, it wasn't easy but definitely rewarding. Veneering, especially with burls is challenging due to the nature of the material, it took me a couple of attempts to get it right. I tried the sand bag method at first but in the end clamping cauls and clamps was the way to go, but still didn't get the join in the book match spot on. I enjoyed every minute of it though and learnt a lot from my mistakes along the way. All of my materials including the veneer were sourced through eBay. Hope this helps.

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I defintly know about getting ahead of yourself. Planned on using airbrush at first. Got everything together and made the mistake of getting a crappy brush that frustrated me. Turns out learning to play better was more fun and rewarding. Now that I have learned more about my tastes I realized I like figured wood rather than painted. So untill I get a better brush and pump that stuff is just gathering dust.

Any chance there I a common guitar to use as a test dummy?

Preferably stoptail and no pickup guard. Not real particular on a braused. Maybe PRS SE but they are $250 cheapest used. Not that its a lot but my others are better than those. So no point in spending more on something I wont use.

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