Your personality and creativity on the guitar extend well beyond just what kind of music you make, it’s in the guitar you use, the pickups, the pedals, and amplifiers. Half the fun of playing an instrument is in making your setup and equipment unique to you. Fortunately, within the guitar space, there is an incredible amount of opportunity to get hands-on with your equipment. From easy modifications you can make to your guitar to improve its tone or functionality, all the way to things such as wiring your own pedals and effects.
So today we’ve picked 5 of our favorite DIY projects that any guitarist can do, are a ton of fun, and will enable you to get more hands-on with your gear. If you’re planning to build a DIY guitar amp, click here for more information.
Building a ‘kit’ guitar
The process of creating a complete and finished instrument from raw materials is a very serious undertaking. From drying the wood out for months to using expensive routing equipment to refine it to shape. It takes years of skill development and a lot of specific tools that you won’t find in just any old garage. Yet, many people want to try their hand at it. This is why we saw the birth of the ‘kit guitar’. A kit guitar is where you will buy a neck and body which is already pre-routed and fretted, so all you need to do is put it all together.
There are tons of great kit companies out there that will allow you to purchase the body and neck shape you like and will usually come with the essential hardware such as tuners and a bridge. So you can just focus on the fun part of piecing it all together and adding your favorite set of pickups!
Build your own guitar pedal
Even if you don’t know anything about electronics, or have never picked up a soldering iron in your life, building your own guitar pedal is something that anyone can try their hand at. Fortunately, these days there are a wealth of guides and resources that can walk you through every single step, from where to buy the enclosure, what components you need, and how to piece everything together. You can find online schematics for almost any kind of pedal, whether you want to make a tubescreamer, a lush sounding analog delay, or even create a clone of another pedal you like, anything is possible!
If you’re not quite up for sourcing every component by yourself, there are also places where you can buy DIY pedal ‘kits’. They will package all the components you will need together and ship them to you, meaning you can save yourself the headache of gathering everything up by yourself and instead just enjoy the fun part of building the pedal. You can also make it look professional or as DIY as you like, when it’s home-made leaving the enclosure as plain aluminum is perfectly ok! But if you want, you can also make artwork and print it onto a transfer and before you know it your friends will be asking where they can get one themselves!
This is one of the most useful pieces of equipment a guitarist can own that you’ve probably never heard of. So what is an Isobox exactly? Iso stands for isolation, they are enclosures we can build either to house a pre-existing guitar cabinet (called an isobox as it’s a box we place the cabinet in). Or we can mount the speaker directly so it actually becomes the cabinet itself, this is called an isocab. The whole point of this is to reduce the projected volume coming from the speakers.
There’s no way around it, to saturate a high-powered tube amplifier and make it sound its best, it needs to be LOUD. So for many of us musicians who have to record at home, this can easily anger the neighbors, or even worse, the wife. So having an isobox/cab available can make the whole process of using/recording loud amplifiers much easier. Plus, if you throw a blanket over it when it’s not in use you’ll have a nice little coffee table! It’s not difficult to make either, you just need some basic materials that help with noise reduction such as some cheap wood, insulation or foam, and a few screws to piece it all together.
Repaint your guitar
Maybe you have a guitar that you really love, it plays great, the tone is amazing and your hands are already used to the shape of the neck. You’re not looking to simply get a new guitar to replace it. This is where refinishing a guitar can (at least visually) give you the feeling of having a brand new instrument while you still get to keep that comfort and familiarity of your favorite guitar.
But the great thing is there are so many different kinds of ways you can finish your guitar, maybe you want a simple monotone gloss finish, maybe you want a metallic finish, or if you’re really up for a challenge you can even do a ‘swirl’ finish that you might know from the classic Steve Vai ‘Passion & Warfare’ guitar. You also don’t need much equipment to do it, just basic things such as sandpaper, a clear coat finish, masking tape, and some basic tools to remove the hardware before spraying.
Complete guitar setup
At first glance, this might not sound particularly exciting, but giving your guitar a really solid setup can truly make it play like a new instrument. It’s something we pay a lot of money to guitar techs for anyway, so not only can it breathe new life into your guitar, but learning to set it up by yourself can save you a lot of money in the long run too. So what does a ‘complete’ setup entail?
Essentially it involves cleaning the guitar, changing strings, setting the neck relief, setting the action and intonation, and (if your guitar has a tremolo) making sure the bridge is perfectly positioned. What it shouldn’t include, and what we still recommend going to a professional for is fret crowning or refretting the guitar, as this is something you will do so infrequently and requires specialized tools.
There are projects out there that can cater to every level of budget, skill or involvement that you wish. So it’s really important not to be intimidated when delving into working on your equipment. It will allow you to understand the gear you use to a whole other level, and let you develop new skills which will no doubt benefit you on your musical journey.