Information for First Time Builders of Stringed Musical Instruments

There are a lot of different ways you can approach building your first guitar, bass, mandolin, or other stringed instrument. This is a fortunate thing. There was a time not too long ago when your only options would have been to get a job in a guitar factory or to just figure it out for yourself. Now, there are schools which offer classes in musical instrument making, instructional books, and even videos. And there are a wide variety of projects ranging from simple things like putting together a solid body electric guitar from a kit to building a cello of your own design from trees you cut down yourself. Your own approach to building will depend a lot on your general personality and what resources are available to you.

Last updated: September 11, 2018

Learning Resources

Lutherie Schools

– This may be the simplest way to go about it, but it may be the most costly as well. If you take a class you can learn in a hands-on manner from folks that are experts in building instruments and in teaching others how to build them. But all schools are not created equal some specialize in certain instruments, some are more structured in nature while others are more free form. The Guild of American Luthiers website has a section which lists lutherie schools and provides some advice about the all important task of picking a school.


– The Recommended Books page of this website contains information on a number of construction books that could be used by a first time builder. These are all excellent books and many folks have successfully built their first instruments with no other help and guidance. In this case the books are certainly a bargain. Some folks do need a little help though, even with a book as a guide. The good news is that you can usually contract with a professional luthier/teacher for a little consulting to help you get over the parts where you get stuck. Now, if it turns out that you find yourself getting stuck a lot, this may not be the best approach for you (or you may have attempted to tackle a project which was simply too far beyond your abilities). In such cases you may want to re-evaluate your approach and take a class, and/or try a less ambitious project.


– These days there are even some video based instruction courses available from the big lutherie suppliers like Stewart MacDonald and Luthiers Mercantile International. Usually paired with a book, these often offer more information than a book alone as you can actually see the processes as they are performed by professionals. You still may need a little help if you get stuck though.


– A number of companies make instrument kits, and these can be a great way to learn. But kits vary tremendously in the amount of assembly effort they require. On one end there are some solid body electric guitar kits which require nothing more than screwing all the parts together and stringing the instruments up. These are great for folks with limited woodworking skills, and they are great confidence builders. On the other end there are acoustic guitar kits which are nothing more than boxed raw materials. Assembling a guitar from such a kit will be much work, as virtually none of it has been done for you. And there are kits in the middle ground too, where some of the more difficult operations (like side bending and/or neck carving) have already been done. You’d be surprised at the wide variety of instruments available in kit form. There is a lot for those who want to make a guitar or build a bass, but a number of companies have kits for harp builders, violin makers, and many other instruments.

If you decide to go with a kit, I would strongly recommend two things. The first is that you get a book that tells you how to assemble the kind of instrument you are making. Get this in addition to whatever instructions come with the kit. Also check the back issues of American Lutherie to see if the kit you are interested in has been reviewed, and if so get a copy of that review. It will contain many useful assembly hints. The second recommendation is that you only buy a kit if the kit supplier can provide you with replacements at reasonable cost for any parts of the kit that you screw up during your building efforts. Yes, it is good to be optimistic and assume that your building project will go perfectly, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared in case it doesn't. And there's nothing to be ashamed of if you mess up a piece and need to get a replacement and try again. We all do it (ask me about the instrument I was making where I wrecked three – count ‘em – three fingerboards before finally getting one right!).

Instrument kits are available from the above mentioned suppliers and also from Luthier Materials, Music Maker's Kits and Carvin.


– In the words of Clint Eastwood's character Dirty Harry, do you feel lucky? If you have a lot of woodworking experience or if you're brave you might want to have a go at a first instrument from nothing more than a plan. I can’t say as I actually recommend this approach, but a few folks I know have been successful doing this. Plus, if you're one of those people like me that does your best learning from your own mistakes, this approach may maximize your learning experience . A number of instrument plans are available from the Guild of American Luthiers, and the GAL website contains other sources of instrument plans as well.

Online Resources

– There are a number of web sites that offer tips for first time builders. One of the best I've ever seen is Kathy Matsushita's "Amateur Luthier" Page. She chronicles her own guitar building experience and in so doing details a number of the “standard” pitfalls for first timers. There are great tool and shop tips here (study the photos carefully!) and the whole thing is written in an amazingly clear manner.

No matter which approach you take to building your first instrument, the best of luck to you!

Is it Too Much Friend?

After looking over this and possibly other sites with info for first time instrument builders are you suffering from information overload? Are you getting rattled thinking that you'll never get how all of this stuff fits together? Here's what you need to do now. Go to Kathy Matsushita's "Amateur Luthier" Page and stay there for a while. Kathy exudes calm and confidence! Take a few deep breaths and look over her site and I guarantee you will return to a calm and serene state and your confidence in your own ability to build an instrument will be increased. Try it.

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