I’m building a cheap TC-style kit guitar from Amazon.
The purchase was a gamble. I wanted to get a Harley Benton to have a more known commodity, but the shipping from England was more than the kit itself. So random Amazon kit it is.
I spent ~$85 on this kit. It’s out of stock now, so I won’t bother linking. But it came from a very generic sounding brand. I didn’t expect a lot, but just wanted the experience building a guitar without starting from raw wood.
I honestly wasn’t sure the limited description would be accurate. Mahogany body, roasted maple neck, rosewood fretboard… for $85. I don’t know about that.
It was also packaged really well preserving the hardware and the hardwood through what was likely a brutal shipping process. No nicks or scratches!
Here’s the kit laid out on my makeshift table I use for guitar work, including my very classy old towel. Sorry, there’s other junk in there like my neck rest, a rag, and radius gauges.
The description was 100% accurate and this looks like it’s going to be a super fun project that I can keep improving for years.
I’m still absolutely shocked. It was listed as mahogany and I was a little leery. A good body blank costs nearly as much as this kit.
But, it’s a gorgeous body with just a 2 piece construction. It’s sanded well enough for the finish I’m doing, but would require finer sanding and pore filling if you were going to do something horrific like paint over the beautiful grain.
I’ll go into my work using Danish Oil to do a natural finish later.
The neck is less spectacular, but still solid. It’s roasted maple, with maybe a D profile. A little thin and pretty dark. The fretboard has a 12" radius… a lot wider than I’m used to. I’ve mostly played 9.5". Re-radiusing and re-fretting may be in this guitar’s future. I’ll wait to see if I like it before I go there.
The fretboard itself is a very nice rosewood (one of the sustainable varieties, I can’t remember). The frets are actually flatter and better dressed than most inexpensive guitars. Still require better dressing, but I haven’t owned a guitar nice enough to not. The pearl inlays are a little strange: they have a pretty stark contrast between the darker and lighter parts. But I think I like that.
The hardware is functional. Some is nice for the price. Some is the level of crap I expected.
The tuners are not awful but definitely not nice. I’ll see how they go with strings and tension.
I’ve never seen a phono jack that cheap, and I buy them in bulk from China. I’ll never install and replace with a “real” one nicer than my box of Chinese.
The pots are actually mid-grade, which is nicer than cheap guitars. And the knobs on them are pretty nice. The 3-way switch is what you would expect in a Squire: pretty garbage. But still, Squire quality, not Walmart.
The bridge is kinda junk, but serviceable. I do wish this was set up to be through the body vs at the bridge. It looks like the bridge is made to do either, but I’m not going to drill holes until I get around to replacing the bridge.
The pickups: The pickups look pretty bad, which is in no way surprising. Standard tele kit, which is what I wanted (the body is only routed for this configuration). Ceramic bar magnets… and they seem cheap for that. Breaking out the multimeter, they have pretty low resistance. This is likely the weakest part of the whole thing. But it was $85. Nice pickups cost more than that.
I’d consider replacing the magnets with Alnico poles, but with the resistance being low, I’ll probably just replace them eventually. I’m not ready to walk into pickup winding yet. Buying pickups is dangerous. I can walk myself from Fender Tex-Mex up to boutique really quickly.
I’ve done a lot of guitar tech work on my own and my friends’ gear at this point. I’ve even leveled, crowned, and dressed frets. But I’m excited to take another step towards more proper “luthier” work.
I think my experience with hand woodworking and the guitar tech work and tools will make this project guitar something I’ll be very happy both building and adding to my guitarsinal. I have that beefy Les Paul tone, a Jaguar with a traditional neck pickup and split humbucker on the bridge. I’ve had a Strat and just never liked it… I know, strange.
But I’ve enjoyed friends’ Telecasters bodies and am looking forward to the pickup dynamics.
The best part to me is that the quality of the wood will let me do a natural finish, which I’ve always liked in Telecasters. It just fits the more primitive design to have a straight natural finish: no paint, no sunburst.
Also, I hate painting and love hand-applied finishes. Oil, wax, and shellac are really satisfying and pretty forgiving. I like working with the wood grain and having the finish penetrate the wood and not just coat it. I get to use rags instead of more finicky brushes or aerosols.
The chance of me needing to get a StewMax subscription this year is pretty high. 😁