Building Electric Guitars (Book Review)

Building Electric Guitars by Martin Koch is one of the top rated resources on making your own electric guitar. While not specifically written for DIY electric guitar kits, the assembly process is almost exactly the same. Every kit builder will benefit from the information in this book.

Building Electric Guitars by Martin Koch 3rd edition front cover

Building Electric Guitars
by Martin Koch
3rd Edition December 2020

Building Electric Guitars by Martin Koch is a detailed step-by-step instruction book for building an electric guitar from scratch. The author doesn’t just tell you what to do, he explains why. He starts from the beginning – the wood used, and why traditional woods are selected. Then before moving on he explains how the wood is cut from the log, ensuring that it results in a straight, stable piece.

As a kit builder, you don’t select your own wood. But this does help you determine what is good for the particular outcome you are looking for, and might even help you decide between one kit and another. Understanding the foundations, even though your kit has that work already completed, will ultimately give you a better end product.

Koch realizes that most of us don’t have the tools, resources, or ability to start from scratch. Early on he writes,

Unless you have a fully equipped workshop, in which case you obviously can prepare everything yourself, a guitar kit is well worth buying as it will provide you with all the parts needed for building a guitar. If you take into account how much time you’ll save and also how little in the way of machinery and tools will be needed a guitar kit is indeed a very good and value-for-money way to start with guitar building.

Electric Guitar Electronics

Here is something every DIY electric guitar kit builder needs to know about. Although often the electronic components in a kit are upgraded and replaced, knowing how it all should go together and work is critical. Perhaps what was included in your kit isn’t all that bad after all, it just needs tweaked, or maybe a few of the components replaced.

Koch provides a complete section covering nearly every common and sometimes uncommon configuration you can think of. He explains how single coil pickups and humbucker pickups work, along with variations in wiring them. He even brings in a guest author (Helmuth E. W. Lemme) for a four page illustrated section entitled “The Secrets of Electric Guitar Pickups.” Then the theory behind different wirings, switching, and tone circuits is covered.

And if you really want a challenge, Koch walks you through step-by-step how to make your own pickup from scratch, from the magnets all the way through to wax potting. Not something I intend to try, but the insight gave me a much more complete understanding of what is inside the ready made components supplied to me.

Electric Guitar Finishing

Martin Koch does an excellent job of walking you through applying the finish. He writes several pages on preparing the surface for finishing, which is one of the areas where, if it is rushed (as I am inclined to do), leads to a less than desirable result. He discusses what to do with dents, finish sanding, and grain filling. Then he offers techniques for staining, oiling, shellacking, and even brush painting and varnishing. There is a multi-page section on spray painting, even using cans, with a lot of photos.

Then comes the part that is most difficult.

After applying the final coat hang the parts of the guitar in a dry, warm place and do not touch them for several weeks.

Electric Guitar Set Up

Perhaps the most discouraging part of electric guitar kit building is when you finish the project, attempt to play it, and it sounds like complete junk if it is playable at all. In Building Electric Guitars, Martin Kotch again walks you through all the details in getting this right, and that is so critical.

The author covers fret dressing, and of course installing frets in the first place. My kits have all come with frets already installed as most do, but once again I have a better understanding of what went into the product before I bought it. And I also think that, if it was ever necessary, I could replace a bad fret. He addresses neck and truss rod neck relief adjustment, fret levelling, string height and action, and of course intonation.

Whether you’ve started from scratch, from an assemblage of pieces, or from a boxed complete kit, this final set up is what brings the completed pieces together. Koch doesn’t keep you hanging. In simple, non-technical terms, he makes it easy to understand and do.

A Highly Recommended Resource

Building Electric Guitars by Martin Koch is a great go-to resource for every DIY electric guitar kit builder. According to the publisher it has over 1800 photos and over 600 illustrations (I did not count them). It is written in an easy to understand, easy to follow style even though some of the subject matter is very technical in nature.

This book was not written in English. Comments left at Amazon indicate some readers think the translation from German is mechanical and not clear, however I didn’t find that to be a problem. I can assure you it is much better than many of the instructions I have read from products produced in China and the Far East that make little sense at all.

The updated hardcover third edition has been used as a textbook in some instructional settings. It is a little pricy. At the time of this writing you can also still get the second edition in paperback at a much lower price. I can’t tell you for certain what the differences are; the third edition hardcover is 388 pages and the second edition paperback is 236 pages. My guess would be that some of the newer guitar styles aren’t covered, though I feel confident the basic information is the same. I also noticed from the table of contents that the earlier edition doesn’t have the final section, “SH!T HAPPENS,” which goes into a little more detail about handling problems that arise.

Overall, this is a very good book to have in your library and to refer to as you build your DIY electric guitar kit.

Have you read this book or others like it? Please leave a comment below.

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