For Father’s day, the family picked up a guitar kit for me. Having attempted to make one from scratch (and failing miserably), this seemed right up my alley.
More or less the full kit.
As you can imagine, I was quite excited when I found out what I was getting. When it arrived, it was triple boxed and well padded. Unfortunately, there were no instructions. The misc. parts were packaged in a bubble-wrap blister pack so that could count them without opening the packaging.
The wiring diagram that was included was nice, however it wasn’t very useful since the pickups and switches were pre-wired and fastened to the pickguard already. This made overall assembly much less error prone.
The mahogany body was in pretty good shape (as was the maple neck), but I wasn’t really fond of the coloration, so I decided to do a solid paint color on it. The maple neck was also in good shape, however the frets were crudely cut and very sharp.
I dislike sanding. It’s doubly boring on a guitar body where it needs to be super smooth AND you need to work around multiple routings. I started with 180, then up to 220. Part of the problem with Mahogany is that it has very large pores between the grains. To counter this, I used a water-based wood filler that I thinned down.
Mistake 1: The wood filler I used had “real wood fibers” in it- that may be great for other things, but for thinning and lightly brushing over a guitar I just sanded to fill the pores, it was horrible, leaving a mess of stray fibers everywhere.I did my best to sand it down, but it double the amount of sanding I needed to do.
As for the super-sharp fret edges, I surrounded each fret with painters tape and very carefully filed them down. the tape helped prevent me from accidentally marring the fretboard, which I definitely would have.
The first coat of metallic blue- note the overspray…
Once everything was sanded down, I wiped it off with a moist cloth and laid it out for painting.
Mistake 2: I did not use an air compressor or can of duster to remove the dust; it stuck in the bottom of the routing, leaving a mess once it was painted.
Mistake 3: I did not prime it. I was looking for some “sanding sealer” that I’d seen in some of the tutorials on youtube, but neither lowes nor home depot had it. Instead I just put bare paint on wood.
I was clever enough to lay down a dropcloth and move the cars before painting, so fortunately nothing important was caught by the overspray. I ended up choosing a metallic blue for the front and metallic black for the back. The First coat went very well.
Mistake 4: Drop cloth wasn’t spread widely enough, resulting in blue paint outline on the porch.
The first real catastrophe was when I tried to paint the back of the guitar; I had flipped the guitar over after several hours of drying and added a coat of black to the background. Ten minutes later, I moved the guitar a bit, then sprayed another coat. The problem breaks down like this:
- Metallic paint has flecks of aluminium in it. This balls up when it hits sawdust (remember the dust in the bottom of the routing?) and leaves crusties all over the place on the sheet.
- the first coat of black made the crusties sticky
- when I moved the guitar to spray the other side, I put my pretty blue face on the wet, sticky crusties.
When I flipped the guitar over, I was heartbroken- the pristine blue face was ruined. After moping for a few days while it rained, I found that I could sand those off with minimal rework. Over the next few day I was able to paint the neck and back of the guitar as well and things started to look better
The lower marr is my screwup, the higher one is from the capo while testing the action.
After sanding off the crusties, I put another coat of metallic blue on the front and let it dry. I was working in the back yard now to prevent getting paint on the porch or the car.
Mistake #5: While the guitar was inside, I rested it on a metal wire rack in the basement, which unfortunately marred the soft black paint on both the body and the neck.
Mistake #6: Either I had missed some pores with my filler, or the sun reacted with the paint, causing it to boil. I ended up with little blue beads on part of the guitar. Unfortunately I didn’t notice until I was spraying the clearcoat, in which case it was too late. I sanded down the clearcoat after it was try, but ended up with pockmarks in the metallic blue below.
Mistake #7: The clearcoat on the black neck DEFINITELY reacted to the sunlight and bubbled like crazy. I sanded it down and tried again, this time keeping it in the shade; this turned out much nicer.
Mistake #8: Thinking 30 minutes would be enough, I flipped the neck over to do the front of the headstock. While the paint was dry to the touch, it was not hard, and the places where I had rested it to keep the headstock elevated ending up smearing the paint like bubblegum. The paint was too gooey to sand off, so I did the best I could before putting on another coat of black.
Mistake #9: I should have waited a few days and finished the painted after I could properly sand it- the result looks horrible and needs to be redone.
After continual issues with both using the spray paint and having a place to use it, I got aggravated and called it “good enough” despite the back of the body needing a clear coat still and the neck having severe paint issues.
The Neck Masking
One thing that did turn out right was the masking around the fretboard- there was zero bleedthrough, and it came out really nice. I was proud of this, and wanted to point it out as one of the few things that went right.
The Bridge Doesn’t Fit!
I had to rout around the two longer pegs as well as the lowest and highest back corners of the plate.
While I really wanted to put the guitar together before painting it, I refrained mainly because the bridge posts wouldn’t come out after being installed, and I didn’t want to risk getting paint on them.
In hindsight, I should have tried it; then I would have noticed that the string locking screws that poke out the back are too long and would mar the paint. I also would have noticed that the the faceplate of the bridge itself wouldn’t fit in the routed area due to the alignment of the posts.
I ended up routing out a good deal of wood to ensure that the bridge would fit properly, grinding off the one spot where the paint actually looked good.
Neck Doesn’t Fit
It’s one thing to paint a neck separately from the body, but had I been paying attention, I would have measured the overlap between the neck and the body, and masked off both before painting. Since I didn’t mask, I ended up sanding off the paint in that vicinity.
Added bonus- since it was such a tight fit AND the neck wouldn’t fit for measuring, I accidentally sanded off too much and now have an ugly bare spot near the joint. Since the neck was not predrilled, I had to pin the neck to the body with a padded clamp and screw it together. My gut tells me the angle is not correct, but there’s not a lot I can do about it now.
A better view of the routed areas. Also note that the bridge play is not level with the body.
This was my first experience with stringing a locking nut bridge and a floyd rose tremolo. I have to say, I’m not a fan. First you have to cut the ball off each string, then clamp the bare end into the tremolo.
Since the bridge is “floating,” the strings on one side are counteracted by springs pulling from the other side- the entire thing balances on the bridge posts, which act like a pivot. If the springs are already in place, it pulls the string locking screws below the surface of the guitar, making it difficult to actually insert and lock the strings in place. After much experimentation, the process goes like this:
- cut the ball off each string, and insert and lock it into place on the bridge
- Place the bridge on the posts
- Hook the springs to the bridge underneath
- run the strings through the locking nut to the posts and twist them up (make sure to leave plenty of slack!)
Note that this doesn’t cover tuning.
Prior to putting the strings and neck on, I screwed the pick guard down. I should point out that this was incredibly frustrating due to the shape of the routing and the number of wires that needed to fit along the routing- it took me 10 minutes of fussing to get it to fit properly.
With the wiring more or less complete, the only thing I needed to do was ground the anchor plate for the bridge springs and connect the input jack. It was only after I had the strings and everything on that I realized I didn’t know if the orange or the yellow wire was the ground (Hint, it was the other one). After getting it all together, I found that I’d miswired the plug and had to redo it, which was minimally annoying.
Here you can see just how much action there is around the 8th or so fret.
The purpose of the truss rod to adjust the angle of the neck and hence the action(gap) between the strings and fretboard; there are several factors that fit into adjusting the action, and I’ll admit that I’m inexperienced; hence I don’t know if it’s set properly. On this guitar, the action is affected by:
- Truss Rod (controls height of nut)
- height of the bridge pivot screws (controls height of bridge)
- depth of the anchor plate screws (controls height of bridge)
All of which also factor into…
Tuning is a pain in the ass. From what I’ve read, proper alignment of the floyd rose tuning bridge is to have it parallel, which means balancing the tension from the springs with the tension from the strings. Tightening the strings pulls the bridge upward, misaligning it; tightening the spring anchor screws lowers it.
Once it’s tuned, there is buzz from poor alignment against the frets, meaning the truss rod needs to be twisted back… so many different things to tweak. While I now have my guitar in tune, it’s currently unplayable due to the action being too high.
- Not having a dedicated workshop is a showstopper next time- without a place to sand, paint, and dry I’ll never be able to create a nice finish.
- The floyd rose bridge is a pain in the ass. do not like.
- While the overall product was not bad, I’m very unhappy with Alston guitars. They have no website, don’t respond on their facebook page, have no contact info, and don’t have their instructional PDFs posted anywhere. I will avoid them in the future.
At two yards it looks pretty nice.
To be honest, I’m kinda disappointed with the way it turned out. I suppose it could be fixed with a fresh paintjob and proper tuning, but I’m not going to hold my breath. If I can find a workshop, I’d really like to try a second body style from a different kit company.