Books Reviews

Books: How To Build Electric Guitars by Will Kelly

How-To-Build-Electric-GuitarsI believe that I own a single issue of Vintage Guitar magazine.  My lack of ownership has less to do with the quality, or lack there of, of said publication and more to do with my attitude towards vintage guitars which can best be described as “nonexistent.”

Not reading Vintage Guitar means that I was wholly unfamiliar with Will Kelly prior to buying How to Build Electric Guitars.  This would not be the first time I’ve slept on someone/something helpful.

The first thing you should note about this book is that the title is thoroughly misleading.  If you’re going to grab a body blank and attempt to build a guitar, you’re better off going elsewhere.  However, if you keep seeing those Saga kits everywhere and they’ve piqued your interest.  This is the book for you.  Will Kelly is a consultant to and this book is almost completely about assembling and customizing their kits.

Organized into increasingly more detailed projects; readers start out with assembling a simple, strat-styled kit then a relic’d tele, a set neck LP Junior and, finally, a Frankenstein bass/guitar double neck made from two kits sawed and re-assembled into one monstrous instrument.  That last project isn’t exactly building a guitar body from scratch, but it’s damn close.  Fortunately, Kelly’s writing is clear and to the point and the photography (where books like this often fail) is just as clear and easy to follow.  You don’t need to know anything  to going into this book to know something coming out.

Again, this is a book for hobbyist and experienced tinkerers may be tempted to skip this one.  That would be a mistake.  The finishing advice is worth the price of admission alone.  If you’ve always wanted to re-paint your guitar or paint it to begin with, this book is money well spent.  If relicing is your thing, I cannot stress this enough, buy this book, it contains a master class in how to make your new guitar look old.

I spend an inordinate amount of time on Warmoth building an arch top, 24 fret Tele with H/S pickups, a Winkinson bridge and strat controls. This book is the first step in making that a reality (because, dude, I priced it out that’s like $900 just for the body).

Garbage  Recommended Essential

Buy How To Build Electric Guitars:
Barnes & Noble

Will Kelly’s YouTube channel will step you through some of the items in the book and is, definitely a helpful resource.

By G. Edward Jones

G. Edward Jones spends his free time trying to convince his wife that a dedicated track car is a good idea.

  • Bryant Pearce

    I am fortunate enough to live in Raleigh N.C and was able to take Will’s first class that was based on his book. It was basically, “How to build a guitar from a kit 101”. From the very first class I was hooked. As a guitar player for 20 years plus, I had always wanted to be able to maintain, repair, and hopefully build my own guitar. Well upon completion of the class I had obtained to knowledge to do all three. Will is super knowledgeable about all aspects of guitars from the wood, electronics, hardware, and finishing. When I first opened up my box with the kit and looked at it I was a bit intimidated even though I have alot of experience in woodworking from years of cabinetry work. Even with that skill set , I certainly needed all of the help I could get. The class was very neat as we all had the same guitar (Stratocaster) however were challenged by Will to create your dream guitar. We all had a vision of what we wanted to see at the end but having to get there through or own blood , sweat, and tears instead of handing some kid at Guitar Center a bunch of dead presidents or swiping some plastic and BAM… you are own your way home to play it, we had to take unfinished wood, bags of hardware, and electronic parts and pieces along with a pile of sandpaper, sealer, dye, colored lacquers, and nitrocellulose lacquer and do this own our own with Will there to help each of us along in making our dream axe come to fruition. It was a blast each week coming to class to see each others progress as we had a weekly schedule that had to be met in order for us to have them finished for the last class for an impromptu judging and jam. We all did it, the youngest participant was a 9 or 10 year old kid with his dad and the oldest was probably 60. What an awesome experience…. 9 guys with a dream to build their own guitars to show off to friends, family, band mates, etc.Will was a fantastic instructor and resource for every issue and triumph we faced. He had several emergency emails from me on the weekend / late at night and would always respond timely. I have built several gutars since and have the confidence to work on them like never before. By the book and take a class of his if you live in the Raleigh/ Cary N.C area. Its a blast

  • Dredd 3D

    I own this book among several others about building and collecting guitars and there are many available. What makes Will Kelly’s book stand out is the fact that he not only teaches you how to build a reliable, functioning musical instrument that will bring you years of enjoyment, but how to build that instrument WELL. So well, that with a little practice and experience, you can very possibly find yourself creating professional-grade instruments that you can market to professional musicians as Mr. Kelly does. He teaches you the proper basics that you can very easily improve upon with each creation. After that, the potential for your success is limited only by your imagination and drive. This book can turn a hobby into a career with the proper guidance and apprenticeship, if one so desires. I highly recommend it!

    • Jay Ratkowski

      Hey Dredd – if you like any of the other building books in your collection, let us know! We may never get around to building something… but want to keep the dream in sight!