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  • by Bruce Bennett

The plain truth about Building guitars in America.

Lots of folks will ask me, " how much does it cost to build a custom guitar"

well, thats a little bit of a loaded question, mainly becasue a "Custom Guitar" is a very undefined thing to ask a price for.

I mean, your asking a price on something that neither one of us knows even the first specification of.

So that becomes job #1. Define precisely what the customer wants, AND expects.

This last detail is a bit tricky and generally takes a little time to define.

Once you know at least a few those details, and there are quite a few details to discuss under that heading.

you can "begin" to get a ballpark price.

the basics questions are:

Body & Neck design/style. bolt on neck, Set ( glue in) neck, or neck through, style construction, and what materials are expected to be used.

Fingerboard and fretwork: material and size of fretwire to be used.

Cosmetic Appointments, will it have, and what kind of, inlays, binding, color of hardware or special custom inlays.

Job number 2 is: estimating your labor.. this is one I never seem to do well with. I tend to undervalue my labor. ( a bad trait that I'm still working on)

the basic math is, if your ok with working for say $17 an hr, and this project is going to take up 60 hours. thats $1020.00 in labor alone. and that not an unheard of number when building a full custom guitar. but thats just paying 1 man to build 1 guitar.

If your figuring at a shop labor rate of say $35 an hr. and your building with helpers and your able to get the total labor hours down to say 50 hours. then your still talking $1750. in labor alone.

now thats a whole different way to figure your build price, but in the example below I show the build in a total of hours based on a $17.00 per hour labor rate, So you can see it works out nearly the same in the guitars final total price. and hopefull that shop with helpers will be building at least 2 guitars at a time instead of just one. and maybe even more. this will allow them to average the priceing out over the larger number of guitars hopefully.

Lets start with a well known guitar model such as a Les Paul Jr mid 50s version. and a real world labor rate of $17 an hr.

an LP JR consitis of a solid mahogany body with a solid mahogany Set neck and a rosewood fretboard with dot inlays and medium jumbo frets. truss rod, tuners bone nut side dots 1 pickups 2 pots 1 output jack, and a wrap around bridge 1 pickguard 1 backplate and 1 output jackplate and 2 strap buttons. and whatever you wish to use for a logo. and of course a painted finish with a black headstock.

a body blank of mahogany is an average of 3.4 Board feet which sells at around 8.00 a bd ft. and takes about 2 hours to process into a body blank.

so thats about $61.20 to bring a the body up to that point.

the neck is about 1.9 Bd Ft and about 2 hours to process up the same stage as the body. so thats about $49 to bring it up to the same stage as the body.

next we have routing of both body and neck.

The body will require perimeter routring and both front and back routs for pickups and control and neck pocket and edge radius that about 3 hours if your set up well and have no interuptions.

so $51 for the body.

The neck will need the headstock face angle cut, an ebony veneer glued on, the truss rod slot routed, side profile bandsawn out, tuner holes drilled, truss rod access hole shaped, tenion cut and fitted to body and back of neck shaped so about 8 hours labor for the neck which would be $136

next you have a fingerboard. so slicing, diceing, tapering, thickness planing, fret Slotting, inlaying, side dotting and fretting will take about 10 hours to complete from start to finish. and that IF you have the require specilized tools for those jobs. which comes to about $170.00

then there is the glue up of all these sub-assembleys thats about 2 hours of actual labor with 24 hours of drying time. and time is money so that comes to about $442

next is sanding and filling and general prep work for paint. which is about 4 hours. or $68

then its time for paint work, I find it much simpler to just farm out my pait work to guys that are better equipped for it than me. and the average is $450.00 for a set neck Gibson Styled guitar. My shop mkes nothing on that figure. its just a cost number.

then there is the hardware :

Pigtail Bridge: 89.00

Kluson Tuners: 49.00

Strap buttons: 5.00

Screws (20): 7.00

total: $150.00

Then the electronics:

Wolftone P90 Meaner p'up: 90.00

2 CTS pots" 9.00

Switchcraft output jack 2.50

Tone cap: 2.00

Total: $103.50

Next we have the plastics :

Pickguard: 14.00

Output jack plate: 5.00

dogeared Pickupcover: 5.00

Truss rod cover 15.00 ( handmade ,and even a Gibson stpre bought is still 15.00)

total: $39.00

Screws 7.00

Truss rod 14.00

logo 12.00 ( for one of my mine anyway)

Bonenut blank 5.00

total: $38

Strings: 6.00

Final assembly labor 3 hours 51.00

final tweaking work 2 hours 35.00

case 99.00

total $191.00

Grand total: $1948.20

and thats what it COSTS to build this guitar, there is NO PROFIT in that number.

So if you add at least $500 in profit to that number, in order to keep your shop going and have supplies to build the next one.

you arrive at a grand total of


Just to build a Gibson Les Paul Jr by hand and make it using the best parts and materials available and put it in a decent quality case.

So consider this little exercise in math, the next time some guy quotes you some low price to build you a LP JR type guitar,

because truth is, if they do quote you less than these figures, they will probably never be able to complete the guitar, and you will lose any monies you give them up front. because where the rubber meets the road is.. you MUST have the funds available to be able to complete the project PLUS a little to spare in order to deal with any issues that happen to arise along the way.

I hope this has been an eye opening journey.

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