Phases of Guitar Manufacturing

My career as a guitar builder began by first overhauling and setting up my own guitars.  Then I began to do setup work on my friends’ guitars and pretty soon I was working on lots of guitars.

 Most of the repair work that I did was basic setup work and fret jobs but often times there were problems that were inherent to the guitar itself that had to be corrected. Sometimes there were problems with the entire design of certain guitars. I won’t name any names but there are some guitars on the market made by major manufacturers that were designed to look cool but they have absolutely no chance of staying in tune unless a professional luthier corrected the design mistakes.  These guitars usually cost about $400 but look very similar to a $2000 guitar. However they are made with cheap wood and hardware and ultimately have little value. This is a sad plight upon the guitar community but manufacturers exist to move product and make profit not to create great guitars. I know this because I spent several years of my life working on these guitars and fixing these problems.

Every problem that I’ve encountered on a guitar stems from one of the 4 phases of guitar manufacturing.  These phases are fundamental to the development of the final product that reaches your hands and they are the same for every guitar that has ever been created.  A poorly made guitar has been compromised in one or more (sometimes all) of these Phases.


These Phases are:

1. The Design Phase
2. The Construction Phase
3. The Assembly Phase
4. The Set-Up Phase


The Design Phase

The Design Phase of a guitar is where the original concept is first drafted. It involves the basic shape of the guitar but it is so much more than that. It involves the number of frets the guitar will have as well as the pickup spacing and the placement of the bridge, knobs etc. It involves the look, feel, balance and tone as well as the ergonomics of the contours for comfort.


The design also has to take into consideration the bridge or bridges that will be able to be used on each model.  For example the pickups on a 22 fret guitar are spaced differently than the pickups on a 24 fret guitar even if you use the same fret scale. The additional frets compromise the amount of usable space between the bridge and the fret board.  There is only so much “real estate” on the body of a guitar between the bridge and the nut so it all has to be used wisely to get the maximum amount of tone and response. Each style and brand of bridge will mount in  a slightly different way so those considerations have to be taken before you even think of cutting a piece of wood. 

Every guitar starts with a workable drawing that allows the designer to work out these details in advance however, I have noticed that major manufacturers will take short cuts by attempting to use the same body style and pickup spacing with their “new and improved” bridges (which usually means “cheaper”) but they will not make the minor corrections necessary to allow bridge to stay in tune.  Several times I have had to remove minor sections of wood from underneath a bridge to allow the tremolo to return to pitch because the bridge mount was off by a 1/32 of an inch. (Yes, this was on major brand guitars that were made in Mexico and Japan).

The Construction Phase

The Construction Phase of guitar development is where the raw wood begins to take shape. Neck pockets are cut and pickup holes and bridge mount holes are routed. The raw body and neck blanks are cut into shape and contoured.

For most major manufacturers this is all done by CNC machines overseas. These products are mass produced by the thousands and are shipped back to the local factory for finishing and assembly. Too often they use inferior wood and the product is usually not well made.

Most US Custom shops will use CNC machines as well for this process because it saves a tremendous amount of time. CNC machines are extremely fast and very accurate when cutting, the tolerances are often within 20/1000’s of an inch, but the machine is programmed to cut and not to think so several elements of traditional craftsmanship can be overlooked.

This is the phase where several major errors can occur. Problems like neck pockets and pickup holes being cut off-center usually occur during this phase and often times go undetected until a professional luthier sets up the guitar and notices the error. 

Other problems like wood chipping and other damage can occur here in which case the damages are usually filled with putty or body filler before they are sent off to the finishing department.

The Finishing Phase  is the final step before the guitar goes into the assembly phase.

The Assembly Phase

The assembly phase should officially begin at the very end of the Construction Phase of the guitar prior to finishing. This is the part where all the pieces are put together. It is best to pre-fit and fully assemble the guitar before it goes to the finishing process to insure that everything lines up perfectly and that proper string and neck angles are aligned. For a custom shop this is not a problem but for a production manufacturer this is impossibility. Mass production shops work on an assembly line and the pieces are first fit together while they are becoming the final product.

In a bulk manufacturing plant every guitar body and neck is mass produced and mass finished. In theory they should all be interchangeable but the minor details that are overlooked during the Construction Phase can become major problems during the Assembly Phase.

A misaligned neck pocket that is set with a bridge that has misaligned mounting holes and used with a neck that has tuner holes at a different alignment is a recipe for a tuning nightmare. These minor imperfections may go unnoticed by the player but will manifest themselves when the guitar fails to stay in tune consistently.

These problems should be addressed before they ever get sent to the assembly phase but  major production manufacturers are responsible for units of production not great guitars.  The average completion time for an assembly line production guitar is 8 minutes so these problems are often overlooked until the consumer notices the problem.

The Set-Up Phase

The Set-Up Phase of the guitar is the part of the process where the guitar becomes personal. Every player has a unique preference for how high or how low they prefer the string action. Elements like bridge height, neck relief, and tuning preferences are all determined by the player’s personal “feel” and there is no right or wrong answer.



The other elements of the Set-Up phase are the fretwork and the curve of the neck. These are constantly evolving because frets wear down and temperature and humidity will affect the wood in the neck.


Every serious guitar player either has a good comprehension of how to maintain these things themselves of they have a very good relationship with a local luthier that will take the time to listen to their complaints and adjust their guitar to its fullest potential.

As I stated earlier, every problem that can be encountered with a guitar stems from a flaw in one of these four phases.  Most problems are usually not fatal and can be overcome with some time and money but the true aggravation comes from struggle the player has in trying to solve these issues themselves. It is unfortunate that most guitar manufacturers do not take the time to make a better product.

When I decided to launch my own Signature Series of guitars I intentionally took every one of these phases into consideration and I strive to produce the best guitars that you can buy today.

I set out to design my own brand of Signature Guitars I carefully thought through every element that goes into every one of my guitars.  Every piece of hardware and electronics is chosen to bring the best elements out of each of our series of guitars.


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