We have been posting Saga Sagas -- stories about building Saga guitar kits -- for a number of years. We have decided to post this page of important "lessons learned" for new builders before they dive in to building their Saga kits.  We ask all of you to chime in and email your lessons.

SAGA kits are an incredible bargain! You get everything you need to build a playable guitar for usually under $100 for S or T style kits. If you bought the parts individually, your total cost will be in the $375 to $400 range.

Here are our top lessons:

1.  Do a complete inventory of the parts when you first open the box.  Make sure everything is there before you start.  Get some Ziplock bags to keep track of everything.  There are small parts in the box which are very easy to misplace.

2. Put the guitar together and make sure it plays before you put a finish on it.  This includes testing the pickups and electronics.  Yes, you may have to drill and insert the posts on LP-style guitars, but this will likely save you lots of work and repair in the future.

3. Practice your finishing skills on scrap wood before you finish your guitar.  Practicing your spray paint technique is critical!

4. Do not be afraid to strip the finish and try again.  That is why you buy a kit.  Get it right.

5. Be prepared to replace the tuners and control pots on your build.  These are probably the two weakest links on the current kits.

6. All Saga kits have a thick, near bullet-proof sealer on the body which may have to be sanded-off prior to staining.  You can try chemical strippers but we've found that they are generally ineffective.  Heat guns have been effective, but use them at your own risk.   It is VERY difficult to get a great outcome on staining these pre-sealed bodies - we recommend painting your body with a solid color or tinted-clearcoat on your first attempt.

7.  Take your time-- if you get frustrated, walk away and come back to it later after you have cooled off.  Nothing is worse than getting upset, rushing a step, and really messing it up.

8.  I always tell people to look at building a guitar as a series of individual steps, each of which must be done as perfectly as possible. Take your time, do some analysis, and take breaks!

9 . Before you apply a finish - whether lacquer, poly, tung oil, etc - I recommend wiping the guitar body and/or neck first with naphtha (lighter fluid) then with mineral spirits -- both are available in the paint sections of discount stores. This will remove grease and other "stuff" which may keep your finish from sticking properly. You can use paper towels, but do not mix cleaners on the same towel. Use a towel for naphtha then throw it away. Use a clean towel for the mineral spirits. Once dry, use a tack cloth or compressed air to remove any lint on the parts. Once it is clean, don't get your dirty fingers on it before your finish goes on.

Caution: Both substances are flammable! They will burn! Dispose of the towels properly.

10.  I recommend using a good quality set of strings on the guitar, particularly during setup. The ones supplied with the kit are not the best and I am not even sure what gauge they are.  We always use Ernie Ball Pink Slinkys (.009) on our electrics, but we are not official endorsers!

11.  Make sure when replacing the parts which came with your kit with aftermarket parts you measure carefully, and that you check the size of the replacement parts......and then measure them again....and then one last time for good measure before ordering the parts!  I would say that just because it is labeled "jazz bass", Telecaster, or whatever does not mean it matches exactly the dimensions of the original model it is trying to replicate nor will it necessarily fit on your Saga.

12.  Don't forget to install the ground wire from the bridge to the electronics. I can't tell you how many Saga builders I've received email from because their guitars just "wouldn't quit buzzing"!  It is best to check the ground with a volt-ohm meter before you put strings on the guitar during assembly. This will potentially save you a lot of work.

13.  Use a little wax or fret board oil on the screw threads before you start bearing down on that tuner or pickguard screw.  Bee's wax on the threads really helps to reduce the chance of breaking the screws off in the wood.  In a pinch regular candle wax works well, too.

14. When soldering, don't forget to rough-up the pots with some sand paper at the point where you are going to solder. Also use a little solder on the tip of the soldering iron before you solder the wire.  It helps the solder to flow better.

15.  When replacing or installing the controls on an LP or PRS style, create a template out of some cardboard or thin plywood. This allows you to mount the controls and solder everything up so it just drops in to the guitar.

There is nothing as frustrating as trying to connect the controls in a freshly finished guitar and hitting the body with a hot soldering iron.

16.  Take photos of the guitar build in progress.  Keep your phone handy during the build to snap "reminders".  This will help you reassemble it or make changes later.  You can also share them with us.  We are particularly interested in "ah ha" moments during your build, and you should be, too.

17.  For LP-Style Guitars in particular:  Temporarily bolt on the neck, place the bridge, and carefully measure the scale length.  To do this, measure the distance from the bridge-side of the nut to the center of the 12th fret and double it.  LPs are normally 24 3/4"; S and T Styles are normally 25 1/2".  This will allow you to ensure the adjustments are correct.  A reader told us that he did place and check all of the parts for fit before beginning, but did not measure the scale length.  If he had, he would have filled the holes with a wooden dowel and redrilled new ones a bit lower.

If you look at a picture of either a Gibson or Epiphone LP Jr, you will see anywhere from 1/4 inch to 5/8 between the upper portion of the bridge assembly and the lower edge of the pickup housing - the the Saga kit he built was only about 1/8 of an inch, leaving far too little room for adjustment purposes.  He ran through several options but the only sure one is to redrill the bridge holes. 


What are your lessons?  Send them in!

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