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BYO Les Paul Guitar Kit | Product Review

Today I received the LP Style build your own guitar kit from BYO and…

Detailed Photographs of the BYO Guitar LP Kit.

Right from the start, here is the box it arrived in as you can see the packing is what it is and a few things got loose (like one of the Machine heads and a few screws) and banged around a little in there with the wood. Okay so $h1t happens and the UPS guys are often gorillas, I generally expect these things and at around $250 shipped they had to save money somewhere and why not the packing…

les paul set neck long tenon build your own guitar kit
Build Your Own Guitar Kit as shipped (Some bubble wrap removed to show contents).

Unpacking and Inspecting the Kit. We pulled the instructions and paperwork first but I’ll get into that later… Never read anything quite like them… So onto the important parts… We weren’t expecting a godawful lot out of this kit as it was only $250 or so total cost shipped but indeed it was $250 frog skins which is a chunk of change.

BYO Guitar Kit Review

NOTE: Images available at higher resolution… Just click.

First the Guitar body:

Flame top Les Paul Body Kit
Veneer Flame top Les Paul Style Body Kit

The “flame” pattern on our kit is interesting and pretty nice the veneer is no more than lets say 2mm thick though, there is a thin coat of sealer on it so that will make an Aniline Dye burst tricky at best. The routing and drilling is fairly clean here on the face of it.

Les Paul Style Kit Mahogany Back
Les Paul Style Kit Mahogany Back… I count 4 pieces

Now the BYO site said this:  … made of select Mahogany” I’m not so sure what they mean by “Select” although I did only found one very small worm hole. Here the routing is a tad rougher and not exactly aligned straight. Right off the bat I took a look at the control cavities and thought Hmm..  the Kit has ones that fit fairly well but they ain’t even close to a Gibson’s.

Taking a Look at the Guitar Neck:

headstock peg head showing and the truss rod
The Headstock…

I don’t know why this surprised me but…

Neck Splice Three Piece Neck
It is a Three Piece Neck
The neck splice showing the binding
Another view of the three piece neck.

The images on BYO Guitars site did not show this (The one image they had of the tenon area was at too low of a resolution and too dark(ish) to see the difference in the wood grains) and it was not mentioned but this kit does indeed come with a 3 piece neck.

The Critical Fit Test (Quick Version):

Test fitting the long tenon neck on a Les Paul
Quick test fitting of the neck in the body.
Long tenon Les Paul Style guitar Kit
Again…Test Fitting the Neck in the Body

The neck fits straight and everything lines up pretty good and tight, there is a gap down the high E side where it looks like the angle of the dangle was a bit off for an inch or so but there is no wobble from it and that shouldn’t be hard to shim… We did not check the back tilt yet, but we will get to that later.

Very quickly before I get to the real complaints, the other stuff…

Guitar Hardware and Electrics

Humbucker pickups, Tone and Volume Pots and Tone Caps
Pickups, Pots, Knobs and Switch… China. But they came with some Chickletts!
Guitar Hardware, Machine Heads, ABR1 and Tail
Machine Heads ABR1 and Tail Piece… Pre nicked up from China.

Now the Bad News:

Complaints about this Kit

Les Paul Kit bound Body
The binding can be trimmed but…

You can see how the binding sticks up here and is in need of a trim however can you see where the binding meets the top… Pretty rough in a few spots.

Long Tennon Guitar Neck
The Tenon and Heel Area
Machine Head / Tuner Bores
The Machine Head / Tuner Bores
Tear out guitar wood repair
That spot? … Is filler.

Somebody needed some sharper tools (or a little more patience). Examples of tear outs and gouges in the wood.

Guitar frets, Binding and finger board inlays.
Umm… The frets… Did you finish those?

The frets aren’t just sharp on the edges… They be sticking up a little out of the board.

Buckle rash on the guitar
Dents… Just one example.

I suppose this could be some valuable buckle rash relic work but… There are more than a few.

Les paul kit build quality
Okay… No big deal but… WTF?

So… This is an example of the BYO Guitar Les Paul Style Kit available here: $229+ Shipping Cheap am I complaining? … Yes… Am I surprised?  No not really. If I were your every day average consumer I probably would return this kit… That is if I noticed the problems as a novice Guitar luthier. Am I going to return it and ask for a replacement or a refund? Heck no! This is just what we found unpacking this guitar kit and there is more to to discover I’m sure (I’m just that way… Makes my wife crazy too). This isn’t the end of the story, and it’s a story I wouldn’t miss for the world.

Now I’m not saying this kit is total junk however a lot of the things that are wrong is from just plain sloppy workmanship. Even though the raw materials (wood) are somewhat lacking they are really not that bad. As to the hardware… Well the good stuff would cost at least twice as much as this whole kit… I consider it a freebie.

So, we moved on to checking the tenon and neck pocket on our BYO Guitar Les Paul Style Kit…

 Guitar Kit Problems,  the Neck tenon and pocket.

As illustrated here the neck tenon dropped right into the pocket like a charm at an angle of 4.2° and we thought all was well…

Test fitting the long tenon neck on a Les Paul
Quick test fitting of the neck in the body.

Sliding the neck back just a hair I could see through that there was a gap between the bottom of the tenon and the neck pocket… A pretty big one. So we set out to measure it.

Les Paul style guitar kit. Measuring the neck pocket
Measuring the neck pocket depth

 The depth of the neck pocket was exactly 2mm deeper than the neck tenon… No kidding 2mm straight across the board. My best guess as to why this happened is that the flame top veneer was laid down after the fact of the body and neck cuts because it is exactly 2mm thick. This is not a really hard fix but the three piece neck is now a 4 piece neck.

Tenon Shim fabricated from Maple
2.5mm Shim cut and fabricated from maple.

We cut a 2mm thick maple shim and fabricated it to fit the bottom of the neck tenon with the shims grain at about a 10° bias to the tenon’s grain. We chose Maple over Mahogany for the shim material because it was easiest to plane down to 2mm with out it exploding, this particular piece had a tight straight grain.  I had this planed down at my lutier friend’s shop and brought it home to fit it… What a pain.

Tenon shim fit to neck
Shim fit to tenon

The shim was carefully fabricated to fit and prior to laminating it to the tenon we lightly sanded cross grain with  a 400 grit, dampened the surfaces in order to open the grain a little and applied the glue (Tight Bond III) to both sides brushed out in a very thin coat.

clamping the neck shim to the tenon
Clamping the shim to the neck tenon.

We used my monster straight edge (36″ X 4″ X 3/8″ of tempered steel) to distribute the clamping force evenly along the shim to tenon lamination and left it to set overnight.  After re fitting the neck and sanding to adjust the angle of the dangle we will use carbon paper cut to fit in the neck pocket, a little knock and wiggle will transfer carbon to the high places to allow us to see where and how it is hitting the tenon.

I originally started this whole thing as a guitar kit build pictorial aiming at high quality images to document the process… But It’s turned into more of a criticism of guitar kits and the pictures have suffered… These for example were shot with my wife’s little D3000 because by the time I was done running around getting it all together I was too beat to set up the studio to shoot.

I will say it again, this kit is not total trash… It just has some issues.

To Be Coninued…

Next up: Re working the peg head…It’s just all wrong… Only the Chinese would use an 11mm, 10.5mm and a 3/8″ Drill bit to cut 6 holes…

BYO Guitar Kit… Final Review.

So I set out to rework the headstock as the next post in the series and I did… Here are some images of what was done:

Open Book Headstock Overlay. Les Paul Guitar Kit.
“Open Book” headstock overlay. Machine head holes plugged for re drilling.
Headstock Overlay corrected position of holes
“Open Book” headstock overlay.

After I finished up to  this point working on the neckI decided I’d kill some time (like I had any to kill as of late) by starting in on sanding the body. This kit came with a “Sanding Sealer” on it… Should be called an anti sanding coating because it comes off like semi cured nitro if you know what I mean. I spent about an hour on the top (very carefully as not to cut the veneer) and considering the wife wasn’t going to let me back in the house all covered in dust I went ahead and started on the rest of the body with a block… And look what I found.

BYU Les Paul kit Guitar Body
Yes that is a crack the “Select Mahogany” BYO Guitar Kit.
Guitar body crack. All the way through.
I used a wet finger to remove some of the sanding dust. The split extends all the way through to the control cavity and down (or up) to the thinly veneered maple cap.

This is not the only split (in the now visible) 5 piece mahogany back, the sealer had masked these defects during the first inspection. This whole section of the back has several other splits  including one on each side of this one too fine for the camera to illustrate here. With much of the sealer removed it is obvious and by stressing the body by hand over my knee you can see them open up.

So… Time to go searching for another kit.

Adding this to the three piece neck, poor (popped up) fret work,  loose neck pocket and the other odd “things” , I am now going to pronounce this one… Firewood

I think I have a metal trash can and some naphtha around here somewhere…


UPDATE… Okay, I’m not a quitter.

I woke up this morning in an industrious mood so I took a second look at the cracked mahogany in this things 5 piece back…

Okay so this thing is going to be a “Dark Back”… Very dark  like a Black Back. The frame of these shots make it look level, however, the guitar body is tipped down at about a 45 degree angle in order to allow the Thin Cyanoacrylate Glue (CA) to run down the crack.

byo guitar poor quality wood cracked.
Feeding very thin CA glue into the cracked mahogany.
Les Paul body crack repair
About 2 seconds later. The CA has followed and penatrated through the crack.

I guess next I’ll Set the neck.

RETRO POST –  May 15 2011

 Just a few details as I completed the build.

In the end this kit gets poor marks all the way around and had I not been pressed on to finish this “review” I simply would have junked it and moved on. What we have now is a rather flawed guitar however it does play well ( Only due to some extraordinary fixes and re working of the original kit)

 Clamping the Neck:

Set Neck Les Paul Kit - Clamping the neck
Well… At least it sits in there now the way it should.

Dying the top:

Preparing for an Analine Dye Burst
Prepared for an Aniline Dye Burst
Popping the Grain on a flamed top
Popping the Grain on the flamed top.

 More Problems:

BYO Guitar Kit Veneer delamination
Ironing down the veneer because is was delaminating all over hell.
byo lp kit review - delaminated veneer top
Veneer pops up some more with the first shot of nitro… The final fix for this was CA glue injected via a very fine hypodermic needle.

Skip ahead a few weeks, and here is the finished guitar.

Finished BYO Guitar Les Paul kit.
Finished BYO Guitar Les Paul kit. After an insane amount of work it is a playable guitar with many flaws.

 In Conclusion

The Les Paul Kit offered by BYO guitar is less than satisfactory even at it’s low price. Without extreme measures this kit would not have ended with a guitar that was even playable (let alone looked good even at a distance).  Aside from the problems I’ve already gone over, it was necessary to cut 50% of the life out of the already soft  frets to get them level and setting the intonation requiredsome major dinking around with a file on the bridge and saddles.

I’m going to give the BYO Guitar kit an over all grade of C-mostly because even though the build was a nightmare at times, ant the wonky placement of the knobs make it look like a down syndrome kid sitting next to it’s Real Gibson Les Paul hanger mates… it is a playable guitar and that is the least I would expect from a low priced guitar kit..


Bulldog Bodies LP-S Kit Review.

21 thoughts on “BYO Les Paul Guitar Kit | Product Review

  1. I am glad I read this. I was going to order one. I have to admit he did the review in a funny manner. The part about pronouncing the build as firewood cracked me up!

  2. I did read this before I bought my deluxe LP kit but bought it anyway. At first glance, everything looked beautiful! I was extremely excited. Then I picked it up and started looking more closely. It had cracks around the jack hole and in the cutout leading to the neck pocket! I wanted to exchange it but since they were now out of stock, my impatient self kept it and broke out the glue and clamps. My neck was bowed but I thought I could correct it with the truss rod. I was wrong. I suspect mine was previously returned. The hardware was all over the place like someone already opened it and the guitar body had a blue line scratched across it. Anyway, I went through with the build against my better judgement and obviously shouldn’t have. I have read wonderful reviews also though. I guess these kits a re hit and miss. I, unfortunately, missed. I really wanted to do the SG kit next but will have to pass.

  3. I don’t know about hit and miss on the quality of these kits because I have the suspicion that many of the glowing reviews are BS… For one, I get offers all day long to post a glowing review in trade for freebies and cash and secondly, (and I don’t quite understand why this is) people that buy something are hesitant to call it like it is.

    It’s unfortunate that entry level kits like this one from BYO Guitar are such shit, because being an entry level priced kit most of the people that are going to buy one are also going to be ill equipped to deal with the problems… Many of them are kids, and for a kid a few hundred bucks is serious money to be plunkin down on a POS LP kit that can just barely be turned into a guitar by even an expert luthier… That really sucks.

  4. Hmm, looks like Chinese fake guitars just unassambled. That’s too bad. Would love to see a review of their high end 59 stuff.

  5. i bought the lunatic kit from them, and its a mess, as I type this i am doing a redneck fix trying to make it get to the required 25.5 scale length, i had it finished, just got tired of it not tuning right, but i ordered a evh wolfgang style kit from them, and it is actually surprisingly nice! 1 piece maple neck, binding is good, top is nice, the hardware was way better than the other kit, i actually swapped the trem over to my finished kit it was so much nicer. just thought id throw that news in, maybe they upped their quality or something. good review, it was pretty much right on of my first kit.

  6. I just got my JEM kit from BYOGuitar. Like you, i considered the hardware throw away. In the case of the JEM kit, it is a different guitar than the one pictured. The only similarity is that it has the ‘monkey grip’. Sigh. It was a test in my case, and will try and return it.

    Maybe I will try a Precision Kit instead. I am really happy with the Gibsons and Fenders I already own, which really only leaves the DC jr as something I would try.

    I can understand getting crap workmanship for $200, but outright different just makes me angry.

    Thanks for your reviews, I wish I had read it before buying.

  7. you should’ve said “Only CHINKS would use an 11mm, 10.5mm and a 3/8″ Drill bit to cut 6 holes…” for good measure. racist much?

  8. Racist? No, It’s not a racial thing… More of a nationalist thing.

    The problems with Chinese manufacturing doesn’t stem from the fact they have squinty eyes but from a demoralized society and corrupt government.

  9. Hey, I appreciate the review but I was wondering if I could get some more detail on the quality of the neck. I’m currently making a double cut guitar body out of African mohagany and I’m looking for an unfinished neck that I can finish and mount. I’m an advanced player so I’m not interested if the BYO neck is beginner-level quality. I’d appreciate some info, thanks!

  10. Greetings,
    I had gotten one of the BYO Explorer kits a few years ago! The somewhat flimsy cardboard box had let “heavy metal” objects / machine heads etc put dings and chipped the neck joint. Basically as you described your “Less than Paul” from them. I wrote to them and told them and they said I could return it….I kept it.
    This was my first “kit guitar”. I have made some instruments before and had gotten help on other projects. Flaws aside this was a good project to test the old skills or lack of skills.
    The painting was noxious cough cough!! Nitrocellulouse(?) lacquer is mustard gas….Aerosol from a well known supplier great product!
    It ended looking like a “faded” as a friend with a Gibson Explorer said. The pickups were decent and functional/ somewhat weak. The machine heads ….paper weights! They were not good at all. I (the smartass) got those Steinberger sci-fi machine heads…look great work great though the headstock was a little thin and there is a slight problem with stability. 3 piece neck neck heel and headstock spliced on, this is a stronger design if solid color is used this is un-noticed.
    I had gotten a case: SKB very nice yet the guitar did not fit!! I had to give it two “nose jobs”
    at the extremes the pointy horn and the other pointy part. Even after “meatball surgery” the guitar did not easily accept the case.
    All of my bad paint work….red nail polish sort of worked “fixing” the scars. The brand new fake-xplorer looks like a ’76
    that went on a few world tours! As you stated some flaws with things lining up blah blah and the pickguard I had to cut some of it to fit it in to place. I copper taped all of the inside cavities …why not? One acquantance wired it up and a friend did fret work on it.
    All in all my friends real Gibson plays and looks and sounds better. Yet I am happy with my “creation” . My friend speculated that these people may get their guitars and parts from Epiphone…..My fake-xplorer plays better than an Epiphone in case you were wondering!! 😉
    The legends Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jaco Pastorius used $100 pawn shop Fenders and created great music unfortunately they died in their mid 30s.
    I have had some used instruments and I prefer my fake-xplorer! Though Guitar kits can be a fun way to really know your instrument. Keep up the good work of informing us mediocre musicians and loony (want to be) luthiers! I have in mind a semi hollow body electric any advice?

  11. these guys are reselling the same chinese crap that’s all over ebay, most of them can be “won” for way less than 200 bux. i wouldn’t spend the money on one of these kits from this vendor, as it’s repackaged from other stuff available on ebay. the good news is these can indeed be very playable instruments, but you need to do crazy amounts of sanding work usually, and as noted beware the thin veneer.
    i’ve had good results with “senior” from RAS kits on ebay, and have built several of his kits now… doubleneck sg, firebird, tele etc…and they all have every niggle in this posting pretty much… but i don’t expect too much. contouring the neck especially is important, as these AREN’T “finished” by any means… really rough despite the claims that “most of the work is done”…yes, they can be assembled as shipped, but it won’t be much of an axe. get comfie with an orbital sander and they’re a lot more fun…but i’m babbling…. the point is, you can get the exact same kits on ebay for about 1/2 of what byo asks.

  12. Hello! For those who are in search of a good quality guitar kit, this les paul kit (pictured above) and the other reviews may have you steering away from BYO. But do not be deterred! The guitars made (by BYO) at the same time as this blog, were made using a different, lower quality wood supplier. Since then, they have changed, and I have gotten a jem kit from them with hopes of getting another kit! The BYO jem kit that I got, is the main guitar that I play out! It is an amazing sounding guitar! The neck is awesome, and the body fits my body so well!! BYO makes pickups too! You may think, “Oh, just another way for them to make money selling crap product.” But no, I got the “Blizzard of ’59” humbucker set, and it sounds amazing! I strongly suggest that you get a BYO guitar because they are just amazing!

    I do not work for BYO guitar, nor am affiliated with them in any way (aside from buying their product). I have obtained this information from emails and question responses from BYOguitar themselves. I am just a very satisfied customer of their work, and I want to tell you of my experiences with them!

    It seems as if the only people that write reviews are the ones dissatisfied with something. The other happy customers keep to themselves and say nothing. But anyways, I am happy with my kit and pickup set from BYO, and I advise you get one too!

    David Speckhart

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