Whether you’re an experienced luthier or a first-timer, the following acoustic guitar kit buyer’s guide and accompanying video will provide a definitive answer to the question: “Where should I purchase my guitar kit?”
I don’t claim to be an experienced luthier but in the process of building my first guitar I have learned a lot from my friend Dave Appel. In the video below, I sit down with Dave, owner of Scanlon Bros Guitars, and compare notes with him about the best places to buy a guitar kit.
And for those of you who prefer to skim as opposed to watching this 10-minute video, you can scroll below for a written summary of our discussion.
The Best Guitar Kits Suppliers
If you’ve done your research, you know that there is a host of places to purchase a guitar kit, both through the mail and online. It’s almost impossible to determine quality from a picture, though, so I know from experience how valuable first-hand recommendations are.
In the end, it boils down to three major companies that supply quality kits for acoustic guitars:
- Luthiers Mercantile International <— this is the supplier that I used for my guitar.
- Stewart MacDonald
- Martin Guitars
Let’s look at each one of these companies and their kits individually.
Luthier’s Mercantile International
Luthiers Mercantile International is the company that I used for my guitar build and I was very happy with the experience. In fact, two weeks after I announced my purchase of an LMI acoustic guitar kit, a family friend came to me with an LMI catalog he had used back in the 1980s. It was crazy!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that LMI had not only been in business for a number of decades, they were also a reputable company in the world of instrument luthiers.
What I love most about Luthiers Mercantile International is how they allow you to completely customize almost every piece of your guitar kit. In some ways the choices can be overwhelming, but if you’ve already made a couple guitars and you know what you’re doing, this option to customize is very appealing.
The kit that I received was excellent quality but required a lot of tooling, which might not be ideal for a first-time kit maker who doesn’t own many tools.
Overall, I was extremely happy with LMI but I’m also fully aware that I would not have been able to build this guitar without help from my luthier friend Dave. Keep that in mind as you make your guitar kit decision.
The big fish in the luthier “pond” is Stewart MacDonald, often referred to as “StewMac”. Their reputation is the highest in the industry and most people who build guitars have at least bought a tool from them.
Although I don’t have personal experience with a StewMac guitar kit, Dave Appel from Scanlon Bros Guitars uses their kits often. He explained to me that their quality is excellent and the kits come designed with the beginner in mind.
The one downside to a StewMac guitar kit is that unlike LMI, the kits aren’t customizable. In other words, if the guitar kit you want comes with a rosewood fingerboard but you want an ebony fingerboard, you have to buy an extra fingerboard.
In the whole scheme of things that’s not a really big deal, but if you’re an advanced builder and you want something you can customize, StewMac might not be your best choice. On the other hand, if you’re a beginner and you want a simple, quality guitar kit, they offer some of the best.
The last on this list of three quality guitar kit suppliers is a brand you’ve likely heard before: Martin Guitars. Not only does Martin sell some of the nicest guitars on the market today, their 1833 Shop also sells kits and a limited selection of tools.
The Martin kits are basic and not surprisingly are modeled after a variety of Martin guitar models. The kits themselves aren’t terribly expensive but the options are limited.
Like StewMac, the kits are sold as-is and can’t be customized. The advantage Martin has, besides basically inventing the acoustic guitar, is that they’re selling pieces to a guitar they make themselves. It works and it sounds good.
If you’re a huge Martin fan, these kits might appeal to you but for most guitar kit needs I recommend either LMI or StewMac.
The Bottom Line | Guitar Kits
The bottom line is this: a guitar kit bought from LMI, StewMac or Martin will all be high quality kits. These are the best in the business and you can’t go wrong with any of them. They each have their sweet-spot, though.
- If you’re an absolute beginner in the world of guitar making, you should probably lean more toward a StewMac kit.
- If this isn’t your first guitar kit and you want the ability to customize your guitar kit to your personal taste, a kit from Luthiers Mercantile International (LMI) will be a great choice.
- Finally, if you’re a Martin-junkie and you can’t live without an authentic Martin guitar, there’s nowhere else to go but Martin.
As long as the guitar kit fits what you want to build, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy any of these guitar kits.
What are your thoughts? Have you build a guitar from kit before? If so, please leave a comment below sharing which company you used and how your experience was. We’d love to learn from you!