For Christmas 2015, I asked Santa for a Telecaster style guitar kit. I spent hours on the internet reading countless reviews. There were cheaper kits on the market but I opted for a Stellah Tele style manufactured out of Ireland because of all the great things people had to say about the kit.

It arrived quickly and was well packed. It has an ash body with a maple neck and fretboard. I initially opened it just to ensure that there was no obvious damage to the body and the neck and then allowed it to be taken away for the great Christmas unwrapping. I could hardly wait.

Okay, Christmas is over and I'm chomping at the bit to get started on the build. I found countless web sites and You Tube videos geared for kit builders at all levels. Although I am proficient at hand and power tools, my biggest fear is probably the finishing of the guitar body. I expect perfection and have to rely on my skills to achieve this. Fingers crossed.

02sSeveral sites suggest to do a complete build of the guitar before any attempts to do any finishing. This is to ensure that all parts were there and that they fit as expected. It also gave me a good chance to have a closer look at the grain on the body. The ash body was very nice with no nicks or dents to be fixed. Ideally I wanted to stain the body with a translucent red but the grain is not nice enough for my liking so I will opt for a candy apple red with a silver basecoat.

For the most part the pre-drilled pilot holes lined up although I will have to do some work on them as one or two aren't quite right. I doubt if the machine heads will last long really because I want to fit a better quality locking machine heads. I'm still debating on whether or not I want to change all the chrome to a black chrome colour. I am not going to substitute quality for colour though. If I can get all the parts I need at the quality I want, then I'll get them. I need to make this decision soon so I won't have to go back later once all the finishing is done. Looks like it's back to the Internet...

I disassembled the guitar and the next step was to determine the shape of the headstock and cut and shape it. The kit comes with a standard paddle shape giving me loads of options for shaping. In this build, I have opted to go with the standard Telecaster style and once again, I was off to the Internet to find a full size template that I could use. The templates are out there but finding one that was the correct size when printed out was a bit more difficult.

I've used a band saw to cut the head shape and given myself a bit room for error and finished shaping.

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The neck came with 6mm black dot inlays. At first it looked like the inlays were just a dye. I chose to use black abalone as a replacement. Replacing the fretboard markers was rpopably not the best idea for my first build but hey ho, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Right?

The first step was to find the center of the existing inlay dot, and using a brad point 6mm drill bit. I drilled out the existing inlays approximately 1.5mm deep.

Obviously, as a first attempt, finding the center wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. I don't have a drill press and used my hand held cordless drill instead. Where, the center was not perfect, I could still see the remains of the black dot. To overcome the problem, I have now ordered 7mm black abalone dots and will try again. This time I will take my time and ensure that I have it correct.

I put the neck aside for the time being until the Abalone arrives.

The next step was to get the body prepared for finishing. I dry snaded the body using  a 240 grit sandpaper followed by 320. The body looked great. To be fair, there was not a lot of work to be done as it came from Stellah in very good condition.

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I wiped down the body with White Spirits, allowed it to dry thoroughly, and then applied 3 coats of Northwest Guitar's Sanding Sealer.

If you look at the body, you can see that I masked off the neck pocket with frog tape and attached a stick so that I could hold it securely and allow it to hang while drying. Livning in the UK and wanting to get started on the build, I had to overcome the high humidity and cold weather in my garage.

The next step was to apply the grain filler to the Ash body

I read many sites and watched several You Tube videos and learned that the grain filler should be applied along the grain ensuring that the filler pushed firmly into the grain. I allowed the grain   filler to dry slightly before drawing off any excess across the grain or at a 45 degreee angle ensuring that the Filler was not pulled out.

I allowed this to dry overnight, sanded off any excess, and applied more grain filler to catch any areas I might have missed. Once the grain filler was applied a second time, I used 400 grit sandpaper to take of the excess and get it smooth in preperation for the primer.

The next day I applied White Nitrocellulose primer. I purchased all of my paint from Northwest Guitars.

Note: I hope I am not the only one who found it difficult to understand all the different terms used for the paint types on the Internet. I found Nitro, Nitrocellulose, laquer, acrylic laquer, etc. and decided that if purchased from the same supplier I was bound to get the right stuff.

I began with a light tack coat and after 20 minutes, I applied two further wet coats. I chose the white primer because many articles I read online said that the white primer would give me a brighter base coat.

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I was lucky not to get any runs and the the guitar body was allowed to hang a couple more days to ensure it dried fully before sanding. It required only a light sanding except on the sides where the grain was still faily visible. I added a bit more grain filler along the sides, allowed it to cure for 24 hours, sanded and applied a further 2 coats of primer. All in all, I managed 5 coats of primer from my 400ml can of primer.img 2819

The finish on the primer coat turned out very well. I had to lightly sand a few places to get rid of a couple rough bits and then I used a tack rag to clear off any dust or bits. I then started to apply the silver basecoat for the Candy Apple Red (CAR) finish.img 2814   

At this point, I was in two minds whether to sand the silver coat prior to laying down the colour coat. I ended up not sanding for two resasons. First, there were very few flaws so it didn't feel I needed to sand, and the second reason, in my mind, I thought the metal flakes in the silver paint would be laying at all different angles and if I sanded, I would take the tops of of the finished silver. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

The first coat of the translucent red was applied really lightly. Only a tack coat. I wait nearly an hour between coats and applied a  further 3 before I quit for the night.

I let the first day's spraying dry thoroughly for 48 hours and then I applied a further 3 coats of colour. Each time, before I sprayed another coat, I would check to ensure there were no runs or other marks.

Not being the greatest painter in the world (yet) and because I was using rattle cans, there was a light orange peel effect building. After letting the coats dry for another 48 hours, I thought I'd sand the colour coat lightly to reduce the orange peel. I wet sanded using 3m 800 grit wet/dry paper. The top and back went very well, but I went through the colour coat to the silver very slightly on the side and ended up having to spray 2 final coats on the guitar body and applied the small amount remaining to build up around the sand through. Okay, I've learned my lesson and although it looks much better no, I can still see where I sanded through.

With a slight orange peel back from the final 2 coats of colour, I debated whether or not to sand (and take a chance of sanding through again) or to start applying the clear coat over the colour.

In my mind, since Nitrolcellulose melts into the previous layers, I thought that the orange peel effect in the colour would no longer be visible and that I could build up a much thicker coat of clear before I even attempted to sand again. I'm not sure if this was the right thing to do, but it looks fine to me and I feel a lot more comfortable about any sanding now.

img 2911img 2895I have built up the clear coat now and have wet flat sanded with 800 grit to get a smooth finish and I am letting it cure for 2 weeks before I start to polish the body.

Again, I went out to the Internet to get some answers to questions I had. One - Why do I have to flat sand the clear coat before polishing? won't polish the body, although taking longer, still buff out any slight orange peel? And 2 - should I flat sand and then wait for 2 weeks before buffing or do I flat sand just before I am ready to polish? It seems to me that if I flat sand before waiting for the finish to cure, that it would be dryer. If I sanded immedialtely befor I polished, wouldn't the paint be softer? I couldn't find anything addressing these questions so I decided to flat sand before polishing as everyone else has done and to flat sand 2 weeks before polishing. If I'm wrong, I'll let you know.

I have gone back to the Neck now and sprayed  the neck and headstock. With the maple neck and fretboard, I chose to spray over the fret wires without masking (except for the nut)

After allowing the gloss nitro to dry a couple days, I sanded out any slight orange peel and applied my waterslide decals. Iimg 2893 wanted people to know it was a Fender Telecaster body style but chose to cut off the serial numbers. I let the waterslide decals dry over night and then sprayed a very light coat of laquer over the top and allowed it to dry about 30 minutes then sprayed a further 2 wet coats over the top. The next day I sanded lightly over the decal to remove any raised bits around the decal. A further 3 coats of laquers were sprayed on the neck and fretboard. I am quite happy with how it has turned out so far.

After a 2 week drying process, I carefully wet sanded the body and neck with 800, 1500, and 2000 grit 3m sandpaper. Now comes the final step...polishing.

I chose to use McGuires 105 and 205 polishing compounds for the final finish.

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 The polishing went well. I chose the Seymour Duncan quarter pounder pickups for the Telecaster and I also purchased the Planet Waves auto trim machine heads. I am very impressed with the way it turned out.

I am definately hooked on building a kit guitar even though it ends up nearly as expensive to build as it was to go out and buy a finished guitar.

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