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Building a Saga Les Paul Kit


This page shows the my little Les Paul kit project.  I'm not really an electric guitar player; but I always wanted a Les Paul.  Trouble is, the necks on Les Pauls are just too narrow for me,  So, I decided that a low-cost option and a better fit for me was top build a kit and make my own neck to go with it.  This Les Paul kit from Saga was inexpensive (I couldn't buy the pots and pickups for what the entire kit cost.)  Search for it online.


It has a nice flamed maple top plate and decent components.  It worked great with the included pickups and pots.  I did not use the neck, so I can't comment on the neck in the kit.  The guitar sounds really good, even with the included pickups.


Below the photos, you can read the review of the kit that I submitted to Harmony Central online.




Here's the box, as it arrived Opened box What's in the box

Gluing the fretboard to the neck
For more on how I make a neck,
click here
The neck, masked and ready to finish Body, masked for finishing

Color applied Finishing is done, test-fitting the neck Installing components

Setting up In its case All done!



All done! All done! All done!


My Review of The Saga LC-10 Les Paul Style Kit

It should appear here soon, as well.

Features:  9/10

Saga LC-10 Les Paul style guitar kit.  I bought this kit online for $170 from Instrument Alley.

 This is a kit to make a full-featured Les Paul standard copy, right down to the very nicely flamed 1/2-inch thick maple top-plate on the guitar body.  The pickups are probably not the greatest (but, hey, they sound very good!) but this kit will get you a perfectly respectable Les Paul standard copy if you put it together correctly.  You could, literally, do nothing but put all the pieces of this kit together, set it up, and play it (but put on a new nut.)  You could do it in a few hours.  (Making my custom neck and finishing took 95% of the time that this kit took to build.)  The body finish would be clear satin; but you can see the flame in the maple and it’s otherwise acceptable.

 I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the flame in the top plate is:  It really looks quite nice and I chose to use a transparent color so that the flame shows.  The back of the body has a veneer of mahogany on it to give the illusion of a mahogany body (like the real thing.)  The bulk of the body is made up of various chunks of basswood glued together into a solid block.  Some of this basswood shows dark staining from fungal growth; but this is a visual defect only and won’t be visible to anyone who isn’t making a close examination of the guitar.  The routing of the cavities in the body is nicely done and very accurate.

 The kit neck is hard maple, whereas a Les Paul standard has Honduran mahogany.  The stock neck has a nice rosewood fretboard, large frets, binding, and nice pearl inlays.  22 frets on the neck.  The nut is plastic and should be discarded.  Make yourself a good bone nut or buy a commercially-produced drop-in replacement:  This will really improve your sound.

 The only thing I noted as a flaw on the guitar is a few spots of tear-out of the maple top wood when they routed the edges of the top for the binding and purfling.  But this is minor and is not objectionable in the final product (and what do you expect for $170?!)  Really, this is the only flaw in the kit.  Otherwise the binding and purfling are just fine.  It has several black/white stripes for purfling and ivoroid (white-ish) plastic binding.

The body has clear sanding sealer all over it, smoothly sanded to a matte finish of about 400-grit.  Some reviews have complained about the thickness of the sealer.  These people have never had to prep a guitar body for finishing!!  This is one of the hardest things to get right:  final prep and sealing for finishing!  As it is, the guitar is fully ready for top coating.  This saves you AN IMMENSE AMOUNT OF TIME.  The finish out of the box provides a nice tooth for the top coats.  The thickness of sealer we are talking about would affect the sound of an acoustic guitar; but has essentially no impact on an electric guitar.

I chose to spray shellac with a bright royal blue aniline dye before I sprayed top finish (be sure to use the product Shellac Wet if you plan to spray shellac – without this wetting agent shellac will not flow-out when sprayed.)  The colored shellac went perfectly over the stock sealer.  Then I carefully scraped the color off the binding and purfling with a single-edge razor blade (works much better than masking!) and sanded the color off the sides with 320-grit.  Then the top-coats went on.  The surface prep of the body (out of the box) was so good that top-coating was done in no time with very few coats (5?).  Then I rubbed and buffed the top to a high gloss finish.  Finishing is THE HARDEST part of making a professional quality guitar.  Take your time and practice on scrap before working on the body.  A proper buffing setup is essential to getting a clear, high-gloss finish that you are used to seeing on top quality guitars (not that it does anything for the sound or the playability!  It’s just bling!  -- But very pretty bling it is.)

The wiring is all color-coded:  You join red to red, white to white, yellow to yellow, purple to purple, etc., and each color is unique (it’s pretty darned fool-proof).  The kit comes with shrink-tubing to insulate the connections and these work nicely.  The wiring has plug-in connections.  These seem decent; but no connector is anywhere near as good as a soldered joint.  Soldering is easy to do, take the time to solder the wiring together:  This will also significantly improve the sound and the durability/reliability.  Search the web for advice on how to get good solder joints.  A simple soldering kit costs less than $10.

The main reason I bought a kit is that I want a neck that is customized to my preferences.  I play with a wide neck on my steel string acoustic guitars (1-13/16 at the nut, 1/8-inch wider than standard Martin or typical for electric guitars.)  And the only way I can have that is to make my own neck (if not the entire guitar.)  I did not want to do the carving and routing on the body – that does not seem to me (as an acoustic guitar maker) to be a satisfying expression of my craft.  Making the neck is; and it gives me what I really want:  a wider neck.

 I made myself a new neck of Philippine mahogany (very, very similar to Honduran mahogany) since I prefer its look, feel, sound, and workability compared to hard maple.  It’s also the material used for the real thing:  the Les Paul standard.  I also made my own double-action truss rod, which is normal for me when I build acoustic guitars.  This would be tricky for a novice; but you can buy truss rods from Luthier’s Mercantile and Stewart MacDonald (search the web).  You would need to have experience doing precision wood working before trying to make your own neck.  Straightness, alignment to the body, fit in the body cavity, headstock angle and joint, tuner positioning, and of course shaping the neck are all critical to a good result.  

Sound:  8/10

 This guitar sounds great!  I am very pleased with the result, even with the total POS strings that came with the kit.  (That will be the first thing I do:  change the strings!)  The pickups seem to be pretty good LP humbucker knock offs.  They sound very nice!  The pot controls work smoothly and have no issues.  I have no excess noise – no different from my Telecaster.  For those complaining of noise, I suspect that they did not successfully ground the circuit to the guitar tailpiece (or they mis-wired the circuit in some other way.)  I did not add any shielding.  I strongly recommend snipping off the plug-in connections on the wires and soldering them together.

 Action, Fit, and Finish:  9

All the parts fit exceptionally well, in my opinion.  I’m a mechanical engineer in my day job (25 years in industry).  I know a lot about build tolerances.  This kit far exceeded my expectations.  I see the complaints on fit in some other reviews.  I had none of that.  (Maybe it was an issue with earlier production?)  I was amazed, frankly, at how well turned out this kit was for the money.

 I would say the front-back angle set of the neck and neck-pocket in the body are near-perfect.  On the side-side angle of the neck, I’d say that it was within 1/2-degree of dead-nuts on.  That’s about as good a tolerance as anyone can hold on a wooden object of this size.  The neck fit into the body cavity (for the stock neck from the kit) was near-perfect.  It took some force to insert it (from the top only!  The neck and cavity are tapered and they only go together form the front, not from the headstock direction!) but it went in smoothly and was still easily removeable.  Be careful not to dislodge bits of the maple plate on the thin areas by the cutaway and the neck pickup:  the wood is very narrow in these places and it’s easy to knock chips out.

 The support/adjustment posts for the bridge and tail-piece went in with just a few light taps from a very light rubber mallet:  I would consider the fit essentially perfect.  The bridge and tail-piece fit onto the posts with a nice, snug snap:  It took a little force; but only a little, and they fit tight without slop:  perfect fit in my opinion. 

 The selector switch and the pots went in perfectly:  the remaining body plate thickness, the cavities in the body, and the protrusion of the threads on the switches and pots were just right.  Nothing to complain of here.  The output jack also went it flawlessly.  There was enough extra wire length in the wire leads for me to snip off the plug-in connections and solder the wires and then shrink the heat-shrink tubing over the connections, without having tons left over to stow in the cavity.

 I used my own neck, so I can’t comment about the tuners or the truss rod or the fit and finish of the neck, or on the fretwork.  It all looks fine from a visual examination.

 The action of the guitar is dependent upon the following factors:  adjustment of the bridge (very smooth and easy on this guitar, adjustment of the nut (not easy for a novice – a piece of cake for a person with building or set-up experience), leveling and re-crowning of the frets (the neck from the kit may not require much work; but I doubt it very much).  There’s a reason why almost all pros have technicians adjust their action:  It’s not an easy thing top do well.  So, unless you are competent at setting up a guitar, you should expect to either have it set-up by a shop ($50 typically?) or being not perfectly satisfied with the results.

Note that the fretboard radius is 20-inches (compared to anything from 12-inches to 16-inches that I have seen quoted for the Les Paul standard from various sources.)  Luckily for me, 20-inches is my standard radius and I have the jigs to create it on my new neck fretboard (African ebony) and it suits my playing.

 Reliability/Durability:  9/10

 This guitar is solidly made.  If you take basic care of it, it should last a lifetime.  Basswood (the main portion of the body) is softer than mahogany (the material of the Les Paul standard body, excepting the maple top-plate) and care must be taken to not strip screw holes if you are removing and replacing screws.

 Customer Support:

No opinion.  I did not need any customer support.  The manual that came with the kit was clear enough.  I think someone in the US wrote it, since the English was good, unlike many manuals from goods produced in China .  I have only a single complaint on the manual:  it should tell you which way to orient the selector switch (which color wire at top and at bottom relative to the guitar body) and which way to orient the switch plate (“Rhythm”/”Treble”) to give the correct result.  I got it right by luck.

 Overall Rating:  9/10

 As previously stated, I am amazed at how good of a kit this is for just $170.  I couldn’t buy the hardware for it for that kind of money, if I had to buy the bits separately.  The Gibson website lists the 2009 Les Paul standard at $3900.  I just saved myself over $3500 plus I got a neck customized to my needs.  I am very, very pleased with this kit.  I was thinking that this was going to be a stop-gap before I felt like spending the big bucks on a Les Paul standard.  Now, I doubt I will ever do that.  The only thing I’m still contemplating is a pickup upgrade (which will cost more than the entire kit!)  I got a very decent hard-shell Epiphone case from Amazon for $74 with free shipping.  The fit is perfect, which indicates that the shape and size are the same as a Les Paul.


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© 2015, James W. Blilie, Barbarossa Guitars                        5997 Turtle Lake Road, Shoreview, MN 55126                        This page was last updated:  12-Feb-2015