Why not assemble one yourself? – The ”Berka T” Experiment

I can declare freely and from the bottom of my heart that I am not the most handy when it comes to DIY and using tools! You can’t win ’em all…       😉

Still, most of us could, and probably should, try their hands at ”building” their own electric solidbody guitar or bass. I use the quotation marks here, because I’m not talking about building, as in ”raw wood”, but rather about assembling an instrument from prefabricated parts.

A self-assembled guitar is almost certainly not cheaper than buying a mass-produced item. The idea behind the whole process is rather to get a true, hands-on insight into what makes an electric guitar tick. And it’s fun…

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I assembled this guitar – let’s call her the ”Berka T” – in 2004. I specifically wanted to find out what kind of instrument you end up with using comparatively inexpensive parts.

I got all the ingredients for the Berka T from SP-Elektroniikka in Oulu (Finland), aiming for stripped Tele-with-pearloid-pickguard-look in an oil and wax finish.

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The body is a three-piece alder affair, with the pieces’ grain not really matched, which is absolutely normal at this price level. The shaping is OK and the routings reasonably clean.

The only strange thing is that the treble facing side of the neck pocket doesn’t quite line up with the neck’s heel. I nevertheless got the neck installed correctly, but things like these can happen when buying less expensive parts.

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The neck is maple, which I finished with wax and oil, while the fretboard is made from a nice and lively piece of sonokeling.

The ’board has a flat radius and medium-sized frets, which had been installed sufficiently well for a nice medium action.

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The neck has been mated to the body in time-honoured fashion via four screws and a steel plate.

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The bridge and pickups – all made by Gotoh – are decidedly non-vintage: The bridge features a thick base-plate and six separate saddles, while the singlecoil pickups are cheap units with ceramic bar magnets stuck to the bottom of their bobbins, instead of traditional alnico slug magnets.

I had to file the bridge pickup’s top plate down by a tiny little bit, because it wouldn’t fit through the bridge otherwise. Again, not untypical when using inexpensive parts.

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This hadn’t been my first project, so I had no problems wiring and soldering the electronic components correctly. Some companies also offer pre-wired kits for the complete newcomer.

The nice three-way switch was deeper than the body channel, so I had to gouge out a little bit of wood by hand to make the assembly fit the body.

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I had no problems installing the modern tuners…

…but made a mess of a hack job of installing the string ferrules.

Mental note: Do prepare a jig! Use a drill stand for drilling the holes next time!

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All in all, I’m rather satisfied with my Berka T! It cost a little over 300 € to make, and I learned a few new lessons during assembly.

The guitar plays well, even though I would prefer a rounder and fatter neck profile. The cheap Gotoh-pickups sound surprisingly good – they’re a little hotter and fatter than a standard vintage-style Tele-set, but still have enough spank and quack to satisfy.

Here are two soundbites:

Berka T – clean

Berka T – distortion

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Links:

Warmoth Guitar Parts

WD Music UK

Rockinger (Germany)

Millbrook (Finland)

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