Have you ever thought about buying new guitars, modding them then reselling at a profit? Maybe you’re in an area where it’s tough to get used guitars. Or maybe your repair skills aren’t quite ready for the challenges that used guitars can offer.
New guitars are easy to buy. But is it profitable? How should you go about it?
I’ve got three different lines of new guitars I’m buying.
- New Squier Bullet Strats (quantity discount)
- Cheap Chinese Strat Clones
- Cheap Chinese Telecaster Clones
I’ve done all three types several times in the past and I’ve always sold out. I’ve even bought Monoprice Indio guitars, set them up and sold at a small ($40) profit.
But this time I’m going for $90 gross profit (after costs, but pre-tax). Here’s how I’m doing the Chinese Stratocaster clones –
Finding New Guitars to Resell
Step 1 is procurement. I’d been buying these at just under $70 apiece and my ebay supplier was kind enough to give me contact info for his supplier! That brought prices down to $55, buying off-ebay. Unfortunately when my Gmail account exceeded its limits, rather than pay for extra storage, I mass deleted all emails over two months old, thinking I no longer needed them.
Oops! Bye-bye $55 Strats! Oh well, I make money even buying at $70, so I bought a bunch more. With current supply issues, I couldn’t get white like I had in the past, so I settled for black. Thankfully, they come with a black pickguard. Black-on-black seems to sell better for me.
If you search, you can find these on ebay. Look to match the headstock to be sure you’re getting the same guitar. There are lots of different sellers and I don’t know who the original source is (yet). Current price is $70 apiece, but you can often find 10% quantity discounts or “Buy 1 get 20% off 2nd one”, which is a 10% discount if you buy an even number of guitars.
What Quality Are These Cheap Chinese Guitars?
These guitars are basically ok as received. But “basically ok” needs a definition..
We will need to work on:
- Back of the neck
- Fret ends
- Tuner keys
- Clear coat headstock
- Fix neck angle
- Change wiring to add more pickup positions
- Change wiring to allow tone control for bridge pickup
- Add treble bleed
- Add CTS volume pot (because, why not?)
- Add fast-action fuse (I’ll explain)
- Replace cheap strings with quality strings
- Set neck relief
- Set nut slot heights (& possibly replace with bone nut)
- Set saddle heights
- Set intonation
- Polish guitar
After all that, you’ll feel like you’ve earned your $90!
Neck & Fretboard
The necks are bare (maple) wood and absorb dirt easily. Two very light coats of TruOil and they look so much better and won’t show dirt and absorb oils from skin, etc. Don’t do more than two coats because most players don’t like glossy necks that tend to “grab” when hands get sweaty.
By “very light” coats, I mean rubbing it in so there’s basically nothing there except you can barely tell it’s “wet”. You can apply the second coat about thirty minutes after the first. It takes about 24 hours for the neck to lose the “tacky” feeling.
On the top side of the neck (fretboard), the wood is dry and light colored. The fret ends are sharp and frets are not very shiny. So let’s fix this –
I use a #220 grit sanding sponge at an angle to smooth the fret ends. Be careful up around the guitar body. You may have to switch to a file there.
Now, I’ll tape over the neck pickup then use Naptha and #0000 steel wool to clean the fretboard and smooth over the frets. I wipe it dry with a paper towel which promptly gets tossed because I don’t want a reusable rag with hundreds of tiny steel wool bits contaminating my workbench.
I follow up with a strong magnet to collect any loose steel wool bits on the fretboard and the workbench.
A Dremel tool with a polishing wheel will take care of those frets. These were bad enough that I started with white compound before switching to red, then buffing out to get my mirror-like finish.
Furniture polish (i.e.: “lemon oil”) rubbed into the fretboard; allowed to sit twenty minutes then buffed, gave the fretboard a healthy, lustrous look.
Most times, the tuners are ok, but they’re often not properly aligned. Since I have to remove them anyway, to clear coat after applying my logo decal, this is the time to take note of which ones are not aligned right. Remove all tuners and use toothpicks to fill the alignment screw holes that will need to be redrilled. If your guitars use pins instead of screws, you’ll still have to fill & drill.
We’ll replace the tuners after the clear coat has cured.
Your New Guitar Logo
All you need is an inkjet printer and decal paper. I’ve included a link to the waterslide decal paper and other supplies that will help you. If you buy from these links, I’ll make a small percentage but you won’t pay one penny extra. It costs money to run this website and I really appreciate any support.
I thought up a name for my guitars – “Squier Slayer”; bought the domain and I print my logo decals to match. My goal is to offer the best cheap guitar on the market. I’m specifically aiming at Squier. This gives me a niche, narrowing my market by targeting prospective Squier customers.
Just follow the directions on the pack. Don’t forget the three coats of acrylic. If you’ve ever made plastic models with decals, you’ll have no problems. If you’re a first-time decal user, you may be in for a bit of trial and error, but you’ll get it.
Once the decal has properly dried – I’d give it an hour – it’s time to spray a few coats of clear over the headstock. I use painters tape starting where the fretboard meets the headstock, down through the third fret.
Give the headstock plenty of time to dry before installing string guides and tuner keys. I throw out the string guides and replace them with roller guides. Black ones if the guitar has black tuners, otherwise chrome.
Guitar Neck Alignment
If the saddles are near the end of their adjustment range (high or low) or if the distance from either E string to fretboard edge is not even, you’ll need to realign or shim the neck.
Stewmac makes expensive hardwood shims that are tapered, for this purpose. Frankly, I’m skeptical of the need for the tapered thing and the expense isn’t fun either.
I prefer to use aluminum tape in 0.010″ thickness. If two layers are needed, I’ll put a single layer strip down adjacent to it – thus a “taper”. Aluminum is probably about as malleable as hardwood and my tape roll is always handy. Good for nut shims, in a pinch, too!
Many cheap Chinese guitars don’t have sufficient clearance in the screw holes of the neck. If your screw threads are biting into the neck, you should widen the holes a bit so that they only bite into the guitar body.
Super Strat Wiring
What you need to do is stand out in the marketplace by giving your customers more for their money – features that others aren’t offering.
But guitar buyers won’t spend a lot of extra money and there is very little profit in this business, so what to do? A few pieces of wire, solder, a capacitor and two resistors – a total of maybe $1.50 and you give your customers the features normally only found in a $1,500 American-made Fender Stratocaster!
Yay! Everybody wins!
Treble Bleed Circuit
Passive guitar volume controls (potentiometers), share a trait, due to the way their electronics work, that rolls off more treble than bass as you turn your volume knob down.
This causes your guitar’s sound to get darker and muddy, as though you’d also turned the tone knob toward bass.
Fender solves this problem in their $1500 American-made Fender Stratocasters, by adding a treble bleed circuit.
Here I’m adding a Fender-style treble bleed circuit with a 1000pF capacitor; 150K resistor in parallel and a 20K resistor in series.
After the photo, I tinned the leads, then trimmed the one at top left, leaving only enough to connect the two resistors & capacitor.
I trimmed the two out-going leads to no longer than what I needed to connect one to the volume pot center lug and the other to the out-going lug, leading to the switches.
Now, let’s add those two extra pickup positions..
7 Pickup Positions
I use a SPST round switch to enable the player to lock the neck pickup “on”.
These come in black and in white.
Use a step-drill-bit to create the
The switch I add, connects “hot” to the neck pickup, regardless of the position of the 5-way switch.
This gives us two extra pickup positions – Bridge + Neck (position #1) and All Three Pickups (position #2).
To allow tone control for the bridge pickup (some new Squiers are starting to have this from the factory!), find the lug on your 5-way switch where the middle pickup connects to its tone control. Then solder a shunt from that lug to the empty lug that will connect to the bridge pickup.
CTS Pot For Guitar Volume Control
Why CTS For Volume Only?
There is no reason to spend for better quality potentiometers for your tone controls in a passive guitar system. Not a single electron that goes through a tone control will ever reach your amplifier!
The way tone pots work in a passive (no battery; no preamp) guitar system is that they are the gateway through which treble tones are led to their death!
To be less dramatic, when on “10”, your tone pots allow virtually zero current to pass. As you roll the knob “down”, you’re actually opening those “gates” and sending treble signals to ground. The capacitor that is connected to the tone pot, decides where the tonal cutoff point (frequency) is and the tone pot decides how much signal to allow to pass through.
But where is it passing to? Ground. It is signal that is being removed from what is sent to your amplifier. It is tone you will not hear.
Better quality pots generally have better accuracy. So they should be closer to their rating (250k, 500k, etc.) than the average cheap pot. If the “10” setting were only giving 200k resistance, perhaps the level of treble constantly allowed to be grounded would be enough to negatively affect the sound. But if your tone is bright enough for you on “10”, then there is only one real advantage that I can see, with a quality pot – size.
A large pot can dissipate heat from your soldering gun better than a small pot, meaning less chance of causing harm to the potentiometer’s internals.
Of course a large pot can require routing of your control cavity and reaming of stem holes and knobs.
Routing, Reaming & Risk
If you’re putting a CTS, or any other full-size pot, into a Squier or most Asian-made guitars, you’ll need to make a few alterations.
If luck is on your side, you may not have to route into the body to make room for the larger pot. Otherwise, it helps to have a small trim router like this –
Chances are – at least with Squiers and most import guitars – the larger pot’s stem will not fit through your pickguard or body hole. Leave your drill aside and grab a reamer like this (buying through our Amazon links will not cost you an extra dime but helps support this website and I really appreciate your support!) –
I like to mark a line around the reamer at the 3/8″ inch diameter point, with a marker pen, so I can easily see when I’ve reached the right size for the pot’s shaft.
Next problem – the control knob won’t fit the CTS pot shaft! The shaft diameter, at just under 1/4″, is a tad larger than the import pot shafts. But your reamer comes to the rescue again!
Do not try to pinch the shaft sides together. That likely won’t go well and wouldn’t provide a good, permanent hold even if you didn’t break the shaft.
Don’t push down too hard, trying to make the knob go onto the shaft. You can break the potentiometer. (Don’t ask how I know!). Just ream to where there are barely any splines showing in the knob. Try a few test-fits before you go too far.
Once you’ve done a few of these, you’ll know when to stop reaming.
Final steps include a good guitar setup, and cleaning/polishing. There are plenty of resources on guitar setups. I’ve even written a few articles on GuitarsDoneRight.com and some videos on YouTube, so I won’t redundify things here. (Got my spellcheck in an uproar with “redundify”, but I like it and I’m keeping it!)
I do have an upcoming article about measuring tools for relief, string action, nut slots, etc. They’re getting fancier and pricier, so a good comparison article is in order.
As for cleaning/polishing – I do have a couple of surprises. Who wants to spend twenty minutes disassembling a bridge/trem/saddle assembly and cleaning with a toothbrush?
What if there was a magical machine you could just plop the bridge into; wait five minutes and it comes out looking hand-polished? Would you believe me if I told you that there IS such a machine and it’s quite affordable?
The machine I purchased over three years ago, is no longer available, but here’s (above) a similar, smaller model with sufficient dimensions for even most bass guitar bridge assemblies. Some ads say you can use these with plain tap water, but I’ve always used the special solution and I get shiny results that dry easily and haven’t caused rust.
As for cleaning / polishing poly guitar bodies and headstocks, nothing beats Nu-Finish polish! Do not use this on lacquer finishes though! A damp cloth is usually sufficient for those.
Your guitar is now ready to sell. We’re gonna have tons of articles helping you outsell all those other ads, so stay tuned!
If you purchase any Amazon products through my links, you won’t spend a penny extra but you’ll send a few cents my way and I really appreciate that. I only post products I believe in, and almost always they are products I use (unless I specify otherwise).