This is a description of one way of building a guitar. Its not the only way its done, by any means. In the world of Luthery there are many ways to skin a cat. Not that I would ever skin a cat. That would be horrible! I dont want anyone thinking that I’d ever…I…I digress.
First off so there is no misunderstanding, the first photo just below here is NOT the guitar I’m building. Its an example of what I’m shooting for in the finish dept.
Moving along, first you have to have a plan. We’ll start there and see how close we come to acheiving the goal once we have a finished product. The design is based on a traditional 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard with some design modifications. Ideally it will look very much like the photograph below.
Also the Gibson headstock logo will be replaced with my own “company” logo “Addict” (I dont actually have a company) although the font and placement of the logo will be deliberately designed to resemble the Gibson logo. This guitar will not be for sale, but for my own personal use, so any resemblance to existing products is not an infrigement of any patents, trademarks, or copyrights.
This is in fact my very first attempt to ever build a guitar, so in the end there may be some imperfections but I’m confident that they will all be aesthetic in nature and hopefully will be imperfections that only I will ever know about 😉
What I will show here are photo’s and descriptions of each completed step as opposed to the nitty gritty of how I did each step. If anyone reading this has any questions about how I did something, (“why, for gods sake, would you do it that way?!” etc) and you make it that far, you can feel free to e-mail me at the address at the bottom and I’ll be happy to answer.
Here is photo of what I’m shooting for. This is not an actual 59, its a replica of a guitar used by Slash, which is supposed to be of the same dimensions and specs as the 59. This is also the color and look and finish I’ll be trying to replicate with my own, so for our purposes its good enough. It just to show you my “target”
Outwardly (from the front) there should be no glaring visible differences between the pictured guitar and my creation with just a couple minor exceptions, one of which I’ve already mentioned above, and I’ll detail those others further into this document. Its apprearance, shape, dimensions, and the wood that its made from are the same that were used in 1959 although the top wood will be much more highly figured. My hope is that the changes I’m making to the design of the guitar will yield a better, more resonant instrument with greater sustain as well as slight improvements in comfort, ergonomics, and visual appeal.
Back, body, and neck wood: Honduran or big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)
In the 60’s Gibson switched to “African Mahogany” which isnt actually Mahogany at all (yay marketing!), but a cheaper, more readily accessible substitute which most discerning people will agree doesnt sound as good. I wanted the real deal, so thats what I used
Top plate: White curly maply, flame figure
Fretboard: East Indian Rosewood.
Bridge, tailpiece, covers, and knobs: Genuine Gibson parts.
Tuners: Grover Roto-Grip Locking rotomatics.
Pickups: Seymour Duncan JB and 59 Zebra’s
Fretboard and headstock inlay: White Mother of Pearl
It will have 22 frets and will be a 24 3/4inch scale.
The areas where I diverged from the original design are as follows:
Scale: In 1959, the scale of the Les Paul model was not actually 24 3/4. I believe it was 24 5/8. They went to 24 9/16 in 1969 although they called it 24 3/4 no matter what it really was. Mine will be an actual 24 3/4 scale and so the scale length will actually be 1/8 inch longer (or 3/16 depending on what it really was in 1959) than that of a 59 Les Paul.
A quick note on scale. The scale length of a guitar is the length of the vibrating string, from the nut to the bridge saddle. Different guitars use different scales. A Fender Stratocaster, for instance, has a 25 1/2 inch scale. Paul Reed Smith uses an even 25 inch scale. Scale length can affect the tone and feel of an instrument, but it cant be said with confidence that one is better than another. Its a subjective, personal preference thing all the way 🙂
Neck: The actual Gibson Les Paul model has the neck glued to the body via a mortice and tenon joint with the neck angling away from the plane of the body at 4.4 degrees.
The Gibson neck is carved from a single piece of mahogany (sometimes quarter sawn) with an older style, single action truss rod inside.
The Addict neck will be a neck-through-body construction with the neck being a 3 piece laminate, a modern double action truss rod, and a pair of graphite stiffening rods embedded in the neck under the fingerboard. These changes are designed to increase the stiffness of the guitar and improve the overall vibration transmission by eliminating the mortice and tenon joint all together. the goal being to improve sustain and resonance. Additionally, the lack of a joint there allows me to eliminate the heel and then some which allows easier access to the upper frets while playing.
I also will be reducing the neck angle from 4.4 degrees to 3.6 degrees. This is because I find that the strings and pickups are a touch higher over the body than I like from both an aestetic and ergonomic perspective. Reducing the neck angle will allow me to keep the pickups, strings, bridge, etc just a little closer to the body.
Fingerboard inlay: Gibson uses plastic inlays, which they call “Pearloid”. I’m using actual Mother of Pearl.
Tuners: Also I will be replacing the vintage Kluson tuning machines with Grover tuners. The reason is simply that I think (not everyone agrees with this sentiment) that the traditional tuners look like crap and I dont like them. Just my opinion. Dont like em. As with the omission of the traditional pick guard, its my guitar and I can do this if I damn well please 🙂
So, without further ado, here we go. Thumbnails can be expanded to view full size images, and a description of what the photo details is next to the thumbnail image. I wont go into the minute details of how each step is performed. that will quickly get very tedious and time consuming. This is more of a high level overview of each step in the process.
Here are my Raw materials. On top is a billet of heavily flame figured white curly maple. Underneath is a piece of East Indian Rosewood, and under that are the body and neck woods, a couple 8/4 boards of mahogany.
More of the same here. the maple block will be flattened on the jointer, planed on the thickness planer, and then resawed on the band saw. the two halves are then jointed along one edge, and glued to form a bookmatched board that will be used as the guitars top. the most highly visible (and expensive) piece of wood.
This is my 3 piece neck glue-up. The mahogany has been cut, jointed, and planed into 3 boards approximately 1 inch thick, 5 inches wide, and 41 inches long. These are glued up and then clamped under high pressure to form the laminate that will become the core of the entire guitar. In the neck through body design the neck extends the entire length of the guitar and the “wings” of the body are glued to the neck rather than the neck being a separate piece attached via glue joint or bolted on.
Here is the neck laminate after the glue has cured and its been planed. It is sitting in the orientation it will have in the guitar body if the guitar were laying flat on the bench.
Turning the neck on its side I draw the profile of the neck, which I then cut on the band saw.
Thar she blows! This is a bit wider than the neck right now and will then be planed to the right width before proceeding.
Here is our finished neck blank, having been sanded flat and the truss rod routed.
Here I’m attaching the headstock veneer. This is done with a light colored wood (cut from the same piece of maple as the top in this case) that takes up black dye much more readily than the mahogany will. In the case of most Les Paul guitars the veneer is made of American Holly.
Here are the completed top and body blanks. The piece on top is the block of figured maple shown in the first photo after being planed, resawed down the center, bookmatched, and glued. Its called bookmatching because when you split it down the middle and open it up like a book, each half will have grain that matches the grain on the other half giving it a nice balanced look.
Once the body is rough cut I remove the middle where the neck will be to create the wings. The rest of the blank that these were cut from is saved to be used later to help with clamping the wings to the neck.
The wings are then glued and clamped to the neck. Alignment is secured using dowel pegs so that the pieces dont creep when the pressure is applied. The dowels are placed where the pickup cavities will be routed out. Once this is done the dowels and the wood they were embedded in will be gone. Since the wings are curved it would be difficult to securely clamp them, so here is where I use the off cuts from the wings. It gives a flat clamping surface and applies the clamping pressure evenly to the wings.
Here also you can see another modification I made to the traditional construction method. I routed two channels the length of the neck and epoxied in two graphite rods. These will give additional strength, rigidity, and stability to the neck.
Once the glue has cured the top is sanded and the channel that connects the toggle cavity and pickups with the control cavity is routed. This is where the wiring that connects the pickup selector switch and the pickups will run into the control cavity to connect with the volume and tone pots, and the output jack.
The control cavity and toggle cavity are routed on the back at the same time.
Recesses for the covers are routed
The maple top is cut to shape using a pattern bit on the router. This picture is a bit out of sequence. Its actually from before I cut the wings from the blank, but it makes more sense to me to show it here 😉
The top is glued and securely clamped. I use multiple layers of wood as clamping cauls to distribute the clamping pressure more evenly, and also to prevent the clamps from making dents in the top or back of the guitar.
And here it is with all the clamps and cauls removed. Pretty thick and clunky looking, eh? Well the next step with this is to carve the top to a nice smooth curved archtop shape, but first we need to spend some time making the fretboard. we’ll return to the body later. OK I know you see the fretboard laying there for the photo op (its not glued on yet), so you know I already made it but since I havent discussed that yet I’m pretending I’m gonna go do that now 🙂