Les Paul Style Guitar Build


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Patience and precision + good eyes glasses etc, a little trick I sometimes use is that I overtighten the truss rod so the neck is pulling back. If your going for the ultimate low nut cut this can sometimes get you out of trouble if you go one swipe with the nut file too many as when you release the rod it should raise the slot as the neck pulls up. I usually try and cut the nut to the tuning so e sharp should be when fretted on the first fret and so on. Nuts and laquer dings are a complete PITA !!

If we are not good people in life, we will end up fixing lacquer dings on edges in eternity, and drinking the drops quarter fingers of beer left behind in the sun from wasteful drinkers.

I see the nut as an opportunity, though - it pretty much makes the intonation on a guitar and it's fairly easy work if you're willing to cut one low and then fill it to get it dead nuts. I used to try to use a shim, but it's not accurate enough, and then there's always enough time between guitars that I think "I'll bet that could go a bit lower" and buzz on G or B.

Fortunately, i only play about 5-10 hours a year some years, so nothing bothers me that much about guitars.
Nuts are a PITA, in my experience (one guitar from scratch half a century ago, but have re-nutted a couple of acoustics). It's easy to go just too deep with a slot, and have to start again or resort to baking soda and super glue, which I can't believe lasts that long, unless you never have to tune the guitar. I remember thinking that next time I'd devise some trick, like using a shim, either under the nut or over the first fret. Is there an standard strategy for this, or is it just down to patience and precision?

If you get a chance, search for some recent videos by Sam Deeks on youtube.
He's switched from bone to Tusq nuts, but has adapted them to be adjustable, as the nut is one of the "top three" adjustments to be made.
I use a special pencil that is sawn in half, which is scribed onto the nut from the fretboard, this is your maximum depth line, it works very well, then you have a reference line to cut the slots to.

I'm slow enough that I didn't follow this initially, at least not immediately and then forgot about it.

Now, I realize what you're talking about - a good idea - this is similar to the method that I use to mark moulding plane irons on new moulding planes so they can be ground identical to the sole (ground/filed and honed) before hardening. Smart.

I've used tusq, corian and bone. Corian is nice and hard (and I have corian on hand), but it's definitely fragile. Bone can be, too.
Let's replace the original post with one through a small amplifier, just chords mostly on neck pickup. Unplugged was nothing but pick noise and missed notes / not picked hard enough.

Neck pickup:
1) tokai HLS 160 (1959-ish copy, but obviously not expensive - mahogany, maple top (veneer over hard plain maple), mahogany neck
2) my guitar (rosewood over limba, maple neck (hard maple)
3) History GH-LCV- maple neck, maple top, mahogany back, les paul custom style. Pickups a little darker

All relatively similar in weight with #1 maybe being a pound lighter. Pickups very similar for 1 and 2, except #2 pickups are unpotted.

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I'm not trying to make a tone wood claim, but the hard and tight nature of the top and neck on my guitar may actually push it toward more top end and less mid and low (it's more like piano and less warm). Guess I'll need an EQ to give it more bottom end!

I like the sound of the tokai the best out of all of these.
One with a little drive (still same little travel amp - about the size of a takeout container. Too lazy to uncover anything bigger - most is under amp covers and not hooked up (heads, cabinets) because I no longer play on a regular basis.

Very short, excluded the "history" guitar as the pickups are ceramic or something and not similar sounding.

First guitar in the second video is the new one, second is the tokai HLS160 (really like that as an inexpensive vintage les paul proportion guitar, and it's not heavy - especially the bridge pickup).
SG3000 from Yamaha, and the SL800S
Do you still have the yamahas? I havent looked lately, but the 80s ones were very highly priced here a few years ago, apparently very good guitars.

I used to look out for the ibanez 2338b in case i ever found one at a good price ( they sell very quickly )
I dont play bass, but id like one of those
I sold the SL800s - strange story - buyee (proxy from japan) packed the guitar in a box the same length as the guitar and the neck broke. I repaired the neck and sold it for a fairly low price. buyee did "protective packaging" so I didn't have it insured, and when I got it, they attempted to stiff me. I asked that they at least return the $20 packing fee since they sealed its fate (literally) in the box. They said no, I contested the packing fee through paypal and attached pictures and paypal made them refund the entire thing (So the guitar ended up being "no cost"). It was a fantastic guitar (the cost from japan back then was $330 plus proxy shipping because it had a chipped nut. Crazy price - great pickups, back was true honduran mahogany, laminated maple neck.

I don't have as great of a story about the SGs - they were expensive in the upper range in the 80s, and they're still really expensive. I have the SG (the us version labeled "SBG" behind me that some dude put a kahler style trem on and I've been slowly fixing it. I have the original pickups but the guy who had it was a metal guy ("no permanent marks on the guitar", is what he thought. It has screw holes in the peghead that I've filled from the locking nut that went with the trem, and his luthier ground off the tailpiece posts. So I've been trying to piece together getting the thing back close to stock. The posts from yamaha back then were a strange size - it's a mess. It was expensive, but it's good.

I also have a SG700. Which is a good guitar, but the neck is mahogany and it has done what mahogany does over the years - moved a little. Sounds great. Bonkers that the two were different in price by a factor of three or four.

Long story short, I wish I wouldn't have bought the SG3000 guitar even though it's interesting. It'll be hard to get back the $2k that I paid for it used, but I'm a pushover when buying stuff. I figure the guy didn't know what had actually been done to it as his comments about the wiring didn't make sense (i think the coil split has been replaced by a switch that makes it go between series and parallel). The guitar has a duncan custom custom in the bridge and the original spinex pickup in the neck (with the other spinex bridge pickup in the case compartment - fortunately).

All that said, it's hard to get a guitar from the late 70s or early 80s that's totally straight and the SG3000 is still straight. The maple neck les pauls that I've gotten from japan (and an ibanez artist) have all been straight. The guitars that had genuine honduran necks have had a pretty poor record as far as stability goes over 40 years, but they could have the frets pulled and neck reprofiled and would be fine for a few more decades - I just hate to go to the trouble on guitars that are $300-$500 in japan.

SG700 from ishibashi was all of $605.
I have to admit after making this, I'm surprised how rigid and piano like it is in the mids. Almost like it would be better off voiced with something between strat and les paul pickups. Since the back wood is resonant and carries a low "bong" well, I figured it would be strong mids and lows, but I guess the maple and rosewood together are just a bit too tight.

Rather than throw it out, though, I'll figure out what it's good at and let it do that (it sounds fine, it plays well, but I expected a little more mid oomph along with top brightness. To be fair, Gibson did experiment with a bunch of woods when they made les pauls and they said if they made everything out of maple, it sounded like a piano (long sustain, not as much resonance or low end).

So, the next guitar is going to be a "tweener" - a junker between nice guitars, more or less. One that I make fast - not intentionally sloppy, but not complicated and with fast production. I haven't decided yet if it'll be an SG or a les paul special, but I think it'll be the latter (SGs are a little thin in the mids, too, unless they have a heavier heel). The tweener is going to be made of something softer for the neck and body is up in the air, but it won't be heavy. I have some low quality mahogany blanks that stew mac sold (they didn't tout them as low quality - they're just flatsawn blanks that you can tell are from small trees, and they cupped and moved around an unsavory amount the first year, but they're about 3 years old now and I maybe wouldn't put them in a nicer project because they look cheap - I guess now is a good time to use them.

I'm thinking cherry on the neck, and maybe something unusual for the fingerboard. Like castelo boxwood.
(I have made three guitars with cherry necks so far and they're all pretty middle of the road sounding - not dead or odd and you couldn't pick them out of a sound comparison like you can the rosewood and maple combination here).

Anyone with guesses on what the issue is here? I think it's probably underestimating how bright and rigid a rosewood top would be, even though it's not the hardest rosewood I've had, it's harder and more dense than maple - especially if the maple is bigleaf.
(maybe i'm imagining it, too, especially with gain - when I go back and listen to the short video, I don't hear as much difference - in person, it's pretty stark from the guitar...

...still going to build a fast dumpy les paul special to see how it comes out if I build one in rhythm without too much thinking. Just check each critical aspect twice and go.

I was concerned about intonation on rosie-paul here because I marked frets with a pencil and cut them with a handsaw, and it wasn't really a problem.

"junky paul" is going to be all cherry. I have a somewhat punky table blank that is just a bit light for cherry and that will allow making the body in one piece. Aside from hardware, I will try to build it out of nothing expensive (shifting focus a little bit). It'll be interesting to see how the cherry table blank comes out as it's a 3 1/2" thick blank, so I can hand resaw parts out of it in any orientation that I want for neck bits. The body will be flatsawn and kind of ugly.

Years ago, I bought this slab of wood to resaw cherry neck blanks out of and I did resaw them quartered - one of them twisted a little, and I still have the tele that occurred on....90% finished.

I like the idea of a LP special with simplified electronics - one volume, one tone, one switch - but will have to look up wiring info. All of the knobs on a les paul look nice, but I don't use mid position that much, and don't blend volume when I do, and don't blend tone.

That should be no surprise given my playing - i won't ever be recording and the only thing I'm ever faffing with is volume to back off gain, usually not even tone.
To be fair, Gibson did experiment with a bunch of woods when they made les pauls and they said if they made everything out of maple, it sounded like a piano (long sustain, not as much resonance or low end).

Mines a full maple, body and neck. The sustain is great, my guitar teacher was impressed. But yep, its got classics in it and sounds very bright.

Interestingly, look at this:
( in response to your question about the cherry )
The cherry that I have is almost half punky (it's not really, but I think the tree was down for a while and then the log harvested). I remember building my first telecaster, which wasn't very neatly made (with the D/A truss rod, even went through the back of the neck and had to plug it).

Put a set of duncan vintage style telecaster pickups in it and a high quality pot/switch setup and it sounded exactly like a tele. I'm not sure why I was surprised.

As long as the strings are vibrating, the pickups should get it - it's an electrical thing. The only time things go wrong is if the wood does something to prevent the vibration or change the movement of the string, and what you hear in person is maybe a little that and 90% of what the body is doing with the strings.

So, I hear that 90% here and the rosepaul sounds bright, but then I go back and listen to the sample and maybe I should relax. I think guitars that have glassy tone are better with low or really high output pickups, but at the same time - it's the 5-10% of the effect of change in string movement that gets to the amp.

And I think I could also roll the tone back a little on the rosepaul and it would be a little quieter than the tokai, but then the sound profile is similar - even on a tinny cheap amp.

(I recall reading that gibson attached a bridge and nut to a railroad track and didn't like it (long sustain, flattish sound), but I think they were listening to small differences over and over and you start to train your ear to hear little things and think they're bigger than they are).

Long story short, I'm guessing there's just a little there in A/B, but the fact that I put the later video up yesterday and almost forgot that I'd played the rose paul first, and had to listen closer than I'd have expect to to be sure of the order. I think a bigger difference between the two through the amplifier is that the neck pickup is a little dead on the tokai and the bridge pickup isn't higher output, but is a little more snarley.

I think the tokai was about $900. It's a really nice guitar for that - DHL and tariff make it more like $1200, though. And I've had tokais that weren't that great, so it's not a real safe bet.
Mines a full maple, body and neck. The sustain is great, my guitar teacher was impressed. But yep, its got classics in it and sounds very bright.

Interestingly, look at this:
( in response to your question about the cherry )

revisiting this - your special is maple neck and baked fingerboard, maple top, but still mahogany back, correct?

I hate to burst bubbles of people who have really high trim guitars, but some of the best to play les pauls I had (after correcting instability) were les paul faded with BB pros. They had weight relief, a mahogany top (two did have ratty maple that was very plain and poorly stained), and at least some had rosewood fingerboards (all of mine had mahogany necks, though - they were too old - I did try a tribute, but it had some geometry problems from making and wasn't as well made as the special faded versions).

Long story short, they had mahogany backs, some up to 3 pieces, and the ones in the 2010s had horrid neck profiles with harsh corners...but that's solvable in an hour with a card scraper, and at the time, those guitars were $550 used.

They were crude looking but there's really nothing better about my guitar for playing and mine doesn't sound any better. I had a late 1990s or early 2000s standard, too, with what was probably a 498/490 combo (this was back when I was playing more, never a very good guitarist, but more of a "songster") - I liked the faded specials more.

The BB pro guitars (all of them) definitely all had a clearer sound, though. I didn't keep the tribute long enough to think much about it (it had very uncomfortable neck corners, so I turned it back around and resold it).

The early days of reverb here and federal allowance to use a straw figure when doing taxes if you didn't track sales tax made it very easy to literally go through 80-100 guitars over a couple of years. They showed up at the door, and I had to go 4 tenths of a mile to ship something out and could list a guitar in 10 minutes on the bus. Pure indulgence, and probably a combination of discontentment/unhappiness and curiosity at the same time. But I like what I learned from it and it was aided by minimal losses...

..a little TMI.....back to the point, though. The only thing those guitars were missing was someone belt sanding the edges/corners of the neck round, and I card scraped them....I absolutely love the look of the black customs, but appreciate the stripped down specials more.
revisiting this - your special is maple neck and baked fingerboard, maple top, but still mahogany back, correct?

Nope, full maple....
Its a 2009 studio raw power in black.
No binding or anything but its a great guitar. I had a tribute studio for a few months ( p90s ) but i sold it on again


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ahh, never heard of anything like that.

Three of the "fadeds" that I had, or I should say two were modern weight relief, (not sure of the years, but I think 2007+) - and red, but I think there were brown versions at the same time (terrible neck profile as you could tell the guitars had no hand time on them and the fingerboard didn't match the neck width- there was a bare step).

Third of the group was earlier, 2005 or so and mahogany with maple top, no weight relief (9 pounds or more), same burstbucker pros, but the neck was a regular studio neck.

On recent higher trim guitars, I see the very CNC looking neck that looks like it gets very minimal sanding (wonder to some extent if it's a combination of cost cutting as well as wanting the necks to look perfect).

At any rate, I'll go look at the raw power models. A les paul made in non-weight relief hard maple would probably be pushing 10 pounds. I'm curious.
Theres different 'raw power' versions.... just to be complicated. I think it was 2013? They did it again, but this time with maple neck and top cap instead of all maple. And ive got a feeling there was a different one before the 2009 ones
For any viewers who might not see the point in the discussion about instrument weight, let me assure you that it is important!
My Gibson is (reputedly) the heaviest Les Paul ever made, weighing in at a massive 14lbs.
(When I say 'my', I don't mean just my particular beast! I mean the model range of that year!)
I've had her since '76, and it is - was? - my "go to" gigging and recording machine for many years, but as I got older, and my straps got wider to spread the load, I found that I was developing a really painful neck during and after any performance. Not just the odd twinge, but a constant stiff and painful neck that would last days.
I'd liken it to having to stretch my head/neck a la Del Boy, and even then It didn't solve the problem!
Four years ago I started gigging with my ash Strat instead - it's like a feather in comparison - before switching again to a slightly weightier Dean Soltero. The neck profile, and the fact that it's humbuckered suited my purpose better.
Another aspect of weight to consider - and is often overlooked - is balance. I once owned a guitar that was so "neck heavy" it meant that my left arm ached for hours after playing, just for having to constantly lift it up!
the older I get the more I like lighter guitars, got a bad back thesedays so it's become more important, a charvel guitar I played last year was fantastic, so lightweight and easy to play, maybe the best 'stock' guitar I have ever played, mexican made one, I think guitarists are more bothered about weight now than they used to be, I have a p-bass that is unbelievably heavy weight but sounds great, apologies is that's too off topic.