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When is a Les Paul not a Les Paul…. A build thread.


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…and what does make a Les Paul after all ?

 

No, I'm not going to post a Les Paul build thread. (Or am I ?)

 

Last week I finished and delivered an ES335 for a customer in the UK and he asked me “What’s next now ?” And it was actually a good question, since I have several new projects awaiting for some quality workbench time… And now I think I have a winner project.

 

Been playing a lot lately with the idea of a Les Paul flavoured Blackdog Singlecut.

 

I’ve discussed this here before, the original Blackdog Singlecut design was heavily influenced by the PRS style of solidbodies. Longer scale and different maple/mahogany ratio have a deep impact in the way the guitar sounds and responds. Nothing wrong with that, but it is different from a Les Paul in both accounts.

 

But a good Les Paul has always been a favorite of mine. It was my first love and every time I strap one on is like coming back home. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on this... ;-) So, why not merge the elements that I believe make the LP sound and feel experience with my Singlecut design ?

 

It took a bit of refining of the design, but the looks are close enough to my original Singlecut and still different enough to not make it a Les Paul copy. The elements I’m bringing from LP-Land into this design are:

 

- Thicker mahogany back, around 1.75”.

- Thinner and harder maple top: 5/8”. Hard-maple might not be so beautifully flamed as big-leaf, but is indeed harder and it has an impact to the sound.

- 59 LP Scale lenght and fret spacing: Rule of 18 based on a 24.75” scale. Thinner fretboard.

- One piece mahogany neck with old style compression rod (Yes, I'll be going old-school with this one. If the neck is well made and the wood is stable there’s no need for a two-way rod. And the old school one means more wood and less steel in the neck: I like the idea of that).

- Steeper tilted back headstock: 17*, and of a new design, with strings fanning out to the tuner posts. Vintage style low mass tuners. I won't be using a volute, but I may try an idea I have for reinforcing the headstock area without betraying the design. We'll see.

- Bridge/pickup positions geometry like on a 59 LP.

 

The most significant details of comfort of my original design will be kept: The belly cut on the back and the progressive heel for a better upper fret access. And a few up-class details too, like faux binding on the maple top, flamed maple binding on the fretboard and some interesting head plate. But nothing too over the top, these shall be players’ guitars.

 

I have already worked out the general plans and specifically those for the templates: for the body, neck and top carving.

 

The plan right now is to concurrently build two of these. A Goldtop with a wraparound bridge and twin P90s and a Sunburst with ABR/Stop Tailpiece and twin Humbuckers.

 

I’m also toying with the idea of making the Sunburst a semi-hollow/chambered type, with a single soundhole. This just to keep things interesting… 

 

This is what these will look like (hopefully):

 

 

(Pics lost to the great Photobucket highjack)

 

 

I promised that the next Blackdog design I'd build I would post the thread here, so this is it gents. I haven't even started yet (other than collecting the wood) and it's going to take some time, so I hope we will all have fun together.

 

BTW I think I will call these LP flavoured Blackdogs the BluesBreakers.

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I love your CAD plans, but you'd expect no less from me right? ;-)

As far as the question, "When is a Les Paul not a Les Paul" is concerned I think it's a can of worms. There's very little unifying the dozens of Les Paul models Gibson have foisted upon the unwashed over the decades. The only common element would perhaps be the silhouette if you disregarded tuner choice and headstock size. Those elements of themselves do not constitute a guitar design since they don't include defined specifications.

It might only be fair to say that a Les Paul is not a Les Paul if Gibson say so, and it is if they say it is. Then again, if you made a perfect replica (same as the Kris Derrig model Slash is famous for playing, for example) then when is that not a Les Paul? Funnily enough, Les Paul himself didn't have much control over what was or was not a "Les Paul model" guitar.

The guitar on the right is a 1963 Les Paul. No joke. This is historical fact.

5618c679ea2b8_1963GibsonSGspecial-63SGst

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My wife loves your previous builds and would dearly love to own a honeyburst BluesBreaker as per the second design, but sans f-hole. We won nine Euros on the lottery this morning, so we're off to a bit of a slow start! Very curious, the incorporation of the ABR-1 bridge rather than a more forgiving Nashville. That's really going for the old specs!

Always a pleasure seeing your builds and impressive build list in your signature. :lol:

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I love your CAD plans, but you'd expect no less from me right? ;-)

As far as the question, "When is a Les Paul not a Les Paul" is concerned I think it's a can of worms. There's very little unifying the dozens of Les Paul models Gibson have foisted upon the unwashed over the decades. The only common element would perhaps be the silhouette if you disregarded tuner choice and headstock size. Those elements of themselves do not constitute a guitar design since they don't include defined specifications.

It might only be fair to say that a Les Paul is not a Les Paul if Gibson say so, and it is if they say it is. Then again, if you made a perfect replica (same as the Kris Derrig model Slash is famous for playing, for example) then when is that not a Les Paul? Funnily enough, Les Paul himself didn't have much control over what was or was not a "Les Paul model" guitar.

The guitar on the right is a 1963 Les Paul. No joke. This is historical fact.

5618c679ea2b8_1963GibsonSGspecial-63SGst

Hi Carl. Yes, you're right, it's a can of worms in a way... But come on ! You know what I mean when I ask the rethorical question...

It is a true fact that the SG started as a Les Paul, but let's be clear, it has as much in common to the "real" Les Paul as a Vee or an Explorer do. I'm after the Bluesbreaker Les Paul sound and feel.

 

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My wife loves your previous builds and would dearly love to own a honeyburst BluesBreaker as per the second design, but sans f-hole. We won nine Euros on the lottery this morning, so we're off to a bit of a slow start! Very curious, the incorporation of the ABR-1 bridge rather than a more forgiving Nashville. That's really going for the old specs!

Always a pleasure seeing your builds and impressive build list in your signature. :lol:

I think it's about time you get your wife the guitar she wants and deserves !! But I'm afraid 9 euros wont get you very far....:P

The ABR is a nice design. Located correctly it will provide all the range you will ever need. Good ones have less free play on the moving parts and over the posts.

I used to find the right position of the bridge by finding the correct intonation at the 12th fret on the two E strings (moving the loose bridge around the expected position on the top), then using the bridge post holes to mark the post positions on the top. But checking the resulting positioning of the posts from the 12th fret in several finished guitars (same scale, obviously) I found that they all ended up within 0.5mm of each other. So today I'm just using the measurements to position the loose bridge, confirm the intonation, and mark the holes on the top.

 

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Hi Carl. Yes, you're right, it's a can of worms in a way... But come on ! You know what I mean when I ask the rethorical question...

It is a true fact that the SG started as a Les Paul, but let's be clear, it has as much in common to the "real" Les Paul as a Vee or an Explorer do. I'm after the Bluesbreaker Les Paul sound and feel.

You know me too well....! No question is a bad question....until I try and answer it!! <_<

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Loooong time without posting in this fine forum, where I learned so much !

Its great to see so many beautiful builds going on. Many talented builders in the forum, as always, and a lot to learn from them.

It is hard to believe that I started this Single-cut project almost five years ago….

Shortly after that I changed project at my day job and it became much more demanding… And a few of those rare breeds called “customers” kept me busy making some 335/355s…. So, let's say, I got distracted.

But the project was never truly stopped. It just slowly moved forward by spasms of activity followed by periods of rest…

The design itself also evolved a little since the original proposal. The concept remains the same, but the shape was refined a little to make it even more gracefully LP-ish while keeping the DNA of the Blackdog Singlecut original design. And the scope of the build was consolidated to three BD Bluesbreakers:

The FiftySeven: A gentle carve, more LP-ish, on a hard maple top that will be a Goldtop. Solid, light Mahogany back and a Spanish cedar neck. This one will have a cream plastic binding on the top and the cocobolo fretboard. Fret markers will be my offset dots. Humbuckers, ABR-1 bridge and aluminium tailpiece. Vintage Kluson tuners and a simple black faceplate.

The FiftyNine: Has a bit more dramatic carve on the top of nicely flamed hard maple. Will be a Sunburst. Solid, light Mahogany back and a mahogany neck. This one will have a faux binding on the top (exposed maple edge) and flamed maple binding on the cocobolo fretboard. Fret markers will be MOP trapezoids. Humbuckers, ABR-1 bridge and aluminium tailpiece. Vintage Kluson tuners and a cocobolo faceplate.
 
The Hollowbody: Same carve as the FiftyNine, on top of more evenly flamed hard maple. Unknown finish at this time, probably something modern. Hollowed Mahogany back and honduras mahogany neck. This one will have a faux binding on the top (exposed maple), a single sound hole and cocobolo binding on the B. rosewood fretboard. Fret markers will be black MOP/abalone “V” blocks. Humbuckers, locking ABR-1 bridge and aluminium tailpiece. Schaller tuners and a cocobolo faceplate.

A lot of work has already been done, and now with the current situation it seems I will spend most of the summer at home, so maybe the perfect time to complete these builds….

These are the first “true” new Blackdog designs I’ve done in a while, so If there’s still interest in following some more of my builds I will update this thread accordingly.

These are the new concept drawings for the updated design,

PdXSc72.jpg

ijN6WbK.jpg

 

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2 hours ago, Blackdog said:

These are the first “true” new Blackdog designs I’ve done in a while, so If there’s still interest in following some more of my builds I will update this thread accordingly.

Blackdog, allow me to be among the first to welcome you back! I have missed your builds considerably, and also can think of several new members that are going to be ecstatic when they discover what a Blackdog build thread is about.

Wow, this is the second thread coming back to a life begun 5 years ago.

Cheers!

SR

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On 6/17/2020 at 1:58 PM, Prostheta said:

Nice little "speed lean" to this one!

Hey ! Hi there ! Now that you mention it, yes... a fastened seatbelt is probably needed....

Hope you guys are doing well in these rarefied times....

 

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On 6/17/2020 at 3:41 PM, ScottR said:

Blackdog, allow me to be among the first to welcome you back! I have missed your builds considerably, and also can think of several new members that are going to be ecstatic when they discover what a Blackdog build thread is about.

Wow, this is the second thread coming back to a life begun 5 years ago.

Cheers!

SR

Hi Scott, thanks for the welcome back. I'll try to keep up with the posting. Mind you, I've gotten lazy with the pictures lately, but I think I have enough archive material to show here and keep the thread interesting.

Yes indeed. I had another build that was dormant for 5 years. But that was truly frozen, these builds here have been advancing, though at a somewhat glacier speed...

 

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So, to get this started.

First activities were, obviously, to prepare the banks for the parts. Body backs were thicknessed, tops were book matched and thicknessed,

There was quite a lot to do with a couple of the tops. The boards were seriously twisted and there wasn't enough extra thickness to account for it. So I had to press them into flatness: got them wet on the surface and put them under pressure (more than 150Kg) for a while. In the end they stood under pressure for almost a year before I actually did something with them.... By that time they were flat alright !

Body blanks and book matched tops were all sized to common dimensions and mounting holes for the operations on the jigs, this simplifies the setups when making more than one of the same design.

Now, the Hollowbody is somewhat different from the other two in that inside of the top is carved in the sound hole area. This is to obtain a top thickness consistent in the area once the outside part gets carved.

This is something that needs to be sorted before attempting any other operation with the top.

I used a set of “topographic” templates designed to align with the templates used for the top carve. These are all referenced to common alignment points to ensure that everything will align properly and the top thickness will remain even and predictable in the sound hole area. I was aiming at 4mm thickness this time to keep things reasonable without too much risk as it was the first time I tried this method.

I theory, the step ridges of the topographic routes on the inside will align with the step ridges on the top, an operation that will happen much later. So I am really depending on the accuracy of the alignment to the reference mounting points of the templates.  
 
This was a proof-of-concept for future fully carved tops and backs (outside and inside), it worked beautifully as you’ll see in the pictures.

The inside carve templates: Once again, a set of 9 templates were used (same amount as for the top).

hJsfNwS.jpg

The top with the topographic routing on the inside.
btWCKSR.jpg

The top with the inside carve smoothed and ready.
jUoXVBJ.jpg

Now it would be a while until I could verify the success of the approach: After carving the top and when the sound hole gets cut open.

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The wire channel routed on the backs.
Note the "standard" size of the blanks.
jC3O11r.jpg

And the big chamber for the hollowbody, keeping a solid center block from neck to tailpiece.

The hollowing was done mostly with forstner bits in a heavy swiss-cheese manner, and then evened out with the router and a template. The base of the router had to be widened with a flat piece of wood to make it sit stable between the edges and the centerblock for such a wide routing area. The back is 8mm thick in the chamber, if the router falls-off the edge while you're working on this it can easily make a disaster.

Also the soundhole area is slightly deeper, this was to remove the marks of the forstner bits tips, as this area will be visible through the sound hole. It was also sanded to 320 grit for a nice appearance.

rTlKuwK.jpg

 

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What I would say here is that it might be a good idea to leave your top unattached by the time you carve the top profile, and hence not committed. If you need to dial in anything later, you're going to want to do this from the inside and not through the f-hole. Perhaps dowels or other locating pins will make this easier, plus a few violin rim clamps to hold things in place whilst you work? It looks like you have locating pins in the waste already, so perhaps adding some into the top/body in places like pickup routs, neck pocket, rear bout, bridge post locations, etc. will give you an easier time of things.

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Now, the templates for the top carve are something, awesome. I'll have to look up some of your older builds, I love where and how this is going. Love your take on the "Les Paul", godspeed! 

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17 hours ago, Prostheta said:

What I would say here is that it might be a good idea to leave your top unattached by the time you carve the top profile, and hence not committed. If you need to dial in anything later, you're going to want to do this from the inside and not through the f-hole. Perhaps dowels or other locating pins will make this easier, plus a few violin rim clamps to hold things in place whilst you work? It looks like you have locating pins in the waste already, so perhaps adding some into the top/body in places like pickup routs, neck pocket, rear bout, bridge post locations, etc. will give you an easier time of things.

That's actually very good advice. I definitely considered it at the time (this happened looooong ago... spoiler: it did work fine). But decided to go the "engineer's way", that is to measure many times, design the templates with alignment in mind, align everything carefully and trust the design.... 😱 Jokes apart, if you're not really confident with the design or if you're working more free-hand, your advice is clearly the only way to go.

In this case the margin of error was low anyway, and I really wanted to prove that the approach works for future designs. Even if there was a one full routing step misalignment (gross template alignment shift), the error in thickness would have been only 1.2mm. In real life with decent alignment, after the steps ridges are evened out, the error in thickness will be a small fraction of that at most. 

All carve and outline templates (and inside chamber in this case) have the same two alignment points as they are mounted to the piece. These two points fall, as expected, in the pickup cavity and neck pocket. And every template design is referenced to a common point in the blueprint.

oUrzlor.jpg

CDMLAOY.jpg

jNYaMTc.jpg

For archtop carving I see very often used the method of drilling with a depth stop at different points. I believe that this template method can yield more accurate results with less fine-tuning afterwards. After all, it is how you would approach it were you using a CNC.

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So, a bit of a fast forward now (Sorry, no intermediate pics in the archive, but the process is pretty much like any other maple capped solid body aanyway).

This is the hollow body, already shaped with the top glued on.
OHN92my.jpg

This is the FiftyNine
DIoZEWB.jpg

And the FiftySeven
G74kBmJ.jpg

What an interesting birds-eye top on the last one, I hear you say... But the thing was plagued by worm holes, hence, solid color/goldtop.

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2 hours ago, Blackdog said:

....measure many times, design the templates with alignment in mind, align everything carefully and trust the design....

This should be a mantra. All that could be added to that would be "understand where errors creep in and compound". This is the only thing that undermines a solid design methodology.

 

1 hour ago, Blackdog said:

G74kBmJ.jpg

What an interesting birds-eye top on the last one, I hear you say... But the thing was plagued by worm holes, hence, solid color/goldtop.

 

Those damn potworms.

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Thanks for the good words. Yes, indeed I try to engineer every aspect of the design on paper (well, the computer screen actually) before cutting wood. Sometime ago, in a different thread, I showed the CAD study of the topo-templates design I needed to achieve the carve I wanted on the offset shape of my design. Some of that work had to be repeated to adapt the templates to the singlecut shape for these builds. 

Same thing with things like neck angle/fretboard thickness to attain the desired string action vs. bridge mounting height and regulation range. 

Cutting the improvisation to a minimum and working out all these details "on paper", you just need trust the design: you cut the wood according to the blueprints and it will work. 

But that's a lot of work to do in advance. I needed to draw reasonably accurate blueprints for all the parts: bridges, tailpieces, inserts, thumbwheels, pickup rings, pots, switches, etc.

You will still need improvisation, but will be mostly limited to fixing accidents, that inevitably do happen.

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