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Starting a Les Paul - First Full/Scratch Build


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This has been very helpful - thanks for all the input and different perspectives.  Here's where I've landed for the moment.

  1. Neck/truss rod/tenon stuff
  2. Cut and thickness fretboard blank (keep sides parallel)
  3. Cut fret slots
  4. Trim fretboard to final dimensions (taper and length)
  5. Radius fretboard
  6. Bind the fretboard and trim/tweak to final specs
  7. Attach fretboard to neck (with pins, cauls and caution)
  8. Trim the neck to final width using a pattern bit following the edge of the fretboard
  9. Shape the neck (rasps, files and sandpaper)
  10. Install frets
  11. Attach the neck to the body

 (Deal with headstock finalization and veneer sometime before attaching neck to body)

My thinking regarding radiusing the fretboard before gluing to the neck (8 before 10) is that I will probably build a little jig to hold the fretboard centered in a channel in which I can run my sanding block back and forth to ensure that it stays running straight along the length.  I'm assuming that there is less variability among pre-glued fretboards than there is in necks, thus building a reusable jig for fretboards of different sizes will be easier than building a reusable jig for necks of different sizes and shapes.  And I already know I can make a radiused clamping caul in any radius I need in about a half hour (yay, reusable jigs!).

My thinking in binding before attaching to the neck (9 before 10) is that I want to use the finished fretboard as the pattern for trimming my neck width to size.  For whatever reason (rational or not) the thought of putting the binding on after the fretboard is attached to the neck scares me off - I feel like I wouldn't get edges straight in places where then need to be in order to avoid unsightly gaps.

So this is my plan of attack at this point. I'm sure I'm overthinking parts of this, but I'd rather overthink than underthink, especially on the first build!

Edited by eubie
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1 hour ago, eubie said:

 I have one open question at this point.  The rod is flush to the surface of the neck all the way down, except for a slight gap above the chrome adjustment 'head' at the end of the channel.  Should we cut a small filler piece of mahogany to fill the channel above that head?

Only if it pleases you aesthetically. It is pretty much invisible after the fretboard is attached. I never do that myself. It would have some value in keeping glue out of that area whilst glue up the fretboard...but you are going to have to use something for keeping it off the rod anyway and would typically protect this end the same way.

SR

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Hahaha.....fantastic! Well, you guys are going to have a good time throwing ideas back and forth. That's always the best. As long as you're both part of the process, you both know you've got a second opinion. Remember to disagree, because it's productive. My boss tells me that he's always right, so I agree and tell him that I'm always right too.

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I agree with Scott that a filler is mostly aesthetic. It does allow you to lower the rod a little further I guess, but in the case of two-way rods that are disconnected from the neck itself this has limited value. For single-acting compression rods, that's a different game. The position of the rod in that instance is critical to squeezing out adjustability and producing a good-sounding neck.

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  • 3 months later...

Been a while since I posted progress.  Life got in the way a little (work, vacation, stuff).  Also, spent a bunch of time building jigs, which slowed some of our progress.  But, we have been making progress, and I've just been derelict in my duty to post updates.

So the last thing I posted about was the truss rod channel.  Since then...

Trimmed the fretboard to final width, and trimmed the headstock to final shape using the new router/shaper setup.

IMG_20170819_085351-300x237.jpg  IMG_20170819_090954-300x225.jpg  

Cut out the fretboard, radiused and cut fret slots.

IMG_20170819_092649-300x225.jpg  IMG_20170917_153426_1-225x300.jpg  IMG_20170917_164526-300x225.jpg  IMG_20170923_105542-300x225.jpg  

Bound the fretboard with ivory colored ABS binding using the acetone melt-and-adhere approach.  We got a little melty goodness on the edges of the binding after installation, but nothing that a little sanding and scraping didn't take care of.

IMG_20170923_115247-300x225.jpg  IMG_20170924_174723-225x300.jpg  IMG_20170924_174708-300x225.jpg  

Considered and decided against trying to inlay Les Paul style markers, and instead cut clay dots, and installed them.  The "soft" clay dots and the open-pored wenge conspired to give us less than perfectly circular dots, but we decided we are happy with them nonetheless.  To give it a little personality, I added a simple inlay at the 12th fret that turned out pretty good.

IMG_20171001_090404-300x225.jpg  IMG_20171001_152645-225x300.jpg  IMG_20171001_160909-300x225.jpg  

Put the template on the body and trimmed to final profile, as well as routing the control cavity and the wiring channel.  Yes - we used the masking tape and CA glue method.  I know the 3M tape sentiment is strong in these parts, but in this case, we used what we had on hand.  Besides, I've never had any issues with the masking tape, so...

IMG_20170923_115639-300x225.jpg  IMG_20170923_121211-300x225.jpg  IMG_20170923_125021-300x225.jpg  IMG_20170923_131527-225x300.jpg  

That's where we are at this point.  Fretting is next.

IMG_20171007_113305-225x300.jpg  IMG_20171007_113430-225x300.jpg

 

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The bit on your router table scares the crap out of me! Have you considered adding a starting pin? They're super useful for introducing a workpiece to the cutter and providing valuable protection from "issues". Seems like you guys didn't need it here, however I'd recommend looking into one.

Lovely work though, it really is. I presume that the squeezeout from the binding into the slots is not going to be an issue?

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8 hours ago, Prostheta said:

The bit on your router table scares the crap out of me!

You and me both.  I'll give the starting pin a try, but mostly I just work very carefully around that thing, and take very shallow passes.  

8 hours ago, Prostheta said:

I presume that the squeezeout from the binding into the slots is not going to be an issue?

I don't think so.  I'll pick at it a little with my slot cleaner-outer before I put the frets in, but there's not really as much of it as it looks like in those photos.  At least that's what I'm telling myself.

BTW - In previous projects I've always hammered in frets, but I decided to make a little fretting caul that I can mount in my drill press, and press them in this time.  Just seems like a more civilized approach, and the extra time to make the jig is probably worth it.  Clearly I haven't been in a hurry!

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Router table starting pins act somewhat like a lever, so the workpiece is already secure at one point. The rest is using the physics of that (everything seems to be class one levers this week) to introduce the workpiece to the cutter safely.

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Quick update.  Had issues getting frets in - slots were too narrow for the fret tangs, and the wenge just wasn't giving enough to get them in without splintering.  Tried to widen the slots with the binding on, and had no joy.  Tried to take the binding off and went from inconvenience to total fiasco.

So, we're calling it a learning experience, and starting over with a new fretboard blank.  Now that we know what were doing, things should progress more quickly.

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I have a couple different fret saws, and I'm not entirely sure where any of them came from.  In this case, I used the same one that I had used previously on a ukulele fretboard.  I think the fretwire I bought for this project had a slightly wider tang, and the wenge has a little less give than the maple I used for the uke.  That combination is what probably did me in.

It wasn't just that though - it was a combination of things.  As I was teaching my son how to slot the board, we ended up with some slots that were a little sloppy to begin with, then we weren't 100% happy with the clay dots, then the issue with the slots being too narrow.  By the time I was taking off the binding I had almost already decided to start again.  The voice in my head was saying, "you should probably start fresh anyway, so go ahead and try to strip the binding off and see what happens".  

Before starting the new board, I took a scrap of the wenge and prepared it like a new fretboard (radius and such), then cut slots will all three of my most likely saws, then placed some frets in the various slots.  Having done that, I think we'll breeze through the next round pretty easily.

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  • 2 weeks later...

just one comment on using a drill press for frets - I'm not sure drill presses are meant for this amount of pressure, I might have messed mine up a tiny bit by doing exactly this, it now has a small "hiccup" when lowering the spindle at one point. So I just went ahead and bought a small arbor press and I use that now.

 

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The gearing in pillar drills isn't designed to experience the level of load that fret pressing can apply. Generally I think that it's easy to apply more pressure than is needed. Depends on the drill of course. Some are crazy weak and rack all over the place.

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mine is probably a lower-end model, I freed it from fret pressing via the press and then I got a spindle sander to free it from sideways pressure..

Concerning tang size - I think my saw is also a tad too narrow for the 6105 dunlops that I'm mostly using, I'm under the impression that all of my necks go into backbow after fretting (and carving, straight after fretting they're still not carved so manage to resist). I think I nearly maxed-out a 2-way truss rod on one of them just trying to get the neck back in shape (with strings on).

So this is another thing to take into account

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All necks will go into backbow to a certain degree, or at least be under an imbalance of tension/compression. The fret barbs compress the end grain in the slots, and a slightly undersized slot will course exacerbate that if the tangs are wide. This ends up back in the subject of work ordering, and when is best to fret, shape the back of the neck, etc. We'll always be wrong! haha

I'd better check the fret tang size of my own Dunlop wire and fret saw....

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  • 1 month later...

Ok, so it's been a while since my last post, but we are still making progress.  Here's the latest update, and more detailed build posts are on my site at http://eubie.com.

Last update was that we were starting new with the fretboard.  We found a really pretty piece of purpleheart at our local yard, and having learned a little from our mistakes, we cut initial slots, then cut the sides to the profile we wanted, then sanded in the radius, then recut the slots to final depth with a saw that has the right kerf for our frets.  Then we glued it up on the neck, and installed the binding and dots in situ.

lp12_2.thumb.jpg.cadf1c3375f160df25f5dbef4c6b1949.jpg lp12_4.thumb.jpg.ddbfe940f8a63512241f2db08de4c058.jpg lp12_6.thumb.jpg.69e6bda50cdd2fc67814419a4e2b4f20.jpg

lp12_8.thumb.jpg.fbba848efce60e11ae25dd6ac2dad210.jpg lp12_9.thumb.jpg.10198f3da0768b152263e5fca33b3c63.jpg

Next we glued up the maple and mahogany body, trimmed the maple, and cut the neck pocket.

lp13_2.thumb.jpg.9ec80b0d7c398933ad1e54e2ddcedd47.jpg lp13_3.thumb.jpg.558d7dbb26ddd4966b48abdc818c2aca.jpg

lp13_5.thumb.jpg.4572da13fe3c0ff33c93c76e44610df2.jpg 

lp14_2.thumb.jpg.982134842736a9bb7a671a4e000a8c8b.jpg  lp14_4.thumb.jpg.939d921b49699eb6854d862479bd7bc1.jpg

lp14_5.thumb.jpg.34c2985b0f25101277bfefb158806b3b.jpg lp14_7.thumb.jpg.f3fbf8ec0afe2726ad88c5df11270d32.jpg

lp14_10.thumb.jpg.4c924fbfd8914820239af4b06b0452b7.jpg 

Obviously still a good ways to go, but we are feeling good about our progress.

 

Edited by eubie
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Excellent! Does the sides of the neck line up well with the bridge position (couple of straightedges to confirm), the neck angle play out well and is the neck pocket/tenon fairly "gapless"? If so, that's hitting out of the park. It certainly looks that way, anyway.

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21 hours ago, Prostheta said:

Excellent! Does the sides of the neck line up well with the bridge position (couple of straightedges to confirm), the neck angle play out well and is the neck pocket/tenon fairly "gapless"? If so, that's hitting out of the park. It certainly looks that way, anyway.

The neck lines up  perfectly with the bridge position and the center line of the body. I was very careful with that, although I'm still going to wait to drill holes until the neck is glued in and I can be sure I'm lining up with reality.

The neck angle came out pretty well.  I was shooting for 4 degrees and it dry-fits at 5 degrees.  I could shim out that last degree, but I'd rather have the solid tenon-to-pocket match-up than to recover that last degree of break angle.

Whether the tenon/pocket is fairly "gapless" depends on your definition of "fairly". :lol:  Overall, the tenon fits tight against the surfaces of the pocket.  There are a couple spots where the walls of the pocket are not perfectly smooth, which creates some small gaps, and the shoulders and heel are not perfect against the body, so there are some small gaps there - I'll get a couple more pics later today (though I hate taking pictures of things that didn't come out exactly right).  If we were painting this guitar, I wouldn't worry about it, and I'd just fill those gaps with filler after the glue-up, but since we're staining it, I don't know how that will look.  We are doing more of a semi-opaque-matte stain on the back (like on this Epi LP Traditional - they call it a "worn" finish), so maybe we can get away with some mahogany filler in there.

-- se

Edited by eubie
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On 6/27/2017 at 1:35 PM, ScottR said:

Only if it pleases you aesthetically. It is pretty much invisible after the fretboard is attached. I never do that myself. It would have some value in keeping glue out of that area whilst glue up the fretboard...but you are going to have to use something for keeping it off the rod anyway and would typically protect this end the same way.

SR

I use a small piece of masking tape right there just to keep the glue out .

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You know what I started doing a while back? I wrap the entire truss rod in just a couple of layers of saran wrap. I forget who suggested it to me, but it really seems to make sure no glue ever fouls the rod, while allowing you to glue the entire surface without worrying about squeeze out.

Those blue rods are already wrapped, so I never do that on them, but the exposed ones are quite common and sometimes I find a deal on a group of them.

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