Les Paul 04

Jul 1 2004, 01:56

After the top was glued and planed I sanded it smooth, raised the grain with a damp rag, and sanded it to 320. Then I practiced sunbursting on it, first with a rag, then using my little auto touchup gun. I decided that spraying is the way to go when I do the proper bursting.

Once I was done experimenting, I routed the 1/4″ radius on the back, and routed a 1/2″ radius rebate all around the perimeter of the body, except for the cutaway, using my router table.

Rebated perimeter

Next I routed the binding channel using the table. I will be using tall binding in the cuttaway, with a binding channel which runs parallel to the back of the guitar, so I routed the cutaway area along with the rest - if you want to do an authentic vintage approach you’ll need to leave this till later so you can route a 1/4″ binding channel which follows to top carve in the cutaway. After struggling with this approach on the blue guitar in my avatar, I decided to go the easy route this time! I cut the channel using my bearing guided binding cutter - assembled on the cheap by swapping the bearings from a flush trim laminate bit, and a profile cutter to produce a 1.5mm channel. I also discovered that the bits I got with the router table use a slightly smaller bearing - 11 rather than 11.5, so I swapped one of these on for the final pass, which guaranteed a clean final result - essential if the binding is going to look good.

Once the binding channel is cut, I setup my neck angle jig. This is a simple variation on my router thickness planer, which cuts the neck angle onto the end of the guitar body. By placing a thicker block under one end of my router rails, I introduce an angle. I determine my neck angle using the method described by Melvyn Hiscock, and use this drawing to establish exactly where the blocks need to go, and how thick they need to be.

neck angle jig

The angle is cut with several shallow pases, checking constanly that the body centreline is at 90 degrees to the rails which set the angle - if it creeps the angle will be cut crooked, which will be fatal. Once it’s finished, it looks like this.

neck angle

Jul 1 2004, 04:53

With the neck angle machined into the top, it’s time to route the neck mortice and tenon. First, the tenon. The tenon dimension are marked out, and it’s rough cut on the bandsaw. I stay a few mm clear of the angled area where the body and neck will touch.

Once the tenon is roughed out, I attach my tenon template - shown here with the mortice template.

Routed tenon

The neck goes over to the router table, where the tennon is trimmed to size using a template bit. Again, take care to stay away from the angled joint surface by the heel, you really don’t want to touch this with the cutter or you’ll tear the side out of your heel. (I found all the bits and glued it back together :D)

Tenon template

Once the tenon is routed out, I carefuly cut the angles at the heel using a razor-pullsaw.

Trimming the tenon

After cleanup with a sharp paring chisel this is the result:

Cleaned up tenon

Coming soon - the mortice or neck pocket, whatever turns you on…

Jul 1 2004, 09:09

Well, here goes with the mortice:

First I hog out the bulk of the wood in the mortice using my 1″ forstner bit. Then, I attach the template with doublsided tape - plenty here, the last thing you want is it slipping.

Mortice hogged

Once the joint is hogged out, I clean up using a template bit. I take a lot of small passes, aiming to take bewteen 1/4″ and one 1/8″ each pass. The end result should be a nice crisp mortice.

Mortice and tenon

Once the mortice and tenon were both completed, I tidied up the joint using sandpaper pulled through the mating surfaces until it fits nice and tight. I also found my flush cutting saw very helpful to fit the joint, running it against the body to remove tiny quanitities from the neck. Once the joint fits to my satisfaction I use a tiny carving plane to bring the cutaway level with the side of the neck (I cut it slightly oversize when I shaped the body).

Neck joint tidied

Jul 2 2004, 11:34

Once the neck joint is fitted to my satisfaction I continue shaping the top. There are two angled portions on a Les Paul top: The portion I have already angled, where the fretboard sits & the area that the pickups sit on - John Catto calls this the pickup plane. This area starts just after the end of the fretboard, and extends to between the bridge pickup and the bridge.

Here it is marked out (I beefed up the lines in photoshop)

Pickup plane marked

I use a smoothing plane across the grain to establish the flat area which joins these two lines. Once I get close to the final depth I go with the grain, using a plane, flat sanding block and scraper to smooth the area until it looks a bit like this:

Pickup plane planed

jay5 asked:
Setch, how long is the tenon?, How far past the end of the fretboard does it extend?

The pencil line in the last image represents the end of the fretboard. The tenon extends about 3/4 of the way into the neck pickup cavity (or will when it’s routed). This long tenon is one of the features that distiguishes 50’s and early 60’s LP’s from their modern counterparts.

Grindell asked: This is kinda late in the process, but what size router bit did you use to cut the access for the truss rod? I saw you said you used a core bit, but what size? I was thinking of going with a 3/8″. But, I was going to test first, of course.

I’m pretty sure it was 1/2″. I think 3/8″ would probably be neater, but I don’t have a 3/8″ bit…

Jul 10 2004, 03:09

Here’s the latest update - sorry for the gap. I’ve been working on the guitar after work, and so I’ve had less time to take pics and post here, but I did get a few shots.

Here’s the top ready to be carved, arranged on the top are the tools I use. The spokeshaves establish the convex curves, and the little plane deals with the recurve area. It’s a real monster - eats through the maple like nobodies business!

Carving tools

Here’s the guitar about halfway through - the treble side is almost completed, and the bass is almost untouched, except around the lower bout.

Carving in progress

First I roughed out the convex curves, using a jack plane to remove most of the material, and then evening out the curve with the spokeshave. Once this was even, I carved the concave recurve area with the little ibex clone. In this shot the left side has been shaped with the spokeshave, whilst the right hand side has also recieved attention from the carving plane.

Recurve/no recurve

Then it’s a question of using plane and spokeshave, along with scrapers, to flow the two curves together. I found the dyed top quite helpful as a record of which parts of the top had been carved, it helped to get things symetrical. Once I had the carve roughed out I bound the guitar with Stew Mac’s cream binding. I really don’t like this stuff - it’s ABS, and is stiffer than the cellulose nitrate stuff. Also, it’s formed not cut from sheets, and the bunch I got had one side *very* convex, so I had to machine it flat with my router thicknessing jig. I glued the binding with CA glue, taping it all round then wicking the glue in by capilliary action. Once it’s glued I turn a good hook on my scraper and scrape it flush.

Rough carve

Once the top is bound I spent a long time smothing the contours and refining the shape until I was happy with it. Once I’m satisfied I start sanding, so far just to 150. I use 3m gold from Stew Mac - it is head and shoulders better than any other paper I’ve used, and I wouldn’t use anything else if it was easier to get. If anyone in the UK knows of a supplier other than Stew Mac I’d love to hear of them…

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