Makin' myself a 6-string guitar. LP Special style build.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by SDB Guitars, Mar 30, 2011.

  1. I dig it!

    48 vote(s)
  2. I hate it!

    0 vote(s)
  3. Meh...

    3 vote(s)
  4. What's a gee-tar? Is that like a 6-string piccolo bass?

    10 vote(s)
  1. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    So, over the Christmas season, I lost my software support "day job" of 5 years, and found that I had a little bit of time on my hands. To console myself, I spent a lot of time [DEL]sampling a large variety of micro-brews[/DEL] working in the shop.

    After framing up/insulating/heating a section of the (previously uninsulated and unheated steel building) shop with my father-in-law (I'm now building in his shop, as he has a really large nice setup), I decided to build myself a guitar, to do something different.

    This project started out with the intent of being a pretty-much-stock '59 Les Paul Special DC clone, but has taken a few twists and turns as I put my own spin on things.

    For those who don't know what a Les Paul Special DC is, here's a stock picture of what one looks like:


    I'm making the body out of this piece of weird "sorta curly" mahogany (ribbon figured, but each ribbon has weird "flame" figures radiating out from it), with a mahogany neck, bloodwood fingerboard, and hardware TBD. I'll likely go with traditional "three-on-a-strip" tuning keys, and a "Badass" style wrap-around bridge with individually adjustable saddles (the original LP JR's and Specials had a wrap-around bridge with no saddle adjustment).

    Pickups will be P90's, but instead of Vol/Tone for each pickup, and a 3-way switch, it will have just master vol/tone, and the afore-mentioned switch.

    I neglected to take a picture of the body blank prior to cutting it out, so here is the rough oversized blank and the mahogany board for the neck:


    You may notice a couple of other bodies/neck in this picture. Alas, that is another thread for another day. ;) you may also notice that I got that "nearly quartered" mahogany neck board for $4.25. It was on the cut-off heap at my local Windsor Plywood, and I just couldn't resist.

    I cut the headstock angle to 13° using the jig I made (you can check it out in my "Blue Bass" Alowood thread, where I detailed how I made it, and how it works), glued up the scarf joint, and also glued on a heel block. This neck is unlike any I have ever made before, in that it will have a 4° angle built into the neck tenon (as opposed to adding a shim right before gluing):


    I'll post more in the days ahead, as work progresses. I'm very interested in hearing everyone's opinions, thoughts, etc.
  2. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    I think it's kind of cool, the mottling on that mahogany is cool, almost like bubinga as far as the figure. The guys at project guitar and mimf might dig this too. Should be cool to watch come together Shawn... Sorry to hear about the job
  3. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Inactive

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    Awesome! I am building myself a Soprano Bass as well!
  4. If you don't have pickups yet, try these: Roadhouse Pickups

    They're huge on the Unofficial Warmoth forums, and Ken is great to work with. I had him make me a P bass pickup and we exchanged a few PMs until he was able to send me exactly what I was looking for.
  5. BassCycle


    Jan 6, 2006
    Temecula, CA
    Builder: Classic Bass Works
    Those baby basses are so cute! Nice grain!
  6. Rickett Customs

    Rickett Customs

    Jul 30, 2007
    Southern Maryland
    Luthier: Rickett
    Got another suggestion, if you're going with a P90 sort of pickup, Bill Lawrence....
  7. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    or you can call Pete Moreno here in Kalamazoo and get yourself a vintage set of the real things....LOL
  8. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    Given my budget, I'm going to start with a set of Epiphone P90's I've got. They were pulled unused from a new Epi '56 Gold Top LP, so they're AlNiCo V as opposed to ceramic. They still have the plastic "static sticker" on the covers. When I have a job, I'll definitely upgrade them. The Roadhouse pickups look interesting, I'll have to give them more consideration.

    I had been thinking either Fralin noiseless P90's, or something similar from Reed James Customs. Jim also makes really nice P90 replacement covers from exotic woods, and I fear that my cover-making skills pale before this guy's work... I can't match CNC precision, that's for sure. He does good work - check it out:

    So, there are many options to consider. At the moment, though, I'm pretty much working with just what I've got on hand. The only thing I'll have to go out to get at this point is the bridge and tuning machines. I've actually got 5 Gotoh "Keystone" style tuners on my bench, but for the life of me, I can't find the 6th one... Grrrr.

    More pics to come in a little bit. Lots of progress! :D
  9. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    So, here we are again. I know what you guys want - more pictures!

    Let's start with the fingerboard. I got it about 4 years ago from LMII, and had them pre-slot it. This was my first major departure from the Les Paul Special specification. It's bloodwood, as opposed to rosewood, and it's slotted to 25" as opposed to 24.75".


    And here's the neck blank, with the heel glued up and trued:


    Note that I planed a 4° angle onto the heel... this will provide about a 5/16" rise from the end of the fingerboard to the bridge:


    Clamped the neck blank to the body to locate the neck pocket for routing. Note that I notched the end of the neck - this is where the neck pickup will be located, and the tenon will extend into the pickup cavity, to add strength:


    Attached guides around it using double stick (carpet) tape, then routed with a 1/2" template bit. Squared up the corners of the neck pocket with my wonderful new Robert Sorby 3/4" paring chisel. It's got a nice thin 9.75" long blade, so it runs right down the edge of the neck mortise to square up the corners. Routed the truss rod channel (once again, using a jig detailed in my Blue Bass thread...), and press-fit the neck into the body. Note how the heel end sits proud above the body, due to the angle cut into the tenon:


    Used the Japanese saw pictured above, and the chisel in this picture below to saw the proud part of the tenon flush with the top of the guitar body, and to clean up/square the edge where the fingerboard ends. Block sanded carefully to take the saw marks out, and to make sure that everything is completely flush.


    Glued the fingerboard onto the neck:


    Re-trued the neck edge to clean up the glue squeeze out and flush the fingerboard. Note that I taper my necks clear through the headstock. Makes it easier to true the neck, as I can rough it in on the belt sander, and then I attach a large strip of 80 grit sandpaper to my workbench and true the neck on that. If the neck got wider at the headstock end, I wouldn't be able to do it that way. I then glued the wings onto the headstock:


    Thicknessed the back of the headstock, sanded the volute (also a departure from the original design - Gibson guitars don't generally have headstock volutes), and cut my headstock shape, which is based on my bass headstock, but resized and reimaginged to fit within the dimensions of the Gibson LP Special headstock:


    Still to come - Neck carving, headstock overlay veneer, and marking dots! haven't decided whether I will install face dots, or just side dots... thoughts?
  10. Have you decided what you want to do about the pickguard yet?
  11. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    No clear idea on the pickguard yet... My thought so far is to replicate the look of the Gibson 5-layer Black/White/Black/White/Black plastic pickguard by using a combination of bloodwood veneer and curly maple veneer. This is, of course, contingent upon me sourcing bloodwood veneer at least 7" wide. It has been a bit tricky, so far.

    Please pardon the pictures, my iPhone has been having "double image" issues. I told it to stop drinking so much, but it just won't listen.

    More pics - "carving" the neck. I really should call it more "shaping" than "carving", as 90% of it was done on the belt sander using an 80 grit belt:


    This pic also contains the obligatory "hair shot", a carry-over from the $125 bass challenge from last summer. (Photo credit goes, in this case, to Dr. Girlfriend... wait, shouldn't that be Dr. Mrs. The Monarch now? ;))

    I started by using my 12" radius block to radius the fingerboard, and then moved on to roughing the neck out on the belt sander, using my digital calipers to check for thickness. When that didn't go *quite* as quickly as I wanted, I used a MicroPlane rasp to knock down some of the higher spots, and then back to the belt sander. I took it down to just over 7/8" thick at the nut, and exactly 1" thick at the 12th fret. I then used Abranet sanding discs ranging from 100 grit to 400 grit to remove the tooling marks from the neck. I really like the Abranet materials because, as a sanding "mesh" instead of a paper, they don't clog at all, and seem to leave less noticible sanding marks. It's made by the same company that makes Abralon, which are foam-backed sanding mesh. Abranet is basically the same product with no foam backing, and a really "transparent" hook-and-loop backing for use on a random orbit disc sander. I just used it by hand, in this case, but for all of my guitar body sanding, I use a combination of Abranet sanding discs (through 600 grit) and MicroMesh sanding discs (up to 12000 grit).

    All in all, I'm very pleased with the feel. It's very consistant, and feels like butter. Very comfortable to the hand.


    This method has the effect of nicely blending in both the heel and the transition to the volute. Also, the neck was shaped/profiled completely, start to finish, in about 20 minutes. :D


    So, here I'm test-fitting the neck to the body. I placed the neck in the stock position (fingerboard ends at the body), though it's snug enough that I may have to sand a little out of the mortise so there's enough room for the glue in there. Body has been rounded over to 3/16", which is how I believe the stock LP Specials were done.


    Still contemplating bridge and tuning machine options. Thinking of using an Earvana compensated nut on this, to eliminate open chord tuning issues. I had one on my old Strat, and loved it. My newer Strat really needs one. LOL.

    Thoughts on bridge options? Trying to decide whether I should go with a Badass style wrap-around, the more stylish Gotoh/Wilkinson wrap-around style, a Hipshot Baby Grand, or maybe even a Bigsby. Your opinions are welcome, as always.
  12. NKBassman

    NKBassman Lvl 10 Nerd

    Jun 16, 2009
    Winnipeg, MB, Canada
    Lookin good! I'm a Fender man when it comes to basses, but definitely in the Gibson camp when it comes to guitars.

    Are you leaving the top of the headstock just rounded over like that, or are you going to fancy it up a bit?
  13. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    This a a variation of my standard bass headstock, as in the attached picture. I wanted a LP, but with my own twist, so it would be more of an homage than a copy. :)

    Sent from my iPhone.

    Attached Files:

  14. I think that a Bigsby would look absolutely killer on that guitar.

  15. __HM__


    Aug 28, 2008
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    I love DC Les Pauls, and I love the Venture Bros. ;)

    Good work! TV Yellow? :D
  16. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    Thanks! The original plan was for it to be TV Yellow. In this case, however, the wood is just too good looking to cover up. Since it's semi-opaque, TV Yellow would just obscure the figure.

    I think I'll finish this one in Waterlox, or possibly clear lacquer. I have another chunk of mahogany that I'll eventually make into either a Special or a Jr. that will end up with TV Yellow or Heritage Cherry Red.
  17. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    I'm kinda OCD about being in tune, which I've had issues with in the past with Bigsby's. That having been said, I agree that a Bigsby would look right sexy on this body. I had a Tele with a Bigsby once, and it was pretty cool.
  18. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    I had an LP Jr years ago, and then a really fantastic MIJ copy as well after I sold the original and regretted it. The reason I sold the LP in the first place was the damn bridge - ugh what an intonation nightmare those things are. The MIJ copy wasn't any better, but at least I was able to aftermarket the bridge and not feel guilty.

    To this day, I cringe when someone brings me a guitar with that bridge for a 'setup'. Especially if they're like, "well, I heard you're good at setups and this has been to two techs already and it still sounds like crap".

    Man, just thinking out loud about this right now, I think I've just decided that I'm going to refuse those suckas from now on. :spit:

    Anyway, I was glad to hear you're thinking of other bridge options...
  19. __HM__


    Aug 28, 2008
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Bigsby, roller bridge, roller nut, locking tuners. Not exactly vintage, but its nearly as tuning stable as an original floyd rose. No friction, no detuning. Or, as little as possible with a tremolo. Just my .02. ;)
  20. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    Considering a Gotoh 510 wrap-around bridge. Fully intonatable, an locks to the posts. :)
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