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Les Paul Special – Guitar Build from Parts

No doubt you’ve heard of a “Parts-caster” meaning a Stratocaster style guitar pieced together from individually purchased parts. Well I’m attempting a Les Paul Special Doublecut style build that I’m calling a “Les Parts Special”. I’ve been accumulating luthier tools and parts for a couple of years now but for some reason (fear, paralysis, etc.) haven’t really done much. Last weekend I began work on a parts electric guitar of intermediate difficulty. Basically I purchased a factory second body and neck which weren’t designed to work together along with other parts I ordered from Guitar Fetish and Stewart-MacDonald.

Build Challenges

There are quite of few details to attend to with the build but the main challenge was and remains fitting the neck. The body was purchased as part of a factory closure and was routed for a bolt-on neck and what appears to be at least one routing mistake. Lots of modifications to the body were going to be necessary to fit all the components which I had purchased for the project. Fortunately much of this work was somewhat straightforward. Fitting the neck to the body was not as you can see by these pictures.


I got started by plugging a hole drilled in the body through the neck pocket. Not sure if this was part of the original design (perhaps for adjusting the neck?) or simply a mistake. I didn’t happen to have a nice piece of mahogany lying around and even it I did I wasn’t sure my plug cutter would be the right size. I opted for a low tech fix which was to temporarily plug the hole with a piece of dowel, then use a larger Forstner bit to make a new clean hole which matched the diameter of another dowel I had on hand. Not exactly elegant but functional non-the-less.

Hole in neck pocket plugged with a dowel

Hole in neck pocket plugged with a dowel

The dog ear style P-90 pickup I purchased was just a bit too big to fit in the factory routed pickup cavity and rather than routing the body, I decided it would be easier (and safer) to round the corners of the pickup mount with my bench grinder. This was surprisingly easy requiring removal of a minuscule amount of metal on all four corners.

Had to round the metal pickup mount corners just a tad to get this pickup to fit in the factory routed pocket.

Had to round the metal pickup mount corners just a tad to get this pickup to fit in the factory routed pocket.

Before I jumped off the cliff with the neck issues, I tried fitting my groovy Stew-Mac LP Jr. premium wiring kit pots into the control cavity. To no surprise the high quality CTS brand potentiometers would not fit through the pre-drilled holes in the body. Rather than hunt and hope I had a drill bit of the diameter I needed, I pulled out my tapered reamer and finessed the opening so the pot threads would just push through leaving it snug.

Other modifications. Fitting the pots.

Other modifications. Fitting the pots.

I then noticed that when I attempted to test mount the pots the cavity was too small for the tone pot (volume was OK). I pulled out my trim router and my brand new 1/4″ Whiteside upcut spiral bit and freehand finessed the cavity walls until the tone pot had room.

Gibson-esque moustach headstock.

Gibson-esque mustache headstock.

Another rather straight-forward (and non-critical) activity was to add a little Gibson-esque mustache to top of the headstock. I wasn’t particularly worried about this detail but I happened to look in my tool cabinet and there was  a Les Paul Jr. neck template that I had made years before. I looked upon this as a sign. After tracing the design on to my work piece, I rough cut it on the band-saw and cleaned it up with rasps and the oscillating spindle sander. The small nick in the middle was problematic and I used a variety of files (both size and shape) until it looked OK. Of course a real LPJR neck would be mahogany but this one is made from hard maple so files aren’t super efficient however the rasps worked well.

I also spent some time cleaning up the rosewood fretboard. I can’t put my finger on it but there was definitely a very thick clear topcoat sprayed on the edges of the fingerboard. This might have been OK if the enter board was sprayed but I didn’t like it and spent a good amount of time scraping it off and exposing the rosewood. It was tedious but I thick it’s going to look great once I get it oiled up. I used a razor blade with scotch tape covering all but a small portion of the cutting edge as demonstrated by Dan Earlewine.

Pain in the Neck

So here is where things went South. The factory neck pocket was designed for a bolt-on neck and I wanted to convert it to a set neck. Unfortunately as previously mention, the neck tenon of the neck I purchased (on the cheap) was not designed with my guitar in mind. I suppose the proper way to do this work would be to first make a router template. There problem here (besides the fact that this is my first build) is that I have to modify both the tenon and the neck pocket to make a workable solution. I decided to start with the pocket and then fit the tenon to the pocket. The plan was to leave the pocket shape intact and at this point just deepen the pocket to within 1/4″ of the back. I was going to freehand route again but this time I needed to support the router so I made an offset base from 1/4″ Lexan before starting.

In order to deepen the neck pocket I first made an offset router base for my trim router.

In order to deepen the neck pocket I first made an offset router base for my trim router.

Rather than nick the edges of the pocket I stayed well clear of the walls and cleaned the edges up with chisels.

The neck tenon was quite long and much taller than my body blank would accept. The pocket corners were round, the tenon was square so I chose to square off the neck mortise with chisels. So far, so good.

It's mahogany but will require some work to make a guitar with it.

Three-piece body but at least its solid mahogany at a good price.

But wait, there’s more! The neck heal was still way too tall so I had to remove about 3/8″ from the bottom to level the fingerboard to the body. Now it should be noted that I had previously painstakingly reduced the width of the neck using rasps until I had an absolutely perfect fit. Now, I had to chop and angle the bottom of the heal. DISASTER!

So what I did was fit the neck, and measured how much material would need to be removed and rough cut it on the band-saw. It was messy but I left enough material to clean it up on the oscillating belt sander. It also occurred to me, and I worry that I need a 3 deg neck angle as well as getting everything to fit. The bottom line is that I have attempted a neck angle but the tenon is now very loose in the neck pocket. I’m pretty much flying blind at this point. I know that I’m going to shore up neck and glue that mother but I’m not sure how yet.

To be continued….

I’ve definitely got some work ahead of me but it sure is fun diving in and getting my feet wet. Getting the neck fit with a workable neck angle is going to be “fun”. Then locating the one piece bridge is also going to be interesting. I’m going to need to set up a temporary tailpiece or at least that is what I imagine should be done. I also have to shape and fit a nut but before I can do that I have to somehow scrape off all the black paint they put in the nut slot at the factory. WTF?!? Tuners are the least of my problem but the bushings I have for them are loose in the factory drilled tuner peg holes. Sigh…… as I said, this is the least of my challenges.

Having fun making stuff with the Turtlecovebrewer…..

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