Barnaby's LP Scratch Build - Hand Tools Only

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Barnaby, Feb 27, 2011.

  1. Barnaby

    Barnaby Premium Member

    Messages:
    8,478
    Likes Received:
    9,814
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2010
    Hey there!

    This is my first attempt at building a guitar from scratch. What I will be attempting is as accurate a copy as I can manage of a ’59 Les Paul, but with a different top colour, inlays and headstock shape. There will be some other changes: I will use ebony, not use Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboard, I will let the control and switch cavities go all the way through the mahogany and, most significantly, perhaps, I will only be using hand tools. Not a single power tool will be employed in this build. :shock:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Here’s the maple I will be using, which came from Northridge Hardwoods, plus the neck and body blanks (the fingerboard is a different one). The maple has a beautiful figure, I think. I will be building two guitars more or less simultaneously, by the way, learning from my mistakes on the first and trying hard not to make new, exciting mistakes on the second one. After this, I will probably take a break and try a couple of different instrument styles (a ukulele, a bass and some sort of Fender…possibly also an acoustic), then come back to the LP shape with new, shiny and improved skills and try for as perfect a replica of a ’59 as I can, complete with Brazilian board, old growth body and neck and all of the stuff like correct inlays and hardware. I may even try and age that one more or less convincingly. I’m not sure. The pair I am making now, however, will clearly not be mistaken for Gibsons, no matter how close they will, I hope, be in many details.

    One might well ask why I decided to build without power tools. There are several reasons. The first is sheer practicality. I live in a small Tokyo apartment with the landlord next door, so power tools – even an electric drill or a router – would probably get me chucked out in short order. The second reason is because building a guitar is, for me, a way to release stress, so I want to do it slowly. The third reason is that I think (OK…hope desperately) hand tools will give me more control over the build process. No router tearouts, no burned corners and no drills going wildly out of control…if things start to get ugly, I will have plenty of time to stop, take stock and do it properly. The fourth reason is that I want to learn how to make guitars well, and think that this is as good a way to have a self-directed apprenticeship as any other. A number of top makers say that they started with saws, chisels and planes before moving onto powered shop tools. Who am I to argue with them? Finally, I have played instruments built entirely by hand before and they are, to my mind, special. They have an indefinable quality that sets them apart. Many look cruder than factory-assembled versions, but some are made carefully enough that they are better looking and feeling than any machined instrument.

    [​IMG]

    Do instruments have a soul? Maybe…maybe not. It depends on whom you ask and how metaphorical they’re feeling that day. If they do, however, then that is something that comes initially from the maker, and the more the maker works with her or his hands to produce the instrument, the more of themselves they impart.

    I know it is not practical for modern professional builders to make guitars entirely by hand. Why use a hand saw when a bandsaw is faster and makes a dead straight cut? Hobbyists like me are, perhaps, the only people who would bother to do this. I may well do a horrible job and really mess things up. I will, however, learn along the way. If you follow this thread, you may as well. Either that, or you’ll fall about laughing at all the stupid things I do.

    I will document every step of the build, including noting the tools used. This is partly for my own sake, to keep a record and get feedback, and partly for the sake of anyone else who starts a scratch build. Not everyone has access to a great workshop and someone might wonder, for example, how to do a 4.4-degree plane on a body or create pickup and control cavities without a router. They can then look at the way I did it and see if it could work with what they have…or use it as a starting point to come up with a better solution.

    Oh - one last thing. I'll probably write a lot about how I do things and include a lot of unnecessary detail. I'll try to include interesting pictures along the way.

    [​IMG]

    Oh..okay. Interesting and relevant pictures.
     
  2. free2rock

    free2rock Senior Member

    Messages:
    435
    Likes Received:
    179
    Joined:
    May 31, 2010
    Wow. You have a work cut out for you then. Best of luck!
     
  3. Barnaby

    Barnaby Premium Member

    Messages:
    8,478
    Likes Received:
    9,814
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2010
    Thanks! :thumb:

    Why take a short way when I can go a long one, right?

    Um...:hmm:
     
  4. RossingtonLP

    RossingtonLP Senior Member

    Messages:
    813
    Likes Received:
    325
    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2010
    Great :thumb:

    Looking forward to reading/watching your progress

    I know i wouldn't have the patience
     
  5. bertzie

    bertzie Senior Member

    Messages:
    19,424
    Likes Received:
    24,540
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    The sheer level of masochism it takes to build something by hand is fun to watch.
     
  6. ptate

    ptate V.I.P. Member V.I.P. Member

    Messages:
    3,670
    Likes Received:
    3,119
    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2007
    About time.....:laugh2::laugh2:

    Having just hand cut a neck blank from scratch, you're just daft....!!!:shock::D:naughty:

    :thumb:

    Subscribed.
     
  7. '59_Standard

    '59_Standard Banned

    Messages:
    1,797
    Likes Received:
    804
    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2009
    Apply the Straight Jacket now! :rolleyes:

    Brave man. :thumb:
     
  8. 61x49

    61x49 Member

    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    12
    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2011
    It's not the destination..It's the journey.:cool:

    I'll be watching this very interesting project.
     
  9. JMV

    JMV Senior Member

    Messages:
    15,446
    Likes Received:
    15,837
    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2009
    Subscribed!

    In the end you'll have quite the connection with this guitar, I'd think. :thumb:
     
  10. VictOr358

    VictOr358 Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,254
    Likes Received:
    847
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2011
    Barnaby, good luck with the project!
    Gonna follow for sure :applause:
    All by hand is plain cool!
     
  11. w666

    w666 Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,820
    Likes Received:
    333
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2009
    It will be just a bit less painful if you keep your planes and chisels scary sharp. You should have easy access to all kinds of cool Japanese tools. Please show us your tools, and your sharpening techniques.
     
  12. Barnaby

    Barnaby Premium Member

    Messages:
    8,478
    Likes Received:
    9,814
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2010
    Woah - go out for a walk around the local park at night and look what happens. Fast replies, everyone!!!

    Thanks, man. It's stress relief, as my job can be a bit full on at times. Forcing myself to have patience is good for me, I think...

    :laugh2: I hope to be providing you (and others) with plenty of amusement.

    Dude! Yeah...sorry to have been slow off the mark. I'll try to make up for it over the next few weeks. Just for you, I'll only sleep two hours a day. :D

    It's an honour having you watch after seeing your builds. I just wish I could get you to play the thing when it's done.

    Thanks! I'm happy to know that you'll be along for the trip. :dude:

    I'm really curious to play something like this, I must admit. It will be great to get there, no matter how well I do.

    Thanks, man. Love your work as well.

    I will certainly be doing that. I've been learning sharpening techniques. Thanks for the request. :thumb:
     
  13. Barnaby

    Barnaby Premium Member

    Messages:
    8,478
    Likes Received:
    9,814
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2010
    I'm not crazy, honest. :fingersx:

    [​IMG]

    I'll show them all, all, all...(incoherent muttering)...
     
  14. ilovemypaul

    ilovemypaul Senior Member

    Messages:
    753
    Likes Received:
    417
    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2010
    This is either going to end up incredibly awesome, or you will die trying. subscribed and good luck!
     
  15. Reverend D

    Reverend D Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,157
    Likes Received:
    163
    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2010
    Do you have it in black? :laugh2: :D Well Bro you know I'll be rooting for your success, can't be to hard, just leave out everything that ain't a les paul. :D Take care man.

    Regards,

    Don
     
  16. Sleator

    Sleator Senior Member

    Messages:
    440
    Likes Received:
    139
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    I watched your kit builds and thought... "Damn I can't wait 'till he tries from scratch!" :thumb:
    Doing it without power tool will be interesting; I've kinda talked myself out of a build 'cos I've no tools! Plus cost factor..

    Can't wait see it unfold , for better or for worse! :naughty: :D
     
  17. Barnaby

    Barnaby Premium Member

    Messages:
    8,478
    Likes Received:
    9,814
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2010
    There's only one way to find out, right? It would, of course, help if I was a skilled woodworker. With any luck, I will be by the end of this...:)

    You mean I can't post those pictures of my hot wife in a bikini? :naughty: Well...OK, but only because you said so.

    Oh, wait - I see what you mean. Get the wood and cut away everything that shouldn't be there, right? That's pretty much the idea. :thumb:

    Glad you'll be watching this!

    Thanks for the support!

    Honestly, the cost of tools doesn't seem like much of a factor. A router costs $100 or something, I think, but some of the hand tools I bought to do the same jobs that it can do add up to more than that. Of course, I have to factor in things like postage to Japan for things unavailable here, which makes everything super expensive.

    Actually, even the things you can buy here are often priced to kill. DIY is considered a luxury activity in Japan. I went into a shop once and saw a set of the 4" Stewmac sanding blocks for something like $200 (they cost $65 normally). :wow:

    As for wood, a piece of flame maple suitable for an LP top can cost around 40,000 yen...that's nearly 500 bucks! :shock::shock::shock:
     
  18. Barnaby

    Barnaby Premium Member

    Messages:
    8,478
    Likes Received:
    9,814
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2010
    OK - onwards and upwards! :thumb:

    My workspace and tools. Not the stuff of which heroic building sagas are made, alas.

    [​IMG]

    I have a corner of the apartment with a folding workbench set aside for work. I also have a chunk of granite that I grabbed (with permission) from a demolition site as an extra top/counterweight. I think it was once a kitchen counter. Because I live and eat in this space - and, more importantly, my wife does too - I have to make sure that everything is spotless at the end of each session. This is not ideal, but it’s probably good discipline...or something.

    First of all, the templates had to be made. Mine are from 10mm MDF. I made copies of my plan (the Bartlett version, which is amazing), checked them against the original by holding both up to a window and matching the lines and, once I had that accurate (which involved some resizing), glued the paper on, then cut out the shapes using a Japanese saw to cut away the big pieces, a coping saw to do the details, rasps and files to come in close to the lines and, finally, a razorblade as a scraper to get a smooth, 90-degree edge on both my top and bottom plates. Personally, I find it helps to think of the MDF as thick cardboard rather than wood.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Holes will eventually be drilled in the templates at the only points which will go through the whole instrument – the switch and electronics cavities.

    I also made a fingerboard template out of thinner MDF. It's a quick, satisfying thing to do and feels almost like ‘real’ making.

    [​IMG]

    The one thing I noticed here is that it is pretty well impossible to get the copies to match the plans themselves using the photocopier in my office. There’s always some distortion – a half mm here or there. I got closest to the actual plan by reducing things to 97% and then copying those and scaling them up to 103%. Weird. :shock:

    It won’t really affect the final guitar, I imagine, after sanding and all of the other things that will happen…and, as we all know, bursts were not standardized at all. Still, it annoys some deep, puritan part of my soul. I need either access to a light table in the future when I will have a shot at my first actual ’59 replica - or will just buy three or four sets of the plans and slice ‘em up to make future templates.
     
  19. Daintree

    Daintree Senior Member

    Messages:
    133
    Likes Received:
    27
    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2008
    Hey Barnaby...
    I'm along for the journey too....how could I not be :thumb:

    I once built a small hip roofed cottage entirely by hand tools. Brace and Bits, Hand Saws, Hammer and Chisel, Planes etc......there was no power or generator to plug power tools into anyway, so it had to be done by hand!
    It was a very rewarding experience....I always thought that it must be a real buzz to build your own boat, then sail it over the oceans....and I'll confess too, that, making a guitar from scratch and then playing it...it is a good feeling.

    I think you'll be generously rewarded for your efforts.
     
  20. Barnaby

    Barnaby Premium Member

    Messages:
    8,478
    Likes Received:
    9,814
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2010
    A whole cottage? You are, seriously, the man! :dude:

    I grew up on a farm, so am kind of familiar with doing things by hand (although the biggest thing I ever built was a chicken coop). Still, there's a lot of difference between putting in fenceposts and wiring them up and making a Les Paul. We'll see.

    Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad to know you'll be watching. :)
     

Share This Page