2003 Studio premium plus to "Custom"


Junior Member
Jul 7, 2020
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Good Morning,

I've been hanging out gobbling up as much info and research as I could the year or so and wanted to share my first somewhat ok project. But first thanks to all the contributes who indirectly gave me advice.

as a disclaimer Im not trying to replicate or pass off my build as anything other than what it is, a 2003 Gibson les paul studio premium plus. i enjoy working with wood and guitars more specifically and have always been interested in rebuilding/repairing as a side gig to not necessarily build wealth but to kill free time. I built a jaguar style guitar a few years ago and had a blast. although to the trained eye the jaguar is probably complete junk my untrained eyed friends and family have been blow away and think I could be rich building custom guitars, LOL. So I figured that I would tackle as many builds, rebuilds and custom guitars as i can until the quality of work can catch up and then perhaps lend my services to help out those in want or need.

OK, so I picked up a complete 03 studio from reverb for a decent deal and decided this would be the one. I chose to build a "custom" because I figured that the amount of work would take me through almost all of the required skills i needed to practice. the studio was some kind of tobacco burst (?) with a hideous brown neck and back of the body. the guitar was deferentially a players guitar as it had dents and scratches all over and it also appeared to have a head stock repair but after striping and sanding the nitro off . here are a few before pictures.

either this was a crack in the nitro or an absolute seamless repair. at least you couldn't tell from the bare wood that it was repaired.


a very nice figured top IMO for a studio but I was not a fan of the burst and it would've required way to much work to restore it.

before top.jpg

And the back of the guitar in the ugly brown.


I didn't take any construction pictures because I wasn't to confident and didn't want to have any evidence as it was a scary scene.

the first thing I did was remove the frets. they came off very easy, actually more easy than I would thing. no chipping or anything like that. Next was the fret board. I wanted to remove the fret board so I could remove the neck to better route out the relief for the binding. the fret board removal was an awful experience. I tried heat and steam and goo off and and anything else I could find. nothing worked as well as I thought it would. I left the iron on for way longer than I was comfortable with and it just barely loosened it. I jammed a few spatula in between the mahogany and rosewood and slowly pried it off. I had some chip out on the neck that I had to splice in some clean mahogany to get it back to level again. what a pain.

the neck was the worst part. after that I routed everything out for the binding and installed.

and here are a few after pictures.

I used 3 different water based stains for the color. yellow, medium brown and mahogany red. I mixed the 3 together to make transitional colors to have the burst fade a little cleaner. I was super happy with the burst. I found a picture of a beautiful 59 burst that I blew up and hung up in the garage while I did the staining. this is one of those rare times for me when I try to do something and it turns out just like I wanted it to.


I used a 2 part automotive clear for the topcoat as I have a bunch lying around and for this one at least, I don't care to be accurate, again this is just for practice.


the binding was so much easier than I thought it would be and it was fast and fun to do. I mimicked a real custom as far as the number of bindings. 7 alternating layers on the top with the outside being the thickest and 5 on the back.

I laminated the thin pieces together off the guitar and applied them as 1 to the body. for the top of the body I used binding glue. this stuff can make a mess and get out of control real fast. the stew make stuff is great and bonds super fast but for some stupid reason they use a medal container to house the glue. so if you set it down for a second the glue at the tip of the bottle starts to cure and requires a little pressure to get it to flow out, well this creates pressure in the bottle and it eventually explodes out the tip and it keeps coming out because you've now but creases in the bottle, so you try to take the creases out and end up throwing more glue out of the tube. I know for a fact more glue was wasted on the floor than on the binding.

there are a couple spots where my routing didn't go into the body far enough so the outside thicker piece of binding is thinner in those areas but its not super noticeable.

I added the fret nubs or whatever they call them.


the head stock was another challenge. I didn't feel like building any jigs or tools to route out for the binding so I decided to hand chisel it out. i really want to learn how to use a chisel so it was good practice. the head stock turned out pretty rough but looks good from about 2 feet.

I used a decal to paint the logos on the head stock which turned out to be a fail as paint leaked and the end result looked super sloppy. so I carefully trimmed away the bad parts and hand painted the rest. the "Gibson" logo was almost all hand painted, hence the not so great look it has.


the back of the body was stripped and stained with a water based stain. I mixed the medium brown width the red. to get the color I wanted I didn't use grain filler for some stupid reason so I had to really hammer on the clear. because I put so much clear on and so much of it went into the grain I had to do a lot of wet sanding and buffing and unfortunately you can see a couple spots where I burned through a little. an easy enough fix but I think it needs to get a little beat up to build some character.


the binding on the back i used acetone and relied on capillary action to assist. the acetone sort of melts separate pieces together and was so much easier and cleaner to install. you basically tape your binding where you want it and I used a small paint brush, dipped it in acetone and painted it on the binding. the acetone creeps into the tiny gaps and melts it together., then put some more tape on to make sure you have a nice tight bond. I recommend this method over the glue any day of the week. You have all the time in the world to set it all up and get it where you want it to be,
using glue you might have to work a little quicker.

I did my best to make the binding met at a 45, it turned out OK but when I wiped and cleaned the body before clearing it my ragged pulled up some of the stain and transferred it to the binding. kind of sucks but you can see in several spots all over the guitar a slight red tint on the binding. I didn't notice it until after my second coat of clear when I picked up my rag and saw it had picked up stain.


It was a good project and I learned a ton, the next one will be even better quality. overall the guitar looks awesome in the right light from a couple feet away. Most people wont notice the things that I do but other areas stand out like a sore thumb. Overall play-ability is OK. I leveled and crowned the frets which made it much nicer but when I was working on the fret board I sanded the radius on top and flattened the underside as well. I took off a material from the fret board but didnt even think about what that would do to the nut. so the action is a little high for me but I like super low action, right on the cusp of buzzing. I just need to take some time and maybe file the nut slots a tad deeper to get it where im more comfortable.

after the rebuild one of the many things I learned is that the "Custom" Les Pauls are just a little to fancy for me, I really grew to love the standard much more. soooo I picked up another studio to hack up and take on the looks of a standard. Not sure if I want to do a black beauty, a goldtop or maybe something all white. time will tell.

I appreciate your comments, suggestions and or tips for future projects.

Please remember that i was not trying to make a "fake" Gibson or a replica Custom and Ill never sell and the only people who will ever see it or care will be the ones on this forum and my wife an daughter. besides, anyone who is in the market for a custom will know a custom this is not.

thanks for looking




Senior Member
Jul 13, 2018
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Wow! Looks great. I almost say leave the headstock blank black and she’s perfect!

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