Jim's Les Paul

B. Howard

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Here is the project. It’s a Gibson Les Paul, likely from the later 70’s or so. The current owner has owned it for something like 30 years and while he hasn’t played it in a while he has a very sentimental attachment to this particular guitar. He was fully aware of its history and some of its defects and told me about them before he even brought it in as he wasn’t sure I would take on this project. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a tough project……and this is a rough one. Here it is pretty much as it came in. I pulled the strings and bridge while I examined and talked over the scope of work with my client.



Lots of ugly black paint all over….even the bindings. And that still couldn’t hide one obvious flaw that was sort of resistant to photography but was easily seen as soon as the case was opened, this guitar was one of those that was cut up into pieces at the factory and then put back together by someone. Judging by the deluxe bindings top and back this one was going to be a black beauty. In this pic if you look where I scraped the paint off the binding you can see the cut.



I could see other issues……right off the bat there was something really odd about the headstock besides its obvious lack of adornment. The hardware and electrics were beyond salvation. This quickly went from a re-finish job to a full on restoration…or maybe resurrection might be a better term. He agreed and told me to use my best judgment on all matters, he just wanted this guitar to finally look as good as it sounded. So the first real order of business was to strip off the finish. A job that seemed to go on forever…..they must have put 2 qts. of lacquer on, Perhaps at different times. But it was a thick, amateurish mess. Here you can get a good view of the cut where the body was put back together.



And here is the view from the back. Not any prettier back here.



Any missing binding was simply filled with what appeared to be some type of epoxy. Whatever was used to glue the body back together most likely.



Here we can see the absolutely awful prep work at the base of it all. Bad enough old Lester here was cut up like the magicians assistant but look at the marks left by the ¼ sheet sander. Looks like 80 grit was it…that’s good enough. The edges of the bindings were all tore up by someone trying to sand the ABS plastic round. Yeah that didn’t work out so nice either…so they just filled it with paint.



Now we can start to see what was wrong with the headstock. I had initially thought it was a broken neck repair gone wrong. I was partly right….it was a repair gone wrong, just not a break. The headstock had been sawn off as well and put back together not quite right.





Here was a large part of the problem with the headstock. It was from a different guitar, you can see a sunburst finish here where I stripped the paint. This would also explain the lack of binding or large pearl inlay that should have been here.



It played and stayed in tune as it was and I was going to leave it until I noticed something disturbing. A back veneer had been used as part of the graft and as I striped the paint my putty knife caught the bottom of the veneer and lifted it. Looks like there was nothing but lacquer that had seeped in actually gluing a portion of the veneer down. That was it. This needed to be fixed. And in for a penny, in for a pound. I just couldn’t see leaving the rest of the repair as it was with a slight twist so the whole thing was coming back apart and being put back to spec. Here you can see the lacquer in the joint after I popped the back veneer off.



Now you can see where the head was sawn off and put back together. Hey I guess at this point I should just be happy that both the neck and the donor head were Maple. There are quite a few holes and broken screws in the center as well that were lurking under the veneer. Not sure what that’s all about.



The whole mess was done in epoxy too……ARGH! Makes this harder than it had to be. Would have been one thing if the original repair had been straight and solid but taking apart epoxy is a bummer. And then you need to get to clean white wood again because nothing will stick to epoxy that has been heated and taken apart, at least not all that long. It was then that I found the true seeds of a bad repair. Two fluted concrete nails with their heads ground of were used as dowels. To make matters worse they were centered on the glue joints in the neck lamination, visibly breaking the joint in a few places. Nice!



Here is the donor head. You can see where the faceplate didn’t make solid contact with the wood and was sorta kinda filled with epoxy.



To complicate matters more a twist had been put into it due to misalignment of the nails in the different pieces and then partially sanded out. This left me with the only true surfaces left being at a 90 degree plane. One being the top edge of the donor head and the others being the walls of the tuner holes. So I made a fixture to hold the pieces so I could machine them back true and also hold them in the correct alignment for reassembly. The only thing I had for a reference was the tuner holes so that is what I indexed in my jig. By using a set of attached side rails I could use my joiner to true up the faces of the donor and get back to flat and true. And get rid of all that nasty epoxy.



When I made my jig and loaded all the parts into it to see how it all stacked up another problem arose. Manufacturing tolerances at the Gibson factory are not as tight as most might like to think. The two parts we are trying to mate were made on different jigs….and well a picture is worth a thousand words.



I glued some maple wings onto the places that needed it so the two parts could mate properly and be reshaped to fit the face veneer. In this shot you can see how much twist was in the original repair.



So here we are with the two parts of the headstock glued back together with nothing but the face veneer holding them when the jig is removed. It is very fragile right now and you can see the wings that were added so the overall shape can be restored.



This obviously needed some reinforcement. And I still had the split joints from those damned nails to deal with. So I cut in some splines and glued them in. Then I carefully carved and shaped the splines and the lower part of the headstock back to flat and true.



This left the headstock way too thin…by 5/16”! So I cut and fitted a new piece of maple and glued on to replace the missing back of the headstock. Here it is all shaped in. All I need to do is drill the tuner holes through it and it’s almost perfect. Once it’s finished you won’t ever know. And all this was done with hide glue…so if this happens to need worked on in the future it will be easy to do so.



Stay tuned for more pics as the project progresses.
 

cain61

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Excellent work, man. It's nice to see so much care put into correcting the original shoddy work.
 

ejendres

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That guitar is really rough dude, It'll be cool to see what you do with it.
 

Sp8ctre

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Amazing work so far! I can't wait to see how this progresses. That poor guitar was in bad shape!
 

KnightroExpress

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Wow, that thing is a mess! It's really cool to see you fix it up the right way :D
 

RRRcustom

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I always love seeing these types of repairs. Its amazing to see the methods used to save a guitar. Having said that, these threads also remind me why I haven't just gone into repair work. That guitar should have never been put back together to begin with, and definitely isn't worth the $$$ and time its going to take to make right now. There are those that are willing to accept the sentimental side of these projects and do it, but I'm not one of them.
 

PixMix

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Amazing! Speaking of bringing it back from dead...
 

lowatter

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WOW! Now there's a project guitar. Looks like it's in great hands though. I'd like to see it all gold with cream binding but if your intentions are to make it a black beauty again, I see nothing wrong with that either. I'll definately be watching this one to see it's outcome. :cool:
 

rockstar232007

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Cool!

There was a story in Guitar World magazine a few years ago, about a guy who restored an original, factory-destroyed Moderne. Turned out pretty awesome.

Good luck.:thumb:
 

MUSTANGCAT

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Great job! I could not stop reading between coffee gulps. You appear to be in command of a Lester which needs serious attention. I'm confident you will make it primo!
 

Ronsonic

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Is it possible that twist in the headstock is what convinced Gibson to bandsaw the poor thing in the first place?

Either that or some other birth defect, but I'm thinking that would do it. That was back in the day when a minor problem would've just gotten a "2" stamped under the serial number, so the guitar presumably had issues long before it got sawn and poorly reassembled.
 

B. Howard

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Is it possible that twist in the headstock is what convinced Gibson to bandsaw the poor thing in the first place?

Either that or some other birth defect, but I'm thinking that would do it. That was back in the day when a minor problem would've just gotten a "2" stamped under the serial number, so the guitar presumably had issues long before it got sawn and poorly reassembled.

I know...That puzzled me too. In going over the guitar and taking measurements it appears that the bridge was mislocated. I know there have been issues with this on Gibsons and wonder if some of it did not occur when they retooled their fretboard slotting as the scale they use has not been completely consistent over the years. The bushing holes for the TOM are about .030" to far from the nut right now and when I factor in the missing wood the the saw kept when she was cut up I figure the bridge may have been as much as 1/8" to far south. I plan on plugging and re drilling the holes for the TOM.
 

B. Howard

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I thought that I may be able to simply splice in some new bindings at the waist where the cut was. But after stripping the finish and getting a good look at everything and how chewed up some of the binding was from the original finisher and his 80 grit palm sander I thought better of it. So I cut the bindings and purflings off. On the top all the plys are the same height and this is a wide binding model.



On the back the arrangement was more typical of a binding and purfiling combo with a full height binding and shorter purflings.



For the back I welded together the 3 ply purflings to make this a 2 piece affair when it came to gluing it to the body. The top is an 8 ply arrangement and they are all full height. So I welded together some subassemblies. One 3 ply and one 4 ply to be used with one thicker binding around the outside. This matter is made a bit trickier as the neck is still attached. So the pieces need fitted around the horn and back underneath the fret board. I used my heat gun to soften the sections at the tight bend around the horn so they would bend easily and the black plys did not become pale. I also had to build the section up in height as well because of the wide binding which I did before bending and fitting.



I glue it up and use a few pieces of strapping tape to temporarily hold it in place. Then it’s time to bind the bindings. I have used rope in the past and sometimes even just tape but for this with all these plys rubber bands are the only way to fly.



After the glue has set I use a crane neck chisel to trim the new bindings. I hunt them down until they are only a few thousandths of an inch above the surface like this.



Then it’s time to scrape them flush with a card scraper. Here we can see the new work on the back.

 

ajory72

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what an awesome repair job - the owner is going to be absolutely stoked!!

Also great to see old hags resurrected - shame on those old hack repairers that screwed up a guitar needing help!
 

fortwinnie

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This is amazing..!
I'm generally leery of used solid color guitars hiding headstock repairs but
my mind is fully blown at the sight of what was under that paint. :shock::shock::shock::shock:

I'm very impressed by your efforts.
 

emoney

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I can only add the word "wow" to this thread. I can't wait to see the finished product.
 

robertoa1a

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It is really nice to see an unusual build like this on the forum.

It is definitely interesting. A piece of history.
 

jep1210

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Oooohhhh!!! I'm all in on this one. Just don't understand the thinking behind cutting the thing in half (just started reading so no spoilers please)and how after doing so it playing/sounding as good as your client says it does.

Won't the feel/sound change after all your work? That's not intended to contradict, judge, criticize or what-have-you, it's a real question from someone with no experience in such undertakings.
 




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