The Definitive Top Carve Thread

nuance97

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Disclaimer
**The title of this thread before being made a sticky included a ? and the line (you can decide). The moderators changed the title. This isn’t intended to imply that this is the one and only carve that is vintage accurate. They were hand sanded on a slack-belt sander which would’ve undoubtedly led to variations.**

This is a topic that has been beaten to death I know, but I hope what I have to offer on the subject is still useful to some. I have been encouraged by member @ExNihilo to make this thread.

The topcarve of a 50’s Les Paul is to me the most important characteristic. It is the thing that draws me to those guitars more than anything. Thanks to the Scott Wilkinson/ExNihilo carve templates we have for many years been able to get a nice carve relatively easily and consistently. The topographical method is THE way to go. It just works!

Now, when Scott was creating those he had the limitation of not having on-hand anything “vintage” to reference. He had a precarved top. Now this particular top was a very pleasing design that was inspired by vintage LPs, but was more of an artistic interpretation of what a nice vintage topcarve is. It was only loosely connected to reality with details cherry-picked and others discarded. Where the carve falls down is at the very lower bout of the guitar. It takes too much meat there leaving a very over exaggerated wide recurve. The recurve area in the part of the carve is actually quite narrow.
404020E6-2416-44FC-85EE-CEBDA5078D18.jpeg


I am fortunate that I have a good friend who owns a 1956 Goldtop that had at some point decades ago had the binding on the treble side of the neck break off. He had it repaired at the time, but the glue from this repair let go a couple years ago. He asked if I could fix it...of course I jumped at the chance for the opportunity it would give me to trace, get contours, and measurement—all the details needed to make myself a working set of templates to make accurate (to my satisfaction) guitars.

This is the guitar I used for this exercise
0A6082D9-14FA-4D53-B7DD-77A512BF8BD9.jpeg

Couldn’t get more mojo than that!
I took contours of this top at 10 locations:
-The butt end up the center seam
-the widest point of the lower bout
-a 45 degree diagonal between those two
-either side of each pickup (4 locations
-the waist
-and finally the upper side of the switch washer

Then put all of those into 1/16” grid lines to create the final map. It’s exactly what Scott did just with a vintage guitar this time.

This is my final map
300631F0-C7EB-449F-9BFA-4AB10220BC9A.jpeg

Pretty different from what we are used to huh?
0C227C58-557F-4593-A2EC-850C9D3EDF31.jpeg

I’ll finish this up in the next post



https://www.dropbox.com/s/4sushhsj2gfp8wv/GOLD STANDARD Vintage Les Paul Plans V-2.0.pdf?dl=0

^^^The full plans linked above
 
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nuance97

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Now I can already hear people screaming at their screens “BUT THE TOPCARVES WERE ALL SO DIFFERENT!!!” Let’s talk about that.
I already mentioned having the ‘56, but I also had a ‘53 on-hand as well. How and why you may wonder? Well I am kind of a psycho, and I literally bought a 1953 Les Paul for the express purpose of having one to reference for builds. That’s the level of extremes I tend to take things to.

**3rdly i coaxed a fellow forum member who owned a 1959 (the holy grail) to supply me with contours of his/her guitar as well.

**4thly member @Freddy G posted some contours taken from a 1960.

**5thly there is the much maligned StewMac plan. This plan get way too much flack for being garbage. There are parts of this plan that are wrong yes, but other parts are bang-on. The topcarve being one.

All of these different sources match up surprisingly well. Far more similar than different. The 53’s shallow neck angle makes the carve above the waste different, and the 60 seems a little flatter than the others around the waste, but they’re close
enough for me.
FB3B0830-942F-45F2-ABB5-71A8BF42ED22.png
A888818B-DF38-47F3-AEE5-B2F0F1CC8E48.jpeg

the top photo are the contours from the 56 on top of the StewMac plan, and the bottom is the contours under Freddy’s contours

*Edit*
I have some more contours to show for comparison
5686E845-D33A-479A-8B6C-AC473140F5F4.jpeg

1833F9D1-C354-44F4-9006-8345E8515D4F.jpeg

These are contours from two 1959s, a ‘55, and on the very bottom a ‘53 (not my ‘53, but a separate one). Pretty darn similar

8591A803-F076-4DD7-A077-7AAE33FE045B.jpeg

These demonstrate the amount of variation a ‘59 on the top and a ‘53 under. The ‘53 had a much deeper recarve at the widest point of the lower bout, but the centerline at the tail end was practically identical
 
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nuance97

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Oh I almost forgot one key detail! The neck/pickup plane component.

The neck angle is in the 4-4.4* neighborhood. That is unchanged from our well beaten path, but the pickup plane is not on any of the examples I’ve seen 1.2* or 1.5*. It’s literally half of that. Somewhere around .6*.

An angle this shallow can’t start as we have all assumed-directly at the end of the fretboard. The shallowness of the angle makes it necessary to start this angle just and I mean JUST inside of the neck pickup cavity on the bridge side. The hump left after routing the shallow angle will be removed when routing the cavity.

Neck plane in red. Pickup plane in blue
9B1690A4-E390-4CFD-9EF9-A10B11B3A7E0.jpeg

*EDIT* I feel like I should recommend that people bump this angle up to .7* just to be safe if you’re at all nervous. It’s hard to know how precise other folks will be when routing the steps, and erring on the side of caution might be better

One final note. The tops were all thinner than the assumed 5/8” (.625”). They were closer to .59 or a touch less. The mahogany (measured in the cutaway where it was exposed) was thicker than the accepted 1.75” by .030-.035”.

That’s all I have for today. Have fun
 
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ARandall

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So these lines you have are the finished height of where the carve is once all the sanding is done....or are you trying to create a set of carve templates that, once you remove more wood, will eventually end up where you want the final height to be.
Because the two are quite different.

I actually add in another step to Scott's templates......a template that sits about where your outer line is. For me that makes for a better way to create the recurve.
 

nuance97

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So these lines you have are the finished height of where the carve is once all the sanding is done....or are you trying to create a set of carve templates that, once you remove more wood, will eventually end up where you want the final height to be.
Because the two are quite different.

I actually add in another step to Scott's templates......a template that sits about where your outer line is. For me that makes for a better way to create the recurve.
They work just like Scott’s previous set. All you have to do is sand off the flats, and the carve is there
D525D97C-5029-4D6D-BCEC-1E0FB42D2A87.jpeg
 

valvetoneman

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Having had a top from Daniel all I can say is it's been of incredible value to me just to copy carve from, he has been so great and generous since the day we started talking all things vintage carved tops, I use his top as a reference for copy carving and it is very different to Scott's original carved templates
 

nuance97

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Having had a top from Daniel all I can say is it's been of incredible value to me just to copy carve from, he has been so great and generous since the day we started talking all things vintage carved tops, I use his top as a reference for copy carving and it is very different to Scott's original carved templates
Here’s the one I did for you Darren
B8CC81CA-AE5F-44B7-979A-A6E408DF6174.jpeg

E14D478D-EC26-4938-82F0-FA3E6BC168E1.jpeg

2C5A6DD9-7399-4C39-922A-CED665D465EE.jpeg
 

SlingBlader

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Fantastic, Daniel! I really appreciate the effort and information... makes me want to build another one. :)
 

pshupe

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Now, when Scott was creating those he had the limitation of not having on-hand anything “vintage” to reference. He had a precarved top. Now this particular top was a very pleasing design that was inspired by vintage LPs, but was more of

Cool stuff.

Where did Scott get his pre-carved top??

Regards Peter.
 

nuance97

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A note concerning recurve. There are 2 kinds of recurve present on these old tops that I have observed. There is flat recurve (essentially 90* to the sides), and there is concave recurve that subtly dips below the binding height. The pic below will try to visually describe what I’m saying.

in blue - flat recurve
In red - concave recurve
D48BC902-56C6-4478-9D3C-5EB3E008DDBB.jpeg


25D6ED34-1456-4BCD-B6EE-B5C53390B07A.jpeg


The purple overlap is where it slowly transitions from flat to concave.
 
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trovador

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Awesome work. Plus, right on time as I'm ready to do another build. Is your template printable to the correct size?
 

mistermikev

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way out of my depth in terms of truly appreciating the details of burst builds like the maniacs in here... but just wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and being schooled on a number of interesting details about bursts. thank you very much for that.
 

trovador

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I can’t upload the actual file...it says it’s too big, but maybe this is big enough. Print it and let me know. If not I’ll try something else
THe jpg file doesnt work. I converted into pdf and testing. COuld you tell me the measurement of line 3, the width of the lower bout"?
 

nuance97

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THe jpg file doesnt work. I converted into pdf and testing. COuld you tell me the measurement of line 3, the width of the lower bout"?
It’s 13.1” if memory serves. As long as you get it in the 13-13 1/8” range you’ll be good since these are just the carve templates, and don’t have to be accurate to the .0001”. A lot of hand work will still be required
 

trovador

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It’s 13.1” if memory serves. As long as you get it in the 13-13 1/8” range you’ll be good since these are just the carve templates, and don’t have to be accurate to the .0001”. A lot of hand work will still be required
So I printed the pdf version to 160% and it measures 13 1/16" which is right in the ballpark. Thanks!
 

trovador

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It’s 13.1” if memory serves. As long as you get it in the 13-13 1/8” range you’ll be good since these are just the carve templates, and don’t have to be accurate to the .0001”. A lot of hand work will still be required
Also, if it's not too much trouble, could post a close up of the instructions. The letters are too blurry on the screen and on the printout. Much appreciated!
 


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