Building a Les Paul style guitar

This will be the first of several posts on building a Les Paul style guitar.  While I’ll be keeping pretty faithful to a Gibson ’59 Standard, this will not be a “fake”.  I don’t condone “replicas”, plus if I put all that hard work into it I want my name on it.

First of all if you go on any of the Les Paul forums you can find all sorts of minutia about the guitar.  People have come to turn the details into a fetish!  The mother of toilet seat has to be the kind produced in that time period with almost silvery color and minute black spider webbing etc. The shape must be period correct.  The mounting rings for the pickups have to glow under black light. The Stew-Mac blue print isn’t the correct shape, blah, blah, blah.  Yasuhiko Iwanade’s book “The Beauty of the Burst” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. What I ultimately take away from this is that they were all hand made and probably were all different from each other.

In this build I’ll be using both the Stew-Mac print and templates by  A friend had the templates so I gladly used them but in all honesty you don’t need them.  A good print will work just as well.

The first thing you must do is source the wood.  I used genuine Honduran mahogany for the neck and body. You’ll need 8/4 (two inch rough) for the body and 6/4 for the neck.  One piece bodies were used in the original but two and more piece bodies are fine, if not more economical.  The neck was made in three pieces, the main shaft was at two inches with the “ears” for the head stock glued on.

The top on the originals was eastern hard rock maple and very rarely bookmatched.  Sometimes this was very figured and sometimes not at all.  Most of the modern repros (including Gibson) use western big leaf maple which is softer and doesn’t sound quite the same.

I cut the mahogany body first and make the routes for the control cavity and wiring channel.

Now I join the maple cap which is used non-bookmatched eastern hard rock maple (this is purely an aesthetic) and cut this out to the same pattern.  Don’t worry if they don’t match perfectly. You will have to cut the top for binding later. The holes in the mahogany are for weight reduction because this was a particularly dense piece of mahogany.

Once the cap is glued I drill the holes for the hardware and use a panel bit to bring the top to 1/4″ thick where it joins the body.  This also gives the start of the arch.  Also in the picture is the jig I use to get the proper neck angle .  The angle should be as close to 4.4 degrees as possible.  Any more or less and the bridge will be too high or low.  I use a protractor to determine the angle and make a simple jig to hold the guitar at that angle. Then I use a Wagner Safety Plane (yes the same plane I’ve mentioned countless times before) to give me the proper angle.

Here’s what it will look like with the angle planed and the panel bit cutting the start of the arch.

The next step is to cut the long tenon so revered by Les Paul junkies.  I use a pattern makers router bit and the template for the neck pocket.

After this I cut the pickup routes while the top is flat.  This makes the templates easier to adhere. I also drill for the stop tailpiece and the bridge at this point.

Now comes the elbow grease!!!  Using an Ibex arch top plane with a toothed iron I plane the arch.  When I’m close I use a pneumatic sander with a 40 grit patch to finish the curve.

Almost done

Next week the neck and fitting.



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