It’s rare that I have one V in the shop at a time let alone two, let alone a lefty and a righty! These are still wild guitars today which only heightens what they must have been like for the average guitar shop denizen when they landed on our planet in the late fifties! Very cool pieces.
This curious mish-mash is the very guitar I learned to play on as a bored fourteen year old. This is a Gibson L-50 that’s had a very strange history, moldering away in a hot attic where two gigantic cracks formed in the top to its current restored yet peculiar form. The poor thing has suffered a strange life enduring various kinds of abuse before finally finding it’s way to Ric McCurdy’s excellent shop in Manhattan for structural repair beyond my skill. Afterwards I was able to strip the remaining dirty stain of a finish down to bare spruce and built up a Loar era burst, replaced the wonky silk screen with a proper inlay, finishing it off with the first bound pickguard I’ve ever cut. This is a strongly sentimental guitar for me, and after some fretwork on the tiniest frets in the world it has become a formidable player as well!
Assembly, aging, and set-up later we find our guitar completed and at the end of its makeover journey. Now it’s off to find its way to its customers ready hands!
Now we see the true power of this fully active battle station…er…rather we see how shiny the buffing wheel can make a thing, and we all love shiny stuff, especially beautifully carved Les Paul tops of astounding quality.
Once I’ve sprayed enough clear lacquer over the whole guitar then it’s time to wet sand. Wet sanding can be thought of as the roughest side of the polishing continuum with buffing on a wheel at the opposite end. Much to many builder’s chagrin I begin with 400 grit paper, which is actually quite coarse. I do this to quickly flatten the finish but because it’s coarse it would be easy to create a sand through so care is definitely taken.
The process is simple, take one part sandpaper, one part water, and one part elbow grease. With the wet paper I’ll sand the finish till it’s matte and move up to higher and higher grits ultimately switching over to the buffing wheel.
We come to the main event in a sense. The top of any Les Paul is the visual focal point and this isn’t just any top, this is a top of astounding quality! Just look at the density of quater sawn ray lines here! And that’s of course to say nothing of the figure of the top, which is a perfect accent. What a piece of wood. Now then, in this case the customer is looking for me to spray what might be called a caramel “unburst”…so that’s what I’m gonna call it.
The burst itself is sprayed in the following way: first everything except the top is taped off leaving only the top itself exposed. I’ll begin with an appropriate yellow toned lacquer and spray. This creates the center color and also tones the burst edge which I spray next. I then switch over to a faded ice tea orange/brown and spray the “shoulders” of the burst near the neck and fade out to a soft halo around the rest of the top. Once done, I immediately take a razor blade and scrape the top of the binding while the lacquer is still soft. That’s the stage we’re seeing here; burst sprayed and binding scraped.
Now it’s time to age the metal and plastic hardware. This is where things take a truly mad scientist turn. The process is layered and strange but ultimately the goal is to advance what actually happens through time and stop once the right patina has been acheived.
Now onto the rest of the horrifying toil which is stripping a guitar! This is my customer’s beloved axe and I’ve taken pains to make sure that I haven’t altered the neck in any way whatsoever so to that end I’ve meticulously removed the finish with a series of cabinet scrapers ensuring that the integrity of the contour remains completely intact. Light passes is the way here, it’s easy to remove too much material, harder to put it back.
And now with the guitar turned over we can see the transition work from earlier steps creating that vintage taper from headstock to neck. The back and sides remain…ugh…so back to scraping and sanding!
Okay! Once the scraping is done it’s time for some fine sanding and even through the shaky cell phone shot provided you can see that this piece of maple will really scream once it gets some lacquer on it! Onward!
Now we move onto the real fun of doing a makeover project…stripping paint! Heh, for anyone who’s ever embarked upon such a task you’ll know what the eighteenth circle of Dante’s Inferno comprises. Stripping is awful, there’s no other way around it, it’s simply a torture…but necessary so in this case I’m using a gooseneck scraper so as to preserve the original contour of the top. As it so happens this guitar has an absolutely oustanding maple top deep but tight flame, and fantastic quarter sawn rays throughout and it’s got a real nice vintage carve with a good looking recurve as well so I want to make sure I don’t screw that up at all. You can see the scraping process mid-job here.
Once the glue has dried on the doweled tuner holes it becomes time to mark out and drill for the new/old tuner holes. The vintage look tapers inward slightly in a bit of a “V” formation like geese flying south…or wherever else geese fly…lot’s of birds do it actually, it turns out to reduce drag for those following. Ornithology! So lay out the pattern, drill, and here’s our result.
Also, unseen in this picture is work done to alter the transition on the back of the headstock. For vintage spec, the headstock shape is given a sharper edge gradually becoming smooth as the “paddle” transitions to the playing surface of the neck.
Alright, so our patient has now been disassembled and documented fully, and it’s time to begin surgery. At this point that means tackling the headstock. Both the silhouette and tuner positions aren’t accurate to vintage specs so some routing, filing, sanding, and doweling later and we’re there.
Perhaps the most crucial step to making over a guitar is having a guitar to makeover in your possession. As it so happens a customer very kindly sought out my professional assistance in this matter and so…IT BEGINS!!
Critical to any successful project in my shop with an extant guitar is to thoroughly document setup, pickup height, weight, neck dimensions, and so on. In this case the customer has given me custody over his beloved 1987 Les Paul Reissue and the mandate to wrench maximum vintage awesomeness from it. Can do sir! As it stands here, I’ll be stripping the entire guitar, reshaping the headstock, routing for an accurate inlay, as well as replacing some plastic and metal hardware.
The goal here will be a well played, but well cared for patina with a nicely faded honeyish burst. Time to get to it!
Goldtop is a curiously beautiful finish, classic but also color changing to a high degree. A really nice R4 Les Paul™ rolled through the shop for a Protocaster Makeover and found itself resprayed and heavily aged as it did so. Here’s the result!
As it so happens I had a request for two Peter Green style Les Paul™ Makeovers come through the shop at the same time, so both were stripped completely, both refinished in zero-plasticizer lacquer, both aged meticulously, and these both feature a set of custom pickups wound by Dan at DGN guitars. He really captured the unique spirit inherent to the Greeny guitar. Having both in the shop allowed for some family photos. Here they are basking in the rooftop sun after some very intensive work.
Each Protocaster comes standard with a lacquered and aged hardshell case, but these guys are also available separately. Cases for Tee-Types & Ess-Types as well as Les Paul™ style guitars available. Contact us for your cool vintage thermometer style case today!
I just recently completed a pretty neat project for my own personal consumption. This used to be my aged white Burny SG. I modified the neck enormously, reducing the nut width to fit my teeny ballerina sized hands and in doing so actually had to rebind the fretboard and redo the binding nibs. I’d also intended for the guitar to have three pickups and a Maestro tremolo, having tried those features on other guitars, but was disappointed with the pickup array and horrified by the trem. It seems to be a “you get a good one or not” sort of thing. Anyhow, liking the look so much I cut the functioning part of the trem off leaving behind only the tailpiece which gives the guitar a bit more pizzazz.
Here are two cool vintage pieces that came in recently for restoration. Both guitars are an assemblage of mixed vintage parts, bodies and necks from similar years comprising the bones of four different guitars altogether, but have now been unified to form a restored ’65 and ’66 in Burgundy Mist Metallic and Daphne Blue respectively. The customer was on a tear eventually having me do similar work for two other vintage guitars. Neat stuff to resurrect a formerly derelict duo from the past.
Here we’ve got two Protocaster Makeovers in the shop, lounging on the roof. This sort of picture isn’t exactly the best for anything other than having something pretty to look at, but sometimes that’s exactly the best thing to have.
Unfortunately yes, heh heh. Yeah, I had always thought razor checking was the surest way to drive oneself insane and while that’s still pretty accurate it also provides a nice path to giving a guitar a cool checked finish when I’m dealing with a finish that simply won’t check naturally. It’s certainly a last resort option, but now I know that it is an option.