Building a Les Paul - 3
And now back to the neck for a while. After the frets have been pressed into the
slots in the fingerboard, they must be dressed. This means trimming, beveling, and
softening the sharp edges of the ends so they don't hurt your fingers; also getting
the tops of the frets level and true. There is always some variation when you first
put them in, and unlevel frets make the strings buzz and all kinds of bad stuff. So
after beveling the ends one takes a long file and runs it down the neck across the
frets until there is a little flat spot showing all across each fret. This means they're
level. Then you use a file to restore the 'crown' to the tops so they're round and
smooth on top. You can use an ordinary flat file but I used a specially made fret
file that has the radius built in. It's the thing with the bulbous wooden handle in the
photo below. After all the filing comes sandpaper in 400, 800, 1000 and 1500
grit,then 0000 steel wool to make them really shine.
I made a tactical error in my order of operations. I should have shaped the back of
the neck before putting the radius in the fretboard, and certainly before fretting it,
but I got ahead of myself up at Paul's shop. With the frets in, I couldn't set the
neck down to work on the back side! So I ended up doing it this way, clamping
the tenon in my bench vise and using a scrap piece to support the other end. This
actually worked out fairly well, though, as I used spokeshaves, rasps, files,
scrapers, and sandpaper to bring the neck into shape.
And here's the completed neck...more of a '50s neck, kind of chunky.
Definitely not a slim taper! It's a hair on the wide side, which I kind of like.
Overall not an immediately familiar profile (hey, give me a break, it's the first
one I ever made!) but a quite comfortable one. And don't let me hear you
saying anything about baseball bats...
Here I've completed the machining of the back, including the ledges where the
cover plates will rest and be screwed into. The circular hole in the upper left is
for the pickup selector switch; the large cavity is for the volume and tone knobs.
And here's the top with the machining completed. The rectangular holes
are for the pickups of course, with other holes for the bridge and tailpiece,
switch, and knobs.
Finally, I could put it off no longer... I had to start on the body binding. I don't know
why exactly, but I was very anxious about this step. The plastic binding I bought was
pretty stiff, and there are some pretty sharp curves to deal with, and I didn't want to do a
sloppy job and ruin all my hard work and, well, I was biting my nails. But it came out
pretty much ok. Here's how...
The first step was to cut the ledge where the binding would be glued. For this I
borrowed Paul's laminate trimmer and a jig he made, and it worked like a charm. Here
the ledge is almost complete, I just need to move that handscrew...
Then came the step that really had me worried: bending the binding to fit the curves. I tried hot
water, I tried a hair dryer, but those didn't soften the plastic enough to allow for even moderate
bending. So finally I ended up using a little butane flamethrower to CAREFULLY heat the binding
enough to bend it. In the photo below I'm working around the body from the upper bout, using
tape to temporarily hold the binding in place so I know I'm bending it at the proper places. The
binding bent ok by itself around the big curve of the bottom of the body; I ended up pre-bending
it only at the upper bout, the waist, and the cutout.
And then I glued the binding on using plasic cement.
And then it was just a matter of scraping the binding down level with the top. For
this job I used a card scraper, which you see here resting on the body. It's just a
sheet of steel with a little burr on the edge... if it's set up right it cuts very nicely.
So now (11/12/03), short some sanding and a little bit of shaping of the back
(rounding the back edge), I'm ready to glue the neck to the body and begin the
fininshing process: filling the pores in the mahogany, staining, and lacquering.