Back last July, I was sitting in a room with my oldest son during his annual 48 hour EEG. Being completely bored, I was surfing eBay and happened upon a seller that was selling off some older guitar bodies, necks, etc. Since I had already reconditioned/refit my first guitar, I decided to take the next step and build one from parts. This blog documents that journey.
I found one of the bodies as a penny auction (starting bid was $0.01, no reserve) and put a bid on it. I eventually won the body for $32.00. I was sceptical because no guitar body at 32 bones is going to be worth a damn. However, my luck held out and, just as with the Squier, it was a beautiful, deep and rich red finish LP style body. I couldn’t believe my eyes. So, I contacted the seller to see if he had any matching necks. He did but they were much more expensive, twice that of which I paid for the body. So, I waited a bit and found that he had posted another penny auction for a neck with the correct scale length and neck pocket size. The only major issue was that it was a cream color on the neck. hmmm… what to do. Well, I ended up paying more for the neck than I did the body but I still got a great deal on it.
So, now that I had a body and neck, I needed parts. I picked up a pair of humbucker pickups from the same eBay vendor but for the rest of the parts, I sourced them elsewhere. I got the pickup rings, volume and tone knobs, pick guard, control covers, bridge and tail piece from various vendors mostly from China. A quick word on this. My experience was mixed with vendors across the world. One vendor (in China), got the knobs and control covers to me in about a week and the price was awesome. The plastic isn’t great but it’s about what you would expect from a entry level guitar or kit. the pickup rings, bridge, and tail took nearly a month and the rings and bridge were the wrong items. Since I didn’t pay very much for them, I gave up after a couple failed attempts to email the seller. The price you pay when you work with sellers in another country is that you may have to eat it and move on.
I got my volume/tone pots at a local “Samual Nash” store. The pots are good but since this was my first LP build, I didn’t know you should get the long shaft (I said shaft) pots. Apparently, neither did the guy helping me. It wasn’t a big deal as I was able to get them to seat (with a little persuasion). The real issue was that the holes were too small to accommodate the pot shaft. I did some thinking and decided that the holes needed to be reamed out. I went to StewMac.com (love these guys) and found a peg-hole reamer but it was something close to $50. Well worth the money if you use it all the time. I was only going to use it four times.
Let’s take a second and clarify something. I am a cheap bastard. I would have lined the walls of my garage with Mac tools if I won the Lotto but I haven’t so, I have to balance my tool purchase decisions balanced by amount of perceived use, necessity, and value. The StewMac reamer is really nice, with a wood handle and long, sharp blades. Any professional or serious hobbyist would proudly own one.
However, my budget is very limited, so I’m looking for that balance of value, quality, and use. While at the local Harbor Fright store, guess what I found? A reamer. Guess how much it cost? $2.00. Yup, and as anticipated, I used it 4 times. $0.50/per hole. It’s a piece of crap and I don’t go waiving it around like it’s my first-born son. It’s a tool that got the job done. After I got the pots mounted, I moved on to wiring. I ran the wires from the switch, through the body and into the control cavity. I also mounted the pickups with the crap pickup rings.
I had a great head of steam going but then I ran into a snag. I had exhausted my budget, so I packed it all up nice and carefully, and put it in the closet. That was a HUGE mistake because things in the back of the closet get forgotten. I started another project, “Pining for a Tele” and I build a couple boxes to put tools in. I acquired a few more tools but it wasn’t until last week, almost a year later, that I finally finished the project. I was a little nervous about the neck and the body. When I bought them in 2012, I knew about scale length but not how to measure it. If the neck is fretted for one scale length and the actual scale length is something else, intonation will never be achieved and the project is kaput without a proper neck. My research told me that typical scale lengths for LPs was 24.75″, nut to bridge. When I checked, mine was 25″ dead-on. I thought I was sunk but I remembered seeing a fret calculator on StewMac’s web site. When I checked the first fret, nut-to-fret it was 1.4″. Referring to the StewMac calculator, it is 1.403″. I checked each one and they were spot on. Whew… You may pass go and spend another $200.00.
I first lined up the neck with the body and attempted to get it as square as I could. Then, I used very thin screws to mark the holes from the body onto the next. I verified that the marks were parallel with the next and started pilot holes. I soaped up the screws and slowly, gently, started them. If one of these screws breaks off it will ruin your day. The soap helps lubricate the screw and I had no problem with them. Not even squeaking (which is usually your very last warning before the ‘snap.’ I quickly double-checked the dimensions and alignment and I couldn’t believe that they were, once again, spot on.
I spent about $50.00 on tuners, new pickup rings and a correct bridge from GuitarFetish.com. I love these guys because I can get the parts I need at a budget-friendly price. I don’t work there and I am not a paid spokesman. I just love them because they have what I need, it’s cheap, shipping is fast, and they give a shit. When the parts arrived, I began to get busy. I started with the pickup-selector switch then moved to the control cavity. I referred to the StewMac LP wiring diagram and first grounded all my pots. Then I bent up the third prong on each pot and soldered it to it’s enclosure. Finally I wired up the pots to the switch, pickups. Also, I wired up the output jack. We are ready to get it it on.
I plugged in my Orange amp and tested each pot for tone and volume. Everything worked except I had the switch backwards. So the switch in the “UP” position turned on the bridge and “DOWN” turned on the neck pickup. I went to simple rotate the switch and realized I had taken out all the slack to keep the wires neat. DOH. I tried to do some surgury to the switch but gave up because it was just too tight. I ended up switching the leads on the pots and that worked. Now I had a new problem. When the switch is in the neutral position, it only opens the neck pickup. I have royally jacked up the switch <grumble grumble>. However, I didn’t discover this until I had already strung it up and started playing it. More on that later.
Next I put the bridge bushing into the body. Nice snug fit. Put the bushing for the tail piece in and it was too loose but not very much. I took a toothpick and broke it off just under the depth of the bushing hole and then glued each into the hole. Then I ran my ground wire into the bottom bushing hole and attempted to make a good connection. After getting everything strung, I found out that my foo was weak here and I have a grounding issue with the tail piece. I will need to remove the bushing. NOT COOL! I then went to mount the output jack. It didn’t fit so I had to carefully bend the leads to prevent them from shorting or breaking. Once that was done I realized my pre-drilled screw holes didn’t line up with my jack cover. I grabbed another toothpick to fill the holes and with a dab of carpenter’s glue, the bad holes
filled. I found my optimum mounting position (man, there are a lot of sexual connotations in this, aye?) and pre-drilled my mounting screw holes. That’s when I learned that battery-powered drills are great right up to the point when the battery dies. Once I got my spare battery, I finished the last hole and got the jack plate mounted. The last thing to do was to add my tuners to the headstock. I was surprised at these tuners. I paid $26.00 for them and they are every bit as good as a $50+ set. Once again, pre-drilled holes didn’t line up. When I did line them up, the tuners were canted at a 45 degree down angle. It looks really weird to me but I find it strangely familiar. The downside of this is the string winder only works on the strings 1 and 6. I had no issue mounting the tuners and finally, FINALLY… I’m ready to string it up. I have never strung and 3×3 guitar before. I had to think my way through it at first but its easy after the first one. That is unless you can’t use a string winder. Oops. I was a little less than generous on the windings for the strings and it doesn’t look too pretty but it works.
Once I was done with that, I checked the string alignment and spacing. Everything looked ok but the action was really low So I kept raising it until I was happy (Days later when a friend was playing it, he noticed that the neck buzzed out on all strings after the 17th fret). I let the guitar sit for about 30 mins to adjust, retuned and began intonating it. I had to do no intonation adjustments. Every string, open, fretted at the 12th, and the 12th fret harmonic all rang within a cent or two of the note as was told by the Snook. Well, it’s time to jam out. I started noodling about and this is when I discovered the switch problem and the tail piece grounding problem. So, these things still need to be addressed but I was surprised at the level of awesome that came out of my little amp. The tone is nice a clear on clean, crunchy like a taco when overdriven and the distortion is nothing but insanity when driven manically.
My thoughts about this build:
This project was a real thrill for me. I accomplished the goals that I had set out to hit by building a LP style guitar so as to be exposed to something different from Strats (really my only experience until build). It has really given me the confidence to continue building guitars and taking it the next step. With each build, I incorporate something that I know is a skill, needed to be developed, and it’s these challenges that really push me to the next level. So far, I love this guitar. Someone suggested that I sell it. Well, I wouldn’t really say this is something that I would want to sell for a couple reasons. First, I didn’t really use parts on it that I would be happy providing to a customer. Yeah, they work for what I was trying to accomplish but while I work through these builds, I don’t think I would want to do that just yet. Second, I think I might want to give these builds to my sons when they get older. I would have shit my pants if my dad built a guitar for me. Well, he kind of did but that’s another story. Finally, these guitars are like those dollar bills that
businesses put up on their wall. This was my officially my 2nd project but my first parts build. The next one will take me to the next level of building a guitar from scratch. I am very excited.
Below is a gallery of the best photos that I took during the build. Enjoy.