Cheap Epiphone Les Paul Makeover

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Kabrijj, Oct 8, 2016.

  1. Kabrijj

    Kabrijj Well-Known Member

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    "Cheap Epiphone Les Paul Makeover"

    -or-

    "An Extreme Lesson In Patience (and Possibly Futility) for the Practicing Guitarist"

    Back in January I bought a cheap, used AND abused Les Paul for $15. Honestly, I bought it cuz I wanted the pickups for another project I had going on at the time.

    This thing was in bad shape. As far as I can tell someone: put stickers over it; drew goofy/stupid designs on it with white-out; neglected it for months to gather dust; then decided it hadn't suffered enough, tied it to the back of their car, and did laps around an asphalt parking lot.

    The pickups, surprisingly enough, were fine for my purposes: the covers weren't really scratched up or cosmetically harmed at all (relatively speaking, at least). The rest of the guitar...

    00001.jpg

    I wish I had taken more pictures of it at this stage to give better scope of the damage.

    The frets were mangled: twisted and scratched beyond much hope of salvage.

    The bridge saddles were dented and scratched, badly: almost assuring string breakage even having the strings in the same room, let alone actually on the guitar.

    The pickup selector switch was broken.

    The edges of the guitar were chipped, worn, and dented. In fact, the whole guitar was dented.

    The tuners, while functional, were the bottom of the barrel for cheap Epiphone Chinese guitars.

    However, the back of the neck was in fairly good shape, which got me to thinking...

    "There is potential here."
     
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  2. Kabrijj

    Kabrijj Well-Known Member

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    My initial thought was I could use this guitar as a "donor" guitar: use it to practice and hone my re-fretting skills. The frets were seriously scratched, and some were twisted and mangled... so I didn't think there was any use in a "simple" level and crown.

    So, I bought some fancy "fret pullers" from good ole ebay (basically just some wire snippers with a ground tip) and went to work.

    This was actually kind of fun.
    12540514_10208375286204136_6331837356661868846_n.jpg

    The frets came out fairly clean: a few chips here and there, but nothing that new frets wouldn't cover up.

    Somewhere along the line I thought to myself: "self... you've never played a fretless guitar. They sell some, sure, but why spend money on something you may not like when you can make your own??"

    (Side note: this is a fallacy. Guitar players rarely talk themselves OUT of buying something, especially when said something is a new guitar. But somehow, the inner luthier type tendencies I have took over, shoved the GAS-afflicted tendencies aside, and the wheels started turning)

    My first step is to find something to fill the slots with. I've read (on the internet, where everything is true) that NOT having filler of some substance will lead to neck warping down the line.

    I'd seen some people use pieces of pickguards, and it looks pretty nice (if somewhat boring).

    I've myself have used pieces of wood, to pretty nice effect, on a cigar box guitar in the past.
    4091033318_6ecb7d7f20_z.jpg

    But those wood strips are a LOT thicker than the fret slots I'm working with here (easily 4 or 5 times thicker), plus I don't currently have access to a belt sander... or wood strips...

    Then I remembered what my artist friend used in some sculptures to fill holes in wood:

    Turquoise dust.

    It looks awesome, can be sanded down to match the contours of the wood... only problem is I didn't have any.

    A quick trip to a few hobby stores, and I became discouraged. Not only did I not find any turquoise dust, I didn't fine ANY type of stone dust. And, being lazy at heart, didn't feel like buying whole stones and grinding them to dust.

    Then I came to the glitter isle...

    At first I tried to find glow-in-the-dark glitter. That'd be cool!

    But I struck out, and settled on some green glitter.

    From there, it was a relatively straight forward (albeit quite messy) job to mix the glitter with epoxy and jam it in the 22 fret slots on the neck.
    946146_10208385304294582_6735318354062490776_n.jpg

    In hindsight I should have used an epoxy with a much slower cure time. I got about 3 frets per batch of epoxy I had to mix up before it became too hard to work with... and, as you can see, by the time I passed the 12th fret my effort and attention to detail was waning. Basically, I just slopped it in the slots, jammed it down, and didn't worry so much about making it look neat.

    Cuz all that's gonna be cleaned up when sanded, right?

    Actually, yeah, it did clean up nice.
    IMG_20160126_110716785_HDR.jpg

    I had to buy a radius sanding block (again, ebay can be your best friend and simultaneously worst enemy), and with a little bit of patience the neck starting looking really nice.

    But now that the fretboard is looking nice and sharp...

    How can I put this cool looking piece on such a shoddy looking guitar body?

    And, for that matter, there's still the issue of the headstock (long story, which WILL be discussed later, but the short version is: the tip of the headstock is covered in whiteout, there's chips and dings, and I've never really dug the Epi shape anyway).

    So, clearly...

    We've got to do MORE.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2016
  3. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    Go man, go!!
     
  4. Bettyboo

    Bettyboo Well-Known Member

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    I like that neck; brilliant.
     
  5. Chubbles

    Chubbles Well-Known Member

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    Awesome, it's one step at a time. Enjoy!!!!
     
  6. DrBGood

    DrBGood Well-Known Member

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    Can't wait for the next episode !
     
  7. eS.G.

    eS.G. Well-Known Member

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    I am signed up......keep em coming kabrijj
     
  8. JohnnyGoo

    JohnnyGoo Well-Known Member

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    Cant wait to see more
     
  9. ninjaking67

    ninjaking67 Well-Known Member

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    That looks very cool! Excellent ingenuity.
     
  10. WavMixer

    WavMixer Well-Known Member

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    And a new chapter begins!
     
  11. Kabrijj

    Kabrijj Well-Known Member

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    This project, like most, is going to serve two purposes.

    First and foremost, I'm treating it as an educational experience. Teaching myself some new techniques, mostly via trial and/or error. Because the guitar itself didn't cost me much, monetarily, if this whole thing goes down the tubes I'm not out much else but time. (yeah, I know, time is money, etc etc...)

    Second... if I end up with a cool looking fretless guitar that plays halfway decently... well, it's a bonus!

    At any rate, onward!

    Here's a bit of a closeup of the headstock, pre-mods:
    IMG_20160729_162137459_HDR.jpg

    It's not the greatest picture, but you can see some chips in the finish near the B and G string tuning post holes.

    What you can't see as well is the massive amount of white-out on the tip. The previous owner covered it. And, rather than figure out which chemical I can use to melt it off (or worse -- more time consuming at least -- sand it off), I decided to just chop it right off!
    IMG_20160729_164110603.jpg

    This again serves multi purposes. The first, and going back to my laziness, is: that was fast! Muahahaha! White-out problem solved.

    The second is that I, once again, have the opportunity to create a new headstock shape.

    You may have seen it in the cheap Strat makeover thread. As was the case there, I didn't take a picture of the raw wing: the block of wood I glued up to the tip. I did, however, take an after shot of both.
    IMG_20160731_174728203.jpg

    I wish I did take a picture of my glueing jig: I ended up sticking two hex wrenches through the tuning post holes for leverage, and attaching the clamps to them to get good even pressure from the top. It looked very DIY, but it worked. Can't argue with results, right?

    (I've always dug what I call "Back Porch Lutherie:" using whatever is available to you. It may not be the "right" tool for the job, but it gets the job done. And besides, the "real" tools (ie, StewMac, et al) are rather expensive. Shoot, I spent 15 bucks on this guitar! Not trying to be a cheap as possible, but definitely trying not to invest a whole ton into this endeavor, either.)
    IMG_20160813_170157930_HDR.jpg

    Another shot of the new headstock shape. Rough sanded relatively flush on the front with a belt sander, and the basic outline is done with a scroll saw.

    I was personally very surprised to see the neck of this guitar was not mahogany, but rather maple. I guess I just assumed it would be mahogany, like the Gibson counterparts. Fortunately for me, I had some scrap maple for the new addition (and didn't have any scrap mahogany, so you could say it worked out well).

    I traced the outline of my Gibson to get the shape of the tip. The Gibson headstocks, to me, seem to be similar to the Epi but not quite the same. To me, they feel a little wider, and my headstock here looks very narrow, and slightly elongated. It's not drastically different, but something about it just feels different from a Gibson (to me, anyway).

    In doing some internet research, I came across this pic of someone undertaking a similar Epi -> Gibby conversion:
    maxresdefault.jpg

    While that may be more of a traditional Gibson shape, I'm not trying to mimic a Gibson headstock. Ultimately, I'm going for simply a cooler looking headstock, to my eyes and opinion. Nothing against the Epiphone shape: I've played and enjoyed many Epis in my time. I just really dig the "open book" style shape a Gibson has up at the top.

    The other major drawback I see to the above method is time and effort (again... I'm lazy. If there's an easier method, I'm probably gonna opt for it. Ha!). The guy above made two cuts on each side of the headstock, while I made just one at the top. I'm positive his method was easier when it came time for clamping the "wings," but two cuts is twice as much as one, right? :naughty: Also, you can see in the pic that he had to fill the tuning holes and will have to re-drill them later (I assume he had to re-drill because, with the additional material, the holes might've been too close to the inside of the headstock for the tuners to fit properly). With my method, we already know the tuners are in the right place... why mess with a sure thing?

    At any rate, I've got some major prep work to do now, both to the body and headstock... stay tuned.
     
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  12. Biddlin

    Biddlin Well-Known Member

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  13. Dave Johnson

    Dave Johnson Well-Known Member

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    Bravo! First rate hackage.
    Like you, the willingness to try it on a 6 string was overwhelming and I also went a similar route.
    My first discovery was actually how poorly it played.
    Dull and really lacking tonewise.
    Metal finger tips may have helped.
    Anyways, ended jacking the nut & saddles up & making a slider out of it.
    Best of luck on this project.
    And the glitter IS cool!
     
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  14. Kabrijj

    Kabrijj Well-Known Member

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    I think a really hard fretboard would be ideal for a fretless. Like maybe lay down some epoxy over the whole thing, or glass or aluminum... but that's beyond the scope of this project and my ambition for it :D

    Guthrie here has it going on pretty nicely:


    I have tried it (fretless) on a banjo I made (and blast! I can't find a good picture on my computer). Playing with your fingernails actually kinda helps the note definition...

    Truthfully, I'm more curious than anything. I'm not expecting a tone monster (the body is plywood, after all)...

    But dammit, I'm gonna make it look cool! :cool:
     
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  15. Dave Johnson

    Dave Johnson Well-Known Member

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    Guthrie Govan could play a limp stick with rubber bands & shred it.
    He's truly one of the gifted.
     
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  16. jvin248

    jvin248 Active Member

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    .

    Those Epi Specials can be great playing guitars. I have a Junior I play all the time (new pickup and electronics) and it was $15 too. I've gotten some of the Special IIs for $20 - $35 range and it's difficult to pass them up regardless of condition.
    That's a great find for $15. I have an Epi LP Junior Special that I play a lot.

    For fretless, I own LP-like guitar (1970 Global, filled the same niche then as the Epi Specials today) and it was ok for a day or two as fretless (the way I got it) and then it was just not really useful to me - but it's worth the experiment to see for yourself.

    The glitter looks good. Since you didn't widen the slots you will be able to resaw those out later and put in stainless steel frets. That's what I did with mine and it's a nice player for it. There is a $10 flush cut pull saw at harbor freight that is the perfect fret saw after hammering the kerf out of the teeth.
    There is a $10 blond-handled 'flush cut' pull saw at harbor freight that when you hammer the kerf out of the teeth is a perfect thickness fret slot saw.
    There is a $10 blond-handled 'flush cut' pull saw at harbor freight that when you hammer the kerf out of the teeth is a perfect thickness fret slot saw.

    Save the existing nut and get something else in there - chance to try brass or aluminum rod nut or corrian is good too.

    That keyhole sticker and its placement is actually kind of intriguing with the black body around it.

    I look forward to seeing the rest of your repair thread. Bringing back battered guitars to playability is an affliction I have too.

    .
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2016
  17. Kabrijj

    Kabrijj Well-Known Member

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    The original nut was mangled beyond repair or reuse here... even with the assumed lower string height of a fretless, that thing was wrecked.

    And the keyhole was painted on with white-out. If it was a sticker, and/or the rest of the body wasn't so torn up, it might have stayed. But as it was...
     
  18. Kabrijj

    Kabrijj Well-Known Member

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    It's time to prep the body!

    First things first: I donned a mask, grabbed the orbit sander and went to town.
    IMG_20160801_142146238.jpg

    I've read it's not necessary to go to bare wood for a re-fin, so... I didn't. Besides, the bare wood was ugly. :shock:
    IMG_20160801_142928750_HDR.jpg

    As far as why the bottom was red/pink, I have no idea. Any guesses?

    At this stage, the plywood body became really apparent.

    I also took advantage of my old man's woodshop and made a new back plate (the old one had, you guessed it: more white-out. "SUBLIME" was written on it, and it was a bit warped).

    The body almost looks kinda cool, in a really junky sort of way. I very briefly flirted with the idea of clear coating it at this stage for that "worn & ugly" look, but opted to press forward. For once, my laziness took a backseat.

    So, it's rough sanded (I think I went to 80 or 100 with the sander), but there's a lot of patch work to do.
    IMG_20160806_215617938_HDR.jpg

    Both the pot holes had some blowouts in the finish, and one (I forget which... maybe the tone?) actually had the wood caved in on the underside.

    IMG_20160806_215643941.jpg

    Yeah, I think that's the tone hole.

    IMG_20160806_220303337.jpg

    Using a super fancy jig (that's supposed to read as sarcasm...), I dribbled some glue in the splinters of the wood and clamped it back in place. Probably not absolutely necessary, but it'll at least made the wood around the pots a little stronger.

    The inner Tele player in me made a brief cameo in this episode: since I'm gonna repaint the whole thing anyway, I may as well ditch the plastic jack plate (which, might I add, is cracked -- seriously, this guitar was beat up) and go with an electrosocket jack. This means filling and patching the screw holes from the original plate.
    IMG_20160806_215633803.jpg

    I then grabbed some wood putty from Ace and set to patching the numerous dings and chips. I also got maybe a little carried away with the orbital sander, and took a bit of the contour off the lower horn, so I used some putty here to build it back up. I did round off the edges of the guitar a bit with the sander, but that was intentional to help clean up all the jagged edges.

    FWIW, I read that "solvent based" putty is the way to go. Seems to be working out thus far.
    IMG_20160902_132136389.jpg

    Then it's time to break out the sanding block and clean this whole mess up a bit.

    Once it's sanded (I don't recall how fine I went... almost assuredly not past 180 grit) and cleaned, I used some tack cloth to grab the dust particles off and layed down the first (of many!) coats of primer.

    For this, I used Zinsser's BIN Primer.
    IMG_20160903_163609693_HDR.jpg

    I made a little handle from a scrap piece of pine to aid in holding the guitar while prayed. I found an old guitar string, tied it to the stick, and hung it from a mic stand to dry ("DIY Lutherie" in action -- use what you've got available, right?)

    I think I shot maybe 3 coats of primer over the course of a few days, did some more level sanding with a block, and at this stage you can really see where there's more dings & dents that need to be patched up.
    IMG_20160909_145933644.jpg

    There's a few on the back here, including that one big one in the middle. You want to make sure you not only fill the dent, but go over and above the top. That way when you sand it back, it should be level... and once painted, it should be seamless.

    Some more sanding, some more primer, and it's starting to look pretty good.
    IMG_20160914_080619216_HDR.jpg

    So good, in fact, that again I briefly contemplated changing my plans and going with a white LP. It looks sexy! Put on some black hardware, and we'd be in business.

    BUT! The neck was black, and I didn't really want to strip the neck. And, I think a greenburst would look pretty killer, too.

    At least... that's what I thought.

    More to follow.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2016
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  19. eS.G.

    eS.G. Well-Known Member

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    GREEN BURST GREEN BURST GREEN BURST!!! :dude::dude::dude:
     
  20. RVA

    RVA Well-Known Member

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    Your "back porch" style is very effective. This is a testimony to your skill. Great work so far.

    Oh, and please...GREEN BURST!
     

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