Saturday, October 22, 2016

Les Paul Junior Kit Build

Our guitar wiring expert friend, Arnold, has always been a fan of Les Paul Juniors. And while browsing the net recently, he came across a seller offering a double cutaway Junior-style neck and body for a little over 300 bucks.

Taking the plunge, the beautiful raw wood kit that arrived featured an Indian rosewood fingerboard, mahogany neck, and a one piece mahogany body. Our luthier buddy, Luca Quacquarella, was tasked with assembly, painting and final setup.

Les Paul Junior kit mahogany neck and body
Raw mahogany neck and body

Arnold chose to not have the mounting stud holes for the bridge drilled. The kit maker would only provide metric sized screw holes whereas Arnold wanted to use a compensated MojoAxe bridge that came with Imperial sized studs.

Some Les Paul Junior History

Originally issued in 1954, the Les Paul Junior was Gibson's foray into the budget and student market. Featuring slab mahogany bodies and very simple electronics in the form of a single P90 bridge pickup and basic volume and tone controls, the Junior eschewed all accoutrements of its more expensive Les Paul solidbody cousins.  

No carved maple tops, binding, or fancy inlays for this little guy!

Les Paul Junior kit mahogany neck and body
Checking the neck to body fit

While the very first Les Paul Juniors were single cutaway instruments finished in a brown sunburst, Gibson later made available a TV Yellow finish model in 1955. In the days of black and white television, white guitars tended to 'wash out', appearing overly bright on-screen. The TV Yellow finish made the guitar appear a more natural white.

The double cutaway Junior, like Arnold's kit, was released in 1958 in response to player's requests for more access to the upper frets.

Assembly and Paint

A little bit of play was evident in the neck to body joint when the kit arrived -- they could have cut it more precisely for a snug fit.

After gluing the neck to the body, Luca proceeded with applying a light dark stain to bring out the grain of the wood a little more under the final paint. Three coats of nitrocellulose lacquer, closely matching Gibson's original TV Yellow, were then applied, with the paint allowed to dry thoroughly between coats.

Les Paul Junior kit TV Yellow
Spraying the first coat of TV Yellow

On the black painted headstock face, Arnold chose to go with a smaller, stylized Luca Custom Guitars logo for simplicity. 
Les Paul Junior kit headstock face
Luca custom logo and Kluson tuners

Hardware and Electronics

In the spirit of the original Les Paul Juniors, Kluson button vintage-style tuners were chosen, along with a black, single-ply pickguard. Luca also installed a bone nut he cut and polished from scratch.

Next came the tricky task of drilling the screw holes for the bridge studs.

Because the Junior used a simple stopbar tailpiece that functioned as a bridge, the measurement had to be very precise as there are no individual saddle screws for intonation adjustment. The MojoAxe stopbar bridge is compensated for better intonation by way of subtle ridges molded into the top, but its placement is still crucial nonetheless.

Instead of measuring from nut to bridge, Arnold suggested attaching a high E and a low E string to an anchor point on the workbench. Sliding the bridge along the body and checking with a strobe tuner until intonation was achieved, the stud holes were then drilled and the bridge mounted. No room for error here!

Les Paul Junior kit Porter P90 pickup
Porter P90 hot wound pickup installed

At Luca's suggestion, a hot wound Porter P90 pickup was chosen, with Arnold supplying his own wiring harness for the electronics -- Emerson pots, in values of 500k for the volume control and 250k for the tone, with a .022uF paper-in-oil capacitor. Apparently, pot values of 500k for volume and 250k for tone are the magic numbers for P90 equipped guitars.

Les Paul Junior kit wiring harness
Emerson volume and tone pots and paper-in-oil capacitor

To give it that lived-in, played for decades look, Luca gave the guitar a tasteful relic finish.

Les Paul Junior kit relic TV Yellow finish
Relic'd TV Yellow finish

So many guitar manufacturers these days use templates to map out wear spots and dings on new guitars. It saves a lot of time, but one can't help feeling a little cheated that almost no thought went into relic'ing the instrument. Not to mention that you would have guitars with about the same wear spots in the same places.

Les Paul Junior kit relic TV Yellow finish
Nitrocellulose TV Yellow finish

Luca still does it the old fashioned way -- artistically and with much deliberation for where a guitar might receive its dings, scrapes and wear spots after years of gigging.

And damn, does this thing look like a real Les Paul Junior from the 50's!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Refinishing A PRS Custom 24 Part 2 | The Final Reveal

In our last article, Refinishing A PRS Custom 24 Part 1, we detailed the removal of the guitar's cloudy green lacquer and extensive prep work for the big refinish -- entirely in nitrocellulose lacquer -- by luthier Luca Quacquarella.

In my humble opinion, our Italian friend really outdid himself on this particular job.

The following pics were taken by Reggie Tan at Luca's workshop on the day he went to pick up his newly refinished PRS.

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge. Enjoy!

PRS Custom 24 refinished top
PRS Custom 24 refinished top. This guitar was finished entirely in nitrocellulose

PRS Custom 24 refinished top
Stunning flame maple top on this PRS Custom 24 Artist model

PRS Custom 24 Artist abalone bird inlays
Artist models like this one also feature choice abalone mother of pearl bird inlays

PRS Custom 24 scraped binding
Another view of the top and 'scraped' maple binding

PRS Custom 24 Artist headstock abalone inlay
Inlaid abalone PRS logo and Indian rosewood headstock veneer

PRS Custom 24 refinished back
Back and neck also refinished in nitrocellulose lacquer

PRS Custom 24 refinished headstock back
A view of the back of the headstock. Note distinctive quarter sawn grain pattern

PRS Custom 24 refinished back and neck
PRS's distinctive neck joint

PRS Custom 24 refinished top
Final view of the top. Note light shading of violet mixed in with blue on the edges

PRS Custom 24 refinished
Happy owner, happy luthier! Luca (on the left) with Reggie
(Photographs of this PRS Custom 24 courtesy of Reggie Tan. All rights reserved)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Refinishing A PRS Custom 24 | Part 1

If you read my previous two posts about my good friend Reggie Tan's Music Man Luke guitar, what I didn't mention was that Reggie had also sent in his PRS Custom 24 for a refinish at the same time.

His PRS, built in 2004, had developed a strange cloudiness in the finish and the turquoise was slowly fading from the original blue to a faded green for some reason.

PRS Custom 24 Turquoise
PRS Custom 24 in 2008 before the finish started to cloud

PRS uses both acrylic urethane and polyester in their guitar finishes, laying down the poly basecoat before spraying it over with the acrylic. The acrylic urethane is supposed to give the guitar the look and feel of nitrocellulose, without having to deal with the labor intensive application of nitro in a factory setting.

I strongly suspect that PRS's layering of the two kinds of finishes -- combined with Singapore's crazy humidity -- caused the finish to go cloudy over time. And unlike Reggie's Music Man Luke where the finish was literally flaking and falling off the body like potato chips, I have seen quite a number of PRS guitars with cloudy finishes. 

PRS Custom 24 cloudy finish
PRS Custom 24 before refinishing. Note cloudy, green finish

When Reggie mentioned he wanted to get his Music Man Luke refinished, I recommended Luca Quacquarella. 

Reggie wasn't familiar with Luca's work but meeting our Italian friend and seeing the quality of some of his other refinishing projects convinced Reggie enough to entrust both his Music Man Luke and his PRS to him.

PRS Custom 24 cloudy finish
Finish clouding is apparent. Could it be humidity?

I remember that Luca's initial reaction to being asked to refinish the PRS was one trepidation. 

He explained that with the guitar's carved top and tough polyester finish, it would take considerable time to strip the guitar down to bare wood. He also mentioned that he couldn't be certain if he could strip off the original turquoise stain entirely -- too much wood would need to be shaved off. Wood stain goes deep into the pores of the wood and now the turquoise had turned a sickly shade of green! To be fair, he asked for a couple of days to consider taking on the project.

Reggie had a specific finish in mind -- a transparent light blue stain to show off the flame maple in the center and a darker shade of blue on the outer edges, sprayed in a sunburst fashion.

Needless to say, Luca had his work cut out for him, if he agreed to take on the project.

The Big Refinish

The first major task was stripping the poly finish off the body's top and back, the headstock, as well as the back of the neck.

There was some discussion about just refinishing the guitar's top only. But given that the finish was also starting to get cloudy on the back, neck and headstock, a complete refinish of the entire guitar was decided.

A major overhaul. 

PRS Custom 24 cloudy finish
Even the clear finish on the neck and back weren't spared

Luca spent the most time sanding the finish off the carved top by hand, being careful not to flatten out the original contours. Once the poly finish was completely sanded off, the original turquoise stain was finally visible. Which tells me that the cloudy clear polyester topcoat was yellowing as well, causing the finish to take on the green hue. Yellow and blue equals green.

PRS Custom 24 finish stripped
PRS body stripped revealing turquoise stain underneath

There was still a good amount of the original turquoise stain in the wood after he was done, but rather than try to take off more wood, he decided he would apply a blue stain over it. 

Again this was a close judgement call. Too many layers of stain and the top gets too dark.

PRS Custom 24 turquoise stain
Beautiful flame soaked up the original turquoise stain

Fortunately, the Custom 24 features an inlaid Paul Reed Smith logo in beautiful abalone on the headstock which meant one less thing to worry about. The headstock could just be stripped and clear coated, unlike the Music Man Luke where the logo had to be painstakingly recreated.

PRS Custom 24 headstock
Stripped PRS headstock with inlaid Paul Reed Smith logo

After a couple of coats of stain, the guitar was allowed to dry thoroughly before applying pale blue clear lacquer. Luca is old school and very much a traditionalist when it come to guitar finishes.

He prefers to work with nitrocellulose instead of polyurethane, even though nitro is far more tedious to apply, requiring multiple coats with ample drying time and a thorough wet sanding between coats.

PRS Custom 24 nitrocellulose lacquer
All nitrocellulose finish. Shades of things to come!
(Photo credits: Luca Quacquarella and Reggie Tan)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Refinishing A PRS Custom 24 for a dose of serious guitar eye-candy! 


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