Friday, November 21, 2014

Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 5 | The Big Rewire

In this fifth and final installment of Refinishing My Les Paul BFG, I decided to let my good buddy Arnold San Juan put his remarkable skill with a soldering gun to good use and do a complete rewiring of my guitar.
rewiring les paul bfg
Arnold San Juan

A sound recordist and mixer in the film industry -- twiddling knobs and faders of various persuasions -- Arnold is also remarkably adept at guitar electronics and building effects pedals. And his skill with a soldering iron has left many local electronics gurus slack-jawed in awe, he'll be the first to admit.

Jokes aside, this guy really is one of the best.

The Les Paul BFG comes with one of the strangest electronics configurations of any Les Paul model. With a P90 in the neck and a Burstbucker 3 in the bridge, both pickups have separate volume controls but a shared tone control. In place of where the neck pickup tone control would be, Gibson elected to situate the 3-way pickup selector switch.

And this is the main reason why I so wanted my Les Paul BFG rewired. Where the selector switch would normally be on a conventional Les Paul, Gibson, in all their unfathomable wisdom, chose to add an on-off 'killswitch'. Flipping the killswitch on and off rapidly creates an auditory version of a flashing strobelight, pulsing in rhythm to the music. Or out of rhythm, depending on who's playing.

I found the killswitch to be about as useful as a piece of gum stuck under my shoe.

During the first couple of gigs with the Les Paul BFG, I found myself instinctively flipping the killswitch when I really intended to change pickup positions. The first time it happened, the guitar went dead silent and I actually panicked for a microsecond before I flipped the killswitch back to the 'on' position.

I'd made up my mind. Someday I was going to rewire this thing to regular -- some might say boring -- old Les Paul specs.

My other good buddy Sherman (who regular readers will remember as a recurring figure on The Guitar Column) suggested that I get a new set of CTS 500k audio taper potentiometers -- 'long shaft' he emphasized, with a wink and a nudge -- and a pair of Russian .022 mf paper-in-oil capacitors.
cts pots and paper-in-oil capacitors
CTS pots, Russian PIO caps and selector switch ring

It was all pretty much Greek to me, but shopping for parts I went. But I did know to also get the cool, cream plastic ring that said 'Rhythm' and 'Treble' on it for the selector switch.

And a custom-made pickguard by MojoAxe.

Sherman turned me on to MojoAxe, mentioning that they produced the most material-accurate plastic parts that even vintage Les Paul owners would turn to when they needed to get a spare pickguard or control cavity cover. MojoAxe also makes a well-intonated wrap-around replacement tailpiece for old and reissue Les Pauls.

And since the Les Paul BFG had a P90 soapbar in the neck and a humbucker in the bridge, MojoAxe would also be able to cut a custom pickguard for me.

Dealing with Dan at MojoAxe was an absolute pleasure. He asked for the measurement between the neck and bridge pickup and had the pickguard cut and mailed out the following day along with an aged nickel mounting bracket and screws. He even sent me the picture you see here before mailing it out.
mojoaxe les paul pickguard
Custom pickguard by MojoAxe

But back to the wiring. And a couple of potential problems.

The first thing we noticed when Arnold removed the original Gibson potentiometers and the 3-way selector switch was how much larger the hole drilled for the switch was. Remember that on the Les Paul BFG, the selector switch is located where the tone pot for the neck would normally be on a regular Les Paul.

I was a little worried because the tone control for the neck pickup was going to be re-situated there and that the hole would be too large to hold the pot in place. Fortunately, the metal washer that held the nut for the tone pot was wide enough to cover the hole entirely.
les paul bfg
Note larger hole where the pickup selector used to be

The second thing we noticed was the unusually long pickup selector switch used on the BFG. Unlike the usual Switchcraft switch used by Gibson, this switch was a good 1/2" or so longer. Again I was worried that the switch would be too long for the cavity where the killswitch originally was.

Fortunately again, the plastic selector switch cavity cover fit over nicely, but in full contact with the square base of the switch. No problems there.

And did I mention that the Les Paul BFGs come with these cool clear acrylic covers for both the pickup selector and main control cavity?

The original killswitch came mounted on a nice, sturdy countersunk metal barrel that held the switch very solidly in place. After all, if one was to go ape with the killswitch all the way through a show, it had better be solid.

This metal barrel also fit the 3-way selector beautifully, but because of its slightly larger diameter, Arnold had to file and enlarge the hole of the plastic Rhythm-Treble selector switch ring. The cream plastic ring is purely cosmetic, I know, but I felt that the guitar would look incomplete without it.

On the advice of Sherman, I picked up a pair of .022mf Russian-made NOS (new-old-stock) paper-in-oil capacitors. Military-grade, and indeed, designed for military use, these caps are all the buzz on
paper-in-oil capacitors
Russian-made Paper-In-Oil .022 capacitors
Les Paul forums for their sweet tonal properties. They weren't that cheap but a definite improvement nonetheless, on the matte-orange .022 ceramic caps that came with the guitar. And as you can see in the pic, Arnold very thoughtfully applied rubber heat-shrink insulation to each leg of both capacitors.

If you're interested in these Russian vintage capacitors, the part number and description for them is K40Y-9 PIO (paper-in-oil).  They come with a dark silver body and have just a +/-10% tolerance variance.

Arnold then asked me if I wanted my guitar wired in the 'modern' style or with traditional  50's wiring. These things always give me a case of option anxiety.

Consulting the Oracle Of All Things Gibson (the entity also known as our good buddy Sherman), he recommended going with the 50's wiring for more twang and clarity -- muddy-sounding Les Pauls, he said, usually came with the so-called 'modern' wiring. And with the P90 in the neck position, traditional 50's wiring would bring out the bright single-coil qualities of that pickup even more.

It's nice to have friends who know stuff!
les paul 50s wiring
Les Paul traditional 50's wiring. Very neat work!

Arnold proffered a practical solution to my conundrum and said that he would wire the guitar with 'modern' wiring, and then switch to 50's wiring to compare. Apparently, it was just a matter of moving one of the legs of the capacitors to a different lug on the potentiometer.

'Night and day' is probably the best way I could describe the difference between the two wiring schemes. The modern wiring sounded like how you would expect a Les Paul to sound -- fat and creamy, with the notes in a chord just melding together. If you were playing heavy-rock or metal, the modern wiring would probably be more suitable.

The traditional 50's wiring brought out a lot more clarity and and brightness. You could hear each of the notes in a chord, even through a distortion pedal. Single notes popped more, and had more definition with richer overtones. You could hear the string as you played.
Finishing touches

Another thing I noticed was that the volume and tone pots seemed more responsive. Playing through a Chandler Tube Driver with the gain up three-quarters (which is a ton of gain), I immediately noticed that rolling back the volume controls on the guitar to 3 or 4 cleaned up the sound considerably.  Also, rolling the tone controls back, even to zero, didn't make the sound muddy or woofy. And the combination of using the neck P90 pickup and rolling the tone control back to 4 or 5 put me squarely in Grant Green-Wes Montgomery territory.

I was convinced -- 50's wiring it is then.

Great job, Arnold.


So, after about a month and a half of working on my Les Paul BFG project, we have reached the point where the guitar is probably more traditional Les Paul than BFG!

The guitar is light, probably from having all that wood shaved off the top, resonant, and a joy to play.
les paul bfg
Done... finally!

No surprise that it has taken on a different personality from its previous incarnation. And it is loud acoustically. A lot louder than it was before.

Sherman probably said it best, "I don't remember your guitar sounding this good."

Pretty cool, coming from someone who used to sing in a club band every Monday and Thursday night for years with me playing this very same guitar!

And if you haven't already, be sure to read Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 and my Interview with luthier Luca Quacquarella.

gibson les paul flametopAlso, be sure to visit for the best in Les Paul parts.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 4 | The Final Reveal!

gibson les paul bfg trans gold
A last look at the gold top
This installment of Refinishing My Les Paul BFG will finally reveal the completely resprayed guitar top in vermillion nitrocellulose lacquer!

According to Luca Quaquarella, the luthier who did the refinishing job -- and who was also featured in his very own interview in my last post -- the most difficult part of this project was sanding the top of the BFG completely smooth.

He sanded the top entirely by hand and had to ensure that the curvature of the arched maple top stayed true to Les Paul specs. His biggest concern was making sure that there were no flat spots that would ruin the curvature and symmetry of the arch.

In his own words, he sanded off "a hell of a lot of wood!"

After he mixed the right proportions of red and orange nitrocellulose, Luca applied many coats to the top, wet sanding between each coat. Bear in mind that only pure nitrocellulose lacquer was used.

Gibson now uses a nitrocellulose that has a good amount of plasticizer mixed in to give an impeccably shiny surface. Pure nitrocellulose will 'sink' into the pores and surface imperfections, so no matter how many coats you use, the same type of mirror-like nitro-mixed-with-plasticizer shine can never be fully achieved.
gibson les paul bfg refinished
Applying the first few coats of nitro

I wanted to keep the back of the BFG in its semi-raw state. I felt that sanding it smooth and filling in the pores of the mahogany back would affect the sound of the instrument too much and suck some of the liveliness out of it. If you read my Larry Corsa article from a while back, he talks about the very same thing, and I'm totally with him on this.

And after all, it is a beautiful one piece mahogany back that is simply gorgeous to touch!

I also didn't want the neck refinished for the same reason but I did ask Luca to roll the edges along the entire length of the fingerboard on both the treble and bass sides. Rolling the fingerboard dulls that sharp 90 degree angle of the edge of the fingerboard so that it feels slightly rounded to the touch.

Again, true to the spirit of the Barely Finished Guitar concept, Gibson had left out this very important step.

As far as guitars, I can get used to almost anything. Set me up with minimal fingerboard relief, get the string height medium-low and the intonation in the ballpark, and the guitar is pretty much ready
gibson les paul bfg refinished
to go as far as I'm concerned.

And if the frets don't draw blood, it's a bonus.

Playing the BFG consistently for a long time made me forget how rough the edge of the fingerboard actually is. But when I play one of my other better made Gibsons, and then come back to the BFG, this is when I start noticing how the edge of the fingerboard feels like a piece of firewood.

"The Gibson Firewood. A Few Steps Beyond Aged-Relic. It's Firewood!"  

Perhaps not the best marketing campaign for a new Les Paul model.

gibson les paul bfg refinished
Gotta love that flame top!
Luca also thoroughly cleaned and oiled the fingerboard and the back of the neck removing a lot of built-up crud from the fingerboard. He also took a razor blade to that hard-to-clean-spot right next to each fret.

And according to Luca, there was a lot of crud!

During my younger days, I would take all the strings off my guitar every six or seven months, and give the fingerboard a good scrub with a stiff toothbrush and lemon oil to remove every bit of crud. Those days are over. Life is just too short.

Stay tuned to Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 5 where we will get a cool custom pickguard by MojoAxe installed, as well as a complete rewiring done to do away with that dang killswitch!
les paul bfg refinished

And if you haven't already read the earlier installments, catch up on Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Luthier Spotlight | Luca Quacquarella

Born in Milano, Italy, 36-year old luthier Luca Quacquarella is a man on a mission -- to spread the gospel of fine guitar repair.

And if there's anyone that could raise a guitar from the dead, it's this guy.

Classically trained in violin, cello and doublebass luthiery and repair, Luca arrived in Singapore in 2011 while on a holiday and sightseeing trip. Curious about the local guitar repair shops here, he paid a random visit to one and struck up a conversation with the owner.

And the rest, as they say, is history.
guitar luthier
Luthier Luca Quacquarella

If you have been following my posts on Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Parts 1, 2, and 3, it gives me great pleasure to present this interview with the man behind that project.

The Guitar Column:  Thanks for taking the time out to do this interview with us, Luca.

Luca Quacquarella:  Thanks for the opportunity to work on your guitar, to spray and to do it in a cool color.

TGC:  At which point in your life did you discover that you had a passion for luthiery? Tell us about your luthiery apprenticeship in Italy.

LQ:  After I finished my studies in university -- I studied sociology, mass media and public relations -- I realized that it was not for me. At the same time I was studying, I started to play bass and drums.

It was just a coincidence, but one day while I was on the internet, I found this luthiery school in Milano, which was a four-year course. For the first two years they taught you how to build parts of the guitar, then over the next two years you learned how to build and put together all the parts.

It was not too expensive, in fact it was quite cheap, but it was far from my hometown so I needed to find a job to support myself.

But the school was fulltime -- you had to bring home pieces of a project and keep working on it -- so I couldn't work to make money to survive, so I had to give up. I was a bit depressed. Because, now what?

Luckily I found, not far from my hometown, a German luthier, Felix Habel. This guy graduated from a school in Cremona..

TGC:  Cremona is where those Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins came from.

LQ:  Yes. This is one of the most famous luthiery schools in the world. But to join this school, you have to speak Italian, but there are students from all around the world -- Chinese, Japanese. It is a secondary school -- you had to study all the normal subjects on top of luthiery.

I approached this guy who had graduated from this school and he had opened his own shop to build violins and violas.  I asked him, "What if you teach me?"

I told him my story, what I'd like to do. Luckily I had my very old guitar, a Framus, my father's guitar from the 1950's, in bad condition. So I asked him if I could come and I would work on my guitar. From that moment, I stayed with this guy for almost three years. I didn't pay him, but he also didn't pay me.

He had many orders for custom violins and a few projects to build electric double basses. I started with simple stuff but eventually went on to build six or seven electric double basses from scratch. I also built resophonic guitars.

TGC:  How did you find the materials to build resophonic guitars, the cones and the metal parts?

LQ:  The metal parts you could buy and all the woods we used were from Germany. But even in Italy now, you can still find good wood.

guitar luthierTGC:  How much of your classical building technique do you apply to your current repairing of guitars?

LQ:  A lot!

TGC:  For example?

LQ:  One little example. The nut of any string instrument, I follow how it should be done, exactly like how you would do it on a violin.

How the string must sit properly in the nut; how deep, how far the top of each string should be above the nut. The string should move nicely in the nut. It's a little thing but very, very important.

TGC:  What is your opinion on current guitar manufacturers, for example Gibson and Fender? What is your opinion on the quality of the guitars that they are making?

LQ:  It's mass production. The first thing I can see, under a little light, is how they put a guitar together. They don't pay attention to a lot of details. It's not too small -- if you have a little knowledge of the guitar, you will notice. Sometimes it's bad.

TGC:  How about the quality of the woods you see on the modern instruments? What is your opinion of the types or grades of wood that they are using?

LQ:  One thing I always tell people is that if you buy a solid color guitar, you can forget about the guitar having nice wood underneath!

These big factories, they have stocks of wood so huge -- they buy tons and tons -- so there is no chance that they will be using old wood. I mean, my bass that I built is 40 year old mahogany. You can still find old wood, but you need to go and search.

TGC:  We are not exactly talking about a visit to the lumberyard here?

LQ:  No, no. We look in woodworker's shops, where they build tables, chairs.

TGC: After all this talk of woods, how much does the pickup affect the guitars tone? If a guitar has lousy woods, but if you put a great pickup on it, will it help make the guitar sound better?

LQ:  This is tricky..

The guitar sounds better not just because of the wood and the pickups. It's the flow of the guitar. It happens sometimes that you have a cheap guitar, but when you play it, it sounds good. To answer your question, it's 50/50.

The pickup is important and the wood is important. The density of the wood changes the tone.

TGC:  How about the guitar's finish? Do you think guitars should be finished in nitrocellulose lacquer all the time?

LQ:  All the time, nitro for sure. Spraying nitro is not too easy. Spraying a poly finish is easy. Spraying nitro may take double your time.

TGC:  We are talking about seven coats of nitro to get a smooth finish similar to a thick coat of polyurethane?

LQ:  Usually with nitro, ten coats is considered a thin coat. It depends on how you set your spray gun, but usually it's ten.

TGC:  Tell us about the line of guitars that your company is coming out with very soon. What type of models can we expect and what are some of the different options you offer?

LQ:  Basically, I'm an old school guy, I like old school stuff.

For now, because it's more easy to do, we plan to do guitars in the Fender style. Classic but more modern. For sure we'll change the shape of the headstock. But most importantly, we'll take care of the little details.

TGC:  And the finishes will be all nitrocellulose as well?

LQ:  All nitro. I can use only nitro.

TGC:  Do your customers get to choose the type of guitar pickups they want, choose different types of wood, different neck shapes?

LQ:  Neck shape, of course, it's the most important. The wood you can choose, and you will get to choose pickups also. If you come to me and you are not sure what pickups you want, I will try and help you. I have an idea on how to demonstrate different types of pickups on the same guitar.

TGC:  Luca, thanks a lot for doing this interview!

LQ:  Thanks for interviewing me!

For repair consultations,you can reach Luca Quacquarella through his company's main website at:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 3

In Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 2, Luca Quacquarella, our friendly local Italian luthier had stripped the thin gold finish and sanded down the top of the guitar to the bare wood.

Gone were the BFG's bumps, ridges and 'scales'.

Also gone was the weird little groove that used to reside where a pickguard normally would attach to the body with a screw -- something that exists on no other Gibson Les Paul. I've always speculated that the groove was intentionally put there to prevent a would-be forger from using the BFG as a base for a counterfeit vintage Les Paul.

Mucho dinero for a couple of weeks work.

The next step was for Luca to mix red and orange colors of nitrocellulose lacquer to come up with a convincing vermillion. Vermillion is a tricky color to achieve. Too much orange or too much red and the scale can tip either way.

After some experimentation, Luca sent me these pictures which show the first coat of nitrocellulose lacquer he had applied.

Not too shabby!

Spraying the lacquer, fine sanding and then spraying again, several times over, he was able to build a nice intense gloss that also accented the grain and figure of the maple top.

After about a week, and after Luca had let the nitrocellulose dry thoroughly -- a process slowed by Singapore's 90% humidity -- the guitar was ready to have all its hardware put back on.

BFG's come with the bridge humbucker screwed directly into the body. I never liked the sound of a pickup mounted directly to body -- it gives the guitar a hard, very harsh sound. It's subtle but you can definitely hear it as well as feel it. Humbuckers need to be spring mounted in order to 'breathe' and sound natural.

I'd also been having problems with the bridge pickup suddenly coming loose -- the pickup screws were not holding properly to the body -- with the springs underneath forcing the pickup up and into strings while I was playing. It happened once at a gig and I had break out the phillips screwdriver mid-song to screw the pickup in deeper into the body.

Not something that I would like to repeat doing.

I needed to get an original Gibson pickup mounting ring, an item which all the music stores in my location were plum out of. Fortunately, a friend of mine managed to procure one for me from a music store in Tokyo while on a business trip there.

I'd read on Les Paul forums that the mounting 'ears' on the BFG Burstbuckers were not threaded. Instead, the mounting screws went right through the holes in the mounting ears freely. Two springs
provided the necessary tension to support the pickup and the ends of the screw threads screwed right to the body. As you can imagine, if the mounting ears were indeed unthreaded, it would have been impossible to mount the pickup to the mounting ring.

Fortunately, Luca didn't find this anomaly on my BFG's Burstbucker, so he managed to install the mounting ring and the pickup in the conventional manner without any problems.

Stay tuned to Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 4

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 2

In our first installment of Refinishing My Les Paul BFG, I mentioned looking for a luthier skilled in refinishing guitars in nitrocellulose.

Nitrocellulose lacquer is used on higher-end instruments. It not only looks good but also allows the wood to breathe, resonate and age naturally. But it is also a highly toxic substance that is actually banned in certain states in the US, as well as in some countries in Europe. If you're planning on using this stuff, a good respirator is a necessity.

My good buddy Sherman had been raving about the skills of an Italian luthier based here in Singapore and he had been sending me pictures of his repair and restoration work. Some of the repair pics were quite graphic -- cracked bodies and snapped off headstocks expertly glued back together and then refinished so that little evidence of the repair remained. And the man behind these extraordinary repairs? Luca Quacquarella.

As I was to learn later, Luca had gone to luthiery school in Italy where he had studied classical instrument building and repair -- violins, cellos, double basses and the like -- and was later employed for several years by a prominent custom instrument builder.

Sherman and I visited Luca's workshop about a month ago, guitar cases in hand -- me with my BFG and him with his Gibson R8 Les Paul which he had brought along for some minor touchups.

Meeting Luca for the first time, I was struck by his obvious passion for guitars and musical instruments. A very genial guy, he eagerly showed us around his shop. And being the know-it-alls that myself and Sherman are, he also patiently listened to us blabber about wood grain, hide glue and boutique pickup winders.

Luca showed us his works in progress: a crushed antique violin that someone had sat on, a sunburst 1964 Gibson ES175 in need of complete restoration and refinish, and a Gretsch Duo-Jet that was about to receive a not-so-subtle champagne pink sparkle finish. I knew there and then that I had found the guy who could do justice to my Les Paul BFG.

I explained to him what I wanted -- to have the BFG's top sanded down smooth and refinished in nitrocellulose lacquer.

Luca explained to me that he could sand the top smooth without a problem but also that he would be taking a fair amount of wood off the guitar in the process.

Without any prompting, he also noticed the flame figure in the top of the guitar where my picking had worn through the finish. Things were looking promising!

Because of his huge backlog of repairs, it took him a couple of weeks before he could get to my guitar, with the first major task being to sand the top absolutely smooth. The sanding had to be done by hand as a sanding machine would have left flat spots in the arched top.

And the pictures he sent me of the sanded down, bare wood top nearly made me fall out of my chair!

Go ahead and click on the pics for a closer look!

If you read Part 1 of Refinishing My Les Paul BFG, I mentioned that I was betting (and hoping) that there would be a flame top under the paint work. My more rational side however, reasoned that Gibson would never hide a beautiful figured maple top under an opaque finish.

Well, this was one time when I didn't want to question Gibson's reason or logic.

Lo and behold, in all its bookmatched glory, was a beautiful natural flame top. Not too exaggerated as to be garish looking, but not too subtle as to go unnoticed. And I really got a kick out of that chevron bookmatch.

To the woodshop guy at Gibson, who deigned this nice maple top fit to be hidden under the crappy paint job of a Barely Finished Guitar, I thank you!

Luca gave me time to think about the color of the finish that I wanted on the guitar and told me to send him pictures of guitars in that color once I had made up my mind. I could tell by the look on his face that he had had one too many instances of customers changing their minds.

And with transparent finishes, once the base color is applied, it becomes awfully difficult to remove. We're talking about sanding everything down to the bare wood and starting over. I suggested to Luca that he should charge the customer for each change, based on labor and time spent each time. I was kind of surprised that he hadn't even considered it.

My initial thought was to go with a natural finish similar to Tom Scholz's Les Paul, which happened to have a similar pickup configuration as the BFG, with a P90 in the neck and humbucker in the bridge. Luca said it would be easy to do, but I could tell that he would enjoy this project more if I gave him a challenge.

I really liked the transparent vermillion used on Gibson's newest incarnation of the Slash signature model. Vermillion, I knew, wasn't going to be an easy color to match -- it could go either too red, or too orange. It was like walking a tightrope, as far getting the perfect balance.

And Luca's response once I sent him the pictures? "The color is nice. I will try."

Stay tuned for Refinishing My Les Paul BFG Part 3

Monday, November 3, 2014

Refinishing My Les Paul BFG

This is my Trans Gold Gibson Les Paul BFG that I bought in January 2008.

The Les Paul BFG series, BFG standing for Barely Finished Guitar (a more apt acronym I have yet to come across) was one of those guitars Gibson produced that would make you stop in your tracks. Like a fingerprint, each rough-hewn top was unique and one couldn't help but be drawn in by those three-dimensional bumps and ridges. It was a strange combination of being repulsive and beautiful at the same time.

And I sure wasn't crazy about the ones in the color Gibson dubbed 'Trans Black'. It reminded me of something altogether reptilian. Snakes alive!

If you read my earlier article on How To Choose A Guitar That's Right For You, I talked about how some instruments just seem to scream, "Take Me!", the moment you start playing them. The first Les Paul BFG I played was one of those instruments.

This story all began with my visiting the local music store one day for some strings.

Ryan, one of the sales guys at the store ushered me into the store's humidity-controlled 'expensive guitar room' with the promise of something wonderful that he had just discovered.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when he put this goldtop BFG in my hands. The raw-finished mahogany neck appeared dried out, with streaks of white in the wood grain, and there was a very noticeable burr mark at the heel which wasn't sanded down properly.

Barely Finished Guitar. No kidding.

Plugging it into a Peavey JSX head and 4x12 cabinet, Ryan dialed in a gainy, but not overly saturated tone on the Crunch channel with the bottom-end beefed up courtesy of the Resonance control.

Let me just say that the combination of this guitar and this amp had me at 'hello'. Or maybe it was more like a very enthusiastic "Hey, how ya doing? Come here often?"

Single notes screamed with liquid sustain, like balls of mercury colliding in mid-air, while riffs on the lower strings seemed to leap out of the amp like rampaging stallions in heat.

And I was just there to buy some strings and a patch cable. Honest!

After a couple of days of soul-searching about whether I really needed another guitar -- you know, the usual self-talk with the inevitable rationalization at the end -- I decided to go get it.

But when I got to the store the Gold BFG was gone, replaced with a Trans Red one. The Trans Red unfortunately, sounded anemic through the same JSX amplifier and it had a nut that was cut too low, causing a couple of the open strings to buzz. I wasn't surprised really, that the Gold BFG was snapped up so quickly. It was a great guitar with vibe in all the right places.

Since they didn't have another BFG at this store, I hightailed it for the store's other outlet, hoping that I would luck out and find one that had at least 80% of the mojo the goldtop had.

The other store had a Gold Les Paul BFG displayed right next to its Trans Black reptilian sibling. Since I have a fear of snakes -- black ones, in particular -- I gingerly reached for the Gold BFG, being careful not to arouse the Trans Black one from its apparent slumber.

There was way too much neck relief on this guitar and any attempt at playing anything else other than blues licks felt like a plod through thick mud. Gibson, in their enlightenment and keeping to the true spirit of a Barely Finished Guitar, chose to not supply a truss rod cover on the BFG's, which meant that I could access the truss rod directly with the supplied truss rod adjustment tool. A full turn later and the neck was straight as an arrow, with about .007" relief at the 7th fret.

Magic number 7. Works every time.

I noticed that this particular guitar had a cleaner finish than the other Gold top. No burr marks anywhere on the neck that I would need to sand down later, and it had a one piece mahogany back to boot. Looked promising.

Locating a Peavey JSX combo amp, I put the guitar through its paces.

I won't lie. This guitar didn't have the same "Take me!" vibe of the other guitar, but it had a lot that I could work with. I thought it had more of a vintage tone instead of the searing modern sound of the other Gold BFG.

Could it have been the amp? Maybe.

But the Peavey JSX combo I was playing through was not that far moved from the head and cab version. The combo version was pushing 2x12 speakers, so much of the difference that I was hearing was coming more from the guitar.

Long story short, I sprung for it.

Having played the guitar for a couple of years at a lot of gigs, I managed to wear the thin gold finish off with my picking hand -- the good sized patch of bare wood you can see in the picture. And the more the wood was exposed, the more I noticed the flame maple top peeking through from underneath.

I'd put my BFG back in the case after I got my Gibson Firebirds, but when I took it out again recently to show a friend, and having not seen the guitar in a while, I was really struck by the figure of the exposed flame maple.

I decided I needed to refinish the guitar in a transparent nitrocellulose finish to expose what I hoped would be an amazing flame top. I realized that doing so could be a bit of a gamble as the flame might only be isolated to that area. After all, why would Gibson hide an amazing looking flame top under an opaque finish.

At worst, sanding down the top to the bare wood could reveal one or more large knots staring back like horrendous, unseeing eyes!
Might be a nice flame top hiding under there!

At any rate, I needed to locate a good luthier that could do what needed to be done.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Refinishing My Les Paul BFG


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...