Guitar Repair London: Gibson Les Paul Conversion








Emails from Ascension Island

A while back I received an email regarding a Les Paul conversion. It was from someone stationed in Ascension Island. I immediately reached for my atlas to remind myself that Ascension Island is a remote island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Well to make for an easy blog, I have enclosed the email verbatim.

Hello sir,

First things first… your website is amazing!!

This e-mail is coming at you from sunny Ascension Island.  It’s a British island floating between South America and Africa.
I really hope you can help me with this.  I’ve searched the internet for months for someone to do some work on my prized Gibson Les Paul Special.  Ok, it’s not the grandest of the Gibson’s, but it’s the last guitar my father saw me play before he died.  I saved for months to buy a PRS Custom 22, which plays like a dream, but I can’t connect with it like I do this one.
I totally understand that this whole idea may be too adventurous.  I’m not a guitar builder, so please feel free to slap me with reality here…
Here’s the work I want done…

Body and finish

I was going through a spell of home-sickness a few years ago when I was working in Oxford.  It was my first time outside the south Atlantic (apart from vacations).  I foolishly carved the word “home” into the body of the guitar.  I hated it the very next day.
I’d like to remove the horrible carving.  It’s less than 1mm into the finish, so it might be easy just to sand it down and re-varnish it (???).  That’s my second choice.  What I would really, really love is a flat maple top.  The Gibson Special is pretty much a flat plank, so it wouldn’t need any carving. The only catch is that I’ve screwed a pendant between the pickups.  My father gave me the pendant after a trip to Canada in 1989.  If possible, I’d like to have a hole cut roughly to the shape of the pendant and then have it sit down in the wood.  Is that possible?  I’ve attached some pictures so you can see what I mean.

Pickups

I upgraded the guitar to Zakk Wylde EMG’s a few years ago.  I’ve found them too harsh for the sound I want.  I’d like to downgrade to the Gibson stock pickups and install a Fishman Tune-O-Matic powerbridge.  The power-bridge would need a powerchip to control the blend, but I’d like to re-wire the pickups to 1 – tone / 1 – volume and have the other two pots dedicated to volume and blend of the Fishman.
I hope I’m not asking anything impossible, but please let me know if I am.  I feel really guilty for what I’ve done to this guitar and now I just want it fixed.  I’m not too worried about the cost or how long a project like this would take.  We have access to the UK post system here, so mailing to and from you should be pretty easy.  Failing that, I can always hand carry it over on a flight and then have a friend in the UK collect it when it’s done.

Thanks for your time.

Barry Francis
Ascension Island

Barry enclosed 3 photos



After several email exchanges and a few phone calls I accepted the challenge and the guitar was shipped over to the workshop. Work started soon after.

The Guitar was stripped down and the end of the fingerboard removed

The old top surface was removed

The new top was selected and joined

The new top glued to the body

Cavities routed, shaped and cleaned up

The purflings and bindings attached

The top and bindings on the side edges were lacquered using a Polyester undercoat and a Nitrocellulose top coat for a high gloss finish



Barry and I exchanged a few more emails to finalise the correct wiring configuration:

Hi Barry

With reference to the electronics, I think that your proposal is a
very good idea and a practical use of the space available and
switching possibilities.
Just to repeat so as to understand you correctly:
The front two controls are the Volume and Tone for the
Humbucker p/ups (Volume at the top – Tone at the bottom) , with the
3way selector to switch between them.
The back two controls are the Fishman powerchip at the top and a 3way
mini toggle  at the bottom that switches thus:

Position 1         SD Humbuckers only

Position 2         Humbuckers and Fishman

Position 3         Fishman only


The progress on the guitar is coming along nicely. The new top is in
place and at present I am adding the edge purflings and bindings. As
soon as this stage is completed I can start spraying.
Best wishes

With the spraying completed the electronics were assembled and wired up.


Several other jobs were also carried out.

  1. A fret hone and refrofile
  2. A B.F.T.S. top nut
  3. A complete set-up


Barry flew to the UK to collect his newly converted Les Paul, a few weeks later I received this email:

Hi Graham,
Well, my guitar played its first gig last weekend.  It performed brilliantly!!  The sound is outstanding and it really does play like a dream.  Activating the peizo was a great way of finding out who played guitar in the crowd… just look for the people with jaws down to their knees!!  I ran it through an acoustic simulator pedal and an EQ pedal with a touch of delay.  It sounds so similar to my Takamine plugged… FREAKY!! I love it!!  The magnetic pickups are so smooth.  I can create so many tones on this guitar without actually touching my amp or effects rig.  I’m spoilt for choice.
Besides the tonal difference, the sycamore top makes the guitar vibrate more when I’m playing it.  It’s like I can FEEL the guitar sustaining when I play.
Thank you so much for the work you’ve done.  All of my friends want this guitar (even a couple who can’t actually play!!!)  My PRS is now my backup guitar!! Haha!
Have fun and take care,

Barry
Later in 2009 I received this email from Barry

Hi Graham,
It’s Barry from Ascension here.
I just wanted to say that the work you did on my Les Paul still turns heads.  It’s not a Les Paul anymore.  I don’t think Gibson had anything like this in mind when they designed the Les Paul SL.  It’s no longer a budget guitar with mid range pickups and basic finish.  It’s now a one of a kind guitar with a combination of aged Humbuckers and Acoustic Piezo’s with a custom shop finish.
I’ve been using a stereo cable for the Fishman signal.  The blend of PA acoustic alongside a Vox AC30 (original I scored from an old relative for £200) is amazing!! I’m getting the tones I need directly from my amp and PA without the need for stomp boxes between. Well, apart from my trusty Crybaby. As for the pure tone of the Humbuckers, it’s slightly glassier than a standard Les Paul.  It’s really bright with the volume knob backed off a quarter turn.  Wack the volume up to 100 percent and it beefs up like old brawler.
Another perk to the work you did was the new top you installed.  I played a deluxe high-end Les Paul just the other day and I couldn’t believe how lifeless if felt.  My guitar resonates so much that i can feel the vibrations through the body.  It’s a nice feeling when everything is loud and obnoxious.  Every guitar should feel like this.
Thanks for making my budget Les Paul a masterpiece.  I never thought I’d call my PRS Custom 24 a backup guitar.
Take care,
Barry









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Gibson Les Paul Guitar Repair


It amazes me what some people find in their attic.

This Vintage Gibson Les Paul has been shut up in the attic for decades and almost forgotten by its owner. The guitar was an eighteenth birthday present. ” I was offered a watch (boring), however I chose a guitar instead (wise choice in the long run). The guitar was £400 from Chandlers and that was back in 1989″.
This Les Paul Standard dates back to 1979. It had been partially re-fretted (not too well) but played reasonably and was used by the owner for a number of years. However, it went into storage in the attic for several decades and during that time the attractive Tobacco Sunburst lost all its surface sheen. The electrics became intermittent and all its hardware became dull and tarnished.

Restoration

The guitar was stripped of all its hardware (machine heads, bridge, tailstock, pickups, electrics, scratchplate and even the strap-buttons. These where all set aside to be carefully cleaned and restored.

On closer inspection it was noticed that the fret-board and frets were in much need of attention. To restore the guitar back to its former glory, playability and performance the fingerboard would need to be re-fretted correctly.

It was also noticed that the Tune-O-Matic was not original. Fortunately I was able to locate an authentic 1970’s made in Germany bridge as a replacement. (Amended text 28.04.10)


Work commenced slowly over the course of several weeks

The frets were removed from the fingerboard. The rosewood was lightly sanded to reveal its luscious colour. The frets were measured and suitable matching replacements selected.

The hardware was polished and restored

The electrics were cleaned and replacement parts found where necessary

The finish was burnished and polished

New (old) Tune-O-Matic Bridge

The guitar was assembled and set  up for 10 – 42 gauge strings and is no longer hidden away in the attic, but takes a prime position within the owners household.


Meet Sean the happy owner