XR7-4.6s completely non car related '59 Les Paul build!

XR7-4.6

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1994 Cougar XR7 DOHC TR3650
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There’s a sweet guitar in there somewhere 😄

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Whew, got a bunch done. Freaking Les Pauls need a dozen routing templates because each stage interferes with the next so I can’t just stuff every cutout into one. The irony is I semi-started this project getting rid of other body templates I never used more than once taking up space, I repurposed some them into some of the cavity route masters on the left, now I have more templates than I ever made before just for this one build lol

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This was the workshop for the last two days, I have a love/hate relationship with MDF 😆

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Finally decided and committed on the final grain/flame orientation that will fit within the body. It’s tricky, different light sources/angles make it look like there’s no tiger flame at all on huge swaths of the board, others it looks like the whole board is striped, it’s hard to capture in photos

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This is going to be a real tragedy when I inevitably mess up later lol
 
Sort of stopped and restarted the Les Paul project. I was hoping the huge blank I got for the neck had enough lumber to make two for a future project but I somehow missed a knot that would run right through the second. Got discouraged and shelved it all in a huff.

But I got a second wind, the grain runs diagonal(riftsawn) in this chunky wood, which is fine, but vertical(quartersawn) is better for strength and stability. I only need it to be 2.5”x3” in height/width so I came up with this hair brained idea to “tilt” it to quarter with my “planer” and at least have something of benefit for all the wood waste

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I made that planer 10 years ago out of MN12 power seat tracks lol

This process is real messy and blows the finely ground African mahogany dust straight into my face, (luckily this didn’t have a prop 65 warning, or I’d be worried!), so for the rough planing on the other side I simply used a 1” forstner bit on my drill press to hog out the rest. Much less messy and actually easier, just needs one or two quick passes in the planer now to get the shallow brad point holes smoothed out.

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Nice vertical grain now!

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Neck blank squared up, at the recommendation of some builders I’m gonna let this sit like this for a few weeks as I work on the body and fretboard and see if it warps at all til I get to it, then do the same after I rough it to the almost final shape. I’m a noob with neck carving so I’m trying every pro trick to ensure success this time

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Speaking of the body, cut it out to its final shape and planed to thickness!

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I was debating weight relief before I glue on the tiger maple it but it’s actually featherweight as is, I lucked into a nice board, almost would feel bad Swiss cheesing it!
 
Wire channel ✅
Toggle switch cavity ✅
Volume/tone controls cavity ✅
Output jack hole ✅
Top glued and trimmed flush with mahogany body ✅

Turning into a real Les Paul

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Now that it’s to shape it confirmed my observation that the flames drastically flip flop in intensity at the seam depending on the angle you look at it, which is not something you’ll find on modern Gibson reissues, but something you will see on many real deal 59s. Kind of a happy accident on my part, very curious how the effect will look after I carve the arch shape into it

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Beginning the top carve.

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Gotta go over again and deepen the steps a tad more but better too little than too much!
 
Neck plane and pickup plane angles cut(glad I kept my old iPhone with flat sides!)

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Now there’s nothing more I can do before sanding, lots and lots of sanding, then these rough steps will slowly morph into a graceful arch.
 
Went to town on the top with the orbital sander tonight, other than a few lumps and flat spots I need to finesse it’s gone pretty well. Scary - once I sanded through the steps it became basically impossible to gauge progress other than the low light and pencil marks I periodically scribbled - but not as difficult as I imagined it, I thought it would take the weekend to get it this far.

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Well this hurt 😞

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I was so laser focused on getting the concave transition right I didn’t pay enough attention to what the sander was taking away uphill, and long story short it came to too sharp of a peak to mount the pickup rings right without planing it thinner and changing the neck angle(which will throw off the whole look and feel). Completely avoidable mistake as I made several reference templates to help guide me but I arrogantly chose to eyeball it. So in the end I aggressively planed the top all away into dust, just need a few more delicate passes to get it back to fresh mahogany.

This will be the new top

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On the bright side this won’t have that “two face” look where the flame is only visible on one side of the seam or another depending on angle. It’s not quite that uniform tiger flame of the old top but that’s ok.
 
Got the remainder of the maple top and glue contamination planed away with minimal intrusion into the mahogany(it’s still actually a tad over 1.75”).

I was on the fence about weight relief before putting on the first top but since I have this second opportunity I figured I’d take it. Nothing crazy since this body isn’t very heavy to begin with, just copied Gibson traditional 9 hole to save a few ounces to make my back a little happier. That pile is what came out!


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And back together! My bucket of bolts is the ultimate pressure distribution tool😆

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One lesson I learned from last time is too much glue means that wire channel turns into a river of glue, it was a freaking nightmare. This time I made sure to thin the glue within a few inches of the channel with a squeegee, as well as mask off an area 1/2” around the channel, and the results were much better, still some glue seepage even then but that’s good

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I don’t know if anyone noticed before but the maple was not visible through these cavities on my first attempt because it was buried under a 1/16” layer of glue!

Speaking of glue, one of the anal things I did both on this and the previous attempt was mix the Titebond II, which dries an ugly yellow, with brown dye. Gives the squeeze out areas the look of the old school formaldehyde glues vintage guitars used(I cannot find a reliable affordable source for the real stuff in low quantities).
 
Carve steps and planes cut, so it’s back to where it was about a month ago lol

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So now that it’s here I can describe what’s different this time from my first attempt. Look at the top most carve and note that it only covers maybe 1/3 the length of the body before blending into the wider carve below it. This wider plane is what allows the pickups to sit flat/on a minimal curve.

What went wrong the first time was me being sloppy, plain and simple. 1st problem was I didn’t ensure the 6 carve templates to create these steps were lined up with each other when I drilled the alignment holes. 2nd (bigger) problem was I wasn’t being as meticulous with the heights of the steps, the first 5 templates are to be exactly .0625 deep, with the 6th(top)being .0465, but what I actually did was cut all 6 to a varying degree of .0625 +-.010, which I figured at the time “big deal”, but in reality it’s crucial.

As you can see above I nailed it this time, after some substantial tweaking to my templates for better alignment and router plunging technique. But in the interest of education here’s a pic of the first attempt right as I started blending the steps last month -

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^note that the top step “spine” extends way back into the neck mounting area compared to the new pic above, and how the middle steps were already fully blended into each other well before the rest - Big red flag! I didn’t realize it at the time but that meant the taller top step left a big hump in the middle and the mid section kept losing more and more dimension as I sanded the rest above and below it smooth.

On one hand I’m frustrated I had to redo this and lost all that nice wood, but this was to be a fun winter time killer and learning from my mistake is somewhat satisfying. I need to cook on this this weekend though, next week’s weather is going to be nice and like every spring my attention span is going to rapidly shift exclusively back to the Cougar projects and other car activities until fall 😂
 
The sustain, listen to it!


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One of the more scary tasks completed; the angled route for the knob potentiometers to fit the arched top.

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Funny enough my curiosity about how this was done is actually what sparked my whole interest in actually tackling this project, even though it’s a portion of the instrument you shouldn’t often see and makes no difference in playability or tone, its multi step process creates an interesting to look at cavity, and just like with cars I care how things look under the hood!

This is how it’s done

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A wedged jig clamped at an angle that roughly corresponds with the arch of the top, eg it’s not actually different usage of the router to flush cut it on a template, but this time with wedges.

The scary part is this is the router bit it I used

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Note that I’m hardly reinventing the wheel with this project, I’m simply using plans I got off the internet using the well beaten path of processes many luthiers came up with up to 40 years ago building burst replicas. What they don’t usually use doing it though is a cheapish router with no speed adjustment and a 1/4” shank to do tasks such as this. This bit is pure Chinesium and not by choice or frugality(well, putting aside the option of buying a higher end router anyway), but because no other reputable tool maker makes 2” long router bits meant for a router shank this small! Lots of room for fail spinning this thing 24,000rpm on an uneven diagonal side load. But I did it, slow and steady.

And that blue masking tape? The quality of this bit is such that the cutting blade sticks out about a thousandth past the bearing on one side, so I had to tape it to prevent overcut. That unevenness put the bit out of balance too so the whole router was a bit more shakey!

Now that the recess is made to get the holes for the potentiometer shafts to equal depth, I need to clearance the sides for the them. I toyed around with a few methods tonight but this was the simplest

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I simply drilled a few snug holes into the same template to hold a 1”forstner bit and aligned it with the pilot holes. Nobody quite knows how Gibson did this on the originals but it was definitely a separate step from the larger route since these leave distinct tooling marks on the walls. Actually that chew mark left in the one I took a pic of drilling is one of the ways appraisers authenticate the real ones, older replicas and modern reissues either don’t leave them or leave too clean of marks. Forstner type bits uniquely chew the edges, so I went for that extra authenticity 🤓

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Had a slight change in plan with the binding I intended to use, which was originally 1/16” thick, but after staring at a bunch of Les Paul’s on burstserial.com I decided 1/16 is probably too thin and ordered some .078” binding from China. Much better.

Bad news is that trashed my plan to use a 3/8” bearing on a 1/2” router pattern bit to cut the channel 1/16” deep, so I instead jerry rigged my overhead router jig to hold an 11/32” drill bit directly under the 1/2” bit to cut the .078(ish) depth, and run the body against it. Worked like a charm!

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For the cutaway the binding actually follows the curvature of the carved top of the guitar which means I couldn’t use the above jig to finish it. Instead I moved the bit up a bit to rough cut the channel from its low point of the arch top’s peak …

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Then whipped out this sketchy dremel attachment I made that has a lip above and in front of the bit to rest on the top to follow the curve to route the remainder

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Then just finished off any roughness with a razor blade

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Binding is wrapped, used just straight acetone to glue it on(it’s ABS). Tedious!

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Got the mortise and the pickup legs holes routed, both are cut into the body at a 4° angle to match the neck angle which is a little tricky, but it worked

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Made the only mistake that annoys me so far in this process, I had to use a second collar to space up the bearing on the router bit so it could cut the depth I needed and still run off the template but unfortunately the collar was a bit wider than the 3/8” bit itself and dug a little step in on the first one I did. Normally I use 1/2” bits where contact like that can’t happen. Not a big deal, half of it will get cut away for the rest of the pickup area and once assembled the pickup rings will fully cover it anyway but it’s a ding to the ol ego none the less.

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I couldn’t resist finishing it, for all intents and purposes the body is basically done other than mounting the bridge and sanding for paint.

I realized I forgot to take a pic of the jigs for routing the pickups at an angle, , I literally just clamped them to the body at an angle with a few adjustable alignment claws mirrored on both templates to position it fast and accurate. I copied a lot of people’s techniques for guitar building, but this one is all me afaik!



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Neck comes next but probably will be putting that off for a bit. Now that spring has sprung I don’t feel like spending my time in the basement workshop
 
Thanks! I'm hoping to start back up on it next month, building the neck/fretboard and get it completely finished before spring.🤞
 
Any progress on this? Looks amazing nice job!

Not yet beyond slowly pecking away improving/making some better jigs to make the neck and fretboard. Weather hasn’t been conducive either, I’m going to be doing the rough carving of the neck profile with a stationary belt sander I rigged up and I’d rather do it outdoors for dust control purposes
 
Not yet beyond slowly pecking away improving/making some better jigs to make the neck and fretboard. Weather hasn’t been conducive either, I’m going to be doing the rough carving of the neck profile with a stationary belt sander I rigged up and I’d rather do it outdoors for dust control purposes
If all goes well, you'll finish this before Oscar gets his motor together.
 

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