This week one of my friends from church brought a little Heritage Cherry Sunburst Epiphone Les Paul 100. in for me to play around with. It wasn’t in bad shape, it just needed a little TLC. It turns out, it’s not a bad guitar for what it is — a student guitar. So I thought I’d share my Saturday afternoon guitar shop adventure right from my own living room! I might even share some of the licks I played on it.
Before I did anything physically to the guitar, I played it. The strings were older, but the guitar was actually in tune, so it had been played recently. I noticed the truss rod cover was missing, the Tune-o-Matic bridge and Stop-bar tailpiece had some tarnishing, and the fretboard was drying out. The electronics, however, were fine; no crackling or buzzing, and the sunburst finish was in beautiful shape. It looked like a fairly straight-forward setup job, and I haven’t done one in a while (since the Strat) so I grabbed my tools and went to town.
First Things First
After giving the guitar a good once-over with my eyeballs, I removed the strings. With the neck unobstructed I took my fret rocker and checked every fret. The way I do this is I lay my rocker across three frets and rock it back and forth all the way across the fretboard. If there is movement, I mark it with a Sharpie on the fret and keep moving down the fretboard. Once I’ve marked everything, I put a guard over the fret I’m going to work on and gently file it small bits at a time with an emery board; repeatedly checking my work with the fret rocker. After I’ve done all the frets with the emery board, I go back over the frets with a pencil eraser to do a fine polish, then some Brasso on a rag to shine them up.
Rough Around the Edges
After leveling the frets, I ran my hand down the side of the fretboard. It was in good shape, no fret sprouting, but I decided to give it some attention anyway. Using another emery board, I gently rounded the edges of the fretboard and smoothed the fret ends flush. I’ve never done it before, but after my first attempt I have to say I’m very satisfied. I might do this to my Gold Top now. But wait, there’s more! As I was inspecting my work, I noticed a screw tip working it’s way out of the top of the fretboard! I have never seen that, nor did I know how to really fix it. More on that shortly.
I don’t know the previous owner, but he or she took pretty good care of the guitar. It was in a case in a conditioned space for certain. However, the fretboard was a little dry, so I grabbed my lemon oil and applied it liberally to the wood. I could hear a sigh of relief from the guitar. It darkened the wood a bit and gave it a nice shine.
Bucking the HumBucker
Now to the Humbucker. The neck position one, specifically. When the manufacturer built this one, the neck was too long and sat too deep in the body, butting against the top of the humbucker. This gave the trim piece a curve up top. I tried to sand it down, but after about ten minutes I tossed that idea aside. It was interfering with my margarita. Upon reattaching the guitar neck to the body, I didn’t robot-strength tighten the neck screw that was poking out the top of the fretboard. This gave me the opportunity to gently file down the end of the screw and not have it poke anybody ever again.
Trusst Me, You Can Bend It
I finally was ready to put strings on it and adjust the truss rod and bridge. It took a good bit of work, the guitar was practically capable of being used for slide work due to the high action. I’ve tamed it as best I can without causing a lot of string buzz. The truss rod process is kinda scary at first, but if you do tiny turns and check/recheck, you really aren’t going to hurt everything. After all this is done, I adjusted the intonation and gave it some time plugged into my Vox AV30. It sounds pretty good. A little cardboard-hollow due to the Chinese pickups, but still a decent rocker. It’s not going head-to-head with a modern Gibson Les Paul, but it’s a cool little guitar.
On a side note, it looks like it came with a pick guard! It’s got the two worm holes in the body for it, and I’ve got extra pick guards, so I think when I go slap a new truss rod cover on it, I’ll put a pick guard on it. I don’t know, maybe the previous owner will want it back now!! haha!