Back in December I finished one of two new TMI guitars I had started a couple of months earlier to clear my brain of the world. That one was my TMI Custom S62 and was in homage of my favourite and most influential guitar designer and builder, Semie Moseley.
I mentioned at the time that I was building another guitar dedicated to another one of my influences and here it is. Serial number 137.
The TMI Custom LPS is to show my great appreciation to the man Les Paul. As a designer, builder and inventor I hold Les in the highest regard and he, along with Paul Bigsby (who is also honoured here) are probably my next most important influences after Semie on how I do things around here. If you don't know about Lester William Polsfuss beyond the guitars named after him, you should spend some time acquainting yourself with this absolute genius. Along with his incredible songwriting and guitar playing skills, he was instrumental (no pun intended) in bringing many things we now take for granted in music to fruition. When it came to pushing boundaries in composing, playing, recording and reproducing music, few can claim his influence and, he was messing with electrified solid body guitars before any of the big names you know.
So when it came time to make something with a little bit of Les in it, I didn't want to just make another Les Paul. He was SO MUCH more than that, and in fact he was never that fond of the factory made Les Paul standards and Customs that were named after him. If you look at all of his personal guitars, they are all heavily modded to suit his personal tastes.
He preferred the flat top guitars to the carved top. He preferred low output pickups that could be plugged straight into a mixing desk. He liked his knobs and switches. His more personal versions of the Les Paul guitars were finally introduced by Gibson in '69 in the forms of the Professional (from '69 to '71) and then the Recording (from '71 to '79) although he did tend to modify these as well.
These guitars were slab body Les Paul shaped guitars designed primarily for recording with Les's favourite low impedance pickups and controls to change tones for takes. So when I decided I was going to make a homage to Les, it was this version I thought best showed his appreciation of the guitar that bore his name, despite this version being one of the least collectible and sought after LPs.
So I sat down with a cup of tea and thought, "what can I do differently to show my love of Les's adventurous spirit?"
I started working with a custom plywood manufacturer last year to get body timbers in the exact specs I wanted. This, and all future TMI guitars will now use this locally sustainably grown, and locally manufactured solid pine laminate. This timber is plantation grown less than 100KM from my workshop, transported a short distance and manufactured into high quality plywood a couple of suburbs from here which means a lot to me.
So once I started working with them I thought "well, I'm making bodies out of this. Why not try a neck too?" I'd never built a neck from laminate before. I've made timber necks of varying number of pieces, aluminium necks, hybrid necks from different materials, but never a multi-laminate from solid pine. Would it work? I didn't know but I thought Les would have given it a try if he'd thought about it.
The neck is made from 3 x18mm pieces (with 2 thin pieces added to get me enough to shape my headstock) of marine ply glued together just like I make my 3 piece timber necks. The only real difference with this one is I used 2 carbon fibre reinforcement rods, one down each side of the double acting trussrod. I may not have needed this but I had no idea how strong this laminated pine was going to be so I thought I'd give it a hand just in case.
I made the neck like my usual necks, all hand carved and finished with a definite Mosrite influence and a huge volute to add strength to the headstock. I then glued a nice dark Indian rosewood fretboard to it and bound it with nub end binding. Unlike Les's LPs this one is 25.5" scale with 24 frets and of course a zero fret. The long tenon runs back to past the neck pickup and the neck is held in with 6 bolts with threaded insert nuts to hold tight in the soft wood. 4 of the bolts run through the lightweight neck plate while 2 more run through the neck from the top (under the scratchplate) into inserts set into the body.
The body is chambered layered plywood (LP) with a thin perimeter "frame" and a solid centre core layered and shaped to attach the hardware and add internal bracing. The top of the body was then bound while the back was rolled over and I painted the whole guitar in a amber tinted acrylic lacquer I mixed up for the occasion to give it a more Bigsby look.
Now here's where things get a little interesting (if you weren't interested already ....?)
I made both pickups using techniques I've never tried before, Again, trying to channel a little bit of Les (who made his own pickups and coils in the early days) I decided I was going to make low output pickups, which is very much against my usual 15K single coils, and try some magnet/bobbin constructions I've never tried before. The neck pickup is a steel blade made into a plastic bobbin and wound with AWG40 wire to give me 4K, but, I have used 4 (count 'em) Alnico bar magnets on top of the bobbin just under the hand made cover. The bridge pickup is 2 Alnico bar magnets standing vertically, with a ceramic (C8) bar magnet glued on top with thin plastic top and bottom plates to complete the bobbin. The magnets were then wrapped in tape and AWG40 wire was used again and the whole assembly put into another handmade cover to give me another 4K pickup. Both of these pickups are low output windings (just like Les likes) with BIG magnet mass and, I like them, a lot. Great frequency response with plenty of volume.
I kept the electronics going with some active circuitry with a HP/LP filter and, wait for it ..... a Toecutter (Pro Co RAT) both running off one 9V battery located under the small scratchplate under the pickups. The other knobs are separate volume for each pickup and master tone control that can be bypassed with one of the small toggle switches. The other 2 toggles are for turning on/bypassing the active filter and the distortion circuit. It's rounded off with a 3 way pickup selector with the middle position being humbucking and all of this is housed in a fully shielded cavity in the hollow bottom half of the body.
I wanted the look to be a little bit Bigsby, which I'm happy with but also added a B7 and modified Bigsby bridge to compliment the look, and I LOVE these bridges. The hand made aluminium string guide adds to the aesthetics.
While the body was very light the whole guitar assembled comes in at 3.5KG with about a kilo of magnets in there. It's still light for a "Les Paul" but has heaps of sustain and with all the custom made electronics it has plenty of options for tone. I'm not usually a fan of low output pickups but that magnet mass really helps these compete with some of my other pickups and who wouldn't want a completely pine guitar? I'm really pleased with how this turned out and I feel a little bit of Les (and Paul) was with me along the way, which after all was the point of this build for me.
This is one of my 25th anniversary guitars which I will be attempting to build this year. Some will be for sale on my site, some won't but I'm feeling like if I can let this one go, it will hopefully end up doing some good and going to a good home. Stay tuned for details .....