Aug 12, 2016

Post-Polishing and Adjusting the Les Plywood

"You can't polish a turd" was a favorite saying of my high school band director.  Maybe not, but you can certainly polish plywood.

I made a mistake when finishing this guitar.  Actually I made quite a lot of them, but none too bad to dampen my overall happiness with the project.  One that should have been super easy was simply waiting.  Any paint has some time to dry, and many have time to cure as well.

After painting the final base coat and clear coat, I let it cure in the garage overnight, then gave it another 24 hours to cure inside.  While this was enough to do most of the work, it didn't quite cure it as thoroughly as I'd have liked for the best polishing job in the end.

If I can give one tip about finishing a guitar anything, it's DON'T RUSH THE CURE.  Super easy fix for a lot of problems.  But I'll excuse myself this once, I had to work on a very short schedule due to moving back in to college for the fall semester.

Anyway, after stringing it up, wiring it, gluing the neck, and everything involved, there were fingerprints on (slightly in) the finish and tiny scratches all over.  Nothing unforgivable, especially given the crap shape the sides have always been in from being slightly uneven slabs of plywood, but something I wanted to try to fix nonetheless.  Nice thing about the Tune-O-Matic bridge is that I didn't even have to waste the new strings, since the whole tailpiece just unscrewed!

And so I took the polishing pad to the surface again, using the slightly abrasive "headlight lens restorer" that I have as a substitute buffing compound.  On the back, with almost unrestricted access to the level surface, it looks like it put on a touch more shine and took attention away from the tiny scratches.  On the front, where I had to work around the bushings, pickup, and neck, it didn't have much of a difference, but I tried.

Now was the perfect time for adjustments - I wanted to get the action perfect.  There was some fret buzz, but mostly from the low frets - the nut was cut slightly short (or the slot slightly deep).  This technique I used once before on a Strat, and works quite well.  I use a wooden paint stirrer, wet the edge slightly to make the wood supple, then use a sharp knife to carve a thin (but not too thin) sliver the length of the nut.  With a touch of glue, it works as a perfect shim to raise the nut just enough to take away the buzz.

After that came intonation, a step useful on most guitars and really crucial on a handmade one like this.  I started out with a pretty standard-looking adjustment layout, but it turns out that nearly every string was a bit sharp on the twelfth fret.

After adjusting each string to be perfectly in tune on the octave with the octave harmonic, the Tune-o-Matic has a different layout suited for this particular guitar and shredding on the high frets is as in tune as on the low frets.  There are plenty of tutorials on how to do this adjustment on the web, but here's the essentials: if the note played on the 12th fret is sharp, the saddle needs to be moved away from the neck, and if the note is flat, the saddle needs to be moved towards the neck.

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