Introduction: Add Faux Binding to a Les Paul Studio

About: I'm a software developer who feels guilty about sitting at my desk all day so I find reasons to stand at my work bench in my spare time. I've been playing guitar for nearly 15 years so a lot of my tinkering is…

I had a Les Paul Studio 50's Tribute (2011) that was tobacco burst on the front and black on the back, sides, and back of the neck. I didn't like the feel of the lacquer on the neck so I decided to remove it and put a danish oil finish on instead. While I was sanding the neck I figured I might as well strip the body too since I like the look of wood more than the look of paint. Then I remembered that the guitar's body would have a maple cap and I figured if I could sand the edge just right I could get a faux binding to make my humble studio look more like the standard models.

It turned out to be a LOT of work but in the end it was worth it.

Step 1: Sand the Finish Off of the Neck

The first thing I did was sand the finish off the neck. I did this by hand with 150 grit, then 220 grit. It was convenient that the colour changed so dramatically from the black to the bare wood because it made it easy to know when a spot was done and avoid removing any actual wood. It's important to only take off the finish because sanding a flat spot into the neck would make it feel weird; and trying to sand it back out would probably be a rabbit hole if you don't already know how to shape a guitar neck.

Step 2: Sand the Finish Off the Sides and Back

I sanded the sides by hand and the back using a hand-held sanding block; both times using 150 grit then 220 grit. It's not clear in the picture but on the edge where the sides meet the back I left the edge black to create an outline/binding like effect. It started by accident; the edge was round enough that I didn't touch it doing the sides, and the block didn't touch it doing the back. When I noticed it happening I thought it looked neat so I continued avoiding the edge.

Step 3: Sand the Edge of the Maple Cap

To sand the edge of the guitar's top and create the binding effect I made a sanding block that had an edge guide using the ends of two paint stirring sticks.

To make the block I traced the corner of one stir stick onto some 220 grit sand paper and cut it out with a knife. Next I cut the ends off of the two stir sticks and sandwiched the sandpaper between them. I offset the bottom stir stick so that the corners were about as far apart as the binding was to be wide then screwed them together. I forgot to take a picture of me using the block, but it should be easy enough to figure out.

I sanded around the whole body to create a mark where the paint was going to be removed, then I used a knife to scrape most of the paint away (it would have taken days to sand it all). The knife was better for removing paint but the edge it left didn't look very good so I left just enough of the finish that I could go back and sand the final edge using the block.

Step 4: Tape the Body Off and Spray on a Clear Lacquer

After sanding the binding in there was a slight edge left where the old finish ended. The old finish was lacquer so I decided to build up a clear coat of lacquer that I could sand down to hide that edge. This took a LONG time. I don't know much about finishing so I just used a rattle can (or 6) of clear lacquer. I was worried about putting the coats on too thick so I erred on the side of caution and put on >20 very thin coats. Coats required 2 hours between application, and coats that had been curing for >6 hours required sanding with 220 grit sand paper before the next coat was applied. Each time I had to sand for the next coat I spent a little extra time on the edge and eventually got it knocked down.

The can said to use 220 grit for sanding between coats, but I managed to get a few scratches in the finish that didn't come out when the next coat was applied. It looks good if you're not looking for the mistakes; but if I were going to do it again I would invest in a sprayer and learn how to use it first so I could get a more professional finish.

Step 5: Apply the Danish Oil to the Neck

Finally I made it to the original goal, which was to put an oil finish on the neck. I used Watco danish oil following the instructions on the can. Basically I rubbed on a thick coat of oil with a clean rag and let it sit for 30 minutes, then rubbed in another coat and let it sit for 15 minutes, then rubbed off the excess and let it sit for 10 hours. The can said to watch and re-apply oil to any spots that absorbed it all and started to dry, but that didn't happen in my case.

After the finish was ready I put the electronics back in but I replaced the stock pickups and put in a custom circuit based on the Jimmy Page Les Paul (which will likely be my next instructable).