Knisely Custom Epiphone Les Paul Build
I’ve played lots of guitars. Some expensive, some cheap, some of my favorite guitars are pawn shop specials. Much like those amazing, albeit heavy, Peavey guitars from the 80’s. My Peavey Nitro and my Peavey T-27 can never be pried out of my collection. That being said, the moral of the story is that cost doesn’t always equate to playability. When I was approached by my friends wife to make him a special gift for christmas, a custom guitar, I knew the exact platform I wanted to use and that’s how the Knisely Custom Les Paul was born.
Going into it I knew that he was partial to Les Pauls, particularly ephiphones. Going into it I also knew that I was building a guitar for one of my best friends, so off the shelf was not an option. I wanted to cram everything I could into this guitar and stay within budget. I don’t remember the exact budget, but I went over it a bit and just kept quiet about it because the building it was my Christmas gift to them.
Here’s the catch… I had a budget and I also had a limited amount of time for the build, I believe it was around 2 months to build it. So I set off shopping… after searching craigslist for a few days I came across an set neck ephiphone les paul that was rock solid, this was going to become the Knisely custom.
Not a bad looking guitar but it’s very ordinary. I had a few things that I absolutely wanted to do to it including a clear pickguard (There was none to begin with), gibson speed knobs, tremelo, on board tuner, roller bridge, new wiring, new switch, new tuners, new humbucker rings, new pickups, custom truss rod cover and a new paintjob. So I started shopping.
The very first thing I had to have was a tremelo. Now, it’s not the cheapest thing to find, especially when you still want quality. I found the Xtrem tremelo system for les pauls. This thing is solid steel, fit perfectly and works like a dream. Link
I wanted a quality 3 way toggle switch, so I went over to samash and picked up a quality replacement toggle. Link
Based on the paintjob, which I’ll go into later, I wanted strings that really made the guitar pop. I settled on Neon green DR strings. I have used DR strings in the past, and loved them. They are coated so they’re very smooth on the fingertips. Also the color will make any guitar stand out on stage. Link
There are not a lot of options when it comes to an onboard tuner. I knew that they existed and I knew that we had to have one on this guitar, my research landed me on the N-Tune gibson style tuner. The gibson style allows for the toggle to come through the hole. When activated via a push-pull pot it cuts the sound going out of the jackand lights up based on the string tuning. I was very surprised with how well it worked. Link
Because I wasn’t sure the exact direction I was going to go with the paintjob, I decided that a clear pickguard would give the guitar a certain pop, protect the finish and still allow for customization underneath. Link
I have to say, I love guitarheads pickups. They aren’t the best and they aren’t the cheapest, a happy middle. What they do have is killer tone for a punk/metal style guitar, which is what I was building. Add that to the option to wire up with a push-pull pot to split the coils and we have a winner. Link
Along with the custom wiring, I decided to get new pots, it wouldn’t have felt like a new guitar build using the same worn out pots. These are the tone pots that I used. Link
Because 2 of the parts on the guitar can use Push-Pull pots as switches, I decided to implement them. These are the volume pots, One is for the N-Tune and the other is for the split coil on the bridge humbucker. Link
I’m a big fan of grover tuners, they stay in tune and they aren’t very expensive. Just solid, well made, great all around tuning machines. Link
It wouldn’t be the Knisely Custom without some custom naming. I found a website that makes and sells custom truss rod covers, this of course is the birthmark of the Knisely custom. Link
Typical gibson style speed knobs. The original ones were a little worn, so I decided some shiny new ones would fit the bill. I put black on the guitar, but can’t find the link to them, so here’s the gold speedknobs. Link
Had to put some new screws in it, the others were showing signs of wear and grime. Link
And of course, new humbucker rings. These like the knobs were showing wear, pick scratches, dust, dirt, grim, etc. So I got some new ones. Link
Last but not least I ordered a roller bridge. This helps keep the guitar in tune while using the tremelo, it also puts less tension on the strings when you pull the whammy bar. Link
Stripping it down
I’ll jump right into it…
First thing to do was to strip off all of the old hardware, since I wasn’t reusing any of it, it was a pretty easy disassembly. Snip all of the wires, unscrew everything and rip it apart.
The next step was a bit more cumbersome, but unlike some guitars I’ve encountered in the past, the basecoat/filler was extremely easy to remove. I used a heatgun, paint scraper, and a bit of goof off to get the remains. Because my paintjob was only on the headstock and the top of the guitar, i was extremely careful not to damage the sides or the back of the headstock original paint.
Once I had the paint off, I cleaned the entire guitar down with goof off, then denatured alcohol, then wiped it with a lint free rag. This is what I was left with. Who knew that epiphone used such beautiful wood on their guitars? This is not a veneer. I toyed around with the idea of using a colored stain, but the tremelo that I chose does didn’t give me that option because I had to fill in the holes from the original tailpiece with dowels.
I cut the dowels a little longer than what I needed, then put a few drops of glue in the hole and hammered them in with a rubber mallet. Once they were in all the way, I carefully shaved them down with a chisel, and ran some heavy grain sandpaper over to smooth them out.
Laying some primer and basecoat
I used a spray cans and acrylic brush on for the entire paint job. I didn’t have a proper paint booth so I actually set up a large cardboard box and cut a notch in it for the neck to fit through. I of course taped off the neck as well as the sides of the guitar since they were not going to be painted. I used a black filling primer so I would not have to go through the grain filling process by hand.
I gave it a rough sand just to smooth out any rough spots. I fortunately did not have any drips or runs.
Once I was finished with the primer and happy where it was, I sprayed a glossy white base coat down (It was the color I had on hand at the time). Which I let cure for a few days, afterwards I did a test fit of the components to get an idea what was going to go where.
I started with the headstock, which I knew I wanted to retain the Epihphone inlay and the les paul badge. I carved an increasingly deper edge around the headstock to make it look a bit different. I then Taped off the epiphone logo, and the les paul decal. I painted the entire thing black, then hand painted green around the headstock. I also painted around the green, then black around the epiphone logo. After I removed the tape, I carefully sanded around the epiphone logo to get just a thin green outline.
I then painted the entire body satin black and hand painted the acrylic around the edges. This is a picture of the first pass.
I clear coated the headstock with 4 layers of laquer, wet sanding with very light grained paper between each session. This was taken in the middle of removing the tape from the nut and the neck. The nut was getting replaced as well.
Final coat before wet sanding and buffing.
Here she is… the Knisely custom. Throwing it together in that kind of timeframe with a limited workshop was difficult, but I absolutely love the way it turned out. 5 coats of laquer overall on the body gave it a really deep finish. The DR strings set it off and this guitar does play beautifully. The wiring was an absolute nightmare, that I decided not to include any of those pictures or diagrams. I basically used a typical gibson les paul diagram and put the switch pots where they needed to go, the 9 volt wired off of the n-tune and everything else fell into place.
The Knisely Custom truss rod cover
The N-tune engaged.
I also taught myself how to upholster with this build, another one of my gifts that was not included in the budget was a hardshell case. When I got the case, the first thing I did was rip the top section out and reupholster it with leopard fleece using spray adhesive and a lot of patience.
The Knisely Custom was one of my favorite builds, and I have others, but this one is like an ex girlfriend that I get to play with on occasion. 40-50 hours easily into this thing, worth every second.