Comments: My first-ever guitar build; “Tangerine Crème:”
Being a lefty player, it can be hard to find decent guitars at all, and much harder to fine one which suits my taste in style, color, budget, and tone. They exist, but they are rare, and it was next to impossible to find one in a store I could actually test-play, even before the Covid-19 pandemic shut retail operations down.
I’ve been on the hunt for a left-handed Les Paul-style guitar for a while, but what’s out there that I liked, I simply could not justify paying for even if I could afford one, and nearly all would require buying sight-unseen by mail. Kind of uncomfortable process given the prices involved.
At a casual suggestion from my guitar buddy Andrew, I started looking at kits, and decided to try TheFretWire.com’s “LP Lefty Flame” kit. I’d sourced mine via Amazon, which had me initially unaware of the upgrade options that would have been available when buying direct. I ended up buying a number of optional items later as add-ons which I could have ordered with the kit. Next time, direct!
I’ve only played guitar for a couple years, and I’ve never built one before. I’ve also never owned a Les Paul or any other set-neck guitar either, having been a Fender guy to this point. So, a lot of internet research was required.
I decided that I was going to try for a traditional LP-style “burst” finish using aniline dyes and nitrocellulose clear coat, in the old-school traditional Gibson fashion. My target inspiration was a vintage left-handed Tangerine Burst ’59 R9 I’d seen & lusted after, but would never own given its’ $10k price tag.
And I decided to do the whole project 100% “by hand,” no power tools. With the sole exception of a hand drill used to re-pilot the strap button holes for larger screws, I was able to hold to this plan.
This led to a lot of “firsts” for me: First time working with basswood or figured maple, first time working with dyes instead of stains and mixing them from primary colors, first time dealing with binding on a guitar, first time working with nitro clear or trying to achieve a high-gloss finish on wood, first time levelling or polishing frets, … A list too long to detail entirely.
The kit arrived on April 21st, and I finished assembly and played it for the first time about 9pm on July 4th, as fireworks were going off all around the neighborhood.
The kit, especially the main body and neck components, was of very high quality, and the critical fitment of the set-in neck to the body was perfect out of the box. The maple veneer has a beautiful pattern to it and was correctly installed, and there were a minimum of pinholes, cracks, or glue issues to clean up on the veneer or the binding. The neck was straight, nicely made, and the truss rod works perfectly. The frets were decently installed and trimmed, though I did opt to level, crown, end-cut and polish them myself, in part to learn how to do those things. All holes were pre-drilled and matched correctly to the provided hardware. I did plug and relocate one tuner alignment screw hole to make it better match the upgraded Gotoh tuners I bought, which were just slightly different in size.
I chose to upgrade a number of the hardware components and most of the electricals, mainly to try to most closely match my ‘vintage reproduction’ goal. I do feel the provided hardware would have worked fine, but once I was several weeks of effort in and the results were looking fabulous, I decided to ‘step up the game’ a bit for a bit more bling.
I chose to stick with the provided ‘base kit’ humbucker pickups - - and to my surprise they sound marvelous.
The finished guitar plays as well or better than any I’ve tried at guitar stores, including those with high 4-figure price tags. It’s marvelously resonant, has a full rich tone, and the action is amazingly low and comfortable. It balances perfectly on my leg while playing; no headstock dive or rise at all.
I’m frankly thrilled with the end result, as are friends I’ve shown it to. I’ve been told by a number of people they’d never believe it started out as an under-$200 kit, or was built by a first-time guitar builder.
Even with all my upgrades, finishing supplies, and some specialty tools I didn’t own like fret crowning and nut slotting files, total my project cost was still a fraction of what even a low-end Gibson would cost from the factory - - and less than 1/20th of the asking price for that inspirational ’59 R9, which I humbly think I came very close to replicating.
I still have a few small things to add, like an appropriate name on the headstock, and a monogram on my hand-made cream truss cover, but overall the project was a great deal of challenging fun, and the end result will very likely outlast the builder.
I’m very much looking forward to my next FretWire kit build, based on the excellent results I had with this one. And my buddy Andrew is now very seriously looking at a kit, too, having been encouraged by my success.
The finished color turned out to be incredibly hard to capture in pictures; thanks to the flame maple top, it is almost iridescent, and changes color and pattern with shifts in light and angle. It’s essentially tangerine in the center with an orange edge-burst, and the back and neck are an orange-brown.
The “face” in the center of the back was a happy accident; it stated as a mistake in sanding which revealed itself after clear coating to resemble an ethereal face looking down and left from deep inside the finish. Rather than correct it, I decided to keep it. It makes for a very unique look on an already one-of-a-kind build, better than any decal.
Thanks to Sam at TheFretWire for the fast e-mail reply to my question about finishing the engineered rosewood fingerboard (which plays great!) and for the encouragement to post my project here for all to see.
Current specs as photographed:
"Tangerine Cream" Left-Handed LP-Format Electric Guitar GP-001; Born July 4th, 2020
Base Kit: TheFretWire.Com TFW004L "LP Lefty Flame" Basswood/Maple Color: Keda Aniline Dyes, Custom Blended, 3-Color Tangerine Burst Peghead Black: Rustoleum 1905830 Black Nitrocellulose Lacquer, 2 Coats (Under Clear)
Clearcoat Finish: Watco 63081 Gloss Nitrocellulose Lacquer, Hand-Rubbed, 12 Coats
Bridge Pickup: Kit-Provided, Humbucker, 9.3Kohm DC Resistance
Neck Pickup: Kit-Provided, Humbucker, 10.2Kohm DC Resistance Switch: Kit-Provided, A-AB-B
Jack: Kit-Provided, 1/4", Single Tip Contact
Switch Cabling: Gavitt PBGAV6BRAID 22AWG Braided-Shield Cloth Pushback
Cavity Wiring: Gavitt Vintage 22AWG Tinned-Copper Cloth Pushback
Tuning Machines: Gotoh SG381-04, 1:16 w/Keystone Caps, Chrome
Bridge: Kluson KNBS-C Sheraton II-Spec Tune-O-Matic, Chrome
Tailpiece: Gotoh GE101Z Stop Tail, Chrome
Volume Pots: Kit-Provided, B500K Metric Spec
Tone Pots: Metallor GWS02-TA500K PP/A500K 6mm
Tone Caps: NTC MLR223K100 0.022uF, 100V, Mylar
Truss Cover: Custom Made, 3-Ply Cream/Black/Cream, by Builder
Pick Guard: Kit-Provided, Cream
Guard Bracket: Kit-Provided, Chrome
Pickup Rings: Kit-Provided, Cream
Strap Buttons: Gotoh PEP-A1, Polished Aluminum
Control Knobs: MusicLilly MX1742GD-4, Left-Handed (Clockwise) Numbering
Knob Pointers: Dopro K1163, Chrome, 8.5mm
Felt Washers: Fender 0994929000, Black (Strap Buttons, Guard Bracket)
Control Covers: Kit-Provided, Cream
Strings: Ernie Ball #2221 Standard Slinky, 0.010-0.046
Schematic: Custom Vintage/Modern Combo Tone Wiring, Left-Hand, designed by Builder
Finished Weight: 8.2 Pounds
Neck Angle: 4.5 Degrees