Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Making a scratchplate for the EC29 - part 3

I was off work today so fiddled with this some more.

After marking out the pickup cutouts more accurately with some pickup surrounds I cut them out. I've get much better at cutting things with the Dremel, as per usual you work out the best way of doing something just as you come to the end of the job.

I used a sander mandrel to shape the lower edge of the scratchplate quite a bit and made the point at the lower horn much more aggressive.

Drilling the holes was a bit hit and miss, I clamped the plate to the guitar then poked a pen through the holes from the back but it seemed to still move about so this took a few goes. I used a Stanley knife to scrape a bevel along the edge of the plate as the last step.

The second photo is it all back together with the plate stuck to the guitar body with double sided tape. In the end I had drilled the bridge pickup mounting holes too far back and had to make them oval for it to work.

More of an issue is that the neck pickup is slightly too far toward the bass strings, it'll work but realistically I'm going to have to make a second scratchplate to correct this. You can't really see this in the photo because of parallax but it's obvious when you look at the guitar.

Anyway, I'm happy with this as a proof of concept. It does the faux strat thing well and may make people do a double-take. Which was the whole idea.

Tomorrow I'll wire this back up and use it for a bit before tackling the next iteration of my project.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Making a scratchplate for the EC29 - part 2

Well tonight I did a little playing with a Dremel in a router table and cut down the scratchplate based on my paper template.

It's not quite there yet and I've yet to start on the pickup cutouts but it's looking believable rather than a ridiculous wobbly mess.

I've cut the neck pocket too large and it still needs a fair bit trimmed from the lower edge but I'll work on that carefully. I've got a few days off over Easter so I'll have time to tackle this.

If I mess it up I'll just buy another piece of scratchplate material, it's not massively expensive for simple 3-ply. I was thinking of starting with a piece of clear perspex to make a template but abandoned the idea as I'd just end up doing the same work twice.

Dean #2 - 'ML Dean from hell'

Having bought my Baby Dean ML as a bit of a joke on the assumption I wasn't going to be able to pick up a 'proper' one any time soon, this came up.

It's the current basic 'Dean from Hell' replica. If you're going to have a Dean, forget all the Razorbacks etc., this is the design to have IMO.

I find the whole postmortem Dimebag industry Dean are at the centre of a tad distasteful to be honest. It's in danger of turning him into the Metal Elvis and I thought twice before buying this.

Anyway, this guitar has a reasonably authentic take on the features of Dimebags original Dean from Hell which put them back on the map. It's not just the paint job but right down to the tape on the neck pickup and melted 'traction' knobs. Well apart from the fact it's made in China and pristine rather than beaten to death.

In play it's somewhat underwhelming, ho hum I'm glad I didn't pay the £700 Dean want for one of these. Maybe I don't like the unconventional 'V' neck profile or the fact it's even more unwieldy than an Explorer. Or maybe I just feel a little embarrassed playing it.

This blog post has made me think I really ought to get it out more and give it another chance.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Courtesy of eBay I have built up a little stash of Seymour Duncan Blackouts active pickups. I've already got some in my Rhoads and I reckon I prefer them to EMGs. They seem to change hands for less than EMGs too, which is a bonus.

This is a neck/bridge set, a strat set and a single bridge. The middle and neck strat ones are the same pickups.

I'm thinking I'll make up an H/S set using one of the singles and the bridge AHB2 pinched from my Rhoads to go in one of my EC29s. The plan is to use a five way 'super switch' to toggle the 'high output' jumper on the two pickups in the intermediate positions and make it a little more versatile than just setting everything on 11 all the time.

The odd bridge (which is a bit scuffed) will go back in the Rhoads.

I'm not quite sure what I'll do with the matched pair, they were sort of bought on spec. because they were cheap. I could do another HSS set although something will end up with a bridge pickup in the wrong position if I do.

Making a scratchplate for the EC29 - part 1

As I've mentioned before, my red EC29 was butchered when I bought it and I made a half finished attempt to clean it up and sort it out. I'd been discussing the damage with JayGee and we'd thought it might be amusing to fit a very trad strat style scratchplate on such a ridiculous guitar, especially as it's essentially in Candy Apple red anyway.

I also suspected this would manage to hide the damage without me needing to get the guitar refinished too. So far this is looking promising although I may need to polish out some of the oversanding I did.

Today I chopped up an old strat scratchplate I had lying around and offered it up to the guitar to see how it would sit. It's very obvious from the first couple of photos that there's no way one is anywhere near the right shape. The whole thing needs to be shortened massively in the lower half to work.

The top half kind of looks right in the first photo but you have to subsume the route for the Floyd Rose and the bottom half is never going to be 100% right because of the control layout.

Anyway, after taping the guitar up to avoid yet more scratches and a bit of messing around with some stiff paper, scissors and a Stanley knife the third picture shows where I've got to.

I've transferred an outline of this template to a sheet of 3-ply scratchplate material I've bought for the job and in the next few days I'll try to cut it. I've got a Dremel and a cutter bit that seems to work OK on the material, but it's not going to be easy to do a clean job of it. I can see I'm going to have to do a rough shape then carefully scrape/sand it the rest of the way. The hardest part is going to be the pickup cutouts I reckon.

If I make a pigs ear of it I'll take the guitar and prototype scratchplate to TMT guitars in Orpington who specialise in making custom scratchplates and have them do it properly. I should probably skip straight to this step but I always like having a go at things myself.

When it comes to fitting to the guitar, if at all possible I'm going to avoid putting any holes in the top. I'll use the controls and pickup surround to hold the majority of it, perhaps with the help of some double sided tape near the cutaways.

LTD #1 - 'KH502'

They may have lost their way, but I have always been a Metallica fan. When I was younger I wanted one of the ESP Kirk Hammett signature guitars but there was simply no way on earth I could have afforded one.

When I resumed playing after my layoff, LTD had appeared and done several affordable versions of the ESPs. The current ones are the KH-202 which is a pretty budget model and the KH-602 which is towards the upper end of the LTD range so quite pricey. This is doubly so if you get the fancy Ouija paint job.

A bit of waiting on eBay turned this up for nearly half the price of a KH-202, with the original LTD form fitted hard case. You have to be a little careful on eBay as the KH models (especially KH-202) are widely faked in China and sold there as originals. Having bought it and had a good look over I'm pretty sure this is the genuine article.

It came in excellent condition with just the obligatory pick scratches and polishing swirls you get on any gloss black guitar but there are no chips or real scratches. It's been really well looked after.

It is essentially much the same guitar as the current £900 KH-602 but with passive EMG-HZs and a licensed low profile rather than original Floyd Rose. It also has the full set of skull & crossbones inlays where some KH-502s have it only at the 12th fret. I've seen photos of both styles on the Internet and I'm guessing the later ones came with them.

The Soloist style laminated through neck is very nice but the thing that really stands out about this is the massive weight, it feels like it's been filled with lead. A lot of this must be down to the thickness of the body, it really is quite a lump.

I initially thought I'd be swapping the HZs out for the classic Metallica 81/85 combo and even bought a set in preparation but when I got it found the HZs fine. I've since used the 81/85 in my Indie Target Les Paul. I may yet revisit fitting active pickups but for now it's just great as it is.

There's a bit of Internet whingeing about the licensed Floyd being rubbish, I'm not a heavy trem user but it seems fine to me.

Time to get the cowboy boots and shit moustache I guess.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jackson #2 - 'SC-1 Surfcaster' Trans Red

I've wanted one of these ever since I saw the original Charvels on a wall in Denmark street. I came close to buying one but didn't really have the cash. Nowadays they're a collectable cult classic.

This is one of the slightly later Jackson models with combination bridge/tail and a bridge humbucker. Much though an original Charvel would be the 'better' thing to have I reckon this is more suited to me. I dislike non-locking tremolos and a bridge humbucker is more rock.

It might not be an original Charvel but it is at least not one of the nasty Indian made solid body SC-4 Surfcasters. What were Jackson thinking.

In play it's not quite got the shredder neck my Rhoads has but it's definitely of the thin & flat variety. The sound is nicely clear and bright without being shrill. The neck lipstick pickup is particularly nice clean.

I'm not a big fan of fixed intonation bridges but the one on this seems to be set about right once I'd cleaned it and set it up. I've managed to pick up a Gotoh 510U intonable bridge fairly cheaply which I'll try on it later.

I'm really chewing through my 'guitars to own before I die' list, the Surfcaster was one of the last. It's kind of getting down to a JEM and a Steinberger now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Jackson #1 - 'Randy Rhoads EX Professional'

Another iconic shape, I've wanted one of these ever since I saw Dave Mustaine playing one.

This is one of the early 90s 'Professional' Japanese made Jacksons which have a reputation for being fantastic quality instruments. So much so that they ate into sales of their premium models.

It's only one of the more basic models but it's nonetheless lovely to play. You can tell this is from the same factory as my Washburn KC90, the neck feels identical and it has the same fret markers with the double one at the 12th fret slightly closer together than usual.

The control layout is slightly unusual, most RRs are 'front loaded' with a scratchplate, Gibson style toggle and volume/tone controls. This is 'rear loaded' with no scratchplate, a Fender style switch and a single volume control. I deliberately picked this model because I like this minimal look. If I could have got a single pickup model without shelling out for an RR24 or LTD Alexi I would.

It's had a hard life. The points are badly chipped and it's been refinished in satin black with a spray can. When I got it the electrics were crummy as hell and the pickups rusty. So I rewired it and stuck in some Seymour Duncan blackouts.

It is now very very metal, even more metal than it was before.

It is a right pain in the arse to play sat down though. Unlike a conventional V I find it almost impossible to balance and the jack plug sticks in your leg.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Epiphone #2 - 'Goth Explorer'

This definitely falls into the 'project' category. I bought this for a pittance from an enthusiastic Metallica fan who had painted some Pushead-esque stuff on it then lacquered over the top. There's even a Metallica logo on the headstock.

Which wouldn't be so bad if he hadn't made a godawful job of it. The painting is an ill-defined mess and the logo looks like it's been cut out of a magazine then stuck on. The lacquer is all thick, blobby and seems to have reacted with the original finish so it's bubbling up. It's even all over the scratchplate.

It came as a pile of bits so I stuck in some Kent Armstrong Super Distortion pickups I had kicking around and set it up. It plays quite nicely even if it does look like shite. I really ought to do something with it, but there's always another project to fiddle with.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dean #1 - 'Baby ML Dean from Hell'

AKA piece of cheap Chinese tat #1

I had been discussing with a friend which 'iconic' guitars I'd like to own a replica of and the Dean from Hell was one of the obvious ones. I'm not a Dimebag fanboy but I did really like the Cowboys from Hell era Pantera. I lost interest around Great Southern Trendkill.

There was no way I was going to pay what Dean were asking new for the official full size replica, even a Chinese one, but this came up very cheaply on eBay and I thought it'd be a bit of fun. It's a 3/4 size ML body but with a standard scale length and decked out as a DFH replica.

Except as it came, admittedly secondhand, it was shit. The neck was bowed and the pickups awful. I started tinkering with it and found the truss rod completely loose in the neck. So I tightened it up and fixed the bow.

Even with this done the intonation and action were all over the place and with a bit of setup I've improved it. However the bridge simply doesn't offer enough adjustment to get it spot on. It seems to be forced forwards by harsh angle of the strings as they go into the body ferrules, perhaps down to the fact it needs to be set quite high. I think I may have to buy a 'Nashville' bridge to work around this this. Although tighter fitting bridge studs may help too, it's all rather sloppy.

Speaking of the ferrules, it was missing one when I got it. The seller mentioned this so I was expecting it. The reason it was missing is that Dean didn't bother to fix them securely and it must have gone pingfuckit when restringing. Thanks Dean. They'd also used the same style of 'cup' ferrule for both the top and bottom of the body, which is a bit rubbish as the string presses into the side of the ferrule and body of the guitar as it emerges. I managed to get some suitable replacement ferrules from CH Guitars. When I restrung it I glued the ferrules all in and turned the top ferrules around so the strings emerged cleanly from the hole in the middle, keeping it away from the body and at a very slightly shallower angle to the bridge.

Next up, even if the pickups were OK, and they're not, they simply didn't fit the replica theme. They were two bog standard black open coil humbuckers. To be a Dean from Hell it has to have a zebra pickup at the neck and a Bill Lawrence style blade one at the bridge.

I've now replaced the original pickups with a GFS zebra neck and Axesrus blade at the bridge. Not only do they sound better, even though both were cheap as chips, but it now looks more the part. It did have a Bill Lawrence USA L500XL at the bridge for a while, which is the right thing for a DFH, but that's a stupid size. The special surround didn't cover the route in the body and in a standard surround the L500XL flapped about.

The lightning bolt design is a nasty decal but from a distance it looks kind of OK. It now plays averagely for a cheap guitar instead of barely at all. The neck has a pleasant satin finish and some nice grain but the frets are a tad uneven and sharp at the edges. I may use this to practice working on fretboards.

Unless Dean have improved Baby MLs since this one was made (2007) I wouldn't recommend buying one unless you're willing to spend some time sorting it out. There are much much better budget guitars around. Luckily I positively enjoy tinkering with guitars and see things like this as a challenge.

Update: I've just played this for about 90 minutes and that bridge pickup is great, especially since it was only £10 because it was a second. I reckon it's better than the Bill Lawrence.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I bought a small batch of goodies from Axesrus this week as some of my projects need odd bits.

  • Pickup covers, locking nut clamps and tremolo arm for the RR2V 
  • A B2 tune-o-matic bridge for the Indie Target Les Paul, as it's slightly narrower than the usual metric item. The one on there isn't a great fit, I'm hoping this will be better.
  • A tremolo arm for the G2V
  • A Dimebucker-esque rail pickup for the Baby Dean. It's actually got a Bill Lawrence USA L500XL in there now which is more authentic but that's a stupid size. The special BL USA ring doesn't fit the body but if you put the L500XL in a normal ring there are large gaps round it.
  • Some strap button felts.

Epiphone #3 - '58 reissue Korina Explorer'

Well I just had to have one to match the Flying V.

The grain is not quite as nice and the body join is really obvious, but it's still a very pretty guitar. I think it's a slightly later one than the V so probably of Chinese origin rather than Korean.

With Korina being light it's not the giant millstone that my old Ibanez was, but it's still a big old lump.