Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kinda shameful Mr Juszkiewicz

Here it is, the aforementioned shonky Gibson gig bag. This really is a shameful piece of tat, the only one I have worse than this is a black vinyl thing from the 80s that came with something I bought.

I know that SG studios are cheap but they'd be better not giving you anything in my opinion.

It's a real contrast with the Gibson hard cases which are pretty nice. I've noticed that it's been two months since I updated my blog and that's because I've just been too busy to mess around with guitars. I've been stretching my playing a bit but not messing about with them. Now we're in the rundown to Christmas things will be quieter for me and I may actually get to do some fiddling.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gibson #3 - SG Raw Power

The polar opposite of my Gothic SG, light vs dark.

Maple body, neck and fretboard, classic '57 pickups, Klusons etc. etc. vs Mahogany body and neck with ebony fretboard, EMGs, Grovers and so on.

Unusually for a Gibson it's a three piece neck and being maple this should really be tough as old boots. So less worry about the classic SG headstock disaster.

The only thing I don't like about it is the weird dark smoke scratchplate which you can just about see through in the light. I'd have preferred a bog standard 3-ply black one.

Plays very nicely, does the usual twin humbucker Gibson thing, but with a much brighter more airy tone.

What I don't quite understand is how Gibson can get away with the gig bag it came in. The flimsiest piece of tat I've seen for ages. You wouldn't expect to get this with anything but a real cheapie.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


So, I used the jig I made ages ago for the Mockingbird and ground down the nut shelf on the RS10V. Nothing very exciting to look at but it's made the guitar much nicer to play.

I may need to go back later and shave it a little more but it'll do for now.

It's still very 'tinny' sounding though.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A little wobble

So I made myself a deep, oversize routing template for the RS10V by moving the acrylic one I had around. Annoyingly, the router chattered and put a little wobble in the front edge but I figured I could just manually skip it.

With this fixed to the front of the guitar using double sided tape I worked at getting it done. Sadly I failed to keep the router out of the wobble and ended up with a little wobble in the guitar body.

It's been done to two different levels, lower at the back so that the tremolo has a serious upwards and downwards range.

With it all back together it looks OK and the wobble isn't too obvious. Maybe I won't start on that custom guitar project just yet though.

It's now properly playable although the nut is still high and the nut shelf needs routing. As expected the combo of carbolite fretboard, Floyd Rose and odd EMG Selects means it has a very 'thin' sound. I may stick some Duncan Blackouts in it to compensate, although I've also got a JB/Jazz combo lurking in a box.

I'm still not sure what to do about the finish. It looks great in the photos with flash but is very dark and muddy in real life. It's scratched but not broken through and could probably be polished up OK. This would save me a refinish of the body but when I cut the end of the neck off I simply can't help but have to reshape the end. Which may lead to taking the finish off at least the neck.

Epiphone #1 - '58 reissue Korina flying V'

Not a new purchase, I bought this before I even started the blog but it's been on loan to a friend for about 18 months.

I've always liked flying Vs and when I was a student in the late 80s I had one of those enamel guitar pin badges which I eventually lost at some gig or other. I'm pretty sure that was of a '58 Korina V because I remember the colour and V tailpiece.

There have been a few different generations of these with minor differences, this is one of the old Korean made models with Grover machine heads instead of Kluson copies. Nowadays they're made in China.

I did a bit of reading round the subject before buying and it seemed these ones had a really good reputation but were know for slightly iffy electrics.

When I collected it I could tell immediately the electrics were dodgy. It suffered from bad microphonics and the pots were nasty. Nevertheless it's a very pretty lump of wood. I've seen some that are made of three pieces and joined untidily but this is nicely done down the centre line. The grain runs roughly parallel to the sides of the V so meets attractively in the middle instead of being horizontal like some I've seen.

Due to the crummy electrics I rewired this with some Kent Armstrong alnico Rockers and decent pots. It now does the twin humbucker classic rock guitar thing very nicely. The pickups are lively without being out and out ceramic metal monsters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My first custom guitar?

All this modding has to lead up to making something of my own. Or at least partly my own. After all if I do that I won't have to sand what feels like inches of hard finish off before I can put a finish of my own on.

Some time ago I bought these two flying V Bubinga tops from the guy who runs Eve Guitars as they were having a clearout.

I'm thinking of something unambitious for a first project and just making a body to fit an existing neck. I've already got the BC Rich Virgin I stole the Speedloader for the RS10V from and it has comparatively little resale value despite having a very decent bolt on 24-fret neck with ebony fingerboard. Buying a similar neck separately would undoubtedly be more expensive unless you go for one of the bazillion cheapo strat/tele necks on eBay.

The Widow headstock is not a favourite of mine, but it is pretty damn large and I reckon it could be reshaped while still leaving space for some machine heads if you're careful. Being from a Speedloader guitar it's not currently drilled for any so you've got free reign.

Looking at it I can 'see' an exaggerated triangular V style headstock inside the current outline. With it cut down to this you could then probably face it with a piece of Bubinga veneer to vaguely match the top and carefully refinish the sides of the headstock to avoid having to redo the whole neck.

I'm also thinking I could use the body to make a 'bridge to neck template' from some of the window pane sized pieces of acrylic I have. So I'd end up with one template that includes the neck pocket, bridge and pickup routes one on strip ensuring they end up perfectly spaced and aligned.

This would be pretty inflexible and only suit this one combo of neck and bridge but means I could have a couple of goes at this on scrap wood, probably some old worktop, before trying the actual body.

I've got loads of hardware, pickups and so on kicking around so all I really need is a 40mm thick body blank big enough to make a flying V from.

Don't hold your breathe though I've got a lot of sanding to do first.


Still not sanding.

When you start modifying guitars like this it's not just the gross problems like the stud position that catch you out it's also things like the shape of the tremolo route.

In the first photo you can see that the treble side of the bridge lines up perfectly with the edge but the bass side has loads of space. This isn't because I've put the bridge in the wrong place but because the bridge isn't symmetrical down the centre line of the guitar and the route is.

The route needs extending further 'south' so the baseplate doesn't hit the body and then deepening so I get more upward range on the tremolo.

My only attempt to do this kind of thing by eye with the RR2V went badly until I started to use a template and move it around. Clearing up the mess left me with a weird 'bathtub' route.

For the RS10V I want to try and keep it tidy and looking more like something a conventional guitar would have, but I have only got an asymmetric router template that is exactly the right shape and size for a Floyd Rose Original.

Flipping the template over, then moving it back slightly and doing so again looked like it would give me just what I need. Having tried this out on paper and done some measurements it checks out OK.

I've got a huge sheet of clear acrylic thick enough to make a new template using this method but I think I'm just going to cut it out of some old wood instead as I can't see me using this template more than once.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Still avoiding sanding

I've been tackling the RS10V today instead of the sanding.

First up I had to see what size hole I needed to drill for the bushes, they seemed a bit big for a 9.5mm but might be loose in a 10mm one. So I did a couple of test holes in a piece of scrap wood.

It turned out the 10mm hole was a fairly snug fit, so I drilled out the holes I'd marked previously.

With this done I loosely assembled it, using a clamp to hold the nut on so I could check that the studs were in the right place and the strings looked right. They're both rather close to the edge of the fretboard as the RS10V probably has a narrower neck than the donor BC Rich, but it looks OK to me.

So I went ahead and screwed the nut to the neck, roughly fitted a pickup so I could test the guitar and stuck the strings on.

Starting from an unknown position the Speedloader is a bit of a pain to set up. Mostly because the little grub hex screws in the saddles that are used for gross tuning are really fiddly to use.

Balancing these, the spring tension and the tremolo rest position took a fair old while, but in the end it's nicely sorted and close to intonated without having to move the saddles. Which shows I must have got the bridge in the right position.

I had to adjust the truss rod a couple of times as it had zero relief and buzzed badly at the lower frets, which is part of the reason this took so long.

Now I've done this I'm going to have to strip it down again to deepen and shift back the tremolo route. There's almost no upward movement on the tremolo as it hits the body. I'll leave this until another day as I'll give the neck a few days to 'settle'.

I also want to route a little off the nut shelf, the nut is currently excessively high. Thankfully I've already made myself a jig for this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Snake oil or not?

When I modified the mahogany strat I definitely was aiming for a 'hot rodded' one.

One of the things I dislike about strats is when the tremolo isn't very stable in use. I get you can't hang off it like a locking one, but I want to be able to use it a little. However tuning wasn't that stable, despite the quite decent 'modern' Wilkinson tremolo I fitted.

It already had decent locking machine heads but with the string trees currently fitted the strings were going through quite a steep angle from the nut. I sort of figured this is half the problem. I was considering spacing them out from the face of the headstock with some washers but managed to pick up some GraphTech Tusq string trees cheaply that are not only slightly taller but supposedly made of magic lubricating stuff.

Having fitted these it certainly keeps tune better when you use the tremolo, is that because of the gentler angle, the smooth contoured slots in the trees or the magic lubricating stuff they're made of?

I may tread this very well worn road some more and fit a GraphTech nut as well. The current nut is dirty and chipped anyway, even though it's 100% usable.

Ideally I'd also like to fit the 2-point tremolo I bought, which I'll revisit at some point.

Can you tell I'm putting off sanding.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Buy in haste, repent at leisure

So, I saw an Indie Extreme Plus for sale that somebody had refinished. I figured it couldn't be that bad.

I was wrong.

Given the refinish is godawful and it was put back together with about the cheapiest nastiest Chinese components you can buy, some of which don't fit properly and zero attention to detail I've massively overpaid.

The seller did say it had a few rough edges but wrote "I reckon I have made a good fist of the painting" and no they haven't.

They have destroyed the delicate carving in the top, I was half expecting this though. Some sections haven't had all the finish removed and others are oversanded so that there are small dips in it. They've barely bothered removing finish from the sides and back, just enough to mess it up and mean it all needs sanding off now.

Then they've got the paint all over the place including the neck.

I could see the sides would need redoing from their photos but the mess they've made of the top and the overspray on the neck really wasn't clear.

It looks like some half-arsed teenager's project that they got bored of. I should have negged them but couldn't face the recriminations and neg back.

Worst of all I have lined myself up for a load more sanding, voluntarily. What was I thinking?

I suspect this will languish a long time untouched.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Project pile

We're almost into August and the project pile never seems to get much smaller as things keep leapfrogging stuff I've had in bits for ages.

Right now, on the kitchen table I have the Goth Explorer, 'Dave Murray tribute' strat and RS10V headless conversion.

My other hobby of tabletop gaming is going on hold for a couple of months so I'm going to knuckle down and try to finish these off. Both the Explorer and strat are refinishing jobs that have stalled at the interminably dull sanding (or resanding) stage.

The RS10V is going to need routing, drilling and some reshaping of the neck where the headstock used to be before turning into a refinishing project and complete rewire.

So I really ought to get the other refinishes at least resumed before fiddling with the RS10V. It's just that I so hate sanding.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Columbus #2 - 'Les Paul Custom' black

A while back I expressed a nostalgic urge to own a 70s Columbus Les Paul Custom like my first guitar. They're not hard to come by so here I am with one. It's spent a while being fettled into a state where it's nice to play as opposed to the filthy mess it was in when I got it.

With the nut replaced so it's closer to how it would have originally been, it's surprisingly playable. I don't really like the small 70s frets, I'm definitely a fan of modern jumbo ones but still if I were a skint teenager there's essentially nothing wrong with this. Its modern Korean equivalent (you could get a Washburn WI64 Idol secondhand for £100 if you're lucky) would be much better, but this is hardly unplayable junk.

I remembered the plastic parts on mine seeming nasty but actually this is pretty solid, although the scratchplate is somewhat brittle. The switch toggle for example is really quite nice and the witch hat knobs are better than the ones I bought to stuff on the BFG.

It's very obviously a cheap plywood bodied guitar, the binding is uneven and finish is bad with numerous little crusty bits and imperfections that look like they've always been there rather than it having gained them over its 30+ year life.

The ABR-1 style bridge and tailpiece however are nicely made and have survived very well, with little in the way of corrosion. The diamond back machine heads are perhaps a weak point, while they're intact and work OK they're really kind of wobbly/loose. They don't seem to hold tune that well, they're not terrible but even cheap modern guitars seem to come with very decent Schaller style sealed tuners that are rock solid.

All the controls still work with a crackle at the bottom end of the neck volume, but that's it. Pretty good for 30+ years, I imagine I won't be able to say that about many of my other guitars if they ever reach that age.

The pickups are weird things, being like one coil of a humbucker under a full humbucker cover. They were terribly microphonic when I got it but I've wax potted them and they're much much better now. Oddly they don't really sound like single coils. They sound like somewhat bright Alnico magnet humbuckers with a side order of electrical noise. You'd kind of expect them to be like P90s but they're not. They seem to have more in common with the EMG Selects in my RS8V. The output doesn't really suffer, I could manage my usual assortment of 80s/90s thrash on it without resorting to extra gain.

The only real damage to this are cracks in the neck pocket that almost look like the ply has separated after an impact as they run along one of the layers, which you can see in the finish. Having said that the neck is stable and the guitar plays fine so I'm not worried about it. If you heave on the neck when playing it does move more than most other things I've got but it's a fairly lightly constructed guitar so that's not unreasonable.

There's some wear to the skinny 70s frets but it's not terrible and the neck is straight enough. There was a tiny bit more relief than I like which I tried to take out with the truss rod but it got very tight very soon so I stopped fiddling with it.

This is obviously not quite the sublime toy that things like my EC29s are but it really does play perfectly well, I could hammer out all the same old stuff easily even if I did find the small frets vaguely irritating. The combination of pickups, bolt-on construction, thinner neck, light weight and so on contribute to it really 'ringing' in the way a more accurate Les Paul copy doesn't, at the cost of some sustain. It has a character of its own that doesn't disappoint, despite it being in the end just a piece of nasty 70s tat.

However if I were to ever utter the phrase 'vintage mojo' about one of these feel free to slap me.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Well that was a lot easier and quicker than expected

I had expected slotting the nut to be harder and more time consuming than it was. This is one of those jobs that people recommend trying on a worthless guitar and while there certainly is scope to mess it up I don't think it's anywhere as dangerous as you'd expect.

Anyway the Columbus fit the bill and the new nut was grossly high so it had to be done.

The recommended method seems to be to stick something to the fretboard to protect it and guide the height you file to. I used a bit of old motorcycle inner tube.

Getting down to a suitable height proved pretty straightforward and the files cut cleanly down without wandering. Once I'd got down to the chosen level I played the guitar a little and decided it needed lowering further still. For the second cut I used a cable tie taped to the fretboard.

The guitar has very small frets which feel like those on a 70s Gibson 'fretless wonder' I once played and I've taken the nut down really low to match this. Maybe a bit too far although it doesn't actually buzz on the open strings. Still I like guitars where the nut height has been lowered beyond than the usual conservatively high default.

With the slots cut I took a palm sander carefully to the top of the nut and shaped it into something that doesn't look ridiculous. Which was also fairly easy and I'm pleased with the results. It doesn't really look any less tidy than the nut I paid a professional to fit.

With this done I gave the frets a quick polish using wire wool too, gotta polish that turd.

Finally getting to play it properly for a bit I wound the volume up on my HT1-R and found it suffered badly from microphonic pickups. Which was hardly a surprise. So I whipped my pot of wax out, melted it and potted the pickups.

I wanted to avoid taking the guitar completely to bits and disturbing the electrics so I dangled the whole guitar over a shallow container full of wax to pot them. Once cooled and with the guitar back together it's really helped, they're not 100% immune but they are now much much better.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If it looks right it probably is

Having received the nuts I ordered I was worried it would be necessary to mess about recutting the slots as on paper the nut was wider than the existing one. In practice it's pretty much a perfect fit even if it is way too tall.

I could in principle have messed about measuring the string to string spacing and distance from the edge of the fretboard but when it comes down to it, the human brain is quite good at spotting when things are evenly spaced and/or parallel. It's close enough for me.

Playing the guitar a little with it like this the nut is so high it's noticeably out of tune at the first few frets. As you fret the note you're moving the string so far it's like a small string bend. It'd probably be good for playing slide though.

So I've glued the nut and left the strings at tension while it dries to keep it in place.

Cutting the nut slots deep enough then finishing it off is going to be a bit of a chore. I've got some nut files but I'll probably have to start with a fine saw.

I did start off sanding some material from the bottom of the nut but bottled it after a while as I got worried I'd end up with the bottom being no longer flat and square. Taking material off the top of the nut afterwards means I won't need to worry about that.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Just a swift tap

So, I've ordered a new nut for the Columbus, but in the meantime while I'm waiting for it to come I've removed the old one.

Standard wisdom is to score the finish round the old nut so it doesn't take it off then give the nut a quick tap with a wooden block. This worked just fine.

There was quite a nasty build up of finish in front of the nut and the new nut is going to be slightly thicker than the old so this needs to be flattened down. It was also generally a bit crusty around the nut.

Sadly, with the very first stroke of a needle file a flake of finish flew off. I managed to find it and stick it back in place with a drop of superglue. If it were a valuable vintage guitar obviously this would be a disaster, but as this is a cheap shitter it really doesn't matter.

I then worked at it with some sandpaper, a needle file and Stanley knife blade to clean it up and it seems to have gone OK. There is a little spot where the finish has gone through but it shouldn't show once the nut and truss rod cover are back on.

So, just need the nut to come now.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nostalgia is just what it used to be

So a while back I was thinking about picking up a 70s Columbus Les Paul copy like my first guitar and it was only a matter of time before I did.

This one was more in the price range I expected for such a piece of old tat than what they normally seemed to go for, thanks to a slightly rubbish eBay listing and a neck pocket crack.

Having arrived I've given it my usual clean and check over. It was absolutely minging with the sort of pitch black corroded strings I associate with teenage ownership. I did play it briefly and it seemed to all be working apart from crackly pots and a loose jack but frankly it was too vile to handle for very long.

Looking it over carefully, taking a pickup out and having the covers off I've discovered it appears to be 100% original right down to all the electrics with solder unbroken.

At some point the neck volume pot has come loose and spun, yanking the wire off the tone pot. So I quickly resoldered that. I removed all the pots (which had all spun round and been retightened), unwound the cabling so it wasn't taut then put it back as it should be.

The pickups are odd. I'd seen comment online that they were actually single coils under a humbucker cover and that would seem to be correct. It's not clear from the photo but where the 'slug' bobbin should be there's just a space. What I don't quite get is that when I played it with the gain right up on my HT-1R there really wasn't very much unwanted electrical noise.

The body is ply of some kind but it looks like instead of taking a big lump then drilling/routing cavities they actually made a sandwich of three bits of ply with bits already routed out. So the channel from the toggle switch back to the main control cavity is a big square one, not a drilled hole. Very odd.

It's obviously had 'one careful owner, ten not so careful' and is covered in small scratches/dings but none of these are terrible, the neck is seemingly straight-ish and none of the hardware is butchered. Which is good going for a 30+ year old cheap guitar.

The only obvious bad thing so far is the nut. Somebody has cut this, probably using the same not so small needle file for all the strings. So apart from bottom E they lurk in huge ugly slots. It played OK but I can't leave it like this.

So I'm going to fit and slot a new nut. Once this is done I'll post my usual five pictures of the guitar in ready to play state.