Monday, May 30, 2011

Gibson #2 - 'SG Gothic II'

"So black your eyes kind of slide off it."

Proof that marketing works. I was reading a recent copy of Guitarist where they reviewed the new Gibson Anniversary 24 and I think the previous month I saw a review of the SG Gothic Morte. This had served to remind me that I have fancied an SG for a while. eBay is awash with cheap SG Specials so it wasn't likely to be long before I had another guitar related walletbusting accident.

Thing is having looked a fair bit I'm not keen on the finish options you get. The overwhelming majority for sale are the 'worn' and 'faded' ones which are generally insipid colours and the 'worn' ones have a nasty faux relic thing going on. Who wants a guitar where the best description the manufacture can come up with for it is 'worn brown'. I had an Austin Maestro the same colour and that was most definitely not rock and roll.

This isn't just internet speculation from peering at a screen, I've been looking at SGs in the flesh and while I normally like satin finish guitars I really don't like the 'worn' and 'faded' ones.

You do get SG specials with a gloss finish in strong colours but they're less common and quite a bit more pricey. You'd have to get it in cherry red and then you'd always be disappointed it wasn't an SG standard. Even if there isn't perhaps as much difference between the two as with other models.

Which is all a bit of an 'arms race' that leads to me wanting a pretty expensive guitar instead of one of the cheap Specials kicking around.

Oh and then there are lots of fakes around.

So with a bit of a rethink I started looking for one of these. Not made for very long, the 'Gothic' models were a satin black take on the Special. Gibson did a Les Paul, Flying V and Explorer in addition to the SG and there are also equivalent Epiphones.

It's a Special in a decent solid colour and as a plus point they upgraded to an ebony fretboard, i.e. pretty much what I'm looking for. I'm pretty sure the fretboard radius was increased to a widdle friendly 14"+ too.

They did two generations of the Gothic SG, the first had a single 'moon and star' inlay at the 12th fret which is pretty nice but this second generation one has no fret markers at all. I love this. It's also missing the bizarre 'Gothic photo' of a bearded guy on the back of the headstock the first ones came with.

Then there are the EMGs.

The 1st gen. 'Gothic' came with uncovered versions of Gibson's workhorse 490R/T pickups. This came with the thrashmetaltastic EMG 81/85 combo. The 490s would have been fine, I have no idea why Gibson did this, maybe they should have named it the 'Metal SG' not the 'Gothic SG II'.

Regardless, it ticks a lot of my boxes. EMGs aren't for everybody and certainly have a reputation for making everything sound the same but I quite like them. Do you take cash?


Nobody has smoked in my house for maybe 15 years and I've finally thought of something to do with the ashtrays lurking on top of the kitchen cupboards.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Plugging away

As the tremolo studs in the RS10V are in the wrong place for a Speedloader I need to plug and redrill them.

This is not the first time I've done this so I'm getting a lot more confident at it. The current holes were roughly 8mm but slightly 'serrated' from the bushes just as they should be. So I drilled them out to 9mm, being careful not to eat into the top surrounding the tremolo route.

Then it was just a matter of cutting some 9mm dowel, using a toothpick to spread some glue in the holes and tapping the dowels in. The dowels are slightly proud but I'll carefully route them flat when I route the top deeper, which will probably be necessary.

I've managed to source a cheap Speedloader guitar and I'm now waiting for it to arrive, so this project is moving slowly forward.

The photos make the blue quilt finish look really nice but the finish is so thick and dark it's hard to see. If the project to convert this to headless works out OK I'll try to thin the finish down with wet and dry in order to get rid of the nasty scratches then put a single clear coat back over the top. I'm hoping this will also improve the look.

Get a grip

It's a long weekend so I started it by knocking one of my minor projects on the head.

First up the mahogany strat needed a little wood removing from the jackplate route so I could fit the slightly bulky stereo socket I had to go with the pickups. There was probably a subtle way to do this but I just hacked at it with a 10mm drill bit until the plate fitted.

Given I could see myself messing about with the pickups a bit I fitted a 3-way connector to the battery, socket and earth leads. I've a load of this kind of stuff kicking around from rewiring my various dodgy motorcycles. With a plug fitted I could just wire the scratchplate up and plug it in. It also means I can mess about with alternative pickups just by sticking them in a scratchplate and fitting it.

As I am 'hot rodding' this strat I've also fitted some locking machine heads in the style of Schaller RotoGrip ones. The Schallers or equivalent Sperzels are quite pricey but AxesRUs do cheap and cheerful Korean copies. I'd previously used these on the black Tele and I'm hoping that this will help keep it in tune when using the tremolo.

These machine heads have a pin running down the middle of the shaft that you tighten down onto the string as it passes through the hole. It also makes stringing the guitar dead easy.

So, having done this I wired up the Reflex pickups according to the diagram I've got and found that the mid/high controls didn't work at all.

I wasn't that surprised as I realised while doing it that there was a spare black wire not mentioned in the diagram and it had originally been connected to the single pot controlling the treble/mid boost.

So I simply desoldered the blue wire from the two pots and soldered this black one to both instead. While I was there I also removed the earth connection to the pots. It seemed to make sense as it wasn't connected to the treble/mid pot originally.

With this done the pots worked well but the mid boost was in reverse, so I had the guitar apart yet again and swapped the connections to sort this.

I'm glad I fitted that plug so I could whip the scratchplate on and off easily.

With the guitar finished off I remember why I liked the Reflex pickups in my EC29. These single coil sized ones do a pretty convincing single coil sound with the mid/treble boost in the neutral position but absolutely scream when you wind the boost up. With the boost turned down it does some interesting 'thin' and 'flat' sounds that work much better clean than overdriven. I can't see me using these much though.

The combination of locking machine heads and new tremolo seem to work well too. I can see me playing this guitar a fair bit over the next few days. It needs a little more setup too, I've floated the tremolo, adjusted the action, made the saddles match the radius and done the intonation but want to go back and tweak it a bit more.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Power Igor!

As I'm fitting active pickups to this guitar I need somewhere to put the battery. I waved a battery box I bought ages ago at the back of the guitar looking for a sane place to fit it. This needs to be in a decent expanse of wood and close to one of the other routes so I can drill a hole to pass the wire down.

I ended up putting it immediately behind the tremolo route. I've seen batteries placed here before and it's become obvious this is a good place for them.

Ideally I would have used a template but I just went for it freehand after taping the guitar and marking out a rough outline of the box. I'm reasonably happy with how it's turned out. The lip on the edge of the box covers a multitide of sins.

Monday, May 23, 2011

More profligacy

So, when faced with the fact my pillar drill to won't be able to widen the holes for the nice two point tremolo I've bought I just went out and bought a more traditional six screw one.

It's not quite as nicely made as the two point one, which really is lovely but it does just fit straight on. I can always go back and fit the two point one later.

My next move is to route out a space for the battery box and I've waved it vaguely at the guitar body this evening. I'm not really happy with any of the candidate locations, I'll have to tape the body and start marking it up.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The not so cunning plan

So, the plan isn't that cunning really. My friend JayGee said, on seeing a Speedloader equipped guitar, that it would make far more sense to use them to make headless guitars than what BC Rich did with them.

Here is the RS10V alongside my Speedloader Mockingbird and I've had a go at swapping the tremolo across to see how it goes together.

The nut fits quite nicely, but I kind of always expected it to.

The bridge isn't quite there though. At first glance it looks like it should work and the studs have a standard 74mm spacing. Before buying the guitar I also checked that the scale length of the RS10V is 25.5" (by measuring the RS8V) so I knew my stash of Speedloader strings should work.

Unfortunately in another bit of non-standard madness, Washburn placed the bridge studs 25" from the nut when common fitment is about 25.1"-25.2". This is opposite to the issue I had with the RR2V.

The Speedloader only works by being in a very very specific place relative to the nut, so as you can see the strings are all flapping around, not under tension at all. A quick measure up shows the bridge needs to be roughly 25.25" from the nut.

Despite this problem, having mocked up how this fits together I reckon this can be resolved and a Speedloader fitted. There's a fair bit of wood in the area of the bridge studs so moving them back should be practical. I'll need to route the top more deeply for the tremolo too, which will be interesting because of the carved top, but it's all grist to the learning mill.

Now I need to haunt eBay to pick up a Speedloader as I don't particularly want to strip down the Mockingbird. Whole BC Rich guitars fitted with one come up occasionally and often change hands for a pittance as they were really unpopular. Although it's a little random and sometimes you get a couple of people who fancy one bidding against each other so the price goes right up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Washburn #13 - 'RS10V' blue quilt

The RS10V is a Washburn cut from the same cloth as my RS8V but is the fancier model with a quilted top and there are abalone inlays in the composite fretboard.

Electrics and so on are identical but this has a different tremolo. Instead of the double locking 600T setup, this has one that doesn't lock at the bridge. It looks like a standard Floyd Rose style bridge but the strings pass though the saddles from the back with the ball ends intact.

I've watched a few of these come and go on eBay and this is the first cheap one. I really like the RS8V which is why I've been keeping an eye on these.

There is a reason for it being dirt cheap, which should be pretty obvious.

I have a cunning plan.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jackplate fishing

The jack socket on my friends Gretsch Tim Armstrong came loose and it got lost inside. This is a real pain in the neck because there's no jackplate to unscrew to gain access, just a hole in the body and an F-hole not big enough to get more than one finger in. Which you can't reach anything with anyway unless you've got fingers like ET.

To rescue the jack socket I taped up the guitar to avoid scratching it then made a hook from some stainless lockwire and fished it out of the F-hole. This involved peering through the jackplate hole so I could see but in the end wasn't actually as fiddly as expected.

This might not have been too hard but that's not where the jack socket needs to end up. So I threaded some more lockwire in through the jack hole, put the internal washer on then threaded the wire through the jack and wrapped it round the contacts to hold it in place.

Pulling gently on this got the jack socket in the right hole easily. Then I threaded the external nut and washer down the wire and tightened it up. I used a little Loctite on the nut to try and stop this happening again. The wire then pulled out through the jack.

That wasn't explained very well was it.

Anyway, the end result is that the guitar is usable again and I got to noodle about on it for a while. I worry that I didn't manage to get the nut tight enough as it started turning, but then the Loctite should stop it rattling loose.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Silver or red?

As well as the Reflex Reds I have there's a set of HSS Silvers. These are already mounted on a scratchplate but it's slightly oddly shaped and seemingly has been cut for a Floyd Rose route. They do however have the advantage of already being fully wired, with the correct center-detent pots.

So I ordered a generic HSS scratchplate and I'm considering which set to fit. I think it's going to be the Reds as they can go in the original scratchplate but I plan to use a connector block under the plate so I can swap them easily.

I also ordered a new bridge as I want to use the vintage style bent steel saddle one for the 'Dave Murray' project. I decided to go for a Wilkinon WV2P with a steel block, there's one of these on my Custom Shop Indie IPR and it's a lovely tremolo.

With the various bits dropped into the body I'm very happy with how it looks and as expected the tremolo is a perfect fit.

Unfortunately my drill press, which is pretty cheap and nasty, doesn't have a deep enough 'throat' for me to be able to drill the holes for the new bushes. Which is a real stumbling block as I don't want to drill this freehand, I'd just screw it up. I'll have to see if I can borrow the use of a bigger drill.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Resurrecting some Reflex Red pickups

When I originally bought my Washburn EC29 in the early 90s, it came fitted with Reflex Red pickups.

These were English made active pickups with a variable active mid boost and I suspect an aftermarket job on my guitar. The EC29 came with an active mid boost as standard but from what I've seen this was a Washburn thing and all the photos I've seen have the pickups branded up as Washburn.

I was always a fan of these pickups and they seemed very high output to me. Sadly they stopped working and the active box seems to have a broken wire as if you wiggled cabling it would occasionally spring into life. Being a circuit potted into a small box it'd be very hard to fix this.

To get my guitar usable I fitted it with some Kent Armstrong pickups and a simple passive setup, saving all the Reflex stuff and carefully storing it in a box.

I started keeping an eye out for Reflex pickups on eBay and sorted myself out a couple of sets that I could maybe use to resurrect the originals. However in the meantime I got enthused about Seymour Duncan active pickups and rewired the EC29 with some Blackouts.

So I've now got an assortment of Reflex bits kicking around doing nothing. One of these is a strat set of three single coils and I've decided to have a go at fitting them in the mahogany strat. These were rather nastily wired up with great blobs of solder like somebody has re-used the pots multiple times. This is understandable as they use 10k centre detent pots which people fiddling with guitars aren't going to have kicking around. These pots also have tiny plastic shafts with little collets used to allow you to fit standard guitar knobs.

I've taken this set, desoldered it carefully, taking note of how it was connected and fitted it to the original scratchplate from the mahogany strat. Now I've ordered some 10k pots to finish off the job and once these arrive I'll have a go at wiring it all up.

At some point I found these nasty scanned faxes of the original Reflex wiring instructions on the Internet and it looks to 100% agree with the wired up sets I have. I'll be using the second setup with separate mid and treble controls. Sadly the pots I have ordered aren't centre detent but they'll have to do.

I have a couple of HSS sets as well as this and may think about fitting them into something else if this works out. However my cup runneth over with active pickups so I suspect these will sit in the box with the rest of my hoard.

Jamvox mod #1 success

OK, so this is likely to be the only modification I ever make to it but I'm happy with how it worked out.

There's now a miniature toggle switch by the headphone socket which switches the speakers on and off. Not a major change but this means I no longer have to mess about plugging and unplugging the base unit for my wireless headphones.

While doing this I discovered that you only need to switch the 'sleeve' connection on the jack socket, not all three. Not that I imagine anybody else in the world will ever bother doing this. I only did it because my speakers stopped working.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Playing around inside a JamVox.

I have for some time been using a Vox JamVox connected to an old PC for practice at home.

Audiophiles and tone freaks are probably cringeing at this but to be honest I've found the JamVox to be a really quite useful tool. Given you get the whole thing, along with modelling software focused on 'playing with your heroes' in a box for £100 I reckon it's good value for bedroom guitarists on a budget. The only bit I've found terrible is the use of an external expression pedal. This is massively laggy making the built in wah-wah models almost useless.

Normally I use a pair of Sennheiser wireless headphones with this, but it also serves as a stereo monitor speaker. Pretty much since I got this it's suffered from cutting out when used as a speaker which is annoying.

As I was at a loose end I decided to open the JamVox up and see if I could fix this. My guess was that it had some kind of switched jack socket inside and I wasn't wrong. It's one of those sockets with terminals that break a connection when you push the plug in. Even better one of the contacts was obviously not touching properly so must have deformed slightly, probably from me leaving headphones plugged in for month on end.

Briefly I toyed with desoldering the socket but didn't fancy that and just bent the contact back into shape as best I could in-situ. This was OK for one use but as soon as I put the headphone plug in and out a couple of times the old problem reappeared.

I think I'm going to take the unit apart again and mod it with a switch that does the job of the socket. Given I don't really like messing about plugging and unplugging the base unit for my wireless headphones when I want to use the speakers this will actually suit me.

Assuming this works.