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.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Slow progress on the RS10V

So I've had a busy weekend but decided to have a little go at the RS10V this evening.

I carefully drilled the pilot holes for the tremolo studs then waved the tremolo and routing templates at the body. I'm going to have to route the body a fair bit deeper for the tremolo to be any use as the Speedloader has quite a lot of gubbins at the back.

Despite this the guided router bit I have is quite deep so I'll probably still have to raise the router template up on blocks. I think I need to get another shorter bit. I also need some more varied drill bits as the tremolo studs look to fit an approximately 9.8mm hole rather than a 10mm one.

This conspired to make me give up on this for tonight, but I may have another look next weekend.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Marking up the RS10V

I spent a bit of time marking up the RS10V this evening.

I don't have a particularly good way to do this on a made up guitar, especially one with a carved top, most instructions seem to revolve around building a guitar from scratch and working from a centre line.

The way I've done this so far is to take a long straight edge and extend lines out from the edge of the neck across the body then measure an equal distance from the nut on both sides.

I did this on the RS10V and carefully checked it twice. It looks right by eye but then that doesn't mean much.

Next thing is to drill some small pilot holes and check it all again before drilling the holes out to their final size.

Sacrifice the Virgin

I just couldn't resist that post title.

Last month I bought this BC Rich Virgin to remove the Speedloader bridge from and today I finally got round to it.

The Speedloader uses really nice fine pitch thread tremolo studs, much better than the usual sloppy ones on cheap tremolos. So I wanted to remove these too. However my usual method of screwing a long bolt into them and using a block/nut to draw them out wasn't going to work as I simply don't have anything with the same thread.

This means I had to make another puller which can use the actual studs themselves to pull the bushes out. It'll come in useful occasionally when I find something with an odd thread.

Before I pulled the studs, I carefully measured the distance from the nut to the stud centres. This is so I can redrill the studs on the RS10V.

This turned out to be 25-3/16" or 640mm, which seem to be one of those rare measurements where sane imperial and metric measurements are so close as to be equivalent. The distance between the studs is the usual 74mm.

So I've now got an entire Floyd Rose Speedloader, along with the tremolo stop they seem to fit as part of the kit ready to go.

When I'll find time to start work on the RS10V I'm not sure. I do need to decide if I'm going to fit a normal tremolo to the Virgin or if I'm just going to get rid of it as it stands.