Old new guitar project

  1. 6 years ago

    As much as I love ukulele, I still love guitar and electric bass.

    And like everyone who enjoys a fine instrument (and the occasional cheapie cool axe), I tend to be a collector (a shameless euphemism for hoarder).

    I still have my Gibson SG Special I bought new in 1967, a Carlos (Korean made) folk 12-string acoustic, a CIJ Fender Reissue '62 Jazzmaster (with Seymour Duncan Vintage Jazzmaster pickups, larger pots and a mother-of-toilet-seat pickguard), a Hohner acoustic-electric bass, an American Vintage Reissue '62 Jazz Bass, a Squier 51 (with a Seymour Duncan Lipstick pickup in the neck position), a Korean-made Danelectro 6-String Bass, an early (pre serial numbers, neck adjustment through the pickguard rather than at the headstock) DiPinto Galaxie 4, and my eight or nine ukuleles (as well as a Yamaha flute and a piano in the dining room).

    And I recently finished a 2007 MIM Fender Classic Series '50's Stracocaster project.

    I found an early 2007 (serial number says 2006-2007, but it does not have the decal indicating 60th anniversary of 2006) Mexican made Fiesta Red Classic Series '50's Stratocaster. Just as new as it was shipped to a dealer... Great resonance to the alder body, wonderful action an meat on the soft V neck. Wrong color tip on the tremolo bar (bright white rather than the original vintage white). So I spent many months turning it into the surf music guitar of my dreams. Turns out, blues and other rock players like it, too.

    Next post will discuss the details of the guitar and the changes I made.

  2. -image-

    This is an image from Fender.com of what a typical Fiesta Red Classic Series '50's Stratocaster looks like. It is quite similar to mine... months ago.

    My first change was to kick it up a notch with a new pickguard. Many of my electric guitars have new pickguards... a simple customization which changes only the looks, not the tone or playability of the instrument.

    Before I received the pickguard (and a matching tremolo springs cover) from WD Music, I took the above photo and a photo (with an overlaid logo) of the pickguard and tried to line them up to give an idea of how they would look together. I found some knobs I wished to change the tone and volume knobs to complete the look and photoshopped the Amazon (and other images) purchased items in, too.

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    Notice the tremolo bar tip and the tip of the pickup selector are black... I was also going to change the pickup covers to black but for a project that was only awaiting the mail of the knobs and plastics, I was overwhelmed by the time it would take to turn the antique white pup covers black in Photoshop.

  3. I received the pickguard and tremolo springs cover, and the knobs arrived a wekk later (not on the same day... the dice arrived quickly, the black chrome skulls nearly a week after).

    I changed the strap buttons to black Dunlop Straplocks. I found a Levy's soft leather relic'ed black strap with red flames (and gray streaks) which went well with the pickguard. This is the results of my guitar with the pickguard, plastics, and strap changes (the knobs are standard black Strat knobs... I was awaiting the delivery of the dice and skulls).

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    The strings on the guitar were modern... far too light for a "vintage" guitar. I wanted the guitar to be like a 1957 Stratocaster purchased by a hot rod loving surf guitarist in 1961 or '62 who wanted a personalized instrument. I put on the same flatwound strings I have on my Jazzmaster: 11-50 flatwounds with a wound third string. These heavier string pulled the tremolo block 'way up from the body... I could stretch the string but not dive bomb like I want in surf. The tremolo had only three springs to make it float. I added two more springs to get a bridge float of less than 1/8th of an inch away from the body with the medium weight strings.

    The dice knobs I was going to use on the tone controls arrived! (notice the tremolo arm tip is black... the black one I had for an American Standard Strat was too narrow to fit on the Mexican tremolo arm... I had to spray paint the bright white tip black)

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    Starting to look and feel like I wanted!

  4. Finally the skull knob arrived.

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    I took the guitar to a band rehearsal. The other guitarist loved it... the drummer hated the knobs. He loves surf culture but dislikes car culture (never mind how many wonderful gigs we've gotten at car shows).

    As I played it, it was very good... nearly right. But not perfect. The tone from the pickups were typical for a reisuued "vintage" guitar. Close (but not exact) to a late 1950's Stratocaster. One thing I like about modern Strats (as opposed to vintage or reissued vintage Strats) is there are models where if you select both the middle and either the bridge or neck pickup, you get the effect of a single humbucking pickup, rather than the strangled tone of both pickups on a vintage Strat. I needed better pickups. Once again, Seymour Duncan to my rescue!

    Checking SD's website (and his tone-finder was no help in this), I found a series of Stratocaster pickups I thought might be great. He has an Antiquity II series of '60's Surf for Stratocasters pickups. Old style magnets, old style wire and windings, low vintage output... perfect for the old sounds I wanted.

    There was the basic Surf model... good for every position: neck, middle, bridge. I wanted one for the neck position. There was an identical pickup, but reverse polarity and reverse wound for the middle... I could get my humbucking tone when I chose middle with bridge or neck at the same time. And a custom wound Bridge Surf with a brighter, slightly louder output for the bridge position.

    I order a full set.

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    I would need to use my black pickup covers... these came with a rather beige looking antique white set, but the wires were huge old-style with cloth insulation:

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    It took a day to unsolder the twisted wires from the stock pickups off the selector switch and solder in the new "old" pickups. Once the job was done, the job began. I had made a paper template of the distance of each of the pickup tops from the pickguard... but it didn't sound quite right. When I have adjusted pickups before, I would fret each string to the highest fret, pluck the string hard than I would play it, and raise the pickup until the string would barely clear the pickup with zero buzzing. By doing this, if I used light strings, the pickup magnets sometimes pulled the strings, so I would lower the pickups until they didn;t pull. In this case, with this guitar, these strings, these pickups, the tone wasn't as perfect as I wanted.

    I bought two books on wiring Stratocasters and the history of Strats. The first matched how Seymour Duncan said I needed to wire the Surf set. The second gave specific (to a 64th of an inch) deistances from the pickup pole pieces to the bottom of the strings frtted at the highest fret... separate distances for first and sixth strings, separate distances for vintage, modern, humbucking and other style pickups. I bought a metal ruler where the end was zero and it had 1/64" markings... My guesses were close, but needed tweaking. I tweaked to match the book settings. Wow! It was amazing how balaced the tone and volumes were. For the first time in my life I followed the book and the book was right!

  5. Last February, my surf band played the Sacramento Autorama. After we played I met a number of pinstripe artists... I thought how cool it would be to have one of them add some 1950's (or early 1960's) custom car or hot rod pinstriping to my bass or an electric guitar. Many of the artists' work was fine, but one guy seemed to have the exact designs and feel of my tastes. I asked him if he had ever pinstriped a guitar... he had not. But he liked the idea and quoted a low price. He suggested he could pinstripe my name or other design, and offered his business card.

    I never got back to him, but would check out his website and found other cool stuff he had done. Now I had this retro surf guitar with flames on the pickguard, dice and skull knobs... pinstriping would be perfect.

    I sent him an email though his website. A day later, it returned saying the address was closed.

    I called the number on his business card: I left a voicemail on was seemed like a cellphone service. I send another email with links to a photo of the guitar, photos on his website of the styles I wanted, and details of my wants... asking for a price and when we might meet. A week passed and I received no answers.

    Another person I met at the Autorama was a hotrodder and custom car builder. I sent him a Facebook private message asking about the pinstriper I was seeking and also asking if he knew any good pinstripers in the Sacramento area. He responded quickly that he was unfamiliar with the pinstriper I mentioned, but why don't I try East Bay (Livermore) pinstriping legend Herb Martinez.

    I went to Herb's website. He had flames and other stuff which were exactly what I wanted. I hadn't met him with the pinstripers because he was at the SoCal booth. I sent Herb a message through his website. He responded within 12 hours, quoting me a fair (slightly higher than the first pinstriper) price for outlining the flames on the pickguard, more for additional work. I wrote back that the flames on the pickguard were outlined: I wanted flames and other details in areas on the body of the guitar... and added a photo of the body with flame areas I envisioned outlined in blue, the other pinstriping details area outlined in black.

    I asked if we could do it Monday (tomorrow... as of the day I write this here in this forum). He said fine. Then I realized last Thursday was free, and before my next band rehearsal, was Thursday cool? We set up an appointment at his shop (the garage behind him home) Thursday late morning. A 90 minute drive from Sacramento.

    He decided it was too cold to work in his shop, so he set up to work in his kitchen. He brought in his huge box of paints, his smaller box of brushes, and a tray table like those they serve you your meals when you are in a bed in a hospital. He placed a big towel of the tray, I placed the guitar and the strap on the tray. He added a printout of the photo of where I wanted the pinstriping on the guitar and I added a color printout of the band logo.

    He used a Stabilo marker pencil to sketch his initial designs on the guitar... a place to freehand the flames and pinstriping. It is very faint, but you can sort of see his sketch here:

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    He mixed colors. I wanted a gray to match the gray on the strap (to tie the two together, and it went well with the colors there on the guitar), black to match the strap and the background on the pickguard, and a bluish purple to match the ends of the flames on the pickguard. The black was simple, the gray slightly harder, but it took three or four trys before he found a purplish blue to go with the flames. He started in gray:

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    He had late 1960's rock music on his stereo (Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green) and we swapped story while he painted. He would go quiet (so would I) when he needed to concentrate. Between car culture and San Francisco music scene, we knew some people together, and shared tales of separate encounters.

  6. He told of how he would make the inner curves of the flames first (they were the most difficult) then make the easier long curves away from the tight turns.

    He showed (and used) a precision Q-tip (used for accurate face makeup details) he would have paint cleaner to eliminate details he needed to correct.

    He worked the entire body of the guitar, adding details and colors as needed to keep balance.

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    He would work for five to ten minutes, then take a minute or two break, resting his eyes and stratching his fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, back.

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    He stood back. We both liked what was done. He signed the work... tiny, nearly unable to be read... between the non-flame detail below the bridge and the end strap button. He signed his how to pinstripe book for me; I paid him. He packed his tools; I took everything but the guitar out to my van. I stretched a soft blanket out in the back to place the still-wet guitar. He carried the guitar out to the van. He gave me stickers and business cards. We were pleased and shook hands before I drove back to Sacramento.

  7. I set up my single guitar stand to hold the guitar while it dried. The day was dark and gray, and no matter how well I lit the living room, the camera needed to open its shitter wide to take a shot of the guitar. If you look close, you might see a few of the light guide marks Herb used but did not follow exactly when he painted the flames:

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    That is the only photo of the guitar with both the pinstriping and the guide marks unerased.

    The next day was nearly as gray and dark. About 11 am, the sun sort of poked out. I had used a soft towel to polish the guitar body, erasing the faint guide pencil marks. I placed the guitar (without, I'm sorry, the strap the gray matched) on my couch and took a few photos, changing the lighting and angle to show off the work Herb Martinez added to my project.

    The upper horn on the body:

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    The detail below the bridge:

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    The flame outlines are grayer, less blue, than the photos show. The flame tips are more blue than purple, but match a color on the pickguard. The hardest part for Herb to paint was the (sort of) teardrop in the bluish-purple inside the gray surrounded by black in the non-flame detail (surfboard, rocket body shape) below the bridge. To paint it, he had no place that did not have wet paint to place his little finger to stabilize his painting hand. And in that it was a wet brush running through wet paint, he could not correct an error... there was no error!

  8. Here is a nearly accurate (color-wise) but slightly grainy photo of the finished body:

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    I took the guitar to rehearsal yesterday. The drummer thinks I ought to replace the knobs with chrome ones (like a Telecaster... dull). The guitarist was amazed at the pinstriping.

    We rehearsed my set. The new pickups mean I get every tone exactly they way I want on every song. I do not need to switch guitars... ever. Bright treble on Peter Gunn Theme, cool jazz tones on Summertime, warm chime on Mavericks, warm jazz tones on Pink Panther Theme, pure Stratocaster sounds on Pacifica, and for the first time since I topped using my Gibson for surf music Green Onions sounds great! Chuck Berry tones on our Johnny B. Goode/Roll Over Beethoven instrumental mashup. Mid-'60's British tone on Baby Let Me Take You Home, soul sounds for Night Train. The guitarist tried it... the soft-V neck was slightly too thick for his taste, but he loved the other action. The drummer said the guitar had the clarity of an expensive studio guitar. No overdrive... but if I want distortion, I can add a pedal.

    This has the best feel, the best touch, the best weight and balance, the easiest controls, and the most beautiful tones of any guitar I've ever played. If I didn't know better, I'd think I will never need another electric guitar. (But I know better.)

  9. 5 years ago

    I've discovered the saddle on the 1st string is too low... too much buzzing on frets up and down the neck. Today or tomorrow I will need to raise the saddle, retune the 1st string, perhaps do another intonation adjustment and definitely adjust the three pickups' heights to keep the tone even.

    I have replaced the chrome cord jack surround plate with a black one... it both looks better and not as good. It matches the strap buttons and other black elements but the chrome on the tremolo now sticks out more. I will get a photo of the change the next bright sunny day we get... it's raining this first day of Spring.

  10. Did you ever fix the intonation?

  11. Yes. I got out my Peterson Strobe Tuner, and spent enough relaxed time to get a fine setup. I have readjusted the pickup heights, and since the photos were taken have replaced the cord jack cover with a black one.

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    This was taken at a gig where we were the final instrumental surf band of three on April 28, 2013. Jim Lopez is playing my Dakota Red Fender AV '62 RI Jazz Bass on the left. Our founder Paul Narloch is on his mid-1960's Ludwig drum kit in the center. I am playing the Fender Stratocaster on the right. After we played four tunes with me on guitar, Jim got out his Fender AV '62 RI Jazzmaster and I took over on my Jazz Bass to play out the next nine tunes.

    We played a 90-minute gig this past Sunday.

  12. That's so cool! The pick guard, knobs, and paint job look wonderful!! My favorite being the flare the knobs add to it. :-)

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