I got the frets leveled and polished. A friend in Beijing had me buy him a StewMac fret rocker and it worked so well I got one for myself. The Gibson trussrod cannot be tightened enough to pull all of the relief out of the neck which is disappointing, even after I added a washer behind the nut. Its an SG... they have issues.. not much else I can say. Relief is still within factory spec so its not that big of a deal and the new bone nut is awesome. I yanked the Tone Pros bridge out and reversed the saddles, reset everything and it played pretty well. Not as good as the tele.... but "pretty well".
I had put a 1 meg Alpha volume pot in a couple of years back and never really liked it as much as the 500k I had before that. Factory was a 300k and it was replaced in 2004 when I put in the Tonestyler. I pulled off the back plate and woah... was there some ugly stuff in there. You have to look at the pic on the left. Yes, I ran a ground bus from solid core house wiring. Scary, scary stuff. So this was all removed and I shielded the cavity and cover which let me dump the shielded output wire. I put in a CTS tandem volume pot and ran that for a day or so until I got tired of it. That is the one in this pic on the right. I pulled it out a few hours ago and went back to a 500k Alpha just because I don't have any CTS pots here. The Gibson 500T pickup is still a problem that I have not been able to really tame. I hate to pull it because it was the soul of the SG-X design (besides the 24 fret neck) and I've always wanted to try and keep it. But it is by far the highest output pup Gibson made. The Tonestyler tames it somewhat and allows me to have that HO crunch but still get some nice clean sounds. The problem is I have to drop the thing almost 5mm below the strings to keep it from breaking up at full volume into the Marshall VS. Its no problem on the Focusrite pre, or on the Marshall JMP-1, but for some reason it is problematic on the Valvestate. I will worry about it next year, the main thing was to get this thing done before I leave to go to China.
The SG was my first electric guitar and has seen a lot of time, and a few mods too. I have wanted to replace the hideous plastic/nylon nut that Gibson puts on from the factory, but I did not have the tools until this year (or the confidence). After building the tele I feel pretty good about doing any type of guitar maintenance. Practice is the most important thing. The SG had some grooves worn in the frets, and some of them were pretty flat. In addition to those minor problems I had about 4 frets in the upper register that were a little high. This could be caused by anything, who knows how many humidity and temp swings this thing has seen. Might even have been there from the factory. But I wanted to get her totally fixed up and ready to go, so I can have that to look forward to when I get back home.
I finished up the electronics last night. It was a prototype so there are some cosmetic issues though mostly minor and nothing effects playability. I learned a lot from this one and any future runs will go much smoother.
Pups are Lace Sensors with a Schaller Megaswitch and CTS pots. .022 Sprague cap on the tone pot, Switchcraft jack. I replaced the corian nut in the Warmoth neck with a vintage bone nut. I got the neck a couple years back on clearance because it has a blemish on the back (dark spot) which most people dont even notice. Was quicker to do this then build one from scratch, and the thought of working with birdseye maple on the neck is scary. Pau shell inlay and Steinberger tuners. The tuners are cool, the knob is on the back and vertical so you don't knock it out when it gets laid down. Modern truss rod with side adjust.
Gotoh 6 saddle bridge grounded to the cavity. All the cavities are shielded with copper tape and along with the hot wire coming in from the jack. Since the electrical is so screwy in China I wanted it to be as quiet as possible and single coils are a pain to reduce hum. The Lace's are pretty quiet though and with the shielding this thing is as quiet as my SG. Control plate is reversed to put the volume knob right under my hand, I like it that way. Body has Dunlop StrapLoks.
The body was shot with around 15 coats of nitro cellulose lacquer, cured for two weeks and buffed. The neck was shot with 4 coats of nitro and buffed. Its a really deep finish, these pics suck and don't do it justice. Hard as a rock and old school. I will never, ever shoot polyurethane on an instrument.
I've been pushing to get this done before I leave to go back to Beijing and I am going to just barely make it. I may do a run of 3 or so when I get back to the U.S. next spring, or I might do something else. I really would like to do some set neck guitars, single cuts like Les Pauls or PRS SC245's I need to work on my neck construction and fret work.
I had two issues come up with the tele. The biggest one was the Lace pickups I had gotten in trade a few years ago where defective. They were brand new and sealed, but the neck pickup was offset to one side on the baseplate. It made it impossible to mount.
The bridge pickup was also off, but instead was tilted vertically in relation to the baseplate.
I contacted Lace and got a hold of their support guy who was great to work with. He gave me an RMA even though I don't have a receipt and they are a couple of years old. They went back to California towards the end of last week and I will probably get them installed after Annie goes back to China. Since I had some time I went ahead and decided to replace the corian nut with bone. This will be my first nut replacement and I am going to work on getting the sweetest setup possible. I am going to stick with D'Addario .010 - .046 nickel wounds. I was thinking of .011's but my fingers are pretty weak since I haven't really played much for 20 years (LOL), so I'll cut the nut for tens.
I got home from NY and once we were settled in I setup the bench for some sanding. The telecaster had a couple of issues where some debris in the gun had imbedded in the surface of the lacquer and I hoped to be able to sand those out. I had some open pores still too, and I wanted to sand down enough to get rid of most of those, but I had no idea if the lacquer would be thick enough to allow for that. And I really, really didn't want to screw up and have to do it over again.
I began wet sanding with 800 grit using water and some Tide detergent. I had used naptha before, but this was going to be a significant amount of sanding, so I went with water and tried to wipe often to prevent moisture from going down into any holes. I had heard this could cause swelling and potentially crack the lacquer finish. I was aggressive with the 800 but not too much, and there was still some shiny depressions when I decided to move up to 1000 grit. I was glad I did this as it was surprising how much the 1000 took down. I expected it to remove almost no lacquer, but that was not the case and by the time I finished the guitar was almost completely leveled. Next was 1200, then 1500 and finally 2000. I did not have 1800 and could not find it easily, so I chose to go directly from 1500 to 2000. The process took about 14 hours to complete.
I cleaned the body with a paper towel and went to the lathe. I was going to build a dedicated buffer but decided to save time and money and use the lathe instead. It is doable with a bolt on neck, but it would not work for set neck or neck thru construction. I still had difficulties doing the body, but managed to avoid any major disasters. The good part about using the lathe is I can exactly control the speed. I dialed in the 10" wheel at 800 rpm and applied red tripoli to get to where I wanted. It took a couple of hours to get all the edges and sides to where I wanted. Next I changed wheels and went to a white diamond compound. Finally I dialed up to 1000 rpm and applied carnauba wax. The last step was to use some Renaissance Wax with a sock.
The result was good, but not perfect. There are micro-fine scratches in the surface (swirl marks). I am not sure where they came from, it is possible that the jump from 1500 to 2000 grit was too much. The swirls do not seem to be from the buffing process because they are not in a straight line, but I could be wrong. Next guitar I may choose to use Mequiars car products instead. The other possibility is that the cloth I used to apply the wax was not soft enough, or the laquer had not hardened sufficiently. It is not critical as it still looks good. Oddly enough the neck was polished the same way and I cannot see any swirling, but this may be because the color is lighter. But the idea is to learn and develop a process that will give me a truly professional grade guitar finish on a consistent basis.
I had really bad luck today. I was on my final coat of the guitar body (number 14) and this would have completed the spraying procedure. But no - I had a small bug fly into the bottom edge of the body. All of the coats out there and not a single problem until today - the last day and the last coat of lacquer. Both it and the headstock on the neck are going to have to be sanded tomorrow and repaired. I am not certain how to do the bug repair. But I will say that I took it down with 600 grit prior to this coat and the entire rest of the guitar looks amazing. It really, really came out well. I just have to figure out these two problems and then it can cure for 2 weeks before I begin the buffing process.
So far the finish procedure has been ok, some difficult moments but I have worked around things so far. I have to say this is really one of the most satisfying things I have ever built. It is very time consuming, every detail has to be either block sanded or done with your fingers and a small piece of abrasive. And that is done repetitively, I will probably have close to 20 sandings by the time this is ready for polish.
- One coat Behlen's Vinyl Sealer, 1 hour and then block sand to 400.
- 3 applications of Bartley's Neutral Wood Filler
- One coat of Behlen's Vinyl Sealer, 1 hour and then block sand to 400.
- Mixed TransTint orange into Behlen's Vinyl Sealer and did one coat, wait 24 hours and then block sand to 400.
I will be spraying nitrocellulose laquer today and tomorrow. I would like to burst the front but that is a challenge. I think it would look awesome though.
Have some Behlens Vinyl Sealer that I hope to spray today. I took a couple hours sweeping and blowing out the garage last night but I was hoping to be able to spray outside. Temp is at 63, dewpoint is 40 and relative humidity is 43. I am only doing sealer today so hopefully it goes ok. I dont have an retarder I could get into trouble with blushing, but I just have to see.
This guitar is based on a 1957 blueprint of a Fender Telecaster. The body is two piece swamp ash and I elected to go with a Warmoth neck to save some time. I milled the body and neck pocket precisely to the plan and it was nearly a perfect fit to the Warmoth neck. I have a small issue with the fingerboard not matching up completely with my pick guard, but its a question of the pocket being too shallow (not too deep) so this can be fixed once I get the correction amount figured out. I will get this set to final depth and get the bridge placement exactly where I want it, then I can mill the pickup and control cavity. After that its prep for finishing.
After I got in from working on the shed tonight I decided to retube my Marshall JMP-1. Its an older unit that I purchased used in 2006, and manufacture date is around 2003. It has been a great unit and I use it with my Alesis Quadraverb that is 25 years old. The JMP-1 has never been touched but when I got back from China this last time it started sounding really ragged. I had a pair of 12AX7s and decided to go ahead and pull it open to see if I could retube it.
The worst part about this job is pulling off the top to get at the board. There are 3 phillips screws in the back and on on the top that must be removed. Then you have to remove 3 allen head screws from the rack mount ears (6 screws total) before it will come loose. Once its open it is important to guard for static. I use a wrist band cause I am old school, but you can just ground to the case and should not have any problems. My JMP-1 had noname tubes tagged ECC83 so I would bet they are the original tubes. I pulled the schematic from Dr. Tube's site which is a great site for any kind of manual or tube amp schematic. I wanted to know which socket was V1 and V2. I had a Mullard 12AX7 that has some nice cleans for V1 and a Ruby Tubes 12AX7A for V2.
Once I screwed it all back together and remounted it in the rack it was back to normal. I wish my playing was good enough to really put it to the test but unfortunately I don't play enough to really do much. I will say it sounds amazing and has an incredible variety of tone. My unit runs into my PC so that I can use it for playback. I have an old, old copy of Reason that I can record with but I just never seem to have the time.