Leading Tone Custom 5E3 Amp Build

Greetings! We recently completed a custom 5E3 amplifier for a customer and we couldn’t have been happier with the results. The Fender 5E3 amp, commonly referred to as a Fender Deluxe is a very simple and common amp know for it’s simple design, ease of use, and superb tone. This customized version of the 5E3 amp was built with the finest components available including Mercury Magnetics ‘Tone Clone’ transformers, oil filled Mod capacitors (labelled with the Leading Tone V05 Hot Oil labels) , and robust turret board construction. Here’s a shot of the installed turret board:

Here’s a shot of the completed chassis before installing in the cabinet:

Once completed the amp came to rest is a custom made narrow face pine cabinet with a 12″ C12N Jensen speaker. The results were amazing. A lightweight amp with a classic look and incredible tone.

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Telecaster Partial Refret

Greetings everyone! Matthew here reporting from the repair bench. Here at Leading Tone we’ve had a good run of Telecaster repairs and mods of late. One highlight from this batch of repairs was the partial re-fret on a 80’s era Telecaster. The fret wear on this instrument was nothing short of amazing. As you can see, the divots in the frets are just shy of cutting into the rosewood fingerboard. Needless to say the customer was reporting buzzing on the lower frets so we decided to replace frets 1-7.

A partial re-fret is a repair that is used when the fret wear is only on the lower frets. The basic steps of the partial re-fret follow that of a standard fret job. The frets are heated with a soldering iron and carefully pulled from the rosewood fingerboard. New frets are pressed or hammered into the slots and they are roughly beveled and shaped to match the existing fretwork. Once the frets are in the new frets are leveled and dressed to the original frets.

The completed fretwork. As you can see in the photo the new jumbo frets are much more inviting that the old worn 20 year old frets. Not to mention they play great and string bending is a breeze!

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Introducing Tolley Stringed Instruments

Greeting everyone! Leading Tone is pleased to introduce archtop guitars and mandolins by Tolley Stringed Instruments.  Tolley Stringed Instruments are handcrafted locally in Seattle by Leading Tone’s house luthier, Matthew Tolley.

Tolley Stringed Instruments

The instruments pictured (left to right) include:

-A 17″ Standard in a sunburst finish. This guitar features an aged hand carved Italian spruce soundboard, bigleaf maple back sides and neck, and ebony fittings.

-An oval hole A model mandolin with a blacktop finish. This mandolin has features an Englemann spruce top, bigleaf maple back, sides, neck, and ebony fittings.

-An A model mandolin in a 3 color sunburst finish. This mandolin features a select hand carved Adirondack spruce top, eastern maple back, sides, and one piece neck, with ebony fittings.

-A 16″ Classic in a natural finish. This guitar sports a Sitka spruce soundboard, Olympic Peninsula bigleaf maple back, sides, neck, african bloodwood purfling, and ebony fittings and bindings.

We invite you to come into the shop and try out these beauties. Please visit the Tolley Stringed Instruments website and Facebook blog for more more information.

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Fixing the slots of a bone nut

Matthew here and greetings from the repair bench! I’d like to take the opportunity to share a luthiers trade secret on how to repair over cut slots on a bone nut. This fix is extremely useful and fast to perform and has helped me out on countless occasions over the years. The causes for an overly deep nut slot can come from a myriad of factors including: truss rod adjustment, accidental damage or chipping of the nut, or just plain old wear and tear. I DO NOT recommend this repair to be done on any material other than bone and should only be performed by a capable tech. So let’s dig in…

Step 1: First thing to do is to mask off the areas around the nut. The preparation is critical as it will prevent the glue from wicking onto the finish possibly causing permanent damage. Once the area is masked off, loosen the strings, pop them off the nut, and pull them aside get them out of the way.

Step 2: Now that the area is masked and the strings are pulled aside, the next step is to pack the nut slots with baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate). It is important to pack the slots tightly so I often use the back edge of an X-Acto knife to force the baking soda into the slots.

Step 3: Once the slots are packed full of baking soda the next step is to CAREFULLY wick thin superglue into the filled slots. I use Teflon micro pipettes for this operation as they allow complete fingertip control to applying the glue. Once the glue is applied to the slots allow the glue to set for approximately 10-15 minutes.

Step 4: Once the superglue has set, you’ll notice that the baking soda has become as hard as the bone nut. At this point, I file the nut slots as per the standard method and continue with the set up.

Step 5: The completed nut!

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1946 Fender Woody Deluxe Model 26

This amp came into the shop a few weeks ago for a restoration. What a sweet joy to have in the shop the very first production amp that Fender ever made. A true piece of Rock and Roll history. The filter caps had been replaced in the mid 80’s and the owner still had a couple of the original caps with the amp. The coupling caps are all shot and preamp and phase inverter tubes were bad.

I searched high and low for a schematic for this amp. However, all my searching came up fruitless,  so I traced the schematic from the layout based on the original caps supplied and the the wiring of the amp. I used Photoshop to make the schematic as legit looking as possible and this is what I believe to be the correct schematic for this historic amp.

Deluxe Model 26 (PDF Download)

This was the state of the circuit board prior to restoration. It’s truly amazing that the amp worked at all in this condition. It was out of the customers budget to do a period correct restoration which would have utilized all the original capacitor wraps and making brown molded caps with mallory 150’s and femo clay. However when I was done this amp had tone for days. I am so happy to have had the privilege of working on this incredible tone machine.


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Exciting Changes at Leading Tone

I am pleased to introduce Leading Tone’s new in-house luthier, Matthew Tolley.  He will be taking exceptional care of all shop and customer guitars needing setups, repairs or modifications.  He is also capable of making you an incredible custom guitar.

Matthew graduated from Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in 2002, and has been making guitars ever since. Examples of his work can be seen here.  Last week Matthew brought in one of his Archtops and a Mandolin, they look better in person than the gallery shots. The tone on both instruments was incredible; The Archtop was the loudest, most articulate jazz guitar I have ever played, the Mandolin’s song was as sweet as honey. Both instruments were effortless to play. Other notable alumni from Roberto Venn include Michael Collins and Joe Naylor (Reverend Guitars).

After graduating from Roberto Venn, Matthew worked at The Rick Turner Renaissance Guitar Co. where he constructed instruments for a variety of high profile artists including: Stanley Clarke (Return to Forever), Mike Gordon (Phish), Colin Hay (Men at Work), Hugh McDonald (Bon Jovi), John Cowan (New Grass Revival), and Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac).

Since moving to Seattle Matthew has been working at Dusty Strings in their manufacturing facility. He has enjoyed his time there but is looking forward to spending more time working with guitars.  Matthew will be in the shop every Saturday and will be full time, by the end of August.  I encourage you to stop by and meet him.

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Introducing Wallingford Guitars

Come in and check out two new guitars hanging on the wall of fame from Wallingford Guitars, created by luthier Scott Paul Johnson. They play and sound as good as they look. 100% hand crafted in Seattle.

Come in and meet Scott. Over the next few weeks Scott will be at Leading Tone both working on shop guitars and taking care of your guitars that need service, repair, and modification. I am very grateful that he is willing to take time out of his busy schedule making guitars and recording a new album with his band Hot Bodies in Motion, to help out while the shop is in transition; bringing on a full time in house luthier. Scott played some rough cuts of the new material today in the store and it’s fantastic.

Tomorrow I will introduce our new permanent luthier who will be here on weekends until he starts full time in the middle of August. In the meantime I wanted to give a warm welcome to Scott and invite all of you to come in and check out his guitars.


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Jack Black is the Frigg’n Man.

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The Skyemaster: Our Custom-Made Jazzmaster for Skye of Fleet Foxes!

Trust me, it's not as complicated as it looks. It is, however, just as cool as it looks, which is a boon.

Isn’t that neat? I was just discussing with my wife the fact that when I first moved to Seattle, I’d have never dreamed that two years later I’d be working on guitars for real-live touring bands, let alone actually building guitars for them! What fun!

Self-congratulatory remarks aside, I really can’t tell you how excited I am to share this one with you. It was a lot of work (which you’ll hear all about in a moment) but I have to say what a rewarding project this was, with Skye–and his mum–being even more pleased than I was. But enough talk! Allons-y!

This project only came about a short time ago. We’re talking just months ago, when Skye first approached us about doing a little something special for him. His aim was to have a guitar built specifically for his forthcoming solo project, with a few custom touches that would make for a really interesting guitar. In his mind, this guitar was to be “the crux of the record.” The word “crux” was thrown around a lot, admittedly in jest by the end. It’s almost a meme ’round these parts. God forbid a fast-food run come back missing something. “Pickles are the CRUX of this burger!” or “Barry Gibb was the CRUX of the Bee Gees!” and “Pretty girls are the CRUX of my innermost personal torment!” you might imagine us yelling, feigning sincerity.

Here’s a quick rundown of the features, followed by a typically loquacious blog post about the guitar:

  •  A vintage Jazzmaster neck (1963) with a new set of TonePros Kluson tuners
  • A vintage (’63) Jazzmaster vibrato unit
  • AllParts body
  • A gold anodized aluminum guard
  • A Jaguar 3 switch control plate for switching
  • 2 Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups
  • A vintage (and very HOT) DeArmond Gold Foil pickup in the middle position
  • A Curtis Novak Lipstick pickup in the “behind-the-bridge” position for super-cool ghost tones and endless fun
  • Mastery Bridge
  • 500k pots for both sets of lead and rhythm circuit controls to tame the high end
  • A crazy-ass pickup selection scheme (it’s not that crazy)
  • VERY special roughly-polished brass thumb wheels that match the pickguard

Even though months sounds like plenty of time, when you’re waiting for correspondence, trying to plan a build whilst going back and forth on specs from across the country–Leading Tone in Seattle, Skye living in New York–things can take a lot longer than one might expect. At first, this build was supposed to be partially completed by the immensely talented Joe Riggio, whose F-style creations are as beautiful to behold as they are to play. We had already been working closely with Joe, talking about body shapes and contours, as well as setting up precision CNC routing for those special, Skye-approved touches.

Unfortunately, because of Skye’s impending studio dates, there just wasn’t time to have the right body cut and finished. Instead, an AllParts Jazzmaster body was ordered and shipped to us right away. In the mean time, I decided to have the neck ready.

That's the happiest decal Fender ever made.

For the neck, Skye opted for something he knew he would love: a genuine 1963 Fender Jazzmaster neck he scored on Ebay, which is very similar in profile to the neck on the white ’63 Jazzmaster he uses with the Foxes. The finish on the back of the neck was in that just-worn phase, with the slick feel of nearly-bare wood greeting the thumb like an old friend dropping by for tea. And can I say that the 7.25″ radius just feels magical?

Only a few lines' worth of fret! Oh noes!

As I expected, the neck was in need of a level and crown at the very least. In reality, there was far too little fret left for my files to even begin crowning, so a full refret was the only choice here. Then there was the bad news: the fretboard hadn’t exactly been taken care of, and had become so brittle that even very light fretwork meant flaking in the extreme. I tried to pre-treat the board with some lemon oil in hopes that the rosewood’s new found moistness would convince it to play fair, but to no avail. That board was intent on making my work way harder. “Whatever. Bring it.” I chided. Yes, I talk to myself.

And so I set about the great and arduous task of removing these frets without absolutely wrecking the fretboard. To test the waters, I utilized the normal soldering iron technique, wherein I heat the fret before pulling it out, minimizing chipping while liquifying any glue that may have been used. Some frets were easily liberated from the fretboard without too much fuss, but with more than a few frets threatening to tear wood away from their slots, I had to try taking them out the same way they might have gone in. It may be no surprise to you that Fender used to actually slide the frets in rather than the usual press-in method, using the sharpened tang of the fret to cut through its channel enabling it to seat properly and stably without glue. With the aid of my fretting hammer and one of my smaller files, I was able to [more] easily extract the aforementioned problem frets. Even so, that fretboard did not have the integrity to avoid some major chipping.

One has to look closely to see any of the patches!

Armed with super glue and my bag full of rosewood dust I’d collected from previous jobs, I started filling in the missing bits, taking care to slip a piece of Teflon in the fret slots to keep glue out. Once the “new wood” set, I used files to trim it flush with the existing rosewood, then sanded to a smooth finish. Sadly, each time I thought I was finished, more wood decided to flake away. In all I had to repeat this process three times, but I’m really happy with the end result. To my dismay, I neglected to take photos of this part of the process as time was at a premium. I do, however, have a photo of the finished board for you.

This fret job also required some patient work, but not because of any major problems; the extra care I took was due to my own nerves getting the better of me. Because this guitar was being made for Skye, I had the sneaking suspicion that it would eventually be seen by one of my personal guitar repair and tech heroes, luthier John Woodland. If the name sounds familiar, he’s the designer of the oft-lauded (and life-affirming) Mastery Bridge, an aftermarket replacement for the stock unit on Fender offset guitars. He also is the first-call repairman for the likes of Nels Cline, whom you may know from my numerous, nearly incoherent ramblings on the subject of best guitarists ever. And Wilco. Also the Nels Cline Singers. He’s also done work for Skye in the past, and Skye later confirmed that this guitar will probably make its way to him someday. So, you get my gist? I’m saying I was frigg’n nervous.

As for the fret job, there’s really not much to tell. It actually went quite smoothly. Go figure. Once the StewMac #148 frets were perfectly level and crowned, and with ends invisible to the hand, I moved on to the body. Oh, the body.

Half futuristic raygun, half Victorian brass automaton.

This is where things got really tricky. Being that the body was from AllParts it’s no secret that they’re made to fit MIJ parts. This meant that there would be some required modification for proper fitting of the various parts we’d chosen for the project. For instance, the vintage, American-made neck wouldn’t quite fit the pocket, so I armed myself with a few files and went to work. Other necessary routing and drilling to the body included widening the tremolo cavity by a fraction of an inch to accommodate the vintage ’63 unit, the rhythm circuit cavity was too shallow for the wheels to turn freely, bridge thimbles had to be drilled and the lipstick behind the bridge had to have a special route added to the body. Luckily, John provided a kickass hand router with an ingenious depth stopper thing, so without wanting to show you pictures I can confirm that it looks fabulous.

I'm super excited about those brass wheels!

That was a lot of work. Luckily, wiring and assembly was far less vexing, with a fairly straightforward pickup selection scheme. The Jaguar control plate currently controls the three main pickups, with a simple on/off switch for each pickup. We’ve done away with the traditional rhythm circuit, replacing it with dedicated controls for the lipstick. This might change, as neither Skye or myself really knew what would work best at the time. We may move the lipstick to the last on/off switch on the Jag plate, leaving the upper-horn controls to govern the tone and volume of the Gold Foil, which might actually work a lot better as far as blending options go.

Once the guitar was together I really started digging this offset oddity. I wasn’t totally sold on the unfinished appearance of the body at first, but with everything in its right place I have to say that I’m partial to the D.I.Y. aesthetic of the piece as a whole. All of the colors at play on this guitar seem to blend well together; the three separate wood tones contrast nicely with the mix of gold, brass and chrome reminiscent of an old grandfather clock or a pocket watch. Now that I think of it, if you’ve ever seen the meant-to-be-sweet-but-is-creepy-as-hell kids movie Return To Oz, (Disney’s amazingly bleak sequel to the well-loved and far less jarring Wizard of Oz) you might even be reminded of Tik-Tok and Princess Mombi’s palace. I know I am. *shudders* *head rolls off*

Skye's guitar is this picture.

And, while I’m talking about the metal on this guitar, may I draw your attention to the brass thumb wheels! I’m really, really proud of them, but the look came about completely by accident. I had to enlarge the post holes of those wheels because they wouldn’t fit on what were supposed to be the correct pots. While drilling them out (which, let’s face it, is not a good idea) a wandering drill bit worked away at the black finish on these parts, exposing the shiny yellow metal hidden within. Coworker and BFF for life Mike Ball had the brilliant notion to machine away the black leaving behind only smooth brass with plenty of tooling marks in tact. I think the effect is quite alluring!

The stars of this show really are the DeArmond Gold Foil in the middle position and the lipstick in the far back position. If you aren’t familiar with them, Gold Foils are exceptionally loud, balanced pickups usually found on bargain brands from the ’60s. While the guitars have a sort of “love ’em or hate ’em” reception in the guitar world, the pickups are undeniably fun to play. I can’t remember what this particular one measured, but it’s loud for sure. Loud enough that it’s just slightly out-of-balance with the Lollar JM pickups that surround it, but not in a bad way. Gritty, thick and meaty. It’s really fun to engage this pickup in combination with either Lollar as you would engage a boost pedal or a third channel.

The Novak lipstick is absolutely the most fun aspect of the guitar; Jazzmasters already exhibit the quirky-but-cool overtones of the excess string that lives at the tailpiece, but with a dedicated pickup wired in series these tones take on a life of their own. A sort of cool, ghost-like chorus effect happens with the lipstick and one of the other three pickups engaged, where you can barely distinguish the jangly, “what’s that sound?!” nature back there.

My favorite trick, though, is turning off the main pickups and engaging the lipstick, bumping up the gain and strumming hard in the normal position. This causes a buzzy, droning effect with plenty of character while the normal chords poke through the cacophony. This alone makes me want to hack up my Sonic Blue so I can have fun too.

Any excuse to post this photo is good enough for me.

At the end of all of this, Skye seemed blown away by this guitar, and even his mother, whom he brought with him, was thrilled about it. As Skye’s fingers danced on the fretboard, going from free jazz to noise in an instant’s notice, those of us in the store were mesmerized by something completely new and completely unique. “That sounds beautiful!” his mother exclaimed repeatedly.

And it did. We were fully prepared to show you the super-cool demo video we recorded in celebration of this amazing guitar, but alas, it was deleted purely by accident and not because I played terribly. Not at all. Maybe Skye will be kind enough to let us borrow it again…

The whole gang! (minus BFF Ball)

UPDATE: BIG, BIG thanks goes out to the great folks at Mastery Bridge for drawing attention to this build. I’m honored that Skye trusts me enough to let me have at it, but I never expected the good vibes to spill over like this.

If you’re coming here from the Offset forums, cheers! It’s good to have you!

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Strymon TimeLine and Blue Sky Reverb available

I have 5 of each. They will not last long so contact us if you want one.

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