Converting to Baritone? Read This!

This week a customer came in wanting to have his Telecaster set up for baritone strings and tuned to A. He had bought a few sets of D’addario strings for baritone guitar .and was hoping all it needed was a restring. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite that simple and I’ve been mulling over our conversation ever since.

I felt bad about our initial conversation; I hate being the bearer of bad news, and when a job isn’t as cut-and-dry as the customer thinks, I often feel regret that things aren’t so straightforward. Ultimately he chose not to go through the process, saying he might try just throwing the strings on himself. I didn’t intend to discourage him from having fun, but I thought it important to let him know the ins and outs of doing this change properly. So, what gives?

He then added, "Why so serious?"

Well, there are a few things to consider when experimenting with the baritone alternative lifestyle (not that there’s anything wrong with that):

The Fender Bass VI

First, when we say baritone there might be a couple of different definitions at play. To my mind, the word immediately conjures the sound, look and feel of old Fender and Danelectro guitars, such as the Danelectro Longhorn and U2 models and the venerable Fender Bass VI. These instruments were proper baritones, yielding an extended scale length (27″ to 30″ are most frequently seen) and much thicker strings. Both of the aforementioned instruments were ubiquitous within the realms of Country, Surf and Spaghetti Western themes, enjoying a spate of renewed interest in the 80s and 90s thanks to fuzzed-out Shoegaze bands and Surf revivalists.

Danelectro U2 Baritone

In more modern terms, a Baritone guitar might also refer to down-tuned metal guitars, either made with heavier strings in mind or offering a longer scale and hot pickups. 7- or 8-string guitars also fall under this category, and companies such as Ibanez, Gibson, ESP and PRS have made models like this finding success in the newer Metal market. It seems as though some bands are taking the challenge seriously, finding out just how many strings they can put on a guitar and how low they can tune them.

Why does this matter?

Obviously, these guitars have vastly different tones, and chances are if you’re looking for a spanky, slinky tic-tac tone to fill in the gaps on your next drenched-in-verb Surf tune you’ll not find what you’re looking for with an Ibanez Marten Hagstrom 8-string. Vice versa, Metal players might not appreciate the jangly voice of Danelectro lipstick pickups as their main sound, especially at high, feedback-inducing volumes. To be frank, it’s your purpose that dictates the kind of instrument or strings you’ll choose, and your tonal end goal has a lot to do with which route you take.

Ibanez Marten Hagstrom 8 string guitar

As for the second point of interest, you may want to ask yourself, “What tuning will I use?”  If you’re going down to D or C standard (D isn’t technically a baritone tuning, but it is lower than standard so I think this applies) there may not be too much of a difference in terms of set up on an standard-scale instrument. For instance, I’ve had great success tuning my Les Paul Standard down to C standard for chunky riffage with nary a tweak of the truss rod. If you’re going as low as B, A or even E, you may need to think about not only a thicker gauge of string, which I’d say is necessary for retaining a similar feel at such tunings, but a longer neck as well. Such low tunings require an extended scale length for proper intonation, fret placement, and to accommodate the added girth and tension of  baritone guitar strings. If you stick with a standard scale length, you’re going to have to drastically change the set up of your guitar.

In the above customer service story, the strings he chose were D’addario Baritone strings gauged 013-.062″, meant for a scale length of 29 3/4″. Trouble is, standard scale for a Telecaster is 25 1/2″ and the guitar was set up for the .010-.046″. That’s a big difference, and not easily overcome without some modification. This means that, had we used those strings, the nut would need to have its slots widened for the strings to seat properly. Of course action and neck relief would have been addressed, but there was little chance that the guitar would even play in tune with such low notes on slackened strings. Honestly, I couldn’t see the point in charging for a job I wasn’t convinced would work out.

I talked to him about different strings but altering the nut was the sticking point. One can easily cut deeper or wider slots in a nut, but it’s not as easy (or cheap) to cut a brand new one. If you’re looking to go back and forth between baritone and standard tuning, why not spend a modest sum on a second guitar? Of course, not everyone has cash to drop on guitars right now, but the going prices on Craigslist Seattle for low-end baritone guitars is between $150-$400. For a player looking to not do a lot of damage to a favorite axe, that’s a paltry sum! Plus, it’s never hard to move a bari; guitarists are always looking for a cool new tone, and once you play some root-position chords at A standard, it’s hard not to throw down money on the spot!

 

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The Coolest Amplifier I’ve Ever Seen in My Life. Period.

Holy crap, you guys. I wish I could have gotten in on this! In my opinion, the grille cloth replacement actually enhances the look of this amp, lending a Lucas-approved tone to the already spacey vibe of this old Supro.

"Hokey religions and ancient amplifiers are no match for a good blaster by your side, kid." -Han Solo

Yub Yub!

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1964 Gibson ES-335 Appraisal

Happy new year! Tired of hearing that yet? Not us. Here at Leading Tone, we’re all about milking the holidays for as long as we can.

Even with the aftermarket stoptail and chrome appointments, she's a beaut.

Just before Decemberween hit, I was asked to do an appraisal on what I was told was a ’62 ES-335. The serial number checked out for a ’62, but from the moment the case opened I knew it wasn’t a ’62. How did I know? Well, that’s the point of this article.

When doing an appraisal, I spend a great deal of my time taking notes on the instrument, examining components and noting features that seem inconsistent for the suggested year of production. I then take those findings and compare them with specs from the era, taking into account the changes that happened from month to month- especially with Gibson. For instance, Gibson felt no hesitation to use parts as they were available, meaning that you’ll find a few 335’s with nickel hardware well into the late 60’s even though chrome officially replaced nickel by ’66.

How, then, does one truly know the provenance of an instrument? In a case like this, it all boils down to looking not at one specific year and fitting the guitar’s specs into that mold, but rather looking at the range of years specific specs or parts were in production and narrowing it down from there. Think of it like a game of 20 questions; you start knowing nothing at all, and as you ask questions your focus narrows until you zero in on the final answer. It’s like CSI, but without Gil Grissom going on about bugs or how blood reacts to fine leather and fear. This is how we do it here at Leading Tone.

Call 'em horns, call 'em ears, call 'em what you will, but these bad boys are the reason for my skepticism. I love them.

Can you guess how I knew the guitar in question wasn’t a ’62? I’ll let you in on a little secret: Ears. Ears? Ears. Over the years, Gibson continued tweaking the look of the upper and lower horns (or “ears”) on 335s, and as such some years or groups of years show differences in the curve and shape of the ears. Here’s a handy chart I lifted from ES-335.org, which is THE source for information on ES models:

Can you see the difference? Now, see if you can pick out the ’64. Stumped? It’s letter C. Let’s look at each:

A) The ’58 “almost Mickey” ear, not quite as full as B.
B) The classic ’59-’63 “Mickey Mouse Ear”, considered the most appealing style and is        highly coveted. Pay attention to the line inside towards the neck.
C) ’64-’67 sharper horn, marking a drastic difference in look from the previous years. This shape is my preference.
D) Ears became more rounded in ’68
E) ’69-mid 70s
F) Late 70’s sharp horn.

Also worth noting is the waistline of these guitars, getting lazier and expanding as the years passed. There’s a joke to be made about American obesity, but I’m far too comfortable in this leather chair to bothered with it.

Ears are one telltale sign, but there are plenty others:

1) In ’63, the center block of the body received an additional cut-out to facilitate the installation of the wiring harness. Prior to ’63, the block was entirely solid and the pickup cavity looked like what you’d see on a Les Paul.

Detail of that '63 bridge pickup cutout for the electronics.

2) The orange interior label inside the bass-side f hole that tells us the model and serial number of the guitar has “Union Made” printed next to the info. This appeared in ’64. Regretfully, I neglected to obtain a detail shot of this one!

3) Tuners are of the Kluson Deluxe make, with “single line, double ring” configuration. This refers to the line of text stamped into the middle of the tuner enclosure and the two rings around the tuning key itself. These features only appeared between the years of 1960-1964.

Kluson "single-line, double-ring" tuners in all their stable, smooth glory.

4) The pickups on this guitar are of the nickel covered “Patent Number” variety which replaced the earlier “Patent Applied For” (P.A.F.) between the years of 1962 and 1965. After ’65, these pickups were chrome covered.

"Patent Number" pickups that will make you feel alive. Neck...

...and bridge with sticker intact.

5) The “Custom Made” plaque installed behind the bridge was discontinued in ’65 when more of these models came factory-equipped with either a “Trapeze” tailpiece or a Bigsby Vibrato.

6) Block inlays appeared mid-’62.

Sexy block inlays.

7) The nickel Gibson bridge (chrome mid ’65) has the telltale retainer wire (’58-75) and “GIBSON ABR-1” with corresponding foundry mark (’58-late ’64) and nylon saddles, which appeared in ’63.

Again, I neglected to get a good picture of that foundary mark, but do look it up on ES-335.org. That guy is the man.

Other smaller, but no less significant, details include the position of the “crown” or “flower pot” inlay, which moved frequently throughout the model’s history. This one is just above the A and B string tuners, so we can infer that it’s a pre-’67 model.

Also, the neck has what’s known as a “tenon”, which is the length of wood that preferably extends past the neck on a set neck guitar. This tenon extends well into the neck position pickup rout, which ended around 1970.

Some parts can be changed out, but if they’re original they can also be used to narrow down the year of a particular instrument. For instance, the four-ply pickguard is of the short variety (it ends before the ABR bridge) and has a wide bevel. The long guard was available until ’61, and after ’65 the short guard was given a narrow bevel. The truss rod cover exhibits the same change.

Also telling is the Gibson logo itself. It’s in the open ‘b’, open ‘o’ style that we see from the years of 1958-69. The Gibson logo changed a lot after that, from the letters closing and opening, the ‘s’ becoming quite lazy, and loosing the dot of the ‘i’ entirely. If you see a guitar that’s purported to be a ’60s instrument but is sans dot, beware.

After returning this guitar to its store-bought glory and writing up a report, I spent some much-needed alone time with it, and I can’t tell you how much I fell in love with this guitar. Sweet, singing neck pickup tones gave way to an unparallelled vocal presence in the middle position. The bridge was all-out, gloriously full pushed-mids thrill, and brought a tear to my eyes. Did I mention the neck on this thing? Wonderfully worn in by the same hand all of its life, this neck was smooth and fast, and not at all chunky or too thin. Really something, this one. I was sad to see it go.

If you’re interested in having your guitar appraised by Leading Tone, let us know! We’ll take on any project and treat your instrument as we would our own. Appraisals are $75, including a painstakingly researched evaluation of your instrument written up and printed on official-looking paper. We sign and date the document and stand behind not only its correctness, but also its viability for those using it for insurance purposes.

Don't care how, I want it NOW!

Bring your guitar in today!

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Fender Announces Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar!

With some non-standard (read: frustration minimizing) changes and killer tone, it’s safe to say this one will be a huge hit! I don’t know about you, but I’m interested…

From Fender.com:

“The Johnny Marr signature Jaguar is a fantastically non-standard version of the model that is as distinctive as the sounds Marr wrings from it, with a wealth of highly specialized features including:

  • Custom-wound Bare Knuckle® Johnny Marr single-coil neck and bridge pickups.
  • Custom-shaped maple neck based on Marr’s 1965 Jaguar, with vintage-style truss rod, lacquer finish and Marr’s signature on the front of the headstock.
  • Four-position blade-style pickup switch mounted to the lower-horn chrome plate (bridge, bridge and neck in parallel, neck, bridge and neck in series).
  • Two upper-horn slide switches (universal bright and pickup switch position four bright).
  • Jaguar bridge with Mustang® saddles, nylon bridge post inserts for improved stability, chrome cover and vintage-style floating tremolo tailpiece.
  • Tremolo arm nylon sleeve insert to prevent arm swing.

The guitar comes in Olympic White and new Metallic KO (a distinctive orange tint derived from the heavily faded Candy Apple Red finish of one of Marr’s favorite ’60s-era Fender models).”

That faded CAR sounds amazing, but the standard white finish is elegant. As for the other features, I approve; one of the first things I did when I bought a Jazzmaster was torque down the trem arm, so I’m excited that Fender finally fixed the arm play issue. A thicker neck is also welcome on this model, and I’m really interested to play those Bareknuckle pickups!

Awesome. Let’s all keep our eyes peeled!

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Gretsch Tennesseean With a Collapsed Jack!

Isn't she a rose?! I want one. Now.

Late last week, a customer brought us his cherished Gretsch Tennessee Rose, asking for a set up and a repair of an all-too-common ailment. The story goes like this: the owner let his friend borrow this guitar only to watch in horror as, during a performance, his guitar fell from a poorly-secured strap and crashed to the ground. This resulted in a gaping, gnarled hole in the body where the input jack once was. This friend then blamed the fall on the owner, saying “You need to get strap locks!”, and didn’t even offer to help pay for the repair. Some friend, eh?

In any case, this body damage looked really, really bad; immediately I could tell that, no matter what kind of woodworking magic I performed, there was no way to save the wood surrounding the input jack. Not simply cracked and caved in, the wood laminate had also splintered as far as 2 inches away from the hole, making for an extremely unstable location for such an oft-utilized component. Lucky enough, the electronics were in perfect working order, so the challenge here would be purely structural in nature.

When the guitar came to me, I suggested adding a plate of some sort to the lower bout of the guitar. This suggestion was met with wide-eyed excitement, as this was evidently the very thing on the customers mind. The problem with this solution was finding a plate big enough to cover all of the damage. Having spent some time looking for large or oversize jack plates, I knew it would be difficult to track down something that would adequately cover it all up. Additionally, the owner expressed interest in having the finish more or less intact, and as it stood the finish was cracked and lifting for some distance away from the damage. I told him I’d do my best with it, and that I’d try to prevent any more finish from lifting as I took on the task of bringing some much-needed stability into this guitar’s life.

A post-Dremel shot of the damage. The pre- was far too grisly to photograph...

The first thing I did after I determined that the damaged wood wasn’t salvageable was to get out my trusty Dremel and start cutting. This wasn’t difficult, but certainly required a steady touch to avoid further chipping and damage to the good wood. Since we would be adding a jack plate, I made sure to cut a hole large enough for the jack itself to fit through. Again, not difficult.

Then came the jack plate. I mentioned earlier doing some jack plate searches on the web, and in looking at the plates I could find, it was all too obvious that anything standard wasn’t going to do the trick: Les Paul plates were far too small to cover any of the damage let alone the hole I’d cut, Danelectro plates were closer but much too thin to be of use, and all of the other custom plates I’d found were highly stylized or just plain dumb-looking. I mean, it’s a jack plate; no one can see how badass that ghost-flamed, trucker-girl’d accessory is when you’re playing. Ugh.

But seriously, what to do? I mean, honestly, look at that! The hole itself isn’t so big, but the finish that’s been removed is going to be hard to cover without fabricating a custom plate, something that we aren’t exactly equipped to do at whim. the fact of the matter is, I spent nearly an hour googling and brainstorming, looking at not only guitar parts resources but also at domicile depots and cracker-jack hardware suppliers, all to no avail. “This is going to be harder than I thought,” I… thought.

Progress!

Just then, in a flash of divine inspiration, an idea settled upon my mind as a dove! A stroke of genius! I realized, “Michael, you’re going about this in the wrong way. You shouldn’t be looking for a jack plate, you should be looking for a neck plate.”

Whoa. I felt as though I’d learned kung-fu in a moment’s passing, as if the universe and everything in it coalesced in my minds’ eye, and it all made perfect sense- and simultaneously- none at all. I had reached a sort of techy Nirvana, and in that glorious passing of time I knew my path.

A few months back we’d purchased a guitar that seemed to be made from one of those cheap kits you can buy online. It was only half-finished, and the jury was still out on whether or not we’d get it in shape or simply part it out. Well, this guitar had a neck plate and I set about removing the neck in order to test fit it.

A perfect fit!

In holding the plate to the body, the fit was uncanny; not only would the plate fit the body perfectly but it would also cover up most of the damage! Score! The only things that needed to be done to the neck plate to make it a perfect fit were bending it to fit the curvature of the body and drilling a hole for the jack. The former was addressed with a soft dead-blow hammer and my nut vice, the latter easily accomplished with careful measurement and the step-bit we use for drilling out pedal enclosures.

After drilling the four pilot holes for the shortened screws we picked up, installation was a breeze and the final result looked amazing. Not only does the plate fit in with the overall aesthetic of the guitar, but it looks serious. I told John, “That jack isn’t going anywhere. If it does, it’ll be the rest of the guitar that breaks and not that plate!”

I’m really thrilled with how this project turned out, and I’m told the owner of the guitar was pleased as well. Success!

Not only was the fit perfect, but it looked right with all of the other hardware!

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When Relics Go Bad!

So, I stole that title from the Guitarz Blog, which if you’re unfamiliar it’s one of the greatest sites devoted to guitars on the web. Do take a moment to check it out, and come on back. We’ll wait.

***

Pretty rad, huh? Not only a great site, but great guys as well. I’ve commented on their posts with comments back from them in no time. Extremely informative and highly trustworthy especially on the subject of off-brand or copy instruments.

This post, however, revolves around a pet peeve of mine: homemade relic guitars. I tend to surf eBay and Craigslist in search of cool guitars at decent prices. Sometimes there’s a deal, but more often than not there’s a great instrument at an insanely high price with the seller having come across some downright bad information. You’ll see things posted at a “discount” from the MSRP, “improved” guitars and guitars like this “relic”.

But wha... I... they... the thi-... and... NOOOOOOOOOOO!

This guitar was, at one time, a Gibson ES-335. The model hasn’t changed of course, but my goodness! That finish! What happened?!

This sort of thing just depresses me. I see this guitar, and like an abused puppy, my heart goes out to it. I want to take it home and dress its wounds, care for it, and nurse it back to health. Then I want to play with it, as is natural for both dogs and guitars. Also, they both bark, wail, cry and howl. Enough with the dog/guitar comparisons.

Anyway, my heart breaks over these photos, and I can’t imagine paying that much for a guitar so distressed. Also, take a look at what the seller calls a “transition” between the finishes. Note the “Custom Shop” truss-rod cover and ruined headstock veneer.

It's less of a transition and more of a steep decline.

Now, who wants to buy me a big Christmas gift so’s we can intervene in the life of this lost soul?!

“There’s a fine line between clever and stupid.” -David St. Hubbins

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Nigel Tufnel Day- 11/11/11

Come celebrate with us!

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Satin Finish Rub-Out!

Polished-out, Cream-era vibe for not a lot of dough!

Satin finish guitars seem to be all the rage these days, specifically for their more affordable prices due to less steps in the finishing process. Manufacturers can worry less about mirror shine and consumers can more easily afford the guitar they really want as long as gloss isn’t an issue.

Having spoken to a few guitar owners now, I’ve heard of some latent remourse for not spending a few extra bucks–sometimes a few hundred— and getting the shinier version. There are a few common reasons I’ve heard over and over again:

1) Wishing the guitar looked classier
2) Being dissatisfied with the premature dullness of the finish
3) Finding that the guitar wears in an unappealing fashion, showing glossier patches where it’s played
4) Polishing shows every streak
5) Being as low-gloss as it is, the grain of otherwise pretty wood is obscured, especially with direct light

These are condensed, of course, but I’ve heard this a lot lately. The good news is, Leading Tone now offers a de-satinizing option for your factory-diffused guitar so that you too can know the goodness that is specular reflection.

I, for one, think this looks awesome. Sue me. (Don't. I'm not rich at all.)

Look at that 335! Now, keep in mind that your finish, unless refinished with a high-gloss clear coat, won’t ever look as mirror brilliant as a standard finish. It will, however, loose that dull and dirty look and appear more weathered than the satin finish will on its own. You’ll see muted reflections and possibly deeper grain, as well as the look of a guitar that’s seen its fair share of stage use. This Gibson guitar reminds me a lot of actual vintage 335’s I’ve played in the past, and is definitely a lot prettier than it was when it arrived. Silly me for not taking a before shot!

Bring your guitar in today for a quote!

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Christian’s Micro-Frets Plainsman!

Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to do some work on a truly rare and highly coveted instrument, and this one was no exception. For your edification, I bring you the Micro-Frets Plainsman.

The Micro-Frets Plainsman. Contrary to its name, this guitar has normal-sized frets.

This particular instrument belongs to Christian Wargo of Seattle’s own Fleet Foxes. Even though it’s been on the road with the band for quite some time, this guitar is refreshingly devoid of battle scars or wear, looking just as good as it probably did when it left the factory in the late sixties/early seventies. Just looking at this guitar is an exercise in reverence; frankly, you just don’t see these rare birds out in the open anymore, and these guitars are so coveted that they command a high price when they are available. They embody a progressive design ethos, with uncommon body shapes and construction techniques setting off a few innovations that were truly ahead of their time.

Micro-Frets' "Micro-Nut" makes life worth livin'...

One such innovation is the Micro-Nut, a fully-adjustable roller nut that’s stock on all Micro-Frets guitars. This nut allows for precise intonation settings at both ends of the string! That’s right, it’s entirely possible to keep your G string precisely in tune all the way up the neck! Remember, this was before the Buzz Feiten tuning system or Earvana compensated nuts. And, if you’ll notice in the above photo the notch cut out of the fretboard for the string that needs it the most. Easy to adjust, this nut makes an already great guitar even greater!

The Calibrato is easily one of my favorite units. Feels like a Bigsby, but adjusts more easily than a Floyd Rose!

Another stroke of geniusis the tunable vibrato system, called the “Calibrato”. At first glance, this thing seems almost pointless if not intimidating. I mean, it’s not like a Strat or Jazzmaster where the tension of the vibrato needs to be adjusted for feel- this thing works like a Bigsby in that the vibrato arm actuates via a spring directly beneath it. What really sets it apart is the ability to adjust the rate at which the strings are loosened. (This one doesn’t do up very well)

Here’s what I mean: When the guitar first arrived, I fell in love of course. Now, I’m a big vibrato guy, and employ it to great effect whether in small doses or full-on, arm-tiring cacophony. When I first depressed the lever, my ear picked up on the G string being out of tune. I quickly realized that, due to the current state of the Calibrato,  each string was detuning at a different rate relative to its behind-the-bridge position. “Intriguing…” I thought as I studied the marvel under my wrist.

Those six screws correspond to each of the strings, obviously. They each dictate the height of the anchors that hold the ball end of the strings, enabling one to “tune” the action of this vibrato. Brilliant! It only took a few minutes of experimenting to discover some magic ratios, and within ten minutes’ time I was not only dropping notes more pleasantly, but I was bending whole chords completely in tune! I’ll tell you: “Sleepwalk” never sounded so good! And I’m sure you’re dying to know that it always, always returned to proper pitch!

M-F’s locking bridge was also a welcome counterpoint to a then highly varied and sometimes under-designed component. If you take a look back through the annals of electric guitar history, you’ll see that each and every company had differing opinions of what constituted a decent bridge, with many simply mounting a non-adjustable bar somewhere in the middle of the body while others had rollers with adjustable spacing, 3-on-3 barrel saddles, wood, plastic and deceptively sturdy floating systems with locking everything. They were all over the place. In more recent times, it would appear that most iterations of this key piece of the puzzle have standardized, with most manufacturers offering double-locking trems, tune-o, adjust-o, stop- or hard-tail bridges and the classic “S-style” bridge. There are exceptions, of course, but most things seem to boil down to these categories.

The neat thing about this bridge is that it truly does lock. Each saddle has two thumb wheels on either side, allowing immobility when desired. I’ll be honest: this was a bit frustrating at first, especially when everything seemed to be pretty tight to begin with. I had to use a tiny flat screwdriver on the knurled sides of these wheels to get them to budge, but once loosened intonation went as smoothly as it would with any tune-o-matic.

Another nice feature that improves playability is that the Micro-Frets seems to have rollers galore. Both the nut and the frigg’n string tree have rollers, so there’s virtually nothing to impede bending to your heart’s content. One concession, though: the B string roller had a very deep groove in it, giving that string a propensity for popping the string in and out of tune. Word to the wise: keep those things lubricated!

And, while this isn’t a functional “feature” per se, the recessed, hidden controls nicely improve the overall look of this already non-traditionally elegant beast. In a familiar volume-tone-volume-tone configuration, the only thing that might make this feature more useful is an indicator of some sort. That’s a minor quibble, I’ll admit. The only other minor complaint I have about the guitar is the position of the high E string tuner in relation to the top fin of the headstock. It’s much too close to make tuning comfortable, but that peg head looks so cool I don’t know that I’d change it at all.

Well, on to the repair work.

The guitar came to me with a noise complaint. Upon plugging in, it was all too plain to me that there was an excessive amount of noise for a guitar that was seeing heavy stage use. Even with both pickups turned off (via the super-cool hidden controls!) it practically roared with 120 cycle hum. Strange.

I figured that the grounding was somehow inadequate, either from factory or an internal break, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I’d figured out how to get to the electronics. I knew the guitar would have to come apart, but how exactly I didn’t know. The Micro-
Frets body is constructed of two halves, stuck together by a series of tabs around the perimeter.  From what I could tell, step 1 was to remove the neck, as that was the only bolted-down portion of the guitar that extended through both halves.

Step 2: Don't drop it.

Holding the body, one must carefully separate the halves by pulling the back away from the front. That little metal bit on the lower treble bout should give a hint as to which direction.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Separation Anxiety!

With a little coercion, the back came off without so much as a snag. The halves of the body then opened up like a book, exposing the surprisingly barren interior. There really wasn’t a lot going on inside making my job that much more simple. Though I don’t really know what I expected other than space-age metals and Sci-Fi this-and-that.

Cylons. Cylons were what I was expecting.

Taking apart the Micro-Frets guitar was much easier than I expected, especially having searched the web to no avail for instructions, then pointlessly trying to wedge my fingernails between the halves like Data opening a turbolift door. He did this effortlessly, but alas, it was a television program. My real-life experience was much less… satisfactory. (Part of the purpose in my writing this article is so there would be some information available on this subject.)

Once inside the guitar, I set about diagnosing the wiring deficiency. With only a cursory inspection I was able to determine two things about the wiring. First, the wiring had been altered at some point, with cold solder joints and brittle wire. Secondly, that the ground connections themselves were not up to snuff. Since this guitar is traveling worldwide and will be knocked around a bit, I decided to go as overboard as possible in my ground connections.

This won't do at all!

I started by cleaning the pots with flux remover as they were caked with grime. Once they sparkled, I made careful notes about the wiring scheme and began the task of making a serious-as-hell ground buss.

John has plenty of heavy-gauge copper rods that he frequently uses in amplifiers, so I copied his usual format and soldered a length across all pots. While I was there I felt that the wire used from the pots to the switch, and also the ground, were at the end of their lifespans. I went ahead and used sturdier wire than probably necessary, all for the sake of killing that extraneous hum. I also cleaned and re-wired the switch and output jacks, and I made sure that my new ground wire wasn’t going anywhere by wrapping it around on of the screws on the Calibrato. In the end, I didn’t change out the tone capacitors like we normally would, knowing that Christian likes the way his guitar sounds as it is. Perhaps there would have been an improvement with paper-in-oil caps, but I really wouldn’t have changed anything about this guitar. It sounded glorious as it was, especially with those Hi-Fi pickups.

Cowabunga, indeed. Note the body tab in the lower third of this photo.

Another way in which a player can shield their guitar from excess noise is by lining the control cavity with foil tape, which I also did for this guitar. Shielding a hollow guitar can be hit-or-miss, specifically because there’s a lot of open space where noise can creep in, but this guitar had a sort of wall on the north side made of bracing, so I took the chance anyway.

It can be tricky to make sure that you have full continuity when shielding a guitar, but one trick we use here to cut a length of tape into thin strips, then affix them to larger pieces with both adhesive sides facing each other. That way, there’s always guaranteed to be foil contacting only foil. It’s a trick we use often with great success, both in customer’s guitars and in our own.

Nice. A little extra protection won't hurt....

With the guitar totally shielded, I set about putting it back together which was much easier than getting into it. Fully assembled and run into Fromel’s handwired 18W Fender/Marshall hybrid amp, the guitar sang without an unkind tone in the mix! Quiet as ever, this guitar passed my exceedingly stringent noise test with aplomb, and I was happy to have conquered the ever-present hum. And those pickups, like the best middle ground between P90’s and Jazzmaster pickups, won my heart and mind freely. What a blast! Early Christmas gift for Michael, anyone?

I love this job.

 

Posted in Guitar Repair, Things That Excite Us | 1 Comment

C. 1964 LG0 Restoration Pt. 4- Homeward Bound

Well, today was the day we saw a much-loved and carefully restored guitar back in the arms of its rightful owner. It’s always hard to say goodbye to instruments like this one, especially having spent well over a month with it in the shop. Still, I’m happy to see it in fine playing condition! Feast your eyes:

She turned out great! With all of the damage done to this family treasure, it was surprising to see it back in one solid piece, with cracks fixed and bracing intact. Tonally, this guitar started out sounding really thin and tinny, but that may have been a symptom of having sat unplayed for so long. After a few days of strumming (and a weekend session with the Tone Right) this guitar opened up a great deal, exhibiting a softer treble and a more pronounced bass. One can only imagine what this guitar will sound like after it’s been well-played again, its thin soundboard waking up, as it were.

Also worthy of note: the finish re-adhered to the top whilst I was cleaning up some glue residue. My intention was simply to re-heat some of the hide glue that had seeped out from under the bridge, but I noticed an unexpected side effect: the finish re-flowed! So, even though most of the finish is still dull and lifted, a good chunk of it actually looks like it should. I think it makes the guitar much more interesting!

Brent, its owner, seemed really happy to finally have it back in his possession. The smile on his face let me know that, like most of the instruments we work on, this is more than just a guitar to him- it’s a direct connection through time, a common thread which he can hold and touch that stitches his family history together.

Delightful.

Posted in Guitar Repair, Things That Excite Us, Uncategorized | 2 Comments