Double cutaway Telecaster pickguard

A friend is putting together a double cutaway Telecaster and needed a pickguard. As far as I know no one offers production doublecut Telecasters, which means that pickguards for them aren’t available either, so I offered to make him one. Again, because of their scarcity, that meant I had to make the template from scratch. It was my first time making a pickguard and I hit a few snags that could easily be avoidable.

He sent me a drawing of the guard that I believe he made by copying a regular Tele guard. The drawing is available here. The scale is 1:1 so anyone should be able to print it and use it, which is what I did.

I got a 3/4″ thick¬†piece of plywood and that was my first mistake – it’s too thick. I had to use a lot of sanding drums (handheld and stationary), and the thicker the piece of wood, the smaller is the chance that all of it will touch the sanding drum at once. It also meant that it was impossible to make the straight edges straight. Like the back edge of the pickguard that sits against the bridge:

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See what I’m talking about? It’s tough squaring those edges on such a thick piece.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I was almost done making the template.
So I went ahead and got a 3/16″ piece of MDF/particle board. It was much easier to work the contours and straight edges with this piece. For instance, here’s that same back edge on the MDF piece.

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Not perfect, but well within the margin of error. Meaning that it’s easy to smooth those bumps on the pickguard itself.

 

Here are the two templates side by side. See how thick the plywood is!

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The next step was the toughest – cutting the hole for the neck pickup. Centering it isn’t a big deal, but how do you cut the hole at that exact width and with that exact profile (meaning the circular edges). The width of the hole as it’s drawn is 9/16″ exactly, but I wasn’t sure what was the radius of the sides (i.e. the half-circles). I practiced on the thick template by placing two straight pieces of wood 9/16″ apart and cutting with a router while avoiding doing the half-circles. I don’t remember why, but it didn’t work as well as I hoped. Then I found a 9/16″ spade bit, so I used that in a drill press. I spent a lot of time aligning it every time before lowering the bit down to drill.

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The dimensions are marked so I can have a visual reference when aligning the bit.

I didn’t take any pictures after the drilling, but I cleaned out the hole with a router – again I placed two pieces of wood 9/16″ apart and cleaned the route. This didn’t work as well as I hoped because those pieces of wood were kind of soft, and apparently had a couple of bumps, so the cavity didn’t turn out perfect.

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I mean, it’s not that bad.

Cutting the guard with a router wasn’t so bad. Although I did use a table router that only works at a frighteningly fast speed. Also, remember to move the piece against the direction that the bit is moving in. So if the bit rotates CCW, move the piece from right to left, or down-up, and not left to right. Going left to right, the router will just throw the piece away from you.

Then came my biggest blunder. Maybe you can tell from this picture:

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The half-circle for the control plate is on the left. I made a lefty pickguard and my friend is right-handed. I actually didn’t notice that at all until I sent him this picture and he asked if the picture was inverted. Of course, the template wasn’t cut for lefty. The problem was that I finished making the template at midnight after a really long day, so I wasn’t paying attention and taped the plastic to the wrong side of the template. So now I have a lefty double cut Telecaster pickguard. Very useful. So yeah, pay attention.

A couple of days later I went and cut a new pickguard. It actually turned out better than the first (nicer beveling, especially around the horns, better location of the pickguard screw holes).

 

Lastly, the countersinking of the screw holes – not sure what’s the proper Fender countersink bit, but I drilled a center hole and then used a 3/4″ countersink bit. I drilled a little, checked with a screw, drilled a little more, checked again, and repeat until it was the right size. It came out really well this way.

The template took the longest to make, so I wouldn’t recommend making a one-off guard for money. It was a worthwhile project and I learned a few important lessons, but god damn it took so long and I’m not at all interested in making another pickguard. Maybe I’ll learn how to use a CNC machine and make the next one with that.

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A friend gave me a free no-name 8-space lunchbox (see here if you’re not familiar). He said that it doesn’t work or works badly and he does not want to deal with it anymore, so yeah, I’ll take a free lunchbox. It’ll give me a chance to exercise what I’ve been studying.

The thing is shoddily made. The inside of the power supply (separate from the rack) is a mix of PCB and strip board, and has two transformers – I assume one is for the +/-16V and the other (much smaller) for phantom. And I guess that makes sense but the wiring is barf. It has Neutrik XLR ins and outs, but the power cable goes straight into the lunchbox. I’m going to replace that with an actual connector.

Anyway, I turned it on and got no voltage. Turns out the fuse is blown. I think if I put a new one in it’ll blow again, so I’m going to clean up the wiring and then see what’s up.

Meanwhile I worked on the actual rack. The XLRs soldered into the PCB, but it’s ok, because they’re held against the back panel. The connectors all use Torx screws to hold them in place, and man these are annoying to work with. However, the worst thing about it is that the holes for the screws (in the metal) are threaded, so removing the PCB from the back is a pain because some screws just get stuck in the metal. Here’s a picture to illustrate it:

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So I drilled them out and now it fits like this:

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I used a 5/32″ bit, but something a little smaller would have worked just as well.

I hope to get to the power supply soon, or at least to some other projects. I’m excited for school to be done soon so I can get my hands a little more dirty.

I got an HP 6205B bench power supply from eBay, so I can start breadboarding stuff. The left side’s output was constantly at 40V and didn’t respond to the pots. The service manual is pretty thorough and has a little section about what to do when that happens, and one of the suggestions is to check if A6 to A8 is open (or some other two connections with A prefix). These are two of the terminals on the back and there was no jumper between them. I jumped them and the left side was working. Ordering a jumper for it.

Then I cleaned the enclosure because it was really sticky. The panels that were easily removed I took to the bathroom and washed them in the tub with dishwashing soap and a toothbrush. The front panel and knobs I cleaned carefully with hot water, dishwashing soap, and q-tips. I also discovered that the bottom pots (for adjusting the voltage) are missing the toothed washer and nut. At the hardware store these measured 3/8″-24 (meaning the fit over a 3/8″-24 rod but loosely). In reality, they’re 3/8″-32. Ordering a few nuts and washers right now. Getting a few extra because they fit other pots and 1/4″ jacks, so they’ll be good to have around.

Fixed the MIM Strat with the broken truss rod

Back in February I wrote about how the truss rod on this guitar broke.

I hemmed and hawed about what should be the replacement neck. The priority was to get as close of a match as we can to the broken neck. So 9.5″ radius, medium C profile, and rosewood fretboard. I looked at Warmoth and Allparts, and Warmoth are expensive and have very long wait times. Allparts are more affordable, especially the unfinished necks, but I wasn’t ready to get into spraying lacquer again. Then it hit me that I should be looking for an actual MIM neck from around that same time (2004), because that’ll be the closest match. A few weeks ago I finally found it, and they’re almost exactly the same:

The last three pictures show the fit of the brass nut on the new neck. The new neck is slightly wider.

The first thing I did when I received the neck was to check how straight it was. With the truss rod loosened all the way and no string tension, the neck was straight when sighting down from the headstock. A ruler showed a slight bow, but it was pretty minimal. I’m mentioning this because the broken neck has a pretty serious bow with no string tension. Like, very visible from the headstock. No wonder the truss rod broke. I should have taken a picture of it when I still had it.

The frets on the new one are in a better condition and it plays better than the old one past the 12th fret. My friend is very happy with it, and so am I. I’m really happy this project is finally behind me.

One last picture from when my friend picked it up:

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Recording at Electrical Audio Studio B (April 30th-May 1st)

Last weekend my friend (I’ll call him NM) and I recorded a band (he also played drums on the recording) at EA’s studio B. We were both interns at Electrical, so we’re familiar with the studio and feel comfortable running sessions, my internship ended almost two years ago, so I had to refresh my memory on the signal flow in B.

The Neotek Series II in B was modified to have a fader reverse function, which makes the transition from recording to mixing smooth. This schematic (which is also hosted on Electrical’s website) shows it:

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Steve himself explains the mod very well in this recent thread.

Basically, with the “mixdown” switch in the up position, the mic signal (or line if “line” is pressed) goes through the channel strip (Phase, EQ, Gain) and comes to the “monitor” pot. The monitor pot controls the output signal to both the output buses and the direct out. By the way, set to 7 on the dial the monitor pot is at unity gain.

In this situation with the mixdown switch up, the tape returns come up at the faders. As can be seen from the schematic, the Cue sends are fed from those line returns (i.e. the signal coming to the fader). On the other hand, the Echo sends are post-fader, and while E2 can be switched to pre-fader, it actually takes the signal from output of the channel strip.

When “mixdown” is pressed, the tape return signal goes only to the “line” switch at the top of the channel strip, and then pass through the channel strip to the fader and pan (and bus assign). In this instance, the monitor pot does nothing.

The console has 8 output buses and those are normalled to inputs 1-8, then 9-16, then 17-24 on the multitrack. So let’s say if the kick is bused to bus 1, it’ll show up on tracks 1, 9, and 17. This means that the direct outs aren’t normalled anywhere, so to use the direct outs, the engineer has to manually patch them to the tape inputs. This is very important and got me stumped for a little bit.

Headphone mixes are done using a Furman system so each musician can set up their own mix. The drum mix should be made using the Cue sends (remember, those are real pre-fader), and the engineer can hear the Cue sends mix by pressing the “solo” switches in each Cue section. Everything else (like guitar, bass, vocals, etc.) should be patched from the tape outs. The tape outs are half (full?) normalled, so doing that doesn’t override where the tape outs are going.

As far as microphones and preamps, it was all very standard. We tried an AKG D112 on the kick reso head and a Senn MD421 on the beater side, and they didn’t capture enough attack and “oomf”, so we swapped the D112 for an EV RE20 and the MD421 for a Shure SM98.

We used Josephson e22s on the toms (both top and bottom) going through the Neotek preamps, but when NM used mallets on some songs, the preamps were clipping. I don’t think it was audible, but I ended up swapping things around and passing the e22s through the MX-35s because that was the only thing I had left with a pad. I’m not sure it was a better choice, but I didn’t want to take any risks. I tried listening to the toms and see if they sound distorted as I was getting levels, but NM has crazy dynamics, and his playing was always getting more excited while recording. So even though I wasn’t hearing any distortion while getting levels, it was possible that it would distort as they were recording, and then the take is ruined. With that being said, I think I should have been more sonic-ly¬† vigilant – I was watching the levels, but I should have been listening more.

My biggest misstep was not taking better notes of the signal flow. It wasn’t so bad when we were tracking basics, but when we started overdubbing and I had to change inputs in Pro Tools, I found myself following patch cords on the patchbay. I should have used a track sheet, labeled the preamps, and just write where everything was going. Another important thing is to keep a table of what’s being fed into the Furman system inputs. I fumbled with that a bit too. Lastly, I kept bringing back the overdubs to the first 24 tracks on the console, but it really would have made a lot more sense to just bring them up on the 24 and above faders. It’s a 36 channel console!

We’re going to record in studio B again in July, so I’m going to implement all these things then.

Oh, and here are some pictures:

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This is the spaghetti mess I was trying to follow. It was a bad idea. I made some mistakes!

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NM at the board!

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A fluffy coffee that was a joint effort between NM and me. The coffee-art looks like my cat Frostie!