December – March updates

Nothing fancy. Worked this week on an Aria Precise bass (a P-Bass knockoff). It’s a pretty neat bass, but needed a new volume pot and I felt like the neck was weird – I ended up maxing out the truss rod for acceptable relief.

I also had to replace the pickguard on that bass (owner wanted a different flavor, is all), and that required a lot of filing, scraping, and sanding to get it to fit right by the neck and over the pickups. A razor blade with a burr works really well for scraping here. Files are not great. The best tool for getting the pickup openings right is to take one pickup cover, put sticky sandpaper around it and use it to shape the openings. This maintained the right radii of the corners.

I also set up a friend’s Guild M-120. All Mahogany, made in China, and it sounded and played great. Fretwork was pretty much excellent, and the neck is straight with a very responsive truss rod. For that price, you really can’t go wrong with those guitars.

Also re-wired an EV RE 664 with an XLR connector and at the same time eliminating the Hi-Z output. I’ll make a post about that later.

I also finished (in December) my second rack. It turned out pretty well, about as good as the first one did. I had a few mishaps, the biggest of them was that even though after I dry-practiced for more than 5 times, when I came to glue it together, things weren’t square so I had to take it apart while the glue was starting to set. It was incredibly stressful and I had to clean the glue out of the joints with a lot of water, which warped the the wood a bit, but like I said, it turned out fine. I’ll probably write a whole post about the new rack, but for now here are some pictures:


Also worked on a few other guitars in the last few months, as well as my own Stratocaster. I “inlayed” a piece of mahogany in the neck pocket:

Also leveled its frets. Also it probably needs a new nut.

I’m also building some drawers for my works area, but more on that when they’re done next week hopefully. Maybe I’ll write a whole post about it.

That’s pretty much it other than little jobs.

Harmony Bobkat gets a Tune-O-Matic bridge, clean up, and a setup

My friend’s guitar that I worked on over two months ago. I just didn’t have the time to write about it in detail until now.

It seems like it sat in someone’s closet for a while after someone made an interesting modification to it – the neck was glued to the neck pocket. Also there was glue all over the body of the guitar under the pickguard. I forgot to take “before” pictures, but basically, the neck had one very small point of contact with the neck pocket, and the screws were still used to hold it in place. If the screws weren’t used, the neck would have snapped out under string tension. No doubt about it.

I saw that the point of contact was tiny, so I decided to just dislodge the neck out. That’s dumb. Don’t do it. Use steam or heat or how water. This is what it looked like when I did that:


Not horrible, but it could have been cleaner maybe. Also, this is a testament to the bad gluing job.

I pulled out that big splinter and glued it back to the neck. It was a weird fit. Actually taller than the neck.


I shaved it down with a chisel so that it’ll be flush with the neck.

Next I cleaned up the neck pocket and body of the guitar from all the glue. I wish I took pictures after it was done because as you can see from the first picture in this post, there was a lot of glue.


The next step was installing a Tune-O-Matic. That was a bit of a big deal for me because I’ve never done it before and it’s also kind of a big modification to the guitar, but it turned out well and made the guitar more playable.

My friend wanted a Kalamazoo style TOM installed. These are the ones with the “skinny” posts and require less precision to install. However, I saw that StewMac makes a fancy and expensive tool for installing these, so I thought I’ll make one myself. It took some drilling tapping, and playing around with it, but the result turned out ok (at first).


My tool in action.

I set to get the posts 3/4 of the way in, and the tool worked well at first, but as the posts were getting deeper, the tool ended up turning in place instead of pushing the post further into the guitar. At some point I mangled one post and realize that I what I’m doing isn’t working. I googled around a bit and found a really simple and cheap solution. I can’t find the links, but here’s the gist of it:

The posts have 6-32 thread count/size. Get a a 6-32 nut and the appropriate nut driver. Now take the thumbwheel and thread it on the post. Now take the nut and thread it against the thumbwheel (coming from the “top” side of the post). Tighten the two against each other real hard. Like, really hard. Now you use the nut driver to drive the post into the guitar. Super easy and simple, and would have saved me a lot of time and trouble. Seriously, I don’t know why anyone would use the StewMac tool, which admittedly is nice but very expensive.


All good!

Next was grounding the guitar. The original bridge was made of wood, so no one thought to ground the guitar. What it meant was that the strings and the hardware were at one potential that was different from ground (0V). Things weren’t going to be any different with the TOM installed because it too has no path to ground. One solution is to drill through the body cavity into where the posts go. That was going to take a lot of precision and a special drill bit. Instead I opted for something much simpler. I used copper tape to make a path between the treble side TOM post and one pickguard screw hole.


Then I wired a little ring to the electrical ground.


The following electrical path is formed: bridge -> copper tape -> pickguard screw -> electrical ground (via the ring and wire). Now the guitar is grounded! Here’s what it looks like with the pickguard on. The only thing to keep in mind is to not over-tighten the one screws that holds the ring in place or the pickguard will break.


You can barely tell it’s there!

Lastly, what was left was to set it up. My friend uses 52 strings and tunes down to C, and course, I compensated for that + intonation before drilling the holes for the TOM posts. Anyway, the neck had a bit of a backbow because the wasn’t a lot of string tension on it. It’s also possible that not being glued in changed something, but I doubt it. So I was set to adjust the truss rod, but couldn’t get nut driver in there. The nut looked like it’s 1/4″ but it won’t turn. I tried 5/16″ driver following the suggestion of a friend, but that didn’t work either. After further inspection, I realized that I can’t really fit the driver in the little “bed” under the nut. So I pulled out my tiny chisels and excavated a little bit of wood from that area so I can fit the tool in there.


Very small amount of material removed.

Now that I was able to fit the tool in, the nut wouldn’t budge. I know better than to force it, so I talked to a friend who’s the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to guitars. He said that there’s a good chance the rod is broken, and if not – it could break easily. He admitted to breaking one before and said that 50% of Bobkats he saw had a broken truss rod. He didn’t have any tips for undoing the nut, but I appreciated him telling me that these truss rods are fragile.

I squirted a tiny bit of WD-40 on the nut and rod and let it sit for maybe 10 minutes. Then when I came to adjust the nut, it turned without having to apply force to it. Great! So yeah, if you have a truss rod nut that’s seized, give it a squirt of WD-40.

I loosened the rod and the guitar played really well.

These guitar are made horribly, but the pickups sound absolutely fantastic. Really made me want to get a couple of goldfoils.

Here are some pictures of the guitar. Other than the ridiculous gluing mod, it was in a decent condition.

Upgrading a MIM Strat, and then the truss rod broke

Yes, you read it right. The truss rod broke, and it is a huge bummer.


I started by removing the old pickguard, electronics, and bridge, and discovered that some of the bridge mounting holes need plugging. One had a plug that came loose, and the other needed a partial plug. My new plug is seen closer to the camera, and the old plug that I reglued is at the sixth screw away from the camera:


I always shave off the plug with a razor blade. I have two violin carving knives, and they have their use, but the razor blade is real sharp and I can hold it flat against the surface.

The bridge before I cleaned it:


I took 0000 steel wool to it and it restored its sheen.


With the new Graphite String Savers saddles:



Next I roughed in the nut. My friend wanted a brass nut which is the only reason the old one was being replaced. The neck has 9.5″ radius and the nut slot is curved, so I put some 220 grit (or maybe even coarser) between a couple of frets and started sanding down the blank until the bottom matched the radius. I used the old nut to copy the string spacing. I usually plan out and put down the spacing myself, but the old nut had good spacing.


Next on the bench were the electronics. This guitar was being turned from a standard strat into a two pickup (both are Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounders) guitar with two volumes, on tone, and a 3-way switch. A word on the quarter pounders: they’re not meant to fit into any pickup covers. Also, even if you had covers big enough, they won’t fit into any standard pickguard. I actually called Seymour Duncan to verify that. I took some pictures while I was wiring the thing up.

Ok, maybe just one before and one after. Next I finished the nut and it came out really nice, I think.


I ended up rounding the corners a bit more after I took this picture. This was my first brass nut and it came out really well. Also, brass is more fun to work with than bone. The files don’t seize like they do with bone, and it’s easier to get a feel as to how much material is removed. It’s harder than bone, but it’s still a soft metal so it’s easy to work with.

Then came the setup and the broken truss rod. By broken truss rod I mean that it broke from the anchor. The nut would go on the rod and down the slot, but at some point it’ll just keep spinning in place. Here are the odd things I noticed about the neck and possible things I did wrong:

– I was fine tuning the nut and action, and needed to straighten the neck. So I tightened the truss rod by 1/4 of a turn, maybe even less and the neck got straighter, as one would expect. But then after maybe 10 minutes the neck was bowed again. This isn’t normal really, and I didn’t think much of it. Also, I kept changing the action at the bridge, and the strings go tuned to pitch and de-tuned, so I figured it’s within the realm of possibilities that the neck would be bowed again, even though I’ve never seen that before. This thing repeated itself maybe two or three more times: Tighten the rod, everything seems straight, then a few minutes later the neck is bowed again. This should have been the first warning sign. It’s not normal for a neck to get bowed after ten minutes, and definitely not normal if it happens several times.

– I removed the truss rod nut to see if anything was wrong with the threasd (and also lubricate it). Screwing it back on the rod was a struggle. Because the rod is adjusted from the headstock, it is a real pain to get the nut to thread on the rod. I actually used force to get it to catch on the rod. That probably didn’t help the truss rod.

– I kept tightening the rod under string tension. With healthy rod that’s not a problem, and I pretty much always tighten the rod under string tension and it’s never been a problem (but could be one with 12 strings). Usually the guitar “lets” me know if I need to detune the strings to tighten the rod – it’ll just resist more.

I took the guitar to a luthier in town for a second opinion. I never worked with him, but I’m always impressed with his work when I see it. He pointed out a few things. The first was that with the strings slack and the truss rod not functional, the neck was really bowed (concave, like too much relief), and it should actually be straight. If it has no string tension and it’s concave, imagine how much more it’ll be with strings on, and how much work you’ll ask the truss rod to do to resist that. That’s what I witnessed, essentially. I was tightening the rod and it wasn’t making the neck straight. The second thing he pointed out was that the truss rod might have been shot, or was going to break soon anyway.

The more I think about it, I think the truss rod was boinked already. I’ve adjusted a lot truss rods at this point. I know what it feels like when they reach their limit. It’s like when you turn a bottle cap, it gets gradually harder to turn, right? This wasn’t really happening with this guitar, even before I took off the nut! The resistance from the nut was constant.

However, since I take pride in what I do, I took full responsibility over what happened and I’m now looking for a new replacement neck.

Jaguarillo gets new pickups and setup

This guitar is a friend of a friend’s. I worked on his acoustic before and I guess he was happy enough with it to come back. Sweet!

Jaguarillos are Jaguars but with two strat pickups and a humbucker in the bridge. The guy wanted to change the pickguard, and replace all the pickups – Novak lipsticks in the neck and middle position, and a Manlius Stud-Bucker in the bridge.

The pickguard needed some work because the humbucker wouldn’t fit. The radii of the corners were too big:


I already started working on it when I took this picture, see the bottom left corner.

I did the whole thing with files (Nicholson Handy File and a round file) and a razor blade turned scraper. It came out ok (forgot to take a picture), but not my best work. It would have been much easier to do with a router.

The rest of it was straightforward, except that when I put it all together I noticed that the tremolo clicks when actuated. This is a thing with the cheap, import tailpieces, and it can be avoided depending on how high or low the tremolo arm is set up. However, the owner of this guitar wanted me to set up the lock so the guitar can stay in tune if a string breaks, so I had to go in and start filing.

Mike & Mike Guitar Bar posted about this before, so that’s where I got the idea. You can read what else they wrote about import tailpieces here. Basically, I filed every surface so it is flat. I think that at the very least the molding marks should be knocked off, but if the plate is off the tailpiece and you’re filing, might as well go the extra mile.

There was one little problem that is worth mentioning – the Stud-bucker had only two leads – hot and shield. So the middle+bridge position were out of phase, and flipping the leads couldn’t fix it. The reason it couldn’t be fixed is because then the shield (and pickup casing) are hot, but the rest of the metal parts (and strings) of the guitar are ground. Then if the player touches both the pickup casing and the strings, or bridge, or any other metal parts, the signal will short. FWIW, Manlius offers these (and I assume all humbuckers) with coil taps, so the polarity of the pickup can be flipped. Here are a few pictures I took after it was finished:

J Mascis Jazzmaster rewire + goldfoil at the bridge!

This is my friend’s Jazzmaster. He asked me to install a Curtis Novak Goldfoil at the bridge, and rewire the guitar for two separate volumes and tones (using the rhythm circuit for the tones), and a kill switch.

I used this schematic, credit goes to Sigler Music Center in Arkansas:

JM two vol two tone kill sw

What I did differently is that I used linear pots for the volumes and log for the tones, and the kill switch is on (signal passing through) when it’s at the bottom. The switch being on when it’s at the bottom makes more sense because the player is more likely to hit it strumming down. Also, that’s what my friend asked for.

Without strings on, I thought there was too much of a hum in the middle position. I say too much because my setup here isn’t the quietest, being so close to the train and all. That made me think that the goldfoil’s magnet isn’t oriented so that its north faces the opposite direction than the neck pickup’s north. In other words, the neck pup and goldfoil aren’t RWRP.  However, the original bridge and neck pickups measure very close – 100 ohms different, with the bridge being the hotter one, of course. I told my friend about it and we decided to use the Mascis bridge pickup in the neck position. I put strings on it, and no hum.

I haven’t had a chance to really play through an amp and see how I like the volume pots being linear and the tones being logarithmic (it was too late when I was done), so I moved on to non-amplified setup. Basically, the low E string was slipping out of its saddle, and the radius of the bridge (TOM) didn’t fit the radius of the fretboard (9.5″), so I had to file the saddles a little bit.

This guitar is almost done, just need to hear it amplified.

Guild F-30 end block crack repair

This is an old repair that I never wrote about, but I learned a lot of important stuff from it, so I think it’s worth being documented.

My Guild F-30 was shipped with a cracked end block. I don’t know if it was cracked prior to shipping (bought it from Guitar Center’s used section, so not a lot of pictures), or if it cracked during shipping (the end pin wasn’t removed from the block). Anyway, it was cracked and I took my time figuring out how to fix it.

Frank Ford has a pretty good guide to fixing those cracks. I kept reading this one and going back to it. I think Frank Ford is the authority when it comes to guitar repair and I always try and follow what he does. I know his website looks rinky dink because it’s HTML, but the guy is a wealth of knowledge.

Now to the crack itself:

First a picture of the crack on the outside, taken right after getting the guitar.


Not the best picture, but it shows what was up.

And the crack from the inside:



Notice that there are these streaks along the crack? These baffled me. They looked like that could be glue, but the crack was still open. Also, They seemed to be “on the surface”, so I figured that if it’s glue it’s not epoxy, which coat the surface, and is probably CA glue. It didn’t make sense for it to be anything but glue, because why would anyone smear something on the end block?

Removing the previous glue is important, because it would prevent the glue I’d be using to adhere to the wood. So I took some acetone, and very carefully got it in and swabbed the crack. The streaks are gone:


Notice the wax paper inside the guitar. I don’t need any acetone accidentally dripping on the sticker inside and ruining it. Same thing on the outside, I wrapped the top with parchment paper in case any dripped.

Ok, cool, so it’s superglue. Now I needed to remove it from the inside of the crack. The obvious candidates to getting inside the crack were q-tip (not that great) and brushes. I tried different brushes that I had around, but none were long enough and thin enough to reach the entire crack. So I went and got a really thin fan brush. I need to take a picture of it, but it fit in the crack easily. Just dip it in acetone and get in the crack. Like Frank Ford, I used a long clamp to push the end block inward so the crack would open.


Checkout John Fahey’s How Bluegrass Music Ruined my Life, also parchment all over the top, and cork to prevent damage to the finish.


The crack is clean at this point, so it was time to figure out how I’d glue it. Like Frank Ford, I decided to use Titebond Original and reinforce the block from the inside.

I made a reinforcement patch with its dimensions matching the end block. The patch (as you can see in the picture) is beveled: on the top  the beveling starts 2.3cm from the edge, and on the sides it starts 1.6cm from the edge. Honestly, I don’t think the amount of beveling matters that much. The piece is 1/8″ thick in the middle.


I forgot what piece of mahogany it is, but I got it from a lumber yard, and it’s real mahogany as opposed to whatever tree that looks like mahogany but isn’t.

For what it’s worth, this was my first time making a patch like that. I wasted a lot of mahogany trying to thin it. Shaping it was easy with sandpaper.

I experimented with clamping a bit. One spool clamp through the end pin hole, and thick acrylic cauls on the inside and outside. That was given, and also what Frank Ford does. Clamping it top to back wasn’t so obvious to me. I tried spool clamps, but they didn’t provide enough clamping pressure. Someone suggested trying quick clamps, and those did it – the crack was closed shut.

One way one could get the glue in the crack is using  a filler gauge or palette knife, but what made most sense was get the whole bottle inside the guitar. I just aligned the glue bottle’s nozzle with the crack and squeezed. I got a lot of glue and got it all over the place. That was fine. It’s an easy cleanup.

Check out how much the crack was open when I pried it open with a clamp between the end block and neck block:


Whole lot of glue:


Spool clamp coming through:


Nice and clean before the mahogany patch goes on:


Patch is on  and clamped:



A word on getting the patch on: With a long threaded rod, the patch bumps against the braces and it’s impossible to get it on the block. What should be done is pull the rod back so it only sticks a little bit on the inside, then reach in with the patch, hold it against the block, and push the rest of the rod in. Then get the other end of the spool clamp on, and tighten the wingnut. Yeah, I bet if you read this now you wonder why is the wingnut end is on the inside. It’s not easy tightening it from the outside with the quick clamps on.

Here’s what it looked like from the outside:



And one more after it dried for about a day.



I think I did a good job!

P-Bass fret level and sending off my Jazzmaster

My friend brought his P-Bass in a few weeks back for a setup. I set it up and eliminated most buzz, but it still had some he was unhappy with. It wasn’t anything that come through an amp, but he likes playing it unplugged, so I suggested I’d level the frets.

I leveled the frets and still buzzes. I leveled it again and added more fallaway, and it still buzzes in the middle of the neck. I tried swapping saddles, I tried shimming the front of the neck pocket, and even the back for the heck of it (even though it shouldn’t really help), and nothing really does it. I tried a straight neck and add some relief – nothing. Only thing that helps is raising the action. I think I did a good job leveling the frets, so I don’t really know what’s up with it. I’m going to need more time to think about it and figure it out.


In other news, my Jazzmaster sold on eBay. It was kind of bittersweet because it’s a nice guitar and I enjoy(ed) playing it, but not enough to keep it. USACG’s wrong corners on the body really get to me. So yeah ,that got sold and packed and out the door. So long, my first build! Maybe we will meet again. I hope you end up in the hands of someone who’ll be really excited to play you!