Here I Go Again

I felt the itch to build another guitar, so I decided to start a short-scale bass project, since I don’t own a short bass. I ordered a showcase body and neck from Warmoth last night. It will be a Sherwood Green mini Jazz bass. I plan on painting the front of the headstock to match the body.

The neck is a “Warhead” 30″ scale in roasted maple with a rosewood fretboard. The body is solid alder, weighing 4 lbs, 10 oz.

I started a build page for this project here: http://auralsensations.com/guitars/gregs/short-scale-jazz-bass-build/

Luxe Paul With Pickguard(s)

Here is the finished Luxe Paul with pickguards.

I’m a little conflicted about which I like better. I like the darker one because I hand carved it out of a sheet of material that is used in archtop guitars, it matches the binding and headstock, doesn’t have any screws, and seems a little more unexpected.  I like the redder one because it’s a Les Paul pickguard, adds color, and feels a little more finished.

Any thoughts?

Luxe Paul Assembly

I didn’t expect to assemble the Luxe Paul in one night, but when the body arrived after what seemed like forever, I was energized and motivated. One night was all it took for the basics. Fine tuning will be ongoing.

Glossy Finish

The pictures below show the body as it came from Warmoth. I just set some of the hardware pieces on top to see how much contrast there was going to be between the aged elements and the high gloss finish. If you look closely you can see how shinny it was, which I’m sure is why it took so long to get to me. Sadly for the people who did all of the polishing, I didn’t like the super high gloss finish because it made the rosewood look fake, as if the whole body was shrink-wrapped.

I sanded the body with 2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper, then polished it with the finest grade polishing papers, which I think were also 2000 grit. It matches the hardware much better now, though I still have some detail work to do.

Neck, Selector, Bridge and Bigsby

After sanding away the hard work of the folks at Warmoth, I attached the neck, the pickup selector switch, and then the bridge bushings & ground wire. I needed to make sure the Bigsby was aligned correctly before I drilled the holes for its screws, and I needed to have the bridge in place so that I could use fishing line to gauge the string locations.

Control Holes

I also needed the Bigsby to be in place so that I could see how much space the control knobs needed. That part pretty much came down to guesswork. I tried to measure the location from the bottom and back of the guitar and map it to the pre-drilled control cavity, but it was very difficult to trust that the measurements were accurate. In the end I decided to drill one 1/16″ hole from the inside of the cavity to the outside, then used that as a guide for the other hold locations. I used a step bit to increase the size up to 3/8″. It made some finish flaking, but it wasn’t too bad.

There was more wood between the control cavity and the top of the body than I expected, and when I tested the depth, the volume knobs were barely visible. I noticed this was due to a little locking mechanism that sticks up on the potentiometers, so I cut a slot for these into the cavity. After doing that, the knobs came through with enough threads showing so that I could lock them in place. There wasn’t enough room though for the locking washers that came with them, and this is why I ended up not using the copper shielding. I didn’t want to add more thickness, even though in hindsight it would have been a negligible amount. If noise becomes a problem later it won’t really be too hard to take the controls out and add the sheilding.

Soldering

Ordering the pre-wired harness from MSSC was really helpful. I don’t remember intentionally requesting the 50’s Les Paul wiring configuration, but it’s interesting. It retains the high end as you roll off the volume, and drops the volume slightly when you roll off the tone. I think I might like it better with a darker set of capacitors, but I think I’ll keep it this way for a little while and test it out.

The wiring harness came attached to a plexiglass plate, and I used this to hold the pots in place while I soldered the pickups and selector. The coil-tap pickups made the wiring slightly more complex, but only added a new connection for each pickup. I left the labels on that came with the harness so it would be easy to update things in the future. I also left the length of the wire as it came from Lollar. There was plenty of room for it.

An oddly thick pick came in the order from Lollar, and it actually was very useful for reinforcing the shafts of the pots. The control knobs I have were screw-in, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t crush them when I tightened the screws.

Setup, Pickgaurd and Final Details

I got lucky with the soldering and things seemed to work after the first try. I’m still adjusting the relief, action, and pickup heights to find a good balance, but sounds are coming out of the amp, and that’s encouraging.

I expected I would need to make a custom pickguard, and I ordered some tortoise samples to gauge the color. Today I found a similar one in a Les Paul style, so I bought it and will try it out to see ifI get luck with the measurements.

In general the only real issue with the guitar right now is that its weight isn’t evenly distributed, and it doesn’t feel balanced. I think I might need to sacrifice the heavy volume and control knobs to see if that helps. Another option will be to replace the metal pickup rings with plastic. Aside from drilling holes into the back to weight-relief it, I’m not sure if there is anything else I can do about it.

What Would Joe Do?

Luxe Paul Neck Prep and Finishing

The replacement label for the Luxe Paul arrived on Monday and I applied it to the headstock the same day. It was much thinner than I expected, and was very difficult to align correctly. It dried quickly and when I looked closely, I saw many wrinkles in it. Thankfully I asked Greg if he experienced this too, because I assumed that I could cover the wrinkles with lacquer and sand them out, but Greg advised me to re-wet it and see if I could flatten it out. I gave that a try and it worked really well.  You can see the differences in images 3 and 4 below.

Once the label was fixed, I taped off the headstock and prepared to spray it with nitrocellulose lacquer. I ended up doing two sets of 4-5 thin coats. I didn’t want the headstock to be too glossy, and I think the lacquer was starting to buckle the label. You can see this in the “F” in Fendson if you look closely.

After letting the lacquer dry for 2 days, I installed the bushings and tuners. I used matte board and slip-joint pliers to press the bushing into place. I had reamed the holes to be slightly larger at the top, but it was still a tight fit.

These are vintage-style, aged nickel Kluson tuners that look a little dark in these photos, but match the other hardware I have for the guitar, and are the same ones that are on my telecaster.

The only things left to do is any secondary polishing, and then install the string Ts.

IMG_1366

 

Venusblaster Build COMPLETE (ish)

I finished assembling this today, but I still have some tweaking to do of the setup and some minor cosmetic detailing. Also, there’s a rattling noise coming from the pickups springs, I think, that I will need to take care of. I will be updating the VENUSBLASTER page soon with more photos, etc.

Sound files will also be coming soon. This puppy can RAWK!

Here’s a picture with the white plastic humbucker rings instead of the heavy metal ones:

IMG_20150630_1725046_rewind

Venusblaster Bridge Trouble

I made the mistake of buying the non-metric version of a Tonepros bridge for the Venusblaster. I had Warmoth rout the recessed-TOM bridge rout, which is technically for a GOTOH bridge, which uses 11mm anchors which take 8mm studs. Like almost all music gear retailer sites, the tonepros site SUCKS. It does not offer any specific information about dimensions or diagrams.

After realizing my error, rather than find a conversion part, I bought a GOTOH bridge. I don’t like it, and I really want to use the graph-tech saddles that came with my Tonepros. The GOTOH is CHEAPOH, and doesn’t have locking studs. Yesterday, I ordered a pair of adapter studs from allparts for $10, which I wish I would have done originally rather than waste $25 on the GOTOH. These will allow me to have smaller studs screwed into the much larger metric anchors from the GOTOH.

In the picture below, the Tonepros is on top, and the GOTOH is below.

bridges

I got the adapter studs and anchors today from allparts.

new-studs

The anchors from the GOTOH are deeper, and one is already inserted, so I will be using those anchors – not the new ones.

studs-w-anchors

The GOTOH studs are also longer, but that doesn’t matter.

stud-compare

Here’s what an anchor looks like fully pressed in so that it is flush with the bottom of the recessed rout. It is important to scrape out all of the finish from the holes AND the counter-bore so that the lip sinks in.

anchor-flush

Here is one of the new adapter studs screwed into the anchor.

adapter-inserted

Here’s the tonepros bridge mounted on the new studs. Problem solved.

tp-bridge

Luxe Paul Neck

I got the Luxe Paul neck today and it’s very nice! The grain on the fretboard is beautiful, and the inlays are extremely precise. The birdseye maple is nice, too, although I probably might have liked regular maple a bit more. Those eyes are a little random. Probably just need a day to get used to them.

Overall, I’m very happy with it. The photos show a comparison with my tele neck. The fretboard is about the same size, but the scale is much different, and the Luxe Paul has an extra fret (even though it looks like two extra in that picture). The pictures near the end of the collection show the length difference when the base of each neck is side-by-side. At first I wondered about the way the neck was finished at the end, (straight across instead of rounded), but then I realized that is exactly how it should be to line up against the humbucker rings.

One thing I had forgotten about my order is that I got a vintage satin finish. I did that because I like the satin finish that came on my Martin’s neck and like how it gets polished as you play it. I guess I didn’t think about how this might affect the headstock, which does look a little too dull, especially when compared to what I assume will be a very shinny body. I’m not sure this is much of a problem though because I’ll need to lacquer over the label on the headstock and then polish it. The way it is now is essentially prepped for the label.

Whenever I get the new label. Because yeah, why would the label work out perfectly the first time?

Capacinator V1

The other day (about two weeks ago, actually) I got this in the mail, and it’s awesome:

IMG_0971

 

The sloppy numbering was added by me because I wanted to remember the cap value when using it. I should have taken the knob off first, but I was too anxious.

After trying them all on my tele, I think I like .047uF best, at around a 4 or 5 on the tone dial. To be honest though, I didn’t dislike the .o68uF or the .1uF. I think I just like the browner tones.

Can’t wait to see what it sounds like with the Luxe Paul.

Thanks Greg!

 

Antique Electronic Supply

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.08.03 PMI recently came across Antique Electronic Supply through a half-hearted Google search for capacitor information, and I’m somewhat overwhelmed with the awesomeness.

They seem to be the StewMac of electronics, with a strong overlap with music-related products. They actually sell several of the same things that StewMac does, but in addition to that, they have a Tech Corner that contains things like a page for understanding the nuances of Potentiometers and Tone Capacitors.

Here are a few excerpts:

On Potentiometers:

It’s useful to know the fundamental relationship between voltage, current and resistance known as Ohm’s Law when understanding how electric guitar circuits work. The guitar pickups provide the voltage and current source, while the potentiometers provide the resistance. From Ohm’s Law we can see how increasing resistance decreases the flow of current through a circuit, while decreasing the resistance increases the current flow. If two circuit paths are provided from a common voltage source, more current will flow through the path of least resistance.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 10.13.29 AM

On Tone Control:

The tone pot’s resistance is the same for all signal frequencies; however, the capacitor has AC impedance which varies depending on both the signal frequency and the value of capacitance as shown in the equation below. High frequencies see less impedance from the same capacitor than low frequencies. The table below shows impedance calculations for three of the most common tone cap values at a low frequency (100 Hz) and a high frequency (5 kHz).

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.27.43 PM

 

And an interesting set of Potentiometer Taper Charts which makes me wonder what kind I bought. I’m assuming the linear taper is the one I would like the best, but I don’t really know.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.32.58 PM

The M and N Taper (Blend Balance) seems like it could be really interesting if you were able to use it in conjunction with coil-splitting to bring in the volume of the second single coil in the humbucker.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.34.59 PM

 

In addition to the helpful technical details, there are also cool products, like this set of build-it-yourself pedals, and guitar amps.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s a bunch of t-shirts with designs like this:

Greg, if you find you need more capacitors for your capacinator pedal, they seem to sell about 200 of them.

 

 

Survey: Pearl or Chrome?

HELP! I’m having a hard time deciding what to get for the VENUSBLASTER:

  • A) Pearloid pickups with chrome mounting rings, or
  • B) Chrome pickups with white mounting rings

I’m leaning towards the pearl pickups because of the whole venus-on-a-half-shell theme, but I wonder if it would be too Liberace. I don’t really mind being too Liberace though. I think Dino made a point that there would be too much texture going on between that and the quilted maple, which is a valid point. I think that’s what I mean by “Liberace” though.

I suppose I could merge either, but I don’t think I will. Eg. Pearl w/white and chrome w/chrome would be too much of either I think.

Also, RHYTHM / TREBLE ring on the toggle switch… yay or nay?

pearl-or-chrome2

WWLD?

liberace

 

philly-rings

2015 Luxe Paul

Greg and I are each building the dual-humbucker-guitar-of-our-dreams this summer, and this is a Photoshop rendering of mine:

Luxe_Paul

I’m calling it the Luxe Paul because it’s basically a combination of a Tele Deluxe and a Les Paul.

  • Les Paul elements: Mahogany body, HH configuration, Les Paul wiring and control placement, rosewood fretboard, pearloid neck inlays, scale, pickguard shape.
  • Tele Deluxe elements: Tele body shape, maple neck, Fender CBS headstock, 6-inline tuners, Bigsby
  • Custom Tele elements: Front and back binding.

I opted for a rosewood top instead of a maple one (like on the Les Paul) because I just thought this one looked better, and I thought the rosewood might add some nice tones.

It will have two Lollar Imperial pickups, wired for coil-tapping so they can be used in single coil mode. The flat tele body made it easy to use the Bigsby B5, but I needed to recess the bridge so that I didn’t end up with too much of a gap between the strings and the body.

I also got a 24 3/4″ conversion neck, to match the scale of the Les Paul. Custom label, too.

I’m happy with the way it looks, but there were many things I considered before landing on this design.

Whenever the body and neck show up (probably late June) I’ll have to do a little bit of work to get it read for the installation of the parts. The two biggest things I’m concerned about are the placement of the Bigsby, and drilling the holes for the knobs. The Bigsby is probably the most important thing, so I’ll likely be overly cautious about it. After that’s in place I’ll drill the knob holes to make sure there is enough room separating them from the B5 arm.

Here’s an example of the process for installing a Bigsby (though not the B5, but it’s essentially the same)

The wiring is also an area I’m anxious, but there are so many YouTube videos about how to do it that I don’t think there is any uncertainty about it. Here’s one from that guy who explained the capacitors:

When you think about it, the whole thing isn’t really that complex, and you can always just solder it again if you make a mistake. In the grand scheme of things, even if you had to redo the whole wiring it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, would it?

Maybe I’ll feel differently in early July.

More bits and bobs: Nickel-and-diming myself

The fact that this order came to nearly $150 is a tough nut to swallow. A lot of these are tools, though. Lutherie tools are expensive because the market for them is small, but stewmac is THE SHIT. That file is so cute. I’m not sure how I convinced myself to buy three drill bits at $5.25 a pop. I’ll probably be glad I did though when the time comes to use them.

stewmac-venus

 

Here’s the tuner installation jig next to one of my tuners. It might not look like it, but those holes on the jig line up with the two nubs on the tuner. I don’t know how I would drill those holes right without some sort of jig. I suppose I could have made something similar, but I’m glad I purchased this.

tuner-jig

 

***Dino edited this post below***

The comments wouldn’t let me embed a video, but this was helpful to me for providing a general overview on capacitors and what they do:

MSSC Prewired Dual Coil Split Harness

I ordered this prewired harness from Martin Six String Customs (no relation to Martin Guitars) because I was a little nervous about wiring the Luxe Paul myself, and the parts they use are high quality. I’ll still need to do some soldering to connect the pickups and input jack, but those things seemed like they were going to be easier.

After studying it a bit closer, I don’t think wiring it together would have been a problem, but I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to make it look as nice as this.

Each harness contains:

(2) CTS 550K Premium Custom Audio Taper Potentiometers with 9% Tolerance for both volume positions. These are not your standard issue CTS pots.  These premium pots are spec’d at 550K to ensure that pots meter no lower than 500K.  These pots have a very responsive sweep and are metered for optimal placement in the harness.

(2) High quality US Spec 500K Push/Pull potentiometers w/ brass shafts (tone positions).

MSSC Vintage Series .015 / .022 Paper in Oil Capacitors made from NOS Mil-Spec PIO caps or optional Luxe Bumblebee .015 / .022 Reproduction PIO Capacitors.

Oxygen Free, Teflon Coated Hook-up Wire

Each harness is meticulously wired 50’s style and properly grounded with vintage correct 20AWG bus wire.

This harness allows you to split coils on both humbucker pickups.

 

You can read more about it on the MSSC web site. They make all sorts of prewired setups, not just in the Les Paul configuration.

Plus, how can you argue with Johnny Hilland?

Though that’s not the version I got. (It was a limited edition thing.)

Tone Caps: Does it REALLY Matter?

I just can’t see myself paying $60 for a tone capacitor. I will be making a capacitor comparison tool as soon as I get all the parts, but the most that I have spent so far is $11 for a Vitamin Q “Black Candy”. The rest of them were a few bucks each. I suppose if I had to replace one in a 50’s LP that I might consider one of these repros, but I mean…

http://www.allparts.com/EP-4056-000-Bumble-Bee-Capacitor_p_1359.html

bumble-bee

This is what happened.

In early April my Les Paul crush, which I’d had for several months, hadn’t gone away. It reached its peak with this guitar, which I actually made an offer on:

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 9.21.25 AM

Greg and I had an email thread going that was titled “guitarfetish”. We were talking about gear, swapping links and videos, and after showing him a link to that Les Paul, he said this:

The whole idea of customizing a guitar is what is exciting to me lately… The build-your-own possibilities are endless on the warmoth site. Have you ever checked out the warmoth.com/#build Custom Build section? I go in there all the time and look at the options on bodies and necks just for fun. It’s fun to browse the existing “showcase” items, which is what the orange tele body was, but I think it would be really fun to spend a little extra and get a custom body and neck, unless they already had the neck I wanted, which they sorta do.

C’mon, wouldn’t it be fun if we both embarked on a new kit building project? We could set a price limit of $1,500 and still create amazing guitars. ok maybe 2k…. don’t. Are you REALLY thinking about spending three THOUSAND five HUNDRED DOLLARS on a guitar? Just get the body and neck you want and then order pickups and everything else at stewmac or allparts or wherever. We could compare notes along the way in the design and putting together. The basic theme could be a dual humbucker guitar of our dreams.

I spent a little while on the Warmoth site and then sent back this:

I think you might be convincing me.

I’ve never played around with that before, but I like it. So far mine comes to around $1,400, without the bigsby, pots, wiring, or tuners.

I chose a tele mahogany body with a rosewood top. Still tweaking… Chose a classic tele old neck (like a strat, I think) in mahogany with a dark rosewood fretboard… I did’t really choose all of the specs carefully. Was more interested in the final price to just see how much it would be.

unnamed

Greg’s response convinced me:

Wow, interesting choices! I never thought of putting a rosewood top on a mahogany body. Sounds like a cool idea.

So you chose the solid construction, eh? Are you opposed to a chambered body? I thought you liked the carved-top design like the fano. Rosewood and mahogany could be pretty heavy as a solid body. Fender has made an all-rosewood tele body for a while. That’s what George played on top of that building. https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/101977

Sheesh, look how much they’re asking for this one. C’mon. https://reverb.com/item/363943-fender-limited-edition-rosewood-telecaster?_aid=pla&pla=1&gclid=CIWbiPmGgMUCFQcdaQodqQgAVg

Yeah, it gets tricky if you want a bigsby because I don’t think they offer that option. The hardest part about mounting a bridge is finding the right placement. That’s what’s good about getting the bridge holes pre-drilled. You’d probably have to do your own mounting of the bigsby, but I’m sure you could figure it out, and there’s room for error. I think what you would probably want to do is get a body with the post holes drilled for a tune-o-matic bridge (TOM) and then mount the bigsby behind it. The holes I am referring to would be the “Gotoh 510” option at warmoth, described on this page: http://www.warmoth.com/Guitar/Bodies/Options/BridgeRoutingOptions.aspx

Typically the B5 model is used on telecasters or other flat-top guitars, which is the smaller one that just screws into the body, but the strings need to go over a TOM style bridge, like on this fano http://www.humbuckermusic.com/fano-tc6-guitar-round-up-orange-bigsby-b5.html

That doesn’t mean you couldn’t try to use the other style bigsbys if you wanted to, but if you stick with the flat-top idea, then I would probably recommend the B5. I think there are two options for each model – a cheaper import model and an american model. I don’t remember the differences. I think it’s different metal. The cheaper equivalent of the B5 is the B50 I think. http://www.bigsby.com/vibe/products/vibratos/bigsby-b50/

I saw this link on the bigsby site. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN2MLRbIC5M
He’s using the standard tele bridge pickup plate replacement, so skip to the end. You basically just need to line up the bigsby with strings to find the right placement. There’s a million videos on youtube.

I’ve been going back and forth between a carved top tele and the PRS style body – the VIP. I’m leaning towards the VIP. Probably mahogany back and quilted maple top. Not sure about finish. Maybe cherry burst or fire burst or maybe just clear gloss. Did you notice that you can choose the actual wood to be used for the top? They have jpegs of the unique choice woods. It costs extra of course, but not much.

This is loosely what I’ve been contemplating:

Specifications

Model: VIP
Scale: 25-1/2 in.
Carved Top: Yes
Chambered: Yes
Orientation: Right handed
Wood: $440.00
Core: Mahogany
Front Laminate: Quilt Maple / Maple / Maple
Control Cavity: Rear Rout + $0.00
Pickup Rout: Humbucker (Neck) – None (Middle) – Humbucker (Brdg) + $0.00
Control Rout: + $0.00
Volume (PRS)
Tone (PRS)
Toggle (PRS)
Bridge Type: Hardtail $0.00
Bridge Rout: TOM/STP, Angled Pocket + $0.00
Jack Rout: 3/4″ (19mm) Side Jack Hole
Neck Pocket: Strat® Shape + $0.00
Mounting Holes: Standard 4 Bolt + $0.00
Contours: + $0.00
Contoured Heel
Tummy Cut
Binding Top: Ivoroid Binding + $0.00
Top Finish: Black Cherry Burst + $290.00
Back Finish: Clear Gloss + $0.00
Price: $730.00

For some reason the VIP builder doesn’t show the image.

Here’s a pre-made one with a red dye finish.
http://www.warmoth.com/Showcase/ShowcaseItem.aspx?i=VIPP221&Body=2#.VTJv-EbwOQk

I think they put a darkening dye to bring out the grain before coloring it, which is what I did on the univox. I’m pretty sure that’s what the “dye” option is in the finishes. It’s a pricey option, as is the burst but they seem to do a good job of it. Finishing can be fun, but it really requires a space for it, and can take a long time and ultimately be somewhat costly. $290 seems like a lot, but you’d probably have to pay at least $100 on lacquer alone if you did it yourself.

That was the start of probably 200+ emails on the building process.

It ended up with a comment while we were on the phone:

Maybe we should make a web site and track the whole process…

And here we are.