Wednesday, August 1, 2007

This Is the End, My Only Friend, the End

Well, this is anticlimactic. I decided to abandon the refinishing plan. I was losing enthusiasm for it and was wondering if I would ever get the money to finish it. The Model 7 maple necks are in demand amongst Charvel aficionados. A fellow member of the Jackson/Charvel forums accepted my offer and bought the whole thing off me, sans pickups. I'll be interested to see what he ends up doing with it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

We May Have a Winner!

I think I might know the color that I want to paint my guitar: Duplicolor Metal Specks Retro Red. I thought it looked pretty good on the Duplicolor site. Then I found this Reranch thread that contained a picture of a Superstrat painted that color (I copied it to my Picasa page so that it doesn't get lost in the ether of time):

VERY cool indeed. I've heard that the Metal Specks paint is a little harder to work with, but it definitely seems worth a shot. Now imagine my Tele in that color with black hardware and the binding.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering, Pinky?

At last our long national nightmare is over. I just got done sanding the blue finish off my guitar and exposing the original pinkness thereunder. Here's the proof:

The neck pocket revealed three numbers. I think they are 2-7-7. The sevens are clear. The first number is not. I'm not sure if that has any significance or not.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sanding Sucks

OK, even though the blue finish is coming off relatively easy, sanding still sucks. I'm doing it all by hand. I've got the back completely done with the exception of the control cavity. I've discovered numerous muscle groups that I haven't used in sometime. Of course, in the painting stages I'll need to sand too--thankfully not as "violently" as I have to to remove the blue. I keep repeating to myself, "It will be cool." Here are a couple of pictures to show you where we stand as of today:

 

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Striptease

I bought a sanding sponge today and did a few seconds of work on the back of the body just to see how much effort would be involved in removing the blue paint. Here's a shot of the original pink shining through:

By way of reference, here are a couple of pictures of what my guitar would have looked like originally. Both are from a guitar that is currently on sale at Chris' Guitars (no affiliation, yadda, yadda).

 

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Disassembly

Last night I went ahead and disassembled my Model 7. Here is a picture of the aftermath:

The only thing I hadn't removed yet at that point was the string ferrules. I got those out this morning by lightly tapping them out from the other side with a small Phillips-head screwdriver. That was easier than I thought. It should be relatively easy to reassemble. Now on to the stripping . . . (of the guitar)

As an aside, when I took it apart I noticed that there once was a pretty decent shielding system in place. At least a good chunk of it was defeated either when the guitar was repainted or the bridge pickup was replaced. I'm going to do some research to see if the shielding was original or added later.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Let the Games Begin

I think the time has come. I still don't know for sure what pickups I'm going to be using or even what color I'm going to paint it. But I think the time is now to disassemble it and strip off the existing paint. I'm at least going to take the blue coat off. If I can, I'm going to take the original pink off too to see if the wood is decent looking enough to try to finish au naturale. We'll see. The binding needs some work because it has yellowed and gotten some blue paint on it (the previous owner wasn't very careful in masking it off). The neck pickup will find a new home in my Squier '51. I'm going to check the holes in the body to make sure they are big enough for Allparts pots. Pictures will be forthcoming as things progress.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Clippage

I recorded a couple of quick clips to demonstrate the effect that cutting the screw coil on my Fender Showmaster Celtic H's humbucker has on the tone. Both clips were recorded using the "Tweed 4x10" preset on my Vox Valvetronix AD30VT. The effects were bypassed. I ran a cable from the Vox's line out into the line in on my Sound Blaster Audigy. The recording and editing was done by Audacity. The clips were then uploaded to my account on Box.net.

The first clip is a simple three-chord progression. The first time through my guitar is in humbucker mode. The second time it is in single coil mode. Download clip (145K).

The next clip is a lick from Doug Marks' Classic Metal Licks. Once again, the first time through my guitar is in humbucker mode. The second time it is in single coil mode. Download clip (169K).

I'm not intending to wow you with my chops (as should be painfully evident), but to give you a taste of the difference in tone. The more I play it, the more pleased I am with it. The difference is far more noticeable in low-gain/clean situations, which is mainly when I would switch into single coil mode anyway. Who wants extreme gain without a humbucker? :)

Friday, April 27, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Related . . .

On Sunday, April 22, I decided to install an Allparts 500K audio-taper push-pull pot into my Fender Showmaster Celtic H. I had done some test soldering and decided I could give it a go. Here is what the original wiring looked like. I took this picture for reference in case I messed something up. In general the original soldering was good. The only exception was the hot lead to the jack that was not tinned and had come loose from the pot. I repaired that earlier. Note: you can click on any of the pictures to see a full-sized version on Picasa.

Here's a picture of how I took over my wife's sewing desk to do the work:

By and large, the wiring of the pot went very smoothly. The only problem I had was at the beginning I tried to start soldering before my iron was fully heated. Thus the soldering of the grounds on the back of the pot is a little messy. It does work, however, and the leads are well-connected. Here's a close-up of the newly-wired pot.

Here is one final picture of the pot in more or less its final resting place. I had to get a 3/8" drill bit and carefully enlarge the hole in the body for the pot because the shaft is slightly bigger than the stock pot.

I immediately tested it and was very pleased to find that I had wired everything correctly with no shorts. Whodathunkit? So now the guitar still works the same way as it always did, but if you pull the pot, it taps the screw coil on the humbucker, making it a single-coil. I used this wiring diagram from the website of my friend, Duh Voodoo Man. The only thing I had to do was convert the wire colors from Seymour Duncan to Fender. I also want to thank DVM for his help/encouragement with this project.

The Fender Atomic II that comes with my Showmaster is pretty hot (16.4K impedance) and rather middy. That works great for hard rock stuff with lots of distortion. It doesn't work so well for clean stuff. Cutting the screw coil cuts the volume dramatically and gives it a thinner, more acoustic-like sound. In other words, it is exactly what I had hoped it would be. If I get some time, I'll try to record a couple of clips and post them here.

Wiring this pot gives me the confidence to attack my Tele project which will involve much more wiring. I only wish I could afford the new pickups right now. This little project also showed me that I need to get the pots I'm going to use before I repaint the guitar in case I have to do any drilling. I'd rather drill into the old, crappy finish instead of a new one.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Post-Op Pictures

I'm back from Green Bay and have gotten my guitar restrung. Here is a picture showing what the guitar looks like now, following the expansion of the neck pickup route to allow for any aftermarket pickup to be installed. Note that the picture was not taken directly over the guitar. The route appears to be off-centered due to parallax error. Click on the pictures to see a full version.

Just as a reminder, this is what it looked like before the surgery:

I want to thank Steve Dallman (of FDP forum fame) at Dick's Music in Green Bay for doing such fine work so quickly for a more than reasonable price.

Going in for Surgery

Well, today is the big day--one small step forward in this project. I'm going to Green Bay to have the route expanded on the neck pickup so that any aftermarket pickup can be added. Since I'm going to repaint this anyway, I don't care what happens to the finish. I'm also going to ask about the possibility and/or wisdom of adding a middle route to make it into a Nashville Tele. I don't know if I'm going to do that, but it's worth getting the info anyway. I just don't want to spend a small fortune in routing. I'd rather put that money toward better pups.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Rerouted

I've made an executive decision. I'm going to get the route expanded for the neck pickup so I can put in any aftermarket pickup instead of just EMG-style. A guy who works in a local guitar shoppe said he'd do it for a very reasonable price. I've been looking into getting pickups custom-made for it, but that seems to be more hassle than it's worth. Hopefully I can get it done in about a week and a half. Since I'm refinishing it anyway, the new cut won't be a big deal.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Soldering How-to DVD

I recently purchased Terry Downs' Fundamental Soldering Skills DVD. I've done some soldering before, but it's been a long time and I've never worked on things as small as the lugs on a potentiometer. The DVD goes through everything step by step, even showing you how to completely wire a Telecaster. He also shows some basic skills such as repairing a guitar cable and replacing a resister on a pedal. I got it in the mail three days after I ordered it. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Narrowing the Field

I think I've narrowed down my choices of pickups. I think I'm either going to go with the Rio Grande Muy Grandes or the DiMarzio Virtual (Hot) T. Part of the reason for the cut down is that I decided that I really didn't want a neck pickup with a cover. I know that's a Tele "thing," but it's not my bag. Those two pickups are also hotter than vintage, but not so hot that it would make clean playing harder/muddier.

I saw an eBay sale the other day with the Fender Texas Specials for a ridiculously low price. I could have lived with the cover if I could have gotten them for the amount he was selling them for. I sent a message to the seller to verify the price and the next day the sale was pulled. My message was never replied to. Good thing I didn't just place an order on a whim.

I called a local shop about getting the route expanded for the neck pickup. The guy wanted $75 for it. I said I'd get back with him :). Rio can make a neck pickup without the lip for about an extra $20. If I can get a resaler to make that special order for me, I'm there. I've heard DiMarzio will do something similar. My only concern is whether or not a special order pup would be returnable if I decide I don't like it after all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In the Meanwhilst . . .

I recontacted my contact regarding the Rio Grande pickups. Hopefully I'll hear something soon. In the meantime, I finished adjusting the truss rod and subsequently the bridge on my Model 7. Now the action is a tad higher, but the fret buzz is almost entirely gone. I also did the old pencil lead trick on the nut. That works almost astonishingly well. I had a little binding on the G and B strings. No more. I'll have to make that a regular part of my string-changing routine.

I got a chance to play an SRV Strat and a Les Paul Junior today. I played the SRV because the guy at Guitar Center didn't have any guitars with the Texas Special Tele pups. That one has the Strat versions. Unfortunately the two aren't much alike. The Strat versions have an impedance of 7.1-6.2K. The Tele ones are 10.5K and 9.5K, a good bit hotter. I tried the Junior because the Dirty Harry pickups are described as being P90-like but I am not very familiar with P90s. I could see myself getting a pickup like that, although I'm not sure how much you can actually make a Tele-sized pup sound like a P90.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I'm still waiting for my contact to get back with me on his cost on Rio Grande pickups, including having the neck pickup made for the EMG-style route. It's been about a week and a half. If this continues, it will obviously influence my choice in pickups.

The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards a lower-impedance pickup (vs. Hot Rails or the Dirty Harrys). You can always dirty up a low-power pickup at the amp or with an overdrive pedal. It's hard if not impossible to clean up a hot pickup. I just wish that I could test out some of these pickups without having to buy one sight unseen (or perhaps more accurately, sound unheard).

As an aside, I finally got around to adjusting the truss rod on my Model 7, only to find out that it has the Gibson-style adjuster instead of the Fender-style. I never had the wrench that came with it originally. A quick search of the Jackson-Charvel forums revealed that it is a 7mm nut. Of course, I don't have any metric wrenches. The local hardware store had every size from 6mm on up . . . except the 7mm. Wally World had a complete set of metric wrenches for only slightly more than the local shop wanted for one wrench, so I went with that. Worked like a charm.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

More Pickup Lines

Over the course of the past couple of days, two more sets of pickups have entered the running. They are:

  • Rio Grande Dirty Harry: I called Rio Grande, told them what I was looking for, and they suggested a set of Dirty Harrys. I'm concerned that those will be more like P90s than Tele-style single-coils. Not that that's a bad thing; it's just not what I'm looking for.
  • DiMarzio Area T: Once again, I can't deep-link to the pickups themselves because of the site's Flash-only design. But if you click on "Tele" on the bottom and then "Hum-Canceling" on the left, you will see the Area Ts as well as the previously-mentioned Virtual Ts listed there. I got interested in these after hearing this clip on The Gear Page. Those are apparently brand-spanking new, just announced at NAMM.

I am finding that it is very hard, yes, even impossible to pick a pickup just by reading others' opinions. When people say they love a particular pickup, they aren't lying! That's what works best for them. The problem is that everybody's ears are a little different. Guitars are made of different materials. We all have different amps. Even sound clips can be deceiving for that very reason.

The only decent way to find out is to find a guitar with those pickups loaded in and play it through my amp. The problem is that that's almost impossible to do. Whatever I do, it's going to be a bit of a crap-shoot. I really don't want to spend a slew of money on pickups that I can't be guaranteed that I'm going to like.

The Rio Grande folks said that they could custom-build a neck pickup for me without that little "lip" on the side to fit in the EMG-style route on my guitar. Naturally, that will be about a $20 upcharge on pickups that already aren't cheap. Conversely, if the pickups are great and I love them forever, it's money well spent.

This point alone will probably drive me insane before everything is said and done.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Pickup Lines

The hardest decision that I'm going to have to make with this project is what pickups to choose. There are so many of them out there. Everybody's got an opinion. Unfortunately, I can test very few (if any) of them before I'd actually buy. Here's the list of the ones I'm looking at at this particular moment in time:

  • Fender Texas Specials: This was my first choice. I've heard great things, especially about the neck pickup. Unfortunately, Fender decided to raise the minimum advertised price on these recently. So the price at Musician's Friend jumped from $99 to $169. A local shop offered to get them for me for $133. One problem with these is that the poles on the bridge pickup are staggered to match the radius of the fretboard. My Charvel's neck is significantly flatter than a Fender's.
  • Dimarzio Hot Virtual T: Their flash-only site doesn't really allow for linking to the pickups directly. The advantage of these is that they are hum-canceling while claiming to retain the single-coil tone. I've played a guitar with that bridge and really liked it. I've only heard the neck pickup on YouTube and was sort of non-plussed.
  • GFS "Modern Vintage" Lil Punchers: The price is certainly right at $49.95 for the pair. I'm just concerned that it will sound more like a humbucker than a single coil.
  • GFS Alnico Overwound Fatbody: These would be a bit more expensive than the Punchers, but still cheaper than the other alternatives at about $70 for the pair. True single coils.
  • Rio Grande Muy Grande: I've read lots of good things about these pickups. Ordering from them directly would make these the most expensive of the lot at $160 for the pair. It is my understanding that Z.Z. Top's Billy Gibbons has these on his Tele.

If I wanted to go a completely different route, I could use something like this:

  • GFS Hot Puncher: I could also use some similar Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan rails pickup. Then I could use a push-pull pot to cut one of the coils. That way I could have some quasi-metal tones in addition to quasi-single-coil tones.

Basically, I'm looking for a true single-coil tone. I'd like the pickups to be slightly hotter than normal for blues stuff. I really hate the OBL that's currently in the bridge. It sounds like a humbucker but doesn't have the punch of one. The stock Jackson neck is OK, but a bit muddy for my liking.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Beginning Pictures

By popular request, here are some pictures of my guitar before any work has been done. Click on the pictures to see a bigger version in Picasa. First off, here's a generic shot of the front:

And the back (this one's a bit dark, but you get the point):

Here's a close up of the front. You get a better look at the "glorious" paint job this way. Also, you see the problem I'll have with the neck pickup. The route on the guitar is the same width as the pickup itself. Most replacement pickups have a little "lip" in the side, requiring a slightly triangle-shaped route. Hopefully I'll find a pickup that I like without that lip so I don't have to get it routed.

And last, but certainly not least, a shot of the loverly rewiring job that was done. Note that the leads were not unsoldered and then resoldered. The leads themselves were cut and the ends twisted together and covered with electrical tape. Please, for the love of God and all that's holy, never rewire a guitar this way.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Second Opinion

I took my Model 7 to a local guitar shoppe tonight. Besides fixing the short so I can noodle with it while I wait to order new parts, I also had the tech check the neck (ooh, the alliteration!). He said that I have a couple of high frets, but the neck is not twisted. That's a load off my mind. I really didn't want to have to deal with that. The frets might be able to be tapped down or, failing that, a little fret dressing should take care of it. Good news.

I also went to ye olde Radio Shack and picked up a soldering iron with a station, some 60/40 rosin-core solder, and a solder wick. I think I'm going to start first with the push-pull pot for the Donahue mod and a new four-way switch. That way I can test out my soldering skills before ripping the rest of it out. I may try rewiring everything properly instead of having just a bunch of wires twisted together.

I'll at least have to have a pretty good idea if I'm getting single coil or humbucking pickups for this before I order the new pot. I'll need to figure out if I want a 250K or 500K one.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

All About the Charvel Model 7

The Charvel Model 7s were only made for a few years in the end of the 80s (1986-1988, I think). I believe that mine is from 1988. Here's the specs:

  • Made in: Japan
  • Serial #: 313180
  • Bridge Pickup: J120 Jackson USA Telly Single Coil (originally), the previous owner replaced it with what I believe to be an OBL humbucker
  • Neck Pickup: J100S Jackson USA Single Coil
  • Body: Basswood (sunburst finishes were Ash)
  • Color: Hot pink (originally), now blue
  • Neck: Bolt-on maple with a reversed headstock
  • Fretboard: Maple (12"-14" compound radius. The 1988 catalog says 12"-16" but the Model 7's neck doesn't get that flat at the 22nd fret)
  • Bridge: Black Gotoh Telly Bridge
  • Nut: Black plastic (originally), replaced with a bone nut at the String Instrument Workshop in Green Bay, WI
  • Tuners: Jackson die cast

Some people consider them to be collectible because they are relatively rare and I believe that they were the only guitars in the Charvel Model series to have a reverse-swept headstock with a maple fretboard. Charvel made a similar guitar starting in 1989 called the "Legend." As far as I can tell the only difference between the two guitars is that the Model 7 has the guitar-shaped Charvel logo whereas the Legend has the "toothpaste" logo with Charvel spelled in big cursive letters.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Part 1: The Beginning

This blog is going to document my trials and travails upgrading (and hopefully improving) my Charvel Model 7 Telecaster-style guitar. Back in the summer of 2000 I decided to finally learn to play electric guitar. In grade school I had taken acoustic lessons (because my parents wouldn't let me have an electric). Sadly my acoustic was cheap and was like trying to play a cheese slicer. I quickly gave it up. In high school I took up bass. Now was the time for the noise I wanted to make all along.

Whilst on vacation in Saginaw, MI, I purchased this Charvel. I was drawn to it by the pointy headstock which reminded me of my misspent youth. If only I had known anything about guitars, I wouldn't have bought it. The nut needed to be replaced. I had a local luthier take care of that. It now has a nice bone nut. The guitar was originally hot pink but was crudely repainted blue. The neck has a slight twist near the third fret which adds some buzz and a difficulty getting perfect intonation. The bridge pickup was crudely replaced with what I believe is an OBL rails-style humbucker. It was wired incorrectly so in the middle position, the pickups are out-of-phase with each other. Oh yeah, the switch was installed backwards too. Beyond that it was perfectly alright. Thankfully, the guitar didn't cost me much. I believe I only paid $125 for it. By way of comparison, Model 7s in good condition will bring in $400 or more on eBay these days.

My goals are these (in order of importance)

  1. Completely replace all electronics and install new pickups. I'm looking to install a Fender four-way switch an a Jerry Donahue mod.
  2. Strip the finish and repaint it. I'm either going to go with blue or red. I haven't fully decided.
  3. If necessary, replace the neck. I'd like to keep the reverse-swept pointy headstock. This could be the most expensive part of all. A new neck will likely cost me at least $200. (Update! As of my post on February 27 I won't have to do this. See that post for the details.)

My goal is that, by the time I am done, I'll have a unique guitar that is just the way I like it. The only things that will be original by the end of the process will be the body and the bridge. Along the way, I'll learn a lot about wiring, refinishing, and other guitar-related tasks. I've done some soldering in the past, but it's been a long time. I have no time-frame for all of this. I'll be doing it as both time and money allow. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I do and learn from both my successes and my mistakes.