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.