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Telecaster (TV Jones)

The decision to build a Telecaster with Filtertron pickups came as an inexpensive way to build a bright-sounding guitar in the theme of gold+pearl+sunburst looks. The challenges were apparent from the beginning as the body is a Tele Deluxe style, with the proper routing for a standard Tele bridge and single-coil and a larger humbucker in the bridge position, but this needed modification for the humbucker tron PU’s.

The other difficulty was introduced by the longer 22-fret neck which caused the scale length to be too long on the body side. This was addressed by mounting the bridge closer to the bridge PU cavity.

With some friezing and alteration I mounted the pickups to the body without frames. The hard tail bridge I picked on looks needed to be mounted very close to the bridge PU. Also the neck PU mount was somewhat tricky. It all fit together but the pickguard is obviously not a perfect match on either bridge PU or the control plate.

Further the neck had some uneven frets which needed handling and all the frets needed recrowning and polishing. In the end the build is quite reasonable and the guitar is enjoyable to play. Some further fretwork can be done later to be able to lower the action which is about medium-high.

 

Eastman AR503CE

This Eastman AR503CE was bought second hand in a train station. The owner agreed to travel from Maastricht to meet me closer to my home. The guitar has a live spruce top, Seymour Duncan humbucker and sounds very nicely with flatwound strings.

Some things needed fixing. The rosewood bridge saddle had multiple string grooves but they were not aligned well with the neck. Also the floating bridge was misaligned. First I located the proper position for the bridge and fixed it with doublesided scotch tape. I then sanded the saddle grooves down, put new Thomastik Infeld 0.011″ gauge strings on and aligned them properly, and new grooves were created. It sounds great and the bridge can be sanded lower eventually, although for a jazzbox the action is typically medium-high for best tone.

Gibson ES-235

 

 

The Gibson ES-235 is a modern take on the ES-125 classic, it was produced only for a couple of years in 2019-2020 in the Memphis factory and then discontinued.

I picked this up near Utrecht, it was stringed with 0.09’s and the action was kind of high (neck tension relief was too low). Some of the upper frets had some marks on the fingerboard. The neck joint glue job was a little messy too.

The work performed:

  • adjusted neck tension to make it very flat
  • treated fingerboard as it was very dry
  • restringed with 0.10’s
  • lowered bridge to what the nut will allow for smallest action

Neck is a fat C-shape that’s typical of some Gibsons. It has a nice jazz-rock sound through my Rumble amp, the Burstbucker Pro pickups are well suited for different styles.

Partscaster (scalloped)

My Partscaster began as a Squire body and a thin neck aka Elioth, but as I was unhappy with the string balance and electronics, I decided to experiment.

The vintage-orange scalloped neck could play like a sitar, jazzy or country and of course blues-rock. Had to file it down in the joint area and it was not so clean (pic #1). The angle and fretboard are very even with the strings. The frets needed new crowning and polishing, some ends were sharp. One high fret hammered and ended up chewing next one with the string. Destroyed two high strings the first time stringing it.

The loaded plate I got as a better string balance, and the controls are versatile. They tightened the PU cables too much and it is pulling them around the Y axis. Had to chop away at the multiplex body to fit it all in. The pickguard was a bit too far in front, when filing it became very uneven. First time dropped it in place and screwed it in, there was no output so I had to install it twice and settled it.

It sounds like a bright axe on a sunny morning.

Problems I have also fixed: high frets needed reducing, nut needed to be filed down, a couple of high saddle screws to shave.

Cort B5 Plus AS

I picked this up in south part of the city a couple of months ago. From the first try I was impressed by the clean thump it offers on the low end, and the voicings on high strings are also impressive. This active 5-string bass with Bartolini pickups and Markbass preamp really enhanced my bassy holdings.

The only work I did on it was to hammer in a high fret at 12th position, recrown and polished the frets, treated the fingerboard. For a low-priced active bass, it is quite beautiful and plays great.

Seagull SM6

This guitar was bought new in the early 90’s in LA. It traveled with me to Santa Cruz for a couple of years, to Portugal, to Boston, and finally to Amsterdam where it’s mostly been at my daughter’s for the last 3 years. It’s got a mahogany body and neck and a cedar top. The only defect was a slight amount of top lift behind the bridge but not affecting its performance, and the normal wear and tear scratches. I finally got around to restoring a few things:

  • the whole body, neck and fingerboard needed cleaning
  • two nut slots needed to be filled with epoxy and reshaped
  • string posts tightened
  • saddle reshaped and lowered a tiny amount
  • frets recrowned and polished
  • a small hole in the top lacquer filled with super glue
  • strung with Gibson Super Ultra Lights 10s (Phosphor Bronze)

Fretless Jazz

 

The Jazz Fretless partscaster started as a Squire Jazz with a fake Fender Fretless neck. I traded an old amp for it, thinking I would probably not be able to play fretless well enough to warrant investing into a proper instrument. Soon I discovered this bass was practically unplayable due to a defective truss rod, but that didn’t deter me from exploring other possibilities of customizing it into a proper instrument.

  • Original neck replacement with a custom-made Precision maple/rosewood neck (from China). Decently priced, massive and straight.
  • Bridge replacement with a heavy chrome badass-type.
  • Pickups replacement with Fender Noiseless
  • Controls and plate/knobs replacement, with an Artec preamp with split frequency controls. Fitting the battery inside the body cavity was a challenge. The holes needed to have screw inserts placed in to hold the whole rig solidly with hex screws.
  • Pickguard (the ugliest tortoise) replacement with a transparent one, the positioning is overlapping a bit with the controls plate but that’s minor.

In the end it’s a rich sounding custom Fretless Jazz, I like the wider P-bass style neck more than the Jazz thin standard. The neck is a bit thick and heavily lacquered but the playability is great, the action is super low and almost no friction. The bass is heavy enough to knock down walls.

Variax 700 (honey)

My second Variax 700 was an acquisition made in the suburbs of Rotterdam, taking the bicycle on the train from Amsterdam, riding another 10km from the station and meeting an old rocker dude at his place. I didn’t test the guitar, it was in such a nice shape for the low price that I didn’t care how well it worked. The locking Sperzel tuners and the impeccable condition of the honey-maple body and mahogany neck were unusual for a guitar more than 15 years old. I soon discovered there was one main problem with it: the modelled sounds of the Variax were sounding totally wrong: the low strings sounded very tinny and the high strings had too much percussive attack even for piezo bridge guitars like this.

As soon as I opened the back plate, the problem was apparent: someone had re-connected the D/A board backwards, and the high strings were pretending to be the low strings and viceversa. That easy fix and setting up the neck, a bit of fret polishing and adjusting the saddles were the only adjustments needed. A fine instrument for a fraction of the original price.

Ovation Collectors (1986)

This Ovation Collectors edition 1986 has seen better days before I acquired it from a gentleman who managed to get twice for it than what it was really worth. After a lot of work and painfully delicate procedures, it’s now in a good shape for such a vintage icon instrument. It’s a live top guitar, with a polyresin neck and a synthetic shallow bowl. The problems with it when I blindly jumped into the deal were:

  • Action was an inch high, literally. There was a set of 6 shims under the saddle, you could basically only play it as a slide guitar.
  • Lacquer was cracked along one of the braces under the top.
  • Frets were coming out at the edges.
  • Neck was slightly angled causing the high E to roll off the fretboard and under the frets around 7th position
  • Headstock was chipped badly on both sides and the resin neck was chipped near the nut.
  • All sorts of spurious vibrations in the neck and body.

I had to do at least 2-3 maintenance rounds on it before bringing it to standard functionality:

  • Replaced the nut with a new graphite one, slotted it properly, glued it after a slight shift to compensate for the minute neck angle shift.
  • Tapped the frets back in, pressed the edges in and super glued the frets to the fretboard.  Cleaned and oiled the fingerboard.
  • Filed down the uneven fret edges and re-crowned them as some lower frets were more worn out.
  • Taped down the cables inside the bowl.
  • Removed the extra shims under the saddle.
  • Adjusted neck tension and put lighter strings (11’s instead of the godawful 12’s threatening to rip the top apart, sigh)
  • Super-glued the lacquer crack after verifying that the wooden top was still integral.

The guitar is now sane and playable, the electric pickup also sounds very round and bright. This is the guitar I use for practicing and for learning songs, the slightly higher action than on electric helps to build up chops and resilience, and the shallow bowl is comfortably pleasant to hold. A fine vintage instrument that has been reborn after years of abuse and improper treatment.