First (re)build: Tele-Thing

Discussion in 'Luthiery, Modifications & Customizations' started by BentAnat, Jan 15, 2018.

  1. BentAnat

    BentAnat SS.org Regular

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    Hi, All.

    This story probably starts around 2004, when I upgraded from an old "Cheri" Strat knockoff to the "mighty" Cort X-11 (to be sold a year later in favour of a brand new Ibanez RG2570), and found out that "custom shop" is a thing.
    Back then, I knew EXACTLY what I wanted in a guitar - at least I thought so.

    Fast forward a few years, and I still own that old Cheri (sentimental value, since it's the first electric guitar), and it's a horrible guitar.
    In the years since I first got it, I also developed an aversion to Stratocasters.

    For roughly a year I considered just upgrading that guitar: Throw a proper bridge at it, pop in a set of Duncan Texas Vintage Hot (thanks, Nick Johnston) and call it a day.
    However, it dawned on me that I'd never play that. While I like listening to the likes of Johnston a LOT, the reality is my playing tends to be more gain-oriented and more aggressive. No point in single Coils.

    Slowly, this developed into a case of "but if I do X, I'll also need to do Y", and as such, the project was shelved again.

    Another year or so on, my Dad (who lives 360km away from me, and studied carpentry - though he never took that further than a weekend hobby) had started dabbling in guitar building. Acoustics, specifically, and he was working on his second one. To my surprise, the first one was actually quite nice - save for the neck profile, and the second one - still work in progress - seemed to fix many of the minor niggles on the first.

    Inspired by this, I started to plan again... I liked the neck on the Cheri fine, but the plywood body had to go.... and that's how this starts...
     
  2. BentAnat

    BentAnat SS.org Regular

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    After months of searching, we found the right slab of wood - A piece of African Walnut, which we laminated (3 pieces) into a piece that would fit the bill:
    [​IMG]

    At around the same time, I had a look at the neck, and decided it needed some work as well. The nut was cracked, and there was a solid bit of wear (though hard to see on the photo) on the frets:
    [​IMG]

    So I acquired some parts (which, after shipping, cost me about as much as a new guitar would have):
    Duncan JB/Jazz (I have never tried them, but have some romantic obsession with them - to me they are THE stadium rock pups)
    Hipshot Bridge
    Grover Locking tuners
    Black Tusq nut blanks (a pre-made wouldn't fit, since we're looking at a 16" radius on an otherwise fender-spec neck)
    Tusq String trees (in case I need them)
    Jumbo Fretwire (Nickel/silver from StewMac)
    Routing bits, Routing templates, pots, switches, case, cliplock strap, etc.

    ...and I travelled to see my old man to get this project started (this was in early December) to create a mess and make some decisions:

    The only pic I have of the old body (and a mess of schematics):
    [​IMG]

    We decided to go with a Telecaster shape, since I always wanted a tele.
    Check:
    [​IMG]

    ...and trace:
    [​IMG]

    ..and see how it would all look together:
    [​IMG]
     
  3. BentAnat

    BentAnat SS.org Regular

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    From here on in, the fun started.
    Every step is measure 2134895 times, then cut, of course, but that (due to lack of experience) does not preclude mistakes. Some mistakes happened, but to date, I feel we're able to work around it.

    I think more time was spent on building routing jigs (my Dad's router is a bit big and heavy for us to dare to use it just with the perspex StewMac templates.

    We left the slab of wood as a slab for as long as possible, while cutting as much as possible. This allowed us to screw parts of the jigs and templates into unused parts of the slab, ensuring a more stable place to work.

    Starting with the neck pocket (measure, check centreline, remeasure, etc)L
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    ...and eventually, the first cut:
    [​IMG]
    ...shallow at first.
    [​IMG]

    eventually finishing it off by hand, to ensure the neck fits nice and snug (the dremel bit flexes a bit much, so we decided against it).
    [​IMG]

    Test Fit:
    [​IMG]

    ..and check neck pocket depth... this will need to probably go down a little bit:
    [​IMG]
     
  4. BentAnat

    BentAnat SS.org Regular

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    Moving along, more measuring, routing, jigging, screwing, etc for the pickup cavities:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The hole between the pup cavities is one of the things that my dad did in my absence, and I don't think it's needed...
    [​IMG]

    The same for the rear control cavity:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    To make things "work" a little better with the maple neck and headstock from the old guitar, my Dad added some maple accents in my absence.
    1 Control Cavity cover:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Since this is the side that people tend to see less, he decided to add something on the front as well. Disclaimer here: My Dad and myself share a love of the old Prince Valiant graphic novels, and as a young'un, I always wanted a Valiant-something guitar...
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Also in my absence, my Dad decided to cut the body out, start minor shaping bits (which we discussed before) and get things moving along a bit - it's late december by now.

    The next time I showed up (around new year's eve 2017), We were this far:
    [​IMG]

    The catch here was the neck joint was chunky.
    Not unusable, but not where I would have liked - at least the joint is a proper snug fit, unlike the old body:
    [​IMG]


    After some deliberation, we decided to do this:
    [​IMG]

    We also started taking the old neck apart and shaving off 1mm and the old branding off the headstock (staggered tuning posts could use literally 1mm)

    Frets off
    [​IMG]

    Started refretting, and shaved the branding off - spot the used neck. Dings, scratches, etc - this way, the maple on the headstock matches the maple on the body better:
    [​IMG]

    ...shave some off the back (since it's easier to reshape the "heel" there):
    [​IMG]

    All of this leaves us with this (to date):
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Still to be done:
    - complete the refret, level, crown, etc.
    - Make, shape a new Nut
    - Join the neck (this will likely be glued AND bolted, using an aluminium plate on the back of that sexy cutaway - we're not brave enough to recess that, given the skinny joint already)
    - All electronics and hardware (which the guitar will come back to my place for, and I will be doing all of that)
     
  5. BentAnat

    BentAnat SS.org Regular

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    SO loads of progress has been made and posted on other parts of the internet.

    Here's all of it:
    Progress has been made:

    Control cavity has been lined with copper tape (conductive paint is a ballache to import... I tried).
    Also visible - a small router slip on the bottom right of the pic.
    [​IMG]


    More frets have been replaced (FWIW, I am going from medium fretwire to jumbo).
    Attentive eyes will notice that the nut is upside down. It's only laid in at this point... that's the old, cracked nut. It was taken out to test if the TusQ blank would fit... it didn't and we had to sand it down to size...We used the old nut only to check if the neck pocket needed more depth (bridge + nut + fishing line... the neck pocket definitely needed more depth - coincidentally also the reason the last fret is in already).
    [​IMG]

    And levelling, crowning, etc has started (cracked, upside down old nut clearly visible):
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Of course, as these things go, one runs into minor issues.
    Pickup wire-holes not quite big enough meant drilling at strange angles with ancient hand tools, etc.
    Rather than boring everyone with photos that show nothing but a hand that's in the way, a quick summary of what was done:

    Bridge ground wire hole was made.
    Pickup wire holes enlarged
    Tuning peg-holes were slightly off where they needed to be for the Gotoh tuners (by 1mm or so), so they were plugged and new ones drilled.

    so that leaves us here:
    [​IMG]
    what looks like a ding just looks like one there.
    The bridge is grounded and fastened, and the electronics are screwed in, but not wired yet.
    [​IMG]
    and machine heads were installed. Gotoh SG381 I want to say. Definitely the locking variant.
    One catch here was that the headstock (remember that the neck is an old one) was not the same thickness all across.
    That meant that, while the bass side (where the tuners were specced) has tight tuners, the treble side tuners were all wobbly around. We solved this by nicking spacers/washers (albeit silver ones) from the old machine heads and doubling up on the washers. We're doing this across all tuners, and it works, even if they're silver, since it now kinda matches the locking wheels.

    I followed the standard Duncan 2 humbuckers, 1 volume, 1 tone, 3 way toggle recipe for this.
    I had various bits of appropriate wire lying around, so I can pick and chose a bit.
    I decided that the cream coloured wire is ground (save for the one coming from the bridge - because I decided on this too late), and the black cable is hot

    Starting with the output jack.
    [​IMG]

    That got screwed in then
    [​IMG]

    ...grounded
    [​IMG]

    And some more grounding (including the black bridge ground wire)
    [​IMG]

    Then adding the treble bleed resistor to the tone knob.
    [​IMG]

    And some more grounding, this time on the volume pot (make sure to not build a loop here)
    [​IMG]

    And then I added some of the hot cables.
    [​IMG]


    Progress was made.
    First bit of "progress" was me stuffing up the nut slots:
    [​IMG]
    as you can see, the string spacing there is no good, and the slots are rubbish.
    Fortunately, I had a Les Paul replacement nut (also Graphtec Black Tusq) lying around that was way too thick and too tall. Nothing some patience and some sandpaper can't sort out.

    No images of making it fit though. That would include people photos... nobody wants to see that.
    After that, we rechecked the neck again (found it to be true), and started putting in pickups.
    Since insert nuts in any small gauge are all but impossible to buy around this part of the world, and I forgot to import them when I imported all other parts, we direct mounted the pickups. That meant that the pickup screws needed some cutting (they were simply way too long).
    So out comes the Dremel.
    [​IMG]
    The sandpaper is just there to clean up the new points, and make the screws actually go into the holes (considering that we screwed up the thread wit an appropriate cutting disc).

    And here she is with one pup wired in. Meet the Seymour Duncan Jazz (SH2N for those so inclined).
    [​IMG]

    At this point I did the old "plug it in, tap the pickup with a screw driver and see if you get sound", only to notice that no - I am not getting a sound.
    A few minutes of mild panic later, we established that my Dad, in his good intentions (normally not one to build electric guitars), shielded the Output Jack hole with copper tape. That was causing the output jack to short out.
    So we removed that shielding (no photos because it would be boring, and the aforementioned mild panic), and retested.
    Go figure, the pickup selector switch is wired the wrong way around. This is why I wired only one pup in at that point. Because the switch and the wiring diagram were not entirely the same format. Once that was corrected (literally one cable that needed a quick desolder and resolder), we were moving again.

    The second pickup went in, was "screwdriver tested", and strings went on (this is what I ordered fancy NYXL 10's for... again - almost impossible to get here, and I had to import them).

    As I strung up, I realised that the staggered posts are not going to fix the break angle all by themselves. Fortunately, I have some Graphtec string trees (isn't anticipation sometimes a wonderful thing). So they went on.
    [​IMG]

    At this point (rear cavity still open and such), I decide this needs playing. So I noodled around for a while.
    Observations - the volume pot doesn't actually kill the volume entirely, but does turn it way down. Good enough to play with, but this will need some "debugging". It's either a faulty pot, or it's a wiring issue... either way. It's 21:30 by this time. I am not bothering with it now.

    So we closed her up, add some DiMarzio ClipLocks, declared her "done", and had a suitably nice whisky (Ardbeg, for those interested)

    A (basically) complete pic from the front:
    [​IMG]

    and the back side
    [​IMG]

    Attentive eyes will notice some minor flaws (the ferrules at the back not being spaced right, the pickup cavities being on the big side, etc.
    We chalk this up to learning.

    Some things also still need to be done:
    Proper setup (not done just yet, because we figured we'd give the various pieces of wood some time to "settle", considering we just added 40-or-so kg of tension and brought it from the coast to an extremely dry climate, we thought that reasonable. This includes things like final nut slot depth, bridge adjustment, intonation, neck relief (though that looks pretty spot on).

    One thing I am not SUPER happy with right now is the bridge saddle height. they can go down a LITTLE bit more, but are near as low as they can go... another .5mm downwards space would be good here.
    This can be fixed with a simple shimming of the neck, though.
    Another is the bridge pickup height. It's a bit low. Since they're direct mounted, I'll have to shim that up a little as well.
    Obviously, the volume pot issue needs addressing.

    Other than that, this project is complete.
    Final list of spec (again - only for guitar nerds):

    "Cheri" strat knockoff neck, maple.
    16" radius fretboard, rosewood.
    African Walnut body.
    Maple inlay and control cavity cover.
    Steward Macdonald Nickel-silver frets (jumbo)
    Graphtec black Tusq nut
    Graphtec black tusq string trees
    Gotoh SG381 Locking tuners
    DiMarzio Cliplock strap
    Hipshot bridge
    CTS pots
    Switchcraft switch
    Switchcraft output jack
    Mighty Mite jack plate
    StewMac string ferrules
    Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz hot rodded pickup set.
    D'addario NYXL 10-46 strings
     
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  6. BentAnat

    BentAnat SS.org Regular

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    Some more things that were done since then:
    Unnecessary shielding and Metal braided wire are not good mates. That wire was replaced, since it was shorting out.

    The volume pot issue was sorted. Grounding is simple.
    The nut height was adjusted, though the nut is not glued in yet (it's a tight fit, though).
    Setup was done.

    She sounds good and plays well.
    The ONE thing I still want to do (besides glueing in the nut) is shim the neck up a little bit. Right now, the action on the higher frets is not entirely ideal, since the bridge is all bottomed out. It's not a show stopper, but it's a minor irritation.

    Another is fine tune the fret work. It's not bad right now, and it's all level, but the ends could be better.

    All in all, I reckon we did well.
    She plays well, she inspires, and holds tuning rock solid.
    Yes, mistakes were made. But this is NOT bad for a first build.

    One thing that's a bit weird to me is that this guitar has relatively high string tension. I haven't measured it, but I am sure I could put this into C standard without doing any big adjustments. Not sure WHY this is, since the spec is fairly standard at 25.5". My feeling is the solid hipshot machining, coupled with the break angles at both ends... but I am guessing about that.
    The higher tension is actually something I enjoy.
     
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