I was a little busy this weekend, watching Len Cella play the organ with his organ. Actually, I have plenty of time to write a detailed post about another one of my guitars, but if I do that each week I’ll run out in a few months and have to resort to filler posts from there on out. So I’ll put up a filler post now!
My main philosophy when it comes to modifying guitars is don’t try to do too much. It is impossible to out-engineer the people who design guitars for a living, but it is possible to eliminate the design compromises that they made to hit their price point. It’s also possible to personalize one, or maybe even make it one-of-a-kind, as long as you stay reasonable.
For example, a Gretsch is “twangy”, and so is a Telecaster. Gretsch style pickups are available in standard humbucker form, and humbucker bridges are available for Telecasters. Assuming you have a router or a good set of wood chisels, this is a straightforward mashup.
But mixing totally different guitars is a recipe for disaster. A locking Floyd won’t fit on a Gibon SG because the body is too thin. Rickenbacker pickups won’t fit on a Flying V, and a typical V needs a fat humbucker to make up for the body’s lack of resonance. Bass pickups sound awful on a guitar, even if the polepieces did line up, which they don’t.
I started modding guitars almost as soon as I got one. As I mentioned before, my first real guitar was an Electra Phoenix. It played and sounded great unplugged, but the pickups were absolute garbage. My junky Synsonics Terminator guitar, which played and sounded horrible unplugged, sounded OK through an amp. I removed the Terminator bridge pickup and put it on the Electra, and the sound improved marginally. I was hooked!
Did you ever notice that there are a lot of little screws and things on a Fender style bridge? So did I! I immediately wanted to know what they did, so I got some screwdrivers and some hex keys and began turning them all this way and that. I discovered things like how to make your guitar sound out of tune, how to make the strings buzz against the pickups, and how to make your electric guitar play like crap. Then I discovered how to fix these things.
A friend gave me a 1950s Danelectro Silvertone. Just a body and a neck. It had tuners, but no nut. The cardboard top and back were both cracked. I painted it black to hide the damage and stuck cheap pickups on it. EMG Selects, I think. Humbucker bridge, single coil neck. I used an On-Off-On switch from the hardware store and some volume knobs from Radio Shack. I cut out a piece of red acrylic for the pickguard. It looked black until I turned on the flashlight I hid inside it. I didn’t have a flat-mount bridge, so I took apart a cheap Strat style tremolo and screwed it down to the body. I drilled holes for the strings to go through, but I didn’t know what ferrules were so the string balls stuck out the back.
I think my first real ‘project guitar’ that turned out OK was a green Hondo Explorer copy. My mom got it at a yard sale for a few dollars. Just a body and a neck. I scavenged halfway decent parts for it from local guitar repair shops and sold it for a small profit.
The worst project I did that didn’t turn out was my drum-playing robot, but that’s a story for another day. The worst guitar project that turned out bad was some no-name Telecaster copy. I believe it was originally a National or Raven – same diff. Terrible guitar. I couldn’t find any cheap 6 in-line tuners locally, so I used a 3+3 set. What’s a few extra holes in the headstock? I was trying to create a junked-out guitar that somebody like Jon Spencer would have. Instead, I merely ruined it. Well, it was made from actual plywood, with a terrible, terrible neck, so I couldn’t ruin it. I mercy-killed it.