Nostalgia Part 1 of 283,429

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.

1984 (?) Electra Phoenix


This Electra Phoenix was my first real electric guitar. Well, the others were real in a technical sense. It wasn’t like my Synsonics Terminator was an ‘air guitar’. But that guitar was just a toy. Nobody takes a guitar with a built-in speaker seriously – not even me.

I believe I got this for my fifteenth birthday. That would have been 1991. Or maybe my sixteenth. My mom bought it and a solid state Marshall practice amp at a yard sale for $60.

This Electra Phoenix obviously looks a lot like my Westone Concord SX. Same body shape, same headstock, same wood type (maple), same tiny position markers. This was one of the last Electra models imported by Saint Louis Music before they switched to Matsumoku’s Westone brand. That makes it an early1984 model, or possibly late 1983. I could check the serial number but I don’t care.

It plays like my other Matsumoku guitars – low action, comfortable neck, but the frets are too small for shreddin’ and headbangin’. Fortunately I specialize in Johnny Ramone slash-and-burn bar chords. This isn’t meant to be a Super-Strat anyway.


The tremolo is a heavy brass unit I bought somewhere. I think Campbell’s Music? I don’t like it. I’ll put the original bridge back on if I find it. The bridge pickup was lame, so I replaced it with the bridge pickup from the Synsonics Terminator. Shockingly, it sounds pretty good. I usually play it in conjunction with the middle pickup. It has a great hollow, gutteral midrange bark that no other guitar I’ve ever owned has. Sort of like a really mellow wha-wha pedal pressed halfway down. Too bad it feedbacks easily, either pickup sucks on its own, and the neck pickup also sucks. Shrill!

Electra_Phoenix_headstock Electra_Phoenix_Chip_1

This guitar is chipped all to Hell. Teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to own things. The burn on the headstock was because I put a cigarette there the first time I played a show. I’ve never smoked – not even tobacco! I just thought it would look dumb if I had a cigarette there and didn’t take a drag from it. Boy was I right. People just didn’t get ‘meta’ humor back then.

As I am fond of saying, this guitar is a one-trick pony. Aren’t all my guitars? Well, the American Standard Strat isn’t. I can’t get a bad sound out of that guitar! But this one only has that one great hollow sound that I can’t duplicate with my other guitars, so I’ve kept it. Plus, it’s a sentimental thing. Sort of like the way some guys stay married to their first wife. Divorce already!


Condition: 6/10

– Cosmetics: 4/10 (lots of chips and dings, probably needs professional repair)

– Working order: 9/10 (no major gremlins)

Playability: 8/10

– Rhythm Playabiliy: 10/10

– Lead Playability: 6/10 (small frets, typical Matsumoku)

Sound: 6/10

– Bridge: 1/10 (shrill, feedback)

– Bridge+Middle: 9/10 (awesome hollow midrangey sound)

– Middle: 2/10 (shrill)

– Neck: 2/10 (shrill)

Nice studio guitar. A face for radio, as the saying goes.

D.I.Y. 2002 Squier “Stratmaster”

I was in a fit of “I’m not gonna pay $1000 for a guitar!” rage when I decided to make this one.

It was late 2013. I had just seen Man or Astro Man live, and I desperately wanted the Star Crunch signature guitar. Sure, Hallmark’s Mosrite copies have an awesome reputation, but I paid $2000 for my last car.  Paying $1000 for a guitar when I’m not even in a band just seems stupid. Besides, who really wants somebody else’s signature guitar?

I’d rather make my own “signature guitar” than pay for the privilege of having somebody else’s signature guitar, no matter how good. Is that D.I.Y. or arrogance? Well, in my case, it’s arrogance to be sure, but at least I have the woodworking ability to not make a complete ass of myself.

I love my red 1993 American Standard Strat, but I wanted the sound of a Mosrite. Seems easy enough – stick a Jazzmaster pickup on there, and voila – instant Stratmaster! Route some holes, solder some wires, there you go. But the Jazzmaster pickup is huge. Removing that much wood will compromise the structural integrity of the guitar – that’s probably the reason that the Jazzmaster doesn’t have a Strat style tremolo. Plus, carving out a huge chunk of body will affect the tone. So I decided to mod a Squier instead.


I started with a bog-standard green 2002 Squier Strat. This particular Squier was made by Cort. I got it for $150 at Guitars on George.It’s a typical Squier – fit and finish is OK for a cheap guitar, bridge was OK but made from pot metal, and the pickups stunk.


First, I bought a new tremolo, Jazzmaster “hot” bridge pickup, 3 way “SG” style switch, and a humbucker/single volume knob pickguard came from Guitar Fetish. I routed the pickguard for the new bridge pickup, and also for the original Squier neck pickup. Then I drilled holes for the switch and a tone control. Then I routed the body for the switch and bridge pickup. Everything went smoothly.


Below is a pic of what I did about all the wood I removed. Normally, there is a lot of “dead” space in front of the tremolo. I usually put a block of wood in there to give my tremolo a positive stop. This aids in tuning and also improves sustain. Instead of just gluing a block in there, I glued it in place and then surrounded it with “wood fill” epoxy putty. I doubt it will help, but it can’t hurt. You can also see where I had to enlarge the tremolo hole for the massive Guitar Fetish trem.


It played and sounded great for $250, but I wanted more. I knew that Star Crunch’s guitar has a “zero fret”. I found that Goldtone makes the Zer0 Glide – a zero fret retrofit kit for guitars. $30 seemed like an OK price, so I put one of them on.


I cut the nut slots too wide and it still works. I didn’t notice much of an improvement, but I think that next time I have to replace a nut I’ll try it again. I’d recommend it if you want the benefits of a zero fret. But get the pre-slotted version! (Not sure why I didn’t. Maybe they didn’t offer them then? It was a new product at the time).

Overall, I’m satisfied with how the guitar turned out. Blasting through my Fender Twin, it really does come close to capturing the vibe of Man or Astro Man. But it’s a one trick pony. The distortion tone isn’t all that great. The pickup selector switch isn’t in a very ergonomic position. The neck pickup (which I didn’t replace) still sucks. The Guitar Fetish bridge breaks strings more often than it should. The zero fret helps it stay in tune, but it still goes out after a few songs.


Condition: 9/10

– Cosmetics: 9/10 (nothing visible to the audience)

– Working order: 9/10 (switch isn’t in the best spot, but everything works)

Playability: 9/10

– Rhythm Playabiliy: 10/10

– Lead Playability: 8/10

Sound: 8/10

– Bridge: 10/10 (Surfy!)

– Neck: 2/10 (shrill, but who uses the neck pickup for surf?)

I wouldn’t gig with this axe, but it’s great for going deaf while playing “Inside the Atom” at home

Lame Links!

I just finished taking about a billion photographs of various guitars, so I will be able to post lots of horrific updates over the next few weeks.

But instead of taking the time to write a post this week, I will try to make myself look better by linking to various guitar sites that haven’t updated in years!!

Beavis Audio – not updated since 2012! Update 6/21/2015 – gone!

Single Coil Dot Com – not updated since 2013!

GM Arts! – Not updated since 2010!

Tim Escobedo’s Circuit Snippets – Mirror only – not updated since 2006!