Archive for October, 2007

1968 Gibson EB-3 Project

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Yet another project – one of my favorite types of instruments to work on – maybe because there are so many abused examples out there ?

This is a late 60’s Gibson EB-3 bass – structurally very similar to a 68/69 EB-0 I recently finished and sold on Ebay, but thats been through some trials and mods over the years.

The mods are minor and reversible – notably, the bridge position mini-humbucker was replaced with a Rickenbacker “toaster” pickup from a ’67 Rick 4005 bass – as were all the electronics and knobs. This was actually one of the primary motivations for me to acquire this bass – I coincidentally have a mid-60s Rick 4005 bass in pieces – missing the electronics and one pickup – lost pieces eventually recirculate to their rightful places – perhaps I have stumbled upon a very material expression of the eastern concept of karma – “guitarma ??”

The main “trial” this bass has been through – besides having its cherry finish stripped – is that like many Gibsons, it suffered a headstock break. Apparently this was repaired by laminating a 1/8″ thick piece of mahogany on the back of the headstock. Also, the Gibson logo was removed and replaced with an approximation in mother of pearl and there was an extra hole to fill in the front of the body for the added Rickenbacker “blend” knob.

The bass also had a replacement metal (steel?) pickguard and control panel cover and a chromed finger rest.

On the plus side – the bass had the original neck humbucker, bridge, mute assembly, tuners and hard shell case – and outside of two finger wear spots on the front of the bass and the extra control hole, the body was in excellent condition. I have the correct Pat # baby humbucker for the bridge position, repro knobs and will make a new pickguard, backplate and thumbrest.

The two parts I dont have are the brass control cavity shield and the 4-position Variatone switch. But I’ll keep looking or simply install an SG-style toggle.

The first step after disassembly was to take down the headstock to the proper thickness on a belt sander – taking care not to make it uneven or TOO thin. I left the last little bit of the laminated piece on and used a sanding block to even everything out. Not surprisingly, there was no serial number remaining. I also had to recarve the neck to headstock transition – using my 65 EB-0 as a guide – not too tricky.

The headstock repair seemed very solid – no worries about it pulling apart – the laminated mahogany was an overkill type repair. And once everything was sanded down, there was nothing that a good solid color refin wouldn’t cover up ! And I am very fond of Pelham Blue.

I plugged the control with a mahogany plug and then used some nitro based scratch filler on the deeper of the two wear marks and the control plug. This view is BEFORE sanding.

The body and neck were completely sanded and then grain filler was slopped on – and allowed to partly dry before I scrubbed off the excess. After drying overnight, I sanded the entire bass down again – using a sanding block, a random orbital sander and plain old sandpaper. I then sealed the filler with a good heavy coat of clear nitro sanding sealer – and the grain really “popped” after this treatment. I almost felt bad about covering that gorgeous wood up with blue paint …

This is what a piece of mahogany with the grain properly filled should look like – notice that there is no filler on the surface of the wood – only in the grain, so that once a clear coat is applied, the wood has a mirror finish that still emphasizes the grain of the mahogany.

I used my Pelham Blue Melodymaker as a guide on matching the color – since the MM is heavily yellowed, I had to look for places it was well worn to get an idea of the original color – which is a surprisingly bright metallic blue, that of course appears green after 40 years of the top coat yellowing. I’ll try to post a few closeups of the MM later – but meanwhile, here is the EB-3 with the first few color coats on.

(added Oct. 24th, 10:30 am)

OK, here are a few pictures of the EB-3 compared to the original Pelham Blue finish, beat-to-hell Melodymaker guitar. Notice how the different light radically changes the appearance of the Pelham Blue – the pictures above were taken under my shop neon lights – the ones below were taken under low-power halogens.

The first picture is a close-up of one area on the MM where the top coat has worn off and left some of the original finish exposed – compare this to the picture above and you will see how close the two metallic blues are.

This guitar was played to death – lots of mojo.

Then here is a pic of the EB-3 by itself (some parts just placed) and side by side with the MM. I’d have to do a lot of yellowing to match that color !!

( Updated Oct. 26th, 11:30 PM)

OK – so I touched up the Pelham Blue – looked pretty much perfect, and then began applying a yellowed/ambered topcoat to start getting the EB-3 towards the proper aged green look.  A tricky proposition to get a nice even color – but I made a good start – Sunday I’ll try a lighter tinted coat and try to even out the back and get the front a little bit greener – and do the back of the headstock too!

A pic of the front of the bass – and then a picture of the neck with yellowing and headstock without yellowing to show the contrast.

Recording a band using Garageband and my Mac Mini

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Ok – again I’m off the topic of guitar refinishing and repair, but still a topic thats of interest to most guitar freaks – recording !

I have been a long time fan of Apple – and always had a Mac of one sort or another. When the Mac Mini came out a few years ago, I was eager to get one in part because of the low price ($700 with a dvd burner), in part because it was TINY and COOL looking, and in part because I wanted to try out Garageband, Apples freebie multitrack recording software.

My current recording rig consists of :

– NADY 8-channel preamp, about $100 from musician’s friend

– borrowed MOTU 828 analog to digital converter thats quite a few years old (you can find these used for around $300)

– early Mac Mini, with 1.25 GHz G4 processor and 1 GB memory & 19-inch Xerox monitor

My band had played with a band named 92 Protons, and I really liked their sound and also their whole persona – especially Lacey, their guitarist and primary vocalist. After watching their set I suggested that they come down to my band’s practice space sometime and we do a real fast simple recording (the demos they had were pretty poor in sound quality). I wanted to do a live recording, no overdubs – everything at once – with minimal post-production.

92 protons at Abbey Lounge

A few weeks later we found a Friday evening we could do the recording and we all got together at the practice space. Because I didnt want my computer to crash during recording and because I hadnt yet received my set of mics from Musician’s Warehouse, and was relying on what I could scrounge up, I decided to limit us to 6-tracks of recording.

Mic arrangement was as follows:

bass – One mic about 4 ft in front bass stack of a 2 X 15 cabinet and a 4 X 12 cabinet driven by a 1967 Kustom blue sparkle head

bass mikage

guitar – one mic off-angle, about 12 inches away from speaker of Peavey Studio Pro 112

guitar mic

drums – three mics, one a foot in front of the kick drum, and two overheads; one a condensor mic pointed down at the snare and hi-hat; one a normal mic pointed at toms. Kit was an early 70s Slingerland kit with no bottom heads and a HUGE chrome marching snare.

drum mics

vocals – one mic in front of a small PA monitor, with vocal mics (Shure SM 58s) feeding into a small Sunn PA head. The miking the PA is an old Iggy Pop & Stooges trick – check out their album Funhouse. A good trick to get a “live” grittier vocals sound.

vocals recording

It took nearly 2 hours to set up everything and sound check – mostly because I had to sort through the cables and mics I was borrowing to make sure everything was working. I think with my new mics and cables I could cut this time almost in half next time.

We then began recording – and 92 Protons played like pros – there was only one song that was “messed up” and had to be redone – and there was one other 2nd take. Two hours later, we had succeeded in recording 8 tunes – for a total of roughly 35 minutes of material – essentially a CD. This included time taken up switching around vocals, as TJ (drums) sang one song and Matt and Lacey sang together on a few others.

I did a few different mixes – mostly compressing the vocals, some guitar and a little bit of the drums – and then adding some reverb to the drums, vocals and guitar. I stayed away from compression of the whole mix – though this is still an option. The resulting mix was posted by 92 Protons on as the album “Vast Deferens” and you can hear it for FREE by clicking here. Drop them some love mail if you like what you hear !!

The clip below shows the monitor, with 6 tracks recording at once – no separate recording booth for me – just a little pine desk.

The Hives – live garage rock from Sweden last night in Cambridge, MA

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Ok this has nothing to do with guitar repair, though the Hives are a decidedly retro band – with a serious “extract of Nuggets” sound – simple and catchy like the Troggs or early Kinks but a hell of a lot tighter ? And they do play sorta vintage equipment, though seemingly less and less so.

All amps were grey finished Hiwatts – and instruments were a black Les Paul Custom, a white 70’s Tele bass, and a few different black Telecaster guitars. Last time I saw them, the band was sporting an Epiphone batwing Crestwood Custom, a white P-bass and a black single cutaway Dano – maybe they decided to leave the real vintage stuff at home where its safer.

The show was at the Middle East Downstairs, a 550 person capacity club and former candle-pin bowling alley in Cambridge MA. Apparently the show sold out in 15 minutes or something silly like that – so it was pretty cozy and sweaty and loud down there. A good time was had by all. A few pictures for your viewing pleasure – more pictures can be seen by clicking here !!

hives 1hives 2sing along

And below – a first for my blog an actual video clip from last night – the Hives doing “Supply & Demand” – and yes, I like to be up front for shows !! (filmed using my tiny Canon SD-10 digital camera)

One way to repair a Fender trussrod – 63 Jazz bass neck

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

I did this repair as part of a complex deal to get a slab-board Fender Precision P-bass/Jazz bass neck with a C.A.R. headstock. Anyone have a spare C.A.R. P-bass body hanging around ? 🙂

So anyway – the truss rod on this bass apparently broken at the anchor – meaning that I had to get TO the anchor to put in a new anchor and thread in a new truss-rod. In most cases with Fenders, the truss rod simply becomes unthreaded from the anchor – Fender never thought of a little spot weld to old it all together – and I have – once – succesfully re-threaded a truss rod into the anchor with loctite on the threads (I have a weird little tool I made to let me hold the truss rod and thread it in from the bottom of the neck). But in the case of a broken rod or anchor – or simply to be sure the rod is securely anchored – its best to have direct access to the truss rod anchor.

The diagram below is what I sent the owner of the neck – proposing my repair. The other picture is a 66 Jazz neck project – someone cleverly peeled off the fretboard !! Someday I’ll fix it – its an original Olympic White headstock.

diagram 66 jazz neck

So I received the neck – which had been heavily played over the years and was missing the headstock decal and one clay dot. I decided to replace the clay dot with a small amount of cellulose filler that matched the color – which I fine sanded smooth with the surrounding fretboard, and then soaked with “thin” HotStuff glue before sanding it again. After a little scratch polish and lemon oil on the surrounding fretboard, the dot looked identical to the others on the neck !

But onto the truss-rod repair. I first removed the string nut and 1st fret. Then I made two longitudinal cuts from the fret slot to the nut slot – repeating until I had hit the underlying maple and trying to follow the grain lines in the rosewood. I used a Dremel tool with a thin cutting wheel to cut down vertically at the first fret slot and the nut slot. Then using a chisel that was just a little narrower than the piece of the fretboard I was removing, I carefully got under the edge of the board at the nut slot – and peeled up the rectangular piece of the fretboard.

fretboard cut

I then removed some of the maple to allow access to the anchor and truss rod slot. I placed a new Stew-mac anchor into the neck, using small pieces of maple and glue to tightly lodge it – and then threaded the new truss rod in from the base of the neck. When the threaded ends were near the anchor, I placed loctite on the threads and then used my homemade tool (I need to take a picture of it!) to twist the truss rod from the base of the neck and thread it tightly into the anchor.

After allowing the loctite to set for several hours – and testing the rods secureness – I fitted a narrow piece of maple over the slot for the rod so that it wouldnt rattle in the neck. One step I did not do – which has been recommended to me by Jim Mouradian since then – was to wrap the truss rod in either electrical tape or very thing wire-shrink wrap so there wouldn’t be any chance of the trussrod rattling in the neck. The challenge can be in threading the truss rod into the neck though once its wrapped, since its a very tight fit. I will say that I tried this neck out on a bass after the repair and I didnt notice any rattle – not too surprising since it was under tension too.

truss rod replaced

Now came the task of putting all the pieces back in place – the replacement pieces of maple were filed down to match the contour of the piece of fretboard that was removed – and then the piece of fretboard was glued back in place.

Once the glue was dry, a combination of rosewood dust and crazy glue was used to fill the slots left by cutting the fretboard. A razor blade was used to sift some rosewood dust into the slots – piled up above the surface of the fretboard – and then crazy glue was run along the slot. I sprayed an accelerator on the glue, so that the dust and glue combination instantly hardened, as you see in the picture below.

fretboard replaced

Once everything was hardened – the two ridges were carefully filed down flush with the board – then the entire area was gently sanded smooth – scratch polish and lemon oil applied – and the 1st fret and nut were reinstalled. Once the neck was strung up, the repair was not obvious at all – you could see the lines if you were looking for them, but the strings prevented them from being prominent.

Most important – the trussrod now functioned perfectly – I swapped out the neck from my 66 Jazz bass to try it out – and the neck played flat and evenly – no relief and no twist.  Oh – and heres the CAR neck that I got in the deal – and it needs the same treatment PLUS a heel repair for some brutal chiseling that was done in some misguided attempt to “fix” a truss rod that broke at the adjuster.

repair complete

CAR neck

1960s Guild Starfire Bass Refinish

Friday, October 12th, 2007

The other recent project that came my way is a stripped 1968 Guild Starfire bass, which a customer in New York asked me to refinish.

We are still pondering exactly what to do with the bass – his preference is to get all remnants of the old finish off the bass – and then do some sort of natural finish that will show off the mahogany of the body and still protect it. If that doesn’t look so great, then we may go for a sunburst type of finish – which was used on these instruments during the 60s. Since I would clear coat the bass anyway as part of any refin, I will proceed with filling the mahogany grain, sanding down the filler and then clear coating the body.

I will post pictures later. An interesting side note is that I refinished my own Starfire bass many years ago – trying to match the original green that someone had removed. I later saw other green Guilds, which were a much darker color – however once I got this particular Starfire I realized why – my Starfire bass (1965) has a body made entirely of maple – a very light colored wood. The other green Guilds I have seen most likely are mahogany, which would give the green a darker and browner/olive tint.

Some initial pictures during disassembly:

Now I have had a little time to work on the bass – I tried using Cirix stripper to get rid of some traces of the original cherry finish, and though some of it seemed to come off, more seemed to get released from the pores of the mahogany also. I ended up just sanding the back and the neck of the bass, and then spraying a clearcoat of nitro to see what the wood looked like. It looks pretty good now that I sanded it down !

Next up I’ll probably fill the grain on the whole bass – sand it down again so that the filler only remains in the pores of the wood – and then spray the bass clear or with a slight amber tint.

(Update Nov 14th, 2007)

I have finally finished this project – which took a bit of work.  I filled the grain, and then sanded the whole instrument – which was remarkably laborious, due to the arched front and back.  Note to self – charge extra in future for arch-tops!   I had to use a lot of grain filler as the body had been stripped harshly at some point in the past, maybe with steel wool (BAD on soft woods people!), so the grain was especially challenging to fill. Below, the body before sanding.

After much much much sanding and then many coats of clear lacquer, the mahogany finally looks like I wanted. Wet sanding and compounding and buffing brought a nice gloss to the wood, with some texture from the grain still visible – like an older piece of mahogany furniture or an older Gibson, where the filler has slightly shrunken under the lacquer. The mahogany has a semi-flamed 3-D look to it now – very cool, but hard to capture in the pictures.

I did the resoldering and cleaning up of the electronics this morning – reinstalling electronics in a hollow-body is ALWAYS so much fun – a coat hanger, needle nose pliers and lots of cursing was required, but finally it all went together. I plugged it in, and everything works – the Hagstrom pickup sounds great – and the “bass removal filter” works – though why you would want to use it is beyond me. Anyway – some pics of the final product are below – notice that the shrunken headstock overlay has remained – shrunken – anyone have a line on NOS overlays for a Starfire out there ?

1978 Fender Jazz Bass Refin Project

Friday, October 12th, 2007

I just started a new project on behalf of a customer this past Wednesday – its a 1978 Fender Jazz bass thats been through a lot and had a partial refin over the years. The bass has replacement tuners and bridge (Schaller) and newer control pots, but the pickups are original, as are the frets, string nut, headstock decal, neckplate and control plate. The body finish appears to be original black, but has been oversprayed black to cover chipping and wear in a number of places. The neck was all original, except that it appeared that the back of the neck had been stripped at one point and then shellacked or something with a finish that was now completely flaking off. The headstock may have been oversprayed – though its persistent glossiness may be due to a poly top coat instead of the nitro top coat Fender used in earlier years.

back of neck neck pocket

We met and discussed what he’d like to do and decided that the body should be stripped first – and then depending on the condition of the wood, I’d do a refin in natural, transparent red or Olympic white. The tuners will be replaced with Hipshot Vintage tuners, with a detuner on the E-string. The customer wants a BadAss II bridge for the sustain and adjustability. Most likely the bass will get a black pickguard, though a tortoise shell pickguard with yellowed Olympic white would look very cool !!

Unfortunately this Jazz bass is from the era of Fender polyurethane “bowling ball” finishes – as was the Musicmaster in my prior post. I took off some of the finish just at the edge of the body to see what I was going to be dealing with – no fun !!

top edge of bodyback of body

The good news was that under the black finish was a solid clear sealer coat – which would protect the ash body underneath as I stripped it. Since I realized how tough and thick the finish was, and that paint stripper probably wouldn’t attack it – I decided I could use some fairly aggressive methods to remove it. This meant a random orbital sander with a heavy grit/no clog disk, a smaller Craftsman 3-D sander for the back scoop, and a square palm sander with heavy grit (100) paper for getting some of the edge finish off.

My strategy was to use the heaviest grit papers until I started to see the clear coat peeking through, and then switch to finer grits to clean up the clear coat so that I wouldn’t leave any deep scratches in the clear coat and certainly wouldn’t cut into the wood. Below are my results after a combined total of roughly 2 hours of sanding – the front and back are down to the clear coat and the edges are started.

front partially stripped
back mostly stripped

As you can see, the wood looks great – and there are almost zero flaws/dings that would need to be filled. This body will be an excellent candidate for a clear or other transparent finish.

I estimate it will take me about another 2 hours of work to get the rest of the black finish off, though I am not going to strip out the control cavity, pickup routings or the neck pocket.

(Added on 10/12/07 at 1:11 pm)

Ok, so the black finish is off and the body just requires a little light sanding and few small dings filled before its ready for a clear sealer coat. The existing sealer coat did get sanded through in places along the body edge, but I only hit wood in one area, inside of one of the cutaways. I did wipe the body down with denatured alcohol, and while it was still wet the grain of the wood looked excellent. The forecast is for some dryer Fall weather this weekend, so I anticipate clear coating it over the next day or two.

front stripped back stripped

(Update Oct. 25th 6:30 PM)

Finally got a few things out of the way and the humidity dropped – and I sprayed the Jazz body with a transparent red color coat. I did this with a little lighter touch than the Musicmaster – as I really wanted the figured wood to show through. Once this is dry, it will get multiple clear coats and then a wet sanding and buffing out – I think its going to look outstanding!!

Parts just came in the mail – so this bass will be going together soon !!

(Update Nov.2, 2007)

Finally wet sanded and buffed out the body. I’m still waiting for the knobs and a new control plate, but I bolted the parts together and snapped a few pictures.  A transformed bass.  I refinished the back of the neck too in an aged amber nitro – not quite the proper slick-o-rama 70s poly finish – more like a nice worn in 60’s neck.

First post on my blog – 1978 Musicmaster Bass Project

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Hi there,

I decided that a blog would be a more flexible forum for me to not only share info and pictures covering guitar projects I’m working on, but also just generally discuss topics related to musical instruments and even recording. This was I can keep my “business” website more focused on just that – whereas here the topics can be more free ranging and I can go into more detail on my projects.

At any given time, I have a number of projects underway – some long term, some shorter term. I just recently restarted work on a 1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass.

I have a fondness for the Fender Musicmaster – especially the earlier ones, which have very lightweight alder or poplar bodies and slimmer necks. However the later ones are also good playing instruments, and I have found the single-coil pickups (which are strat pickups with 6 flat polepieces) to be very powerful – with a less compressed sound than a P-bass for example. I have used a Dakota Red ’74 Musicmaster bass with flat wounds for both recording and gigging on many occasions – it sounds great through a high gain amp or my Big Muff Pi pedal !

This particular Musicmaster bass is being assembled from parts, mostly found on Ebay over the years, with the remained purchased new or made by me. I started with a badly defretted but otherwise solid neck and an oversprayed black late 70’s body.

The fretboard of the neck required repair of some major chips when the frets were brutally removed (not by me!), which was accomplished with rosewood saw dust and “crazy glue”. The neck was refretted with Stewart-Macdonald jumbo fretwire, and should be a nice playing neck.

The body was largely undamaged, but the original black finish had been oversprayed with more black – and also had some kind of symbol scratched into the back surface of the upper horn. I decided to sand off the polyurethane finish, and it surprisingly came off very nicely and evenly and revealed a very nice ash body under the finish – a 3-piece body, but with the grain matched so that it looks almost like a single piece of nicely grained wood. The only problem was the scratched in design on the back and a little divot out of the butt end of the body.

I scratched out the black paint left in the design on the back and the small divot, and then filled them with crazy glue – which I then sanded down flush. I did contemplate spraying the body an ambered clear, since much of the clear sealer coat was still on the wood, but I decided to go for the more interesting transparent red finish that Fender used for a few years during the late 70’s.

To my eye, the color has a slightly browned and ambered tint – something that takes the edge off a pure cherry red color. I first sprayed a clear coat of sanding sealer, which required very little sanding (see first picture), and then mixed a lightly tinted finish of red and yellow stew-mac dye, with some powdered burnt umber pigment mixed in, and sprayed an initial color coat (second picture). The result looked cool , but not what I was going for.

Clear coated with sanding sealerFirst color coat, orange tint

After letting the first coat dry for a few days – I mixed up another batch of lacquer, this time going very heavy on the red dye and adding a little more burnt sienna. I sprayed this on in several coats – I unfortunately got one run on the upper horn (which I’ll wet sand out), but now the color is really what I wanted. For comparison purposes, check out the 1978 Musicmaster that Brian Goff recently had for sale in Bizarre Guitars Ebay store.

First red color coat, unsanded

After wet sanding the whole body, I’ll apply one more lightly tinted color coat and then several clear coats, before a final wet sanding and buffing out. Look for another post on this project in a week or two.

(Update Nov. 9th, 2007)

Finally I got around to finishing up the Musicmaster Bass – I tried out my new Sears 6 inch Buffer to buff out the finish and it worked great – will make my life much easier !

I also had to scrounge up the rest of the parts, wire up the bass and do a little fret work on the refretted neck – one lose fret and a few high spots here and there, plus then setting up the entire instrument once it was altogether. Its turned out to be a really nice looking bass and it plays well, though I dont like it as much as my 74 Musicmaster, which has a smaller neck in general and is lighter.

The parts I used with the refretted neck and refinished body are as follows:

– original bridge, neckplate and pickup cover

– replica 3-ply pickguard, reissue Fender thumbrest and knobs, aftermarket strap buttons, string retainer

– Dimarzio strat pickup, Stew-Mac 250K pots, modified Ping tuners and string ferrules

The completed product below – and a snapshot with its big brother 78 Jazz bass.

Completed 78 Musicmaster Bass