Trashcaster guitar (part 3) – Red or Dead

After stripping off the pink paint from my Trashcaster guitar, I found some traces of the original paint underneath. The guitar had once been a nice shade of fiesta red. I also found this photo of an old Vox Consort on the interweb…
I’m pretty certain now that my body started off as a Consort like the one above. It looks like someone cut down the pickguard, which was presumably damaged like the one in the photo. 
After stripping and sanding back to the wood, I sprayed the body with several coats of red nitrocellulose lacquer from Rothko & Frost (who give an excellent service). These lacquers are nice to use as you can build up several thin coats in a day. The Trashmaster now looks rather smart!

The paint is just transparent enough to let a little of the grain show through. For a high gloss finish it should be given a few layers of clear lacquer, but I’m aiming for the less shiny look of budget 60s guitars so will probably leave it. The scratchplate is less than mint, and so a perfect body may look a bit incongruous. The replacement chrome control plate came from a Fender Jazz bass, adjusted slightly with a file to take off some pointy edges.

The extant screw holes in the body didn’t fit a standard neck plate, so I’ve used these ferrules and screws from StewMac. They work very well and solve the problem. Also, the original tremolo bridge was missing. I have replaced it with a used hardtail bridge from ebay (£6!), and machined a brass block to fill the hole where the vibrato spring must once have been. Perhaps that will give a little more sustain too.

Nearly done, and what the guitar needs now is a logo to stop the headstock looking quite so naked. Rothko & Frost also supply custom vintage style logos for a very fair price, and here is one that they printed for the Trashcaster. It now just needs a couple of coats of clear lacquer to protect it, and everything can go back together again.

‘Yorkshire Tour’ Stratocaster pickups

I spent Saturday helping my former band-mate Ant make new pickups for his 1983 Fender Stratocaster – the stock pickups were OK but lacked a little warmth, and he wanted something overwound (i.e. more turns than a ‘standard’ strat pickup), to give a hotter, fatter sound inspired by Rory Gallagher’s ‘Irish Tour’ album.

Ant makes single coil pickup formers from board and magnets.

Magnetic fields fall away rapidly with distance, and with a moulded plastic bobbin, there is inevitably a gap between the pole piece and the coil. Instead, we made the pickups in the traditional manner, with board and Alnico-V magnets supplied by the mighty Although it takes a little time to construct the pickup in this manner, this method does give a better sound, as the copper wire coil is wound directly onto the magnets, with the most intimate contact possible.

The old strat pickup assembly removed

We made a couple of small tools to help with the assembly. A pair of acrylic blocks were cut to act as spacers between the top and bottom of the pickup, to keep the boards parallel. One of these was drilled to help align the magnets as they were knocked into place. The other tool was a spindle for the coil winder.

Knocking in the magnets – a strip of wood protects the magnet from the hammer!

Once the three bobbins are assembled and glued, it is a simple case of winding the required number of turns onto the former without breaking the wire! The neck and mid pickups were wound with 9000 turns of 42 AWG plain enamel copper wire, and the bridge pickup with 9800 turns, which gave DC resistances of 6.7 kΩ and 7.4 kΩ respectively. 7.4kΩ indicates that around 1300 meters of wire has been wound onto the pickup! For comparison, according to Vintage Guitars Info, the original Stratocaster pickups measured circa 5.8 kΩ to 6.3 kΩ.

An assembled pickup – magnets and flatwork – on the coil winder.

It was interesting to see how the original pickups were wound – they are pretty inconsistent, and one in  particular had substantial asymmetry to the coil. Perhaps there is some magic to this, but we suspect that it was just their winder drifting out of alignment and piling up the wire on one side.

Fender Stratocaster pickup, circa 1983.

Our pickups were a bit neater than that! Once wound, the lead wires are soldered on, and the complete pickups are dipped in the wax bath to stop microphonics, and then magnetised. A pair of very powerful 1 inch circular neodynium magnets were used to magnetise the Alnico 5 pole pieces, and we measured around 900 to 1100 gauss for each of the poles. The middle pickup was reverse wound, and given a reverse polarity, by simply flipping the bobbin over for the winding and magnetisation processes. This gives some humbucking when the mid-positions are selected.

The verdict? “Those pickups are PHAT!! Awesome. Loads more bass!

Back together again – Stratocaster heaven!

Fender Telemaster build

My holiday project was assembling this Telemaster guitar, from parts acquired that I have accumulated over the past six months or so.

Fender (ish) Telemaster guitar, Xaudia

The ‘Telemaster’ is an imagined product that Fender might have made in the 1960s or 70s, but never did – it is essentially a Jazzmaster body with Telecaster hardware. In this case I used a neck with a Strat-style headstock, and added a Fender-badged Bigsby vibrato, simply because I love the Bigsby sound.

The ash body & scratch plate were made and sprayed by John Manuel of Carlisle, who did an amazing job with a nitrocellulose transparent white – it really shows the lovely grain below. He can be contacted through ebay.

The neck and locking tuners were from Vanson guitars. The neck is pretty nice quality, although I did need to rub it down with some very fine abrasive paper to remove a couple of rough spots in the varnish. I found it slightly chunkier in profile than an original Jazzmaster neck.

Bigsby with super-tremola upgrade

One thing that I don’t love about Bigsbys is re-stringing them. The ball ends of the strings have a tendency to slip off the metal posts, which can be very frustrating, and one really needs four hands for the job – to hold the string at both ends, keep in under tension, and turn the tuner! Two things help with this – firstly locking tuners clamp the string at that end, and also I have fitted a Duesenberg super tremola kit, from Rockinger, which replaces the posts with a through-hole system. Much less frustrating!

home made telecaster pickup

The pickups are of course home made, and I tried to get as close to the original Telecaster specs as I could. Rather than using a bobbin/former to wind the coil, the core of the pickups were made using top and bottom ‘flatwork’, glued to Alnico rods. Enamelled wire was then wound directly onto the magnets, which avoids the gap between magnets and wire that is inherent with a plastic former.

The bridge pickup was wound with 8500 turns of 42 gauge wire, and the bridge was reverse-wound with around 6500 turns of 43 gauge, and of course reverse polarity for the magnets.  Once wound, the pickups are wrapped with string to protect the delicate coil, and then dipped in wax to stop microphonics. The whole thing is very solid, and rather heavy.

I did briefly consider adding a headstock decal to complete the fake Fender look, but decided that it was too good to give anyone else the credit – so it has a nice Xaudia badge. I am rather proud of it! 🙂