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I’m a sucker for almost any guitar with P-90 pickups, especially if it’s an oddball. I found this baby on eBay by accident and was intrigued by its looks and features. It’s a Jay Turser Surfmaster, which looks kind of like a cross between a Jaguar and a Jazzmaster. Normally those two Fender models are not a blip on my radar, but this one also sported three P-90 pickups—whoa! They had me at hello with that. I won it for $154 plus $39 shipping ($193 total).
My new Surfmaster, which I’ve transformed into a vibey blues machine.
When my Surfmaster arrived, it still had the protective plastic over the pickguard and looked great with its teal finish. Overall it had a really cool vibe, but it’s rare I get a guitar that doesn’t need some tweaking, and this was no exception. Several things bothered me about it: The cheesy tremolo seemed to go out of tune with every string bend and the P-90s were positioned way too far from the strings to be punchy and loud enough for me. For reasons I cannot explain, most P-90 equipped guitars these days have no easy, efficient way to adjust the height of the pickups. I had to take the strings off, unscrew the pickguard and add foam rubber to build up the height of all three pickups. That seems silly and tedious by today’s standards, but most manufacturers still wrongly assume one height fits all.
Originally these P-90s were set too low in the body, so I had to disassemble the guitar and install foam shims to bring them closer to the strings.
Once I got done with that, the next step was to do something with the tremolo system. I took it apart and discovered I could max out the tremolo adjustment screws and thereby deactivate the tremolo, converting it into a stop tailpiece of sorts, which suited my blues playing much better anyway. I don’t care how cool they look, I hate guitars that won’t stay in tune.
The Surfmaster doesn’t lack tone switches!
Once I put some fresh GHS strings on my Surfmaster and started playing, it finally felt right and sounded great. The extra switches located on the upper bout are actually useful, too. They change the tonal variations of the pickups without thinning out the sound too much.
The wang bar kept putting the strings out of tune, so I converted the trem into a fixed tailpiece by fully tightening the tension-adjustment screws.
Bottom Feeder Tip #278: Never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and tinker with a guitar’s innards if you have a pretty good idea how things work. Sure, I could have left the tweaking to my tech, but after taking this Surfmaster apart, I now understand it a lot better. It’s a keeper for now—and a cool lookin’ blues machine.