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May 2014
more... Premier BlogSolidbodyHumbucker-equippedFebruary 2014EpiphoneVibramate

Massive Makeover! See a Vibey ’74 Epiphone Get Totally Transformed


For a detailed description of the nut carving process, along with photos illustrating every step, visit premierguitar.com and read “DIY: How to Convert a Flattop to Nashville Tuning.”

Fig. 24. The finished bone nut. Graphite from a mechanical pencil provides dry lubrication for the string slots.

When I had the slot depth, string spacing, and string exit angles where I wanted them, I polished the nut and colored the slots with a mechanical pencil for lubrication. Then I strung up the guitar with a D’Addario EXL110 set (.010–.046), which is what the owner requested, and gave the nut a final check (Fig. 24).

Fig. 25. Notching the bridge saddles with gauged nut files. Notice how the strings attach to the Bigsby with the Vibramate String Spoiler—a real time-saver compared to the traditional “curl strings over and under the bar” method.

Notching the saddle. Next I turned my attention to spacing the strings on the Tune-o-matic-style bridge and notching its saddles (Fig. 25). This involves filing a small, shallow channel in each saddle to hold the string and prevent it from shifting when you pluck it. I use gauged nut files to match the different string widths in the owner’s .010 set.

Some considerations: It’s important to have all the strings an equal distance from each other, as well as the 6th and 1st strings placed equally in from the edge of the fretboard. Ideally, you also want the strings sitting over the center of the pickup pole pieces.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. It’s rare that a pickup’s generic pole-piece spacing perfectly matches the string spacing on a given guitar. Also, the fret ends on one side of the neck may be beveled at a slightly different angle than the other, which means you may have to position the 6th or 1st string further in from the fretboard edge than the other. This is a horror story for those of us with OCD! The trick is to “average” the spacing to compensate for the uncorrectable variables, and this is more art than science.

For more details and photos on string spacing, read “How to Install a New Tune-o-matic Bridge” at premierguitar.com.

You can buy bridges with either pre-notched or un-notched saddles. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about installing Tune-o-matics, it’s that pre-notched saddles never put the string in the correct spot. String alignment can vary dramatically from guitar to guitar, and thus the correct location of the notches can vary too. My advice is to get un-notched saddles and cut your own.

If you look closely at the Bigsby in Fig. 25, you’ll see that the strings are held in a claw-like device by their ball-ends instead of wrapping over and around the second bar to attach to neck-facing pins—the standard Bigsby configuration. This nifty ball-end holder is called the Vibramate String Spoiler ($35 street). Named after the auto spoiler fin, this beautifully machined stainless steel bracket fits on any Bigsby without any modification or tools. It really simplifies stringing up a Bigsby—a huge time saver.

Fig. 26. When installing a Bigsby, face the bridge’s saddle intonation screws toward the pickups.

Final setup. Once the saddles were notched I was ready to do the final setup, which includes adjusting pickup height, neck relief, action, and intonation. You may recall that I turned the intonation screws toward the pickups, rather than the Bigsby, and Fig. 26 illustrates why: You need room to reach the intonation screws with a screwdriver.

For photos and detailed explanations of how to adjust pickup height, neck relief, action, and intonation, visit premierguitar.com and search for “How to Convert Your Axe to a Baritone.”

Fig. 27. With its new pickups, electronics, hardware, and bone nut, this Epiphone ET-290 Crestwood is all
dressed up and ready to rock.

Ready to rock. Finally, after many hours of work, this ET-290 Crestwood was ready for prime time (Fig. 27). It sounds amazing and plays beautifully—a tribute to its solid build quality and top-shelf electronics and hardware upgrades. For the owner, who invested a serious chunk of change in this project, the joy of bringing his 40-year-old friend back from retirement was worth the cost. Now transformed from a budget axe to a gig-ready sound machine, this Epi is geared up to provide decades of music-making pleasure.

Watch this “before” and “after” video of the ET-290 Crestwood in action:

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