We're getting close to the end of our journey. We've aged most of the metal parts on our project guitar, so now let's take care of the output jack, knobs, back plate, and pickguard.
Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. This month, we'll continue with the aging process of our Harley Benton DC-Junior project guitar (which is a copy of a 1958 Les Paul Junior Double Cut), taking a closer look at the pickguard while aging the rest of the hardware discussed in the last part of this series ["DIY Relic'ing: Harley Benton DC-Junior Electronics"]. If you need a refresher on our aging process for hardware, refer back to "DIY Relic'ing: Break the Shine" for guidance. You can see the parts we'll be discussing today in their "finished" form, aka relic'd, in Photo 1.
1. Output Jack
I'm not a big fan of aging the complete output jack or applying any corrosion to it because it's the transfer point of the signal to the guitar cable. We want this as clean as possible and without any avoidable contact resistance to keep the signal as strong and as fresh as possible. So, aging the parts you can see from the outside is the way to go, meaning the collar, the washer, and the hex nut.
You often see shiny new output jacks on vintage guitars, but why is this? Output jacks don't last forever, and chances are good that a vintage guitar has a replaced output jack that looks new because it is new. If the original output jack is still in a vintage guitar, it's usually dull, often showing some slight rust on the edges of the hex nut. To mimic this appearance, first take off the shine with some steel wool or fine sandpaper as we did before with many other parts. Then use an iron (III) oxide (ferric oxide) liquid to create some patina until you like the result. If you want to mimic some rust on the edges of the hex nut, sand off the nickel until you see the metal underneath—the ferric oxide will do the rest. Just let it sit for soak for a few minutes on these spots.
2. Knobs and Pointers
The top-hat knobs on vintage guitars also usually look shiny and new, but for a different reason. Because the knobs are touched and used very often, they get a kind of self-polishing from our fingers through the years, keeping them shiny with a greasy touch. Have a look at the original knobs of a '58 Les Paul Junior, shown in Photo 2, to see what I mean.
To mimic this, you can use a solvent and rub the knobs carefully with a paper towel, the surface will get slightly dull. Afterwards use a polish for plastics (or simply some of your toothpaste) and polish up the knobs a little bit until you like the result. The goal is to find the right mixture between old and new regarding the look. If you like a more beaten-up look, you can add some light scratches and file down some of the edges.
As you can see in Photo 3 of an original Junior from 1958, the pointers usually look dark and rusty. You can use the same process as aging the output jack to give them an old look.
3. Jack Plate and Screws
If you've been following along, you already know how to age screw heads. Nickel works out much better and looks much more authentic compared to chrome, so it's always a good idea to substitute chromed screws like on our Harley Benton with nickel before you proceed.
The jack plate usually shows some dings and scratches from botched attempts to plug in the guitar cable. You can simulate that by scrubbing off the shine with the steel wool, creating some random scratches with sandpaper, and hitting the plastic with the tip of the plug of your guitar cable while the jack plate is lying on a flat and even surface. If you want the jack plate cracked like on the photo of our vintage guitar, as seen in Photo 3, you can sketch out the cracking lines with a fine X-Acto knife on the back of the jack plate. Afterwards, screw it to a flat piece of wood and bolt on the screws very tight until the line cracks. If it doesn't crack, repeat the process and cut deeper with your knife, then install the output jack by fastening the hex nut very tightly.
If you decided to swap the modern 1-ply solid black jack plate for a more authentic 3-ply plate (black/white/black), some more work is required. On vintage guitars, the white sometimes turns to a kind of "nicotine white" or ivory color. To mimic this color, first take off the shine with some steel wool. Now you need something we haven't discussed before: concentrated liquid stain you can mix with alcohol. This is something we'll need again in the future, but as a basis some alcohol like isopropyl or naphtha works great. You also need a stain mixing cup (a small glass) and a spatula or anything else to stir the mixture. To mimic an aged white color, I like to use a stain in amber or vintage amber. Put some alcohol in your glass and add a drop of the stain, stir it, and see what it looks like. If it's too bright, add another drop of the stain and stir again. If it's too dark, add some more alcohol until you like the color.
You can get such stains in almost every luthier supply store. I like to use ColorTone Concentrated Liquid Stain from StewMac. After you finish your mix, take a Q-tip and wipe some of the liquid onto the white layer of your jack plate. Let it dry for a few minutes and watch the result. If it's still too bright, repeat the process. If it's too heavy, use some alcohol to wipe some of it off. You can also use this mix on black plastic parts if you want to mimic some stain spots, with excellent results. Lastly, we use the same mixture of dirt, dust, and ashes that we used for the plastic buttons of the tuners ["DIY Relic'ing Tuners, Part 2"]. I use a mixture of the contents from my vacuum cleaner bag, spiced up with some ashes from my open fireplace. Use your fingers to wipe some dirt onto the white part of the jack plate. Now, how does it look?
I use a mixture of the contents from my vacuum cleaner bag, spiced up with some ashes from my open fireplace.
4. Back Plate and Screws
The back plate of the original '58 Les Paul is a piece of solid black plastic that is held by two screws, and our Harley Benton stays true to this original formula. For the two screws, repeat the process from the jack plate screws. The back plate on vintage guitars usually shows some light scratches, along with some deeper scratches and little chips caused by belt buckles. To mimic this wear, first break the shine with some steel wool, add some random scratches with sandpaper, and use a small chisel or maybe one of your belt buckles to add some deeper scratches and little chips.
By the way, the bottom of the back plate on our Harley Benton is "shielded" with a thick piece of self-adhesive aluminum foil, but it's not connected to ground in any way, so it's pretty useless. If you want to add some shielding, connect it to ground so it can work as it should. There is no shielding inside the cavity of the Harley Benton, same as on the vintage Les Paul. The black color inside the Harley Benton is only black paint but no shielding paint. If you want some shielding in the cavity, go for it, using copper foil or conductive shielding paint.
Congratulations! After you've worked on all these parts, they will look similar to what I did while writing this column for you, as seen in Photo 1.
In the last step for today, let's have a look at the pickguard, including the screws. Our Harley Benton comes with a 3-ply (black/white/black) pickguard, so the aging process will be easy: You can simply follow the process from the jack plate. Pickguards usually show scratches from contact with a plectrum, so I recommend using a guitar pick to put some typical scratches on it. Take care of the direction of the pick during this process so it will look authentic afterwards.
If you're fine with the stock pickguard, you're done for now. The original Les Paul Juniors never had such a pickguard—if they came with a black one, it was always single-ply solid black. Such pickguards are available, and you can swap it if this bothers you. The typical and classic look with a TV yellow Junior guitar was a celluloid tortoise-style pickguard, as seen in Photo 4, which is an original '58 Les Paul Junior.
The old celluloid material was semi-transparent, and the early pickguards had wonderful, rounded edges. The fake tortoiseshell material available today is not transparent in any way, and far from replicating the beauty of the original material. There is a fantastic substitute material called Tortoloid, but it's only available in very thin sheets for acoustic guitars. The only way to come closer to the original would be to use a clear Lucite pickguard and to cover it with a sheet of self-adhesive Tortoloid, or to try to find some of the original celluloid material in the right thickness.
To give this guitar the classic look, and because I love these pickguards very much, I decided to make one for our Harley Benton, using an NOS blank celluloid piece from the '50s, which I got from the Roger Rossmeisl workshop in Berlin. I still have some of these blanks for such projects and working with real celluloid is a pleasure and pain at the same time. Look at this material compared to the stock pickguard in Photo 5.
I think it's a big difference. To get a feel for which you prefer, you can see the different pickguards on the project guitar in Photo 6 and Photo 7.
That's it for now. In the next part of this series, we'll work on aging the fretboard and the headstock. But before this, we'll return to guitar mods in the next issue.
Until then ... keep on modding!
The box may not be truly tiny—but the Uni-Vibe-style sounds are totally huge.
Deep, luxurious, detailed, and very authentic modulations. Nice attention to detail.
No expression pedal option. Rate wheel not as expressive as treadle.
Sabbadius Tiny-Vibe 69
Argentina's Sabbadius is not messing around when it comes to Uni-Vibe-style pedals. Their authentically styled and photocell-driven Funky-Vibe pedals come in five incarnations—including models designed to replicate Jimi's Uni-Vibe sounds from Woodstock and the Fillmore East shows that birthed the Band of Gypsys LP. They also build Funky-Vibes intended to replicate variations built in 1968 and '69.
To this already overflowing stable, they now add the Tiny-Vibes—two compact (4"x 5 1/8") descendants of the Funky-Vibe that use circuits that are nearly identical to their larger siblings, stuff them in a more compact enclosure, and switch out treadle-operated speed control for a side-mounted rate-control wheel. I had the pleasure of testing the Tiny-Vibe 69. While I'll confess to longing for some of that expression control, particularly because the pedal sounds so much like an original, it was still a real pleasure to get lost in its deep, immersive washes of modulation.
Spirit of ’69
The original Uni-Vibe is a well-studied circuit, and its associations with Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour alone assured that each of the minor differences between the pedal's early iterations would be dissected down to the last solder. Generally speaking, Sabbadius' 68 Funky-Vibe and Tiny-Vibe pedals replicate the circuitry and sound of the original Honey-built version of the pedal, which some aficionados find more intense at certain settings. The 69 pedals (and the later Shin-Ei-built Uni-Vibes that inspired them) are regarded as smoother and a bit more elastic, or "chewy" in the parlance of phase heads. In even simpler terms, you can think of Sabbadius' 68 as "Machine Gun," while a 69 is The Dark Side of the Moon.
If you can find a dealer where you can try all these pedals alongside each other, it would be pretty cool to dig deep into the micro-differences between them. With just the 69 on hand, I didn't have that opportunity. But whether you're chasing Hendrixian highs or slow-burning Floyd-style undulations, the 69 sounds super convincing and, at times, thrilling.
More so than many pedals, the Tiny-Vibe can feel like a collaborator in spontaneous composition, and there's a real, visceral thrill when it happens.
Sabbadius doesn't take shortcuts to making the Tiny-Vibe sound like the real thing. It's a true photocell-driven optical circuit (where modulations are activated by a pulsing lamp and light-dependent resistors). The pedal also runs exclusively at 18 volts, so you'll have to get a dedicated power source or allocate the 18-volt slot in your power supply.
If you've had the pleasure of playing a vintage Uni-Vibe or one of the more authentic replicas (like the Funky-Vibe), you'll recognize the controls used here. An output volume control adds gain that can range to a fat overdriven tone that dovetails well with the Tiny-Vibe's modulations. The intensity control, which has a lot of subtle variation, is also a carryover from the vintage Uni-Vibe, as is the chorus/vibrato switch. The two controls you won't find on a vintage Uni-Vibe are the true bypass switch, which bypasses the modulation and gain entirely, and the cancel switch, which takes the modulation out of the equation and leaves the preamp in the line—a very nice tone sweetener depending on your tastes.
The Tiny-Vibe is thoughtfully assembled and sturdy. The side-panel placement of the speed knob, and its substitution for expression pedal control of modulation rate, is a design factor you'll need to consider depending on the density and layout of your pedalboard. It's not easy to operate the speed knob when it's situated in the middle of a gaggle of other stomps, so situating it at the right side of a board is key. But even when situated ideally, there is no substituting the functionality, feel, and expressive outcomes of using an expression pedal. If this capability is key to the way you interact with a vibe-style pedal, you may want to consider the full-size Funky-Vibe.
Tiny-Vibe's deep, underwater chorus tones aren't easily replicated with most inexpensive vibrato units or phasers. The optical circuitry and high headroom enabled by the 18-volt power make the chorus tones extra liquid and creamy. Driven by heat from a silicon Fuzz Face-style circuit, the Tiny-Vibe is deeply Band of Gypsys-like. Filthy fuzz textures mesh seamlessly with the phase undulations, and the modulation rarely seems to completely obscure melodic or picking details. It's exhilarating to hear the fuzz shift in texture and harmonic makeup as notes, bends, slurs, chords, and double-stops collide with various spots in the phase wave. Everything from screaming, peaky highs to deep, wavy low-end wash leap to the fore depending on your phrasing and timing. And it's easy to see why Jimi embraced the Uni-Vibe at one of his most improvisational phases—there is an organic give and take that occurs when you use the Tiny-Vibe which creates happy accidents and nudges you in unexpected directions. More so than many pedals, the Tiny-Vibe can feel like a collaborator in spontaneous composition, and there's a real, visceral thrill when it happens.
Without fuzz, the 69 just as easily takes on the slow, stony, luxurious waves of Gilmour's parts on "Breathe," and sounds distinctly more elastic than most phasers. The intensity control also enables very pretty variations that can be subtle or dizzyingly deep.
If you're not wildly dependent on the phrasing possibilities derived from expression pedal operation, it's hard to imagine a more satisfying way to get vintage Uni-Vibe sounds. The compact size is a big plus, and the speed wheel is effective, just in a different way than a treadle. There's a very good chance that once you dive into Tiny-Vibe's deep, luxurious waves, you'll be hooked.
A beginner's guide to nailing the basics of heavy metal.
- Understand the basics of heavy rhythm guitar.
- Learn to effectively palm mute.
- Create riffs in the style of Tony Iommi, AC/DC, and more.
When musical comedy duo Tenacious D proclaimed, "You can't kill the metal/the metal will live on," they were actually preaching some serious gospel truth. Since its genesis in the late '60s and early '70s, the genre known as heavy metal (along with its myriad offshoots and subgenres) has been one of the most consistently popular, enduring, and evolving. Because many beginner students start out by strumming cowboy chords on an acoustic steel-string, making the leap to playing metal seems as daunting as trading in a pedal tricycle for a Triumph Rocket 3. But by mastering a few basic picking-hand moves, anyone can tap into the visceral thrill and unmatched power at the heart of "The Metal"!
Progressions of Power
As amp manufacturers began incorporating more gain (aka overdrive or distortion) into their preamp stages, players altered their techniques to exploit this added sustain. Dialing up the gain meant adding overtones to your sound and this made full-voiced open chords indistinct and muddy.
A simple solution to this sonic dilemma was to pare down chords to just the root and 5. These "5" chords (also known as power chords) are harmonically ambiguous (lacking a 3 that would designate them as either major or minor) but sound thick and full when cranked through an overdriven amp.
Ex. 1 shows some power chord re-voicings of commonly played open shapes. I use a first-finger partial bar on the E5 and A5, and rest my first finger on the 5th string to mute it while grabbing the G5. The key here is to play less strings than you normally would, thus eliminating thirds completely.
One common—but surprisingly unnamed—picking-hand technique employed when articulating power chords involves attacking the lower strings with a short, aggressive "slap" or "push" motion that originates from the wrist as opposed to a traditional strum which originates from the forearm.
Ex. 2 takes our chord shapes from the previous example but adds the element of syncopation by striking them on the off beat, or the "and" of beat 4. This rhythmic displacement of power chords was a distinct technique exploited by AC/DC's Malcom Young, one of the architects of heavy rock rhythm and it sounds undeniably cool against a solid backbeat.
Hells Bells - Malcolm Young Isolated - Live at Donington
Another power chord pioneer, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, developed a style that relied heavily on the moveable two-finger power chord grips used in Ex. 3. This was largely done as compensation for an industrial accident that sliced off the tips of several fingers on Iommi's fretting hand, but ultimately gave Black Sabbath a distinct riff-based sound that would become the blueprint of most heavy metal styles. Among other things, this economic grip enabled legato movement between chords as evidenced by the slide on beat two of both measures.
BLACK SABBATH - "War Pigs" (Live Video)
While playing power chords through a high-gain amp or stomp box provides epic sustain, to churn out driving percussive eighth-note rhythms it's essential to master the palm mute technique. The name palm mute is something of a misnomer since it's actually performed by resting the outside edge of the picking hand on the bridge just enough to make constant contact with the lowest strings and dampen them. Make sure that the bridge and not the strings are bearing the weight of your hand or the sound will be too choked off. Also remember to strike those low strings with a short aggressive wrist motion, as opposed to a traditional strum motion. I tell my students that strumming is a bit like using a paint roller to cover the walls while palm muting is akin to using a cut brush to paint the corners. It may take some trial and error to find the right equilibrium between contact and pressure with your fretting hand, but once you're in the sweet spot, try playing the palm muted power chord progression in Ex. 4.
Stylistic nuance can be achieved with the palm mute by accenting certain beats. Very often the accented chord stabs can be enhanced by only playing single root notes on the unaccented articulations. In Ex. 5, the previous chord progression is now enlivened by adding an accent on the first beat of each measure [ONE and two and three and four and] and playing a single palm-muted root rote for the rest of the measure.
Getting In Sync
Once you've mastered accented palm mutes, they can be strategically deployed to add rhythmic complexity and sophistication to progressions by syncopating certain beats. A common pattern shown in Ex. 6 takes a measure of eighth-notes and divides them in a 3+3+2 grouping with the accent coming on the first eighth-note of each sub-group [ONE-and-two-AND-three-and-FOUR-and].
A two-bar variation shown in Ex. 7 divides the 16 eighth-notes in a 3+3+3+3+2+2 accent pattern [ONE-and-two-AND-three-and-FOUR-and one-AND-two-and-THREE-and-FOUR-and]. These two motifs are based on the Afro-Cuban clave beat and show up as the rhythmic underpinning in literally thousands of songs of all genres.
We've been relying heavily on downstrokes so far, but basic fluency with alternate picking techniques is a must-have skill for playing rhythmic and melodic patterns with speed and accuracy. One of the challenges beginners seem to have with alternate picking is approaching strings on an upstroke. In Ex. 8 the fourth note of the pattern moves to an E on the 4th string and should be picked with an upstroke motion. Practice this minor scale move slowly, making sure to place all the alternate strokes correctly. Once you have it up to a reasonable speed, try playing it twice in one position then sliding it up one fret to the next position. Continue moving the drill all the way up the neck.
This and all previous examples can be played with a metronome, but keep in mind that a metronome can't teach you rhythm. It can only refine your accuracy and help increase speed gradually. I strongly recommend learning to grasp each exercise slowly and correctly before dialing in Mach 5 metronome tempos. Accuracy leads to speed, but speed won't lead to accuracy and developing a strong accurate picking hand is essential to mastering heavy metal guitar.