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12-Pack T-Style

One of the strangest things about the gear-aplenty age we live in is that, despite all the iconic songs featuring chiming 12-string electric guitar—from Wrecking Crew badass Carol Kaye’s on the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” to George Harrison’s on “A Hard Day’s Night,” Page’s on “The Song Remains the Same,” Glenn Frey’s on “Hotel California,” half of Tom Petty’s catalog, and a jillion others—there’s a dearth of new models on the market. The average brick-and-mortar shop has one or two, tops, while online retailers have a few more, but only from a handful of manufacturers—typically Danelectro, Rickenbacker, Guild, D’Angelico, and PRS. And virtually all of them are semi-hollowbodies. This is a big head-scratcher given how many legendary players use/used solidbody 12s—like the Fender Electric XII (Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Tim Buckley, Page), Gibson EDS-1275 (Alex Lifeson, John McLaughlin, Page), and Vox Phantom XII (Petty, Dave Davies).

One can only speculate why this is, but either way our final no-brainer mod makes it spectacularly clear you don’t have to be limited by new offerings or high-priced rarities. Inspired by the custom instrument that German luthier Frank Deimel built for Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, we converted an old Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster into a 12 as a sort of test run a couple of months before this article. It turned out fantastic! What we love most about the idea (besides the low-risk springboard thing) is that the concept can be applied to just about any 6-string while also avoiding the huge, unsightly headstock you see on so many electric 12s.

In theory, this is a pretty straightforward mod: Add six tuners (alternating at 90-degree angles, as on a Rickenbacker) to the headstock’s top edge, and adapt the nut, saddles, and bridge to accommodate the extra strings. However, in execution it’s a bit tricky—but not exorbitantly so for those with solid woodworking (and a little metalworking) credentials. For our no-brainer story’s project, we decided to go the same basic route on a G&L Tribute ASAT Classic Bluesboy ($449 street).



 

Dave’s Installation Tips

1. Remove tuners and neck. Set body aside.


Photo 1

2. Use low-tack tape and a square to mark the centerline of the current tuner holes (Photo 1).


Photo 2

3. For our G&L guitar, the centers of the new tuner holes are 37/64" from the headstock’s flat top edge (Photo 2). This measurement will vary for other guitar models.


Photo 3

4. The space between the original tuner holes is 21/32". Divide this measurement in half, and you’ve got the distance for where the new holes will be—i.e., .328" or 21/64" (Photo 3). Again, this will vary for other guitars.


Photo 4

5. Mark the new hole locations on the tape (Photo 4), then use a punch to mark the center of the new holes.


Photo 5

6. Drill the holes using a drill press with a 10 mm brad-point bit. To prevent nasty wood blowout, place a spare piece of wood under the headstock (Photos 5, 6, and 7).


Photos 6 (left) and 7 (right)

7. Apply low-tack tape to the headstock’s narrow top edge and mark the centers of the new holes, which will line up on center with the 10 mm holes drilled in step 6. Drill into the straight edge of the headstock. The G&L’s headstock is .590" thick, so—from the edge of the headstock—measure half the headstock thickness (.295" in our case). That is the center of your holes on the side of the headstock.


Photo 8

Use a square and pencil to mark the edge, and mark the centers of the holes using a punch (Photos 8 and 9).


Photo 9

8. Protect the headstock with a cloth and then place it in the nut-and-saddle vise with the narrow top edge level and on top.


Photo 10

9. Use a drill press and 1/4" brad-point bit to create a 1"-deep hole in the top edge of the headstock, hitting the center of the 10 mm holes drilled in step 6. (Note: Make sure the drill bit is square, i.e., perfectly perpendicular, to the edge of the headstock.)


Photos 11 (left) and 12 (right)

Use the endpin jack reamer to make the 1/4" hole slightly larger so the Gotoh tuner posts can move freely (Photos 10, 11, and 12).


Photo 13

10. On all the new Gotoh tuners, mark 5/8" up the post with a marker. Put each post into the nut-and-saddle vise and drill a perpendicular hole through its side using your drill press and titanium 1/16" drill bit (Photo 13).


Photo 14

11. If, like we did with the G&L, you find that your guitar’s original tuner spacing is such that the new top-edge Gotoh tuners must be mounted further apart than in standard applications—meaning their mounting plates won’t butt up against each other and adjacent tuners won’t be able to share mounting screws—then you may have to machine simple mounting brackets to bridge the gaps. While the Squier Classic Vibe Tele’s 1" spacing between tuners didn’t require this, the Bluesboy’s 1 1/16" spacing required crafting five (5) 5/16" x 1/4" strips out of .064"-thick brass.


Photo 15

To do this, mark the brass with a black marker, scoring lines at 5/16" lengths. Using your drill press and a 7/64" titanium bit, drill a hole in the center of each 5/16" piece. Then use a Dremel to cut each 5/16" piece, and the nut-and-saddle vise and a bastard mill file to true the edges (Photos 14 and 15).


Photo 16

12. Remove the tuning buttons from the guitar’s original tuners and add four (4) plastic guitar washers to every shaft (for a total of five washers on each). This will ensure the original tuning buttons don’t hit the Gotohs during use. I used M2.5 x 20 pan machine screws cut to length to reattach the buttons, since the original screws weren’t long enough (Photo 16).


Photo 17

13. Add one 3/8" black plastic washer flush to the gearbox assembly on each of the original tuners. This helps the tuners clear each other so everything can turn freely (Photo 17).

14. Mount all the tuners and check for free movement.


Photos 18 and 19

15. Swap the guitar’s stock bridge (Photo 18) out for the Wilkinson (Photo 19)—which is a great choice because it already accommodates all 12 strings, thanks to its inclusion of both through-body and top-load stringing holes. (If you wish to use a bridge that doesn’t already have top-loading holes near the saddles’ intonation-adjustment screws, you’ll have to drill your own. Do so by removing the saddles, marking the drill points—the through-body holes are handy reference points—putting the bridge plate in the nut-and-saddle vise, and using your press and 1/16" HSS bit to drill each hole. Smooth burrs with a Dremel’s polishing attachment.)

16. Reassemble the guitar.


Photo 20

17. To cut nut slots for the additional strings, use digital calipers to measure .037" to the left of each original nut slot (Photo 20). Mark each spot with a pencil and score the slots with a .012" nut file, then widen each slot with the file that matches the corresponding string diameter. Carefully rough in the spacing without going to the full depth—we’ll do that in the final setup.


Photo 21

18. String the guitar. (Note: Due to the physical layout of the new bridge, I found that alternating which string—octave or primary—went in the top-load and through-body holes worked best. That is, the 6th, 4th, and 2nd pairs all have the octave/unison string in the rear, top-loading spot, while the 5th, 3rd, and 1st have the primary string in the top-load spot.) After stringing, measure out 3/32" spacing between each string pair at the bridge (Photo 21).


Photo 22

A little bit of tension will hold the strings in place enough to mark the string spacing on the brass saddles using nut files. Use Mitchell abrasive cord to smooth out any burrs in the new saddle slots (Photo 22).


Photo 23

19. Make sure the neck is adjusted properly and finish setting the depths of the nut slots. Set the string height/radius and intonation. Finish all other setup adjustments (Photo 23).


 

Post-Mod Observations


Recorded using a Ground Control Tsukoyomi boost and a Celestion Ruby-loaded Goodsell Valpreaux 21 miked with a Royer R-121 feeding an Apogee Duet going into GarageBand with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.

Glory be—this thing sounds amazing! Even though we got some great advance tips from Frank Deimel before starting this project (thanks, Frank!), Dave had to figure out a lot of intermediary tweaks along the way. He deserves huge kudos for his ingenuity. Personally, I’d never owned a 12 till Dave converted my Squier, and both the Tele and the Bluesboy open so many doors—from the usual jangle rock to all sorts of avant options (fuzz can sound so devastatingly cool!). I came up with a new song in my first sitting with the Squier, and the Bluesboy’s fantastic stock pickups yield at least as many inspiring hues, particularly with deft use of the tone control. If you’ve got a few bucks (or a spare guitar laying around) and are looking for a kick in your creativity’s pants, this mod is highly recommended.