When you dig inside an old guitar, you have to be ready for anything.
Does this sound familiar? As you embark on a seemingly routine mod or wiring project, you suddenly discover something you hadn't considered about the guitar you've begun to disassemble. As you pop off a Strat's pickguard, for example, you might find a few non-standard parts, or unearth a less-than-stellar repair by a previous owner. Maybe the new bridge you've purchased to upgrade your favorite Tele requires a different neck angle to work correctly. It could be dozens of things, but they all have one thing in common: You have to solve a problem. And you are on your own.
The fact is, almost every mod requires some degree of improvisation. There's more to earning the “ace modder" merit badge than simply being able to read a schematic or follow directions printed off the internet. Guitars are unique, so it's important to develop a problem-solving mindset. Knowing how to deal with unanticipated issues is part of the game.
To help you in this quest, I want to share a challenging mod I recently undertook. The guitar was an old German archtop—a Musima Record from the early '50s—that came into the shop for a complete restoration.
I think the Record is one of the most beautiful archtops ever, and if you Google it, you'll find a wealth of photos and all kinds of fascinating lore about its history. It's unlikely you'll ever see one of these guitars, but the techniques and strategies required to do this mod have applications that reach well beyond this specific instrument. Let's take a look.
Photo 2 — Photo courtesy of singlecoil.com
This was a very early example of the Record, and what's important here is that it has a Rellog pickup embedded in the end of the fretboard (Photo 1), as well as an ancient output jack mounted on the neck heel (Photo 2). The jack looks a little like a 3.5 mm output jack, but it requires a special plug. While there are still new-old-stock guitar cables and individual plugs available that work with this jack, the system is not very reliable because the plug won't lock into the jack. And only straight plugs are available, which means the guitar is difficult to play with a cable attached. The owner wanted the old jack replaced with a modern 1/4" jack so he could use a standard guitar cable with an angled plug.
Photo 3 — Photo courtesy of singlecoil.com
To access the electronics on this archtop, you need to remove its neck, which is attached to the body with a Stauffer-screw system called a Rubner anchor. Removing the neck is easy ... if you have the right tool (Photo 3). Fortunately, it's still available from watchmaker supply stores.
Photo 4 — Photo courtesy of singlecoil.com
Removing the neck revealed the thick celluloid heel cap that holds the jack (Photo 4). To access the ancient jack, I had to remove the heel cap, which was glued to the heel. For this task, I used a hair dryer and a bridge removal knife, which you can buy from luthier supply outfits like Stew-Mac.
Note: Celluloid is extremely flammable, so be very careful not to apply too much heat when working with it. In this case, I simply heated the knife with the hair dryer—a safe procedure.
Photo 5 — Photo courtesy of singlecoil.com
After scraping away the crumbling insulation tape protecting the braided shield, I unsoldered the jack and removed it from the heel cap. The next step was to enlarge the 5 mm hole so it would accommodate the 1/4" jack. I used a tapered reamer for this task—this handy tool cuts through celluloid like butter (Photo 5). You could also use a small half-round file, but again be careful not to generate too much heat. And never try to enlarge a hole like this with a drill bit: Old celluloid breaks easily and the bit generates excessive heat.
After preparing the pickup wire by cleaning and pre-tinning it, and before soldering it to the new jack, I slid a piece of latex tubing over the braided shield to insulate it. It's a handy trick to prevent the shield from shorting out on something by accident, and it's especially important when packing wire into a small cavity.
Here's another tip: Don't bend old braided wires too much—they can be brittle. And when soldering, don't apply too much heat for the same reason.
Once I'd installed and wired up the new output jack, I glued the heel cap back in place using binding glue. A quick measurement at the output jack showed a DCR of 3.16k ohm. This was very close to the Rellog factory spec of 2.9k, so I could assume the 50-year-old pickup was still alive and kicking.
Photo 6 — Photo courtesy of singlecoil.com
And speaking of the pickup, you might be curious what a 1950s “stealth" pickup looks like. After removing its protective celluloid cover, there it was, tucked into a pocket cut out beneath the fretboard (Photo 6). I was eager to hear this little guy, so after I completed the entire restoration (which took a total of 52 hours) and finally had the guitar strung up, I plugged it in. Wow—the pickup sounded great and was really loud. With a DCR of only 3.16k, you might be tempted to conclude the pickup was going to be very weak, but that wasn't the case. Once again, this proves the point we discussed last month (“Demystifying DCR"): a DCR reading tells us virtually nothing about a pickup's output and tone.
Next month we'll resume exploring pickup parameters and examine magnet polarity. Until then ... keep on modding!
- Modern Builder Vault: Fibernare Guitars ›
- Mod Garage: Demystifying Pickup Parameters—DCR | Premier Guitar ›
- Musicon Valley: The Home of German Lutherie | Premier Guitar ›
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.