Nov 18 2005

The new guitar

Published by at 3:25 am under Art,Gratitude,Guitar Project 1

It has been a long and winding road (as Paul used to say), and although it isn’t quite over yet, I reached an important milestone yesterday. As you may know from previous entries, I’ve been working on the construction of a custom guitar for a good long time. I ordered a beautiful custom neck (24 3/4″ scale ‘LP Conversion’ with flame maple & a pau farro fingerboard, with high-tech Planet Waves tuners & a corion nut) from warmouth, hunted down some curly African mahogany, designed the body shape and had Randy Simon carve it for me, had Seymour Duncan design a custom pickup based on my specs, and handed everything over to Steve Soest for routing, drilling, and assembly.

I went to pick it up yesterday. Steve had called and sounded somewhat excited. When I arrived, I was thrilled to see it put together. I noticed a few things, though, right off the bat. First, the neck was sitting too high and, as a result, the bridge saddles had been adjusted up, almost to the extreme. I pointed this out and Steve said that he’d solve the problem right away and that I could collect it in an hour, which I did. I felt challenged by a few other minor things. For one thing, the neck pocket was a little bit sloppy on the top edge, so that the neck does not sit firmly against the wood on that side. It may be that Steve felt the need to give himself a little leeway for placing the neck, and drilling the holes for the neck screws but, aside from this very minor esthetic issue, the thing is beautiful.

I sat down and played it for quite a while last night. It plays really well, I think. The cut-out for my thigh works just as I hoped it would, and the cut-out for my arm seems to work as well. There are three positions on the switch. Down is full humbucking. In this setting, the guitar has a rich full tone, but still has a clear, bell-like quality. In the middle position, which I believe is parallel, it has a different quality, but it is still very nice. It almost seems ‘Strat’ like, less beefy, but not too thin. The top spot is coil tapped and, although this is my least favorite, it is still usable and certainly doesn’t sound bad. More thin, perhaps. (Steve likened it to a tele, but I’m not sure.) In the humbucking position, the output of the pickup is very hot. This is exactly what I hoped for. It drives the pre-amp tube of my amp, getting a sweet, gentle distortion just on its own.

Again, as I played the guitar, there were a few things that I noticed that were, perhaps, problematic. For one thing, there is some buzzing on a few of the strings. While I didn’t notice this through the amp, it does bother me and I would, if possible, like to resolve it. It may be that the neck needs to settle a bit, and learn to live with strings, before we can make any meaningful adjustments. The other, perhaps more worrisome, issue is that the output of the bottom E (the thinnest string) seems dramatically lower than all the other strings. This may be due, in part, to its smaller mass, but I don’t remember such a significant difference on my other guitar. It may be that 1) the pickup needs to be lowered on one side, or 2) the pickup is positioned incorrectly. If the former, no worries. If the latter… well, that would really suck. I’m going to live with the guitar in its current state, and play it as much as possible, then go back to Steve with my comments. Hopefully he can make whatever adjustments are necessary.

Anyway, it has been an exciting process.

After playing it for a while, and making whatever adjustments are required, it will be disassembled and I’ll begin the process of finishing it. The process will involve sanding, of course, and then an application of thinned boiled linseed oil, followed by several layers of tung oil, with wet sanding between each application. When the oil has dried completely, I’ll apply several coats of clear lacquer. I’ve created a test piece, which looks beautiful. More on this as it happens.


2 responses so far

2 Responses to “The new guitar”

  1. Marvin Wolffon 20 Nov 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Sounds as if you’re close. What is a pau farrow fingerboard? I do not understand how the bottom E has lower output than the other strings. I checked my acoustic guitar (worth about $2.00) but could not find any apparent difference in output between the various strings although apparently the thinnest strings “sound” like they have less output. If you pluck each string and feed it through a mic to a preamp or amp with a good VU meter it shows the db output about the same. I am looking forward to hearing a sample of the new guitar’s sound. Love to all and You, Dad.

  2. Administratoron 20 Nov 2005 at 10:43 pm

    Thanks, Dad!

    Pau Farrow is a kind of rosewood. Unlike rosewood, it has a lighter color, and lovely grain.

    As for the output issue, I believe it may be an issue of the pickup placement. Very often, electric guitar pickups have magnetic pole pieces for each string. If the strings and pole pieces are not exactly aligned, varience in output may result. It may also be a simple issue of string mass, as you suggested.

    I hope to have a sound sample soon.



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