Monday, August 17, 2009

Building a guitar

I turned 40 this month and that got me to thinkin' about stuff I'd always wanted and never owned. I don't think I'm ever going to have a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but I can say I've owned an old Porsche once. I bought a Gibson Les Paul last year after flirting with the idea for nearly a decade. I found one which simply sings; I didn't want to put it down in the store, and I still don't want to put it down when I play it today. I brought it home and even though I'm still paying on it, I love that darn thing!

Many of the things which top my list of Items to Own are guitars: I've had a vintage Charvel Model 1 (when they weren't considered "vintage" or "exceptional"). I've owned a Jackson Soloist and though it was a made in Japan model instead of a USA-built one, it was a great guitar all the same. But, until recently, I'd never owned an Ibanez guitar. The problem was, whenever I found a nice one, I never had the money to get it, and when I had the money, no nice ones were to be found. I decided in July, that I'd simply build one.

EBay has some great deals. Someone's junk is another person's diamond in the rough. I found a seller offering an old 540S body, also known as "Golden Age Sabres". These were made of mahogany in the Fujigen factory in Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've played several nice examples over the years at stores around the country, including new ones in 1990 or so. I even own a 1990-1991 Ibanez catalog! So... I began my "40th Birthday Guitar" with an old Ibanez body.

Lipstick Red wasn't really my color; I stripped it with a chemical stripper which revealed a thick polyurethane semi-transparent coating underneath. Evidently the Japanese didn't bother with filling the grain in the mahogany with proper woodworking skill. They simply dipped each body (or sprayed) in a thick plastic coating and sanded it smooth. Over this base a silver flat was sprayed, then a glossy red, then a clear coat. The chemical stripper peeled off only the paint. It took hours of sanding to remove the sealer coat! Ugh!

Once stripped and sanded, I cleaned it thoroughly with compressed air, then with a tack cloth. I managed to salvage my old can of tung oil finish from my garage, and used the last of the gooey contents to stain the mahogany darker. It's a very rich-looking finish. From there I assembled it with Ibanez pickup rings and a factory cast-metal neck plate, a nice Carvin maple neck with an ebony fretboard, and a set of Seymour Duncan Dave Mustaine Signature Live Wire pickups I'd purchased at the Seymour Duncan clearance sale for $44! Yup, the pickups only cost me $44. They're an amazing dark chrome finish, and are low impedance; powered with a 9 volt battery. I used a Switchcraft stereo pin jack to complete the Live Wires circuitry, and brought my little beastie to life. I still had to get a bridge though...

Well, it took me almost a full month to scrimp and save and beg editors to pay me for outstanding invoices. I got paid, and bought a chrome Gotoh Floyd Rose bridge. They're wonderful pieces of metal, and quite possibly the best locking bridge ever created. When it arrived last week I eagerly assembled the final parts. I pounded the studs into the body (the Gotoh studs are exactly the 11.3mm, identical to the Ibanez holes), threaded in the posts, and test fit the bridge. The spring block stuck out of the back of the guitar approximately one quarter inch! Whoops. Off to the machine shop went I, and off went 10mm of brass. Thankfully, gotoh drills the mounting screw holes 21mm down into the top of the block, so trimming it down is a cinch! Thank you, Gotoh!

Finally, all assembled, everything clearing properly, tuned up and intonated, and it's everything I hoped it would be; a vintage-aged 20 year old mahogany Saber body with a modern neck and hardware. Grover locking tuners, active pickups, best bridge ever, and Dunlop straplocks complete a best-of-everything screamer.

Hmmmmm, that almost seemed too easy! What should I build next?

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