Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Finshing the Lollar El Rayo and Cavalier Pickup Install on the Tele

I have a new pickguard for the blue Tele. Needed to put shielding on this one, so I just used spray adhesive (3M "45") and aluminum foil.

I do have some copper shielding, but I was too cheap this time to use it. The aluminum works just about the same way, and especially on a pickguard it's not as critical as a control or pickup cavity.

Used a wooden roller to smooth it out, still wrinkly but who will see it?

Stuck the new Lollar El Rayo onto the pickguard.

Wait until you see the pickup cover.

Like most of the universe, I use audio ("A," or logarithmic) taper pots for volume controls. And linear ("B") taper for tone.

But the only log taper 250K pot with a switch on hand has a splined shaft, such as you would use on a Strat or any knob with splines. Our wonderful Rutters knurled knobs have set screws and they'd be wobbly on a splined shaft.

Not to panic.

A few strokes with a file in the spot where I want the set screw to be and we're all set.

I like the set screws to face straight up when the volume and tone are all the way up. That way I have a visual reference.

That's where I filed that 'flat' on the volume control shaft.

And - it fits perfectly and doesn't wobble!

One other slight repair to do.

The screw hole for one of the screws on the control plate is stripped, so the plate isn't held down tightly. You may have experienced this on screws that go straight into the wood.

I'm using a trick from Dan Erlewine's repair book for this fix.

Put some medium CA into the hole. I only had black on hand - color doesn't matter.

I suggest masking off anything you don't want to get glue on :-)

Wipe off the excess glue, then break some toothpicks into pieces.

Stick them down into the superglue-filled hole.

Let the repair dry.

When the glue is dry, cut the toothpicks off level with the guitar.

I'm using a flexible flush-cut saw. It's really sharp; you have to handle it with care or it will become a flesh-cutting saw.

I ran a bit of 150 grit sandpaper over the toothpicks to ensure the fill was level.

Here it is. A nice filled screw hole.

I didn't bother drilling a pilot hole - the screw cut into the soft toothpick wood easily.

It's a nice tight fit now.

Since I had adjusted the neck flat in order to do the fret level, I need to adjust the truss rod after I string it up to pitch.

Now you see why I cut that new access slot into the body. I can just put an adjustment too right into the end of the rod without removing the neck.

All done.

I got the El Rayo pickup with a pearl cover to match the new pearl pickguard! Pretty cool. Lollar sells a bunch of different varieties for the cover...including tortoise. Hmmmmm.

Another shot of the guitar.

How are the pickups?

The El Rayo is simply amazing! Plenty of power and the best clarity I've heard from a humbucker - nice clean round top end. Very balanced. With the tone rolled off, it does a good jazz guitar imitation. With the stud coil cut, the tone is the same - just quieter, which tells you something about the basic tone of the pickup. I'm loving it!

The Cavalier is equally great. Really clean and twangy on the 'Bakersfield' tap, just like the name implies. And the 'Fat Lion' is fantastic. Lots of power, more midrange, but the treble is still smooth.


Lollar El Rayo, Cavalier Twin Lion Pickup Installation on Telecaster

Now I'll put the new pickups on the Tele.

In my search for a humbucker with more clarity than the usual humbucker, I came across the Lollar 'El Rayo.'  It promises to be clearer and cleaner.  In fact, the Lollar website says "Don't like humbuckers?  Think again."  So I sprung for one.

The pickup itself is impeccably made, like anything from Lollar.  You may recall I have a tapped Lollar P-90 in my ES-225, and it is just fabulous.

The other pickup that's going in is a Cavalier 'Twin Lion' from Cavalier Pickups.  Cavalier is a  custom shop run by Rob DiStefano.  The original pickup was one of Rob's stock ones, and I really liked it.

I liked it so much that I wanted to try another one - in this case a tapped Bakersfield/Fat Lion model.  The Bakersfield tap is about 6.3k and the Fat Lion tap is about 9.6k, both measured on my Fluke DMM.

I had gotten El Rayo with 4-conductor wiring so I could wire it with a coil shunt switch.  And of course, there are 2 taps on the Cavalier pickup.

I wired them both up with push-pull switches.  The Lollar is on the neck and the Cavalier is on the bridge (duh).  So now I have 2 push-pull switch pots on the guitar.

Tested the wiring, and it worked fine.

But then I ran into a slight obstacle.

For whatever reason, there is a raised 'block' in the middle of the control cavity.  This raised area is fouling the volume control switch. Dagnabbit!

Now, every Tele I've ever worked on has had the old-style flat bottomed cavity.

Like the missing truss rod adjustment slot we saw in the last installment, this too has me scratching my head. 

What to do?

Out comes a chisel and hammer.

I make like Lenny DaVinci carving a statue and have at it.

Only difference is that this isn't art!
Thwack, thwack, thwack.

Not quite as easy as the truss rod slot, but just as effective.

A big rubber mallet is such a good thing to have when working on guitars, don't you think?

You can see the bare wood where I removed that silly raised area in the cavity.

I sort of understand the truss rod access not being there.  A lot of 'modern' Teles don't have a heel-adjust rod.  Ok.

But this I don't understand.  Wouldn't it be easier to rout the whole cavity flat like our hero Leo did in the first place?


We just glue a small piece of aluminum foil (the poor man's RF shielding material) over the bare wood and we're back in business.

I also consolidated a couple of ground leads so there are a couple less connectors at the star ground.

Now we move on to Final Assembly.


Heel Adjust Truss Rod Channel and Fret Level for the LPB Telecaster

You may recall the Lake Placid Blue Telecaster I worked on a while back.  I've been playing it on and off and there are some issues I need to work on.

First and foremost is the neck pickup.  Originally it had a Stew-Mac humbucker of some flavor on it, and I didn't like it.  Way too muffled sounding.  So in a quest for more clarity, I stuck a different Stew-Mac "Golden Age" pickup on it, and wired it so I could have coil shunt switching.  Nope.  As a regular humbucker, it was still too midrangey for my taste.

Here's the guitar with pickup #2 in it, by the way.

So I got a third pickup which may be more to my liking.  I'm going to put that on, and I'm also going to put on a very cool Cavalier Lion coil-tapped pickup.  I'll wire both of the pickups to push-pull switches to get more tonal variations.  And the guitar has some fret buzzes here and there, so I'll address that.

One other thing that has been bugging me about this guitar is the fact that the body has no access slot for a heel-adjust truss rod.  It's a more 'modern' MIM Tele body, so my guess is it originally came with a neck with a headstock adjustment.

In order to adjust the vintage-style neck I have on it, I have to loosen the neck, make an adjustment, tune it back up, blah blah.

To alleviate that hassle, I'm going to just cut a slot for access to the heel of the neck.

Nine zillion Telecasters have been made with the original access slot.  Why change it?

Anyway, I marked where my new slot will be cut.

You can see what I mean about having to remove the neck to get to the nut.

I cut the slots with a razor saw.

I think the body might be alder.  In any event, it cut very easily.

Speaking of non-old-style Tele body things, what on earth are those 3 holes to the left of the pickup cavity for?

Two whacks with a chisel and whoosh! we have a new slot.

That was easy.

Test fit.

Oh yes.  This is gonna be perfect.

And it doesn't look like a hack job either.

With the neck off, I do a fret level/crown and polish.  This should take care of the various buzzes I have.

The neck is a "Classic 50s" MIM neck.  It was virtually new and I never bothered to level the frets.  Silly me.

Tape up the board, and mark the frets with marker and run 320 grit paper on our fret level block over them.

Crown them with a small fret crowning file.  I really like this one because it has a coarser and a fine side.

Finally go over the newly crowned frets with the amazing fantastic wonderful fret erasers.

Ironically, the erasers polish the frets so they're super smooth.  They (fortunately) don't actually erase the frets.

Which is a good thing.

Here's our wonderful maple neck with newly dressed frets.

Next I'll put the new pickups on.


Gloss Tru-Oil Finish on Stew-Mac Parts Tray

About a month ago I procured one of the neato Stew-Mac parts trays.  They have both a large and small version, shaped like a Tele or a Strat.  I got the large Tele one because a) I have finally realized I needed a tray to put small parts and b) I wanted to try a gloss Tru-Oil finish and this seemed like the ideal medium.

I put about 20 thin coats of Tru-Oil on it, and then set it aside to cure.  It wound up sitting for about 2 weeks.

The Tru-Oil (basically varnish) really enhanced the grain.  The trays are made out of ash, so enhancing the grain is a good thing in this case.

I'm already thinking I should have put a piece of felt in the storage part...maybe I'll do that on a second one.

You can get a better idea of the gloss in this shot.  It's not quite as glossy as nitro, but it looks good.  

After I put the oil on and let it sit, I did the usual sanding and polishing.

I was wary of starting with too coarse a grit, so I started with 1000 and went up to 8000.  The finish is super smooth now.

Then I machine polished it with Griot's Machine Polish 1, which is a fine grade polish.

You can see the gloss better in this shot.  It is reflective.

And again on the back.

First load of small parts that were hiding on the bench.  Plus a watch I need to fix the band on.

This gives you an idea of the size - this is the large size and I suspect the small version is a little too small for my use.


New Craftsman Workbench for The Dungeon

I've had a small hiatus from the blog due to...unforseen stuff.

A couple of weeks ago we had some severe thunderstorms.  Nothing was damaged, but there was a backup in a gutter, which in turn caused a waterfall onto one of the casement window wells, resulting in about 5 gallons of water getting into the basement and some of it finding its way over to The Dungeon.

Nothing was damaged, and it was relatively easy to clean up, but it motivated me to clean up all the stuff overflowing to the floor and get it properly stored.  So I got a couple of cheap storage cabinets from The Despot, and I also got a new workbench with storage.

Here's The Dungeon before.  There is all sorts of project stuff piled up on the bench, and you can see more on the floor.  At times it's gotten so bad that I can't get to the main tool chest on the left, not to mention the ROSS or the drill press on the table near the wall.

The two new cabinets will let me label and store this junk, and get it out of the shipping boxes it came in!

I also got a 6 foot (just shy of 2 meters) long Craftsman workbench with drawer and shelf units.  I'll show just a couple of highlights from putting it together.

Since this thing is fairly large, and since it may need to be moved periodically, I decided to put casters on it.

In the picture, you can see the legs that come with the thing.  They're sort of short.

You can also see the casters - 3 inch - that I procured at The Despot.  I needed eight of them total, but the threads matched exactly (3/8-16 if you want to know).

One of the casters going in.  You can see that I used anti-sieze on the threads.  I actually used it on virtually every bolt on the whole thing while assembling it.  I figured if I ever need to take it apart, it can't hurt.

There are really 4 pieces for this bench.  First is the basic bench.  You get your choice of tops - I have the basic MDF.  I would love to have butcher block, but none of the stores near me stock it, and I wanted to get this thing together.  I'm thinking I might just make a top for it down the road.

Then there is a 5-drawer cabinet that's an option.  It's probably bigger than my main tool chest bottom cabinet.  Which is good, because I need storage.

Also I have a 3-shelf unit that also goes under the bench.  And item 4 are a back and doors for the shelf.  So 4 separate pieces and more $, £, kr, €, ¥, etc., for Sears.

It's a decent unit, but I will say that the sheet metal is reasonably heavy but will flex if you want it to.  A couple places in the instructions it said "square the unit," meaning, put pressure on the given section so the bolt holes line up, quickly stick a bolt in, and breathe a sigh of relief.

It is NOT as nicely made as my old Craftsman stuff for sure.  You can get the nicer stuff (made here in the USA), but you'll pay twice as much.  The tool section in my local Sears over the last 30 years has gone from being a big section in the store with all quality stuff to a small section with just 10% quality stuff.  Depressing, but you just need to know where to find the quality stuff - mainly elsewhere.  I have Craftsman tools I've owned for 30 years that are still in excellent shape and used regularly.  I'm not sure their newer tools will last that long.

I had considered a "Husky" cabinet at The Despot ('Husky' being Despot's house name), but it was not so good and a lot smaller than what I ended up with.

One of the time-consuming highlights of assembling this thing was the glides for the drawers.  You get the pleasure of putting the cabinet-side and drawer-side glides onto the respective pieces.  Yes, YOU put them on, they are not pre-assembled.  I suppose this is part of the cost of "building it to a price".  Sigh.

It's not difficult but I didn't expect I'd have to do it.  Then, when I went to put the drawers in, 4 of the 5 wouldn't stay on the tracks!  Fortunately, it's easy to bend adjust the sides of the cabinet to fine-tune the glides so that they all work.

The upside of the self-assembly is that I was able to easily lubricate the glides with lithium grease as they went together.

Here's the bench with the drawer cabinet and shelf unit all ready to go.  The door on the right is pretty much a must I think - you could have open shelves but stuff might slide off, and the door helps hide the junk you might stash in there!

Overall, it's actually pretty solid and should do the job.  I'll put the ROSS and the drill press on top and I'll still have some workspace.  So now I'll have 2 bench tops to use.

I also need to get some lighting over there.  Hmmm.


Fingerboard Hole Fills and Finish Polish on the Princess Banjo-Mandolin

So, I turned the corner on the Princess.  Things should pick up quickly from here.

You may recall I drove some small nails into the fingerboard to help align it when I reglued it to the neck.  I need to fill those holes.

I filed a small amount of fingerboard wood from the bottom of the fingerboard extension, where it will never be seen.

Then I just took some of that sawdust and made small piles over the holes, and put a couple drops of thin CA on the piles.

Side note: I had been using those Stew-Mac droppers like the one in the picture.  But I switched to using their pipettes instead.  It's a lot easier to control glue or paint with the pipettes.

Let the little piles/heaps of filler dry for a while.  It looks bad, but it will work.

To quote Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Arc, "Trust me."
When the fill is dry, I use a small scraper to level the fill down more or less flush with the board.

Did you notice all the frets that popped out during handling?  I'm pretty sure I'm just going to refret the thing.  The old brass frets are really fragile - they bend if you just look at them wrong.

Then we block sand with 220 or so grit paper.

The finished fills.

The board is still really dirty - in fact you can see the notorious Green Fingerboard Gunk in the fret slots.  So the fills look like they don't quite match, but they'll look perfect when everything is cleaned up.

It's been a couple of weeks since I resprayed the neck and headstock with nitro lacquer, so it's cured enough that I can polish it out.

I'm using my 3" Griots Garage polisher and Griot's Machine Polish 3 - which is a very mild swirl remover.

The neck has a great gloss - a bit hard to see in this picture, but it looks good.

I love necks with a contrasting strip in the middle.

The blue arrow points to the seven (!) frets that just popped out while I was working with the neck.

And the resprayed headstock after polishing.

You can still see the cracks, but they are level and glued and/or filled.

Although, I have to say, unless the cracks are awful, I wouldn't do this again.

Next I'll refret it with small fretwire.


Gluing Fingerboard and Headstock Veneer on the Princess Banjo-Mandolin

Made some big progress on the Princess Banjo-Mandolin over the last couple of days.

You may recall I had done the crack repair/fills on the headstock. Then I sprayed clear nitro on the headstock and the neck. And let the nitro cure for about 10 days.

Finally I was able to reattach the headstock veneer and the fingerboard.

I had actually made one attempt to glue the headstock veneer on and it wasn't aligned properly. The veneer wanted to slide around when I tried to clamp it. So I bailed out, cleaned up the glue and stopped to ponder a different approach.

Then it occurred to me that I should put the tuners back on temporarily to use them as a guide for the location.

If you look closely, you'll see where they're stamped "Waverly Musical Products Inc., New York." This was a nicely made instrument and used quality parts.

Then I cooked up some cauls for the headstock. The one you see at the top left is for the top surface - it's a bit crude but it is the exact shape I need.

The other one is for the bottom.

I found in my first attempt that I needed steady pressure on the whole veneer. Using clamps in four or five spots didn't enable me to line the veneer up exactly, hence the cauls.

And guess what? If I ever work on another Princess like this one, I'll have a set of cauls ready to go!

Now we heat up some hide glue and brush it on the top surface of the headstock.

Then fit the veneer and clamp it down using the caul for leverage. You can see how it fits the headstock pretty well and lets me put pressure where it's needed.

The other caul is on the bottom - it's protecting the back surface of the headstock.

Now we move on with the fingerboard.

You can see the old hide glue that remained on the neck and the back of the fingerboard.

Need to get that off.

This is one of the nice things about hide glue. I wet it some with hot water and then used a scraper to get it off.

It looks disgusting but it comes off easily. That glue has probably been on the wood for 80 years!

The neck wood is a beautifully figured piece of maple.

Here are the cleaned up fingerboard and neck.

Now we can glue the board back on.

As with the headstock, I needed something to align the board on the neck so it would stay in place when it was clamped down.

So I used 2 small brads as alignment pins. Yes, they will leave small holes, but I can file a bit of the underneath part of the fingerboard extension to get some sawdust to fill the holes. They'll be invisible afterward.

I have some fingerboard clamps to hold the board down with.

You can also see that I stuck the rod back into the neck and used that as a support to hold the neck in a vise.

Tip: put the clamps over the neck first. You'll never be able to get them on the neck in time once the glue is on it. I had them pretty close to their final adjustment and ready to go.

Obviously, when working with hide glue, you don't have a lot of time until it begins to set. So I couldn't get pictures of the alignment and assembly.

Here's the fingerboard clamped up and waiting for the glue to dry.

You can never have enough clamps, by the way.

I wound up putting one at the very end of the board to keep it pressed down. Hadn't planned for that, but I was able to grab a clamp and put it on at the last second.

Here's the neck after the glue has dried. I have some squeeze-out to clean up, and I need to fill those nail holes.

You can also see that four frets popped out during the reattachment. I'll probably have to glue them back in. The frets are small and don't have a lot of tang to work with. Shouldn't be a big problem.

I have half a mind to just refret the thing, but I think the original frets will be ok.