Birdmaster: A New Guitar Experiment

Oh, man — I’m flipping out over a new guitar I’ve assembled from Warmoth parts. It was an opportunity to try some new experiments — and amazingly, some of them may have worked!

I had several unrelated goals:

  • a better instrument to use with my digital rig, with the best possible MIDI tracking and digital modeling performance.
  • an excuse to acquire a guitar with P-90 pickups
  • a chance to try a new onboard booster scheme

Plus, I was suffering some Jazzmaster nostalgia. My first electric guitar was the used Jazzmaster I received for my 13th birthday. Naturally, I sold it at exactly the wrong time, and haven’t owned one since.

Fullerton vs. Kalamazoo. But as you can see, this apple has fallen far from the Fender tree. Beyond the bolt-on neck, 25 1/2″ scale, and JM shape, it’s really more Gibson-esque, with a relatively heavy korina body, mahogany neck, bound ebony fretboard, and Tune-o-matic-style bridge and tailpiece.

I wanted to see how a guitar that was bigger and heavier than the Fenders I’d been using in my digital setup would perform with MIDI triggering and amp modeling. This “Birdmaster” reminds me a lot of a Firebird, or even a Trini Lopez with its Firebird-style headstock. There’s just a lot of distance between the endpin and the tip of the headstock! Between the woody mass, authoritative-sounding Lindy Fralin P-92 pickups (which I’d previously reviewed in Premier Guitar), and my beloved overpriced flatwound strings, I wound up with an instrument whose exceptionally clear and stable pitch works better with digital tools than any guitar I’ve tried.

Intonation revelation. On a whim, I ordered the neck with a pre-installed Earvana nut. I’d always been a sceptic about “improved” intonation schemes, such as the Buzz Feiten system. Not because I didn’t think they’d work — more because I like the out-of-tuneness of guitars in general and rock guitars in particular. (And let’s face it — most of my best session work is howlingly out of tune.)

Okay, I was a dope.

I am over the moon about how sweetly this guitar plays in tune. It’s already an exceedingly resonant slice of tree, but I’d swear the minuscule intonation fixes just make it hum more. I’ve already taken in three more instruments to genius guitar tech Gary Brawer for Earvana retrofits.(The nuts go for about $40 each, compared to five bucks or so for a conventional nut.)

"Hi! We're red pandas, and we inspired the guitar's color scheme!"

“Hi! We’re red pandas, and we inspired the guitar’s color scheme!”

Cult boost. I also tried a few new things with the electronics. There are single master volume and tone controls, with a Stellartone ToneStyler on the tone pot. I added my Cult circuit — a single-germanium-transistor boost descended from the Rangemaster, a trick I used in the Pagey Project Les Paul. A push/pull switch on the third knob activates it.

But here, the pot controls the level going into the boost, not out of it. Since it’s such an extraordinarily dynamic circuit (it cleans up almost completely when you back of the input), the knob works as an ultra-sensitive gain control. It’s easy to find spots where you can go from clean to dirty with just a little extra picking-hand pressure. (The booster, when engaged, is positioned before the volume and tone pots.) The same setup would probably work great with a built-in Fuzz Face.

I’m still fine-tuning things — I may want to add selectable booster input caps, for the option of a traditional Rangemaster-style treble boost. But overall, I’m thrilled to bits about how this guitar is turning out!

Anyone else have interesting experiences with Fender/Gibson hybrids? Care to share?

49 comments to Birdmaster: A New Guitar Experiment

  • Bebah Palulah

    Nice version of “Walking on a Wire”!

  • Fabulous demo as always Joe and a cool guitar.

    Although the idea of nut compensation is correct the Feiten system is lubricated with snake oil. The patent for it is so full of nonsense it should never have got past the examiner. As far as I know the Earvana nut is based on the work of the Bartolini brothers as further mathematically developed by Greg Byers and is entirely sensible.

    • joe

      The only times I’ve tried Feiten setups, I was really distracted. I’ve never had the opportunity to take one somewhere quiet and really focus. But man, I am SOLD on the Earvana! They’re not very expensive, and it seems to be a pretty easy install. Gary had to modify the nut slightly for my wound third string — we couldn’t get it to intonate otherwise. Fortunately, I’m one of the few players with the bad sense to use a wound third.


      • Yes, Joe I am not surprised you had to tweak the Earvana nut for your third string, the problem with refining the intonation systems on guitars is that they become more and more specific to the particular string set used. And in the end most if not all intonation refinement schemes are aimed at getting closer to equal temperament, which itself is a compromise tuning.

        I agree with you about the results of better tuning. I have a National Resophonic Tricone with a compensated bridge of my own design and something magical happens when I tune that guitar very carefully with a highly accurate tuner (the Cleartune app, one of the best tuners I have ever used).

  • ukeSy

    This is great !!!

  • smgear

    wow, really lovely – components, tone, playing, etc.

    I think you’ve got a keeper there….. 🙂

  • Oinkus

    It is before 7am but I am thinking a Babicz FCH TOM bridge will make it track even better, not to mention add a touch of brightness to it if it is too dark for you. Never did tell me if those are stainless steel frets (they should be!) ?That is a nice crazy build I think I really like it. Where did that LP standard come from ?

  • joe

    I got the TonePros because a) I’ve liked them before, but b) mostly because Warmoth offered the option of drilling the stud holes specifically for the TonePros spec. Otherwise I would have had to order the bridge, and then ship it to Warmoth. Or god forbid, try to drill it myself. And I’m a lazy f’er. :smirk:

    I thought of your suggestion, though, and asked Gary Brawer for his take on the Babicz stuff. He’d heard of it, but had never tried it. What do you feel it brings to the equation that other battened-down TOM bridges, such as the TonePros, does not? And I wonder if you can get the parts without the logo. (I’ve become so logophobic, I’m planning to sand the “Fender” and “Gibson” off my vintage guitars.) :finger:

    Not really. But I’m a great believer in black electrical tape.

    • Oinkus

      You have seen my Strat , Tele and 335 no logo right ? What makes the Babicz work to me is that it sits flat on the top. It is a straight replace will have no issue dong it yourself too, unless the various stud options don’t match. I have had to swap the inserts on one of the 6 guitars I have installed them on. (drop a screw in it tighten the stud down insert removed ,insert included with bridge matched same hole) I am a firm believer that the better a guitar sounds unplugged the better it will sound with volume. There is all kinds of stuff Jeff says about his bridges and he is supposed to promote it in every way he can of course. All 6 guitars I have done had a remarkable improvement in resonance and volume of the unplugged sound. TOM bridges sit on the stud and transfer less vibration to the guitar top, that seems to me to be the important part. That and the aircraft aluminum and high quality build of the bridge. I have done Mostly TOM x4 , a 2 point tremolo version and a tele plate version. IMHO it is the best TOM bridge by far just due to the adjustability of it , set and forget once it is locked in place. Nice new font too ! You would think I was being paid by Jeff , almost put a 4 string Babicz Precision Bass Bridge on this week but the guy couldn’t afford it 🙁 Oh yeah that also would be why it would improve your midi tracking , more clearer sound travelling to the pickup = better tracking.

      • Is the plate on the Babicz FCH Tele bridge aluminium or steel? Even if it is steel it looks thicker than the traditional Fender pressed steel plate. There are so may opinions about the sound of the Tele bridge pickup and how that is affected by the bridge design.

        I have carried out some tests recently that lead me to believe that the biggest effect of the Tele bridge on tone is due to eddy currents. The mounting hole for the pickup acts like one giant shorted turn around the pickup coil. The opposing magnetic field generated by these currents tends to reduce output and damp the high end response of the pickup. The traditional thin steel plate does not produce much damping, only just enough to take the edge off the sound. In the case of the Tele bridge pickup this is probably beneficial. However if you fit a thicker plate with lower resistance my measurements show the damping increases dramatically. Aluminium has a much lower electrical resistance than steel so the effect is even greater. In that respect aluminium is a real tone killer, at least for single coil pickups, side by side coil, single coil size humbuckers are not so greatly affected.

        I have just rebuilt a Strat and changed the pickups for a set of donor Fender pickups from another guitar. I knew how the pickups should sound because I had played them in the guitar they came out of. I happened to have a Fender aluminium pickguard (0.048 inches in thickness) that I decided to use. The guitar sounded terrible – thin, lifeless and lacking output. I measured the pickups inductance both in and out of the aluminium guard. Mounted in the guard the pickups inductance at 1000Hz dropped by 20%! I swapped out the pickguard for a plastic guard and the guitar came back to life.

        • joe

          Absolutely fascinating! Thanks for posting that.

        • Terry, the steel bridge plate on a Tele, along with the steel plate under the pickup, probably also affects the inductance of the pickup, since it’s magnetic.

          All metal pickup covers affect the tone of the pickup. An aluminum (or brass) cover would also dull a humbucker. Nickel silver isn’t too bad, but flattens the resonant peak. Stainless steel would be ideal, and was what Seth Lover wanted in the first place. Same with baseplates, but to a lesser degree.

          And that’s true about the aluminum under the pickguard. But all you have to do it make some slits in it to break the loop around the pickups. Some people make the same mistake and wrap copper foil around their Strat pickups, and the closed loop kills some top end. But that probably makes the pickups seem quieter to electrical field noise (that high pitched buzz).

          I have a modern brass bridge on my Tele style guitar. It sounds a bit different from a traditional Tele, but still sounds a lot like a Tele.

          • Making a slit in the side of a Tele neck pickup cover, from bottom to the top, also helps restore treble. 🙂

          • David – Yup I know it affects pickup inductance, that is exactly what I said in my previous post.

            My point is that the traditional thin steel Tele bridge does not affect it by very much, only a few percent at most at 1000Hz. As I said this is probably a good thing and takes the edge off what might otherwise be a very bright pickup sound. What I did not appreciate intitially was that the effect is so frequency dependant. I did not expect it to increase quite so much as frequency rises. So far I have only done spot measurements at 120Hz and 1000Hz which are the two frequencies available on my inductance meter. To look at this properly I intend to try some full frequency resonance plots of various pickups, in and out of bridge plates.

            I am also quite aware that all pieces of metal anywhere near a pickup are likely to have eddy currents flowing through them. As I said the magnitude of these currents is related to electrical resistance, and some metals exhibit lower resistance than others.

            I did not mention aluminium under a pickguard, I was talking about a solid sheet metal pickguard sold as an aftermarket part by Fender, not thin shielding tape stuck to the back of a plastic pickguard. As far as I can see the thin aluminium foil you often find stuck under a guard as an eletrostatic shield is too thin to have any appreciable affect. There is no need to cut slots in it.

            I do know that the Fender Strats that were sold with a thin separate aluminium guard fitted under the plastic pickguard have a reputation for a particular ‘sweet’ tone and that Nile Rodgers Hitmaker is reputed to have an unique sound and that has a thin chromed brass pickguard. In the case of these guitars I’m guessing that the thin aluminium or brass is providing just enough high frequency eddy current damping to provide a unique character without killing the tone altogether.

            The reason I posted is that aluminium was mentioned as a bridge material and particularly as a (fairly thick) Tele plate bridge. Given my experience with the aluminium pickguard and also happening to own a Wilkinson and a Fishman Tele bridge, both made of really thick aluminium and a Tele bridge made of thick brass I decided to do some measurements.

            I find it, let’s say ‘interesting’ that so many reputable guitar components companies are making some products out of such unsuitable tone killing materials, at least in the case of Tele bridges and my Strat pickguard. The other Babicz parts for the Strat and LP type guitars may be far enough from the pickups not to be a problem.

            It has occured to me to try some experiments with an aluminium plate with a slot cut through it to defeat the shorted turn effect, but in practice a slot complicates the use of, for example the Strat pickguard. I suppose you could just cut it in half down the mid line of the pickups and then make sure it was screwed down with enough screws to stop it flapping around. It would still look a bit odd. There is a similar problem with ‘breaking the turn’ in a Tele bridge plate.

            In any case, although it might help, I am not convinced a slot breaking the ‘turn’ would entirely solve the problem. Eddy currents can still circulate anywhere in the metal.

            I quite agree with you about people who wrap pickups in copper tape. I would expect it to totally kill the tone. Still they are probably all ‘Metal’ freaks and have never heard a clean tone from a guitar.

        • Oinkus

          Pretty sure it is aluminum . I just go by what things sound like , the guitar instantly sounded better acoustically . It isn’t very standard either alnico 3 magnets but one fantastic sounding guitar.

          • Oinkus

            The science means absolutely nothing if the guitar sounds even 10% as good as mine. Come on by and check it out is all I can say , 100% chance you will like it.

        • stew

          An amazing insight into the tele bridge (including eddy currents) from one of the legends of pickup design, Mr Bill Lawrence

  • stew

    Joe, a couple of thoughts about you new beauty …

    I’m curious about the comment “more Gibson than Fender”. I assume it plays like a Fender but tonally you’d put it in the Gibson ballpark even with 25.5 scale? From the video it still seems to have the Fender thing … just richer/fatter … ??

    I’m also curious how this guitar with a compensated nut will sound if your playing with someone without compensation. Will their tuning sound off. I’ve always liked the idea of the Earvana but it’s useless to me if it makes everyone else sound out of tune?

    • joe

      Hi Stew — yeah, my comment in the video is incomplete, though in the text, I mention the scale length. Yup — it’s 25.5″. So low open strings twang and snap in a Fendery fashion.

      It’s funny — I grew up thinking of Fender/Gibson as a very binary distinction, mainly out of my Gibson ignorance, and my experiences with the overbuilt, overwound instruments of the ’70s and ’80s. But if course, Gibsons are perfectly capable of sounding bright and twangy. But here, the bridge and bound neck make the experience feel far from Fender. It’s interesting.

      Regarding the intonation: I don’t know! The older I get, the more intonation remains a mystery. I mean, I understand the basic math. But it’s real hard for me to predict which tuning discrepancies will sound good, and which will sound awful. I’m very aware, though, of the extent to which most sensitive players twist notes into tune, often without even realizing they do it. So there’s no guarantee that two players with identically intonated guitars — even two GOOD players — will sound perfectly in tune. Its just … a big, weird mess that makes my brain hurt.

      Anyway, this particular arrangement is working out really well for me — but then, I tend to play far more chromatically than most guitarists, and I’m more likely to play in uncomfortable keys. So a “well tempered” arrangement suits me well. It might be less meaningful for players who tend to favor particular keys.

      One beauty of the Earvana nut is, you can try one without major instrument modifications: the $40 nut, and a decent nut installation. I think the perfectly intonating Evertune bridge sounds awesome too — but it’s a WAY bigger commitment in cost and instrument modification.

      So I dunno — I want some of YOU guys to try it and tell me what you think! :satansmoking:

  • An interesting fact about compensated nuts; you are not compensating for intonation in the usual sense. At the string, you are compensating for the fact that the string height increases as you progress up the neck. This makes the strings bend sharp when you fret them. Adjusting the bridge saddle back corrects that.

    At the nut however, you have the issue that the strings are stiff close to where they are anchored. Stiff strings behave like a rod, and the harmonics will be sharp. This is why they do stretch tuning on pianos. So the compensated nuts move the string anchoring position closer to the first fret. This gives the affect of moving all the frets slightly closer to the nut, therefore making them all flat. The usual sharpness as you go up the neck is then compensated to get the octaves back in tune. Now you have slightly flat notes up to about the third fret or so, which even out as you move a raw from the nut, and of course at that point the strings are getting more flexible and play in tune better.

    Using a guitar with a zero fret and a slight distance from the string nut eliminates the need for a compensated nut, since it reduces the stiffness at the anchor point. 🙂

  • That should have read: “At the BRIDGE, you are compensating for the fact that the string height increases as you progress up the neck.”

  • Sebastián Enriquez

    Hey Joe,
    Nice video, Never though P90’s and Flatwounds sound as awesome as you played, definitely I’ll be looking forward to buy a P90-guitar.
    BTW, I’ve got a Epiphone Les Paul Jr. One pickup and two pots, I’m plannimg to do a new wiring scheme, any idea?

  • Avi

    Hey Joe, GREAT playing, as always. And superb sounds. Do you have a specific link you can point us to for installing the germanium Cult boost in a guitar? I take it it needs a battery?

    • joe

      Hi Avi!

      I did a post on how to install onboard effects in general: Yup, batteries are required. The only passive effect I know of is diode distortion in the form of the Black Ice, or a homemade equivalent. ( I haven’t yet shared the exact Cult recipe, though it’s a cousin of the revised Rangemaster circuit covered in this DIY project:

      That “Birdmaster” guitar is the first one I’ve ordered with a battery compartment pre-installed (a low-cost option from Warmoth). It’s a lot more convenient that disassembling a guitar to change batteries (especially on a Strat, where you must remove the strings to pole around inside). Though having said that, a battery last a LONG time for most of these booster circuits, especially when you remove the power-indicator LED from the circuit. (Plus, a lot of the them still sound good as the battery weakens.) A single battery can last for months, maybe even years if you don’t play the guitar that often. (The input jack gets wired stompbox-style, so there’s no drain on the battery when no cable is connected.) Hope that helps!

  • Avi

    Hey Joe, One more thing: I spotted this interesting article by Jerry Donahue on setting up a 3-saddle telecaster for better intonation, but it applies to any guitar, and is in effect a poor-mans’ Earvana:

    The basic idea is that you set it up so that your D string intonates slightly flat at the 12th fret, and your G string intonates slightly sharp at the 12th fret. When you tune, tune all strings open, except the G string. Tune that at the 12th fret. To my ears, this JD method sounds better than getting the intonation exact at the 12th fret for all strings.

    • joe

      Thanks for the link, Avi! I’m totally going to try that on some older guitars whose hardware I don’t want to modify. I wonder, though, if the instruction would be the same with a wound third?

      I’m surprised by my strong reaction to the Earvana. I don’t have an especially fine sense of pitch, and certainly not perfect pitch. Though for better or worse, I’ve gotten in the habit of setting intonation by ear rather than by tuner. (I use the usual method of comparing the fretted notes to harmonics at the 12th and 19th frets.) Jerry talks about offsets of a cent or less, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I’m already doing something like what he recommends, just subconsciously. But next time, I’ll do it strictly according to his instructions, and see what happens.

      Also, Jerry is one of those guys who is ALL about playing perfectly tuned bends — the country player skill of just snapping a string to pitch, as if working a lap steel lever. It’s a technique I respect — but certainly don’t possess!

  • wrangle

    I think your guitar turned out really well, and definitely fulfills the goals you had for it! I’d say that’s really the only downside to experimenting with these unusual combinations—you never know if you’re going to like how they end up sounding (and I imagine that’s a big reason people tend to stick with convention; they have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to end up with). I’m the kind of person that loves to come up with oddball ideas for projects using kit guitar parts, and if my personal budget allowed, I’m sure I’d be working on several right now.

    The one kit project guitar that I have at the moment (I’ve been slowly piecing it together over many years) consists of a northern ash Tele body, Gibson scale maple Strat neck, and a top-loading Musicmaster-style bridge. To my ear, it retains somewhat of a Tele top end, but also combines a zingy acoustic guitar-like quality with some added upper-mid honk. I’m generally happy with the way it sounds, although I’m planning to try replacing the cheap brass saddles, probably with steel, to see if it helps reduce a slight buzzing issue at the bridge.

    • joe

      Oh man — do you have any recordings of that instrument? I was having a conversation with Ben from Real Guitars (my cool local alternative to Bain Capital’s Guitar Center), who’d encountered some sort of Gibson scale Fender, and felt it didn’t work particularly well. Which isn’t to say it’s not a brilliant idea on the right instrument.

      One interesting aspect of this experiment was the chance to separate some traditionally Gibson characteristics from others. Example: the influence of neck-through construction. Even though this guitar has a bolt-on neck, it has a decidedly Gibson-like weight and sustaining resonance. Maybe I have especially tuneful bits of wood, or the Fralin pickups are even better than I thought. Or maybe bolt-on vs. neck-through construction isn’t quite a major a tone factor as we tend to assume.

      What pickups have you liked in your guitar project?

      • wrangle

        Not sure if I have a good “pure” recording of the guitar, but I can make one fairly easily, which I could either send to you or possibly post it (I have been meaning to get a Soundcloud account)…

        In my personal experience, bolt-on necks have had similar sustain characteristics to any other kind, although they seemed to add a little more clarity (or reduce muddiness) on an instrument. I always attributed this to the fact that they were the traditional Fender 25.5″ scale, which is why I was interested in trying out the conversion neck on this Tele. I’d say the results were inconclusive at best, but that could have more to do with my (lack of) workmanship and odd choice of bridge than any other factor.

        In the end, I don’t know if the guitar has a sound that most people would be looking for, but at the very least I can say that it has a distinctive voice, which has gotta be useful in some way.

        Oh, and the pickup I used was the only decent one I had available: a Duncan vintage rail. Unfortunately, one of the coils seems to be going bad (with much lower output than the other), so I’m not sure what I’ll be able to scrounge up to replace it.

      • Not a terribly neutral recording, but here’s a sample of the Gibson-scale Tele.

  • NotSoFast

    The talk of battery storage in a Strat reminded me of two tiny 12v batteries I picked up off of ebay with a 9 volt “transistor” style holder. The purpose is to replace a single 9 volt with a 24 volt feed for a Strat with EMG SAs. I’ve always wanted to try that mod but couldn’t get 2 transistor batteries in the case.

    Anyway, the 12 volt battery is quite a bit smaller and might be useful for an in guitar effect – it would fit pretty easily in the back tremolo spring area of a Strat. No idea how these compare for battery life. Here’s an eBay listing that is similar (but quite a bit more than I paid… I think…):

    And, in a completely unrelated aside, this never occurred to me:

    Don’t know that I’d want the jack on top though.

  • mwseniff

    Great demo as usual. The “boid” turned out great. Did you use the standard pickup for midi that Fishman originally sold or is this one of the built ins I’ve been seeing pics of online? I saw pics of Fender Strats with Fishman midi PU and controls built into the Strat like the GK-ready Fender Strat.
    As to the Gibson scale Fenders the Jaguar, Mustang etc. has a 24″ scale that works very well.

    You have inspired me to build something as well but mine will be a bastard fretless strat type neck on a Gibson-esque body with TOM and fine tuner equipped stop tail piece. It is going to take a bit of fitting and fiddling to make it work properly. I may put some Devi Ever pedals inside it like a Ruby and Dark Boost in parallel or a Year of the Rat, I have a bunch of etched and ready pc boards I got at the Devi Ever Etsy page that need a home. But you still got me thinking about building a warmoth at some point the Mooncaster is very tempting. Anyway it looks like you are loving the new guitar, there is nothing more inspiring than a new (to me) guitar.

  • Jjamie ray

    I wonder whether you are aware of dial-up? No, not a tone phantasmagoria. My means of internet access. I am compelled to journey to the nearest metropolis to watch video. But worth it. I’ve been delighting in Mr. Gore’s pen-to-paper since GP days & I am enjoying my first opportunity to watch the videos. Your pleasure in aural diversity, juxtaposition, & surprise have informed my modest efforts as a late-night tendinitis/arthritis erstwhile-Mandinka-Dunun-performer-cum-Washburn Falcon-adoring organic market gardener for nigh decades now have been welcome journalism. I am enjoying these posts as one who likes oil-paint-grit on the jamb of an abandoned farmhouse in sight of Lake Winnipeg beach sand. I have a feeling that you would know how to Warmoth-Jazzmaster some cambium from this one. Thanks for this site.

  • Hey, Joe,

    Where you goin with that axe in your hand?

    But seriously, you asked “Anyone else have interesting experiences with Fender/Gibson hybrids? Care to share?”

    Yep. I refer to one of my favorite and most versatile guitars as the “StratoPaul.” Check it out:

    I took a Cherry burst Strat body and got a neck custom cut to Les Paul specs (yep, I know that varies quite a bit… I just let the neck builder do his thing), but bolt on, still Gibson scale. Got it painted a shade that fits the color palette used on the body but darker, like my favorite Gibson necks.

    I used gold hardware (rare for me, I prefer silver, but I wanted to “warm” this guitar up some) involving a Wilkinson 5+1 tremolo with a full size brass block.

    For pickups, I wanted something I could go both Fendery and Gibsony with. I had a Dimarzio Cruiser just sitting around from another project where it didn’t get used. Don’t get me wrong, this is fantastic little pickup and it bugged me endlessly to have it sitting around not being used. It’s a Strat singlecoil size rail humbucker. I put this in the middle position.

    I tried a Dimarzio Fasttrack I in the bridge but it didn’t give me what I wanted to hear in that position in this guitar. I tried a Fastrack II and it nails it pretty good. A bit less treble and more bit more boom.

    The neck is, to me, a really happy coincidence. I had a GuitarFetish “Lil Killer” neck pickup, singlecoil sized rail humbucker that I took out of a project guitar I got on Ebay. I wasn’t intending to use it on this guitar, but while searching over reviews and whatnot trying to find the perfect neck pickup that I could afford after spending my money on other guitar parts :rant: I wasn’t coming up with any “perfect” options… so I put that GFS pickup in the neck to get me by while I decided on one, got everything wired up and when I went to test out the neck pickup it just blew me away completely. After playing on that pickup for about an hour I decided it’s staying in there.

    So, in addition to trying to capture the benefits of both a Strat and a Les Paul, you also get what a stock Strat can’t do: all 3 single coils at once, or Neck and Bridge together. Furthermore, you can use three humbuckers properly, unlike the standard switching scheme with three HB equipped Les Pauls. I’ve found these to be fairly minor for the most part, though the Stratty Bridge/Neck combo does sound very nice to me.

    Okay, so in order to walk the line between Fender and Gibson, I picked Humbuckers but in a Strat single-coil form factor. Next I ordered a pickguard from somewhere on the internet, can’t remember, in cream pearloid which I think really goes with the warmth of the guitar. This pickguard is cut with the classic three holes for volume tone tone, but instead of a cutout for the 5-way selector switch, it has three holes for toggle switches. I have these wired 1 per pickup to switch to Humbucker, Singlecoil, or Off (2 coil, 1 coil, no coil). The single coil setting on these pickups might not put you in Eric Clapton’s lap, but they do an admirable job of trying! Unfortunately gold mini toggles are a rare and expensive animal, so they are chrome for now until I come up with some other plan.

    Instead of the typical Vol, Tone, Tone setup, I opted for a setup closer to MY origins (my first REAL electric guitar was a Yamaha RGZ with 1 Vol and 1 Tone), so it has a Master Volume, Master Tone, and… for those who enjoy the stutter effect but find themselves with a guitar that has three toggles and a single Volume control, a small red button/momentary switch that cuts the signal when depressed, so you can get a real machine gun kind of stutter… if you’re into that sort of thing. Frankly I’ve never needed it, but I’ve since added this mod to several friends’ guitars and they love it, so the learning experience was worth it :).

    What else… Oh, yeah… this guitar came out so pretty that I wanted to give it a custom neck plate to tie it all together. I’ve attempted to make picture links below.

    A note about the “Gibson” decal. It’s sort of a “joke” and is only there for my personal amusement. It’s a vinyl decal so no one touching it would ever be confused as to whether it was real or not. It looks nice, though, and, like the truss rod cover, just helps the visual image of what I was trying to accomplish by building the guitar.


    Wilkinson Tremolo being installed

    Tilt shot of the body

    Close up of body

    Back shot

    Neck plate 😀

    I hope those links work :/

    • Oh, since those pictures were taken I’ve replaced the pickguard screws and pickup mounting screws with gold. Looks a little more coherent 🙂 I might gold leaf those toggles and see how long it takes me to wear it off.

  • William Brethauer

    I built a Warmoth Tele with dual humbuckers in Triple shots with independent volume/tone controls for each. I've also got an Ibanez AM75 loaded with Triple shots and P-rails.

  • Brent Gable

    Here’s a pic of my home made Jazzblaster. The biggest, fattest Warmoth neck, my own hand shaped one piece Black Walnut body that I made quite a bit thinner because of the weight of that species. A local guy who winds pickups by the name of Buddha Pickups did the under wound P90s for me. 500k pots with a treble bleed circuit. Stop tailpiece and tune-o bridge. Old 1960s formica boomerang pickguard. Love the tone of this guitar. I can get chimey Jazzmaster or ’59 LP Jr. out of it.

  • Oinkus

    How many winds do those P 92s have on them ? I am ordering a set for my Futura 8.4k neck ,9.4k bridge

  • Oinkus

    Read the whole article again and nowhere dopes it say what caps you used either? A month later for no apparent reason?

  • You've gone and done it. After a year of trying to play live with musicians (and losing money on gigs) I am seriously looking at playing solo and looping. This video blew my mind. I dove into Mainstage for a recent gig and just ordered the Fishman. If I get lost in the rabbit hole, I am blaming it on you.

    How do you put your laptop on a stand without losing your mind that it is going to get damaged?

  • Exelent, you can add any device to it, but it's your playing making the biggest factor of sound. You have a wonderful approach to music, and that is the big thing of the sound.
    I love it, and I can spend hour's of time to listen to how your frasing and experimenting with sound and technics….. carry on the good (god) works…..

    • joe

      What nice things to say, Pål! Like I sometimes say, working here alone at home doing this stuff, I sometimes feel like I’m sitting in a dark closet, mumbling to myself. So it’s more gratifying that you might imagine hearing that someone far away found my work useful, amusing, or informative. Thanks you so much!

  • David

    Hi Joe,
    Nice guitar – and the Fralins sound great in it.
    Like you, i don’t normally like ‘noiseless” pickups.
    Have you ever tried Kinman zero hum pickups ?

    • joe

      No, I have never tried Kinmans, but I’ve heard lots of nice things. I think I was prompted to use a noiseless pickup because this was the instrument I sent up with a Triple Play pickup for use with my digital solo looping shows, and it just seemed like a good idea to be as quiet as possible. But I’m always moving pickups around, either for musical needs or just to experiment or have something to write about. Right now this guitar has Duncan/Bonamassa PAFs — a really beautiful ’50s-style humbucker set. But the lovely Fralins will find another home soon. 🙂

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