Guitar Building: Bigsby Tele With Humbuckers, Part 6


Wow, a long time since my last post! One of the most interesting parts of this project was to get the Bigsby perfectly placed. To help with this, the kit comes with a little ball of red string. The idea is to attach one end to the sixth string tuner, run it up the neck to the Bigsby, weave it through the roller that holds the ball ends of the strings, go back down the neck to the string one tuner, and apply a little tension.

You can easily see, once you get the string where you want it, whether or not the alignment is what it needs to be. Once that looked good, I marked the locations for the four screws that hold the tailpiece in place, drilled pilot holes, and installed it.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice my big “OH, HELL!” moment at this point. That’s to say that before now, I hadn’t noticed there’d be no room to adjust the intonation screws on the Rutters bridge. Imagine my delight. Luckily, after much experimenting, I realized I could simply turn the screws from the other end, as long as I slacked the string tension first. So, intonation was time-consuming but successful. Marc’s compensated saddle design works really well, and everything’s in tune now.

Once the guitar was strung, I lubed all the moving parts and the nut slots, stretched the crap out of the strings, and worked the bar to get everything broken in a bit. Tuning is pretty stable, and there’s enough tension from that big spring that I can play pedal steel licks and bends without the strings dropping in pitch. The range of pitch change is fairly limited but I knew that going in, and have gotten comfortable with it since. The guitar likes a standard “ten” set, and sounds really cool.

Next up: finishing touches!

Guitar Building: Bigsby Tele With Humbuckers, Part 5

In which I solve a small problem: I wanted to install my completed wiring assembly, with the jack. When I tried to fit the jack, screwed into its Electrosocket, into the hole in the side of the guitar, it didn’t fit. Much swearing followed. I found my shop ruler and measured the hole, which turned out to be a sixteenth of an inch narrower than it should be. I needed a hole 7/8″ in diameter, and I didn’t have it.

So, I’ve drilled these holes before, and the right bit for the job is a Forstner, a fearsome-looking thing with teeth and points that is actually very easy to use, even in a hand drill. You mark the hole’s location with something sharp like an awl, and the center point of the bit goes into that mark. You have to hold the drill reasonably straight, but the bit basically guides itself, and drills a beautiful, smooth-sided hole, right where you want it.

What a Forstner won’t do is enlarge an existing hole. If I’d tried that, the bit could have gone anywhere, and would definitely have torn up the side of the guitar. Not cool; more swearing. Finally it occurred to me to fill the hole with wood, mark its center, and drill a new hole. I found a stub of 3/4″ dowel, and built it up by wrapping it with masking tape. When it was almost too big to fit, I tapped it into the hole with a mallet, marked the center, fired up the drill, and got a perfect hole. I was definitely holding my breath, but it worked great, and didn’t damage my finish at all. I felt kind of proud of myself!

Guitar Building: Bigsby Tele With Humbuckers, Part 4

The electronics are straightforward, with a twist or two. I always flip the control plate for better access to the volume knob. I used 500k pots for the humbuckers and a .022 mfd PIO tone cap, with a 180pf “treble bleed” cap. I found a new brand of jack, called a Pure Tone, which has two contacts each for hot and ground. They claim an improvement in the sound with this design. I can’t verify that, but the plug fits very securely, and the jack looks well-made.

The bridge is a Marc Rutters “Chopped” model, modified by Marc with notches for the strings to pass through. Without those, the strings would rest on the back lip of the bridge. Not good! As always, his bridge is a beautiful piece. The saddles are cold-rolled steel, which sounds good and wears like crazy, so they should work well when I crank the Bigsby.

Marc also made the control plate, in nickel-plated steel, with his slanted selector switch slot and the middle control hole 3/8″ further away from the switch than usual. These modifications work really well. The plate is not cheap, but well worth it!

Finally for this post, the tuners are a vintage-style locking type from Gotoh. I wanted vintage looks, but needed the locking feature because I want to whammy and stay in tune! These took some tracking down, but Philadelphia Luthier Tools had them and got them to me in a couple of days. They install like normal tuners, but have staggered post heights and a thumbwheel locking mechanism which pins the string into place with a steel rod, much like the Sperzel tuners. I have high hopes for these. Gotta have locking tuners if you want to whammy, unless you just loooove tuning up after every song.

Guitar Building: Bigsby Tele With Humbuckers, Part 3

This beautiful neck came from USA Custom Guitars. Last December (2016), I needed a neck for this guitar and Allparts was out of stock on the model I wanted. On the internet I found the USACG site (I visit from time to time), and followed the pages to some information about a neck sale they were running. I was able to get this flame maple neck with the fretboard width and radius I wanted, with my choice of fret size, neck carve, and other features. Wow! With the sale pricing, the neck was only a few bucks more than the Allparts neck I would have chosen, and the options I could pick made it an amazing deal.

They were buried in orders and it took a few weeks to get it, but it was well worth waiting for. Very pretty wood and great workmanship! It needed only a little sanding to be ready for finishing. They had already rolled the fretboard edges, and I went a little further with that. The fret ends were beautifully rounded and didn’t need any further attention. The peghead’s shape is a slight departure from the classic Tele profile, but I like it and am happy with it as it came. Four coats of Tru-Oil and some 0000 steel wool later, the neck was ready for tuners and a nut, and the wood grain looked great, as you can see.

One option I chose was to get the truss rod adjustment on the peghead, instead of the heel. That’s a huge convenience! I’m good at getting the adjustment done the old school way, but it’s always a bit of a guessing game. This neck straightened with only a bit of adjustment. I’m anxious to see how it behaves under tension. The neck heel fits perfectly on the body. It always blows my mind a bit when I see a neck and body from different makers go together so well. So far, I’m really impressed with USACG’s work.

Guitar Building: Bigsby Tele With Humbuckers, Part 2

Continuing with finishing the body! Whoever said that finishing a guitar is the hardest part of this process has it right. I used Trans Tint bright red dye concentrate to get this color, and diluted it with water for easier handling. I kept pushing the dilution until I got the shade I wanted, and it’s exactly what I hoped for. More luck and perseverance than skill here.

Once again it’s Tru-Oil for the topcoat, working up to six thin layers and scuff-sanding between each coat with 2000 grit paper. At that point I rubbed it back pretty hard with 0000 steel wool, and then applied two more coats over the next couple of days. I like to allow 12 to 24 hours between coats, and then I let the body hang for a week before another rub-out with steel wool, followed by buffing and polishing.

I don’t grain fill, and feel that the bright, responsive sound I get from the guitars I assemble has a lot to do applying a very thin finish. Tru-Oil gives great “grain pop”, and plenty of moisture protection, but very little impact protection. I’m fine with that trade-off. I also like to see the texture of the wood I’m working with. I sanded this body very smooth, raised the grain with water, and re-sanded until I was happy. Heavy applications of the dye solution re-raised the grain a tiny bit, but I liked it and decided not to re-sand.

I’m not interested in a glossy commercial finish, though I certainly appreciate the skill it takes to do that. I can get a hand-rubbed bright satin luster with Meguiar’s #7 and some buffing pads, and then a final buffing with Virtuoso polish. Looks good to me.

Guitar Building: Bigsby Tele With Humbuckers! Part 1

The body for this guitar is a single piece of Eastern White Pine (IIRC) from my pal Larry at Clearfork Designs. It’s about 3.5 pounds and very resonant. As you can see from the photos in this first installment, I’m dyeing the body RED, using an awesome black and white shell pickguard, and installing a Fender-logo Bigsby B5. Once the color is right, I’ll topcoat with Tru-Oil, rub it out with 0000 steel wool, and buff it with Meguiar’s for a bright satin gloss (if that makes any sense).

To come: a neck from USA Custom Guitars (en route as I write), maple and rosewood, which will get a bone nut, and a new (to me, anyway) type of Gotoh locking tuner. Final pickup choice will rely on how things are sounding, but I have a brand new set of Electric City low-wind humbuckers that I think will work great. The bridge will be a Marc Rutters “Chopped” model, notched for the Bigsby. Standard wiring on a flipped plate, and we’ll see where we are. Much more to come!

Guitar For Sale: Gibson Advanced Jumbo Acoustic

I’m selling a very nice Gibson AJ from 2002, with its original hard case. This is Gibson’s round-shouldered dreadnought design, originally from the 1930’s, which has a huge, loud sound. This is also partly due to the 25.5″ scale. I believe the AJ is the only Gibson acoustic with that Martin-like scale length. You can see from the photos there’s only normal handling wear, with one tiny ding on the top and very little fret wear.

Spruce top (probably Sitka), Indian rosewood back and sides, and a mahogany neck. The guitar is very well set up and comfortable to play. The intonation is great, and came that way from the factory. I made and installed a bone nut, and put a new strap button on, with a matching one on the underside of the neck heel. I have the original button, and the warranty card from Gibson. This guitar is ready to go!

And it’s gorgeous! Nobody sprays a sunburst like Gibson, and the grain in the top is outstanding. This is the best example of this model I found, which is why I bought it. It’s going for $1800. Check it out!

Updated Guitar Gallery

Not complete, but you get the idea, I think. Putting these guitars together is FUN, and a little addictive!

What My Builders Are Up To: Pine Strat!

This is the second pine Strat-style guitar to come off my bench, and both have been winners!
Leo Fender built several early Broadcaster models from pine, but never any Strats, so far as I know. Many people look down on pine (too cheap, too common?) but it sounds fantastic and looks great, too.

Check out this beautiful example, with its blue streaks and intergalactic knot placed right on the arm cut! Graeme, the builder, chose this body for his second project. Clearfork Designs body, Allparts neck, Fender bridge, tuners, noiseless pickups, and plastic parts, and a Tru-Oil finish. It’s simple: gather good parts and put them together properly, and you really can’t miss.

What My Builders Are Up To: Lefty Mahogany Tele!

This one has been awhile coming, but was well worth waiting for. The body is African mahogany, and was originally destined to get an Allparts Strat neck. Long story short: AJ, the builder, also has an American Strat. He decided he wanted to have his new Tele set up for slide playing, while the Strat would become his guitar for other styles. He felt the Strat would benefit more from a neck with fresh frets. It’s a good move, and both necks fit their respective bodies with no problems.

As you can see, the bridge is a six-saddle Gotoh, and the pickups are Fender’s Pure Vintage ’64 set, which I had not heard before. They sound great on this guitar! We opted to flip the plate, in order to improve access to the selector switch; otherwise the control setup is standard.

The body, as usual, is from Clearfork Designs, and is stunning. AJ did one of the best arm- and belly-cut jobs I’ve seen yet, with beautiful lines and execution. It’s a favorite way to modify a Tele body, and he really got it right. He applied a Tru-Oil finish, also with great results.

I may sound like I’m just cheerleading when I write these posts, but I’m really proud of the work all of these builders have done. And it’s interesting to see that in many cases they really bond with these guitars. I know I have, and the whole process of getting your hands on all the parts as you work through the steps is very satisfying. Plus, you have a cool instrument when you’re done. Another beautiful job here, Thanks, AJ!