A Thing Of Beauty: 1969 Fender P-Bass!

This bass has been owned and gigged hard by my friend Sam for many years, and he takes credit for much, if not all, of the wear you see here. This thing is BEAUTIFUL, with the sort of play wear that some people pay big money for on their otherwise brand-new guitars. Sammy and his bass are here to show them how it’s really done.

This bass is really light, only seven pounds. It needed a neck adjustment in a hurry, and while I had it on the bench, I took these pictures. The body looks like alder to me. The finish is not actually worn through in most places. There’s still an intact layer under the sunburst. You can see the light reflecting off of it. Some of the scratches do go through.

Overall, though, you can see it has NOT been abused. The hardware is clean and working well. The bass plays easily. It isn’t chipped or gouged. Even the original case is intact. It’s just been played a lot. Truly a player’s instrument!

The Orange Tele Reveal!

Okay, it looks pretty red here. More orange in person. Whatever, I think it’s COOL and am very happy with how it came out!

Some details: Wilkinson compensated bridge (my favorite cheap bridge), Fender metal parts and pickguard, Rob DiStefano’s killer Cavalier pickups (the Nashville Lion bridge, and the Lioness in the neck), RS Guitarworks pots, an Electrosocket (always!) for the jack, and a .033 mfd Sprague Vitamin Q tone cap. As usual, there’s an Allparts neck with vintage-style tuners and a bone nut.

For those who have bothered to keep up, the body is a single piece of spruce, from a huge tree felled in a storm, and harvested by Larry Robinson. The grain goes every which way, and made finishing a challenge. That’s on top of figuring out a little about how to dye the body. This is the lightest guitar I’ve put together so far, plenty of snap and twang. I’m liking it!

Guitar Building: Orange Tele Update!

This guitar is DONE, but glamor shots are yet to come. As of my last post, I was only two coats into the Tru-Oil application. That became four coats wiped on, and four more sprayed on, until I had what I wanted for the final buffing out.

I wound up letting the body dry for ten days, and then knocking the gloss down with 0000 steel wool. This took away the plastic-looking sheen, and took away the last bits of dust and lint on the surface. This process removes quite a bit of the T-O altogether, which is why I wanted a heavier application before starting.

I then used good old Meguiar’s #7 (the silicone-free variety) and some great microfiber buffing pads to bring up a softer, slightly worn-looking gloss that still allowed plenty of grain pop. I did NOT want to dial back the crazy grain in this spruce body too far! The steel wool and Meguiar’s got me exactly where I wanted. You can see the final gloss in the third and fourth photos above, and it will be on full display once I get the reveal photos done.

Meanwhile, I can tell you the finished guitar looks cool and sounds great…

Guitar Building: More Oranger Still!

During the last two days, the weather hasn’t worked for applying Tru-Oil outdoors, but at least the lighting is the same in each of these pictures. It’s easy to see that the famous “grain pop” that we expect with this finish is already happening. This spruce body is so absorbent and the grain is so crazy that the surface luster is, so far, very inconsistent.

After these two coats, I sanded very lightly with 600 grit to knock down the little bumps that always build up (dust? lint? who knows?), and got the wood surface feeling nice and smooth again. I’ll apply a third coat tomorrow, and expect to see the surface start to come together.

I’ve gotten a lot of comments and questions about this project, and thanks to everyone for that! This guitar is meant to fall into the “barncaster” category, so I know the overall look and feel will be a little rougher than on my other guitars. That’s what I want: it suits this piece of wood, and refers a bit to the Gretsch Roundup model which helped inspired this one. To me, Telecasters have always had that sort of edge, visually and sonically, or at the least the ones I like best have. They don’t look right to me when they’re too perfect.

So, readers, a question: do you see any color change, so far, with the Tru-Oil? Let me know! It’s fun to have you guys involved.

Guitar Building: Dyeing A Spruce Body Orange

After the success of my black-dyed alder Esquire project, I thought I’d try my hand at an orange body. I was inspired by the orange finishes you see on Gretsch guitars, but didn’t have my heart set on that, since I had no idea what working with the dye would be like.

This is a very white spruce body with really cool knots. The knots and otherwise crazy grain made it a real challenge to finish-sand without sratching. After I sanded in my arm cut, I solved that problem by sanding the sides in sections, since “going with the grain” was not as straightforward a concept as on most of my past projects. The top and back didn’t pose any problems, but I did add a water-spray step to raise and then knock down the grain. I sanded to 600 grit, blew off the dust, and wetted the body thoroughly. I gave it several hours to dry, and used a rough hand towel, followed by a piece of white Scotchbrite, to rub the raised grain going across, not along, the grain.

It worked great! No scratches, a beautiful smooth surface, and a nice luster to the wood were the result. Time to screw on the finishing stick, and mix the dye. I used orange Colortone concentrate from Stew-Mac, and mixed it in a plastic container full of denatured alcohol. I tested it on the pine finishing stick, since it was fairly close in color to the the spruce. I made up some applicators by balling up a piece of cotton rag inside another piece, and tying them up with a rubber band.

The trick is to get the applicator very wet and keep it moving. The dye soaks in fast, and starts to dry quickly, too. Avoiding drips and runs, and re-wetting the applicator often with fresh dye, are critical to getting an even color without blotching. This took a little figuring out, but I like the result I got.

After two coats, the color was pretty Gretsch-y. It looked a little pinker than it appears in the photos, and I thought a little more color might be more to my liking. I wasn’t really measuring the amount of concentrate I added, though I did test the mix each time before applying it.

The third coat pushed it to the very cool flaming red you see here. Bye bye Gretsch! It is more orange than it appears in the photos (I think you’d need to mix a bit of amber to keep the dye a truer orange), and I suspect the Tru-Oil applications to follow will bring a little touch of amber to the color as they build up. That’s next. For now, I’m singing the praises of happy accidents!

What My Builders Are Up To: New Teles!

These Teles, plus a nice pine Strat, are all getting put together by Jay W. He built a beautiful obeche Tele awhile back, and he says it has become his favorite guitar!

All three bodies came from Clearfork at the summer guitar show. Today, as you can see, was all about drilling ferrule holes, and talking about pickup and hardware options, plus a few finish ideas.

I am building a Tele with a spruce body, and thinking about using Stew-Mac’s Colortone dye to get a nice Gretsch orange. They have a great line of guitar colors that can be blended with water or alcohol, or added to lacquer for spraying. I haven’t decided if I’ll try mixing the color with Tru-Oil and apply it that way, or if I’ll use an alcohol or water solution. Much to learn!

For Sale: Traveler Speedster Guitar

This is a great travel electric, perfect for flying. The guitar in the bag is only 30″ long and 9″ wide, and it all weighs much less (4 pounds) than a full-size electric.

There’s no wear, no scratches you’ll notice; it’s in nearly new condition. Ditto for the bag. The guitar is very comfortable to hold and play, and has a standard size fretboard. Single coil pickup, tone and volume controls, beautiful gloss black finish. Truss rod wrench and instruction book included.

Here’s a link to the company site:


Sound good? Check the eBay listings, and I think you’ll find this guitar very reasonably priced at $295, plus shipping if applicable.

Guitar Builders: I Have A Few Bodies For Sale

At the June guitar show, I saw my pal Larry Robinson of Clearfork Designs, and spent some time picking through his discounted Tele body stack. I chose only good-looking ONE PIECE bodies, all routed for standard Tele pickups.

Longtime readers of my blog know I am a huge fan of Larry’s work, and use his bodies in my own guitars, as well as recommending his stuff to everyone who contacts me about a build. These bodies were in the stack because of some scratches and dings, all of which I have successfully steamed out.

There’s a pale water stain on the back of one, which I will sand out. But if you want an otherwise first-quality Tele body for a project, let me know!

Meet The Family: The Mahogany Tele

I haven’t put up one of these “family” posts in quite awhile. In them, I talk a little about one of the guitars I’ve put together, go over some (I hope) interesting features, and offer a little eye candy.

So, this is a classic combination: two humbuckers on a mahogany body! Not for a Tele, though, and certainly the bolt-on maple neck and longer scale do their parts. The neck, as usual, is from Allparts, and the body is from Clearfork Designs. It’s a single piece of African mahogany, with a beautiful “ribbon” grain, and it weighs four pounds.

It is the first body I’ve used that has arm and belly cuts. The cuts are smaller than you’d see on a typical Fender, but definitely make holding and playing this guitar more comfortable.

The control plate is from Marc Rutters, and features slightly wider control spacing, and a slanted slot for the selector switch. The saddles are cold-rolled steel, which was Marc’s recommendation. He makes beautiful hardware, and it’s very reasonably priced for the quality he offers.

The pickups are RD-59’s from Bill Megela at Electric City. I like his stuff a lot, and he was kind enough to custom-wind me a properly spaced bridge pickup.

I made a bone nut and installed Fender/Gotoh vintage-style tuners. I found a pair of oversized knobs, sort of like what you’d see on a jazz bass. The thick matte black pick guard is exactly what I wanted, too.

The finish is all Tru-Oil, and I went with a higher gloss than usual. Once I saw how it made the grain pop, there was no way I’d be happy with a satin finish on this guitar. Enter Tru-Oil in an aerosol can! Several coats of that, with a touch of sanding in between, and a few dry days (I spray outdoors), and I was right where I wanted to be.

This is the short version of this part of the guitar’s story, and I’m leaving out the part where I had to sand off all the finish and start again from scratch. Oh, and scratches? Mahogany is a scratch magnet. But I got it where I wanted it, and learned a lot in the process…mainly that finishing an instrument really is the toughest thing to get right.

I’m very happy to say this a great-sounding, easy-playing, responsive guitar. The pickups have a great “Tele on steroids” PAF-type tone, and sound huge. There’s a nice balance between the slightly warmer fullness of the mahogany and the “cut” I get from the steel bridge and the pickups. Those of you who follow Swamp Ash, the band I play with, will see me using this guitar a lot in the videos we post. It’s a killer; really proud of this one!