Back into geek mode on the Magnatone guitar my friend Dan owns! The under-the-hood stuff is here to show the very clean wiring and high parts quality. The dots on the small slide switch lets you select one (mono) output or both for “stereo”. Each output could feed a separate amp in stereo mode, with all the options that makes possible: tone and volume settings, amp type and placement, and so on. Stereo mode disables the 3-way Gibson style selector so that each output is controlled by its own set of volume and tone controls. There isn’t a lot of finger room to get to the controls, which would make it a little tricky to adjust on the fly. But hey, we guitarists can get used to anything, right?
Zooming in now, as the Magnatone geekfest continues! I’ve looked “under the hood” at a lot of guitars, and this one showed me some things I’ve never seen. The pickups are completely non-adjustable, unusual for the time. The black sections are plastic, and the chrome rings are plated metal. The parts, especially the baseplates, have the stamp of a Danelectro-like ingenuity, are made simply and still work and sound fine.
The wiring is very neatly laid out and all these parts are high-quality U.S.-made stuff, the same parts Gibson and Fender, among others, were using at the time: CTS pots, Switchcraft jacks and selector switch, and Cornell-Dubilier capacitors. I suppose the pickups were made in-house or specifically for Magnatone. I haven’t managed to track down any info on that yet.
This guitar belongs to my friend Dan. He was having a little trouble figuring out the controls, and asked me for some tech help. I hadn’t seen one of these in a very long time, so I thought I’d take a few pictures when I went inside it to see what was what.
These guitars look like a Rickenbacker design. They were built in the U.S. with an interesting mix of high-quality parts and some construction techniques that are reminiscent of, say, an old Danelectro. The first picture shows the body’s interior and the neck tenon. That screw at the end of the tenon and the two screws and plate you see on the back are what keep the neck and body together. Looks like it might not hold, but this guitar was built in 1960 and has held together fine.
The second shot shows what seems to be laminated construction in the body. In other words, the body was built from a few slabs of wood, rather than one piece that was then routed out. This almost-semi-hollow design makes the guitar very light, and contributes to its acoustic sound. The front and back have a cool three-tone sunburst finish, and it shows its age beautifully.
The pickguard appears to be made of fiberglass. What look like deep scratches are an intentional part of the surface texture, with maybe a bit of dirt added; 1960 was a long time ago. What jumps out when you look at the control array is the pair of output jacks, which implies the wiring is going to work a bit differently than you’d expect. The colored dots are clues to what turns out to be a unique wiring scheme; pretty clever stuff. Details in part 2!
This is the guitar that got me into assembling Fender-style “partscasters”. I didn’t put it together, but right after I got it I made a new nut, rewired it, and put in the first of several sets of new pickups. The neck it came with is from a U.S. made California Series Strat, from 1997 or so. It never seemed like quite the right neck for this guitar. The guy who originally ordered the guitar specified a wide, vintage-style string spacing at the bridge (a gold Callaham, pricey), and this neck didn’t quite fit that spec. So, after the great results I got with my project Tele and Esquire, I decided to order up and install a new Allparts neck on the Strat.
Long story short: the neck fit the Warmoth alder body perfectly with only a bit of sanding. This neck has jumbo frets, 22 of them in fact, and after some level-and-crown massaging, plays great. I re-installed the gold vintage-style Gotoh tuners and a gold string tree and made a nut out of Stew-Mac’s vintage bone. I think the rosewood fretboard makes the fundamental of the note stronger. The maple-board Fender neck always made this guitar sound a little too “tinselly” to me. Can’t prove it (this is an issue that is hotly debated on some guitar forums) but I am happy. The body is just shy of four and a half pounds, which I think is a good weight for Strats.
So, once again…lightweight, resonant wood, great parts, a tight neck-to-body joint, and a good setup make a great guitar. It ain’t rocket science, but it’s fun!
Many weird and wonderful things to see this year. Plenty of the usual suspects, but my eye was drawn in a different direction. Enjoy!
Here are the first clips from my Tele build project. Both were recorded with a Yeti mic into Pro Tools. I used my Alessandro Working Dog amp, set clean. The reverb is from the amp. No FX were used in mixing. It’s basically a few minutes of me noodling in E, but should give you an idea of how the guitars came out.
For the tech-minded: the swamp ash Tele has Bill Lawrence Micro-Coils, wired to a 4-way switch: bridge/both parallel/neck/both series. The pine Esquire has an actual ’50s bridge pickup in it, and is wired 3-way: bridge with no tone control/bridge with tone control (nice for pre-setting a tone change)/”cocked wah”, also known as the Mike Eldred mod.
I’ll follow up with some clips with overdrive tones, but I figured clean sounds would say the most about the guitars for starters.
Catalpa, baby! This is the body I bought at the recent Fall Philly guitar show. Larry’s booth is shown in the fourth photo. I wanted them all!
In the third photo is yet another example, to my eye at least, of nature repeating herself. More about the guitar will follow as it comes together.
Finishing touches! The electronics are wired and working, and the bridge is screwed down and dialed in. Specs for this one include Bill Lawrence Micro-Coils with a four-way switch, with the bridge pickup sitting in a Glendale bridge with one aluminum and two brass saddles. The four-way gives me bridge/both in parallel/neck/both in series. The pickups are not RW/RP but are pretty quiet anyway. Great string-to-string balance, and good balance between the two pickups. The adjustable polepiece screws help a lot. Not standard Tele pickup construction but these thing sound great, are loud and are fun to play.
No significance to the red chicken-head tone knob, except that I like how it looks and it makes people wonder. Both guitars have one now. Actually it makes it easier to set the tone just where you want it, nice because I use my tone control a lot.
Sound clips will follow…
Then, just to finish off this project, a few glamor shots. Those who are really looking might notice I’ve already swapped pickups in both guitars. The Esquire has a Duncan BG1400 in it now (kind of a Tele bridge times 10 and dead quiet) and the Tele has a set of Jimmy Wallace’s ’50′s Tele pickups now. Playing a bunch will tell me what will stick.
On to the nut! This part is one of the aspects of the project I enjoy most and am proudest of. The steps are straightforward. One of the things I like about the Allparts necks is that they don’t waste much of the fret length. This means I can space the strings a little wider, which I think generally makes playing easier. Stewmac sells great Fender-type nut blanks, and those are a big timesaver.
A little sanding is all I need to get a clean, snug fit in the nut slot. Once that’s done, I locate the slots for the E strings. Then my trusty Stewmac slot ruler comes into play, and shows me where to locate the slots for the other strings. The filing that follows, though, requires a lot of care. It’s easy to start the slot (I use an X-acto saw) a little to one side of your pencil mark by mistake. I re-measure often, having learned the hard way what a good idea that is. I generally wind up filing through a bit more material than I’d need to to if sanded the top of the nut down further, but I like having the adjustment room as I go.
Once the slots are cut, I fine-tune the slot depths to make the guitar feel easier to play, and then remove the nut for final shaping. More careful measurement gives me the exact length I need, and then I sand the ends, round the corners a bit, and get to polishing. I use the same buffer boards I use to keep my fingerpicking nails in shape. I “run the grits” and am amazed every time how beautifully bone polishes up. And now on to final assembly so I can string this guitar up and play it!