Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Green Phantom Custom Strat

I've always been intrigued by green Strats as they seem so rare.
I Know Fender do Surf green in Strats and Jazzmasters which are quite popular and the famous Sherwood green, but I wanted something a little more vivid, translucent and 'woody' looking (showing a bit of grain).
The body I got from Guitar Build UK who are like the UK Warmoth - 2-piece Alder with classic Fender vintage spec.
I gave the body a final fine sanding and used Rustin's concentrated water-based wood dye undiluted.
The best way to apply the stain is to use a lint free rag (i.e. and old piece of T-shirt) and rubbing with the grain. Wipe excess off and gently sand to bring the grain through.
When I'd achieved the desired level of colour/grain balance, I began applying 8 coats of Tru-Oil. This involved tipping a a few spots of the oil in a small area and gently rubbing it in with a piece of cloth.
I wet sanded the body a couple of times between the last 4 coats with 1200 wet and dry to get a nice smooth, satin finish. The Tru-Oil does a nice job of grain filling on alder if you apply the first 2-3 coats fairly heavily.
I then covered the cavities in screening tape.

I purchased a maple Fender Licensed Mighty Mite neck as I thought this would make a nice contrast for the body. I decided on staining the face of the headstock in the same colour as the body to make the whole thing a little more unique.
I added the White Rabbit decal from Alice in wonderland as an afterthought as I thought it needed 'something'. The red tortoiseshell scratchplate complemented the green of the body, but I wanted black knobs and pickup covers to keep the overall look sharp and businesslike instead of a Christmas tree!
I plumped on a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder for the bridge position, an Irongear Pig Iron in the middle and a Dimarzio HS-2 in the neck. This gave me a lot of tonal options: from a Ritchie Blackmore Deep Purple 'Burn' to a Gilmourish creamy flute sound. I used all good quality pots, an Oak Grigsby selector switch and Sprague cap.
Wilkinson answered the hardware question. I've always liked their stuff - its top quality and so cheap compared to genuine Fender or Gotoh for example. The Bridge was a Gold 'Hipshot' style with solid steel saddles and tuners were the classic Ezi-Lok type.
After I'd been playing The phantom for a while I decided on a re-fret. Even though it played great after I'd given the neck a level, profile and polish the 'medium jumbo' frets seemed a touch too narrow. I went for 3mm super jumbo's and am now a happy and contented man.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Thurston Moore Custom Telemaster Build

When I first saw Thurston Moore's Custom signature Fender Jazzmaster I was intrigued by the transparent green finish and the overall look and attitude of this guitar. It was classical looking yet at the same time - of the present. I suppose you could call it "Postmodern".
I knew straight away that I wanted to create something in a similar vein but with my own unique twist of course.
I didn't want to use a standard Jazzmaster body as that would constrain my imagination a little I thought. I've always had a thing for the Telemaster since it first appeared on the scene but was a bit out of love for the standard Tele pickups and bridge design. 
I found this guy John at '1jonone' on E-bay selling red Alder Telemaster bodies which he would re-route for you at a small extra cost, as well providing custom cut scratchplates for the instrument (just search for 'Telemaster bodies' on E-bay UK).
It cost me around £130 to have a body routed for P90's and a small black scratchplate cut to fit.
John was really nice to deal with and was always helpful with suggestions of where to get good quality parts for a good price etc. He will also cut the neck pocket to fit either a Strat or Tele.
I was after a transparent finish that would highlight the grain but would also be quite vivid in color.
I'd tried lacquer based stains before but they were all a bit muted. In the end I took a punt on Rustin's
concentrated Water-based wood dye.
This stuff was beautiful and strong and so clean to use - no messy spraying and choking on fumes. I rubbed it on the body partly diluted and then when it was dry (I left it overnight) I sanded it back.

The pictures don't really do it justice, it is much bolder in hue in actuality and half-decent light!
The next step was the finish.
I'd heard a lot about 'Tru-Oil' in the past and wanted to give it a go. It was originally designed for gun stocks and is a hard lacquer that can be hand-rubbed onto wood and buffed to a glossy finish. 
I rubbed on around 8 thin coats altogether and wet sanded before the final coat. It's amazing how glossy you can get the finish. Tru-Oil is also a superb grain filler on tight grain woods like Alder, Mahogany and Walnut for might have to double the volume on Swamp Ash.

After this was completed, I bought a nice one-piece Mighty Mite maple Tele neck from Axecaster.
Its got a 'V' profile and a beautiful grain. I levelled, crowned and polished the medium jumbo frets even though they were pretty well finished straight out of the box:

I will go into the fret dressing and re-fretting in more detail in upcoming posts.
For the pickups I plumped on IronGear 'Platinum 90's' - a UK  based designer who manufactures in China. I've used Irongear Blues Engine, Dirty Torque and Rolling Mills on other builds and they are genuinely fantastic pups for the price - see the reviews online.
As for hardware, I went for the black vibe as per Thurston Moore's Jazzmaster: Wilkinson Ezi-Lok tuners as well as black control plate, black pickguard and strap buttons - I thought a black bridge might be overkill!

 As its for my own use I applied a small 'Fender' water-slide to the headstock and gave it a quick squirt of clear lacquer (its a 'Fender Licensed' neck after all).
I really love this guitar and its one of my best builds so far. The Irongear pups are so versatile: big and clangy when driven but clean and sweet with the volume rolled off. The neck pickup gives a nice thick fluty sound on its own - I'd even say "Gilmourish".
This Guitar is now nearly 2 years old and gets even better with age. The only thing I've changed on it is re-fretting the neck with 3mm Jumbo's (I'm currently in my jumbo fret period).
Since this was finished I've completed 3 other builds which I will post about in the next couple of weeks: The "Green Phantom", "Blue Sapphire" and the Garage rock style, home sprayed, psychedelic reliced "Dogbreath" guitar are on their way!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Made in Japan Strats - Past and Present

I took a punt a while back on a 90's Fender Strat "Made in Japan". I actually swapped a Mexican HH Jaguar for this beauty. My heartstrings were plucked by memories of my old black and white Japanese Strat that I've talked about in an earlier post. I guess I was trying to capture that teenage vibe once again. Problem is, you really are only young once and part of the charm of that first Strat was discovering the guitar anew after playing badly made, horrible sounding 'planks' - it was like night and day!
Moving on, twenty (or thirty) years, I felt a little disappointed by the 90's model, even though it had Bareknuckle Apache pickups installed (very nice by-the-way). It was a well constructed, equipped, finished and set-up machine, but somehow, it lacked character. I realize now that I'm probably viewing my old 'Blackie' through rose tinted specs...or maybe early Japanese Strats really were that good circa 1985. Maybe I just lacked experience after playing a few badly set-up guitars and one that could stay in tune, was intonated and the strings weren't 3 inches off the fingerboard appeared akin to a big chunk of Kryptonite.
Anyway, "Made in Japan" Fenders are pretty decent guitars and well worth the money - a lot cheaper than the American Standards and often better constructed and finished.
But after a few years of putting together my own guitars, off the peg instruments - no matter how cool looking -  all seem to lack something to me. They appear impersonal and cloned, which of course they are. I'm now too submerged in self-build quirkiness (and middle-age) to be dazzled by the bright lights of the high street guitar shop...although I can't suppress a sly peek now and then, just to kill a little bit of time.