The Korean Squire ‘Blackout Strat’ Build

Matt’s unicorn was to again own a Blackout Strat like the one from his youth.  Could the Unbrokenstring Crew make an equal-or-better unicorn?
The body is a Korean Fender Strat with genuine wear.  The new neck is in superb shape.  This will be the basis for a cool project, particularly since modern parts are available to upgrade this guitar.

 

The neck comes off and will be updated separately.  Say ‘Goodbye’ to the Squire neck plate.

 

The dot inlays in this neck are really spectacular.

 

The pictures do not do justice to the spectacular mother of pearl in this fret board.

 

First, we’ll clean up a couple of handling skuffs that occurred while this project was coming together.

 

Tinted polyurethane, various grades of fine sandpaper, and a buff polish gets us back to where we belong.

 

A set of vintage tuners will be fitted to this head.  Here, we establishing the center line of the tuners.

 

Screws for the tuners will go where the scratches cross.

 

The pin vise is pressed into service to bore the screw holes.

 

This drill bit will be used as a gauge to verify the diameter of the tuner holes in the neck.

 

Sure enough, this neck was pre-drilled for 3/8ths inch bushings.

 

The bushings are fitted tightly into the neck.  This is essential for good tone, as the bushing supports the capstan, which is one end of the support structure that establishes string tension.  If these are loose, your strings won’t work very well.

 

Turning our attention to the body, we find that the ground wire was not properly soldered to the string claw.

 

The interior routes of the body were painted with a conductive paint.  This just won’t do for the Unbrokenstring crew.  This screw ties the conductive paint to the rest of the ground circuit.  We can do better.

 

The output jack is liberated from the stamped ‘football’ socket plate.  We will rework the wiring with heat shrink support in order to support the wires and make it more durable.  And the Unbrokenstring Crew will redo the soldering job, because We Own It if it fails.

 

The neck pocket must be square and clean.  Any debris or finish will interfere with the transfer of mechanical vibrations from the neck.  For maximum sustain, we need to take this pocket down to the bare wood.

 

This side view shows that the corners are square and clean.

 

Copper foil will be used to create the cavity shielding.  We’re starting with the hard stuff, the output jack route.

 

Bottom and sides are done.

 

All of the interior routes are lined with copper.  The seams are tacked together with solder.

 

This is the bottom side of the new pick guard, also made in Korea.  The aluminum foil must go.

 

All of the holes will be de-burred with this tool.

 

We will have a nice flat surface to which the copper foil will adhere without voids.

 

Foiling the pick guard takes just a few minutes!  Again, the seams are tacked together with solder to form a plane.

 

The foil is trimmed away from the edges with an Exacto knife.

 

This build will use these pickups.

 

This set will be a very cool foundation for this instrument.

 

The controls are mounted right to the copper.  True to Fender specs, we are using surgical tubing for pickup springs.

 

The pick guard assembly is done, complete with Orange Drop tone cap.

 

Here is another view.  All that is missing is the output jack wires and the bridge ground wire.

 

Here, the body is going together.  The output jack wiring and bridge ground wire is routed through the body and soldered to the pick guard assembly.

 

This workmanship turned out pretty.  New Old Stuff (NOS) push-back wire insulation is used to complete the vibe.

 

Everything fits!

 

The neck gets a little prep before the strings are installed.

 

Remember the Squire neck plate?  This is the replacement.

 

Meet the strings!

 

This new neck has a new nut, which needs to be slotted and filed.  String spacing is established here.

 

Here, the slots are taken to the proper depth, calculated beforehand.  The stackup of feeler gauge blades establishes the bottom of all of the string slots.  When each file touches the feeler gauge blades, we’re done.

 

The string slot depth is where we want it.  Next is to file off the top of the nut and polish it, which has been shown in other blog posts.  When this is finished, the strings will protrude just above the top of the nut.

 

Now this is beginning to look like a guitar.  This is set up as a ‘hard tail’ so no tremolo bar is needed, but one is supplied.

 

We lost Matt somewhere in the bowels of Guitar Center.

 

This message came into the Unbrokenstring Global Command Center after this guitar made it back to the rehearsal room:

“BTW been meaning to tell you, OUTSTANDING job you did with the recreation of Crow’s Fender Blackout Strat!

     “I think can say, without any hyperbole whatsoever, that just plugged straight into an amp with no tweaking whatsoever, that is the BEST SOUNDING GUITAR I HAVE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE.

     “Completely outshines even the original Blackout he was trying to unbury.

     “We’re still absolutely dumbstruck by clarity and full tonal range of it. Truly amazing work, sir!

     “Without question, your finest creation to date.”

 

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

CONTACT – David Latchaw EE
281-636-8626

Epiphone PR-5E Acoustic Gets New Electronics

This wonderful instrument was rescued from an abandoned house.  It sounded good acoustically, so the new owner asked if the Unbrokenstring Crew could repair the electronics and get it playable again?  Let’s get to work!

This instrument is only a few years old, purchased and then cast aside.

 

An online source for specialty guitar parts had a 2018 model of the electronics.  Can we make it work?

 

The mounting scheme uses four screws in the corners.  Cleats will be added to the guitar so that the screws hold.

 

But the REAL advantage of the 2018 electronics is that the enclosure matches the curve of the body.

 

Common wood items such as yard sticks, tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, and paint stirrers are made from birch, the straight-grained ‘poor relation’ to maple.  So the paint department lady at Home Depot gave me this stirrer.

 

Cleats to tightly hold the electronics in the body are fabricated by hand.

 

Next, the cleats are sanded to fit the curve of the body on the inside of the bout.

 

These are ready to trial-fit.  The bevel on the corner, lower-left side, clears an internal brace in the guitar.

 

One shim goes here.  Note the angled pieces, which will catch the screws in the electronics.

 

To protect the finish, low tack painter’s tape is used all around.

 

These clamps will hold the cleats in place as the hide glue sets up.

 

Both cleats are installed and the hide glue is curing.

 

Additional reinforcement is added in the corners to give the screws more material to grip.  These bits will be in compression, so they don’t need to be super-strong, only tough.

 

Before we get too far, we need to do another trial fit.

 

I think we’re going to be good here!

 

I will pre-drill the holes where the screws will be installed.  This should minimize splitting of the small cleats.

 

The actual drilling will be finger-powered, using this pin vise.

 

All four holes are pre-drilled.

 

Yes, I know.  This isn’t terribly interesting.

 

The screws are installed.  Not bad!

 

The jack plate holds the battery and has both 1/4th inch phone plug and balanced XLR connections.  It was temporarily removed to give more access to the interior of the instrument.  The new electronics hook right up to the jack plate.

 

This is a new one on me.  This battery was in the guitar when it came in.  The Golden Thumbs-Up Emoji Award!

 

And, while we’re here, we’ll clean the instrument, string it, and do a setup.

 

The electronics come alive!

 

This is a cool tuner.  The LCD screen has a pointer that swings across its face.

 

Beauty is skin-deep, but what really counts is just below the surface.  This rescued guitar is ready to make music!

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

CONTACT – David Latchaw EE
281-636-8626

Warmoth FrankenCaster: It Lives!

This offset-waist project guitar is playable and is actually very cool.  The owner had ‘gotten in over his head’ and broken a few screws and buggered a few others.  Could the Unbrokenstring Crew whip this instrument into shape again?

The easy part is to install gold Gibson speed knobs on the controls.  There are a lot of good parts in this instrument.

 

Looking more closely, the neck pocket will need some serious attention.  What’s going on here?

 

This is what’s going on.  If you look at the high and low strings, you will see that they are not the same distance from the edge of the fret board.  This neck is not lined up with the body of the guitar.

 

It is easy to remove the truss rod cover because these screw heads are already sheared off.

 

The heads of the screws around this pickup were mangled to the point that a regular Phillips screw driver would not engage them anymore.  Here we’re using a pair of cutters to twist the screw out while a magnet serves as a sentinel to keep pieces of metal that will inevitably shave off the screw head away from the magnet in the neck pickup.

 

Wow these are long.  These go most of the way through the body.

 

We are still working on this one.  This is really tough.

 

Note that the head is chewed up pretty badly.  New screws are already in stock.

 

No springs or tubing are underneath this pickup, bur rather a chunk of too-thick too-hard foam.

 

Now we know where this body came from!

 

And the neck is from Guitar Fetish.  Here, I marked where the body ends with a dotted line.  More on this later.

 

So what can we do about these broken screws?

 

No problems removing the tuners…  these screws were busted off as well.

 

To remove the broken screws, we apply heat to the body of the screw.  This dries out the surrounding wood so that it shrinks slightly.

 

I used the same technique with the wire cutters to grasp the body of the broken screw to twist it out easily.

 

Rinse and repeat for the remaining broken screws.

 

Now that everything is apart, I need to fix this neck pocket.  First, we get the bottom flat.

 

Then we get the sides flat.  This body was painted after it left the factory, so we have plenty of over-spray in the neck pocket that we need to clear out with this scraper.

 

I believe that we are down to real wood again.

 

Acoustic coupling occurs best when the neck and body fit tightly, ‘bone on bone,’ if possible.  I really like this wood hardener, which is essentially solid Lexan dissolved in a light solvent.

 

This raw wood will take a few coats to seal and harden.

 

As the old cowboy on the cattle drive once said, “Be sure to look back to see if the herd is still behind you.”  Periodic fit checks are always a good idea.

 

This neck is beautiful because of the thick layer(s) of polyurethane finish.  However, the polyurethane layer may get in the way of acoustically coupling the neck to the body.  Here, I’m hatching the area where I will scrape away finish.

 

Again, the luthiers’ scraper is the perfect tool for removing finish evenly and smoothly, leaving the surface exactly flat.

 

That is much better!  Not shown: the finish on the end and sides of the neck where it meets the body is also removed.

 

A pin vise holds the proper-sized twist drill to resize these holes for the Correct pickup screws.

 

A little canned air clears out the cuttings from the holes.

 

Over-sized screws held the pick guard in place.  The Correct screws are smaller.  Here, a small dowel is glued into each hole, which will be re-drilled with the proper-sized hole.  This is hide glue shown here; just fine for this duty.

 

Once the hide glue is cured, each dowel is trimmed flush.

 

I jumped ahead to show how the Correct screws are nearly flush with the top of the pick guard.  Almost factory.

 

This single-coil pickup reads as an open circuit.  That tiny wire is broken.

 

The tiny wire is broken because these black and white leads can twist around.  Hot-glue now holds them stationary.

 

The pickup is working now.  Here is some new, softer foam in place to hold the pickup in position.  Leo Fender would have used short pieces of vinyl tubing on the screws to act as a spring, but these covers go all the way to the bottom of the cavity route, so the foam is the best option for this setup.  Oh, and you can’t see it, but the copper pulled out when the original foam was replaced, so this guitar has copper in the pickup route and under the pick guard.

 

Here is the actual pickup.

 

And here is the separate cover.

 

The Correct screws are not nearly as hard to drive as the other screws.

 

More Guitar Fetish goodness!  The metal parts of the guitar should be tied to a single point, not at various places along the signal path.  This soldered wire ties the metal body of the pickup to one side of the audio path, and has got to go.

 

That connection is now cut open.

 

A separate layer of foil is wired to the single point ground.  The connection to the bridge and strings is accomplished with another sheet of foil and this outside-star lock washer.  Again, the mechanical ground is not part of the signal path.

 

Everything goes together as it should.  See how the star washer makes the connection between the bridge and foil?

 

The Correct controls are marked T for tone and V for volume.  The switch is ready to wire.

 

The new wiring is accomplished with solid wire in Teflon tubing.  The pickup wiring is the vintage ‘push-back’ wire, which is actually really easy to use and can be very clean-looking as the insulation is cut without resorting to wire strippers.

 

When the control plate is in the correct position, new holes are bored for the screws.

 

The neck plate needs some attention.  This metal polishing paste is also what I use to polish fret wire.

 

These holes are reamed to the proper size for the Correct screws.

 

The tuners are going on!  A bit of red felt is glued to the face of the socket so that the finish is not marred.

 

These new screws going into the correctly-sized holes are very well-behaved now.

 

The truss rod cover screws will now live in properly-sized holes as well.  The pin vise is getting a workout today!

 

The customer uses these strings.  We need the guitar strung so that we can get the neck straight.

 

Note that the outside E strings are equidistant from the edge of the fret board.  The screws attaching the neck to the body are tightened at this point.

 

Now that the neck is properly positioned, we can finish the setup.  The truss rod is adjusted to make the neck perfectly straight.  Do you see the slip of paper next to fret 9?  It is used as a feeler to see that the ruler is in contact with the fret board all along the neck.  A piece of paper is about 0.0015 inch thick or so.  It is used to check for fit between every fret on the fret board.  Yes, that makes a difference!

 

This neck is brand new, and so the frets had never been leveled.  Just a tiny bit of sanding was all it took.

 

Here I am taking a measurement of fret wire height.  I need this shortly to file the nut slots.

 

Frets are polished.

 

Fret board is cleaned and conditioned with oil.

 

Here we are cutting the nut slots to depth (about 0.006 inch plus the fret wire height measurement made earlier.)

 

Once the nut slots are at the right depth, the rest of the nut is sanded away to make the slots shallow.  We need to sand a little bit more away near the high E and B strings, and maybe next to the D string.  We’re getting there!

 

The instrument is back together and sounding good!

 

This is a closeup of the saddle barrels.  These are factory intonated and are VERY close to correct.  How do they do that?

 

Our patient is making her debut at the studio.

 

First Note.

 

I think he likes it!

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

CONTACT – David Latchaw EE
281-636-8626

Jasmine Classical Guitar Needs a Setup

Sophia’s classical guitar had developed a buzzing string.  Perhaps the humidity changes had changed the geometry of the instrument.  She immediately called The Unbrokenstring Crew to take a look at it!
This instrument has a truss rod, something a little out of the ordinary for classical guitars.

 

This is an Indonesian instrument, with lots of mahogany throughout.

 

Using the truss rod adjustment, we make the fret board as flat as we can get it.

 

My Super Duper Absolutely Flat sanding bar goes to work on some high frets.

 

Can you see where the metal has been removed?  This is near the tenth and eleventh frets.

 

One side of the fifth fret was particularly high.  This was the source of the original buzz.

 

The wreckage was bad over the body of the guitar, where the fret board was probably glued straight to the sound board.

 

Before we crown the frets, the fret board will be taped off.

 

To clean and condition the fret board, Dr. Duck’s Axe Wax goes to work.

 

These strings are going back on the instrument.

 

The strings are nicely tied off at the block here.

 

The stringing process is documented in earlier blog posts.  Everything is going well here!

 

Sophia performs live while standing.  So, we’ll add a strap button to the instrument lower bout here.

 

The hole for the pin clears the body of the screw.

 

This strap pin is just above the center line of the instrument. so that it will hang flat against her body.

 

This strap pin is from an inexpensive electric guitar that had strap locks installed.  It goes nicely with the binding.

 

At her favorite venue, Dunn Brothers Coffee in Friendswood TX, Sophia tunes up with an app on her phone.  Life Is Good!

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

CONTACT – David Latchaw EE
281-636-8626

Epiphone Dot Gets a Customized Bigsby Tremolo

Matt with My Twilight Pilot lusted for a black Epiphone Dot with a Bigsby tremolo assembly. Could the Unbrokenstring Crew rise to the occasion and make it happen?
It don’t get mo’ prettier than this!

 

The Bigsby needs a small modification, so that the tremolo bar can swing over the strings.  Here, the Bigsby is disassembled so that the modification work can begin.

 

This piece limits the swing of the arm.  So, we will carve on this to change the limits.  We don’t like limits.

 

After the carving, the metal is sanded to a uniform satin.

 

Successively finer grits remove the scratches from the previous operation.

 

This metal polish is made in Germany.  The Unbrokenstring Crew uses this stuff to polish fret wires.  Likewise, it will polish this Bigsby so that it gleams.

 

We’re just about there with the modification.  It can stand a little more carving.

 

The tailpiece is centered on the centerline of the strings, not necessarily the center seam of the lower bout.

 

When the body of the Bigsby is correctly positioned, there are two places where the metal touches the finish of the guitar.  While we are adjusting everything, some painters tape protects the finish.

 

We are committed at this point.

 

Two strings are installed to tension the Bigsby into position.  The location of the two additional screw holes are determined so that the whole assembly is straight with the neck before the holes are drilled.

 

This drill bit is in a spring loaded shell, which forces the actual bit to be in the exact center of the hole.

 

The strings are ON and now we can proceed with the setup of the Bigsby. See the small nylon washer where the spring fits?  This is an essential part of the setup.

 

String tension lowers the height of the tremolo bar.  We need to be in tune before doing much more of the setup.

 

The StroboTuner is spinning away while we tune and set the intonation of the instrument.

 

What is this?  We have a couple of screws that are having an acetone bath.  Why do you ask?

While we’re working on the guitar, these strap locks are going onto the guitar.

 

This is the half of the strap lock that goes on the strap.  Both sides are shown.

 

Those screws that were washed in acetone were painted with black lacquer, and cover up the inserts in the body where the original stop bar was held.  Pretty, isn’t she?

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

CONTACT – David Latchaw EE
281-636-8626

 

Red Ibanez A200 Acoustic Electric Guitar Gets Fixed Right

Sophia called The Unbrokenstring Crew after her prized red Ibanez acoustic/electric quit during a gig.  Could we fix it?

This is a surprisingly solid instrument, with a red finish that just won’t quit.

 

I also have a similar Chinese acoustic electric which is a surprisingly good guitar for the money.

 

The tuner still worked although the output from the guitar was silent.  Therefore, the problem is between the electronics and the output jack.  The electronics and tuner are removed to gain access.

 

That didn’t take long to find.  Someone had just soldered the wire to the connector pin.  This eventually flexed and failed.

 

The other end of the broken cable goes to the output jack.  The balanced output jack is a nice touch.

 

Let’s try to take some pics inside the guitar.  But we need more light.  This LED flashlight will do the job.

 

This is inside the guitar.  The wire tie holds the harnesses in place so that they don’t rattle while the instrument is played.

 

I didn’t need to remove the piezo pickup, but I’m taking it out of the guitar anyway so that it is not damaged.  The pickup and the tuner are one piece, so we can store them all safely while other work proceeds.

 

Meet Ms. Output Jack.

 

The broken cable solders to the circuit board.  The location and function of the wires is recorded in the notebook.

 

The unbalanced TRS output jack is wired to the circuit board as shown.  This picture is for documentation purposes.

 

Can you see a problem?  The TRS output jack should fit down inside bosses molded into the body of the output jack assembly.  Whoever tried to fix this before installed the TRS jack 90 degrees out from where it belonged.

 

This is the end of the broken cable.

 

A new cable was secured from a guitar junkyard on eBay.  Looks the same, doesn’t it?

 

The old cable was desoldered and the new one installed as shown.  We are ready to solder the wires to the PCB.

 

Soldering complete.  Note that the TRS jack, on the right, is correctly installed now.

 

The output jack goes where it belongs.

 

Before we install the electronics, let’s show a little love to the bridge with some Dr. Duck’s Axe Wax.

 

The new cable installs as shown.  I think this pic was taken while I was still testing everything out prior to reassembly.

 

I forgot to ask Sophia what gauge of strings she wanted.  These are probably 11s.

 

A phone call confirmed that these were what she wanted!  This guitar is repaired better than it was when Sophia purchased it.  The Unbrokenstring Crew makes the world just a little better than it was before.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

CONTACT – David Latchaw EE
281-636-8626

 

Breedlove 12 String Breaks Strings

I saw Leo Kottke in concert on a Thursday evening in 1975.  The next day, I gave up on the guitar solely because I felt so overwhelmed by his talent and felt unworthy to ever touch a guitar again. Confronting my sick, twisted fears from that traumatic experience included resuming my music studies thirty-five years later.  Doing her part to attack my illness, my Darling Bride, who went with me on that fateful night, purchased this Korean-made Breedlove Stage Concert guitar for me.

In standard tuning, the high G string broke more often than not. What to do?  I started by re-chamfer and polishing the edge of the hole in the tuner where the string passes.  The breaks appear to occur when the G string passes across the hole in the tuner.  When the string passes across the hole, a stress concentration could occur right at the chamfer.

 

Here is a bit copied out of my Breedlove’s Owners Manual.  The stock high G string is 0.008 inch.

 

These came from Strings By Mail. Many individual strings can be purchased ala-carte from them.

 

My plan is to throw conventional wisdom to the wind and add enough string to the post so that the portion of the string leaving the post only touches the round portion of the post, not the hole nor its chamfer.  Here, I am measuring the broken string to establish where the stress concentration occurred.

 

Then I added the length of the string that was broken off, then estimated the circumference of the hourglass-shaped tuning post and multiplied times 12.  The plan is to get enough static string on the post to cover the hole, preventing the portion of the string leaving the post on a tangent from getting anywhere near the hole.  Putting more than three or four wraps of string around a tuning post is generally frowned on, because the more string wound on the post, the longer it takes for the tuning to stabilize.  We’ll see…

 

I love the bridge on my Breedlove.  I don’t have to reach inside the guitar to push the bridge pegs out nor verify that the ball ends are up against the peg and bottom of the sound board..

 

The ala-carte strings have ball ends that do not necessarily match the color codes used in the sets.  Who would notice??

 

I polished and chamfered the hole edge to the best of my ability.

 

To keep the loose string end under control while fiddling with the length of the new string, I put my classical guitar capo across the neck to corral the G string.

 

Here’s the G string.  I can grab it, pull it, handle it, measure it, trim it, pull it, and it won’t get away from me.

 

I estimated the additional string length in a previous step, and am adding it here.

 

We have all been here.  Wish me luck!

 

Here is eleven turns of the G string around the post.  Uh oh.  I am a little short of covering the hole.

 

But, tuned up to pitch, the portion of the string that tangentially leaves the tuning post is no where near the hole.

 

Here is another view, showing the smooth transition from the last wrap.  I don’t think we will see the sharp bend in the portion of the string that leaves the tuning post tangentially that would occur if the guitar were tuned and the string were bent over the edge of the hole in the tuner.

My original goal was to load up the tuning post with enough string to cover the hole entirely, thus eliminating the chance that the portion of the string leaving on a tangent toward the nut would experience a sharp bend across the tuning post hole.  But, I lucked out this time, and now the string is no where near the hole.  Thus, I could have reduced the number of turns of string on the post.  Not too bad for my first investigation.

I have not broken the high G string on my 12 string guitar since these pictures were taken.  The high G string has stayed in tune while playing and does not appear to de-tune between sessions any more so than the other strings.

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom!

CONTACT – David Latchaw EE
281-636-8626