Electric Guitars Featured Builds

Single cut with grills,TV Jones TVHT Pickups and a Freeway Switch

I had built one of these before and it was reviewed in Guitarist mag in issue 450 Sept 2019 (God is it really a year ago!!!) My only criticism of it was the mounting of the Duesenberg pickups and the weight of around 8.5 lbs. This time I planned to use 3 TVJones single coils (TVHT) that could be mounted easily from the front of the guitar and I would chamber it a little more to reduce the body weight and add more “air” into the sound.

The body was a one piece Korina blank with a beautiful Claro Walnut drop top. This followed my normal procedure of carving the Mahogany body and prebending the Walnut to the same radius. Before this the control cavity with a slot for the pickup wires and some weight relief holes were routed out of the body. When everything was perfect the Walnut top was glued and clamped on. Needless to say this takes some considerable time with many dry runs. The pickup holes, grill holes and neck tenon slot were then routed out. The flamed maple neck blank had the headstock scarf jointed and glued with a Claro walnut overlay glued on. This was drilled for the 6-a-side tuner bushings and then shaped, only then could the long tenon be marked and cut. The body was then routed for the bridge, pickups and tenon.

A bound Macassar Ebony fingerboard was slotted for a 25”scale length and radiuses to 12”. This was then glued onto the neck. The body was bound in ivoroid, not a job for the faint hearted when tackling the “drop” as this bit has to be done by hand.

The whole guitar was finished in gloss Nitrocellulose with a little “burst to the front and a greater “burst” to the neck, back and sides

The fun starts when the hardware is added, tuners, bridge, Bigsby, jack socket etc.

and of course the wiring and strings. I had vowed never to relic another guitar but this one was crying out for it-honest! The body and headstock finishes were lightly relic’d by crazing but I didn’t go as far as to alter the playing surface of the back of the neck nor did I scrape any finish off the forearm drop top.It plays very well and sounds superb. I love the three so’ called ‘out of phase’ positions N+M,M+B, and N+B the latter is probably my favourite. The other from the Freeway Ultra are N, M, B. Is it an improvement on the original? Well certainly the pickups are much more easily installed and it is over a pound lighter but it is difficult to decide whether the TVJones pickups are better than the Duesenbergs. It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges the TVJ’s are single coils and the Due’s.are humbuckers so it’s try it and see. I know which suits me best.

Two 12 Strings

Unusually I’ve included two guitars in this featured build. The reason being that both were built very close to each other to experiment with, among other things, using regular 6-a-side tuners on a curved sided headstock.

Both guitars were straight forward builds. The electric 12 came first as I had a pair of TV Jones pickups and wanted to try them with push/push pots for series/parallel switching (TV Jones do not recommend coil cuts).

I wanted a subtle tone change that I thought this switching would bring. Also I wanted to try a satin finish on the neck, even though it was to be over a surf green paint job.

The acoustic was to feature the same scale length, zero fret and radius again with satin to the neck, although over uncoloured mahogany. I also wanted to add a JDL bridge truss system that I’ve been using on some of my pickup equipped acoustic guitars. Again the build was quite straight forward and I wanted to use some more Torrefied spruce for the top and top bracing. The Fishman pickup set up is really good but I have used many of them before so no surprises there.

Both guitars are very satisfying. The electric with its series/parallel switching is very subtle and I really like it. The satin to the neck is, to me, less successful, it just doesn't seem "right" somehow but on the acoustic it does. the 6-a-side tuners work perfectly with the curved headstock sides so all in all I am very pleased with both guitars and as they were not custom orders, both are offered for sale elsewhere on my site.

Doug Morter signature double cut drop top

Doug Morter Signature Electric At last! This is one that I have wanted to build for about 40 years! Doug Morter singer, song writer, guitarist, one of the founder members of Hunter Muskett and most importantly a good friend. Since Muskett has been back together, after about a forty year gap, Doug has borrowed a couple of my guitars for live gigs but recorded with his trusty Strat. So an "S" type guitar it would be. I showed Doug a picture of a recent carved top electric and thought it would make a good 'drop top'.

A vibrato was essential and knowing Doug's preferences in sounds and pickup combinations we decided on three Kinman noiseless Hank Marvin Gypsy Jazz pickups. It was to be a custom set without logos and more importantly with base plates made the same size as the pickup covers so that the pickups could be fitted from the front of the guitar and not into those large routs that you too often see on 'metal' guitars.

The pickups came but at a huge price! Still they were what I'd ordered.

Watching Doug play his Strat it was clear that a light action vibrato was needed so we went for the Stetsbar. I've fitted a few of these and they always impress with their range and tuning stability. The model chosen was one that was designed to be retro fitted on a Strat. I thought the baseplate shape suited that guitar although I did add two more screwholes (hidden by the springs) and I recessed the plate into the body to keep the saddle heights as low as possible.

We chose swamp ask for the body with a stunning book-matched koa top. The top is abount 5.5 mm thick and so it needed to be pre-bent to fit over an exact carve on the ash body. I'd already made a couple of jigs for previous builds to facilitate these curves and so it was a tried and tested method. The Ash body was also chambered for further lightness and resonance - Doug is not a loud player so feedback isn't an issue.

Once the body was full routed and chambered, all pickup cavities and the control cavity were lined with copper foil running to a common earth point. This was done before the top was glued onto the body. A few 'dry runs' were carried out making sure that the pickups could be fitted into the enclosed body.

Originally I was going for a standard five way with a' la Strat but with position three wired to give neck and bridge pickup rather than the standard middle pickup only as Doug favours the slight phased sounds of two pickups together (Knopfler etc) However I stumbled on the Freeway switch which looks like a simple three way toggle but operates in two plans giving six combinations. I noticed that it was designed in Britain so I contacted the web site and was put in touch with it's designer Alasdair Bryce.

I told him exactly which combinations that I required and the currently available switch didn't quite give what I wanted but Alasdair said he had a Freeway Ultra switch which would do exactly what I wanted which was Switch in downward position giving Neck only, Middle only and Bridge only, like an early Strat but with the switch in the up position we get Neck and Middle, Neck and Bridge, Middle and Bridge. I have never seen the need for all three together.

Alasdair went the extra mile and wired the switch with flying leads in my colour designations to make my life easier. Isn't it nice when things like this happen! The only other electric were a Volume and a Tone control but I did wire into the control cavity a mini switch that could add a treble bleed resistor/capacitor if needed.

A scale length of 25" was decided on and the macassar ebony fingerboard given a 12" radius. M.o.P. 'snowflake' markers were inlaid and an SLR nut fitted. To keep things special I used Steinburger gearless tuners, which act like fine tuners and look very good on the headstock shape especially with a koa headfacing and Doug's signature transfer in gold.

The guitar was finished in tobacco burst nitrocellulose.

Custom Drop top

Just before the initial lockdown I was contacted by Mick, with the prospect of building a guitar very similar to one that I had built for Doug Morter. Mick had some very strong ideas that he wanted to incorporate so a visit was arranged. MIck and his wife arrived and we spent an hour or so in the workshop, discussing woods etc. Mick had a rather nice Wilkes T type that he liked the neck profile of, so he’d bought that along for me to replicate. He was also taken with a Koa top on a Honduran Mahogany body with Schaller Hanns bridge and possibly EMG pickups. I sourced the woods and gathered together the bits. This was all except the pickups which I had ordered from EMG’s British distributer who said they were out of stock but they had ordered them from America. Then lockdown struck both countries! “My” pickup set was subsequently sold to fulfil an American order and after a few phone calls to cancel the original order, I bit the bullet and bought a set from another retailer. By this time I was well into the build. The neck was scarf jointed Flamed Maple with a bound Macassar Ebony finger board.  The Honduran mahogany body was cut and routed to shape,  The Koa drop top was routed and control holes cut. The Hanns bridge, whilst well designed and lovely to look at, took simply ages to position and fit, in fact I have Never Ever spent so long fitting a bridge! but once it was sorted, it was worth it! After the neck was glued in the heel was shaped.  The rest of the build was pretty straight forward with the body. The purflings and bindings were glued on. The neck and body were given a slightly darker edge burst. The top nut! What a game that was. Mick wanted a “golden” nut to match the gold on the bridge, so I duly bought a brass block and shaped it. Doesn’t sound like much work, said like that, but it was. It took the best part of a day to finally ‘fettle’ the thing   All the other bits went in well but why oh why do EMG insist on their “plug in, no solder” policy? To me it only makes things more difficult and bulky, but then I am a Luddite! I did add a push/pull pot to the tone control to enable seven combinations of pickups and a low battery indicator just to be on the safe side. Mick and his wife came just as lockdown was eased to pick up the guitar and Mick seemed mighty pleased with it as we sat chatting in our car port socially distancing of course!

Cammacaster

In May 2019 I received an email from Cam who expressed an interest in a custom built, set neck electric “T” type guitar. After looking through his proposed spec, Cam visited,(something I always insist upon if at all possible), woods were chosen, very light weight swamp ash for the body and figured maple for the set neck, with a rosewood board with pearl block inlays, and a price was agreed upon.

As it was a “T” type but slightly different, we were both very conscious that it shouldn’t look like a “Tele Gone Wrong”. Cam had designed the guitar in some detail and I threw in some of my own ideas. Hard copy pics and shapes went back and forth, with Cam coming up with the use of a metal Fender Mustang style control plate. I was very pleased with this, as I had wanted a side mounted electro socket for the jack and Cam originally had a design with the socket scratch plate mounted, which in my opinion would not really strong enough to support heavy use. The lovely thing about working with someone else’s design is that it does knock one’s preconceived ideas out of the field.

Cam was most insistent that the shape of the top bout and lower horn were his design as was his “Tele meets Strat” headstock. Once the design was finalised the pick guard shape followed. Again Cam had the final say in the top curve of the plate.

Jigs were made and the build went ahead. Cam chose the beautifully machined and made (if pricy) Mastery Tele bridge. I recommended Gotoh locking, height adjustable vintage tuners, to do away with any string trees, and a set of BareKnuckle Brown Sugar Tele pickups, wired to a 4 way switch to be mounted on the lower horn. The only “tweeking” that I had to do was on the lower curve to match the control plate exactly.

I am more than pleased with the finished guitar. Cam’s design is clearly Tele based but different. It’s like something that Fender may have produced from their custom shop. It just goes to show that the customer is always right, even if along the road we builders think that we know it all!
Picking up his guitar.

Aged Gold Foil single cut retro electric

Being of a certain age, I have acquired many old guitar parts, one such part being a Bigsby vibrato unit, originally used on a now defunct twin neck electric. Being a Bigsby fan (sorry you dive bombers out there) I thought it would be rather fun to build an "aged" guitar. Now I know this is very trendy and 'in' at the moment and nobody could ever accuse me of being either of those, I decided that I had to work this out of my system. I'd previously made a Variax equipped electric to a shape supplied to me by a customer. To be honest I was not that enthused with the shape but the guitar came back to me, as the electronics were no longer supported by Line 6 and was asked to convert it to a twin humbucking guitar. This I did, using the superb Lollar El Rayo pickups, and visually and sonically the guitar was transformed. The shape suited real pickups, the finish was suitably worn in and it looked kind of retro. (It turned out that the shape was copied from one of Tom Anderson's models-this has only recently come to my knowledge-sorry Tom).

I decided to base my "aged" guitar on this and try to capture some sixties vibe along the way. I wanted some pickups that had single coil tonality but weren't Fender style and I chose Lollar Gold foils, as I love all Lollar's pickups and know their quality. The switch was to be the very traditional 3 way and I used a repro of an early Kay lever switch. One volume and two tone controls were capped with similarly old style radio knobs.

Although it was always going to be an aged guitar, the tuning stability had to be uncompromised so I fitted an SLR roller nut and a Tone Pros roller bridge.The body was of alder, the neck slab cut maple (as early revered teles),the fingerboard was ebony with 'clay' dot markers. I debated whether to have 'a bolt' on but decided on a set neck. The finish had to be Daphne blue with a tinted 'clear' lacquer. This is were the heartache began(who sang that?)

Although I knew that there would have to be a certain amount of 'distressing,' I never thought it would be quite so painful. I visited my local "vintage and Rare' shop (Top Hat in Horncastle Lincolnshire) to see some genuine ware and was very surprised to see that most instruments were in fine fettle and Norman(the shop owner) said "Guitars cost a lot of money in the sixties and folk looked after them." I was glad of the visit, as it stopped me from going overboard. Having said that, with the guitar strapped on I wore a belt with nasty buckle, I walked into doorways, I stood it against walls and 'accidentally' knocked it against furniture. I could have wept but I had to stick to the plan. The culmination was ageing all the nickel hardware using vinegar vapour and putting the lacquered woodwork into chest freezer for one hour twenty minutes. Then I did weep!

I put the whole thing together and It really did look like a sixties guitar. The lacquer had crazed but rather beautifully (it's all in the eye of the beholder) the ageing of the hardware looked authentic, it played like a dream and sounded so good,I put it down as a success. It was featured in Guitarist mag and was sold within a week. Would I do another? I'm not sure, as it goes against everything that most guitar builders try to do but there is a certain something to be said about having a good instrument, that is not so precious that you are afraid to leave it on stage, whilst taking a break. A naturally aged instrument is another thing altogether, as every 'ding' and bump tells a story and is part of its history but if you can't wait forty years or so...